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Communion: Inquiring Minds Want to Know, Can Someone be a Christian and Gluten Intolerant?


Snark ahead. You’ve been warned!

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches likely remember the Old Testament story about how God fed the Israelites with manna (bread) from heaven during the forty years they spent wandering in the desert (Exodus 16). Every morning, millions of Israelites would arise from their sleep to find the ground covered with God-sent manna. God commanded them to gather up enough manna to feed themselves that day. Any manna left to the next day, the King James Bible says, “bred worms, and stank.”  On the sixth day, the Israelites were commanded to gather up a double portion of manna. The seventh day was the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on this day.

In the New Testament, the writer of the gospel of John speaks of Jesus being manna sent down from Heaven by God. John 6:48-58:

I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

All Christian sects believe that there are at least two sacraments: baptism and communion (Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist). In this post, I want to focus on the sacrament of communion. Common to communion practice is the use of wine (or Welch’s grape juice if you are teetotaling Baptist) and bread (crackers, wafers). Often, the bread is unleavened. Roman Catholics, in accordance with John 5:53-56, believe that when they eat a communion wafer they are literally eating the body of Jesus, and when drinking the communion wine, believe they are drinking the blood of Jesus (transubstantiation). It is for this reason that priests must consecrate the bread and wine, miraculously changing it into the flesh and blood of the Son of God.

Lutherans take a different approach to communion, one deemed heretical by the Catholic Church (consubstantiation). Lutherans believe that when they take communion, the wine and bread supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus without materially changing.

Baptists and other non-Catholic, non-Lutheran sects believe that communion is meant to be a memorial, a reminder of Jesus’ flesh-and-blood sacrifice on the cross. Baptists find justification for their communion belief in Luke 22: 19,20:

And he [Jesus] took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.  Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Calvinistic Baptists prefer to use Mark 14:22-26 or Matthew 26:26:30 as their communion proof texts because these passages refer to Jesus’ blood being shed for many, thus proving, in their minds, the doctrine of limited atonement (or particular redemption). Nah, nah, nah, Jesus didn’t die for everyone!

Many Christian sects, both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic, believe that communion is a “means of grace” — a way in which God confirms his grace among his people.  Wikipedia’s article on the means of grace explains it this way:

The means of grace in Christian theology are those things (the means) through which God gives grace. Just what this grace entails is interpreted in various ways: generally speaking, some see it as God blessing humankind so as to sustain and empower the Christian life; others see it as forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Got that?

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-32, the Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Corinth about the practice of communion. Here’s what he had to say:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

In Baptist churches, this passage from 1 Corinthians 11 is often read before they take communion.  Congregants are asked to examine themselves before taking communion, rooting out and exposing any sin in their lives. People who take communion with unconfessed sin on their accounts risk God making them sick or killing them for their disobedience.


In my Calvinistic days, I took the whole “unconfessed sin” very seriously. One Sunday, I preached two sermons on confessing and forsaking sin. Come Sunday night, after I served up a second helping of fear and guilt, it was time for communion. I told the solemn, sober crowd that only those who were willing to confess and forsake ALL sin should take communion. We had a lot of smokers in the church at the time. I said to them, if you are going to go home and light up a cigarette after church, then you aren’t serious about forsaking your sin. I went on to mention several other common sins among the faithful, and then I asked those who were ready to take communion to please come forward. No one moved, not even my wife and children. I had so put the “fear” of God in them, that none of them wanted to risk God’s judgment. I quickly closed the service with prayer, knowing that I had to rethink my communion strategy come next week. The next Sunday evening, I apologized to the church, explaining to them that I had taken things too far, and that none of us, including Pastor Bruce, was without sin. Normal communion practice resumed and, as far as I know, God did not afflict anyone with sickness or death.

This is the place where I must confess how big a hypocrite I could be as a pastor. One summer Saturday evening, my sons and I attended a STARS dirt track race at Midway Speedway in Crooksville, Ohio. All the big-name drivers were there, and we arrived early so we could get good seats. Partway through the race, it began to rain, forcing the night’s events to be postponed to Sunday. No, I thought, NOT SundayNot the Lord’s Day. Not during the time we held our evening service. I knew I couldn’t skip church. What would everyone think of me if I skipped church to go to a race? I quickly cooked up in my mind a way to “do” church and still make it to the races. I announced during Sunday morning church that we were having an oh, so special Sunday night service at an earlier time. No preaching, no singing; just communion and testimonies about God wondrous saving grace. Sure enough, my scheme worked, allowing us to make it to the rack track on time. I had twinges of guilt over my communion plan, but once the races started, all thoughts of bread and wine faded, and into my nostrils came the sweet, sweet smell of racing fuel.

