Four (or five) views

In a newly e-published book on four views of baptism, one might learn about the general positions of Baptists, of Reformed types, of Lutherans, and of the ARM (American Restoration Movement/Christian Church/Church of Christ).  Those groups represent rather disparate, significant views on this subject. I just got this book free, but I doubt I’ll read it.  I’m not very interested in those views.  I’m after the biblical view(s).  Although some of those views are more off the biblical mark than others and are of interest only in a historical or comparative sense, no sect can rightly lay claim to holding all the truth on a subject like this.  As for me and my house, we want to know what the scriptural messages are, and how the very first Christians practiced baptism and were taught about it.

In a book on five views of communion, one might learn about the typical tenets of Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, and Pentecostal believers.  I am a trifle more interested in those views am but, again, am really after the biblical view(s), above the historical views of any denomination or denominational grouping.  (I didn’t shell out $ for this book.)

Next:  two views of national holidays “at church”

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LS Symbolisms

Here is a small collection of miscellaneous Lord’s Supper thoughts I’ve entertained in recent months.

As this little piece has developed, it reminds me of “Hook’s Points,” an erstwhile series written by Cecil Hook, now living non-physically eternally, who was a friend to many while inspiring and challenging them.  (Here is a sample selection of “Hook’s Points.”)  I don’t lay claim to Cecil’s perpetually beautiful attitude, but I like to challenge traditional thinking much as he liked to.

Lift Him up
Typically, pulpit furniture is elevated higher than the table used for communion.  In a church in Georgia about 25 years ago, one elder-shepherd convinced the others to reverse the furniture.  Then, the table was elevated, and the preacher praught from down low (although he wasn’t a low-down guy).  Problem was, the table was then more removed from the people who were said to be communing around it, and the preaching seemed even more emphasized.

By the way, the phrase “lift Him up” in John’s gospel has nothing to do with notions of worship that use “high” imagery.  And it certainly has nothing to do with furniture elevations.  It has to do with the cross.

Color me traditional, if possible
When some in my tradition are feeling threatened by change, they’ve been known to say, “Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting chips and Coke for the Lord’s Supper!”  In my experience, those who want change are customarily more careful and intentional than those who are content with the status quo; neither side is characterized by the flippant carelessness.  However, I do assume that Jesus cares more that we remember Him than that we get the elements exactly right.  After all, who knows the exact chemical makeup of the wine served at the Last Supper, or how the unleavened bread felt or looked?  If we are sincerely bent on remembering Him and His atoning death, I suppose we will do things and use things that foster that remembering.

Still, I’m not going to buy white grape juice for the purpose of communion when red grape juice is available.  The blood-symbolism is the thing, isn’t it?

And while you’re at it, what is “eschatology” again?
“Transubstantiation” and “intinction” are big words associated with communion in some traditions.  (“Eschatology” is a more important word, and it’s only indirectly connected with communion.)

Sometimes I think words obscure  more than they reveal.  Ironically, “transubstantiation” refers to a supposed revealing of the Christ in the eating of the bread:  namely, that the substance of the bread is miraculously transformed into His actual body, and that the wine also becomes  His blood.  In the course of insisting such things occur, though, what ends up being revealed more than the Christ is the audacity of human superimpositions on scripture.

Oh, the lengths to which overzealous (and, in some cases, corrupt) “Christians” have historically gone in order to develop exclusive dogmas and denominations!  Frankly, the paranormal realities that may or may not occur when I slip a bit of cracker or matzah onto my tongue are not my concern.

I have only experienced “intinction” on isolated occasions.  It refers to the mingling of bread and juice/wine before ingesting either.  Intinction doesn’t appear to reflect the commemorative pattern of which we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1Corinthians (leaving alone Acts 2 and Acts 20, which I take as referring to something larger and related, but not identical).  This “method” does, however, bring into sharp relief the symbolism of the bloody flesh that was part of our Lord’s suffering.

