The Body Broken for Who?
Theologian J. I. Packer on restricting the Lord's Supper

Late in 2008, theologian J. I. Packer sat down with a few CTI editors to talk theology. Here's what Dr. Packer had to say when the conversation ranged to Communion.

Do you believe that access to the Lord's Table should be restricted, and if so, how does the church do that in a way that's inoffensive?

Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord's Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord's body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.

The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it's failed, then the text says, "Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican," a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, "Don't come to the Lord's Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that."

Churches that don't have a stated pastor - old-fashioned brethren assemblies and gatherings of that kind - must make their own rules as to how that warning gets communicated. If it's a church where the elements are passed down the rows, the elders must be alerted to the fact that this chap is sitting in church, brazen, expecting to receive the Lord's Supper. It's their business to escort him out.

Now, there's got to be agreement amongst the congregational leaders as to what constitutes a serious offense. You wouldn't exert this kind of discipline for people who, shall I say, play Bingo when the congregation can't regard the playing of Bingo as a particularly godly activity. But again, amongst evangelicals I would expect that in most churches, but perhaps not all, it would be recognized that a gay partnership is contrary to the authority of Scripture.

Why do we do this at all? Well, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that when you come together to eat the Lord's Supper, you must come as those who discern the body, and while this has been disputed, I think that discerning the body means what the church has always thought it meant; that is, it's not discerning the responsibilities of fellowship within the congregation, the spiritual body of Christ. It's discerning that the sacramental action of giving and receiving the bread and the wine points to the physical body of Christ, crucified for us.

February 18, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 44 comments

Victor Turner

January 06, 2010  5:20am

Whatever side of the arguement you take, it is important to note one thing, do not withhold any information that can help ur members decide whether to partake of the sacrament or not. It is very vital to let people know the implications of eating unworthily. By doing this you are you are neither judging nor excluding anyone. May His mercy continue to endure concerning us all who believe and seek Him. Turner V. O.

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Daniel McKnight

February 25, 2009  9:08am

Those who are without sin cast the first stone. If you are going to restrict who joins you in communion are you not judging that person? That is sinful, so should you be barred from communion as well? Jesus' last supper was with a person who betrayed him for money. Sin is the betrayal of Jesus; therefore, I think everyone should be welcome to the Lord's table.

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February 24, 2009  3:33pm

I have attended ONE communion that was revered as sacred. Every other time I have attended, its been a "going through the motions" ritual. Sad...

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Brian Rayburn

February 21, 2009  4:23pm

AMEN Brother Packer! He IS right! If you eat and drink the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, you eat and drink judgement upon yourself. It's pure and simple. So why voice opinions? Scripture says that those who practice homosexuallity will NOT enter the kingdom of Heaven. You CAN NOT get around that. Be careful to not shame the Lord's name. If you do, You will go to hell. Not my words, the words of the Christ.

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Selvan Govender

February 21, 2009  1:43pm

Before serving the communion I always encourage self-examination. I realise that the best judge of the heart is God and the person to whom the heart belongs. I also remind people that as the "bread and the wine" is being passed down the aisle, they must refrain from passing a cup to their neighbour. I remind them that when they pass the cup from the tray to their neighbour,they do, by that very act pass judgment on their neighbour. I realise also that I do not know how God has worked in their hearts during the moments leading up to communion. I try to shepherd my people to the best possible place so that they can participate in communion without provoking God to anger. Selvan Zambia

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February 21, 2009  7:09am

Tradition generally has kept communion closed to believer or to believers "in good standing." We have a very high view of communion, offering every week, and offer it to everyone in attendance. We believe that it is between God and the person. We emphasize that people receive it with reverence. We have had many non-believers point to communion as one of the primary reason they trusted Christ. In my experience I have attended church in which believers and pastors treated communion as an inconvenience. In our community it is hallowed by believer and non-believer alike.

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February 21, 2009  2:09am

I think the one guy who has hit the nail on the head is Doug Resler. The context of the passage by in 1 Cor. 11 is about unity in the Body of Christ. The rich weren't waiting for the poor. So by the time the poor arrived there was no food left, communion was over. Only the elite participated, the poor were left out. One of the amazing things about the church is it is one of the only places where people can come together, regardless of social economic background, and be on an even playing field. The Corinthians were destroying this unity by causing division in not waiting to eat the meal together. Read verses 33 & 34. "So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment." Paul starts off with unity at verse 17 and ends with unity in verse 34. The rich were sinning against the body of Christ through their selfishness. I think that is the danger of focusing on individual passages rather than trying to understand them in their context. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that we are to love one another (speaking to believers) because that is how the world will know that we belong to Him. The opposite of Love is Selfishness. Selfishness is me focused, Love is focused on others. How can we expect the world to love and follow Jesus when Christians within the same body don't even love each other enough to wait until all are present to participate in the Lord's Supper? I have never been in a church that even acknowledged the verses before 23 and after 32. Every communion Sunday is focused exclusively on 1 Cor. 11:23-32. Context, context, context. When we eat the bread and drink from the cup we declare our unity and come together as one body. Unity is not about compromise it is about submission together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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February 20, 2009  9:26pm

When the bible says not to eat or drink in an unworthy manner it also instructs us to examine ourselves. The point of this was not for us to tell people to skip communion because sin is present. The point is for a person to examine their lives and confess and adjust.

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Mike Morrell

February 20, 2009  9:24pm

For a thoroughly convincing (from Jesus, Scripture, church history, experience, mission) counter-argument to fencing the table, I'd highly recommend Sara Miles' memoir, Take This Bread. Even Steve Brown, a fellow Reformed fella, likes Sara.

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February 20, 2009  4:54pm

When the Love Feast was first instituted (what we now call Communion or the Holy Eucharist or the Sacrament), the Jews had a problem inviting Gentiles unless they conformed to the Jewish Law. Peter had problems with the way Paul did things. And many came to this feast just to eat, party, and get drunk. And it was a great feast and good time to be with others. It wasn't a time of silence, reflection, and fearsome awe. That was instituted many centuries later. When Paul saw how many of these followers of The Way came to this feast which was to commemorate what Christ did, he was appalled. This is why he said what he did: That those who came to get drunk, just to party and not come for the right reason, and didn't examine their motives for being there would bring judgment on themselves. That those who let them in and associated with these 'outsiders' should remove themselves – they knew better. There was no separation of spiritual and physical, especially with this Feast. The celebration is long gone and now we are left quibbling over who should be there and who shouldn't. Instead of looking at ourselves, we are pointing fingers at who is good enough and who isn't. We know in our hearts if we are 'right' and if we aren't. And there are many who leave and turn their backs on G-d because they feel 'God' has when in fact it is us who have turned our backs on his creation.

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