October 5, 2009

Is Communion for Sinners?

Recently, a friend passed me the link to a video promotion for a DVD entitled "Communion." It is an interesting video (and painfully slow, so be warned!) It is interesting in that the author(s) seems to present the Lord's Supper as indiscriminately intended for all sinners. But this is too simple of a solution, and does violence to the biblical witness.

It is an indisputable truth that all human beings, other than Jesus Christ, are tainted by sin. This is what makes us worthy of the eternal punishment of death. Death, of course, is separation from God. And the Son of God took on our humanity in order to suffer the penalty of death for us on the cross and rise from the dead so that we might have eternal life. Christ came to save sinners from sin and its consequence of death, which ends in eternal punishment away from the comforting presence of God. One is saved through being born again, which accompanies faith in Him and repentance toward God (John 3).

Unfortunately, the video's author, in this short promotion, presents the Lord's Supper as being intended for all sinners indiscriminately. But is this the case? Is communion intended for all sinners? Absolutely not!

When the Corinthian church demonstrated a penchant for gross immersion in the sins of the wider culture of their day, Paul rebuked them in no uncertain terms. The point he repeatedly made in the Corinthian correspondence was that the Lord's Supper was to be reserved only for the regenerate church. Those who were still infatuated with the sinful culture of Corinthian paganism were reminded that communion with God and communion with the devil are incompatible (1 Cor 10:20-21). The Corinthians were warned that they must be separate from the world: "'Come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord, 'and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you'" (2 Cor 6:17).

In other words, I believe that, according to Scripture, the ordinance of communion, practiced by the churches at the direct command of Jesus Christ, is to be reserved for sinners who have been born again and are pursuing a life of repentance. Are the unholy invited into communion with the Holy One? Yes, indeed. But, first, there must be a transformation prior to communion. Sinners must repent and believe; otherwise, they are still sinners subject to the judgment of God. Moreover, such repentance from sin and faith in Christ must continue to characterize the Christian's life.

Paul warned that those who continued in sin are subject to divine judgment precisely because they were unrepentant sinners. "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly" (1 Cor 11:29). The body must be judged. "The body," of course, is a common Pauline metaphor for the church. Individual Christians, in other words, must examine their own consciences (1 Cor 11:28), and Christians in the local church must hold one another accountable for one another's doctrine and conduct (1 Cor 11:29).

A concrete example in Corinth occurred with a young man involved in gross sexual sin. The speech of the Corinthian church had become so saturated with vice that she overlooked a situation by which even the pagans would be shocked (1 Cor 5:1). But rather than pass over the matter in silence, or make excuses for it, Paul called the church to take immediate action. As an Apostle, Paul recognized the need for the congregation itself to exercise governance through the application of discipline. The church must repent of its habit of condoning gross sin and excommunicate the sinner. When the church gathered, it must remove the sinful person "in the power of the Lord Jesus" and return him to the realm of Satan, i.e., the world (1 Cor 5:2-5).

The action of the Corinthian church in disciplining the unrepentant sinner was necessary, in spite of the difficulty it might bring to all involved. Yet, the difficulties were worth what seems to have been the result. Rather than continue condoning sexual sin, the majority of the Corinthian church seems to have obeyed and applied church discipline. This resulted in getting the sinner's attention, bringing to him great sorrow, and as a result, he repented. Paul then called the church to restore the repentant sinner to fellowship (2 Cor 2:1-9). Through discipline, an unrepentant sinner who thought he was already a Christian but did not act like it, was brought to repentance and faithfulness towards Christ.

My friends, our churches must seek to maintain their public purity. On the one hand, the church will never be perfect until all Christians gather (for the first time as one) at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-8). On the other hand, the members of the church are commanded by Christ to help one another towards repentance and a faithful lifestyle even now. If an individual Christian will not repent of publicly-known sin, then he or she must be excluded by the church (and only by the church--there is no room for elders arrogating to themselves the power of church discipline) for the purpose of loving redemption (Matt 18:15-17).

Let it be clearly noted that the intended outcome is, ultimately, the redemption of the sinner. Punishment is entirely in the purview of God alone, but loving discipline is given by the Lord to the church to practice when necessary. The church is to separate from unrepentant sinners in order that they might prompt one another through the covenantal life of the community to follow Christ completely.

So, we come back to the question prompted by the subject video: Is communion for sinners? Yes, but not without discrimination. Communion is only for sinners who have been born again. We know we are truly born again only because we are repenting of sin and are seeking to live lives faithful to the high call of Jesus Christ in discipleship.

Perhaps the video that prompted this short essay goes further into these matters. Unfortunately, the website does not clarify. I hope the full content is better than the presentation available publicly, for what they have posted online presents a highly distorted picture of the scriptural witness. For more on the biblical understanding of the regenerate church practicing close communion, see the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 articles on the church (art. 6) and on baptism and the Lord's Supper (art. 7).

Jesus is the Lord of His churches, which means that He is to be followed in what He commands them.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. When I preached through this passage in 1 Corinthians 11, I preached that when we take the Lords supper we proclaim not only his death but the fact that we have partaken in that death with Him. Keep dividing the word of truth.


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