I would have to say that on the half-dozen occasions I’ve observed the memorial using the intinction method, my spirit has meditated differently and newly, and quite possibly more deeply.  I suspect that, just as with any other habit, the newness of the intinction experience would tend to wear off after a while, but perhaps it could be a good method to use now and again . . . until He comes (he appended eschatologically, with reference to 1Cor 11:26).

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At some point in the future, I plan to jot a few more notes on Lord’s Supper methodologies, including who does the walking/serving and the eating — in other words, who’s involved in which aspects and how it might all be accomplished.  If you have other ideas, thoughts, or ponderings related to communion, please share them in the meantime.

A common church lie

Now, all y’all atheists, don’t get all excited.   This is not what you think.

While I believe there are doctrinal and philosophical lies ushered around on the arm of Christianity, my concern for today is not particularly doctrinal.  In fact, the topic here is nearly a-scriptural and merely a function of church tradition.  It has little to no bearing on “salvation” in eternity.

I’m by no means the first to have noted this negatively.  I’m concerned here with a tradition peculiar to the Church of Christ (and, I think, the Christian Church — which I have much less first-hand experience with).

I’m speaking of habits in the ritual practice of communion and the collection.  It’s the joining at the hip — the both-and — that bothers me.  Far too often, it goes like this:

  1. Sermonette/”table talk” or scripture reading
  2. Prayer for the bread
  3. Passing around of the bread trays
  4. Prayer for the “cup,”¹ with or without additional comments
  5. Passing around of the juice trays
  6. The mumbled phrase, “And now, ‘separate and apart from the Lord’s supper,’ we’re going to take up an offering for the Lord’s work. . . .”
  7. Passing around of the collection trays

Of the Sunday morning church assemblies I’ve been in, the above items have occurred in this exact sequence about 98.6% of the time, and my temperature is rising because of the communicable disease that has been spread.

Aside:  it bears asserting that, while both communion and the collection have longstanding traditions associated with them, only communion has a real biblical rationale.  The presence of the collection in the liturgy is born of the traditional understanding that we must support religious systems.  While there are very good (some explicitly biblical) supports for charitable giving, no valid, scriptural rationale exists for a weekly, ritual collection.

It also bears mention that there are scads of other aspects of communion that are more important to consider, practice, and discuss.  But the theological underpinnings of either communion or charitable giving are way too deep for my simple purposes today.  Establishing that there is or is not a rationale for one or both of these is not my raison ecrire.

Please refer to #6 above.

The main point here is this:  it is a stupidity, really, to perpetuate the illusion that the two are “separate” when they are completely conjoined in actual practice.  We say they are “separate and apart” while, in reality, they are not at all separate.  In an ironic turn of the tables, so to speak, many men who are designated “table talkers” even make a point of connecting the two through their comments.  Communion and the collection may thereby become joined not only in terms of sequence and time, but also in theological concept.

Falling over ourselves to claim the two practices are separate surely warrants the adjective “disingenuous,” at least.  I would go so far as to say we have frequently borne false witness.

We ought either to stop doing it the way we do it, or stop telling the lie.

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¹ We say “cup” since we’re chicken to say “juice” and chicken to use wine, as some of the songs have it.

Demonstratives

This post will be about a little of this-n-that.

Back East in the 70s, a capable man (who nonetheless struggled inwardly) once started a Bible class for college students.  He hung a green street sign above the door to the classroom, and the sign said “This Place.”  I have no idea what went on inside that room, but the younger me envied the situation.  It seemed as if there was something important going on in “this place.”

A new church that wanted a catchy name called itself “That Church.”  They even use those words “that church” in their web presence.  People may well remember them because of their use of the demonstrative pronoun.

An impressive man named Wes once graced the church I was part of.  He was asked — more often than most — to “head the table.”  (By that I mean “speak the devotional words that kicked off the communion ritual.”)  Wes began every communion table talk with the words “This is the Lord’s Supper.”  Although his enunciation didn’t particularly emphasize the demonstrative pronoun this, his overall emphasis was demonstrative.  It didn’t hurt that he quoted a long passage of scripture, in the anachronistic, less familiar, yet striking, King James, each time.

