Last summer I had meeting with a former VP of a well known seminary. Although our conversation was not about communion, I ended up sharing a story of how our church was impacting peoples lives. I talked about someone who had taken communion for the first time at our church. I mentioned she worked in the neighborhood of our church, had visited our church and had once participated in Wicca. And that when she engaged in communion one night she was looking for something spiritual only to found herself coming face to face with the reality of God’s love in Christ during communion.
My coffee mate, asked if she was a Christ follower at the time. I answered, “No.” (That was the beauty of the story!) To which he looked at me with that sideways look as if to say, “You let an unbeliever partake in the Lord’s Table knowing she was not a Christian!?!” Reading his body language, I mentioned that we don’t “fence the table” at TNL.
I grew up in a church tradition that echoed this same thought. I have even taught this view in churches. The view says that if you don’t believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord’s table was not for you. Not only was it not for you, but there was special judgement reserved for you if you partook of the Table in an unworthy manner.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in
an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood
of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27
“Fencing the table” and “Closed communion” are two ways in which we restrict people from the Lord’s table. This I have come you see as unfortunate and not what Paul was meaning.
Yes, communion is an expression of one’s belief in the sacrifice of Jesus for the redemption of our lives once lost to sin.
Yes, communion is meant for the Christ follower to remember the work of Christ on our behalf.
Yes, the person who rejects the grace and mercy offered by Jesus is still subject to judgment even if they participate in communion.
But I think restricting the Table places unnecessary barriers to faith, grace and forgiveness. Like the disciples “fencing” Jesus from the little children in Matthew 19, restricting the Table can prevent healing of the most important and ultimate kind.
There are several negatives affects and erroneous teachings that go with restricting people from participating in the Lord’s Table:
- Church leaders become the determiners of salvation. It is interesting to note Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 are for the people, not just the church leaders. The people are to examine themselves as to their worthiness are partaking in the Lord’s Table, not be examined.
- It nullifies the tasting of God (Ps. 34:8), the groping for God (Acts 17:27) and the seeking of God (Matt. 7:7). It uses fear keep people from God, instead allowing people to experience a love that removed all fear.
- It removes the possibility that God could work through communion to reach someone’s soul. It removes the possibility that God could be calling to one’s soul through communion. It removes the possibility that communion could be the event, instrument or information that transforms one’s soul.
- It says that communion is not a legitimate place declare of one’s new found faith and belief in the sacrificial, substitutionary work of Jesus. There is a thin line between evangelism and discipleship.
Beside, if an unbeliever finds themselves under the condemnation and judgment of God because of their lack of faith in Jesus, what further punishment could be level against them for participating in Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner. A sentence to Hell, is a sentence to Hell.
So, it is exciting for me to see people come to the Lord’s table after having heard the meaning and significance of the elements. I simply have to trust that God is at work in their life. My place as a pastor is not to card people at the Lord Table like a bouncer at a club, but to clearly state, inform and communicate the love of Christ inherent within communion.