Who Should Participate?
Sometimes we can come to the scripture with one of two attitudes. The first is the attitude that nothing applies to me, that this is simply a book of history or moral sayings that do not really apply to me. We read about Jesus giving commands to his Apostles and think to ourselves none of that applies to me because I am not them. The second attitude is the opposite where we think everything applies equally to everyone. That there is no distinction in how we do things or who can do them. Both are errors though. The first error in not seeing how much of what the bible teaches, applies to everyone, albeit not to everyone the same exact way. For example, we are all commanded in the great commission to go and make disciples, but we are not all commanded to do that in the same way. Some are called to go to another community or country and share the gospel and some are called to stay right where they are. The second attitude fails to see the importance of distinct roles and situations. There are things that apply to men and things that apply to women. Some are for the young and some for the old in faith. As we continue to look specifically at the subject of the Lord's Supper, it is important to remember its purpose and who it is for.
After having spent the last six questions looking at the various details and important parts of the Lord's Supper, the Heidelberg Catechism asks the simple question;
"Who are to come to the table of the Lord?"
To some extent, this may even seem like an unnecessary question. We tend to think that we know who should be able to take the Supper. But we need to be reminded about what Paul writes to the Corinthians. He tells us that anyone that eats the bread or drinks the wine in an unworthy manner is guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27). So, can take the Lord’s Supper?
“Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life. But hypocrites and those who do not repent eat and drink judgment upon themselves.”
The essential idea here is that those who take the Supper must do so in a worthy manner, they must do it in faith. They must come fully aware of their sinfulness, that is their inherent unworthiness to participate, that it is only by the forgiveness that comes through Christ that we are made worthy. We are to come to the Supper seeking to draw closer to the one who has forgiven us, while still understanding the weightiness of our sin. We never want to come to the Super in a flippant or offhanded way. This would be to trivialize what Christ has done. The answer above begs the question though, if there is a type of person and an attitude that can come, what kind of person and attitude should not participate?
Question # 82
“Are those also to be admitted to the Lord's supper who by their confession and life show that they are unbelieving and ungodly?”
Another way of saying that would be, should people who show no evidence of belief take the Supper? This may seem strange to us. We tend to think that everyone should be welcome who says they are Christian. After all, who are we to judge? Sadly, this attitude is far too common. It disregards what we have been commanded as Christians. We have been commanded to watch ourselves and to watch out for our brothers. We have been called as Christians to build up our brothers in love. Part of that is telling them of the sin in their lives, not to put them down but so that they can grow. The catechism makes this clear in its answer;
“No, for then the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation. Therefore, according to the command of Christ and His apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such persons by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, until they amend their lives.”
It is the church’s responsibility to seek unity in the truth. Part of that unity is excluding those who by word or deed have shown unbelief and ungodly living. We cannot have unity apart from the truth. In our culture today this sounds intolerant and mean. Our culture teaches that what is true for you may not be true for you. We think, who are you to say what I can and cannot do? But as Christians, we are subject to the scripture and the commands of God. It is not your truth or my truth, it is the truth and testimony of scripture.
There are times when we as individuals should abstain from the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps we have sin in our lives that we need to deal with. Perhaps we need to go and confess to our brother before we come to the table. And there are other times when the church needs to, for the sake of unrepentance and unbelief, say to someone you cannot participate. Ultimately the purpose of this exclusion is for the good of the person excluded. We want to call this person to repentance, to call them to true faith and belief in the Lord who saves us. It is his table, his supper, and we are to come to it in a worthy manner. We are to come in repentance, humility, and faith. Christ has given his very body and blood that we might be united with him. I pray that we would come to this celebration, and it is a wonderous celebration, in understanding, glorifying the Lord of Glory.
Soli Deo Gloria