Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who can Commune with God?

It is a delicate question--- Who can Commune with God? And today Catholic Bishops have been voting on this matter. The issue is this-- who is worthy to partake of the Eucharist? Should just anyone be allowed to do so? In the past, and now the Catholic Church has taken the posture not that priests should police the Eucharist or fence the table, but that all the congregation should be told in advance that in essence they must police themselves. If they are knowingly in violation of church teaching on some major matter they should not take the Eucharist. For example anyone, gay or straight who is having sex outside of Christian marriage are encouraged to abstain. Now this raises all kinds of questions.

In the first place, no one is actually 'worthy' of partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God. If we waited until we were worthy we'd all still be waiting. But there is some pertinent material about this question to be found in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul says there that we must not partake of this sacrament "in an unworthy manner". Now that's a different matter than 'being worthy'. That has to do with how we partake of the sacrament, and Paul somewhat cryptically gives us another clue-- we should partake: 1) together, waiting for one another and doing it as a group together; 2) we should do it in a worthy manner; and 3) we should do it discerning 'the body'. Paul even goes so far as to say that if you violate these three rules you could get sick and die. That sounds pretty serious and drastic. Scholars have debated what 'body' Paul is talking about. In traditional Catholic theology it was assumed that this was a reference to the elements of the sacrament, but this is unlikely. For one thing where is the reference to discerning the blood? For another thing the context doesn't favor this reading of 1 Cor. 11. The 'body' here as elsewhere in 1 Corinthians refers to the Body of Christ in the ecclesiological sense--- that would be us, the church. Paul is saying that if you go ahead and take the Lord's Supper without doing it as an act of the communion of the saints, of the church itself, you have commited a grievous mistake. The Lord's Supper is not all about you and your private relationship with God. Its about your vertical relationship with God of course, but it is also about your horizontal relationship with your fellow believers as well. We have been reconciled to Christ corporately, and one of the functions of communion is to bind us to each other.

Most denominations have some sort of invitation to the Table-- ours goes back to the Anglican liturgy in which we say "all who truly and earnestly repent of their sins, and are in love and fellowship with their neighbor, draw near with faith..." John Wesley was to add to this that if one was prepared to repent and come to the table for the first time as an act of faith, even though one was not previously a Christian that that was fine-- he saw the Lord's Supper as a converting sacrament in such cases, and not just a confirming sacrament. What is however very clear from 1 Cor. 11 is that this is not a sacrament that was intended for those who "do not discern the body". Unlike baptism which is a passive sacrament, the Lord's Supper is an active sacrament, and must be consciously and actively partaken of. So perhaps now is a good time for us all to think about should and shouldn't take communion. One thing is clear to me-- this is indeed a means of grace which changes lives.

A favorite communion story. There was a Presbyterian Church in downtown Richmond where both slaves and slave owners attended before and during the Civil War. There normal practice on communion Sunday was for those who sat downstairs (i.e. the slave owners and other whites and their families) to take communion first, whereas those who sat upstairs (the slaves and their families) would come for the second call to communion. However on the Sunday after Apommattox when the first call for communion was made, an elderly African American man came down the aisle for communion, to the shock of one and all. Quickly an elderly bearded white man hooked his arm in the arm of the former slave and went forward and they took communion together. That man was Robert E. Lee, who had opposed slavery before the war, but turned down Lincoln's offer to lead the Federal forces, because he could not fight against his beloved Virginia. Communion is a means of grace, and one of the manfestations is that it is an occasion to receive and share forgiveness. Think on these things.

28 comments:

Derek Brown said...

Ben-thoughtful post as always. During the time of communion at the (Brethren rooted) church I attend I have recently been mulling over a question regarding the Lord's Supper: is not the Lord's Supper a joyous occassion? Most, if not all, churches in which I have partaken in the eucharist feel like solemn graveyard. The Corinthians made the Lord's Supper a sectarian meal and we often individualize it, but might we also take Paul's admonition of church in Corinth too far? I'm not saying we ought to participate in communion in a flippant manner, but I do think we have lost touch with the joyous aspect of "celebrating" the Lord's Table. It is not called the "eucharist" for nothing!

José Solano said...

It is very difficult for Protestants in general to understand, to grasp the significance of the Eucharist in the Catholic or Orthodox churches. It is essentially a different experience and is the reason that Catholics and Orthodox churches forbid their members from having communion in Protestant Churches and will not give communion to Protestants except in extraordinary circumstances.

As you know, for the Catholic and Orthodox the bread and the wine are literally transformed into the living Body of Christ. You are ingesting Jesus Christ Himself who permeates your whole being. We must stop for a moment to ponder what such an experience could be like for the believing celebrant. It is not just a remembrance, a memorial of something that happened 2,000 years ago done because we were asked to do it. If we empathize with the sincere celebrant, we might almost sense a certain fear and trepidation as he humbly approaches to encounter the living Christ, to take Him fully into his life.

To dare such an encounter, the celebrant must thoroughly confess and repent of every single sinful spot he may recall and even seek forgiveness for the many he may not recall. I would imagine it could be like Moses coming before the awesome power and majesty of Yahweh, or Peter, John and James at the Transfiguration who fell on their faces. Prostrating oneself in Catholic or Orthodox churches is precisely this experience.

I certainly wouldn't want to approach such an encounter with God carrying with me the daily filth of my sinful life.

There is really nothing fundamentally knew about this Bishop proclamation. Catholics frequently do not take communion if they feel they are not quite worthy or truly repentant of far lessor sins. Christians must always be "policing" themselves, examining themselves. The Bishops would just be emphasizing certain sins that too many are actually justifying.

". . . Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." Orthodox notes in my Bible state: "Being 'worthy' does not mean being sinless, but being cleansed. It is not legalism but commitment to walk in righteousness before God." And to be "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" means to me participation in the crucifixion of Christ.

Natalie said...

Thank you for writing this. My groom is Catholic so we occasionally go to Catholic mass and I always feel terrible when it's "that time" because even though he tells me my marriage to him makes me "worthy" I'm terrified to go against the church and take what they don't believe is mine. So he takes off up the line leaving my daughter and I behind and I wonder what we're even doing there. Early in our marriage I told him I thought the Catholic church put up too many walls between us and Christ, between us and worship, and the Eucharist was one of those walls I was talking about.

Ben Witherington said...

Derek, I quite agree with your comment. It should be a joyful occasion-- "come into his presence with thanksgiving".

Jose thank you for sharing this. For most Protestants the whole problem with this approach to the Eucharist is that it violates the very nature of the Incarnational presence of Jesus. What I mean by this is that Jesus came into people's lives, whether sinners, tax collectors etc. without them already being in a worthy condition. And indeed, even at the Last Supper, Jesus distributed the elements to very unworthy participants whom he knew were about to deny, betray, and desert him. By the Catholic view of this, they should never have partaken of that Passover with Jesus in the first place and Jesus should have stopped them!

And then of course there is the profound problem with the whole notions of transubstantiation and consubstantiation from an historical viewpoint. Jesus' earliest followers were all Jews. He spoke to them in Aramaic at that last meal using some of the elements of the Passover meal which clearly was a symbolic meal (i.e. the herbs represent the bitterness of bondage). Had Jesus said anything remotely like "This is transformed into my body" they would have run out of the room screaming-- it would have sounded like cannibalism to them. Partaking of human flesh was abhorrent to early Jews.

In any case the Aramaic phrase without the copulative can't possibly mean "This becomes my body" (through the ritual). It simply means This... my body" "This...my blood" and one has to fill in the blank on the basis of the way the Passover ritual was understood, namely that the elements are symbolic of the exodus Sinai experience.

In short, the Lord's Supper is grounded in the last supper, and the Lord's Supper cannot be something that the last supper was not, or at least it is a hard sell to say they are entirely different.
See Joachim Jeremias' classic study The Eucharistic Words of Jesus.

A different and less problematic sacramental theology is to say that the real spiritual presence of Christ can be encountered in a special way in and through the Eucharist if one is receptive to it.

But perhaps what is most problematic about Catholic and Orthodox theology of the Eucharist is the very idea of cleanness for coming into God's presence. This is not what 1 Cor. 11 says or suggests. It says that however unworthy one may be or even feel, however unclean one may be or feel, that partaking with awareness knowing what you are doing as a part of Christ's body and in a worthy manner (which I would assume simple means honoring the sacrament and perhaps repentance) is all that is required.

Blessings,

Ben

ross said...

