I went to a large wedding a few years back in which the clergy invited only those who had jumped through the right hoops to come forward and receive the body and blood of Jesus. The leader then asked those of us who had not jumped through their hoops to “pray for the unity of all believers.” Of course, I sat there thinking, “The only thing keeping us disunified are your silly hoops.”
Unfortunately many choose to use the Lord’s Supper to display the in-crowd and everyone else. In such “celebrations” the power of the Lord’s Supper is actually inverted—showcasing the division of humanity and unveiling a God whose displays of affection and grace are conditional.
How unlike Jesus.
Christ didn’t give those who came to him a theological quiz before he fed them. Levi didn’t have his theology all lined out when he rose to eat with Jesus. The 5,000 were basically a mob. Some who received the first Lord’s Supper rejected the cross (Matthew 16.21-23)—and still Jesus invited them to the table and said: “This is my body broken for you.” In fact, the Gospel writers go out of their way to call Jesus’ dining companions “the sinners” (Mark 2.16, et al).
For some, communion was where clarity started.
In my previous post, I critiqued churches that have too low a view of Communion. In the next two posts I’d like to critique those who have elevated the Lord’s Supper so high It loses its primary function—the tangible display of God’s grace extend to all.
I would challenge those who reject an open table to answer the following: Where is the boundary marker clearly displayed in the Bible for who may eat the meal Jesus offers? And has God really made it our job to judge who can and cannot commune with the Church?
In a previous conversation, some immediately turned to 1 Corinthians to argue that exclusivity at the table is Biblically required, that if the table were open to everyone some would receive the Eucharist in “an unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11.27). Those arguing this position apparently believed they (or their church) had the authority to tell the rest of us who is unworthy (something lacking in 1 Corinthians 11) and which hoops the guests they exclude have failed to jump through (something also lacking in 1 Corinthians).
Ironically, the purpose of 1 Corinthians 11 is to rebuke those who have excluded others (namely the poor) when gathering for the Eucharist (11.17-22). In response Paul teaches how to receive the elements, not who has the qualifications for feasting. Paul said, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28). And again, “If we learn how to judge ourselves, we will not incur judgment” (v.31).
Paul does not say, “Pastors and overseers, ensure that only [enter the description of worthy folks] come to the table.” No. The only person Paul says you have the authority to deem unworthy is yourself.
By making the table exclusive, some churches are ironically telling those they believe most need a transformative encounter with Jesus not to come forward and have a transformative encounter with Jesus. How unlike Christ.
Next time we will push into this and discuss how Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners was prototypical and sets the standard for our practice today.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and he is the author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan 2008) and Everything New (Subversive 2012). He helps pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. You can connect with him at www.everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook