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Should Everyone Be Welcome at the Communion Table?

Should Everyone Be Welcome at the Communion Table?

by Mike Duran · 35 comments

The_Last_SupperIt’s becoming trendy to have an “open communion” policy. Just as forgiveness is freely extended to all, they say, so the communion table should be open to all.

Last month, Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. In commemoration, at the inaugural service of Revolution Church Minnesota, Jay Bakker marked the occasion by offering “rainbow bread” for communion.

Juicy Ecumenism reports:

Bakker explained all were welcome to participate in the meal regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, and that “today we do this in remembrance of what Christ did and what folks who followed in Christ’s footsteps did…”

Complementing the rainbow bread, Bakker spoke on grace and inclusion, focusing on St. Paul, who “gets grace the most,” as he was a ruthless persecutor of Christians before his conversion. “The Bible is full of unperfect [sic] people” and it was “murderers and traitors … literally starting a faith, being part of a faith and that’s what I would call the good news,” Bakker said. He added that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi also “Really got the idea of what inclusion was meant to be, what loving your enemy was meant to be, what loving your neighbor.”

“The idea of Christ was to come into that midst and find the one who’s doing the hurting and turn him into an ally turn him into someone who’s loved and what you see here is … a love of inclusion,” Bakker claimed. (emphasis mine)

In the name of “inclusion,” some ministers even go so far as to open the communion table up to atheists and those of unorthodox persuasion. After all, they say, Christ was loving and accepting of everyone, not just the “chosen.”

But should ALL be “welcome to participate in [communion] regardless of religious belief or lack thereof”?

While some are removing all the stops, throwing the “communion table” doors open wide for anyone, others are drawing lines. Like Sarah Moon in  When my abuser is welcome at the table, I am not.

It’s the cool thing in more progressive branches of Christianity now to talk about how EVERYONE is welcome at the communion table. I should be glad about that, I guess.

But this trend in Christianity where EVERYONE is welcome scares me.

In Moon’s case, it was a rapist that she was asked to break bread with.
“Jesus forgives rapists,” she was told. And indeed He does! But at what point is asking survivors to partake across from their abusers “inclusive”? Especially if those abusers have not truly repented?

The moment you draw a line at the communion table — they SHOULD come, but they SHOULDN’T — we are forced to ask “What line?” or “Whose line?”

Unless we are daring enough to suggest there are NO lines to be drawn at the communion table. In which case, we’d be violating Scripture.

I believe it’s a good policy for churches to state what the Bible clearly teaches: Communion is for believers, those who celebrate the Lord’s work on the cross and embrace it, and those who have searched themselves. Is it “inclusive”? Yes. At least in the sense that all those who are repentant are welcome. However, the Bible also warns that those who take communion in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of disrespecting Jesus and bring judgment upon themselves (1 Cor. 11:27–29).

So can we be the judge of who’s “unworthy” and who’s not? And on what grounds is ANY really “worthy” to partake?

In many ways, these questions are best left up to the individual’s conscience. It’s not the Church’s job to check ID cards at the communion table. But it’s also not our job to condone a free-for-all.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Kessie June 26, 2013 at 6:10 AM

My family wouldn’t let us kids take communion until they knew we were saved. That verse about being guilty of the blood and body of Jesus therefore filled me with this holy fear, and still does. The idea of anyone skipping the issue just to be politically correct horrifies me. Don’t they realize what they’re doing? They’ll be held accountable!!

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Tim George June 26, 2013 at 6:20 AM

It is amazing that my local critique group won’t let you critique unless you contribute and are serious about following some basic rules for an effective critique, my local gym won’t let you join if you are not willing to sign an agreement to abide by the basic rules of the gym, but Katie-bar-the-door when you tell someone the Lord’s church is the Lord’s church. To any atheist who might be reading this, I have only one question – why would you want to participate in something you don’t believe in? The logic evades me.

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Teddi Deppner June 26, 2013 at 4:36 PM

Great examples, Tim. Helps point out the illogic of it.

