If I’m going to write a post about Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) I have to start with a confession, and repentance. It has been my responsibility, as a pastor, to make sure that the people who worship with The Core have the regular experience of Communion… the bread and the cup. In The Core’s two-year history, however, we have done it only once. At the very absolute minimum, it should be done once per year, at Passover, but I haven’t even managed that much. For that I am very sorry, and I now have plans to fix this problem.
Starting on Sunday, September 23, Re:Group will begin taking Communion together, on the Fourth Sunday of each month (the first Sunday after Merge.) We will use grape juice instead of alcoholic wine because minors are likely to be involved from time-to-time, quite often without their parents (think college underclassmen) and because there may be those present struggling with alcoholism currently, or in their past. We will use unleavened matzah bread instead of anything else because leaven, or yeast, is a powerful symbol of sin in the Bible, and therefore the unleavened bread is a powerful symbol of the body of our sinless Savior.
Now I’m going to talk about one of the reasons I was reluctant to start serving Communion on a regular basis. It’s not an excuse, just a reason. And that is the open/closed communion controversy. After some discussion, we have made a decision how to handle it.
Since it is not unlikely that there will be unbelievers present when we serve Communion, we have to be very careful that we do not include them in a way that is disrespectful to the commandment to “eat this bread and drink this cup”… “in a worthy manner”. Let me make a few points before I share our conclusion.
1) In a small group setting, a non-believer would likely feel very awkward being told not to participate in something that every other person is doing. Feeling excluded and embarrassed, such a person is not likely to come back.
2) There is nothing magical (or even miraculous) about the juice, the bread, or the act of consuming it in a certain setting. We do not agree with the Catholic doctrine of trans-substantiation, which says that the juice (or wine) literally becomes the blood of Christ, and the bread literally becomes his body. Therefore, a person does not sin by taking Communion in ignorance, or in an unsaved state. It is rather the spiritual leader of the group who sins if he or she does not communicate clearly about it. If it is communicated clearly, then the leader cannot assume responsibility for whether or not each person understand, or complies.
3) The “unworthy manner” that Paul talks about in I Corinthians 11 refers to those who eat and drink without a) showing kindness and consideration to one another in that gathering, b) proclaiming the Lord’s death, c) examining one’s heart, and d) recognizing the body of the Lord. Letters (b) and (d) can only be done by believers, but (a) and (c) can be done by anyone.
4) Sin can only occur in the context of Communion in two situations: a) if the spiritual leader misleads non-believers into thinking that they are fully included in the Body of Christ by partaking, or that there is real spiritual benefit to the act itself, apart from belief and self-examination. Or, b) if a believer in Christ takes Communion in a way that is rude, selfish, thoughtless and dishonoring to God.
5) Jews practice the drinking of wine and the eating of unleavened bread every year at Passover. When a Jew learns the true significance of this act, and comes to believe in Jesus, her lifelong experience of the bread and the cup serve to enrich her understanding of Communion once she is a believer. Likewise, if an unbeliever eats and drinks with believers at Communion, all the while understanding that this is a time to examine one’s heart, but the true meaning of the tradition comes when one’s heart is surrendered to Christ, his inclusion can serve as a very positive experience in his journey toward salvation. What better moment to think about Christ, and examine one’s attitude toward him than in a setting of loving acceptance and mutual introspection with sincere believers?
What we’ve concluded then is that the drinking of the cup and the eating of the bread can only be considered “Communion” when accomplished by someone who is a believer. If unbelievers were to join in the eating and drinking, it would simply be eating and drinking, and no harm is done, as long as they are not being led to believe something false by those who are serving.
So when the cup and bread are served, it will be made clear that this experience is designed specifically for believers for reasons stated above. If you are not a believer, you are free to pass on it. However, you are also free to take it, while knowing that it cannot really be understood or experienced as Communion without a heart that is surrendered to Christ. In the meantime, if you take it, please use this moment to examine your heart, and your attitude toward Christ, and see if you sense that he is calling you to himself. Ask him if you have been reluctant to accept something that you know in your heart is right. We hope that, either today or soon, you can find yourself transformed in the presence of Christ. But nevertheless, be aware that you will always be welcome among us, no matter what you believe.