Gluten-free Communion?

Ironically, the Lord’s Table can often be an area in which there is much discord and discontentment, as I’ve written about before. At my own church, we’ve recently switched to having gluten-free bread/wafers for everyone, all the time. Unfortunately (unfortunate for a number of reasons), in our day, this is something we have to think about and be aware of. And, while I would prefer it wasn’t made a big deal of, it is something churches should acknowledge as they make that kind of change in a more intentional manner.

Here’s my basic argument: it doesn’t hinder anyone for the church to use gluten-free communion bread; to use bread with gluten will hinder a segment of the congregation—whether rightly or wrongly—from partaking in the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation; it’s incredibly simple now to change to gluten-free bread; why would we not jump at the opportunity to remove an unnecessary obstacle to unhindered participation?

There are two possible answers: 1) people are selfish; and 2) the bread Jesus used wasn’t gluten-free. Well, to make argument #2, you better be ready to switch back from grape juice to wine—which I’m happy to do, as I think we ought to stay as close to the original elements as possible—just be consistent.

Below are some of the thoughts I shared with our congregation when we made the change.

What we want to avoid is giving any believer any reason to refrain from participating in the Lord’s Supper (beyond the restrictions of Scripture: unrepentant sin). This is a meal celebrating the fellowship we have with Christ, and thus with one another; and it’s meant to be taken together, because we are united in Christ. Because of this, we want to make sure there’s no reason for someone who refrains from eating gluten (for any reason)—whether of our own congregation or those visiting—to refrain from partaking of the elements.

Many churches have attempted to address the issue by having a gluten-free option, so that most people will take regular communion bread, and over there is the gluten-free option. But what that does is effectively divide the body into gluten-eating, and gluten-free people—turning a comparatively inconsequential matter into a matter of table-fellowship. This tends to lead toward either self-pity or pride on the part of the gluten-free folks, and either disdain or bitterness on the part of those eating the regular bread. It also defeats the very symbolism of the Lord’s Supper when we make this dietary issue a matter of identity, instead of celebrating our fellowship and communion with one another because of our identity in Christ.

Division in the body is precisely the opposite of what the Lord’s Supper is all about. So we make this adjustment as a wonderful opportunity to show our love for our brothers and sisters, and to seek to maintain that visible unity in partaking of the Lord’s Supper together as one body. This can easily become an area of contention, but we must seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. If the Scriptures’ instruction on grace has taken root at all, we will be eager to remove any obstacle possible in the communion meal so as to show our love for and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Communion is a time of celebration, remembrance, and thanksgiving for the salvation God provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a meal of fellowship for Christians to enjoy together. As such, this is only for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. It also means that if we are out of fellowship, with another believer, or just in our relationship to God, we need to make that right before we partake of communion as well. 1 John 1:9 says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we examine ourselves, as to whether we have any unconfessed sin in our life that is hindering our relationship with God, or with our fellow believers, and we confess that to the Lord, so that we are prepared to partake of the bread and the cup together—as one body in Christ.

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are on body, for we all partake of the one bread.” — 1 Corinthians 10:17

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The Lord’s Supper Gone Sour

Imagine a first-century church (one of the churches Paul and Barnabas planted, for instance), and they’re arguing over the wine they use for the Lord’s Supper. Some people have complained, “why are we using this cheap wine, when we could just as easily get a nice cabernet?” Perhaps they were self-conscious when relatives would visit from Rome and the communion wine tasted like vinegar. But when they then switched to a better wine, some complained about the money they were spending on it; still others said that they couldn’t properly focus on the gravity of Christ’s death while they were enjoying a fine wine.

What do you think Paul would have said in a letter to this church? Would he have said something like, “haven’t I taught you anything about grace? Seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. Think of others more highly, and more often, than you think of yourself…” I bring this thought experiment up because I see many modern churches having similar arguments over the bread we use for communion.

But when Paul says “do all things without grumbling,” he means all things, and he means no complaining. When we have the capacity to complain and grumble about the culinary quality of the elements we use for Communion, we not only show that we have completely failed to internalize and apply the lessons about grace the Scripture teaches us, but we evidence a selfish, self-centered attitude that is in line with the attitude for which Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, saying that because of the way they were treating one another over the issue of Communion, they “make it not the Lord’s Supper.”

In other words, you’re missing the whole point. You’ve sat down at the table of fellowship only to flip over the table and spoil the Supper. This is a meal that proclaims and celebrates the fellowship we have with Christ, and because of our union with Christ then also the fellowship we have with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we profane the very purpose of the communion meal when we can’t see past our own preferences and felt needs, and instead allow selfish and discontent thoughts into our hearts over the very practice that Christ instituted to be not only a remembrance of his death and resurrection, but a celebration of the new life in union with him and in fellowship with our new family that we now have.

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 11:27-28


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Devote Yourself to the Public Reading

When it comes to reading the Scriptures, another thing we commonly do today is say “okay, okay, reading the Scripture is important… so let’s all do that—each of us on our own time, by ourselves. Just get alone with God, and have this wonderful personal experience, just you and God.”

What we often don’t remember (or sometimes were never taught), is that the Scriptures were actually written to be read aloud, in community. From Moses, to King Josiah, to Ezra and Nehemiah reading and teaching the word of God to the people, to Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue, to the apostles sending out letters to various churches to be read aloud before the assembled congregations, the Scriptures were written to be read aloud together with other believers. And we see in Acts 2 that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, reading the Scriptures together daily.

In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul calls Timothy to keep this practice going. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and teaching.” Sometimes we can be all for that teaching part, but actually then fail to give ourselves, in any meaningful way, to the public reading of Scripture. But what would happen if we actually began to devote ourselves to reading the Scriptures together with our brothers and sisters? What would it look like for our church to be unified in our commitment to come together to hear the Word of God read aloud?

Our church is doing just that on Wednesday evenings. We’re coming together to read the Scripture together—several chapters at a time, sometimes letters in their entirety—and then talk about what we just heard. It’s a little new and different for us, but I’m looking forward to this time of fellowship and growth as we follow Paul’s instruction and devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.

The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. — Isaiah 40:8

 


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1 John’s Purpose Statement [conclusion]

I’ve been arguing that the purpose of the book of 1 John is not to give tests by which believers may be assured of their genuine salvation, but rather that the readers may enjoy intimate fellowship with God just as John does (as well as the other apostles), thus completing the apostles’ joy in the fellowship they have with the readers in the common salvation they share (cf. 1 John 1:3)…

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1 John’s Purpose Statement

Many have assumed that the purpose statement of First John is to be found near the end of John’s epistle. The pertinent verse reads, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV). This is certainly a purpose statement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the purpose statement for the entire book. For a couple of reasons, I would argue this is not John’s overarching purpose statement.

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To Whom Was 1st John Written?

An important key to interpreting and understanding the book of First John is in establishing who the recipients of the epistle were. It is vital to understand that John is writing this epistle to believers who know they are believers, and whom John knows are believers…

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