Christian churches either practice open, close, or closed communion. Open communion churches allow any Christian in attendance to partake of communion. Close communion churches — usually Baptist — only allow Christians of like faith to take communion. For example, a Methodist attending a Baptist church couldn’t take communion, whereas a Baptist who attended a church with similar doctrines and practices could. Churches that practice closed communion only allow members in good standing to take communion. This practice is common among Landmark and Missionary Baptist churches.

In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series) Community was a Sovereign Grace church, as was Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church, a nearby church pastored by Jose Maldonado, a former member of Community. (See Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian) One Sunday night, I preached at a conference held at Hillburn Drive. During the service, the church had communion. I thought, as a visiting pastor and friend, that it would be okay for me to partake of communion. Maldonado came to me and let me know that their church practiced closed communion, so I would not be permitted to join them in communion.  Everyone in the building, save me and a friend of mine from Ohio who was also preaching that night, took communion.

Regardless of what the bread/wine is or means or who is allowed to partake, all Christian sects believe that taking communion is essential to Christian faith and practice, and believers who do not take communion are being disobedient to God and his commandments. I should note, in passing, that there are some hyper-dispensationalist Evangelicals who believe that communion was commanded in a previous dispensation and is not to be practiced in this present dispensation. Other than a few outliers, Christians believe communion to be a vital part of their worship of the Christian God. Whether taken (or offered for those who don’t like the use of the word taken) weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or “whenever we get around to it,” communion is practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians. Of course, Lutherans think Catholic and Baptist communion is heretical. Catholic think the same about Baptist and Lutheran communion, and Baptists think that all sacraments but theirs are anathema. So much for there being ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

So, having written the previous 1,800 words, all I really want to know is this: Can someone be a Christian and gluten intolerant?

I know, funny stuff, right?

That’s it! Now you know everything you will ever need to know about communion. I’ll take mine B positive and rare the next time I take communion at a local blood cult.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Communion – Christian ritual cannibalism. Even when I was part of the tribe, it grossed me out.

    At my friend’s son’s bar mitzvah service, there was something similar to communion during worship. I suppose the early Christians who were mostly Jews co-opyed the concept.

    A friend in college was Catholic, and one weekend we visited her family. At mass, there was communion which as a good Baptist I did not take. I almost died laughing when I saw the priest chugging the leftover wine after communion. My friend said you couldn’t waste the blood of Christ!

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    Oh Bruce, you just opened up a can of worms with the open/closed communion thing. I have seen vicious arguments about just this very thing. The hatred and vitriol over this was unreal and one of the first things that made me start thinking that all of this church stuff must be a big lot of nonsense. The more removed I am from church attendance, the more ridiculous it all seems.

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    To answer your last question, yes. I used to go to a fairly liberal “Reformed and always reforming” church that started providing gluten-free options. Every time the pastor would announce “please go to the far right side of the church if you would like the gluten-free bread,” my then-spouse would say in a low voice, “Ah, yes. The Gluten-Free Body of Christ.” 🙂

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    It’s so hypocritical when Christians mock the beliefs of other religions when their own beliefs are so silly. Now that I am no longer a believer I see how ridiculous something like communion and all the superstition surrounding this rite really is.

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    it is simply a way to get the congregation(church commune) to have a “physical” link to Christ. Words, ideas, morals might feed the mind……but a physical manifestation…..the actual drinking and eating of something “Holy”……gives an actual direct personal act…..a real life,living bond to Christ himself… participation.

    Other Christians, who know that this is nonsense, prefer the “good samaritan” approach, and will help in charity, to give them a hands-on, physical action, doing the good work,etc… their personal action for Christ.

