How the Gospel Applies to a Christian's Refusal to Take Communion

Monday, April 11, 2005

Recently, in a conversation with a pastor friend, there was a short conversation about so-and-so in his flock who had not taken communion for several Sundays. He believed it was because so-and-so was not convinced that he/she was a believer. Perhaps, and based on the observations of this pastor as described to me, probably not.

HOWEVER, what about those who are true believers? Is there ever a time in which they should not partake of communion. I know of a couple who have abstained before. When I inquired as to why they refused to partake, they replied that because of a particular sin or attitude that had plagued them recently, they would dishonor the Lord's table if they partook. They expressed to me that the guilt was so overwhelming that they chose not to take communion, for fear that they may be doing so unworthily, according to 1 Corinthians 11:27.

The context of the passage has no connection at all to such a thing as experienced by these couple of friends. It is completely connected to a particular practice of the day: verses 21-22 - preferential treatment and pride along with gluttony and possibly drunkenness were all taking place during communion, which here in the context was evidently a feast of some sort.

As I see it there are two issues at hand in the text here, as regards eating and drinking - participating - in the Lord's Supper unworthily.

1. The first sin comes, according to verse 29, in eating and drinking without recognizing the rest of the body of Christ. Humility seems a major issue at hand. If fostered and lived out, it would prevent the factions and divisions spoken of in verse 18. It shows itself in preferring others above one's self (see v. 33).

2. The second sin comes in a lack of discipline. In short, eating at home if you're hungry will prevent the temptation to use the communion time as a feasting time.

Now for a solution to my friends' problems. Communion is all about a reminder of the righteousness of Christ that covers our sin with grace. The Reformed view of communion as a means of grace is every bit biblical. God imparts sanctifying grace to us through participating in this event. By meditating on the meaning of the act, and believing in our hearts that we are truly saved through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, God accompanies our act with His grace so that faith is stirred up afresh in our hearts to behold and embrace Jesus Christ afresh. Therefore, not to partake is to miss the whole point of communion altogether, I fear.

Read this next statement slow, carefully, and repeatedly if necessary. I submit that it is possible one may actually be committing a sin that was just as heinous as the Corinthian matter, when one does not partake of communion because of guilt and sin. It could be equally heinous because it tears down the great work of God on the cross. Jesus died to forgive sin and cleanse its guilt. To not partake is to slight this work by holding on to a sin or to guilt as though it were too great a thing to take the Lord's table in remembrance of His forgiveness.

It is like a man who has been pardoned by his bank from all financial obligations. The bank tells him merely to remit all his invoices and statements so they can pay off the creditors. But the man holds on to one little receipt of $20, unwilling to take it to the bank for a pay off because he feels he couldn't possibly ask the bank to pay another $20 after all they'd already done for him. The guilt or sin that is held on to when ot participating in communion is like that measley $20 debt. God's purpose in Christ was to forgive and reconcile. Why should a created thing withhold something from the Creator that He desires to forgive, and has in fact already forgiven at the cross?! Who is man that he should withdraw himself from the reconciliation God has already accomplished and applied at the cross?

Let us take seriously our sin. But let us equally take seriously the righteousness of God at the cross that covers our sin. For to take our sin too seriously - and yes, it is possible to do so as explained in the following words - by believing that it is too great for God to forgive, or by believing that that sin is one area we've got to get straightened out before partaking of communion, is borderline blasphemous.

The communion table is for forgiven sinners to come together and remember that they have been forgiven through the righteousness of another, namely Jesus Christ. But if we refuse, we unwittingly act as if we still have some righteousness of our own that we must somehow conjur up and display (through repentance or penance or whatever) before partaking of communion.

To me this seems equally as heinous as the mass, for are we not crucifying the Lord all over again as the Catholic Church practices, when we refuse to partake because of our sin? Isn't that acting as if He had never been crucified for that sin we committed?

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