When Jesus was at the so-called “last supper” with his closest friends, He said, “Do this to remember Me.”  (Luke 22:19)  That was a very demonstrative pronoun that referred to an even more demonstrative event.

In Greek grammar¹ studies, I’ve learned labels for some demonstrative pronouns:  “this” and “these” are called the near demonstratives, while “that” and “those” are sometimes referred to as remote.  So, for instance, the classroom called “This Place” was in a sense near to those within.  From my vantage point, however, it was remote.  Functionally, for me, “this place” was that place.

And when Wes intoned “This is the Lord’s Supper,” he was, whether he knew it grammatically or not, conceptually drawing the experience near to the congregation.  In the same vein, I think Jesus was drawing things near when He said, “Do this” and “this is my body.”

I wish He and it didn’t seem so remote.

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¹ Yes, it is Greek grammar that has most notably informed my understanding of such aspects as tenses and conjugations, moods, and cases.  I am one of those weirdos who likes grammar and usage.  I credit my parents for speaking well around me, so that I grew up pretty much knowing how to speak and write English.  I also credit one Sharon Spingler, my 8th grade English teacher, for teaching some real grammar.

I thought it was supposed to be serving

Let’s say a man is called on to “serve communion.”  (That’s about as apt an expression as “take communion.”  You can’t take communion.  You can share it or engage in it, but you can’t take it or serve it.  I digress.)

Let’s say the man is assigned to a side aisle, working with one of two center-aisle guys to pass trays back and forth.

Let’s say there are 7 people on a pew he is about to “serve,” with very little space between them, and the man hands the tray to the person on his end.

Wouldn’t the man expect the tray to be passed all the way down to the other end instead of its being passed back to him on his end?

Let’s say the man is currently irritated over some other church issues; let’s further say that he has recently allowed some scapegoat frustration to creep in.  (OK, we can give him that, because we need people to give us that sometimes.)

Still, wouldn’t he be able to recognize that he is there to facilitate the communion-serving process — to serve the people, and not to have his own way?  Why would he get huffy when the tray doesn’t come back to him so he can hand it to the next row?  I mean, what difference does it make how the tray gets where it’s going?

I thought it was supposed to be serving, not commanding those you’re serving.

When you’re serving, it’s not about you or your ideas or methods.  It’s about the meaning of what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it for.

Lines

Last Sunday, I wondered about the lines some of us draw between Christian and non-Christian.

More specifically:  I’ve been conditioned to envision this imaginary line between when a child is a child, being “brought up in the ways of the Lord” on one hand, and when, on the other hand, he is “old enough” to understand Jesus’ sacrifice and to share in communion. Is there really such a sharp line between the two?

On a recent Sunday morning, after “breaking the bread” and passing the tray on, I told my son for the 10th time (on 10 different Sundays) that this is for older Christian believers.  I’m just not so sure that there should be a line between him and me in this respect.  What’s the harm, if I’m really trying to bring Him up in the Lord, in using communion time as a teachable moment?  It’s not that I remotely think my son has a concept of sin or grace or atonement or even Jesus’ love yet — nor should he.  He’s not quite four and a half.  Maybe not yet, but maybe in a year or two?

Am I worried more about how things appear to the people in the pew behind us than about bringing my son up to understand spiritual truth and to know God?

At some point, can’t my young son begin to get the connection between the lines in the cracker and the whip-lines on Jesus’ back?  And can’t he get this before the time that he’s really accountable for his own sin?  Could such an early bit of learning be part of bringing Him up in the Lord?

To borrow a depiction (see here), I think some see a frowning Jesus Who says, “Thou shalt not touch the emblems before confession, repentance, and immersion.”  I think we will do better to see a smiling Jesus Who says, “Yes, go ahead.  Let him.  He’s wanting to participate in something.  Of course he doesn’t know what it is yet, but if you let him, he will begin to feel a part of the whole, and will be ripe for remembering Me more fully as he grows up.”

