There are people who are afraid to take Communion. I respect that. It’s much better to be hesitant about it than to be flippant.
At the same time, when I hear some who are afraid to take Communion, I get the idea that their fear is misplaced. I don’t know their heart obviously, maybe they should be afraid.
But often their expressed fear is not based on Paul’s warning about taking Communion. So what exactly was Paul’s warning?
The context of the Corinthian church is part of the problem. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:17, “I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.” Oof, that aint good.
The Corinthian church service was so bad, Paul says it would be better if they didn’t even have one! I wonder how many churches he would say this to today?
We all know about the divisions in Corinth, that was a big clue that things weren’t right. These divisions led to many other abuses and the Lord’s Supper was one of those abused things.
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
The Lord’s Supper was extended into an actual supper. This wasn’t all bad. Based on some verses in Acts, the Last Supper, and here, it does seem as though the early church took Communion attached to an actual meal. Breaking bread together was more than a 7 minute ritual.
I don’t know that it’s necessary, but again if we’re trying to do things literally, it does seem as though a larger meal surrounded the Communion event.
Whether that’s true or not, the Corinthian church was going all out. Cliques have long been a problem in churches, or in any group of people, say junior high for instance. There are In-groups and Out-groups. Us vs. Them.
Corinth split over class. The rich were eating all the food and drinking all the wine, probably because they brought most of it. The poor weren’t getting anything. This is bad. “Don’t you have homes?” I love that! If you want large parties and meals, then do it at home, nothing wrong with that. But don’t bring this into church.
I wonder if this can be taken further than just with Communion. It does seem as if everyone has their little thing they like, so therefore the church has to make it part of the church service. Do it at home. Invite people over to watch your interpretive dance, go for it; just don’t bog down the whole church with everyone’s whimsies.
The manner in which they were doing Communion was wrong. When Paul gives his warning about taking Communion, this is what he has in mind.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).
Many who are afraid to take Communion do so because they’ve sinned. They feel guilty and terrible about something they did recently. I get that, but I also don’t think that has anything to do with Paul’s warning.
It is good to feel guilt over your sin. Communion, however, represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. What Christ did is the one thing we have that can take care of sin and guilt!
Paul is not saying, “Don’t take Communion if you’re a sinner!” If he were then no one would ever take Communion.
What Paul is saying, and specifically saying to the church in Corinth is, “Hey, don’t get drunk and despise poor people while taking Communion.”
It’s the manner in which they are eating and drinking the Communion elements that concerns Paul.
If you are solemnly thinking about your sin and the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf, that seems a pretty safe attitude to have while taking Communion! If instead you are thinking about putting on a show or getting drunk or despising others in the church in the way you take Communion, now you have problems.
The warning is in how you are taking Communion, not in how much guilt you feel while taking it.
Be careful with it. As we’ve said, Communion represents big things. Don’t be flippant, but also don’t be so overwhelmed with guilt that you don’t partake of a beautiful thing that represents exactly what can deal with your guilt.