The mode of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is only one aspect of the sacrament that has generated disagreement. Among the other issues related to the Lord’s Supper that have been controversial is Roman Catholicism’s understanding of the Eucharist as a kind of reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus.
According to the twenty-second session of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the Roman Catholic church teaches that the death of Jesus for the salvation of His church is repeated in the Mass each time it is celebrated. To be sure, Rome says, this sacrifice is one that is not bloody; nevertheless, it is real. As with their view of transubstantiation, this understanding of the Lord’s Supper has significant theological problems. Hebrews 10:1–18, the Reformers pointed out, emphasizes the once-for-all nature of Jesus’ death. Christ “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” that “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (vv. 12, 14). Any view that portrays the Lord’s Supper as a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus denigrates and denies the sufficiency of His atonement.
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 are the final text we will examine in our brief overview of the Lord’s Supper. The wealthy Corinthian believers were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a gluttonous manner, profaning the sacredness of the occasion and not leaving enough bread and wine for the entire congregation to partake (vv. 20–21). This prevented the Christians from communing with each other and the Lord, thereby violating the purpose of the meal. Paul warned the Corinthian Christians to examine themselves lest they eat of the supper unworthily and die (vv. 27–32). They were to make sure they were not wronging anyone in the sacrament and that they were practicing repentance and faith. Otherwise they could be judged for treating the things of God lightly.
Paul’s point is not that only perfect Christians are worthy to take the sacrament, for perfect people would not need it. His point is only that we must come to the Lord’s table with humility, confessing our sin, and looking for the forgiveness we have obtained in the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Only sinners need the grace of Christ; therefore, only sinners can participate in the Lord’s Supper. But the only sinners who can freely commune with Jesus at His table are those who have acknowledged that they are sinners and have turned to Him as their only hope in life and in death. Do not let feelings of unworthiness prevent you from coming to His table. Jesus invites you to come and sit with Him if you are following Him in a life of repentance and faith.
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