|Vol. 15 No. 6 June 2013||
When visitors attend our periods of worship on the Lord’s Day, they quickly observe that we partake of the Lord’s Supper as a part of our worship to God. Some ask, “How often do you partake of the Lord’s Supper?” The answer is that “we partake of it on the first day of every week” (Acts 20:7). Another question is, “Do you practice open or closed communion?” That is an interesting question. The fact is the Bible does not use such terms. It becomes necessary, therefore, to inquire from the Word of God who may and who may not participate in the Lord’s Supper.
The apostle Paul, in addressing this particular subject in his first epistle to the church in Corinth wrote, “So let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (11:28). Thus, the participation in the communion of the Lord is a very personal matter. In the churches of Christ, there are no brethren standing by to inform people who may or who may not eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine. That responsibility is not in the realm of decision-making by the church leaders. It is an individual matter. In this sense, the church of the Lord practices neither “open” nor “closed communion.” Each person must decide for himself.
However, we must not construe this answer to mean that all commune with the Lord when they partake of the bread and of the fruit of the vine. To eat of the supper and commune with the Lord can and may be two different matters. Merely because an individual goes through the physical act of eating and drinking the elements does not necessarily mean he has actually communed with the Lord. The apostle Paul further wrote to the Corinthians that the man who does not discern the Lord’s body “eats and drinks judgment to himself” (11:29). He also stated, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). For example, one may be a hypocrite during the week, eat the Lord’s Supper on Sunday and never commune with his Lord. An individual may harbor hatred in his heart or have his mind centered on carnal matters while eating the supper and never commune with the Lord. Instead, this individual brings guilt and judgment upon his very soul.
Furthermore, a person who has never been “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) cannot truly commune with the Lord in the supper though he may eat the bread and drink of the cup. When Jesus instituted the supper, he mentioned that He would “not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). The “church of God” that was in Corinth was instructed how it should partake of the supper in an acceptable manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). Therefore, he that is not in the kingdom/church cannot possibly commune with the Lord even though he may eat the bread and drink of the cup. This avenue of worship is a spiritual one. This wonderful privilege is for the Christian, the child of God, the member of the body of Christ, a citizen of the kingdom of God. It must be understood that the person who is not in the proper and right spiritual relationship with God cannot truly commune with the Lord even though he may physically partake of the supper.
Burton Coffman relates a story from William Barclay’s commentary in which an ancient heathen man hated a particular righteous man. His reason was thus stated once to the righteous man: The man guilty of a lifestyle of debauchery said to the much more upright individual, “I hate you; because every time I meet you, you show me what I am.”
If honesty were inescapable, this statement would be repeated many times over from the lips of those wicked souls who persecute the righteous. Sometimes the simple living of a righteous life is provocative enough to get the unrighteous quite angry. Christians trying to humbly follow their God may receive every form of persecution from tongue-lashings to physical scourging just because those who are not trying to humbly follow God do not like it that some are. In many cases, Christians have neither been arrogant nor confrontational about the differences of lifestyle. It is just that the immoral see an indictment of their depraved lifestyle when they encounter one who has learned to exercise self-control.
The Bible warned that this would be the case and told Christians how to respond. Christians should be ready to answer their opponents, and continue to keep “a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
It is disturbing, but should not be surprising to Christians, that some non-Christians would despise their lifestyle. Peter reminded, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus gave similar warnings in John 15:18-19 and 16:1-2.
This unique trend has its other, more subtle references in Scripture. Consider that Noah “condemned the world.” “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Yet, how did Noah condemn the world? Strictly according to this verse, it was by his righteous, obedient act of “preparing an ark” at God’s instructions. Yes, Noah had done some preaching, but his simple righteousness was enough to pass judgment on the world’s wickedness.
Consider Luke 11:32: “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” How, literally, would dead men from Nineveh’s prior time rise up and condemn the generation of Jesus? Literally, it would not be. However, figuratively, they had already done so. They were a generation that quickly did an about-face in response to the preaching of a prophet of God. Jesus’ generation showed no signs of doing so. Those who did the right thing condemned those who did not—just by doing the right thing.
Christians need to be, by definition, humble servants of God. They should seek to avoid antagonism with those in the brotherhood of man. They should not provoke a fight with stinging words or malicious intent. Though, if this peaceful attitude does not eliminate all persecution, then they should heed the simple words of 1 John 3:13, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.”