Up and Down the Pew

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #137

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11: 27-29).

Before discussing the theology of the sin committed here, we need to first identify what sin it is. The sin is found and named at the end of v. 29—it is the sin of “not discerning the Lord’s body.” The first and fundamental error is that of looking for the Lord’s body in the bread and in the cup, instead of in the place where we truly neglect the Lord’s body, which is up and down the pew we are sitting in. In the previous chapter, we are told that the cup and the bread are a koinonia, a partaking, a fellowship in the blood and body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). In the next verse, we are told that we, being many, are one bread and one body, and we are that because of our mutual partaking (1 Cor. 10:17).

To exclude children from the Supper, therefore, because they are not up the challenge of Eucharistic metaphysics with the bread and the wine placed under a theological microscope is miss the point in a jaw-dropping way. Those who are bread should get bread, and those who exclude those little ones for not “discerning” the Lord’s body are themselves not discerning the Lord’s body. A man who says that somebody else can’t come because he is not capable of examining himself adequately is not examining himself. Examine yourself, the apostle says. Are you placing any unbiblical and unnecessary barriers between you and any other member of Christ’s body? That was the problem at Corinth, and it is still a problem.

The other important issue that this passage raises is the question of what is meant by unworthy eating and drinking. This is one of the distinctions that separates the Reformed understanding of the Supper from the Lutheran. The Reformed affirm that there is a manducatio indigna, an unworthy eating, but deny that there is a manducatio indignorum, an eating (of Christ) by the unworthy. At issue is different views of the “real presence” in the bread and wine. What Paul says the unworthy receiver is eating and drinking is damnation (v. 29). On one view, he is partaking of damnation because he is eating and drinking an undiscerned Christ (in the bread and wine). But the view I am advancing says that he is damned because he is eating and drinking with an undiscerned Christ (the body of Christ surrounding him). Because of this, he is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Our natural tendency is to locate the sacrilege in the treatment of the elements, rather than where Paul places it, in our treatment of our brothers and sisters. Do you discern the body in the body? That’s the question.

This includes, incidentally, our treatment of our brothers and sisters who differ with us on what is entailed in the Lord’s Supper. Suppose a man does everything “wrong” from my perspective. He uses grape juice, he observes it quarterly, and he is a mere memorialist . . . and he loves everybody in the sanctuary with a true heart. He is a true partaker, while a more orthodox man who approaches it unworthily drinks damnation wine, drinks it weekly, and despises the saints. He is guilty of the Lord’s body and blood.

Anybody who forgets that the Supper is a covenantal meal has forgotten that it is a place of winnowing.


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7 comments on “Up and Down the Pew

  1. Maybe I shouldn’t look for applications beyond the one you are making here, but should this understanding of the covenantal meal exclude us from participating in communion with those outside the walls of our own local / denominational fellowship?  Or am I misunderstanding “discern” here?  Does “discern” mean to look at those around me who are participating in the meal and accept their profession of faith / membership in the body at face value?  If “discern” means “recognize,” what makes a person sitting in the pew (adult or child) “recognizable”? Also, could you speak to the issue of partaking of the Lord’s Supper at para-church functions?  For example, at many Christian colleges / universities, the students and faculty will partake of the Lord’s Supper together.  A College / university is not a church (in form or function), though–let’s say–everyone might somehow be a believer.  In that situation, what would “discerning the Lord’s body” look like?

  2. You say of the man that a does everything wrong from your perspective that he nonetheless loved everybody in the sanctuary with a true heart. Does that mean he discerned Christ as the body of Christ surrounding him, and they were offered bread and wine before he ate and drank worthily? Or was his love spiritualistic, without matter, without sharing, resulting in his unworthy eating and drinking?

  3. C. Frank Bernard, he said, “Loved…with a true heart.” Since the kind of “love” you describe isn’t actually love, and therefore cannot be love from a true heart, it’s ruled out as a possibility.

  4. Randal, I believe it applies to everyone in the sanctuary in the first instance, but I would also want to extend it, as necessary, to visitors from other churches, etc. And I would want to discourage parachurch communion services . . . but not freak out over it.

  5. Sorry, two l’s.

  6. Do you think that say a Covenantal Family with Baptized children (children that are excluded from partaking of the Covenant Meal at church) can serve their own children, at home, the elements after a blessing of thanksgiving? Or would that be inappropriate since The Meal is a sacrament of the Church? 
    Thanks in advance :)

  7. That is not X, therefore not X from A, not possibly X. Nice. Hopefully “everybody in the sanctuary” means all are gathered there (e.g., the children were not excused to Sunday School). 

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