Sunday, August 28, 2011

Should the Lost Partake of the Lord's Supper?

A few good posts got me thinking about the Lord's Supper again (see here, here, and here).  As we celebrated the meal today as a church family, I thought even more about it.

Specifically, I've been pondering whether or not the lost should partake of the Lord's Supper when present at the gathering. My answer used to be an unequivocal "No."  That was based on a faulty interpretation of I Corinthians 11:17-34. What I failed to see is that passage is directed to believers who were abusing the supper; it doesn't deal at all with unbelievers.

Back to the question: should those who don't trust Jesus as Lord still eat the Lord's Supper? On a related note, should we invite them to partake of it?

I can still hear myself standing in a church pulpit as a salaried pastor and solemnly requesting that only followers of Christ eat the Lord's Supper that was about to be served. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. Not so anymore.

The setting and method of the Lord's Supper have a huge influence on whether or not this question has much significance. For example, if the Lord's Supper amounts to little more than a few ounces of grape juice and a small wafer cookie served for a few minutes during a worship service, then it doesn't make any difference to the lost sitting there. Why should they care about a little snack like that? Soon afterwards they will depart the building to go get a real meal.

However, what happens if the Lord's Supper is eaten as a full meal? What happens when this meal takes time and is accompanied by much conversation? What happens when it is one of the main meals of the day? Would we ask the lost among us not to eat of it? Would we send them out to McDonald's while we eat the good food? If we do so, we would show that we have little understanding at all of how Christ expects us to treat the lost.

Those who do not know Jesus Christ will, of course, have no real understanding of the significance of the community meal. To them it is just good food. They do, however, understand hospitality, community, acceptance, and love. We can show the love of Christ be inviting them to eat with us. We can just as easily turn them off to Christ by saying "Please don't eat."

One response to this might be to say that we should simply ask them not to eat the bread or drink the cup but still eat the remainder of the meal. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is a faulty separation of the bread and cup from the meal itself. The bread and juice/wine have no mystical power. They represent Christ, of course, but they are part of the broader meal, not in a separate category.

In the end, I've come to the conclusion that we must invite any lost folks to partake of the entire meal with us when we gather. To do so opens all kinds of doors of communication. To not do so slams the door shut on gospel proclamation.

The table must be open to all who are present. To all believers, it is a blessed community memorial to what Christ has accomplished for us. To unbelievers, it's great food. To all, it's a fabulous time for relationship building.

We must invite all to partake enthusiastically.


Aussie John said...


Absolutely! "To not do so slams the door shut on gospel proclamation."

Amongst many things,including remembering Christ's amazing work on behalf of His people, and celebration of both past and future, the Lord's Supper IS a proclamation of the Gospel.

Eric said...


I agree completely. This issue has sort of come full circle for me. It's amazing what God does as he shows us truths in his word over periods of time. I look forward to greater understanding in the years ahead as he continues to open my eyes.

Eric said...


Do we see in Scripture lost people partaking of the Lord's Supper? I guess a lot of it comes down to form and function. In a house church with a full meal, it would be quite rude to exclude somebody.

Although I think it would be prudent to explain the importance of remembering the death of Christ. It is a good opportunity to share the gospel.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that for believers it will be a meaningful spiritual time and for non-believers it will simply be a meal.

Thanks for helping me think through this issue. We just began doing the Lord's Supper in our house church. Although we always share a meal together, we just introduced the bread and wine and the teaching from Scripture. We plan on doing it every week now, so it will be helpful when we have lost people there to know how to handle it.

In Christ,

Eric said...


I'm glad you are thinking through this issue and that your church family is celebrating weekly.

As for unbelievers partaking as well, this is a difficult concept for some Christians to get used to. I agree with you that while the meal has special significance to Christians, the non-Christians present will basically think of it as just another meal. I don't think there is anything wrong with this. We can show them, through word and deed, the love of Christ as we eat together.