Derek asks, "is not the Lord's Supper a joyous occasion?" Yes, it is! We live and work in a discouraging world - we need to be a people of hope, and as William Sloan Coffin writes, "The Eucharist quenches my thirst for hope." [Credo, 140]. With him, I believe the Lord's Supper is the renewal of hope - for it is a meal of anticipation [see Luke 22] as we look forward to another meal. It bis a foretaste of the joy and the sense of well-being represented by the heavenly banquet. Anticipation fosters a steady and abiding joy and assurance in those who participate in the Lord's Supper.

Rainsborough said...

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on doctrine, stressed that the tone of the bishops' statement was intended to be "positive, pastoral and welcoming," even as it compared same-sex attractions to the temptations of "envy, malice or greed."

Asked how he could square those two messages, Serratelli told reporters that "the truth is always welcoming."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/14/AR2006111401337_2.html

José Solano said...

Thank you Dr. Witherington for this posting. It offers us a wonderful opportunity to meditate, to reflect on the meaning and function of the Eucharist, a subject on which so much has been said.

I am not a Catholic and do not believe in the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. Mine was not an apologetic for this theology but merely an attempt to have the reader empathize with where the Catholic stands in this sacrament and how different the experience is from that of most Protestants. The Catholic teaching is for Catholics who accept it and for others to hopefully ponder.

I must run now to work on the building of a church which occupies a considerable amount of my time, so I must be brief on two points.

1. The concept of "joy" tends to be very different among Catholics and the Orthodox from that of Protestants in general. Some of the Protestant mystics come closer to an understanding of beatific vision and ecstasy.

2. I do not think that the celebration of the Eucharist in the early church was simply a repetition of what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

More hopefully later.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jose:

Nor do I think the Lord's Supper is simply the Last Supper Part Two. What I do think is this. Since the words of institution that come from the Last Supper are the very part that is most clearly taken over into the Lord's Supper ritual we had better interpret them in the way Jesus meant them if at all possible! This means that our interpretation of them cannot flatly contradict the implications of what was said on the original occasion.

Blessings,

Ben

johnnie raines said...

Dr. Witherington, I've been reading your blog for some time, and this is the first time I've commented so let me say that your posts always lift me up, challenge me, and bless me. Thank you.

I honestly think I have little to add, and certainly nothing which you haven't considered before, I'm sure, so read this comment as a question, even if I forget to puncuate it so.

If we understand the church as the community of covenant and we believe that the sacraments are the way that we corporately embody our faith and so take part in that community, then it seems important to be careful with the distribution of the elements, since they are the sign of one who is under the covenant.

In 1 Cor. 5, Paul talks about not associating with those who are in the church but are living an immoral lifestyle. The event which prompts this teaching is the sexual immorality of a heterosexual couple, which seems similar enough the case dealt with in the Catholic church. Moreover, Paul mentions specifically "celebrating the feast...with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth", which I take to be a reference to Communion which is to be taken with a right heart.

While this does not seem to exclude anyone who is repentant of sin, Paul certainly seems to indicate that it would exclude that couple which lives unrepentantly in their relationship.

Somehow, Paul seems to indicate that their continued fellowship in the church will bring indictment to the church, but not to the guilty party itself. (6 - a little leaven leavens the whole lump; 13 - but those who are outside, God judges)

At the same time, I understand that in chapter 11, Paul's main emphasis is upon the way that the Lord's Supper is to bring the church together. When he tells each to examine himself, he is speaking of the situation in Corinth where the meal was being taken sometimes in gluttony, and sometimes in a way that honored the status of certain people over others. Paul's main point in that passage is that the meal unifies us, and if it does not, then it is not the Lord's Supper. But if one is expected to examine his heart according to the way he takes the Lord's Supper, is it truly an abuse of this scripture to expect some to examine their hearts to see if they ought to be excluded in that way that Paul mentioned in chapter 5?

Thanks again for such a great place to come and learn!

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Johnnie: Welcome to this blog. I don't think I disagree with anything you say. I certainly think that the appeal "you who do earnestly repent...." is precisely a call to self-examination, and surely the business about getting sick is a warning as well. So I don't really think we differ on this.

Blessings,

Ben W.

yuckabuck said...

