I grew up in a Bible-thumping, charismaniac, Holy Ghost filled, hate the sin but love the sinner, pro-life, anti-homosexual, get your life right with God, no sin in this camp, walk right, spit white, no slippin, dippin, or sippin church. If you're unfamiliar with these terms, I'm happy for you. If you're familiar with them, then you heard them and were immediately appalled or you were sucked in to an interesting church experience.
I say church experience because very rarely did I find that it was an experience with Jesus. Many times it was an experience with some men and women that were incredibly well meaning but often doctrinally erroneous. I don't blame them. My heart breaks for them. Many times, their good intentions were desperate attempts to receive God's grace but ultimately turned in a form of legalism that subjected so many to harsh and painful ways of thinking.
I'm not soapboxing or naming names or pointing fingers. I'll tell you where all this is coming from.
A few days ago, I was sitting in on a message about the Eucharist (aka communion). Growing up in church and being an active church-goer in my 20's, I've experienced this moment many times and I've heard it taught over and over again. However, this was my first time hearing it taught at the church I'm currently at, so I was interested to see if this was to be a similar story but just by a different voice. Golly jee whiz mister, was I ever in for a treat.
1 Corinthians 11: 28-32 ESV says, "Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."
Sadly, during my past church experiences, the entire point of this scripture was taken out of context and piled together into a hurtful and harsh doctrine. I had heard all my life that when it came to the communion, you needed to "examine yourself" to see if you were worthy to take communion. That if there was sin in your life (aka if you had messed up in some way in between the last time you repented and confessed your sins and the moment when you're about to take communion) then you were unworthy of taking communion and you were going to get sick or even die from taking the Lord's Supper.
While sitting through the message yesterday, all aware of how much I had messed up in the past few days (although I felt I hadn't been THAT bad, I know the truth of how God views sin). When the pastor got to the part about "examining yourself," I knew all too well that I was unworthy again and like I had done for so long, I silently prayed that I would have to depend on Jesus' righteousness to be able to take communion and that my own righteousness wasn't good enough (knowing full well that it never has been good enough, in the first place).
That's when the preacher said something I had never heard before. He said that, "many of you listening to this message have heard a wrong teaching that said you had to examine yourself to see if you had been worthy enough to take communion."
Hey. That's me. What do you mean "wrong teaching?"
"The entire point of the Eucharist is that we would remember that we are completely unworthy.."
Oh yeah. I got that part.
"...And it is only by Jesus' sacrifice that we have been made worthy and can experience the new covenant. That it is only by grace that we have been invited to this table. THAT is what it means to examine yourself."
Woah! Never heard that before.
Since a very young age, I had been taught that I had to be worthy enough to eat some crackers and drink some juice (even though I still think it's cheating that we don't drink wine). When the reality is, it is only by Jesus' grace that we are able to experience the sanctity of communion as an opportunity to remember Jesus' love and sacrifice for mankind.
This experience and a few others like this have all come to support this thought:
Godly doctrine will bring you closer to God's grace and love.
So I'm going to take a few blog posts to share with you some of the things that I was taught and then what I believe to be a graceful, Biblical doctrine on the subject. I'm not an expert in these things. I'm just learning more about a Father who loves me, a King who died for me, and a best friend who is always with me.