Taking Communion and Judgment
One of the beliefs that I disagree with in many churches today, is their understanding of being worthy to take communion. They believe that you have to be right with God, and not have sin in your life, in order to be worthy to take communion. Let's take a look at the scripture they use to justify this position:
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
At face value, it appears they are right, doesn't it? It is important to remember that just because the Bible says something, does not mean that the way we interpret it is correct.
What was Paul talking about then?
If you read the full context of the passage, it is talking about the unworthy manner which they were partaking. Most newer translations actually use the words "unworthy manner" (including the NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and RSV). If you read the passage within it's proper context, it becomes very clear what it was Paul was referring to. Let's quote the entire passage:
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
First underlining above speaks of what was actually going on - they were eating and drinking the communion elements to satisfy their physical hunger! It was so bad that they were getting drunk on the wine! Are you kidding me?! Paul was outraged, asking them if they had not homes to eat and drink in. If you study your Bible, those Corinthians were quite a handful. Most of us today wouldn't dare think of mocking of work of Christ by consuming the elements of communion in such an unworthy manner.
Second underlining tells us why they fell under condemnation and drank judgment unto themselves - it was because they weren't discerning the Lord's body! Biblically speaking, that is the reason for the condemnation that they came under. It had nothing to do with their hearts not being right in some area of their life.
Third underlining confirms the reason for the condemnation, and it all has to do with eating and drinking the elements to satisfy physical hunger rather than for the purpose to which it was truly intended. Paul tells us to eat at home so that when we partake in the elements, we are not doing so for the wrong reasons. Or in Paul's exact words, "...if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation."
Can it be any more clear what it was Paul was referring to in this passage? It's written in black and white on the pages of God's Word, but it's upto us to choose whether we're going to accept what the Bible really says, or if we're going to hold on to a religious teaching because of our filters and preferences. You can continue to believe what you feel in your spirit, due to your religious tendencies, but I choose to believe what the Word of God is really telling us in this passage.
Partaking in a worthy manner vs being worthy to partake
Can we partake in a worthy manner? Yes, absolutely! Can even the best of us be truly worthy to eat of the Lord's body and drink of His blood? No, absolutely not! And to claim that we are worthy is putting an awfully lot of confidence in the flesh and our ability to rid ourselves of sin. To claim that we are worthy to take of the Lord's body and blood, is very prideful and self-righteous. None of us are worthy to partake in the blood and body of the Lord, and if we are to be worthy, it would only be through the body and blood of Christ making us worthy. If we don't partake in it, then how are we supposed to become worthy then? That is like telling somebody to wash themselves before they are worthy to take a bath.
Paul wasn't telling us to examine our hearts for sin, but rather examining our motives for partaking in communion. To say that we must rid ourselves of sin before we can partake, is to read something into scripture that it was never saying. Worse yet, to tell God's people that they will drink judgment unto themselves if they have any form of sin in their hearts as they symbolically remember what Christ did for them, is spiritual abuse. Such a belief drives people from even wanting to partake at all. Why would you want to ever take a chance at drinking sickness and even death unto yourself if you happen to not be sinless before God? I know I wouldn't want to!
If we are to examine our hearts for sin, what are we looking for? Little sins like lust and anger? Or the big ones like living in an adultery? Are you going to honestly tell me that your heart is sinless every time you take communion? Have you really obtained that achievement here on earth? Or are the little sins acceptable, but the big ones must be dealt with? Must we really be 100% unaware of any sin in our lives, including our thoughts and feelings, before we can partake in the body and blood of Christ in remembrance of what Jesus did for us? If we need to deal with sin in our hearts, then that includes the seemingly invisible ones such as fear, unbelief, unthankfulness, etc. When we take sin to that level, which is God's holy standard, then even the best of us have a tendency to fall short.
Let's take the brand new believer, who's got numerous issues in their life that God will have to take years to work them through. Should they go for years without partaking communion, because there is sin in their heart that has not been uprooted yet? Should we tell them that until they are worthy and have arrived at a place where they are aware of no sin in their heart, only then should they partake? If we tell them that, and take communion before them, then we are claiming that we are right before God, and we are worthy to drink the blood and eat the body of Christ. I personally believe that such a position is to proclaim self-righteousness! Scripture is clear that everyone who believes upon Jesus is made righteous. Therefore, all who place their faith in Christ, are worthy to partake.
When we first experience salvation, and therefore partook in His body and blood that was shed for us, were we worthy? Of course not! We were anything but worthy to partake of the Lord's body and blood that was shed for us. If we weren't worthy then, why must we be worthy today? This brings me to another theory that floats around the church today: We start out in the Spirit, placing our faith in Christ to make us righteous, but then we start relying on our ability to keep the law in order to maintain our righteousness. This was happening in the early church, and Paul rebuked them for it (see Galatians 3:1-3). In the same way that we start out trusting in Christ for our righteousness, so also that same faith we are to continue in as the means of our righteousness. I believe in the same way that we came to Christ to partake in His body and blood when we accepted Jesus into our hearts, is the same way that we ought to partake of His body and blood today in remembrance of what He did for us. We come to Him to remember what He has done for us, from our place of need. Our place of need might even include a struggle or bondage to sin in some area of our life!
If most of us examine our hearts looking for sin, we will surely find it somewhere, and it will disqualify us from wanting anything to do with partaking in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Who in their right mind wants to drink condemnation unto themself? How can you be sure that you've gotten rid of all sin from your heart? What is the difference if you are struggling with a smaller sin such as envy, or if you are living in fornication? Sin is sin, and if we must make ourselves worthy by getting rid of all sin, then we'd best get rid of every last drop and stand before the Lord in absolute perfection. I'm not kidding! Either all the sin is out of our hearts, or it isn't... what difference what kind of sin dwells there? Even Paul shouldn't have partook in communion if he had to rid himself of all darkness, because even he admitted that there was evil present in him even as a believer in Christ (see Romans 7:21).
I know from my own experience, I was often so concerned about being right with God, that I missed the whole point of remembering what the Lord did for me when taking communion. Instead of focusing on the body and blood of Christ, I was worried that I wasn't worthy to take of the elements. What a shame!
The purpose of taking communion
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
The reason we take communion is to remember what it was the Lord Jesus has done for us. When we partake of the body and blood, we are proclaiming the work that He accomplished for us on the cross. We are also proclaiming the benefits of the New Covenant, which include healing, deliverance, prosperity, and the power to overcome sin in our lives.
I've been told stories of healing and deliverance that miraculously took place as believers partook in communion, so why can't addictions and struggles with sin be broken when taking communion? Would we dare think of communion as a powerful tool to help us overcome sin? If healing and deliverance was paid for through the broken body and shed blood of Christ, then was not the power to overcome sin included in Jesus' broken body and shed blood as well? Of course, if we're afraid that we're going to drink judgment unto ourselves, we wouldn't even think of taking communion at a time when we are struggling with sin! Through fear, due to false teachings, we are cut off from this tremendous source of help in our time of need. It's no wonder Satan has worked so hard to keep people who struggle with sin, from taking communion, and thereby remembering what Christ has done for them. That is why it is spiritually dangerous to teach Christians that they must rid their hearts of sin before they are worthy to take of communion.
If there was ever one time that we need to remember what Christ has done for us, it is when our hearts are not right before God! Jesus wanted us to keep fresh in our memory what He did for us, because meditating on the price He paid for us and the work He accomplished for us, is the very thing that will drive us away from sin.
What is the whole point of communion? To remember what Jesus did for us!