The Lord’s Table is not only one of the most intimate and exhilarating times of worship for the local church, it’s also one of the most controversial. As we look back through church history, we see that John Rogers and other Puritans were burned at the stake for their view of the Lord’s Supper. Jonathan Edwards was fired because of his position on the Lord’s Supper that caused a rift in his church. Doctrine matters.
As we look back to Paul’s day, we see people in the church of Corinth who were suffering under the judgment of God (sickness and death) as a result of their perversion of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Doctrine matters, but so does our practice of doctrine. This history can sometimes move people beyond self-examination to self-excommunication from the Lord’s Table. This self-excommunication should not be viewed as a badge of honor. The practice of self-excommunication from the Lord’s Table should be resisted.
Self-Examination is Essential Prior to Observing the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is one of the most intimate times of worship among the gathered church. We should never approach the observance of the Lord’s Supper in a flippant and loose manner. This high view of the Lord’s Table begins with the pastors of the church. How the Lord’s Table is fenced and how the elements of the Lord’s Supper are distributed sets the bar for the rest of the church. Any proper fencing of the table will encourage the congregation to engage in a time of self-examination in preparation for worship.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he writes, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). The word translated examine is the Greek term, “δοκιμάζω” carrying the meaning “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”  In the examination process, we should look at our lives vertically, horizontally, internally, and externally.
- In a vertical manner, we examine our relationship with God. Are we in real intimate communion with Him or do we see a separation due to sin (James 4:8)?
- In our horizontal examination, do we find any division between us and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:32)?
- In our internal examination, do we find unconfessed sins, idols of the heart, or private sins that we keep hidden from the public (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 John 2:15)?
- In our external examination, do we find anything that’s preventing us from engaging with our church to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)?
James Montgomery Boice writes:
At the heart of the present significance of the Lord’s Supper is our communion or fellowship with Christ, hence the term “communion service.” In coming to this service the believer comes to meet with Christ and have fellowship with Him at His invitation. The examination takes place because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend that we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts. 
Self-examination is demanded of God’s children, but this examination must accomplish its intended purpose which is repentance and unity that leads to the observance of the Lord’s Supper rather than self-excommunication.
Why Self-Excommunication from the Lord’s Supper is a Bad Idea
When the Reformers were coming out of the Roman Catholic Church, they insisted that the Church at Rome was not a true church. Their passionate preaching and writing resulted in a very important question: What then constitutes a true church? The response to this question, although varied to some degree among different theologians, resulted in three essential marks of a true church. Those marks are:
- The right preaching of the Word of God.
- The right administration of the sacraments (ordinances).
- The practice of biblical church discipline.
Much emphasis is often placed on the right preaching of the Word while less emphasis is placed on the not-so-right practices of the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes you see the Lord’s Supper observed at weddings, in college dormitories, and even among volunteers in the church nursery—and sometimes you hear about people who bar themselves from the Lord’s Table due to a guilty conscience. When considering the responsibility and privileges of the Lord’s Supper, we must refrain from barring ourselves by becoming an intentional absentee (not attending the evening service if it’s observed in the evening services) or by intentional excommunication (due to a guilty conscience regarding our sin). Consider the following points.
- Refusing to eat the Lord’s Supper and worship Christ is sinful (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
- We are members of a local church under authority – not self-autonomy (Hebrews 13:17).
- We are commanded to eat and remember (1 Corinthians 11:28).
- We are never called to excommunicate ourselves (notice that in Matthew 5:23-24 the man left his offering emphasizing that he would return shortly).
- The Lord’s Supper demands examination and restoration rather than excommunication (the idea of examination is designed for the opportunity of immediate repentance rather than a delayed response. This is perhaps the closest thing we have to an altar call in the entire Bible).
- The devil is the accuser of the brethren and we can expect him to remind us of our past sins which should never be the cause of self-excommunication. The devil delights in dividing the church from worship at the Lord’s Table (Revelation 12:10; 1 Peter 5:8).
Consider the words of J. C. Ryle as he comments on Matthew 26:26-35:
Let us leave the passage with serious self-inquiry as to our own conduct with respect to the Lord’s Supper. Do we turn away from it, when it is administered? If so, how can we justify our conduct?—It will not do to say it is not a necessary ordinance. To say so is to pour contempt on Christ Himself, and declare that we do not obey Him.—It will not do to say that we feel unworthy to come to the Lord’s table. To say so is to declare that we are unfit to die, and unprepared to meet God. These are solemn considerations. All non-communicants should ponder them well. 
The next time you enter the sanctuary of your local church and see the Lord’s Table ready for distribution, just remember, this is one more opportunity to unite with your church family in an intimate time of worship. This is likewise one more precious opportunity for repentance given to you by the Lord Himself. If you feel unworthy and inadequate to observe the Lord’s Supper, that’s normal and it’s one of the goals of the ordinance. Anyone who feels worthy and adequate is one who should not partake because that person is most likely not a true child of God. We approach the Lord through the Lord’s Supper as unworthy sinners who cling to Christ alone as our only hope now—and forever.
Therefore, the Lord Himself commands that we eat and drink and remember His work – His sacrifice – our salvation that comes through Him.
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255.
- James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith-Book I, (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 603.
- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860), 360.