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Katherine Coble June 26, 2013 at 6:32 AM

As far as I’m concerned the Bible is explicitly clear on the sanctity of communion. _I_ won’t take it if I feel like there isn’t something right in my soul with God.

Of course a lot of Roman Catholics are offended that any of us take it at all.

Still, I do think it is a thing that is specifically reserved for those who have committed to following the Divine Christ and have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t understand why some people seem to think “fake it til you make it” applies to salvation as well as entry-level jobs and interpersonal relationships.

Then again, I’ve been in churches where parents let their obviously unsaved three- year olds take it so they don’t feel left out of the snack. (direct quote. straw that broke the camel’s back for us with that particular congregation.)

I dunno. I guess Communion is something I’ve always taken deadly seriously, along with baptism and marriage. The Bible gives instructions for its proper implementation. Seeing as people are already doing their hollow human reinactments of baptism and marriage I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re aping communion as well.

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 8:56 AM

Katherine, I agree on all points.

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Jay June 26, 2013 at 6:39 AM

One question to ask: how inclusive was the early church, and how inclusive did Paul intend it to be? It might not have gotten to the communion issue if there were some kind of restriction on non-believers attending church to begin with.

I’m asking this half-rhetorically, because I can almost guarantee that the early church was nowhere near as inclusive as American churches have become.

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Coble June 26, 2013 at 7:15 AM

Pretty sure they were too busy hiding in catacombs and the backs of shops to be Seeker Driven.

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Nicole June 26, 2013 at 7:25 AM

So. According to the “open Communion”, communion is now redefined along with marriage. Take the sacred and turn it into just another experience in a religion without real value or respect. Communion is one of the few rituals in Christianity where “rules” do in fact exist. To not observe them (knowingly) is to mock Christ and invite the punishable risk. The Bible is clear about it. But then those who do this only refer to the Bible as a means to their ends.

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Gretchen Engel June 26, 2013 at 7:28 AM

Communion is for believers whose heart at that moment is right with God. It’s not a table open to all. That table serves doughnuts and coffee.
I’m not a fan of “closed” communion based on church membership, yet I respect the right of that church and don’t participate.
My 8-year-old son recently started taking communion. We waited until he was saved and then I talked to him about the meaning. It makes the moment so special seeing your child mature enough to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

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Jill June 26, 2013 at 7:44 AM

I go to a church that practices close communion. I don’t have a problem with that. However, the pastors don’t check a laundry list of sin before allowing people to take it. How could they? They simply want to make sure that those who take communion understand it. Some of them require membership with the denomination, but that is really up to the individual pastor.

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Ricardo Williams June 26, 2013 at 8:17 AM

I’m wondering if Communion as you use it is your a metaphor for inclusion? When I was child, I had to wait till I was 12 and also a member of the Church to engage in Communion.
Today, you don’t have to be a member of our church to participate in Communion.
To me Communion is a ritual to commemorate the life of Christ, but more importantly, Christ calls us to love God with all our mind, body, and soul and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The analogy of a rapist having communion with their victim to me is unfair. A rapist should be in their rightful place prison. I can’t make a decision to have a rapist have communion with their victim. I will say that it will be a noble act of grace if the victim of rape finds forgiveness that will lead them to commune with their rapist.
As a Christian I do my best to refrain from judging others regardless of their differences, once they’re not doing harm to others.

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Mike Duran June 26, 2013 at 8:58 AM

Ricardo, the rapist analogy IS extreme. But it illustrates the point. Just saying that rapists deserve prison begs the question. Is the communion table open to rapists? If so, we should ask if there’s ANY criteria for inclusion. If not, we should ask why. Point being: Those who tout inclusion as the message of the communion table must allow rapists or else they violate their own values. The minute they say no to anyone, they affirm there ARE lines to be drawn.

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Teddi Deppner June 26, 2013 at 4:52 PM

Yes. And really, it shouldn’t matter the specific sin. A redeemed rapist is just as white as snow as a redeemed gossip.

