Whose table?

by Richard on February 14, 2007

Kim’s hymn at Faith and Theology (I mentioned it the other day, you remember) has sparked an interesting conversation about whether the Table at the Lord’s Supper (aka Holy Communion, the Sacrament, Eucharist…) should be “open”, i.e. are there people who should be excluded from receiving communion? UMC blogger John Battern has a post on the same subject.

My position on this is very clear. When I am celebrating communion, it is not my place to withhold the gifts from anyone who opens their hand to receive them. There is a place to exercise church discipline, but the Lord’s Table is not it. It should be a place of welcome and grace. No buts, ifs, howevers or maybes. All are welcome.

There’s a lot more that could be said, but no more that needs to be said. Just as Christ received all who came to him, so I believe he receives us still. But do not receive it lightly, for there is a power in Communion which defies explanation, and you may find yourself changed in ways you never expected!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }


Catholic Richard 02.14.07 at 7:03 pm

As you obviously know, the Catholic church says that their Communion shouldn’t be given to non-Catholics, and that Catholics should not recieve it from anyone but a Catholic priest or extraordinary minister, due to the whole transubstantiation thing.
I was talking to a Catholic friend of mine last night who, like me, occasionally flouts this rule (please don’t tell the Bishop), and we both felt that the wafer itself tastes different when it’s been given by a Catholic priest, to how it does given by a Protestant. Makes you wonder if there’s something in this whole transubstantiation (one of the more difficult things my atheist friends ask me to explain), the literal changing into the body of Christ. Admittedly, the wafer doesn’t taste like meat, but it does taste different.
The wine is different as well, but that can be put down to the Eccumenical Communion at university using non-alcoholic wine, whereas the Catholic wine is 15%. Not sure what that says about us, and I’m not sure I want to explore it.
To comment more directly on your post, Richard, despite the Vatican telling me not to, I will continue to take Communion from any of the university chaplains, as long as they offer it, as I respect them and like to feel a part of our Christian family.


Kim 02.14.07 at 7:22 pm

I agree.

But perhaps, Richard, you’d like to comment on the Words of Invitation which John Battern expounds. They hardly sound to me like the way into an open table.

“All who love Jesus”:
What if I’m not sure about my “love”? And what about those, like very small children, or the mentally impaired, for whom it would be stretching the meaning of the word to say that they “love” Jesus? On the other hand, it might include those of other religions whom John would exclude yet who could conceivably say that they “love” Jesus yet do not have “faith” in him in the strong theological sense of the word.

“All who earnestly repent of their sins”:
Ditto - particularly given the word “earnestly”. But, further, what about Wesley’s notion of Communion as a “converting ordinance”?

“All who seek to live in peace with others”:
And again. Though, interestingly, this element of the Invitation might include those of other faiths - and none.

In any case, however you spin them, these words hardly constitute a truly “open” invitation. Don’t you agree?


Kim 02.14.07 at 7:47 pm

Hey, Catholic Richard, according to the doctrine of transubstantiation itself, the “accidents” of the bread and wine - which include the taste - do not change with the priestly words of consecration. Mysteriouser and mysteriouser . . . :)


Richard 02.14.07 at 8:16 pm

I did think about picking up on those words of invitation, but I’m not looking for another disagreement so I thought I’d just set out my own position as simply as I could. I almost mentioned Wesley’s ‘converting ordinance’ as well, but thought better of it. I *have* to finish the preaching plan tonight!

As for Catholic Richard’s thesis about the taste of communion wafers, I think the business of accidents was set out dogmatically, but as far as I know it has never been tested empirically. I’m sure the Pope would consider any such experiments sacriligious Richard, but you could put Fr Neal and, say, Kim in a head-to-head “bless off” and then do blind tastings. But if the Bishop finds out both you and your Priest will be for it!


John Wesley 02.14.07 at 8:41 pm

I should like to offer my most humble salutations and felicitations on this festal day of St. Valentine. I have the highest regard for our community, the “Methoblog” and wish we could make acquaintance under more auspicious circumstances as I am sure that these acquaintances may yet become a valuable and enriching friendship as we exhort and instruct each other to be conformed in the image of Christ.

I remain God’s most humble servant,

John Wesley


DH 02.14.07 at 8:50 pm

How about the passage where the Apostle talks about taking Communion in an “unholy maner”? Wouldn’t that include what Kim says within comment on 7:22pm


Bob Cornwall 02.14.07 at 9:02 pm

When thinking about the “Lord’s” Table, maybe we should consider Jesus’ own dining habits — he didn’t put up barriers — so should we? I think not. If Jesus practiced an open table, then I as the one who issues the invitation must do the same.


DH 02.14.07 at 9:04 pm

For the “sake of the Body” I say not on “open communion”.

