To Partake or Not To Partake


Every first Sunday of the month I wrestle with the same question – how to “fence” the Table? By that I mean what precautions do I prescribe for folks who want to take Communion? Clearly this is advisable given the Bible’s warning that to eat and drink unworthily is to invite the severest kind of judgment (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

The first is easy. Don’t partake if you’re not a devoted follower of Jesus. This means of grace applies to those who treasure Jesus as the One who gave His body to be broken and His blood to be shed for the forgiveness of their sins. It has nothing to do at all to do with mere ritual; it has everything to do with remembering the supreme sacrifice upon which our hope for justification (being found right with God) rests.

For this Baptist, that means that the second precaution is easy as well. You wouldn’t put Communion, a continuation rite for ongoing spiritual nourishment before  baptism, the initiation rite for entrance into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Baptism happens once as a symbol of what God had done in the heart by faith – being identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). Communion occurs often throughout the course of one’s spiritual journey as a means of remembering what Jesus had done and nourishing one’s faith with the real presence of Jesus at the Table (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

The third precaution doesn’t seem as easy but probably should be. You don’t want to partake if you find yourself at odds with a brother or sister and have failed to take the necessary steps in biblical peacemaking to promote reconciliation. To this dilemma Jesus speaks quite plainly in Matt. 5:23-24 –

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Alfred Poirier, in his book, The Peacemaking Pastor, makes the necessary connection here between worship and peacemaking:

peacemaking pastorWhat is interesting in this passage is that Jesus pictures us remembering the conflicts in our lives during worship–true worship. Worship in Spirit and truth should result in remembering those with whom we are not yet reconciled. For we cannot worship the God of peace and hate our brother and sister, nor can we eat from the Lord’s Table when our heart and mouth are full of bitterness. And true worship should encourage us that the God of peace will be with us if we need to go and get reconciled (Poirier, 2006, p. 277).

I wonder how many believers during their last Communion allowed the bread and cup to pass through mouths and enter into hearts poisoned by enmity in some relationship? May it never be. Better to leave your gift at the altar than play the hypocrite that worships while estranged from a family member in the faith.

Determine with God’s help and the grace of Jesus in His gospel of peace that such a thing will not happen again. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). As you do, let there be no wondering at all about the answer to the all important question – to partake or not partake? By all means, all other fencing matters being satisfied, partake.

Two Different Good Friday Observances

Good Friday

Holy Week fast approaches.

Good Friday brings with it two options for observing the day, both unique in their own respects.

First, at 10 AM at the All Women’s Health Center (abortion clinic), there will be an hour of praise and prayer commemorating Jesus’ Preaching at All Women'sdeath on the cross and the advocacy for life at this modern killing field. The service will involve a blend of the regular sidewalk counseling that goes on, singing, Scripture reading, and praying. Furthermore, I have been asked to preach as I did last December for an Advent service. Any and everyone are invited to attend. You do not have to participate in the actual counseling, but your prayer and praise can make a powerful impact on this front-line spiritual battle zone.

Second, at 6 PM at OGC, we will host an agape love feast for our church-wide agape feastobservance of the day. In this we will break our 24 hour fast for conversions, baptisms, and discipleship here in Central Florida. Each household is asked to bring some bread, cheese, and fruit to share. We will have time for community around the tables, sharing, singing, and, of course, the Lord’s Table. I will share a brief homily from Matt. 27:51-54. All are welcome.

May these unusual approaches bring enhanced appreciation for all Jesus has done for us in His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross!

Fit Receivers of the Sacrament

Puritan Richard Sibbes, in his book Glorious Freedom, offers excellent counsel for approaching the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner.

The entire book constitutes his exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:18, a most important New Testament text on the doctrine of sanctification.

I commend this to you in preparation for our Good Friday observances in growth groups this week or for any Communion observance for that matter.

Now that we are to receive the sacrament, think of the sacraments as glasses in which we see the glory of the love and mercy of God in Christ. If we consider the bread alone, and not as representing better things, what is it? And the wine alone, as it does not represent better things, what is it but an ordinary poor thing? Oh, but take them as glasses, as things that convey to the soul and represent things more excellent than themselves, and they are glorious ordinances. Take a glass as a glass, it is a poor thing; but take the glasses as they represent more excellent things than themselves, and they are of excellent use. Bread and wine must not be taken as naked elements, but as they represent and convey something more excellent: that is, Christ and all his benefits, the love and mercy and grace of God in Christ.

