Thursday, May 26, 2005

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord's Supper Series (Part 2)

One final ramification that needs to be addressed here is just who is allowed at the Supper. Believers only? Believers and their immediate family? Anyone who wants to partake? Is the Lord’s Supper to be “protected” from unbelievers?

The New Testament setting of the Supper as a full meal held in the homes of its members holds significance for just who is allowed at the Supper. Many evangelical churches today actively “protect” the Supper; that is to say, in the moments preceding the Supper they make it a point to invite to the Supper only those who have exercised personal faith in Christ. Churches that practice this “protection” are usually careful to point out (based on 1 Corinthians 11) that one who eats of the Supper in an unworthy manner may very well eat and drink judgment to himself. Hence, no unbeliever or unregenerate child (even of a believer) may partake of the bread and cup.

But there are at least two observations that militate against this view. First, as we noted in an earlier entry to this series, the “unworthy manner” of 1 Cor 11:27-32 refers not to the spiritual state of the eater, but to the manner in which he eats the Supper. In the case of the Corinthians, the culprits who were sick and dying were not so judged due to their inward state (however unworthy that state may have been), but rather due to their conspiring to exclude the poor from the Supper while they themselves partook of it sumptuously—that is to say, they were judged for the manner in which they conducted the Supper.

Second, the New Testament setting of the Lord’s Supper itself would seem to preclude anything like a “protected” Supper. The first-century church did not meet in specially designed public buildings call “churches.” They met together—and ate together—primarily in homes. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper was not for them some incidental activity pushed back to the final ten minutes of the meeting once per quarter. It was absolutely central to the church meeting every Lord’s Day, and indeed, it was the very focus of the meeting. Bear in mind that the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament was a full meal, and participation in that meal was the very purpose for meeting together in the first place. In fact, the entire meeting was very likely conducted while at table, and the eating likely lasted throughout the entire meeting. Hence, part of the purpose of the Supper was to share a meal together, especially to provide for (in the words of Paul) "those who have nothing."

If, then, during those days “some unbeliever walk[ed] in” per Paul’s scenario in 1 Cor 14:23-25, or if some unbelieving spouse decided to accompany a believing spouse to the meeting—and brought their young children along as well—imagine the awkwardness of the church as they partook of a meal together around a table and instructed the unbelievers and children to sit at the table with them but refrain from joining in the meal; the members of the church dine sumptuously, while their children and spouses look on with hunger. Such a scenario is absurd on its face, particularly in light of Paul’s teaching that the children and unbelieving spouse of a believer are “sanctified,” “clean,” and “holy” by virtue of the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:14). Whatever the direct application is of that principle, it seems fair to apply it to this case as well.

The Lord’s Supper needs no protection. No one was denied the Supper in the context of the New Testament church meeting—except, of course, in the case of the Corinthians who were being judged for denying the Supper to some. Indeed, Jesus Himself set a precedent for us in his treatment of Judas. Jesus knew full well that it would be Judas who would betray him, and expressly identifies him as “a devil” (John 6:70-71), “the one doomed to destruction,” who is “unclean,” not “chosen,” and who would betray Him (John 13:10, 18, 21). Yet, knowing all this ahead of time, Jesus still dipped the bread in the bowl and gave it to Judas, and (although inconclusive) Judas likely partook of the Supper (Matt 26:25-29; Mark 14:17-24).

The notion that the Lord's Supper is to be "protected" is based on a faulty reading and misapplication of the "self examination" passage in 1 Cor 11:27-32, a passage we've already dealt with at length in an earlier entry to this series. Yet, even if one wants to maintain the popular reading of this passage, the issue of "protection" is still moot since any potential offender still "eats and drinks judgment" only "to himself," and not to anyone else. In other words, if the local church conducting the Supper is itself not conducting it in an "unworthy manner," then the Supper is legitimately the Supper, and their hands are clean even if one among them ends up eating and drinking judgment to himself. The command is for the man to examine himself, not for the church to withhold the Supper from him.

Tomorrow’s blog: the conclusion to this series