    Personally, I was a surf-lifesaver and rescued many lives. I was a carpenter and put many rooves over peoples heads. Being a fearless Rugby League player, I stepped in and stopped many bar fights….using appeals to reason & logic to nip it in the bud before it escalated. Does all these good works make me a “modern day Jesus”? NO!
    It was just my “humanism”, looking after others not able, with my given abilitys.

    Lets side-step the Hebrew Pashcal Lamb Sacrifice (a celebration of spring and thanks for sheep…Noah, then Abraham)……and concentrate on what was the Roman Empire (which made Christainity Law) take on it…..
    The elite would enter an underground pit, and a Bull or Lamb,its throat cut above them, would rain down thru a grating and give them a “baptism of blood”. (see TAURABOLIUM + CRIOBOLIUM….both for Cybele + Attis)
    The other blood ritual, was DIES SANGUINIS (Day of Blood)……again the Cybele + Attis link.

    I have detailed this in my comment on “Why I Hate Jesus”. If interested, see the images of Albert Drurer’s medieval woodcuts……notice the priest catching the blood in a chalice, from both the Lamb(AGNUS DEIS-lamb of God) and Jesus on the Cross (also called the “Sacrifial Lamb of God)…….one wonders if they actually drank this blood?

    It becomes easy to see how the NT has replaced the OT, and the Lamb sacrifice has been replaced by the Jesus sacrifice….(every church altar would be a an abboitar LOL).

    If this new temple of Solomon is built, will they Blood Sacrifice the “Red Bull/Heifer” or the “Ram/Lamb” ? Ask your Jewish friends if you dont know what I am on about………

    I think I have said enough on blood rituals, and just merely ask all….. “Am I drinking this for Attis and Cybele?”

    Manna? Bread from heaven?……the ONLY thing that makes sense is that it is FLOUR! (its that simple!)

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    Karuna Gal

    I remember my First Communion very well. I was six years old. There was so much fussing around it – the special “Bride of Christ” costume we girls wore, how important this ritual was – that I was pretty deflated after it was over, because it didn’t deliver. No heavenly spiritual insight or angelic chorus, a thin Communion wafer that tasted like cardboard and metallic, cheap wine that made me grimace and shake my head. And our parish priest, after he handed out the sacrament, told us to “Scat!” I am serious! At least afterwards my parents threw a party in my honor. The featured sheet cake with buttercream icing was delicious. As an adult the Communion ritual seemed inspiring at times, but its efficacy seemed to wane pretty quickly when Sunday afternoon arrived.

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    When I go to my family’s fundy church, the communion at the end always grates with me. The leader always says the same pre-amble. ‘If you don’t know jesus as your personal saviour, then please (and sometimes he says ‘please, please, please’) let it pass you by – and come and speak to me or another leader afterwards about how to receive him.’ And then he adds, somewhat proudly I always think, ‘the bread is gluten free and the wine non-alcoholic.’ I assume this speech is aimed at the 3-4 adults who’ve attended for years but never got baptised. The church never gets heathen outsiders in attendance. In contrast, the CofE allows any reprobate, criminal or heathen to partake as ‘The lord knoweth them that are his.’ Reason number gazillion why the church unity many x-tians say they’d like, will never happen!

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    MJ Lisbeth

    All of the arguments about transubstantiation lead me to think that, perhaps, the seeds of my un-belief were always within me. Growing up Catholic, the notion of transubstantiation grossed me out and didn’t make sense. (I used to hold the wafer under my tongue and spit take it out when no one was looking. In my Evangelical church, they used some other kind of wafer that at least resembled some kind of edible substance. But I never could convince myself that it had anything to do with the body of Christ.

    Funny/sad memory: As an altar boy, I had to pour wine from a cruet into the chalice the priest would later lift and drink from while recounting the Last Supper. One priest would push my hand to ensure that I emptied the bottle. And that priest seemed to take a bit longer than others in partaking of “the blood.” Other altar boys in my church had similar experiences with that priest.

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    Having not attended Baptist church since I became an adult can someone tell me the definition of being in “good standing” in order to take communion? Every Southern Baptist church I was ever in was so hypocritical I don’t see how anyone could measure up to their standards. I’m sure plenty thought they did, but they were probably sinning in the secrecy of their own homes. lol

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      Ange, I grew up Southern Baptist, and I guess “good standing” means you’re a member of that particular congregation and that you haven’t been caught doing any major sins! 😉

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