I discussed the doctrine of transubstantiation in two parts which you can find here; pt. 1 & pt. 2. I mentioned that I was going to comment on Paul’s injunction about taking communion unworthily, and that we are to examine ourselves. Throughout different denominations, teachers have been misusing these verses to try to lay a guilt trip on people for their sin when partaking of the bread and wine; however, if one looks at the verses in question, things start becoming clear. We are indeed to examine ourselves, and we are not to take unworthily, but what exactly does this mean?
1 Corinthians 11:27 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. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
I hold that the bread and wine are symbols (not “just” symbols or “mere” symbols, but symbols full of meaning, that serve several purposes), as taught by Christ and Paul (and even James indirectly). However, there is power in the act, or in the taking. Why do I say this? Because one can eat and drink temporary “damnation,” or rather rendered judgment (in the Greek; krima), or sickness on themselves, according to Paul. Eating and drinking without remembering Jesus and His sacrifice leads to this.
Of course, in Paul’s example, there were people eating and drinking the bread and wine after they were drunk, and/or they had come to have a full meal together, and did not set apart the bread and cup, but rather drank and ate hungrily without thinking on Christ. They weren’t taking it worthily…in other words they were partaking in an unworthy manner.
The Greek word used for “unworthily” is anaxious, which is an adverb describing the act (remember, adverbs describe verbs, not nouns), not the person. Worthiness in this context is not about the person taking the communion, it is about how it is taken. We aren’t to examine ourselves before partaking, we are to remember Christ. So, from scripture, we are not to examine ourselves, for worthiness, that takes our “eyes” off Christ, and puts them on ourselves. The only way to take unworthily is to take not remembering Christ’s sacrifice, and by so doing, we fail to remember Him and fail to show forth His sacrifice. So to examine ourselves means to make sure we’re remembering Christ, that we aren’t just eating because we’re hungry (or drunk). None of us are worthy, as far as that goes, so there’s no examination necessary when it comes to our being unworthy.
Anyone who tries to get people to examine themselves for things like sin when partaking of the bread and wine are doing the very thing Paul warned against; taking our “eyes” and minds off of Christ, and neglecting to take in rememberance of Him. Now, there is a responsibility on the part of the person taking the bread and wine to realize what it is symbolic of…this is why non-Christians should abstain from taking communion; they don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and therefore would not be partaking in remembrance and faith in Him, nor to show forth His body, broken for us, and His blood shed for the remission of our sin. Again, I look forward to going more in depth about how Passover fits in with communion, and remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us in a later post.
I owe much of this teaching and understanding to the late Dr. Gene “Doc” Scott…his teaching on this idea has helped to refocus believers hearts and minds onto Christ. If a person’s sins were going to stop us from taking communion, none of us could partake. Communion, or the taking of the bread and cup is one of the straightforward symbols and acts that Christ Himself instituted, and instructed us as believers to do.