Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thinking About Churches III: The Lord's Table

In this mini-series, I'm writing about my observations of the church from simply observing churches that I've attended on holidays over the past several years. These observations are unscientific, but one reason that I'm writing about them is that I've found agreement with other believers regarding their church experiences. Today, I'm going to weigh in on the observance of Communion, or what we usually call The Lord's Table.
Bible-loving, gospel-preaching churches of different types have disagreements regarding the observance of Lord's Table. However, whether observed weekly or monthly, if it's called an ordinance or a sacrament, served with grape juice or wine, crackers or bread cubes, passed around or received at the front, Christians churches do practice this ordinance (I'll leave aside groups like the Salvation Army that do not observe for now). I'm not going to weigh in on any of these matters of practice but focus on worship and truth in the observance.

I've experienced the Lord's Table as a mere add-on to the end of the service. It comes across as, "Oh, it's the first Sunday. I guess we'd better do Communion." What is missing is any description of what we're doing, any warning that only Christians are to take part in this ordinance or time for silent prayer and reflection. This careless participation appears to be very common.

The average non-Christian probably thinks that he or she is a Christian, so it is important for the pastor to desribe what the elements of the Lord's Table represent and explain what they are for. This should happen every time we serve Communion. More than an explanation, a warning should be given. I usually read 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and offer a brief emphasis on the warning given in this passage. If I don't read these verses, I offer a similar warning.

Participating in the Lord's Table is for Christians, but it provides a great evangelistic opportunity for visiting unbelievers. I had one woman tell me that before she came to Christ, she felt acutely that she was on the outside looking in during Communion. It was a key factor in her coming to Christ. If there are no lines drawn, no clear description of what Communion is and who it is for, will people feel their need to repent and believe?

Time should be given for people to reflect upon Christ and His suffering for us during the Communion service. I often don't leave enough time (I feel rushed by the clock, foolishly), but many churches give no time of silent reflection at all.

In one church I attended several years ago, the closest thing to a warning given was the pastor saying, "If you don't feel comfortable taking part, you don't have to." Non-believers should feel uncomfortable during communion, and they should not participate, no matter how they feel.

As a pastor, I take my role as leader of the Communion service seriously. Sometimes I have rushed things or have not been as clear as I should have been with a warning, but when I see how things work in some other churches, I have to ask, "Where is the fear of the Lord?"

1 comment:

Dave Groff said...

Good points, Terry. I struggle with how not to make the Lord's Supper feel like an add-on. Often I place it before the sermon. Once in a while(every six months or so) I plan the whole service including the sermon to revolve around the Lord's Supper. I think just as big an issue as unbelievers taking part is believers who are not right with the Lord. I tend to emphasize that by way of warning.