Therefore I beseech you now, when you are to receive the sacrament, let your minds be more occupied than your senses. When you take the bread, think of the body of Christ broken; and when you think of uniting the bread into one substance, think of Christ and you made one. When the wine is poured out, think of the blood of Christ poured out for sin. When you think of the refreshing by the wine, think of the refreshing of your spirits and souls by the love of God in Christ, and of the love of Christ that did not spare his blood for your soul’s good. How Christ crucified and his shedding of blood refreshes the guilty soul, as wine refreshes the weak spirits! So consider the sacraments as glasses in which better things be are presented, and let your minds as well as your senses be occupied, and then you shall be fit receivers.

Good counsel. Holy Table. Great Savior.

Yes, It's a Holiday Weekend but . . .

Yes, it’s Labor Day weekend with the rest, relaxation, and refreshment it can bring, but . . . Sunday will come tomorrow and we will gather for worship and community as always.

In some ways it is a more important Sunday than others.

First, we have a congregational meeting during the 9:30 hour for members and attenders alike. We will address a financial update on our 2011 operating budget as well as the capital campaign for our building program. We will hear about the growth group and 9:30 hour for children and adult emphases this fall as well. We have some interesting research about churches who recently opened new facilities and will share what we have learned from that and how we are seeking to profit by the conclusions. Finally, as we almost always do, time permitting, we will have an open mic Ask Anything of the Leadership Team session at the conclusion of the meeting. Child care will be available for ages 0-4.

Another reason tomorrow takes on greater importance than some other Sundays is that we will have the Lord’s Supper at the conclusion of the service. The Scripture reading for the day actually includes Paul’s treatment of the Supper in 1 Cor. 11:17-34. The sermon text comes from vs. 33-34 where we hear Paul exhort about the grace of waiting for one another at the Table. Why not take a moment to read and reflect upon the passage now?

For some excellent insight on how to prepare for the Supper tomorrow, especially if you have struggled with your indwelling flesh this week, check out this by Pastor John Piper: Can I take the Lord’s Supper if I’ve had a bad week spiritually?

What Is a Silent Communion?

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, will see us engage in a silent communion  during the 9:30 hour in the SDA sanctuary. Some of you may never have participated in such an experience. A silent communion is a self-directed exercise in reflection, devotion, and worship centering on the Lord’s Table conducted in silence (only background instrumental music will be heard). Upon arriving in the sanctuary (please do all you can to be prompt as we make use of every minute of the hour) you will receive a guide describing the four movements of the communion.

The first movement from 9:30 to 9:45 AM concentrates on adoration and praise. Using Psalm 145 as our guide we will worship the Lord in the silence of our hearts for His various attributes and acts.

The second movement from 9:45 to 10:00 AM calls us to a focused time of confession of sin and repentance before God. We will utilize the Puritan prayer entitled Purification for this purpose. Here is how that prayer begins:

Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.

The third movement from 10:00 to 10:15 AM brings us to the actual supper. After reflecting on three paragraphs of our confession of faith, we will approach the table and serve ourselves the bread and cup. Here are those paragraphs if you wish to do extra preparation in advance:

Paragraph One: The Lord’s supper was instituted by the Lord on the same night in which He was betrayed. It is to be observed in His churches to the world’s end, for a perpetual remembrance of Him and to show forth the sacrifice of Himself in His death. It was instituted also to confirm saints in the belief that all the benefits stemming from Christ’s sacrifice belong to them. Furthermore, it is meant to promote their spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ, and to strengthen the ties that bind them to all the duties they owe to Him. The Lord’s supper is also a bond and pledge of the fellowship which believers have with Christ and with one another. See 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, 21; 1 Corinthians 11:23-36.

Paragraph Seven: Those who, as worthy participants, outwardly eat and drink the visible bread and wine in this ordinance, at the same time receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and receive all the benefits accruing from His death. This they do really and indeed, not as if feeding upon the actual flesh and blood of a person’s body, but inwardly and by faith. In the supper the body and blood of Christ are present to the faith of believers, not in any actual physical way, but in a way of spiritual apprehension, just as the bread and wine themselves are present to their outward physical senses. See 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Paragraph Eight: All persons who participate at the Lord’s table unworthily sin against the body and blood of the Lord, and their eating and drinking brings them under divine judgment. It follows,therefore, that all ignorant and ungodly persons, being unfit to enjoy fellowship with Christ, are similarly unworthy to be communicants at the Lord’s table; and while they remain as they are they cannot rightly be admitted to partake of Christ’s holy ordinance, for thereby great sin against Christ would be committed. See Matthew 7:6; 1 Corinthians 11:29; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.

The fourth movement from 10:15 to 10:30 AM puts the church directory before us and calls us to a time of petition and intercession for one another’s needs as God brings them to mind.

I urge all of us to  make this additional observance of Communion in the month of December as a means of grace that brings even more blessing into our lives during this Advent season.