“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (vv. 28–30).
Many Reformed theological statements, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, affirm the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. However, there is one other view of the supper that some Reformed believers have held. Some have affirmed the memorialist position often associated with Huldrych Zwingli. In this view, the Lord’s Supper is simply a memorial of the death of Christ. All that happens is that we remember what Jesus did. He is not present in any special way in the sacrament.
Remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross is part of the Lord’s Supper, but there are good reasons to believe more than remembrance takes place at the Lord’s Table. The language of John 6:22–59 about eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood seems sacramental, referring to spiritual realities. Today’s passage also points us in the direction of affirming that Jesus is really and spiritually present in the sacrament. First Corinthians 11:30 refers to some Corinthian Christians who took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and then became weak or sick or died. This is hard to explain if Jesus is not present in the Lord’s Supper. But if He is present spiritually, it makes sense that some people get sick or die by taking the supper wrongly. After all, Jesus is the incarnation of the holy God, in whose presence creatures find blessing or curse (Gen. 3:14–15; Ex. 33:20; Isa. 6:1–7; Heb. 12:29).
But what does it mean to take the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner? Today’s passage tells us problems arise when we partake “without discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29), so worthy partaking of the supper means that we discern the body. In context, this must refer in some way to harmony in the body of Christ, since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 11 in order to correct selfishness and other communal sins connected with the Corinthians’ partaking of the supper (vv. 17–22). So, it seems sinning against other Christians and not repenting is a failure to discern the body. However, it goes beyond that to include all other impenitent sins as well, including the sin of unbelief. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament only for believers, and those who do not trust Christ or who profess faith and yet are in serious, impenitent sin should not partake lest they eat and drink judgment on themselves (v. 29).
The Lord’s Supper is for Christians, not for perfect people. That we are sinners should not keep us from taking the supper. If we come to the Lord’s Table confessing our sin and repenting for it, we may freely partake of the bread and wine.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Only sinners need the death and resurrection of Christ, so sinners are welcomed to His table. But not all sinners may come—only those who have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation, which trust bears fruit in submission to His lordship, may come to His table. If you are a repentant sinner who is not under church discipline from a Bible-teaching church, you may freely partake of the Lord’s Supper.