My biggest surprise was in reading again what Paul says of communion in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. In particular, Paul's words at the end of chapter 11:
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."Several things are interesting here.
- This is a warning to Christians. This is a warning about the way Christians should share the Lord's Supper together. If there is a message for unbelievers here, it is by implication only.
- Unworthy eating and drinking leads to judgement; but this judgement is not the judgement of condemnation. Rather it is discipline, sometimes in the form of sickness or physical death, "so that we may not be condemned!"
- Unworthy eating and drinking is about sharing communion "without discerning the body," which the context helps us see has to do with care for fellow brothers and sisters (see vv.17-22). It does not mean "taking communion while there is sin in your life."
What about 1 Corinthians 10? Do we get anywhere there?
The key point in this passage (esp. vv.14-22) is that sharing in the Lord's Supper is something. It is not that the bread or wine is anything in itself (see v.19), but drinking the cup and partaking of the table is a sharing in the body and blood of Christ. The act is something, something that means it cannot go along with partaking of the table of demons. "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons... Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?"
There is a clear assumption here and in chapter 11 that it is Christians who share in the Lord's Supper. However, it seems to me that the question of whether unbelievers might share communion is simply not addressed. To be sure, there will be consequences if they are simultaneously partaking of the table of the Lord and the table of demons, or if they are not discerning the body. Yet for the unbeliever, who comes in ignorance, can we really assume these consequences will be negative?
Likewise it appears to me that the question of sin and discipline and exclusion from communion is more complicated than we might have thought. There seems to be no indication whatsoever that there should be any judgement done other than self judgement (11:31). Have we made a mistake in linking sharing in communion too closely with church membership, so that to "expel the immoral brother" (5:13), we have to exclude them from the Lord's Supper and so, perhaps, deny its basic character as a meal of grace?