Monday, September 05, 2005


Eating in an Unworthy Manner

Many Protestant churches have a Communion service tradition for people to confess their sins (privately and silently), often to the accompaniment of dirge-like organ music, before taking the bread and the cup. The supposed Biblical reason for this is the warning given in 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

The “unworthy manner” is explained as taking the elements while any known sins are unconfessed and unforgiven. Thus, the Lord’s Table becomes the Protestant version of the Roman Catholic confessional, only without the earthly mediation of a priest.

Doctrinally this is way off. It amounts to following Rome in a rejection of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice for sins once for all. It ignores Jesus’ “It is finished” as if forgiveness is doled out for one sin at a time, in response to a sacramental rite of confession at the altar. For Catholics this logically leads to ceremonies like penance, last rites, purgatory, and indulgences.

Protestants reject those abuses, but may not reject the misunderstanding of forgiveness on which they are based. We keep the wrong notion of God’s forgiveness and substitute confession at Communion and daily “asking for forgiveness” based on a misreading of 1 John 1:9. (See my blog, “Asking for Forgiveness” posted on June 30, 2005.)

Another result of this mistake is that it takes the focus of attention off the Lord Jesus, where it belongs, and places it on the sinners at the table.

If we would read with our eyes open, we would have a proper understanding of the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11. The context begins in chapter 10. Paul contrasts the Lord’s Table with the idolatrous feasts of paganism. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (verse 16) The answer is ‘yes.’ “We who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (verse 17) The gathering of believers meeting to partake of the metaphorical “body of Christ” in Communion is, in another sense, “the body of Christ” also.

The problem at Corinth is outlined in chapter 11. Divisions within the body actually denied the reality of the one body in the very act of Communion. Verses 20-22 declare, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. . . . Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (Then come the familiar ceremonial words and warnings.)

The unworthy manner Paul warns against is not any and all variety of sins that people have committed since the last Communion service, but the specific, divisive sins mentioned: that which approaches the table without recognizing the body of the Lord, that is, without showing respect for the other members of the body. “One remains hungry, another gets drunk.” (verse 21)

We ought to examine ourselves when we partake of the Lord’s Table; specifically, we ought to assess our recognition of and respect for the other people taking Communion around us. Am I pushing others aside to fill myself? Am I uncaring about whether others get anything? Am I stuffing myself at Communion so I don’t have to feed myself at home?

This self-examination is usually not a lengthy or morose process. Let’s read with open eyes.

Great post, but let us not forget to read verses 29 and 30. Paul is explicit:

"For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."

Communion is not a mere meal. There is a spiritual power present, so much so that those who do not recognize it are physically affected.
Which "body of the Lord" is refered to in verse 29? I think the context calls for it to be a reference to the congregation as the Lord's body, in keeping with the point of my article.
Indeed Jerry, this is a point which has been debated within Christianity since Jesus took the bread and said "This is my Body" so I will not add to the debate (since I'm one of the guys who takes Jesus somewhat literally when he says this in John and then Paul quotes it again here in 1 Cor 11).

Rather, I applaud your focus on Christ and His Word. My main focus, and maybe I didn't use the best words, was to add to your point, and show that Paul goes so far to say that how we take communion (i.e., the condition of our hearts) can literally affect our health.

Christians tend to glaze over that verse, which is there in very plain and explicit language for us all to see—if—as you say, we keep our eyes open.
The "self-examination" done by the disciples in the upper room, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, was "Is it I?" in response to Jesus' prediction that one of them would betray him. (I don't think they confessed through a long list of sins unrelated to that topic.) The penalty mentioned there was not merely to become sick or to die. "It would be better for him if he had never been born." (Matthew 26:24)
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