On the flip side, you can take communion with a messed up heart of unforgiveness towards the person in the pew in front of you because you overheard them insulting your hairstyle last week. Are you any better off than they are, with their bitter heart that envies and speaks ill of you? Ugh. Doesn’t scripture say something about resolving issues that you have with your brother *before* you come give your offering at church?

Mike, you have the right conclusion, in my book. Read the relevant Scripture(s) before Communion, so people know what it’s for. Then offer it to everyone. It’s between them and God whether or not they take it and whether or not their hearts are right when they do.

Teach parents to either bring a replacement snack for their little ones or to raise children who won’t throw a tantrum if mama says “no”. And exercise grace towards people who honestly don’t know better, who might be new to the faith or new to the congregation.

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Bob Avey June 26, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Wow. My church has an open communion policy. However, this post and related comments have caused me to think about this on a deeper level than I had previously. Churches couldn’t possibly police something like this, so it would seem the issue is, indeed, left to the conscience of the individual. However, I agree with Tim’s take on this: Why would anyone who did not believe in Jesus want to participate in Christian communion?

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Nope. Sorry. You need to be baptized first.

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 9:05 AM

I should add however, yes, it’s open, but at the unbeliever’s peril (as well as the person who knowingly administered it to unbaptized non-believers.)

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Kat Heckenbach June 26, 2013 at 9:32 AM

I had a big, long reply to this worked out, but the fact is I am in the minority on this. The only thing I’m going to say is the church I grew up in didn’t allow non-members to participate in communion, and that was one of the most painful things I went through as a child. I was already a total outcast in that church (or felt that way), and sitting there while the communion plate passed me by because I refused to be baptized in order to earn my place in a church I didn’t want to join, even though I’d accepted Christ as my savoir, is one of the reasons I left church as a whole the second I was old enough that my parents couldn’t force me to go anymore. Take that as you will, but the fact remains, a closed door looks very different from the outside.

I do want to comment on the rapist thing, though: I saw nothing in the article you linked that said this woman was somehow forced to break bread with her rapist, or anyone’s rapist. She seems much more upset over the idea that rapists can be forgiven. She seems rather angry with God over the idea that Jesus died for the salvation of someone who has raped. That is a different issue entirely.

BTW–before you go judging me, I’ve been in abusive relationships. I’ve dealt with the pain of it. I know what it’s like to know there is someone out there that did horrible things to me, and that God wants them to repent and come back to Him. I sympathize with this woman’s pain and anger, but she’s extrapolating–there’s evil people allowed in churches sometimes, so I must stay home and live in my Mario Kart pjs. She’s become a hermit because she doesn’t accept the idea that God can forgive someone who has hurt her. I don’t think that situation really has anything to do with the communion issue you’re presenting at all. It’s more about the church trying to heal abusers more than the abused, which she seems really angry about, and which I don’t think is true, and she’s using communion as a scapegoat.

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Kat,

The baptism physically represents your willing devotion to Christ, and it’s also a public declaration of your faith. (Not that you don’t already know this, just hashing it out.) The “public” who happen to be watching the baptism don’t really matter, however. Baptism has nothing to do with church membership, even if the church tried to make it so.

I guess I’m a bit confused about why you were reluctant, except that it was representative of your spiritual maturity at that time. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I remember going to a Methodist church when I was in high school, before I’d been baptized, and feeling like a rebel because I refused to walk up the aisle and take communion. lol. Makes me laugh now because I wasn’t being a rebel at all, I was doing the right thing.

