A few weeks ago former vice-president Joe Biden was denied communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest’s decision immediately made the headlines, prompting the usual range of reactions. Communion is a familiar ceremony repeated thousands of times a week in churches all across the world. Anyone who has regularly attended church has probably observed or particpated in communion.
Protestants and Catholics are not in agreement about the nature and purpose of communion. The Catholic church teaches communion is a necessary part of being saved and during the communion service the bread and wine are transformed to become the physical body and blood of Jesus. Protestant churches teach that communion is an important part of Christian obedience. The elements do not undergo a physical transformation, but spiritually a great transaction takes place during the Lord’s Supper. Despite these significant differences in teachings about communion, most Christian denominations treat the Lord’s Supper as a serious event which makes significant demands on the individual.
Because communion is a sober memorial of the suffering of Jesus many pastors take a few minutes before administering the elements to warn the church of seriousness of what is happening. Careful pastors exhort Christians to be serious and holy in their observance of the Lord’s Supper. Most protestant pastors do not refuse to serve the communion elements to any individual, but they do ask Christian’s to voluntarily not participate if they are living in sin.
The reason for these warnings is found in the warnings given in 1 Corinthians 11. The apostle Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Some people, before taking part in communion, were selfishly stuffing their faces causing the truly needy to do without. Some in the church were fighting with one another over which preacher was best. Some in the church were openly supporting immorality. Some in the church were treating the church gathering as a show time for their own self-aggrandizement. Some in the church were participating in idol worship during the week and participating in the worship of God on the weekend. The Bible commanded these believers to repent of their various sins before participating in communion.
The Bible does more than command repentance. In 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 It warns, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” Communion is the memorial of the death of God the Son for the salvation of the world. A failure to treat the ritual with the respect and reverence it deserves brings the chastening of God. In Corinth people were sick and some had died because of their sinful participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Joe Biden was refused communion because of his open, willful and continued advocation of murder. None should be surprised a Catholic church, which teaches that every unborn child is a living human being, would withhold communion from one who supports killing babies. What should surprise people is the church doesn’t do this more often.
Warning people away from communion or denying them the elements is not a judgmental act of hypocritical meanness. It is the response of a compassionate minister who understands the gravity of the Lord’s Supper and is concerned for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners.