Question 47: Does the Lord's Supper add anything to Christ's atoning work?
Answer: No, Christ died once for all. The Lord's Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ's atoning work; it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unreprentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.
When churches specify who is and is not welcome to eat the Lord's Supper, this practice is called "fencing the table." Different churches fence the table in different ways, but all those who practice fencing the table agree that it is not good for just anyone and everyone to eat and drink the Lord's Supper. Why not?
It is because the Lord's Supper can only be received with any benefit by faith, and thus those who eat and drink without faith actually blaspheme Christ by engaging in an outward act that communicates no internal reality. They go through the motions of worship, but have no saving trust in the Savior represented to them in the Supper. And if anyone has true, saving faith, he or she will necessarily be fighting against sin, for faith in Christ is incompatible with the open embrace of sin. This is why the unrepentant who eat and drink at the Lord's Table eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor. 11:28-29).
We should be thankful, then, for churches that fence the table appropriately. Not to do so represents a failure to love well those who would receive judgment from God as a result of eating and drinking without warrant. If you are not a believer in Christ, you should not eat and drink the Lord's Supper until you are and have made that public through baptism. If you are a believer in Christ, should you ever abstain from the Lord's Supper because of any particular sin that you have recently committed? Only if you intend to hold on to that sin and are unwilling to repent of it. But if you hate your sin and have turned from it, the Lord's Table is open to you. It is a fellowship meal for sinners who celebrate the forgiveness they have in Christ. Even if you repent in the moment just before partaking, your repentance is honoring to the Lord, and you should have no fear of eating and drinking. If you are a believer in Christ and a member of a church who is not under discipline, your refusal to partake of the Supper would be like refusing Christ himself. Don't let guilt over past sins hinder you from coming to Christ. Examine yourself, repent of all known sins, and celebrate the forgiveness of sins at the Lord's Table.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: Matthew 26:26-29. What is the connection between the forgiveness of sins and the Lord's Supper? Should churches fence the table? If you are a baptized believer who is a member with a church, should you ever abstain from eating the Lord's Supper? Why or why not?