Did you ever go to church and see some people choosing not to participate in communion? Ever wonder why? I mean, is the communion wine not their favorite vintage? Do the highly compressed wafers simply gross them out because they are truly like eating cardboard? Possibly. They ARE rather nasty. Seriously though, there are a few more likely possibilities to consider.
It is possible that some people might choose not to participate because they are not believers in Jesus Christ. If that were actually the case, that's understandable I guess (that they're not participating, not that they don't believe). They do not believe, therefore, why should they participate as if they did? That's respectful. And sad. Those people need to be prayed for. They're in church, but they don't believe? Yeah. Prayer would be a good thing.
But the more I think about that possibility I actually think most non-believers would tend to just fake belief and take communion rather than be "busted" or embarrassed. They'd probably just want to fit in so they would go ahead and participate in the ritual. Sadly, there are probably more of these than the church would like to admit.
The second reason I can come up with, why some people don't take communion, and this is probably the MAIN reason people don't take communion, is because they CHOOSE not to. Hmm. Why would someone who professes to be a Christian NOT take communion when the opportunity presents itself? Isn't that something Jesus told us to do? "DO THIS in remembrance of me." That's a command! Why would ANY Christian chose not to take communion? An excellent question.
Our family went to Christmas Eve service at my wife's church this year, a Lutheran church of the ELCA variety. They practice what's known as OPEN communion. They preface their ceremony by stating, "all are welcome" to share in Christ's body and blood. That's good. Situation normal.
However, when people arose from their pews to march up front, some in attendance that evening stayed behind. They didn't bother to go up front and partake in the elements of communion. They took a pass. Why? Well, it was because they were members of a different church. They belonged to a different Lutheran church, a different synod. They were WELS, not ELCA. How do I know all these things? Those choosing not to participate were members of my family.
To be honest, the practise of closed communion, or CLOSE communion, rubs me to wrong way. It bothers me for several reasons but the biggest reason is that it is we humans who are judging what is in another man's heart. This is something that, in my opinion, is reserved for Jesus and Him alone. For us to take on that role risks judgement and is, in my opinion, blasphemy. For an interesting read on the WELS point of view, try this.
So what is right? Should we make a practise of refusing to offer communion to anyone who we think is really not a believer? Do you know what I do when I face questions like this? I go to the Bible and search for my answers there. What answer can you glean from these passages.
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." - Matthew 26:26-28 ESV
"And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." -
Luke 22:19-20 ESV
"So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. ... " - John 6:53-58 ESV
"And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." - 1 Corinthians 11:24-28 ESV
I'm not here just to pick on WELS Lutherans. There are many churches that practise, closed, or close communion. The Roman Catholic church for example, the Eastern Orthodox church, strict Baptists, there's a whole bunch. But for me, after examining scripture for my answer, I believe that communion should be offered to ALL. And if someone partakes in an unworthy manner they will answer to Jesus. It's simple. When we as church bodies begin to determine through human eyes who truly believes that Jesus is their Lord and savior, we are going down a path that leads to death.
We're supposed to be observing a sacred ceremony when we take communion. God does not like rituals, but a sincere repentant heart. I heard of a high school student in our youth group, a guy, drinking his communion wine like he was taking a shot of whiskey. He didn’t use his arms or his hands. He just wrapped his lips around the little plastic cup and bent over backwards until the contents had been emptied into his mouth. Not exactly the kind of reverence God was looking for?
The best communion service I ever participated in was at a small church in Seymour. There was maybe a couple dozen in attendance. The entire congregation gathered around a few linen-covered tables. We asked God's blessing on what we were about to do and then we broke loaves of bread as they were passed around. The same with the wine. We then prayed as a family as we felt led to do. It was awesome. I have never felt closer to my brothers and sisters and to Jesus during any other communion service. And isn't that the whole point of what communion is all about? To reaffirm our faith and proclaim the Lord's death until he comes?
"Do this in remembrance of me." - Jesus