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Can one refrain from the Lord’s Table?

Video Series

Posted on May 13, 2020  - By George Mattackal

Edited video transcript

So, let’s first talk about the importance of Lord’s Table, or the Lord’s Supper, partaking of the emblems that we typically do on Sunday. When we go back to Acts 2:42, I believe that passage, which describes what was happening in the early church, tells us the four keys to spiritual growth in the life of any believer and, by extension, in the life of the church.

The four keys

The first was that they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine. So, that tells us the importance of studying the Word, applying the Word, understanding the Word and applying it in our lives. 

Number two, they continued steadfastly in prayer. Right? So, that’s the importance of prayer. No Christian can grow without the study of the Word and without prayer. 

The third was fellowships. So, no Christian can grow without fellowship with the body of believers. You cannot grow by yourself; fellowship is an integral part of that spiritual growth process. 

And then, finally, the breaking of bread. And we need to understand here that what that means, it’s not just the physical act of partaking of the bread and the cup, but rather what that symbolises. Those are a symbol. Right? They are a symbol of the death of Christ. Of the work of Christ, of His resurrection. And it’s really to remind us, week after week or whenever we do it, as often as we do it, to remind us of what Christ has done for us, to remind us of who we were and the work that Christ has done on our behalf and what we are today because of that work. And then that needs to prompt us to live our lives in gratitude and in thankfulness to God, in obedience to His commands. Right? 

So that’s why the breaking of bread is so important, because it’s not just a ritual that we do to please somebody or because there is something specifically associated with that if we don’t do it or do it — if we do it, something good will happen; if we don’t do it, something bad will happen. That misses the whole point, right? It is for us to just— a physical act of remembrance that reminds us of what Christ has done for us and, therefore, how we should live our lives because of what He has done for us.

The breaking of the bread is not a ritual we do to please somebody or because, if we dont do it, something bad will happen

So, with that in mind, let me try to address the question, which is: are there Biblical reasons or Biblically-specified reasons why somebody should refrain from the emblems? Certainly, there are a few things that we find in Scripture. And one of the reasons that’s given is clearly when there is disunity or some kind of a conflict between brothers or sisters in the church. 

1. When in conflict

So, for example, if we go to Matthew 5, the Lord says there that if you come to the altar with your gift and you realise that that there is something between you and your brother, He says, don’t offer that gift. Don’t make that sacrifice of praise or whatever sacrifice you bring. You leave it at the altar, you go back and you reconcile with your brother, and then you come back. 

And then when we go to the well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 11, the context there is about the church in Corinth, where there was a lot of disunity in the church, where people were not regarding each other. There were fights at the Lord’s Table. And it says that, when you come together, you don’t come to keep the Lord’s Supper, but rather, you come to put each other down. You despise the church of God. You don’t understand— you don’t accept the unity of the body and you don’t accept any of these things that you are partaking. Right? And in answer to that, Paul articulates or goes back to Christ instituting the Lord’s Supper and how it happened.

And then he says this. He says, he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. Now, “the Lord’s body” there is referring to the church, and it refers back to the previous verses where he talks about the conflict between the brothers. So, when you come and you partake, not discerning the Lord’s body, not being in unity with the rest of the Lord’s body, then you eat and drink judgment on yourself. So again, the same principle of Matthew 5 is articulated here again in 1 Corinthians 11. If you have a problem with a brother, with a sister, you need to sort that out before you come and partake.

When you partake, not being in unity with the rest of the Lord’s body, then you eat and drink judgment on yourself

2. When sin is unconfessed

And then, the next point in that same passage we find is that: let a man examine himself. Right? So we have to examine our attitude. We need to examine our life before we partake. Let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. Right? So self-examination, sin in our life, unconfessed sin in our life, we need to make sure that we are confessing that sin. 

And the way it’s worded there, it says, let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup and so— on the issue of timing, the idea is that you confess your sins so that you don’t have to refrain from partaking. You go and resolve the difference. In fact, the man in Matthew 5, he is to leave the gift at the altar. He is to go back, reconcile and come back to the altar and offer his sacrifice. 

So, the idea is that you get it resolved quickly. It’s not something that you should let prolong on for a long, long time. You need to resolve it quickly so that you are engaging in that act of obedience to Lord. This is a command of the Lord. We do it in obedience. We do it in remembrance to remind us of what He has done for us and to remind us of how we ought to live. So, we need to not be staying away from it for an extended period of time. But we need to resolve the issues that are keeping us away, whether it’s sin in our life, whether it’s conflict with our fellow brothers or sisters.

3. When under discipline

And then there’s a third aspect, which is, if you’re under church discipline, right? So, partaking of the emblems is part of fellowship, it is something you do that remembers the Lord. But if you are in church discipline, the elders of the church might instruct you not to partake. That’s certainly within their purview and their authority to do that. 

And again, that needs to be in the context of a programme or a path of restoration. So that once you’re restored, you confess, you repent and you follow the direction of the elders and you are restored back, then immediately you participate.

Even if you’re not participating due to church discipline, that needs to be in the context of a programme or a path of restoration

4. When one is ill

The final thing, which is really not addressed in Scripture, is about the health issues. And that might be a big concern today because of all the viral infections and all the things going on in the world. But Scripture is really silent about this. Although, there are some principles we can apply. 

There’s a principle about not doing harm to each other, not doing harm to a fellow brother or sister. And suddenly we need to be judicious in applying those principles. And again, you know, we shouldn’t be legalistic about it. 

As I said earlier, just because you don’t partake of the emblem, this is not a ritual that has some significance in the sense that, if you don’t partake or you miss so many times, that the Lord is somehow going to judge you right away or He’s going to cause some kind of punishment. That’s not the way it works. It’s not something to be done legalistically. It’s something that you do in remembrance and thankfulness to remember what the Lord has done for you.

But if you have health issues that might be a communicable disease or whatever, then you need to figure that out; you need to make sure that you’re not doing something that causes harm to your brother and sister. 

And I would encourage, in those cases, with individuals who might be in a special situation, for the church to make arrangements for them to partake in such a way… that doesn’t cause danger or harm to others, so that they too can partake of it and obey that command of the Lord to remember Him through the partaking of the emblems.

So, that’s sort of what the Scriptural view is on this topic. And, we need to examine our hearts. That’s the most important thing: examine our hearts at all times. And whether it’s not just about the partaking or the not partaking, but— are we living our lives in a way that reflects that we truly appreciate and understand what the Lord has done for us, which is what we symbolically are doing when we partake of the emblems.

(Video courtesy: Philip Prabhakaran)

George Mattackal

About George Mattackal

George Mattackal currently serves as an elder at Calvary Bible Fellowship in Bangalore, India. He previously served on the board of Gospel Missions of India, USA for more than 20 years. He has a keen interest in supporting ministry work in India, which he does through teaching and financial support.



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