I was at a friend’s wedding recently at a United Methodist church. When communion was served, about half of the people in attendance did not come forward, including a large number of people I knew to be non-denominational evangelicals. I felt hurt to see that even at a wedding we couldn’t be one body of Christ, though I recognize not everyone shares my understanding of communion.
Growing up Southern Baptist, we did communion maybe twice a year. We called it the Lord’s Supper and we did it with crackers and shotglasses. Nothing about it suggested to me that it had anything to do with affirming our unity as one body of Christ. It wasn’t until I attended a weekday Catholic mass in early 2003 when I was hit by the reality that the body of Christ is a living organism that gets recreated every time
we receive His body and blood.
Since then, communion has come to mean everything to me. It’s especially important that I share communion with people I have sharp theological disagreements with to make it clear that I don’t give myself the authority to exclude them from God’s family. I can only imagine not taking communion if I thought it was being performed disrespectfully or because I were in a state of willful disobedience to God that would make my participation in communion an open mockery. So when I see people not taking communion, I tend to presume that they’re holding back as a judgment on themselves or others (even if that’s not actually the case).
I know that Catholics and Orthodox have a particular understanding of who should receive communion based on their interpretation of Paul’s admonition not to “eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11:27). I have recently learned that some Christians believe you should only take communion in your home congregation. In the United Methodist Church, we have an open communion table because we believe that a non-believer can be drawn to Christ through the experience of communion and we don’t give ourselves the authority to determine who is and isn’t Christian.
Perhaps it was the case that those who declined to come forward at the
wedding did so because they thought that Methodism was like Catholicism and that it would be disrespectful for them to come forward not being Methodists. I just hope they weren’t expressing theological disapproval. I’m particularly sensitive to that suspicion because as a college student in an non-denominational evangelical campus ministry, I remember being told that Methodists weren’t really “born-again” Christians.
I hope that isn’t why people wouldn’t come forward for communion. To anyone who thinks that sharing communion with someone constitutes an uncritical endorsement of their theology, I challenge you to think of it as a form of evangelism. Jesus emphatically rejected the concept of guilt by association. Only He has the authority to draw the boundaries of His body. I pray that all Christians would be one at His table in the future.