And He took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. Luke 22:19,20
It is a wonderful thing to see what a group of Christians can achieve in understanding the Bible. It is necessary to study alone and concentrate until we have the message in our hearts and minds first. But when two or more work together much good can come from it.
This is what I witnessed one day at the Oak Street Bible Shop when Glen presented a problem he was having in explaining communion to his class.
"For some reason," he said, "the doctrine of communion has been very confused in the church. People hold different ideas and some are troubled over it. A lot of people are even afraid to partake because they have been warned they must be in a special state of grace at the time or they will be guilty of a very serious sin."
"A mortal sin," said Joy from her high seat. "When I was a Catholic, we were taught that to take communion without prior confession and penance could put us in danger of hell."
Gary was looking into his Scofield Bible. "Well, Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 11:30, For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. Isn't Paul warning us that if we take communion wrongly we could become sick or even die? That's what Catholics teach isn't it?"
Joy corrected him. "No, I don't think so. Being sick or even dying before your time is not the same as going to hell. It's punishment for taking communion wrongly. Isn't that what you believe, Glen?"
Glen had been listening with the happiest expression you ever saw. He loved to hear his friends discuss together this way. Something good always came from it.
"I believe you have it absolutely right, Joy. Paul is warning about dying before our time because of sin. The question I think that divides so many Christians is, what is the sin he is warning us of?"
Sue looked puzzled. "Before we go on about what sin it is, I'd like to know what is meant by the expression 'dying before your time'? Do we have a set time when we are going to die? And if that is true, how can we die before the time that is set?"
Glen smiled at Sue. "I'm glad you mentioned this, Sue. The Bible does indicate we have a set number of days we can live."
Suddenly Glen had a look of frustration and sorrow that made Sue feel sorry she had asked the question. "I can't remember a scripture to prove the point, and I feel terrible about it. I really am getting old!"
Gary spoke up. "Seems like Job has a lot to say about number of days, but I can't remember a specific quote either."
Joy directed her question to Glen. I know I've read that too. But what about Sue's question of cutting life short. I mean if we have a set time, how can it be changed?"
Glen brightened up a bit. "Well," he said, "The idea of a set time is the idea of a limit of your days that you can live."
"Like an upper cap," said Gary.
"Exactly," said Glen.
Sue smiled. "Maybe it's like a mother telling her daughter, 'You can talk on the phone for one hour tonight. That's it! But if I hear any off-color talk I'm cutting you off, right away.'"
Everyone smiled at that. It was a good illustration.
"But,” Joy continued, "we haven't defined what Paul is warning the Corinthians about."
Glen began, "I think it's important to explain how different people are taught about communion. The Bible is very simple on this point, but religions really complicate things. Some churches teach that the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of Jesus."
"The mass,” said Joy. "That is what we were taught."
"Some Lutherans, too," said Gary.
Glen went on. "And a number of churches teach that God's grace,--His forgiveness--comes to us through communion. If you don't take communion you are cut off from His forgiveness. Lot of them teach that. That's where we get the term 'excommunicated'. It means you are not able to take communion."
"That is awful,,” said Gary. "Like the church controls forgiveness."
"If you don't have your Chevy serviced at an authorized dealer, it cancels the warranty," said Sue.
They didn't know how to respond to that. Even Joy had to laugh.
"What do you believe?" Joy directed her question to Glen.
"That communion is to remind us of what Jesus did for us by giving Himself for us, and giving up His blood. That is why we are saved. Before He died He said It is finished. John 19:30. Anybody who says they can offer up the body and blood of Jesus in a ceremony is teaching a lie. Jesus offered Himself once and for all."
"I agree,” said Joy. "But what is Paul warning the Corinthians about?"
Glen read from his pocket testament.
"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. 1 Corinthians 11:27. In verses 27 and 29 there is the word 'unworthily'. That is the clue we need."
Gary brightened. "I get it. 'Unworthily' is an adverb. It describes how you do something."
"You've got it,” said Glen. “An awful lot of churches teach that the passage says 'an unworthy person'. But what the Bible says is a person doing it 'in an unworthy manner'."
"That's why we have to follow the Word, not any church," said Gary.
"What was the unworthy manner of the Corinthians?” asked Joy.
"It's in verse 21." Glen read, "For in eating everyone taketh before the other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunk."
"They were being pigs at the communion table!" said Gary.
"Imagine getting drunk on communion wine!" said Joy.
"That is why Paul asked them 'Have ye not houses to eat and drink in?' Verse 22. At least you never hear of people doing that any more. But they do often teach falsely about communion. They charge people for taking it, or frighten them away from taking it," said Glen. "And every Christian is told to remember Jesus this way."
"Chuck Swindoll told about communion in a church way down south,” said Gary. "The table had cornbread and Royal Crown cola in little cups. But they understood what it meant."
Sue had been thinking. "I have an idea. Wanna hear it?"
"Go ahead," Joy told her.
"Well, communion is like every American can fly the flag. There's even a special Flag Day. But we shouldn't put it up wrong, let it drag on the ground and so forth. We should do it in a worthy manner."
Little Sue! You never knew what she might say.