Saturday, April 08, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (1)

Someone just murdered my favourite verse ...
It’s time for a new semi-regular Coming Untrue series, I think.

Writing four to five blog posts every week for more than three years involves a fair bit of research, as you might imagine. I don’t keep track, but I suspect I average as many as ten hours a week just looking things up, whether it’s Greek or Hebrew in Strong’s, cross-checking other people’s statements of fact, or looking up verses that others have quoted as evidence of this or that. Hey, I’m not complaining; I benefit greatly from the exercise.

But one thing I notice is that way too often Christian writers cite proof texts that have little or nothing to do with what they are alleged to demonstrate.

For example, here’s an enthusiastic defense of a practice called “restricted communion”. Bible Truth introduces its subject like this:
“Some object to placing restrictions on the Lord’s Supper, saying we have no right to restrict the Lord’s table. But the Bible teaches differently.”
Does it? Maybe so. But just to be Berean about it, let’s make our way through their 13-point case to see if their proof texts prove that “the Bible gives clear restrictions in this ordinance”. The following verses are their evidence, and the numbered headings are their claims (in their own words) about what those verses teach.

1.  Restricted as to place — in the church (1 Cor. 11:18)
“For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.”
All this verse demonstrates is that the Lord’s supper was eaten by the Corinthians when they came together “as a church”. At best it gives us a historical example of what a single first century Gentile church did. It tells us nothing about the rightness or wrongness of Christians eating the Lord’s supper together under other circumstances. There is no apostolic instruction here at all, let alone a restriction.

Restriction proven? NO

2.  Restricted as to motive — the social idea forbidden (1 Cor. 11:21-22)
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
What the apostle rejects here is failure to discern “the body”. There is a double entendre here: he refers to guilt concerning the “body and blood of the Lord”, but contextually it is the Body of Christ — the church — that these believers have failed to discern. They have shared nothing and overlooked the needs of their brothers and sisters, failing to recognize the they are part of a unity established by the Head of the Church.

The practice of believers lovingly sharing a meal together during which they also remember the Lord is not being condemned here. It is not even being discussed.

Restriction proven? NO

3.  Restricted as to purpose — to discern the Lord’s body (1 Cor. 11:29)
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
But discerning the Lord’s body is NOT the singular purpose of the Lord’s supper. In fact, their own Point 11 demonstrates a second purpose for meeting in this way, and 1 Corinthians 11:26 provides a third.

Restriction proven? NO

4.  Restricted to those who are baptized (Matt. 28:18-20)
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ...”
Matthew 28:19 is one of a number of verses that tell us baptism is normal for believers. Other verses could be cited to show a historical pattern of baptizing immediately upon the profession of faith. It is fair to say the New Testament does not contemplate unbaptized believers. That said, this verse does not associate baptism and the Lord’s supper in any way.

Restriction proven? NOT REALLY

5.  Restricted to church members (Acts 2:41-42)
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
At the risk of being accused of just being difficult, all this verse establishes is the practice of the first church. It does not establish a restriction of any kind. There is no command here.

Still, to avoid being difficult, I will agree with the Bible Truth folks that someone who receives the word of Christ with such great enthusiasm that he is baptized the same day is most definitely a member of the church by any useful human standard, with no need for any other rites or ceremonies of admission. If we are defining “church member” that way, I’ll let them have it even without a direct command.

Restriction proven? BARELY

6.  Restricted to those who are orderly (2 Thess. 3:6)
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
Again, at risk of being overly punctilious, the command here is to other believers to “keep away” from the idler, which I understand to mean “don’t socialize with him”, “don’t greet him like one of your own” and “don’t invite him home for dinner until he shapes up”. I do not read this text as the Articles of Establishment for the Table Police. I also have difficulty seeing this command as equivalent to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”. After all, the apostle specifically says of exactly this sort of person, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”

Restriction proven? NOT REALLY

7.  Restricted to those who live correct lives (1 Cor. 5:11)
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one.”
I will give them this one, though I wouldn’t mind seeing language a little stronger here than just “live correct lives”.

Restriction proven? YES

8.  Restricted to those who are judged by the church and found worthy (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ ”
Agreed, so long as it is understood that these verses don’t just have to do with the Lord’s supper but with ALL expressions of Christian fellowship. I cannot find any New Testament basis for allowing other sorts of church fellowship but restricting a person under judgment from the Lord’s supper.

Restriction proven? WITH QUALIFICATIONS

9.  Restricted to those of the same faith (Heb. 13:8-10)
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”
Here I think they have missed the point that the writer to the Hebrews is not speaking of the Lord’s supper at all. Our “altar” is Christ, and “eating” here is metaphorical, not literal: it speaks of receiving and internalizing all the blessings associated with our “altar”. I don’t disagree with their point, but the verse they’ve chosen has nothing to do with it.

Restriction proven? SORRY, I DON’T THINK SO

10.  Restricted as to the elements used — bread and fruit of the vine (Mt. 26:26; Lk. 22:19-20)
“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 likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ ”
I would have preferred using 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 where both bread and wine are clearly commanded (neither verse they chose to cite has a “this do”, which makes me think the Bible Truth folks view historical examples as authoritative.)

But let’s not quibble. Restriction proven? YES

11.  Restricted as to design — to remember the Lord (Luke 22:19)
“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.’ ”
See Point 3. In short, NO. The Lord’s supper serves multiple purposes. Replacing the word “purpose” with “design” does not change that.

12.  Restricted to a united church (1 Cor. 11:16-20)
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”
The problem here is viewing this as a restriction on the celebration of the Lord’s supper. Paul is not saying, “You can’t participate in the Lord’s supper”. He’s saying that when Christians do participate despite their divisions, the spiritual significance and value to God are lost.

Is it a scathing criticism? Sure. But it’s not really a restriction. I mean, who exactly is going to enforce it?

Restriction proven? NO

13. On top of all these, the individual must undergo a self-examination. Instead of the self-examination being the only requirement, it is in addition to all of the other restrictions. (1 Cor. 11:28)
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
But self-examination IS the only real requirement. Even those who Paul pronounced “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” were judged by God, not by men. At no point does Paul instruct the elders or leading men at Corinth to enforce a new rule to prevent further incidences of this sort. Instead, he addresses the brothers and says, “So then ... wait for one another.”

It is left to the individual to decide whether he wishes to comply or whether he wishes to have dealings with the Head of the Church.

The Right to Restrict

Bear in mind that what our fellow believers are trying to prove here, in their own words, is that the Bible teaches “we” have a specific “right to restrict the Lord’s table”.

First, as we have discussed, a local church has both the right and the obligation to exclude from fellowship those it judges to be engaging unrepentantly in several types of sins. But there is no specific right to uniquely restrict participation in the Lord’s supper while extending fellowship to the sinner in other ways. None of these passages even suggests such a thing.

Second, who is the “we”?

By my count, at least nine of these verses are being misused in one way or another. I would suggest there is no valid New Testament case in these verses to be made for restricted communion.

Not the way these folks define it.


  1. You may have addressed my questions in another post but I couldn't find it.

    Are there any hard guidelines as who who can eat the Lord's supper? You refuted a few in this post but are there others not mentioned? (i.e. baptism, member of a local church, a women who doesn't want to wear a head covering, etc.)

    Also, who has the authority to decided who gets to eat and who doesn't? Obviously God has given us certain instructions pertaining to church order, is it the elders/pastors/leaders job to police these issues?



    1. Good questions, Jeff. Other people might wonder about these things too. I'll do an "Inbox" post on them this weekend, since few people would see my responses in the comments on an older post.