This important question is derived from the text in 1 Corinthians. Let's take a look.
1 Cor. 11:26-29, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly."
There is much discussion about what it means to take the bread and cup "in an unworthy manner." There are different interpretations.
- It could be that those taking the communion elements needed to be fully aware that they represent the sacrifice of Christ by which we are redeemed from sin. Therefore, to participate in communion while not understanding this would be to take it in an unworthy manner.
- Another possibility is that taking the supper with willful, unconfessed sin would be in an unworthy manner.
- The earlier context of 1 Cor. 11 seems to suggest that taking communion in an unworthy manner means to do so while you have a problem with another Christian with whom you are not reconciled.
- Another view is that some Corinthians were using the communion supper as an opportunity for self-indulgence, which is why Paul mentioned about how some got drunk in verse 21.
- The fifth view is that both elements (bread and wine) must be taken, not just one (bread or wine) since Christ commanded that both be taken. This would, incidentally, invalidate the Roman Catholic practice of taking the wafer only.
- The final view is that the person taking communion must be worthy in order to take it. But this view, however, is dangerous because no one is worthy to take communion supper. Our worthiness comes from Christ, not ourselves.
Let's Look at Context
The context of the verses seems to begin around verse 16 of 1 Cor. 11. Paul mentions people who are contentious and that there were divisions among them (v. 18). He also mentions people getting drunk in v. 21. Paul then says in verse 22, "Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you."
It is after this that Paul speaks more directly about communion and how it represents the Body and Blood of Christ. In verse 26 he says, "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." Paul relates the communion to the sacrifice of Christ and then says to examine one's self in verse 28. It seems most probable that Paul is telling people to examine their motives, make sure there is no dissension with other believers, to take the supper solemnly, and that they were to rightly understand that it represents the sacrifice of Christ.
Finally, many Christians do not feel worthy of taking communion because of their sin. But the Christian should realize that communion is for sinners, for Christians who are sinners. It is not that communion makes sinning okay. The Christian should always war against his sin, but Christians should not withhold themselves from the table if they are trying to repent of their sins and are struggling to gain victory but have not yet attained it. It is the struggle against sin that is an admission that we must depend upon Christ and his grace. In our struggle, we judge sin to be sin and war against it. It is precisely this struggle that is a vindication of our position with Christ and a manifestation of our need for communion as an act of dependence upon His work and grace.