Another point on "partaking in an unworthy manner"-

The first time I led a home group in having communion, I addressed the idea that one's soul needs to be "cleansed" before receiving the eucharist, explaining what Paul really meant by "discerning the body." That's when it hit me- To hold that God would have us repent of sins in order to partake "worthily" misses the effect of the indwelling Spirit. God doesn't wait for us to be at a communion service to say, "Repent!" His Spirit calls us to repent right after the sin. We are to be living daily in a lifestyle of humble obedience, confessing our sins as God makes them known to us. In that context, as we join with others in the Body of Christ in order to worship and partake of communion, the Spirit calls us to "discern the body of Christ." The introspection before communion should have more to do with my attitude towards my brothers and sisters in Christ and whether I am serving them. God doesn't wait for that moment to lead us to repent for the sins of the week.

José Solano said...

Hi Johnnie Raines, I think you make a most important observation. We must be able to gain a solid understanding of what it means to be worthy so as to come to the Lord's Supper. Your excellent reference to 1 Cor. 5 provides us the understanding that not only may someone be unworthy of receiving the Lord's Supper but may be unworthy of participating in the church altogether, that is, "worthy" of excommunication. This implies to me an understanding of degrees of worthiness so that there is a point where certain behaviors are grounds for rejecting someone from the table and from the church.

It would seem that to be denied the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is to deny you the living Body of Christ in the Catholic or Orthodox churches, is practically an excommunication. It is an enormously serious condemnation. But the Bishops are not exactly doing this. They are advising Catholics to not take communion because of the seriousness of their violation of church teaching. If you believe that the slaughter of the innocents is justifiable then you really have no place at the table. Yet it appears the Bishops are trying to avoid the scandal of excommunicating you outright.

So, we may all perhaps agree, without necessarily going into a deeper analysis of Aramaic or even the Greek of the New Testament that there is possible justification for denying someone admittance to the Lord's Supper. (Maybe later I can take a crack at the interesting question of linking verbs as the Greek seems to say something other than what Aramaic might have said.)

The Amish and many Mennonites have the practice of shunning unrepentant sinners. They certainly would not share the Lord's Supper with them but are quick to receive them again when they repent.

More perhaps later as I get a chance to squeeze it in.

Peace.

José Solano said...

To gain a fuller understanding of what can happen when you accept that Jesus Christ is literally Bodily in the Eucharist examine this: http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/pea/a2.html

Is this idolatry or does the practice of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration help to place us in a prayerful state? Is this something that God would condemn, tolerate it as a harmless approach to prayer or welcome it? This may be related to the question of how often should one take communion? How do we determine what is excessive. Of course, this practice is not really taking communion but praying to the Host itself. (Himself ?) Should someone who does this be denied communion if he wished to take communion in say, an Anglican Church?

Though not a Presbyterian I have been attending a Presbyterian Church. It's simply amazing how they administer communion. Children three years old or younger simply grab it out of the plate and gobble it up. No thought at all about what they are doing. Elders find it amusing. I can't help but feel a certain defilement of the Eucharist. I don't allow my unbaptized children to take communion as in the Mennonite tradition. Is it because they are not "worthy"? I don't think so. They are no doubt worthier than I. It's simply because they don't really understand what they are doing. When they are ready to be baptized they will be given instruction regarding the essentials of Christian life and they will approach communion with reverence and solemnity, we pray.

Just some meditations on the theme.

Peace.

metapundit.net said...

quote: unlike baptism which is a passive sacrament ...

Hey now, not to open an entirely different can of worms, but the anabaptist/pietist's favorite scripture about baptism has always been 1 Peter 3:21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[e] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ

For those who practice believer's baptism, at least, baptism also is an active sacrament...

MaggyW said...

Hi Ben,

Not sure this is the right place to ask - but I have just been given some back copies of Bible Review including a Fall 2005 one where there's a letter re. Joanna wife of Chuza.
The letter implies that you wrote an article saying that Joanna was divorced - I'm fascinated. Where do you find your evidence for this? I'd love to know a bit more about that article if you can help.
Many thanks,
Maggy

Psalmist said...

I will always treasure the way a Catholic pastor handled the Eucharist the day I attended the funeral of one of his teen-aged parishioners who had died in a tragic accident. Because easily half the congregation was not Catholic, I heard a lot of grace in his request:

"Brothers and sisters, as those who are Catholic come forward to receive Communion, I invite those of you who are not to pray as I do so often, that the day will come quickly when no tradition and no doctrine requires us to feast at separate tables. Thank you for extending this grace to us who, for now, cannot invite you to this table."

