2nd Class Christian

Written by Joel on April 18th, 2008

Externally there are no tell-tale signs that I am not in full communion with the Church – Except that I stay behind in the pew during the service of the Eucharist. Only sinners, nonbelievers, and Protestants stay in the pews.

I am very hurt to be lumped into this group. Granted, I am a sinner for sure. But my sins have been forgiven through the sacrament of baptism. Granted, I have sinned since then and I believe I need to confess. see, 1 John 1:9.

The Catholic Church teaches that Protestants are members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church by virtue of our baptism. I am in communion with the Catholic church, imperfect though it may be. Apparently our communion is broken enough to declare that this Christian brother is in the same class as sinners and nonbelievers.

I often see 1 Cor. 11:29 cited as justification for barring Protestants from the communion table. Quote: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (NIV)

Catholics will point to this scripture and say something like “if you don’t believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ you eat judgment on yourself. Protestants don’t believe this, therefore we are just looking out for your own good by keeping you from it.”

The problem is that there are many Protestants that do affirm this belief. Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc. and me for example.

Lets put that matter aside for a moment and look at the text at hand. We need to take a step back and look at the larger context of this passage, 1 Cor 11:17-34, in its entirety.

Paul is condemning the the Corinthians’ practices concerning the Lord’s Supper (aka Eucharist).

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”(NIV, vv. 17-22)

Paul condemns the Corinthian Church for not sharing the Lord’s Supper with all of the Christian faithful who are present.

Next we find the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper. vv. 23-26

Following the words of institution we find the text normally used to justify closed communion within the Catholic church:

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (NIV, vv 27-32)

But, what does Paul mean by “recognizing the body of the Lord?” I will agree that he is speaking of the elements themselves, but it is clear from the context that Paul is also speaking about the Body of Christ as the community of Christians.

Let us understand the condemnation in this way: Whoever fails to recognize his brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Paul concludes this passage with one final plead: “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (NIV, v. 33)

“Paul criticizes Christians who use sacramental acts like the Eucharist to distinguish themselves from other Christians.” (Communion with Non-Catholic Christians Jeffrey VanderWilt, p.154)

I fear that when large parts of the Body of Christ (i.e. baptized, non-Catholic Christians, aka Protestants) are denied access to the Eucharist, “it is not the Lord’s Supper [we] eat.”

I can discern the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Body of Christ, can you discern me as a part of the Body as well?


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anonymous says:

    The vast majority of Protestants do not believe that the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. To them, the Eucharist is just a nice symbol, and the Catholic meaning is either unknown or repulsive. Furthermore, only priests ordained in a church with apostolic succession have the ability to effect transubstantiation. Therefore, there are real, important and valid reasons for Catholics to wish to limit the reception of the Eucharist to those in communion with our church. Next time you attend Mass and you have these thoughts about being a “second class Christian,” please do not think that anyone in the Mass is paying attention to who is or is not going up to receive. The fact is that the Mass is not about you, or me, or anyone but Jesus, and the congregation’s focus is Jesus only.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Also let me add a comment about this statement from the beginning of the post:
    Only sinners, nonbelievers, and Protestants stay in the pews.

    This is not true. One – Everyone is a sinner; if sinners were not allowed to receive then we wouldn’t be able to celebrate it because the priest is a sinner too. Two – many people who never go up to receive are simply those waiting for their baptism and/or confirmation. Therefore they are neither unbelievers or Protestants. I am a recent convert and I waited many months to be able to receive even though I believed everything the folks in full communion with the church believed. It simply takes a little time. And again, no one is even paying attention to whether their neighbor in the pew goes up to receive. Our focus is on Jesus.

  3. Jacob (wrestles with God) says:

    You are absolutely right, it is not about me. That is very humbling. Thanks for your comment.

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