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Kat Heckenbach June 26, 2013 at 10:21 AM

I guess because public baptism felt like a hoop I was expected to jump through, not a personal experience. And yes, the church I attended required it in order to be considered a “member.” It’s my understanding that is pretty standard in Baptist churches. Anyway, it really bothered me to see, even BEFORE I accepted Christ, that communion was seen as this thing reserved “for members.” I was old enough, btw, to not see it as a “snack”–I understood what it represented. I just hadn’t made that leap into a truly personal relationship with Christ. And I think that’s not limited to kids. I think adults can see it that way, too. So I worry that by setting this aside as a “no-no” unless you join the church or are publicly baptized (which can be a horribly traumatic thought when you are shy) it may be one of those things that turns people away. They feel like it’s some exclusive club, with levels of membership, rather than being openly welcomed into a family. They may feel like they have to earn the right, to earn acceptance, and out the door they go.

I go to a Methodist church now, and we have open communion. The pastor reminds us what communion is about. It’s all handled very reverently. But no one is turned away, nor are they made to feel outcast if they don’t participate. And as others have said here– I don’t think we’re being infiltrated by atheists taking our communion out of mockery. And if there are handful of them, then the guilt is on their shoulders, not the church. The verses Mike links to above, and those verses before and after, seem to clearly state that the responsibility rests on the individual, that each person is to look into themselves and make sure they are entering into communion in a worthy way. I think going to the table seeking a Jesus you haven’t found yet is worthy.

(BTW–I did get baptized. At the age of 34. In a Southern Baptist church that did NOT insist you had to be a church member to participate in communion. Not that that is why I chose them! It was just one of many reasons.)

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 10:59 AM

My church has an open communion in the way you describe, and the significance is explained before hand. No one is coerced or policed. However, if an elder happened to notice someone they know has not been baptized repeatedly taking communion, I believe they would pull that person aside quietly and explain the Biblical admonitions against it. And I would support them in doing so, because they are the leaders of my church, and as such they are accountable to God to watch over the flock.

The rainbow bread incident, in my opinion, is a different matter altogether. In that instance, if what is described above truly occured, it was indeed a mockery which merits righteous anger.

As for the shyness, we have people who are baptised in small groups, rather than in front of the congregation. The important point is that it’s an outward expression of the inward commitment.

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Jill June 26, 2013 at 12:29 PM

I would consider rainbow bread to be a mockery, as well (did they actually dye it?). But I take the sacraments very seriously. I can’t even necessarily view them as symbolic. During my last stint at a Baptist church, I was constantly grieved over the way they handled communion–replacing the wine w/ grape juice, insisting it had no meaning beyond mere symbolism. It was heartbreaking to me, to be honest, and I can’t explain why because I grew up with that method of communion. Anyway, that’s a little off the subject, but not entirely. There are extremes from the very serious and exclusive Catholic view all the way to the rainbow bread view, and if I had to choose, I’d err on the side of taking it to the extreme of seriousness.

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Robert H. Woodman June 27, 2013 at 6:43 PM

The Baptist Church that my wife and I attend has a communion policy that is open to all Christians. Christian is defined as anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as his (or her) Lord and Savior. The pastor usually reads or at least mentions the passage about how Christians who take the bread and juice (it is a Baptist Church … sigh) unworthily are heaping judgment on themselves.

I am in agreement with Jill on this, though. I really DO NOT like the way that Baptists treat the Lord’s Supper aka Holy Communion. However, I met my wife there, and she continues to want to worship there, so we go to the Baptist Church, all my many reservations about Baptist theology notwithstanding.

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Katherine Coble June 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM

I guess I prefer the way we do it. It’s not closed to non-members; you don’t have to be on the church’s rolls to participate. But it is made very clear, both in language in the pre-printed bulletin and in the intro before it is passed around, that this is for those who are acknowledged followers of Christ, who are “right with God” in their hearts, etc. We anticipate that there will be believers there who are not church members and we don’t have a checklist of people who have been pre-approved by the deacons. But everyone knows it’s serious.

We go so far as to print up blurbs in the bulletins of the preceding weeks (ie. “next week we will be observing The Lord’s Supper. This is open to all who have confessed Jesus Christ as Their Saviour and Lord.” –with some additional language about the seriousness of being right in your devotional walk or something.).

I do think it is not right to deny communion to anyone on the basis of congregational affiliation. You don’t have to be a member of First Avenue Church Of The Lamb to be a member of the Bride of Christ.