That might have got him in some trouble with his Bishop, but I admired him for his courage in explaining why we Protestants could not receive Communion in his parish and what he really thought of that restriction.

José Solano said...

Further reflections on the Eucharist. You mentioned Dr. Witherington:

"By the Catholic view of this, they should never have partaken of that Passover with Jesus in the first place and Jesus should have stopped them!" And, ". . . it would have sounded like cannibalism to them."

Actually, it apparently did sound like cannibalism or some absurd activity to many of his disciples. In John 6 Jesus elaborates on the relationship between the bread and his flesh: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." (v. 53) "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." (v. 55) Many of His disciples found this to be a hard saying. "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." (v. 66) But they did not all walk away from Him even if they did not fully understand what He meant. As Peter responds "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. . . . You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (vs. 68-69)

Now I find it curious that in the Gospel of John, though there is a lot of information about bread and flesh, wine (the true vine, water into wine, etc.) and blood, as well as the analogy with the "water" Jesus gives to drink, there is no explicit mention of a Eucharist at the Last Supper.

What we do find is a foot washing, cleansing ceremony before the paschal supper in which Jesus says, "you are clean, but not all of you. . . . You are not all clean." (John 13:10-11) He is referring specifically to Judas. It really gets fascinating when Jesus is asked to identify the betrayer. He answers, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it." (v. 26) He gives it to Judas and lo and behold, what happens next? "Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him." (v. 27)

Well, wow, that's an awful lot to chew on for now I think. I do need to close here with a most important quote from Jesus: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." John 6:63

Peace.

PamBG said...

The original post and the conversation raise the question of the nature of God's grace and our response to it.

I agree with Paul Fiddes' idea that it is God's giving of forgiveness that causes us to repent. Or as an acquaintance puts it, "God forgives you, therefore you are free to repent".

There is a sense in the first post that there is perhaps some sort of congruence between forgiveness and repentance and subsequent posts then seem to almost approach the idea that we earn some kind of "worthiness" by repenting first in order that God will respond with forgiveness.

As I understand it - as the daughter of a Roman Catholic and someone who studied theology at a Roman Catholic university - the biggest problem that the RC church has with non-Catholics taking communion isn't so much our potentially incorrect policing of ourselves according to their standards of worthiness, but the simple fact that we do not agree that the Roman Catholic church is God's sole concrete manifestation of the Church Universal on earth. (Our lack of belief in transubstantiation is but a symption of our refusal to put ourselves under Rome's authority.)

But I'm more interested in the implied ideas about grace and "worthiness" to take communion. How does a minister draw the line between someone who is genuinely repentant for the first time and someone who is justing taking communion "for fun"? I have a friend now training for the ministry who had his conversion moment when the minister placed the bread in his hands and said "The body of Christ, broken for you". If he had had to give himself a test of worthiness, he may never have had that conversion moment. He certainly hadn't repented before going to the rail but he'd repented before he got up.

Scott said...

I live in Richmond.

Minor point only, but Robert E. Lee's "home church" was St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond and would have been where he worshipped. They do indeed have a balcony and it is still an (very) active parish today. It's since had it's share of well-known Rectors (John Shelby Spong being the most well-known in recent years).
Worth a visit if you're ever in town, simply for the history. An informational pamphlet guides you to where Lee, Davis, et al. sat on a regular basis. Also, Richmond is home to St. John's Episcopal--site of Patrick Henry's famous "give me liberty or give me death" speech and just down the street from St Pauls.

Matt said...

I appreciate your commentary on 1 Corinthians. I think it is outstanding. I also think many in the church have individualized this meal. We have personalized it. We close our eyes, bow our heads and think about Jesus and self and how those two come together. I have been trying really hard for the past few years to think about those sitting around me and praying for them and for Christ's body the world over as I/we commune with Christ. Keep up the good work!

Terry Hamblin said...

Ben,

I am sure that your assessment that the community of believers is the 'body' that we must discern at the Comunion Table is correct. To read I Corinthians 11 in isolation from the rest of the letter is a mistake. Chapter 10 verse 16b says "Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ" and verse 17 "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." Chapter 12 v 27 "You are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it."

The whole thrust of Paul's instructions in I Corrinthians Ch 11 is about a community of spirit. There should not be divisions among them. They should wait for each other. Division in the church is one of the main themes of the whole letter. Communion is about community.

