Why can’t my sister have communion with us?
Gary A. Pufahl
How do I answer that question “Why can’t my sister have communion with us?” without knowing either the person who is asking or the person being asked about? As Christians, we care about both people and want what is best for them. But first we have to know your sister’s situation and whether she understands the Lord’s Supper, the grace of God, and the teachings of the Bible.
Here are some things to consider:
God’s goal: Fellowship. Ever since God created this world and its people, he has only one goal in mind: He wants us to be in perfect fellowship with him. He wants us to enjoy his presence. But in order to have fellowship with a holy and perfect God, we can only approach God on his terms and in his way.
Mankind’s problem: Sin. The sad reality is that, due to our sinful nature, human beings don’t like God’s terms. Instead of submitting to what God says, our sinful nature wants to be superior to what God says—to do things our own way. I have a sinful nature that abhors God’s will and his Word. So do you, and so does your sister.
God’s solution: Repentance. But what a heart God has! He is love. He wants what is best for us. He goes into action to do what is best for us. God the Holy Spirit works repentance in our hearts and minds. He brings us to a genuine sorrow over our rebellion and defiance. He gives us a new heart and a new mind that see what he did to make us new.
Fellowship achieved. What do we see? We see a man who is God stooping down to wash his disciples’ feet (John 13:14). We see a Lord who came to be a servant (Matthew 20:28). We see the Holy One who became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus stood between God and sinful humanity. He chose to be made guilty of the sins of all. He became the atoning sacrifice for me, for you, and for your sister. He achieved what we could not achieve. Jesus has made us right with God: sin removed; righteousness given. We have fellowship with God through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
God’s gift: His Supper. The very night before he went to the cross to achieve that for us, Jesus gave his disciples—and us—something to treasure until he returns in glory on the Last Day. He gave us a gift that we as the church are to celebrate until he brings us to the banquet feast of heaven.
There he is, speaking so very clearly. He was just hours from dying and wanted his disciples to know in no uncertain terms. Holding the bread, he said, “Take and eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took the cup and said, “Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured for you for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Matthew 26:26-28).
He gives us forgiveness. Fellowship is achieved. As I approach this table, I carry a load of sin: a bag full of my pride, defiance, greed, and idolatrous ways. It weighs me down. But at the table of my Lord Jesus, I receive something completely different. My Lord bends down to earth in the bread and wine and Word. He looks me in my eyes of faith and says, “This is for you. You are forgiven.” I walk away from that table, and the burden is gone. Jesus has taken that weighty bag and has given me joy of heart. I have peace with God. Fellowship is achieved through Jesus.
But God never intended that fellowship would just be a personal blessing between him and me. He intended that an individual would express faith jointly with others. We come together to worship. God has always intended individuals to express their faith jointly in the community of other believers.
The Lord’s Supper is just such a public expression. The apostle Paul teaches that as we join in the Lord’s Supper, we publicly and jointly proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns (1 Corinthians 11:26). In a very real way, I am joining together with other people to confess my Lord when I take Holy Communion. We are united. We are one. A fellowship or unity is expressed.
What is unity except that we believe and confess the same truths! Not my truths, not your truths, but Christ’s truths—all of them. Let’s start with the truth of the Lord’s Supper. Do I believe that I am a sinner in need of Jesus alone (Luke 18:13)? Do I recognize that Jesus gives me his very body and blood miraculously connected to the bread and wine (1 Corinthians 10:16)? Do I believe that Jesus fully and freely lifts the burdens of sin and guilt off of my account and supplants them on his account (2 Corinthians 5:21)? Do I believe that I have the privilege of proclaiming the Lord’s death with these fellow Christians in the Lord’s Supper until Jesus returns on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 11:26)?
But true unity is tied to all we believe. Do we believe and confess all the truths of Scripture? Together we submit to God’s Word. Together we place ourselves beneath God’s will. Together we let the Word of God teach us and mold us. The Lord’s Supper is our avenue through which we express fellowship with God and with each other.
I care deeply about your sister. I desire only what is best for her. Without knowing exactly where she is at as an individual Christian, it’s difficult to answer why she can’t take communion with us, or even why she shouldn’t. Certainly, I would never want to put her in a situation that would bring her harm. If someone does not believe what Jesus teaches about the Lord’s Supper, that person would take it to her harm, not her healing (1 Corinthians 11:29). Since the Lord’s Supper is an expression of fellowship and unity (1 Corinthians 10:17), I also wouldn’t want to put your sister in a situation where she gives public profession of unity with us if she doesn’t believe and confess the same as we do.
But the goals are still the same: fellowship and unity. I would love to have and express fellowship with your sister. We all would. I would pray that together we would have the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and let him do what only he can do: create fellowship with God and each other through his teaching.
Text for illustration: From Luther’s Catechism © 2017 Northwestern Publishing House.
All Christians should examine themselves before receiving the Lord’s Supper. Resources are available to prepare yourself for Holy Communion in Christian Worship (p. 156) and Luther’s Catechism (2017) (pp. 371-373).
Author: Gary A. Pufahl
Volume 107, Number 04
Issue: April 2020