Three conventions

Over time, various traditions appear — and remain — in churches.  I’ve chosen two relatively unimportant sub-cultural conventions as illustrations, before highlighting a more significant one.

greeter_handshakeOne—the greeter.  In many churches, either by decree or by choice, someone serves as a greeter.  For as long as I can remember, I have found this convention slightly annoying.  Whether the greeter was 1) a person in my own church that I didn’t particularly want to represent us all, or, in an unfamiliar church, was 2) a person that I merely wanted to bypass without the bother of the obligatory questions and handshake, I figure these greeters can make better use of their time.  This is obviously merely an opinion; it comes partly from my personality type and partly from my observations of inefficiencies and ineffectivenesses in organizations.

praise-bandTwo–the “worship band.”  These days, in any church that purports to be “happenin’,” it’s assumed that a praise band of some sort will be part and parcel of the assembly.  The praise band has become a convention.  In the last few years, I have tired of this method/model and have been ready to put it aside . . . but, back in February, the Sons of Thunder group in Searcy, AR convinced me that it still has a place, when used skillfully and rightly.  I’ve seen and heard probably 150-200 different bands/teams in live settings, and the men who led in a building just off Race Street seemed to have both musical skill and insight into how to lead hearts.  The praise team or worship band model, although not much more than a trendy, culture-bound convention, is not necessarily without merit.

Three–the centerpiece of the assembly.  The question which event serves as the centerpiece of the Christian Assembly? is perhaps less subject to ephemeral trends than either of the above.  By that, I mean there is less vacillation through the years, decades, and centuries.  However, consider this foundational dichotomy:

  • In evangelicalism, there is generally a preacher- (sermon-) centered assembly.¹  Even if the pastor or preacher does not do several things, including announcements and some preach-bibleworship leading and praying, as well as delivering a sermon, most people in the pews get a clear sense that everything that is done leads toward, and then away from, his sermon.  The sermon’s central nature is a convention.  Think of your predominant experience in, say, a Baptist group, a Church of Christ group, a community church group, or an Assembly of God group, and you will likely find a sermon-centric approach.

  • In Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, there is an even more longstanding convention:  the eucharist-centered “service.”¹  (See footnote below.)  This might be said of Lutheranism and other groups, too.  The scripture-based emphasis on remembering Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was morphed into a mystical, highly charged set of practices.  eucharistIn these “liturgical” churches, the convention is a communion-based approach.

Perhaps oddly, and perhaps not, the Church of Christ and Christian Church find themselves situated among both the above groups, to some extent:  the importance placed on the delivery of rather information-laden sermons, the one hand, and the ritual, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, on the other, have long been hallmarks of this category of churches.

Consider 1) the sermon/message/homily and 2) the Lord’s Supper/communion.

Is one more important than the other?

If so, why?  

What else — an idea or a practice — could be said to be important on the “centerpiece” level?

I hope to gain from your responses to the above questions.  And/or, if you prefer, use the poll below to register your opinions more quickly.

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¹ I intentionally used the word “service” when referring to liturgical churches here, although I rarely use that term when referring to what the church does when it gathers.  For more on the distinction between worship and service, and some rationale for the assertion that the two should not be joined in the expression “worship service,” see these posts:

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/one-is-one-and-the-other-is-the-other/
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/elucidation/
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/labeling-what-we-do/

Maybe it was just me

ls

Maybe it was just me . . .

. . . but I grew up thinking 1) the Lord’s Supper was a requirement, and 2) its essence was pretty much summed up in its being a requirement.  (2), at least, was a misconception.

Christians and only Christians (according to “our” definition) were to partake of the Lord’s Supper precisely once (no more, no less) per Sunday, or else.  What coursed through our minds as we sat on the pews during communion?

I shudder to think whether there were those who spent their communion time spying.  Were they more concerned with people who didn’t partake but “should have,” or with people who were partaking but “shouldn’t have”?  I suppose most thought that partaking when you were not “authorized” was also sinful.

I shudder to think that a lot of us spent more time making sure the requirement was satisfied “decently and in order” than that communion was experienced communally (!) as a dynamically meaningful, adoring, and faith-filled commemoration.