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Thea van Diepen June 26, 2013 at 10:21 AM

From what I understand of 1 Corinthians 11, the purpose of taking communion is to announce Jesus’ crucifixion, that he is Lord, and that we have been made right with God through him, because of his sacrifice. Taking it in an unworthy manner is to take it in any way other than that.

It also puts the responsibility of taking communion in an worthy matter squarely on the shoulders of the one taking it. Not the one giving it. If we make it clear what the purpose of communion is and someone wants to take it, I don’t see why we should refuse them when they want to participate.

As to the example with the rapist, doesn’t the Bible also say for us to love our enemies? To do good to those that don’t do good to us? (from Luke 6:32-36) I really don’t understand how this rapist argument is supposed to be in favour of a totally closed communion. Paul was a murderer before he became a Christian.

It says in 1 Samuel 16:7 that humans look at the outward appearance, but that God looks at the heart. He can see another person’s heart; we can’t. We are in no position to make judgements as to who is allowed to take communion. All we can do is make sure the participants understand what it means and encourage them to take it worthily. The rest is between God and them.

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"THAT" T. W. Johnson June 26, 2013 at 10:39 AM

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
(1 Corinthians 11:26-30)

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R. L. Copple June 26, 2013 at 10:46 AM

My marital relationship is about as exclusive as you can get. No one other than my wife has the right to be “offended” because I won’t have sex with them. The reason is because of what it means, because it is a union with another.

Though there are differing theologies on what communion is, it is clear that at its heart, it is a union with Christ. (1Cor 10:16-18) Christ has one bride, the Church, the Body of Christ. Even Jesus restricted his first communion to only the twelve, leaving out many others following Him at the time. It is an intimate act between the believer and Christ. So much so, in the early Church, all non-baptized folk and those under penitence left the service midway. They were not even allowed to watch it until they were ready.

While no rule or system will draw lines perfectly, that there has always been a line is clear. It is for the Body of Christ. Anyone else will only eat and drink damnation upon themselves, taking into themselves fire without being prepared for it.

Of course those groups who don’t have this understanding, will have no qualm about letting whoever in. If it is merely symbolic, doesn’t do anything, what’s the harm? Make everyone feel a part rather than excluding people for no good reason. Once one sees it as “participation in the One Bread,” as St. Paul puts it, it shifts the focus not on exclusion, but on whether the person taking it is really ready to make that level of commitment to Christ and live it for eternity. If not, they will do more damage to themselves by uniting to Christ with no intention of living for Him.

I don’t know that any one specific group will draw the lines perfectly, but the greater error is to not draw them at all, and strip communion of any real meaning in the process.

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Robert H. Woodman June 27, 2013 at 6:49 PM

Good point! I’ve always thought that Christianity was supposed to be both inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive in the sense that anyone can join. Exclusive in the sense that all who become part of the body of Christ must come to Christ in the right way with the right attitude for the right purpose. Anyone who has not freely and knowingly chosen to join the Body of Christ has no grounds for complaining when excluded from the sacraments (or, if you prefer, ordinances) of God.

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Teddi Deppner June 26, 2013 at 5:09 PM

It saddens me how many church policies (or church problems) spring out of a fear of confrontation. A fear of being perceived as exclusive.

Maybe it has something to do with the way the church as a whole has branded itself in the past, and how it seeks to be re-branded now. Admittedly, we’ve at times acted like some sort of exclusive club. Nonetheless, there’s no way around the fact that — just like a family, a company, a nation — the church is made up of members. Either you’re one of us, or you’re not.

The “good news” is that “whosoever will” can *become* a member if they choose to whole-heartedly embrace the salvation and lordship of Jesus.

Maybe in the past we’ve made it sound like “if you don’t live up to our standards, don’t enter our doors” and now we’re trying to be as loving as Jesus was when He reached out to people that the religious leaders disdained as unworthy.

