Sunday, February 04, 2007

Communion: a very brief thought

It is the first Sunday of the month, and many of our churches will be celebrating Communion. This marks yet another way in which we see that Christianity is not designed by God to be practiced solely in private ("come together," 1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33-34).

Every Sunday pastors and others struggle with how to explain to unbelievers who are present why they should not partake. It isn't easy to be firm without appearing to be rude.

When I was in that position once, I came up with something I thought helpful, which I now offer to you. I've actually not heard it used by anyone else; you're welcome to it if you find it helpful, pastor friend.

We all know that unbelievers all tend to have a residual suspicion that religion is magic. How many times have you winced and cringed when a baptismal candidate says (s)he's undergoing baptism to help him be a better Christian—as if the ceremony itself, ex opere operato, zaps them with some spiritual blessing?

Well, that's how unbelievers regard religious ceremonies. They are magical, to them. They convey blessings. Crosses and Hosts repel vampires, don't you know? They have Power.

But we know that Communion itself has no magical power. It does convey a special blessing, insofar as we partake of it in obedient, worshipful faith (cf. John 13:17). But it does not convey any of this blessing to unbelievers. In fact, it can potentially convey severe judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27).

So why not communicate it that way?

Say something like this:

Communion is like kissing a spouse: if it isn't your spouse, it really isn't for you. And so likewise, this is an institution that God intended for all Christians, but only for Christians. So we ask that only those who have been born again to saving and living faith in Jesus Christ partake of this service.

Now perhaps you feel that we are withholding from you something that might help you, make you happy, make you stronger. That is not the case. God is jealous of this ceremony, and the fact is that if you partake of this celebration of union with Christ, when you do not yourself have union with Christ, it will not help you. No, in fact it will harm you. So, for your own good, we'll thank you if you simply let it pass by.

Helpful? It's yours.


donsands said...

As a 7 year old Catholic boy, I was taught by the 'Sisters' to believe that this sacrament was sacred, but it the wrong way. And many stories of how if taken without going to confession on Saturday, it would be sin.

I did a lot of confessing back in those days. I even made stuff up, so I would bore the priest.

I was under a religion with much error. And I was dead and lost under this false Christianity.

Later I disregarded this sacrament altogether. I hit the world.
Years later I was born anew, and little by little I began to hear the truth concerning this ordinance, or sacrament, by good under-shepherds given to this age from the Chief Shepherd.

Thanks for this short and sweet teaching. I may borrow your very fine thoughts here.
God keep you keepin' on.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

That's a pretty useful wording, Dan, and I may use it in a sermon on the subject, with a little bit of editing and contextualising.

Here in Ireland we partake of the Lord's Table every week, which I suppose kind of maximises the dangers you highlight.

I had a guy (a one off visitor I might add) shake my hand going out of communion one morning and inform me that it was the first time he had 'drunk the blood' of Jesus Christ.

How do you begin to deal with that one after the event!! I actually was so moved that I took him aside and chatted to him about the real significance of the Lord's Table.

Frightening all the same...

Rileysowner said...

There are times when I am thankful for the various liturgies in the Reformed Church, and this is one of them. It certainly helps in fencing the table from unbelievers.

We also print up an insert that is placed in the bulletin that goes through things in more detail. Because we are a small congregation we intentionally have the elders approach visitors before the service to go through it with them to see if they understand. I have it posted here on my blog

ann_in_grace said...

For those of you who do not know: I am a new Christian, saved by the Grace of God only last summer. Born and raised a Catholic, having a 3-years period of JW. So the issue of Communion is very much alive in my life, first in a life of a little girl, dreaming of a white dress and glamour of that, and scared to death of confession box, wondering sometimes why it is only the bread we weere allowed to eat; and then observing both bread and wine passed along the rows and nobody taking it (supposedly none of the JW's sitting there were worthy...).
Now - now I am a Christian, and yesterday was my first Christian Communion.
I find it quite amazing - as mamy times before - that just when I am going through some special times, like this yesterday - I find an appropriate commentary fitting my spiritual condition and am able to relate immediately.

Thank You for this post.

Dan B. said...

Good post, Dan. When I lived in Virginia Beach, my pastor had a great way of communicating your exact sentiments, and I think that a pastor that brings that kind of passion and concern towards Communion does great service to Christian and non-Christian alike who are present at the church service.

Alby G said...

I like the marriage analogy. We're going through 1 Cor at the moment and the 2nd half of Ch 11 is next week. I've recommended your article to our senior pastor.

DiRT said...

Communion EVERY Sunday, not once a month! Sheesh. I thought you were Biblical.