It can be difficult for those from a Catholic tradition to appreciate this. I remember one couple with an Anglican background leaving the church because this idea was to much for them; they were more comfortable with the idea of communion as a continual personal cleansing.

I have always been unhappy about the idea of the 'priest' taking 'the sacrements' to the sick in hospital. I prefer to see a small group of church members share the bread and wine around the bedside as a sign of communion. (And believing in the priesthood of all believers I don't feel that there has to be a clergyman present)

It can be very difficult to come to the service without some ill-feeling against someone in the church (especially in a large church). Someone is bound to have said something or failed to do something that causes offense. That is why 'a man (or woman) ought to examine himself' but it is a discipline that keeps harmony within the church and an appropriate time do do so. When we remember what Jesus has done for us and what sins he had to cover, what are we doing taking offense at some imagined sleight?

Ralph Hitchens said...

Ben, another fine post. I tend to support John's passion timeline, i.e., the Last Supper was not a passover meal, and it also seems amazing to me that belief in transfiguration should have arisen at all, much less persisted this long. The rabbi who so often preached in parables must surely have been speaking metaphorically.

Re. Robert E. Lee, his opposition to slavery was qualified: "The painful discipline they [negroes]are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race" he wrote, and expressed his belief that their inevitable liberation should be left to God and the passage of time.

José Solano said...

I think that Protestants in general tend to underestimate the depth of Catholic/Orthodox theology. Almost 2000 years of reflection on all of the important Christian themes by great minds is often casually dismissed and we fail to fully recognize both the biblical foundation and the tradition that their thinking rests on. It is good to cautiously revisit these issues as we may begin to observe that they may, in many places of general disagreement, really hold a legitimate or at least plausible interpretation.

The texts are far more complex than some Protestants realize and the somewhat hasty conclusions in certain areas, stemming from Luther, Calvin and other minds of the Reformation, may need reexamination. The question of the Eucharist is certainly one of those areas, so that if we are functioning more from a "hunch," or incomplete reasoning, rather than solid evidence, we may develop more acceptance of the Catholic/Orthodox stance, even if we ourselves do not practice or employ their approach. I think this also goes a long way in helping breach the wall between Catholics and Protestants so as to more easily bring about that general communion or rapprochement between the varied churches that we should all long for.

Blogs do not lend themselves to much detail but perhaps later I can find time for greater specificity between soundbytes.

Peace.

Ken Abbott said...

Please forgive a bit of pedantic nitpickiness, but I have a small problem with the following:

In the first place, no one is actually 'worthy' of partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God. [Emphasis mine]

Well, yes and no. None of us is worthy, I certainly accept that, and all are sinners. But it would be a truly fearsome thing if we all have fallen short of God's grace.

Romans 3 states, "[F]or all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (vv 23-24); emphasis again mine.

That I do not measure up to God's standards of holiness is one very sobering thing; to think that I was beyond God's grace terrifies me.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi MaggyW: For more information about Joanna who is likely also Junia of Rom. 16 please see my new book-- What Have They Done with Jesus?

On the issue of 1 Pet3 and the reference to Baptism, the word in question probably does not mean pledge at all-- it means something more like an appeal for a good conscience, not a pledge of one. See my forthcoming study of baptism--- Troubled Waters; The Real NT Teaching on Baptism.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Ben

Pastor Beisel said...

If the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper only symbolize or represent the (absent) body and blood of Jesus Christ, then there is no potential danger to the soul of any recipient. Hence, "Come one, come all!" If, however, the Lord's Supper is truly a communion in the body and blood of Jesus (1 Cor. 11), then one may either receive it for their benefit or to their detriment. That is why some churches exclude those who have not been instructed and formally received as communicant members. It is out of pastoral love and concern for the souls of those who come that this is practiced. St. Paul also admonishes that those who receive it ought to be free of divisions among themselves. (He critizes the Corinthians Christians for having divisions among themselves). This is another reason for excluding those who do not confess the same thing regarding the Supper. Those who commune together ought to unified in the Faith. Fellowship at the Lord's Table is an expression of this doctrinal unity; it does not create it.

see-through faith said...

Thank you for this.

I love it that Wesley opened the table for all - because it's meeting with God (and not obeying rules for the sake of it) that really converts us into little Christians

Vicki said...

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/0907_smithgenlee_2.html

http://www.wfu.edu/~matthetl/south/relee.html