I know, the initial reaction by us Lutherans is that such a decision seems counter-intuitive. That is, it doesn't make much sense when the very purpose of such a beautiful and comforting gift from God is that it's a "Means of Grace" or a tangible way to receive Christ's mercy and forgiveness for your sins.
While each and every one of us knows that to be the case, I'm curious how many people reading this have actually refrained from receiving the Lord's Supper at any point in their life as a Christian.
Is there a time when such a decision is warranted? Is there an instance when such a decision is to be expected as mandatory?
Now, I'm not necessarily talking about when you visit a heterodox church ("heterodox" = "those Christian denominations that mix false teaching in with true teaching such as Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Reformed, etc.) and Communion is offered and you don't partake, but I mean at the church where you belong as a member of the congregation.
I also don't mean for this to turn into a commentary on what's called "Close(d) Communion" either although that certainly applies here as well. Yet, remember, that when you participate in the Lord's Supper, two things happen: (1) you receive from Christ the blessings that He has promised to you, and (2) you proclaim your unity of faith with all others who are at the same altar.
As one Lutheran church website pointed out, "Unlike Baptism, the Lord's Supper is a Sacrament that occurs not one-by-one, but with the whole congregation at once. It shows complete unity in every way with Christ and with each other. Communing at a particular altar is a public confession, or agreement, to the faith that is taught at that particular altar. Paul writes of this in 1 Corinthians 10:16-18."
So, has there ever been a time when you didn't go up to receive Holy Communion for any reason at all while attending a service at your home church? That's what I found myself thinking about today.
As a "Newtheran" myself, I'm sure our Lutheran Confessions have something to say about that somewhere. I just haven't come across it yet on my own! However, I do know what God's Word has to say about it at least and 1 Corinthians 11 is where we need to turn for the truth.
1 Corinthians 11:26-29 (ESV) For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 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. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
We must not overlook this passage. Hermann Sasse once pointed out how the Supper tells us what the Church is. I also read something recently from Rev. Eric J. Brown that I thought was certainly applicable.
Let A Man Examine Himself...
Let a man examine himself.
It's a familiar phrase in Lutheran circles -- from 1 Corinthians 11, dealing with proper reception of the Lord's Supper -- but also how we end up viewing confession and absolution. Examine yourself. The Greek is "δοκιμαζέτω" -- Let one test one's self, approve after scrutiny as fit for an office -- Liddel and Scott have lots of things on it which you can find here. But there is that idea of self-examination.
There are few things more dangerous than the simple assumption that you yourself are right because your outward actions are right. This is a major theme of the Jesus' preaching in the Gospels.
"You cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness."
"Woe to you, for you build the tombs of the prophets your fathers killed."
"You did not enter yourself, but you hindered those who were entering."
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other."
So on and so forth.
As Christians we are to examine our motivations, so that we do not hide behind a veneer of righteousness -- to see that we do not act in a way that only appears or seems to be right. We know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, that the outward wickedness first starts in the heart and proceeds from there... that great shame and vice is an outgrowth of the unchecked wickedness of the heart.
So we are called to examine. Examine our own motives. To test ourselves, to prove ourselves. Are we righteous, moral agents, or are we those who must ride constant herd not merely upon outward actions, but upon a guileful heart?
And yet -- how quickly I will become defensive when someone questions my motives. Why should I, for I know that I am sinful and wretched. God be merciful to me, the sinner!
What do you think of that? It's sort of what I was getting at -- that the decision to refrain from receiving the Lord's Supper could very well be due to you and you alone more so than it is about others around you and in your presence (I hope I made sense there).
Personally, I've refrained from receiving the Lord's Supper on a couple of occasions -- and I was completely brokenhearted and hated every minute of it!
Still, I don't regret the decision since God's clear instructions from 1 Corinthians 11 convicted me mightily at the time and I wanted to be mindful of what He says to us there as opposed to just ignoring it completely let alone taking His warning lightly.
Was that the wrong response? Maybe it was and some Pastors or better informed laymen can explain to me why that's the case. I just want to communicate to anyone reading this that I think that 1 Corinthians 11 gives us a pretty clear indication that there is a time and a place for such a decision to refrain from receiving the Lord's Supper, and I wanted to bring it up for discussion here, especially since I'm new to all of this, and because I can't really recall ever seeing anyone else at church making the same decision on any given Sunday.
Now, be careful though! The real and present danger here is that the bastard we know as "Old Adam" within us will want to try to make this an intensely pious act. He'll use your decision to refrain to try and puff you up spiritually as he works hard to make you think you're somehow "better" and "more spiritual" than those "Lutherans-In-Name-Only" all around you "who probably never even gave this sort of thing a single thought like you have!" Like I said, BE VERY CAREFUL HERE!
Truth is, while I knew it was probably the right decision for me at the time, I didn't like it, but such a decision to follow God's command in certain circumstances actually accomplished what I think it was supposed to.
It convicted me with the Law and brought my sins front-and-center where I couldn't just ignore them and hope they'd go away even through repentance unto God, because it involved offering repentance and seeking forgiveness from other people (my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ).
Interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to me, Scott Diekmann just wrote about this very same thing for Steadfast Lutherans only yesterday! You can read "Sinful Separatism Or Proper Rejection of Unionism?" for more on this subject. Of course, please share your thoughts below in the Comments Section here if you'd like.
For me, I tend to think that in 1 Corinthians 11 St. Paul is essentially asking the people to do a "heart check" of sorts before receiving Communion (knowing that this does not mean that you'll ever approach the altar with a "perfect heart" or something).
Are our hearts in the right place? Are we about to receive the Lord's Supper with the proper reverence it deserves? Are we eating Christ's body and blood to remember His sacrifice for us and to engage in a corporate confession with others who believe and practice the same things we do? Are we divided among ourselves or unified in Christ? Are we actually having communion, or are we just selfishly satisfying our own appetites? These are all the questions I think it's wise for us to prayerfully consider as we work our way through this topic.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, ultimately, the decision to refrain from receiving the Lord's Supper is a matter of individual conscience as it is informed by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God to convict and/or comfort us.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha!). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm experiencing and/or studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!