A Real Gospel-Centered Lord's Table Experience

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sometime back I posted on "How the Gospel Applies to Christian's Refusal to Take Communion." In that post I made the fight-picking statement,

"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."

My point was that refusing to take communion on the grounds that you have some sin undealt with in your life is actually an afront to the Lord's table, and is not at all what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 11:27 by eating or partaking "unworthily." That passage really has nothing at all to do with the common misconception we so often present to people at the Lord's table, that if they have sin in their lives that has not been repented of, dealt with, etc. then they are partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily. That is a different context in a different culture.

It was in my current reading journey that I came across this lengthy yet affirming statement about the Lord's table. I wanted to quote it here in its entirety because this issue is so important. Failing to understand this issue rightly is failing to offer a means of grace to God's people who need it...despite their sin and failure and shortcomings. Jesus died to remove even the sin that most people think makes one unworthy to partake of it. That's the whole point behind the Lord's Supper in the first place!

From A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry by the Torrance brothers, comes this quote from "Chapter Two: Preaching Jesus Christ."

"It is not easy to preach the truth that we are saved by the Grace of Christ alone, and that is through the vicarious humanity of Jesus and in its substitutionary bearing upon faith that we can properly believe, but this is what may be proclaimed at the Holy Communion as nowhere else....

"I have found in my own ministry that it is easiest to preach the unconditional nature of grace, and the vicarious humanity and substitutionary role of Christ in faith, at the celebration of the Eucharist, where the call for repentance and faith is followed by Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ in which we stretch out empty hands to receive the bread and wine: 'Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the Cross I cling.'
"There at the Holy Table I know that I cannot rely on my own faith but only on the vicarious faith of the Lord Jesus in the total substitution of his atoning sacrifice on the Cross. Salvation and justification are by the grace of God alone. Faith, as John Calvin taught, is an empty vessel, so that when you approach the Table of the Lord, it is not upon your faith that you rely, but upon Christ and his Cross alone. That is what the Covenant in his body and blood which the Saviour has forged for us actually, practically, and really means. It is of the very essence of the Gospel that salvation and justification are by the grace of Christ alone, in which he takes your place, that you may have his place.

"I believe this emphasis in the mission of the Church may well be more important than anything else today. There is a kind of subtle Pelagianism in preaching and teaching that has the effect of throwing people back in the last resort on their own act of faith, so that in the last analysis responsibility is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and put upon the shoulders of the poor sinners, and we know well in our hearts that we cannot cope with it. Is that not one of the things that keeps pushing people away from the Church? I think here the reluctance of many people to approach the Holy Table, which happens on Communion Sundays when people fail to understand the absolutely free and unconditional nature of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Through the miracle of his Cross, he turns our sins and failings into the very means he uses in order to save us and bind us to himself. That is precisely what he pledges to us in the Communion of his Body and Blood." (Emphasis mine)

These thoughts are so key as we seek to apply the purpose of the Lord's Supper and answer questions in 1 Corinthians 11. And in this passage it seems that eating and drinking unworthily is about how you act at the table, and not what you've done before you come to the table.

When we tell people they shouldn't partake because of a sin that must be confessed or repented of first, we make the table moment something it is not about: me. The purpose of the table is to point me to who Jesus is and what He has done...not what I have done or must do. Making the table about the latter unwittingly turns the table into a moment fertile for cross-destroying evils:

  • Works-righteousness - ever thought to yourself anything like this? "I need to do [such and such] to get back right with God."

  • ...Or self-righteousness - ever had this thought? "Thank you God that I've been obedient enough to partake of Communion this time."

In conclusion then, when a pastor tells people to refuse the elements or just pass them along or pass them by when the bread and cup are offered is to refuse the very thing God offers as a means of repenting from the sin we're saying should keep them from the table! Oh, how I've ignored the true meaning and purpose of the elements when I've said such things. What tragic irony for the people of God when these things are communciated.

May the Lord abundantly pour out His grace on us for this grave error and turn our hearts into the richness of His mercy...even for this grave error I've committed against His cross. What joy there is in eating and drinking because of what He's done for me and not what I've done for Him.

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