Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 16 No. 7 July 2014
Page 5

The Worthiness of Communion

The Lord’s Supper has been lovingly practiced upon the first day of every week by faithful members of the church of Christ since the birth of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:42; 20:7). This distinctive feature of worship in the Lord’s church is to be recognized as a sacred and holy event in memory of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and His cruel death on the cross of Calvary for our sins, as well as reminding us that He will come again. This sacred memorial, given by the Lord Himself, is strictly a New Testament ordinance, and one which was never practiced in the Old Law of Moses. It is a permanent kingdom institution, to be observed among the Lord’s disciples who have entered into the Lord’s church, until He comes again (Luke 22:29-30).

Jesus’ Teaching Clear

“The Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20), “the Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21), “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42) and “the communion” (1 Corinthians 10:16) are all Bible terms that have reference to the blessed memorial instituted by our Lord on the night of His betrayal before the cross (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20). However, due to various confusing denominational teachings concerning the communion, about which Catholics make reference in speaking of one of seven “sacraments” (ordinances made by their church) and Protestantism defines as one of two sacraments, ignorance reigns with the multitudes, and often questions arise in the minds of the honest Bible student! It has always been our plea, and we now again strongly encourage for proper understanding in all spiritual subjects, that all use Bible terms in order to have clear Bible understanding (1 Peter 4: 11).

Some of the Questions and Answers

We are often asked: Who can partake? (Answer: the Lord’s disciples, Acts 2:42). Can one who is not a member of the church partake? (Answer: Not correctly, Romans 6:16-18). Should we partake every first day of the week? (Answer: Yes! We have an approved, apostolic example, which is equal to a direct command, Acts 20:7). Is partaking connected, like repentance and prayer, to the forgiveness of sins? (Answer: No, obedience removes our sins, not partaking of the Lord’s Supper, Hebrews 5:8-9; 7:25; Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:7). Must the emblems be only unleavened bread and fruit of the vine? (Answer: Yes, that is all Jesus used, Matthew 26:26-29). With prayer, do these emblems become the literal body and blood of the Lord? (Answer: No. It is still bread and fruit of the vine after prayer, 1 Corinthians 11:24-26). Do we have Bible teaching for practicing “closed communion,” where the congregation votes on who are worthy to partake and who are not? (Answer: No!) Most of the questions can be easily answered by a simple study of the texts dealing with the institution made by the Lord.

Who Is Worthy?

Another question perhaps more often asked, “Who is worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper?” Our brief answer would be, “No one!” We do not know, nor have we ever known, any who claimed to be or were “worthy” to partake of the Communion, or for that matter “worthy” of any act of worship we practice! Neither do we know of any who are “worthy” to obey and become children of the Lord (cf. 1 John 3:1-3). We must rather come to the Lord for His mercy with the attitude of the Prodigal Son: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19). While it is true that people in transgression, who refuse to be obedient to Christ (Luke 6:46), should not sit at the Lord’s table, nor approach in any way except in repentance, the Lord’s redeemed people are commanded to assemble and partake in “the breaking of bread” on the first day of every week (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). It is not because we are “worthy” that we come to the Lord’s Table, but because we honor Him who made us worthy by forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7).

Misunderstanding

The problem of being “worthy” to partake generally arises in a misunderstanding of the term “unworthily” (1 Corinthians 11:27). This does not take into consideration those who are “worthy” and who are not! Rather this verse has reference to the manner of partaking the Supper. The word “unworthily” is an adverb of manner. Paul spoke to the spiritually weak and sickly Corinthians, who came to the Communion in an unholy, careless, irreverent, frame of mind, thinking of this memorial with no more thought than they would a common meal! He taught them, and us, that the proper manner of partaking must be reverent, thoughtful and remembering our Lord’s sacrifice for us, as well as His coming again! This is the worthy manner that will keep us from partaking “unworthily” wherein we would cast contempt on Christ!


The Autonomy of the Church

The word “autonomy” is defined as, “right of self-government; a self-governing state; an independent body.” In the first century, each congregation of God’s people constituted an independent body. It was independent of every other congregation. Elders did not parcel out power like pearls. There was not tyranny or threats of one church over another. All recognized their individual right of existence. The church in Rome or Jerusalem had no authority in extending their tentacles of power over other self-governing bodies in other communities. Men outside a given congregation had no right to exercise authority and power within another congregation (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7).

It is most important, brethren, that all understand that elders and deacons in one church have no authority to exercise despotic rule or any other kind of rule over the elders and deacons of another congregation. Such is also true of a congregation without elders and deacons (Acts 20:17-38; 14:23).

In the first century, each congregation was free and independent, under the teachings of Christ and the apostles, to govern itself, carry out its own work and manage its own business (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Nowhere does the Bible authorize a group of elders and preachers representing several congregations to meet and dictate policy and demands to another congregation. Such action smacks of ecclesiasticism and is going beyond what is written (2 John 9-11). Such saintly façade masks the worst form of evil!

The New Testament teaches no system of church government larger or smaller than the local church. All congregations had the same Gospel and constituted the one body of Christ (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Each congregation was independent with its own leadership (Acts 14:23) and directed its own work without outside interference from others. Ecclesiasticism has completely reversed the divine arrangement as recorded in the New Covenant. Such is as foreign to the simplicity of the ancient order of things as daylight is from midnight darkness!

The autonomy of the local church is a fundamental doctrine taught in the New Testament. It seems that some of our brethren need to be reminded of this basic truth (2 Peter 1:12).

[Editor’s Note: The malady to which brother Lavender refers above manifests itself today in a number of ways: a church with elders versus an elderless church; a larger congregation versus a smaller congregation; a city church versus a church in a rural setting; a congregation with a big program versus churches with smaller or fewer programs of work; a supporting congregation versus a congregation receiving financial support; a church with more highly educated members and leadership versus a congregation with fewer academic degrees among its elders and other members; etc. All of these scenarios involve comparing ourselves with ourselves to esteem ourselves more highly than others. “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NKJV). Mankind, even within the Lord’s church, has little changed over the many foregoing centuries. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]


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