I also shudder to think back on a few I noticed exiting the “auditorium” immediately after communion.  Were they ex- or closet-Catholics who believed they got grace by biting crackers and sipping juice?  Were they simply shallow “converts” who had been sadly acclimated to think that once they were dipped, they were supposed to partake, and that was about the sum of Christianity?  Of course we never saw this sub-group of folks on Sunday nights¹ or Wednesday nights. . . .

Recently, I heard, “Every time you miss the Lord’s Supper, you rebel against the Lord’s will.”

I wished there were a deeper concept of what the Lord’s Supper is about.  Somehow, I think the Lord meant for it to be more than a requirement that may be submitted to, or rebelled against.  Why do so many otherwise thoughtful souls seem to suggest that this is all there is to it?

I grew up thinking the Lord’s Supper was a requirement. I don’t think it was just me.

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¹ Diabolically, I once plotted to force the Sunday-morning-only adherents in my congregation into a crisis of conscience by observing the Lord’s Supper at church on Sunday nights only.  This never would have worked:  the structure doesn’t allow for intentionally forcing scores into not having the opportunity to partake.  That would have been tantamount to partial spiritual genocide and institutional suicide.

The beginnings of communion

Mark was moving expeditiously, gracefully down the aisle, doing that tray-passing thing many church “servers” (men only, of course — see the end of this post on that point) do.  During communion, you know, it’s supposed to be efficient and “decently and in order” and quiet.

As Mark neared our row to hand us the tray of “bread,” my 3-year-old son — very quietly, because he is a good boy — waved at Mark.

And Mark waved back.  (And I was so glad he did, rather than fearing any propriety police who might be glancing his way, presuming he should be more staid and “proper.”)

Communion is, after all, multi-directional.  Communing with one another is included as we commune with Deity.  As our son comes to understand this special thing we do in Christian gatherings, it seems to me that a relational, smiling reach from person to person is appropriate and even exemplary.

Communion Meditation (b) 1/15/2012: King Jesus

During the time of the formation of our country, George Washington is reported to have had the opportunity to become “king” of the burgeoning nation.  It is said that he knew there was only one King—Jesus—so he declined the offer.  Other people of the land apparently confessed the same ideal:  in a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston asserted, ”If you ask an American, who is his master?  He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.”  The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this the American motto: “No King but King Jesus.”

George Washington seemed to know what most haven’t known.  When we displace God on the throne of our lives, the outcome will not be so good.  But when we put God on the throne by our personal allegiance, we put ourselves in the best possible position for godliness and align ourselves with the goals of His kingdom. . . .

It’s an election year in our earthly country.  There are lots of concerns.  You have yours, and I have mine.  But Christians must be exceedingly more concerned with the goals of our eternal country than with those of our earthly country.  In short, it is Jesus’ Kingship — His rule and reign — that demands our primary, our transcendent allegiance.  After all, we are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom.

This is a radical idea, but when you think about it, it makes sense—God’s coming to earth and loving unlovable humans in the first place was also revolutionary.

Maybe our American ancestors knew the best way to start a revolution.  The motto “No King but King Jesus” is pretty revolutionary—and probably, just as much so within institutional Christianity.

As we once more proclaim His death through the drinking of the juice that symbolizes His blood, we are once more saying to Him and to each other that we believe He is King and that He is set on His throne at the Father’s right hand, waiting to return for His bride (us).  We are proclaiming His life, His death, and His resurrection until He comes again as King.  As we take these little cups in our hands this day, we are expressing that we know that He is the Savior, that He is ruling, and that He is the gracious, truth-filled, loving Redeemer.  He loves beyond any of our pathetic capacities to understand love, yet He does not require our complete understanding.  Our devotion is all He asks.

Take the world, but give me Jesus.  All its joys are but a name.  But His love abideth ever, through eternal years the same.

Take the world, but give me Jesus.  In His cross my trust shall be, till, with clearer, brighter vision, face to face my Lord I see.

O the height and depth of mercy! O the length and breadth of love!  O the fullness of redemption, pledge of endless life above!  – Fanny J. Crosby