img_1990Growing up in church and having been a part of churches with a wide range of views, I’ve heard the following verse quoted – and its meaning questioned – in many different settings regarding the taking of Communion:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)

How do we take communion in an unworthy manner?

There is much debate and misunderstanding among western Christians regarding the Lord’s supper and ceremonial communion (the Eucharist). Most churches have resorted to referring to these two observations interchangeably as if they comprised a single act: the ceremonial taking of bread/cracker with wine/juice. I think much of the understanding and purpose of both communion and the Lord’s supper is lost when this happens.

What is described in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33 is much different in both physical and spiritual meaning than what may be realized by the simple Sunday observance we practice today. Paul describes what we call “communion” as taking place within the context of “the Lord’s supper.”

Traditionally, leading up to the observance of the bread and wine would be a community dinner among those who follow Jesus. Food would be brought and shared among the families who were present; however, Paul addresses those who are only worried about feeding themselves as the poor among them go hungry:

“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” (1 Corinthians 11:21)

Paul was upset that some had brought so much food and wine with them that they were able to be overfed and get drunk, while not caring that another person/family present was too poor to join in the celebration.

“Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” (1 Corinthians 11:22)

The Lord’s supper is meant to make sure everyone present is fed; it is to be a celebration (hence, the wine) of the unity among believers and of the provision of God. What we call communion is a pause within that context to take special observance of Jesus with the bread and wine.

The Lord’s supper is meant to remind us that the religion of following Jesus is not only one that addresses spiritual concerns, but also physical. Paul issues a warning for those who observe this without caring for the needs of others:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)

Then, Paul gives the solution to taking part in The Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner:

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34)

Our western notion of extreme individualism just does not have much of a place in Christianity. This is demonstrated in our most basic of Christian observances. Our concern should be for others, not just ourselves. We should be asking ourselves, “How does this action impact the person next to me?”

When we do this, we are truly honoring the sacrifice and gospel of Jesus.

So, to answer the original question: How do we take communion in an unworthy manner?

We take communion in an unworthy manner when we are not caring for others. We take it in a worthy manner when are sharing what we are able.

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