What would you think of a doctor who let his patients write their own prescriptions? How about a pharmacist who let his customers help themselves to whatever medication they thought might help them?
“Dangerously irresponsible” would be about the kindest way to describe such a health care provider. The fact is, medicine isn’t quite the same as food. Everybody needs and wants food. People can handle most foods perfectly well. Except for allergic reactions, there is little danger. In deciding what to eat and when, most people rely on personal taste and a little common sense.
Medicine is different. The effects drugs may have on people are very specific and often very powerful. The same drug can be a godsend for one patient and fatal for another. Even combinations of beneficial drugs can cause problems. For that reason, we rely on health care professionals to tell us what to take, how much, and when. We know that medicine is a complicated science and that when something doesn’t work, the results can be disastrous.
The Lord’s Supper is more like medicine than it is like food.
Odd as it may sound, the Lord’s Supper is more like medicine than it is like food. It is, first of all, powerful stuff. At the Lord’s Table, we come into the presence of the Son of God himself, who gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink. From the earliest times, the Christian church has considered the Sacrament as a sacred, spiritual power. Whenever celebrating this Sacrament, the church always tries to treat the Supper with solemnity and respect.
Second, Scripture makes it clear that the Lord’s Supper is prescription medicine—in other words, not for everybody. It comes with a warning label, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Like medicine, when administered to the wrong person, the Lord’s Supper can actually bring harm rather than help.
We would never want to see that happen to anybody in any congregation. That’s why we don’t simply give the Lord’s Supper to anyone who cares to receive it. To administer the Lord’s Supper responsibly is, at the very least, to see that every communicant thoroughly understands what he or she is receiving. That requires instruction, and that usually takes time.
We know that, for some people, that makes our church “strict” about the Lord’s Supper. But Christian love for our communicants demands nothing less.
© 2004 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.