Kim and Richard, you may get a kick out of this: When I was a kid I was raised in a southern Baptist church. When I was 7 years old (two years after I accepted Christ) I went to take communion when passed (thinking “I’m a Believer so now I can take Commuion”) when the usher asked “have you been Baptised?”. I responded “no”. He then said “then you can’t take communion”. To this day I thank God where I come from and thank God where I “came out of”. It really puts into perspective how much God has kept me from being “fundamentalist”. I hope you can see that in me, that I’m not a “fundamentalist”. :) What is you guys take on this weird and looking at back on it “funny” story? :)


DH 02.14.07 at 9:06 pm

I don’t know if He practiced an “open table”. It was the disciples who took Communion not anyone else.


Kim 02.14.07 at 9:47 pm


A “bless off” - I can’t stop laughing! :)


Pam 02.14.07 at 9:54 pm

Richard - I suspect that I pretty much agree with where you are coming from. We had to grapple with the issue of communion a lot in the Cambridge Theological Federation because we had Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, URC and Orthodox Colleges. One of my fellow Methodist students HAD converted on his knees at the communion rail and so one didn’t dare mention this subject in front of him (not unless you wanted a 60-minute monologue on the Open Table!). The Roman Catholics said that Federation services (mandatory attendance) with communion felt like being invited to commit adultary. Lots of emotions all around.

I think that there might be some very egrarious sins which might exclude someone from communion; I can’t think of examples but I have a sense that there might be. Certainly, one gets the impression of flagrant greed and injustice in 1 Corinthians, and this might be an example of a time to exclude as a call to discipline.

As far as I’m concerned - for most “ordinary” people - e.g. children or regular attenders who have not been baptised or confirmed, I also think that the Lord’s Table is open to them. One of my congregations was quite relieved that I would give communion to a 7-year-old who comes to church every Sunday; the previous minister gave her communion and they were worried that I would refuse.


DH 02.14.07 at 10:40 pm

I believe that confirmation is different from “accepting Christ as ones Savior”. I personally accepted Christ as my Savior at 5. I think one must look to see if this “7 year old girl” had accepted Christ as her Savior. I would imagine she has by the nature that the congregation stood up for her. To me that shows into the “heart” of the little girl. I still believe that being a Believer is the only requirement for Communion. Obviously that is different from the usher I experienced when I was 7 years old, However, I forgive that old man from when I was 7. :)


Eugene McKinnon 02.15.07 at 3:30 am

Wash your hands before you eat. Likewise for the Lord’s Table. Baptism is an act of grace in which Christ welcomes you to his table. The catechumenate of the early church would baptise and then give the newly minted Christian his/her first communion. So I’m all for Christians getting baptised before they take the meal.



DH 02.15.07 at 3:04 pm

Do we know it was their first communion on those stories where people were Baptised? While they were given communion it doesn’t say it was their first. I don’t know if not being Baptised would make a person “unholy”. To me Salvation and having a heart of repentence thereafter are the requirements for Communion. I do know that as believers we need to confess our unconfessed sin before taking communion but that is different from what we are talking about here. That is why Paul says “….there are many sick among you.”


John 02.15.07 at 4:04 pm

I’m a big believer that communion is a means of grace - a channel through which God’s grace intersects with our lives.

If taking communion opens up that channel for even the unwashed, then I am all for them joining us at the table.


DH 02.15.07 at 5:15 pm

I still can’t get away with what Paul says “taking Communion in an unholy manner”. It seems to me that one needs to confess unconfessed sin before taking it. I look at as God’s Grace channel as well but it is only received when we with all of our hearts, as much as we can, our pure in God’s sight.

1 Cor 11:27-30 “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[a] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[b] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[c] body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

While I agree with Grace, I believe Grace isn’t given in such a way as to condone actions, behavior or anything else (which includes taking Communion in an unholy manner). It reminds me of “What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that GRace may abound? God forbid! How are we who are dead to sin live any longer in it?” It’s a balance.


John 02.16.07 at 3:32 am

We must accept God’s grace, and I am sure that there are frames of mind and states of soul that predispose us to reject the grace offered through the channel of communion.

So we are well advised to approach communion in the proper manner. If we partake the means of grace while set on resisting what God offers us, then we will continue in our sickness and slumbers.

But the minister or communion steward is not wise or discerning enough to know whose soul is ready for grace and who is still resisting it.

Grace is given for all. It is not only for those who are ‘worthy’ to receive it. Grace condones nothing. If we only got the grace that we deserve, then we would get nothing. Grace is an unmerited gift. Not a reward for proper conduct.

This may be all wrong. But it is my best understanding.


DH 02.16.07 at 3:46 pm

My understanding is that God’s Grace that is available to all is unmerited in the sense that the availability of the Grace is unmerited. However, the gift must be received to enter into the Grace made available to all. So to receive the Grace one must accept the Grace. God makes it available to everybody but not everybody will receive what is available to them. While I appreciate your response and it does balance me out for parts are right on, in the broad sense, it seems to somewhat contradict “What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that GRace may abound? God forbid! How are we who are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Hense my statement “It’s a balance.”

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