But some have gone too far, and it’s not because of “love”. It’s because of fear. Fear of being seen as hateful, or exclusive, or intolerant. Fear of the world’s hatred. But true “love” doesn’t mean allowing everything. “Love” knows that some things are right (good for you) and some things are wrong (bad for you). And is willing to preach and teach the difference.

If the world doesn’t hate us the way it hated Jesus, we’re missing it. Note: I said “the way it hated Jesus”. We shouldn’t be hated because we’re selfish, self-righteous bigots. We should be hated because we love the unlovable and introduce them to Jesus and they are transformed and abandon the ways of the world. We should be hated because the world no longer has sway in their lives and it can’t control us. Because we’re fearless when it wants us to cower and we’re bold when it wants us to shut up.

Speaking of shutting up… I’ll do that now. Mike, good stuff. Got me thinking. Fellowship with Christians in the middle of the week — that’s the way it oughta be. Daily encouraging one another to good works. w00t!

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Thea van Diepen June 26, 2013 at 5:51 PM

About the “being hated the way Jesus was” bit, whenever I read the passage where Paul talks about suffering for Christ’s sake is a good thing, I come to this understanding:

If we’re being persecuted for Christ’s sake, the people persecuting us aren’t doing it because they hate us. They’re doing it because they can see Christ so clearly in us and they have an issue with him. They’re really hating him, not us. And that’s exactly the reason we want for any persecution we face. Because Jesus shines through so much that it makes them uncomfortable.

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Jessica Thomas June 26, 2013 at 6:23 PM

I love this way of looking at it. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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Thea van Diepen June 26, 2013 at 7:51 PM

You’re welcome. :) I’m glad it was coherent.

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Teddi Deppner June 26, 2013 at 6:28 PM

Exactly!!!

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D.M. Dutcher June 28, 2013 at 3:19 PM

If you read the full passage in 1 Cor 11, you see Paul was berating the Corinthians for getting drunk, hogging the food, and using communion factionally. He also said that if you are hungry, just stay home and eat. I think to eat and drink unworthily can be among those lines; essentially you use communion for your own ends, rather than use it to remember Jesus and His sacrifice for us. We don’t have full meals any more, but we can be spiritual gluttons I guess, and the Bakker thing is using communion to score points on how inclusive he is.

It differs if you belong to one of the high churches that sees the Eucharist as something that transmits grace, or has the real presence in it. But for me, I’ve seen it as a remembrance, and as long as an unbeliever understands what it’s about, I guess I wouldn’t be bothered if they did so.

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Kat Heckenbach June 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Where’s the “like” button? :)

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David Tuggy July 12, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Lots of thought-provoking issues here. My comment refers just to one, but it is a very central one:

Mike, you wrote: ‘the Bible also warns that those who take communion in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of disrespecting Jesus and bring judgment upon themselves (1 Cor. 11:27–29). ¶ So can we be the judge of who’s “unworthy” and who’s not? And on what grounds is ANY really “worthy” to partake?’

It seems *really* important to me to note that to “partake in an unworthy manner” is not (in English or in the original Greek) the same as to “partake while/being unworthy”. The question is not whether we communicants are worthy (as you suggest at the end, of course we are not!), but in what manner we do it: what is going on in our mind and our actions as we do it. The whole point of the exercise is to celebrate and remember the sacrifice — necessary precisely on account of our unworthiness— of our Lord and Savior, which establishes fellowship (“communion”) between us and God as well as between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Partaking of communion in a worthy manner is realizing all this, “discerning the body” in St. Paul’s phrase.

I can think of no more poisonous frame of mind in which to take communion than a Pharisaical attitude that complacently or defiantly assumes or claims worthiness to partake. (God forgive me, I have done this, many times I am afraid.) Thinking that you are worthy is partaking unworthily; admitting your deep sinfulness and abject helplessness and falling on God’s mercy, like the Publican in Jesus’ parable (Lk 18.9-14), is a crucial element, if not the crucial element, in partaking worthily.

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