Open or Closed Table

There is an interesting thread over at Scot McKnight’s blog on the issue of communion and whether or not it should be open or closed to churchgoers. Scot posted in response to a piece at the Out of Ur blog by J.I. Packer. In it Packer writes:

“Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord’s Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord’s body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.

The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it’s failed, then the text says, “Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican,” a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, “Don’t come to the Lord’s Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that.”

First, I’d love for Packer to tell us how he would go about determining whether or not one can “discern the Lord’s body.” Where is the line in the sand between understanding and misunderstanding? And I’d be curious what side of the line Jesus’ own disciples, including Judas and “doubting” Thomas, would have fallen when Jesus served them the last supper.

On his second point regarding those “living in sin”, I guess that’s a perfectly understandable position, but again, I must ask Packer how he would begin to measures such things? Aren’t we all living in sin to some degree? What if a pastor drives a huge SUV? Could a congregant make the claim that the pastor is living in sin by not being a good steward of God’s creation? Some may think that is a frivolous claim, but how is it any less demonstrable than Packer’s claim?

I think the motivation to deny a particular person or group of people communion is an attempt to protect this sacred ritual. I get that and it’s a perfectly natural desire for one to have but I believe it’s ultimately useless and unnecessary. Inevitably there will always be congregants that don’t take the ritual seriously. Does that make your communion any less significant? Maybe this line of thought puts me at odds with Paul, but I just don’t see the point in denying anyone, even “wrongdoers”, the opportunity to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

When I was a child, the only reason I wanted to be baptized was because every time we took communion I was denied the grape juice and the cracker. I was being left out on the basis that I had not yet been baptized. I just wanted the snack but God was playing hard to get. So to solve this problem, the first hoop was accepting Jesus into my heart, then I had to take the church baptism class, then the actual baptism, then, finally, I could have the tasty grape juice and the crispy little wafer. It’s a classic example of wanting what you can’t have. Denying a child communion on these grounds ultimately invites misunderstanding on WHY we do this.

But when I look back on this time, I fully embrace this series of events as the beginning of my ongoing conversion. While one could trivialize my childish motives, they ultimately pointed me down the path I’m still traveling. My selfish desire had little to do with faith or love of God, but mysteriously the grape juice and the bread were not just a snack.

Today, when I allow my unbaptized seven-year-old daughter take communion, I trust that there is power in the act itself. I trust that the juice isn’t just juice and that the bread isn’t just bread. I whisper to her to remember what Jesus has done for her and that he loves her no matter what. She takes the cup and the bread and takes part even though her understanding falls short. But then so does mine. And so did the understanding of Jesus’ own disciples when he instructed them to remember him with this mystical, wonderful ritual.

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6 thoughts on “Open or Closed Table

  1. I think the point you hit on about explaining WHY we take communion is the key. There shouldn’t be a test before you get to the table, but there should be an explanation so each individual can decide for themselves.

    And by the way, you’re absolutely right about being a kid. What is it about that cracker and grape juice that’s so unbelievably attractive?

  2. Hey all,

    I wonder if someone is not a Christian, why would we want to restrict them from coming to receive Jesus’ body and blood broken and shed for them? Intellectual assent and understanding? Why think this is superior to the motives of the heart, or the deep desire for their life to be connected to Jesus in a way they may not yet understand (as though any of us actually, totally, and completely “get it”)?

    If someone is in deep destructive sin [like buying hummers], what better thing could they do than to receive and hear again, “This is my body broken for you, take and eat. My blood shed for you, take and drink” (as though any of us when coming to the Lord’s Table is faultless, or our sin’s less soul destroying)?

    http://www.everythingnew.org

  3. I think the WHY and the point about Jesus serving everyone at the original meal are key. I also love how you made your point even more personal by including how you go about this with your daughter…her understanding falls short, and so does yours…and does the rest of ours. It’s part of the mystery. Thanks for drawing attention to the conversation Zach. I’m with you, ultimately useless and unnecessary.

  4. I thought that the short mp3 that Tim Samoff put on his blog a couple of years ago – I think it was a communion meditation by a pastor named Mike King? – was a perfect answer to the communion question:

    [audio src="http://sense-datum.org/tim/audio/eucharist_by_mike_king.mp3" /]

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