Do you receive Communion every week? Should our children? What about members of other churches? What if a Christian isn’t a member of any church? Who really should be partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Should it be open to all or just to some? And who decides?
There is a considerable amount of confusion surrounding Communion (a.k.a., the Lord’s Supper). It is often misunderstood, and even more often under-understood. Therefore, this is the second of a series of blog posts of answers to some questions that I have been asked about Communion. It is my prayerful hope that these blog posts will be beneficial for you by answering nagging questions you might have, by helping you to think more clearly and deeply about this special gift from God to us which we partake of every week, by perhaps correcting some of your faulty thinking with regards to Communion and even the gospel itself, and by enriching your understanding of and appreciation for the unmatched love of God for you in Christ.
Who Should Partake of Communion?
The Short Answer
Because Communion is a New Covenant meal (Mt. 26:26-29), it is only for those who are included in the New Covenant community. It is only by the grace of God through repentance and faith in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, that we are brought into it. In short, Communion is for those who are united with Christ by faith.
If we elaborate just a bit on this, we could say that the Lord’s Supper is only for those who are believing in who Jesus is and what He has done. If a person is surrendered to Christ by faith in the gospel, then Communion is for them. However, if a person is a Christian in name only, not really giving their heart to Jesus as the only Savior and Lord, then they should not be partaking of Communion. This is also why children (even children of believing parents) who have yet to express and have evidence of a genuine saving faith in Christ, should not be allowed to partake of Communion.
Faith is necessary for all those who want to partake of Communion. It is not faith in the ceremonial practice itself. It is not faith in the one who administers it. It is not faith in yourself, in your goodness, in your worthiness to receive it, or in your faith. It is not faith in the elements themselves as though they are magical. It is faith in what the elements represent; namely, the perfect life, death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Just as Communion is only for those who are believing in Jesus, it is also only for those who are repentant. True faith always and necessarily involves repentance. They go hand in hand, like two sides of the same coin. Christians are repenting believers and believing repenters.
Repentance is a change of mind and heart that always leads to a change of desire, commitment, and actions. It is the refusal to obey sin’s commands and a commitment to obey Jesus’. It is submission to Jesus as Lord. It is hating sin and choosing to think and act in accordance with your faith in Jesus as both Savior and Lord. Repentance is both an initial activity of the whole person (inside and out) and a continuous lifestyle of the whole person (inside and out). Christians are perpetual repenters, both because we still sin and because we are always seeing more of the sinfulness within that requires abandonment from it to Jesus.
Therefore, those living in known sin, choosing to remain there, often because they mistakenly think that their faith (or “faith”) in Jesus will keep them on good terms with God even while they continue to sin, should not receive the Lord’s Supper. One of the many steps of Church Discipline is to bar unrepentant church members from partaking of Communion. If you profess to believe in Jesus but are living in ways that contradict and deny His Lordship without conviction against, sorrow over, hatred for, and real action steps of change from your sin, then you should not partake of Communion. Why? Because in all likelihood you are not a partaker of Jesus at all.
With all that said, sinless perfection actually disqualifies you from partaking of Communion too. If you are perfectly sinless on your own, you don’t need Communion, because you don’t need Jesus. However, that description fits no one, other than Jesus. So, more practically to the point, those who think themselves perfectly pure and self-righteous, should not be receiving Communion because they are denying that they really and desperately need Jesus to be their Substitute, Sacrifice, and Savior.
We must trust in Jesus as the only Perfect One who died in our place, bearing the fullness of God’s just wrath against us for our sinful rebellion against Him. We must repent of our sin, recognizing that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and cleansing and changing by God’s grace in Christ.
So take heart, weary sinners, if you hate your sin and want to be freed from the both the penalty and power of your sin, then run to Jesus with reckless abandon. And receive Communion with repentant faith in the symbolic meaning of the bread and juice, for it is only by the Person and work of Jesus that salvation comes to any of us anti-deserving sinners.
Because Christians in local churches actually help confirm and affirm the authenticity of the faith and repentance of people by baptizing them, we do not allow those who have not yet been baptized to partake of Communion. Because Baptism is the initiatory ordinance of the New Covenant and Communion is the continuation ordinance, we require a person to be baptized before receiving the Lord’s Supper. This practice of allowing only those who have been baptized to partake of Communion has Scriptural, theological, historical, and practical grounds. (For more on this, see our Beliefs about Baptism and Communion and a fuller explanation of Baptism Before Communion).