Fencing Over Fights

Q. This past Sunday our pastor “fenced the table” (i.e., brought the warning regarding coming to the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) by using the Lord’s words found at Matthew 5:23-24 concerning unreconciled relationships and how they are continuing sins that should be healed before the elements of communion are taken. Is this proper? Some church members do not think so.

A. One of the most scared acts undertaken by a Christian is to participate in the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). It is an act of deep worship with important theological meaning and eternal significance. Only Christians who have publically professed their faith in Christ and who are active and good-standing members of a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church under the authority and jurisdiction of the called leaders of a true Christian church are to be admitted to the Table.  Most orthodox Christian churches practice “fencing” as a matter of course to guard the holiness of this sacrament. That is the intent of 1 Corinthians 11; Paul was seeking to correct the divisive and unchristian practices the church at Corinth had fallen into.

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 1 Corinthians 11:26-29

As an act of holy worship in the church we must also look to other Scriptural guidance, if available, in order to complete our knowledge of what is required of us in order to obey God and honor him through right worship. In this instance, Matthew 5:23-24, speaks to the matter of how we are to approach the Lord as we come to offer our “gifts” in worship (any act of worship such as bringing offerings, offering words of praise and prayer, and coming to the table of the Lord).

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

This is a passage relevant to how the act and attitude of our participation in a sacred worship rite is to be undertaken. The emphasis of our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5 is, of course, the continuing efficaciousness of the Law, the Ten Commandments, as a standard of moral Christian conduct (not a system unto salvation); the everlasting behavioral code Christians follow to live a life that has been purchased by Christ on the cross. The “Sermon on the Mount,” if it teaches us anything, is that Christ’s coming elevated the Law’s standard from mere external obedience to internal obedience, a much more rigorous requirement. Living in an unreconciled manner with a fellow believer does not comport with the code of behavior Christians embrace.

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

Law and love are united forever, therefore, I believe it was entirely appropriate and biblically proper for your pastor to use our Lord’s warning that should you seek to come to an act of worship with a heart attitude corrupted by anger and broken fellowship you are in a situation where you are eating and drinking judgment unto yourself.

But let’s take one more step.

Is it because you have made no effort to be reconciled to your eternal sibling in Christ that these words of warning sting? Matthew 5:23-24 says “if you remember that your brother has something against you…,” then you must cease from the pursuit of your act of worship and, as a priority, seek that brother out in order to be reconciled. The burden is on you to take action to ensure all of your relationships are harmonious with others who are also “in Christ.” If you have “made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) then you can approach the holy throne of God in worship without fear. If you have made no effort it is then that you are warned. Paul knew that sometimes even our best efforts toward reconciliation my go unrequited due to the hardness of heart of the other person.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

You should not condemn yourself if there is no response to your earnest efforts and not stay away from the sacrament in such a circumstance.

God has called us to worship him in a very particular way:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24

Worshipping in a manner that draws the pleasure of our Father in heaven means worshipping with a conscience made clear by the truth of Christ as we obey his commands. His commands are not a burden; they are a delight so we do we what we know are to do: live at peace…and then worship in peace.

For the Glory of the Lamb,
-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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