Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Approaching Christ

"As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion.  We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently.  In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour.  A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession.  In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (Code of Canon Law, canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all."
- Guidelines for the Reception of Communion, Today's Missal, Volume 81, Number 2.  (emphasis mine)
This post is not about Catholicism, I am just using the guidelines here because the Missal was shared with me and I was intrigued by the wording.  I know of several churches and denominations that have this attitude toward Communion, or the Lord's Supper as I was once "schooled" to call it ("this is a Baptist church, son, communion is what them Catholics call it."  Oh, the many ways a Baptist pastor can be accused of branching out into Catholicism.  Yes sir, you figured me out, I am trying to change all these fine Baptist folk into Catholics.)  Many churches feel it is their responsibility to watch out for those who would dare to participate at the Lord's Table.  I have known churches that required you to be a born again believer, some that require you to be a member of that denomination or convention, others that require you to be a member of that specific church!  We've really gone to the funny farm when fellowship at Jesus' table can be withheld from like-minded people because they are members of different churches.  I find all of it strange and aggravating.  What is more, I find it unbiblical.

As we go back to the Gospels, we see that Jesus served the very first New Covenant meal to his disciples, men who would desert him later that day.  They didn't even understand what was going on, they were too worried about who was the greatest, and they were too busy lying about their faithfulness to Jesus.  They certainly didn't recognize the "body" in the sense that close communion proponents understand it.

Speaking of body, I notice that Jesus didn't turn the bread and cup into his body and blood.  This meal wasn't a participation in His crucifixion, which had not happened yet, but was a symbol for the disciples of the New Covenant and of their life in Jesus.  He gave them this meal to observe until He returns.  I don't see a hint of sacrament in what He is doing, but that is beside the point of this post.

I think most people who hold to a closed communion base their position from 1 Corinthians 11, particularly verses 27-30, "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep."

Now, what is Paul saying in these verses?  Where did he say, "Churches must guard the bread and cup from those who might not be worthy of it?"  News flash: you are not worthy of it!  No one is worthy of the cup and the bread, not in and of themselves.  We approach Jesus by grace through faith, and we approach His table in the same manner, not based on our righteousness - how well we've kept from sin or our proper membership, but based on Jesus.

So, my first point is that there is no such thing as good enough for the Table, but my second point is that if there is any judging going on, it should be the individual, not the church.  Here's where I am coming from: verse 28 says "a man must examine himself."  The action of a church closing the Lord's Supper off to a specific group is the church judging others.  Why does the church do this?  I think it is based in a good desire, to save people from judgment, so that they won't "be guilty of the body and blood of Jesus." - v.27

I understand, but I don't agree.  Personally, I believe people should be allowed to eat and drink judgment to themselves.  Who knows, by eating the bread and drinking the cup (which Paul tells us is the proclamation of the Lord's death in v. 26), a person might actually hear the proclamation and respond.  I know, from my own experience, the power of participating in the Lord's Supper as a degenerate sinner.  The action of taking and eating, taking and drinking, spoke to my soul.  The best thing that can happen by having an open Lord's Supper table is that people will come to know Jesus as their savior.

What's the worst thing that can happen?  According to 1 Corinthians, a person can become weak and sick, and perhaps die.  They can die being "guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord."  Tell me, is the fate of the unrepentant sinner who dies without faith in Jesus, but who has not eaten the Lord's Supper, somehow better than the same sinner who has eaten the Supper?  From what are these churches saving these people from?  (It is possible that they are trying to protect the integrity and purity of the Table, in which case I say balderdash - they're eating at it.)

If a person does eat and drink damnation upon himself, one of two things will happen.  Either he will eventually experience salvation, in which case this little thing Jesus did on the cross and in the tomb will take care of any judgment and damnation, or he will die in his sins, which is exactly where he will be if he doesn't participate in the Lord's Supper.  Where is the harm in participating?  I think the only harm is in not participating (I am ignoring the fact that Paul was talking about how the church treated one another, and viewing 1 Cor. 11 from the argument of those who close communion).  Jesus' forgiveness of our sins works at His table just as well as anywhere else we may go, don't you think?  When I think of the Lord's Supper, I am reminded of Isaiah 55:1, "Ho!  Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat."

That is grace.