Communion

If I’m going to write a post about Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) I have to start with a confession, and repentance. It has been my responsibility, as a pastor, to make sure that the people who worship with The Core have the regular experience of Communion… the bread and the cup. In The Core’s two-year history, however, we have done it only once. At the very absolute minimum, it should be done once per year, at Passover, but I haven’t even managed that much. For that I am very sorry, and I now have plans to fix this problem.

Starting on Sunday, September 23, Re:Group will begin taking Communion together, on the Fourth Sunday of each month (the first Sunday after Merge.) We will use grape juice instead of alcoholic wine because minors are likely to be involved from time-to-time, quite often without their parents (think college underclassmen) and because there may be those present struggling with alcoholism currently, or in their past. We will use unleavened matzah bread instead of anything else because leaven, or yeast, is a powerful symbol of sin in the Bible, and therefore the unleavened bread is a powerful symbol of the body of our sinless Savior.

Now I’m going to talk about one of the reasons I was reluctant to start serving Communion on a regular basis. It’s not an excuse, just a reason. And that is the open/closed communion controversy. After some discussion, we have made a decision how to handle it.

Since it is not unlikely that there will be unbelievers present when we serve Communion, we have to be very careful that we do not include them in a way that is disrespectful to the commandment to “eat this bread and drink this cup”… “in a worthy manner”. Let me make a few points before I share our conclusion.

1) In a small group setting, a non-believer would likely feel very awkward being told not to participate in something that every other person is doing. Feeling excluded and embarrassed, such a person is not likely to come back.

2) There is nothing magical (or even miraculous) about the juice, the bread, or the act of consuming it in a certain setting. We do not agree with the Catholic doctrine of trans-substantiation, which says that the juice (or wine) literally becomes the blood of Christ, and the bread literally becomes his body. Therefore, a person does not sin by taking Communion in ignorance, or in an unsaved state. It is rather the spiritual leader of the group who sins if he or she does not communicate clearly about it. If it is communicated clearly, then the leader cannot assume responsibility for whether or not each person understand, or complies.

3) The “unworthy manner” that Paul talks about in I Corinthians 11 refers to those who eat and drink without a) showing kindness and consideration to one another in that gathering, b) proclaiming the Lord’s death, c) examining one’s heart, and d) recognizing the body of the Lord. Letters (b) and (d) can only be done by believers, but (a) and (c) can be done by anyone.

4) Sin can only occur in the context of Communion in two situations: a) if the spiritual leader misleads non-believers into thinking that they are fully included in the Body of Christ by partaking, or that there is real spiritual benefit to the act itself, apart from belief and self-examination. Or, b) if a believer in Christ takes Communion in a way that is rude, selfish, thoughtless and dishonoring to God.

5) Jews practice the drinking of wine and the eating of unleavened bread every year at Passover. When a Jew learns the true significance of this act, and comes to believe in Jesus, her lifelong experience of the bread and the cup serve to enrich her understanding of Communion once she is a believer. Likewise, if an unbeliever eats and drinks with believers at Communion, all the while understanding that this is a time to examine one’s heart, but the true meaning of the tradition comes when one’s heart is surrendered to Christ, his inclusion can serve as a very positive experience in his journey toward salvation. What better moment to think about Christ, and examine one’s attitude toward him than in a setting of loving acceptance and mutual introspection with sincere believers?

What we’ve concluded then is that the drinking of the cup and the eating of the bread can only be considered “Communion” when accomplished by someone who is a believer. If unbelievers were to join in the eating and drinking, it would simply be eating and drinking, and no harm is done, as long as they are not being led to believe something false by those who are serving.

So when the cup and bread are served, it will be made clear that this experience is designed specifically for believers for reasons stated above. If you are not a believer, you are free to pass on it. However, you are also free to take it, while knowing that it cannot really be understood or experienced as Communion without a heart that is surrendered to Christ. In the meantime, if you take it, please use this moment to examine your heart, and your attitude toward Christ, and see if you sense that he is calling you to himself. Ask him if you have been reluctant to accept something that you know in your heart is right. We hope that, either today or soon, you can find yourself transformed in the presence of Christ. But nevertheless, be aware that you will always be welcome among us, no matter what you believe.

0 thoughts on “Communion

  1. Very well thought out. I think one of the most pivotal points you made was in reference to the fact that no one can decisively know whether or not someone else has truly been born again. We can be fairly confident based on the fruit of a person’s life, but we cannot be absolutely certain, and sin when we claim so. As such, there is no way in any church to actually ensure that everyone partaking of the elements is a genuine member of the Body of Christ.This brings up an important distinction, then. Communion ought not necessarily be thought of as an ordinance obeyed exclusively by the redeemed, but rather by those who <>confess<> Christ as Lord. Like you said, if they lie about their acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship, that’s between them and God.I also felt that you did an excellent job at clarifying the role of the spiritual leader in administering communion– making sure everyone knows what it is they’re participating in, both what it inherently symbolizes and what it means when one partakes of it. What I would highly recommend <>adding<> to the criteria you gave in your post, at least insofar as any kind of public statement or official guide to practice is concerned, is what exactly the ‘minister of the sacraments’ must <>say<> in order to facilitate communion. Most faith traditions have this explicated both in official church documentation and in hymnals, prayer books, etc., which serves as an example that would be wise to follow to some extent.There are a number of benefits to putting this sort of thing in writing (not necessarily to be read verbatim, but all the content to be conveyed accurately).(1) It takes the burden off of the minister to remember to say everything that needs to be said, (2) it removes the pressure of the minister to feel that he/she needs to be persuasive in speech,(3) it provides optimal opportunity for less doctrinally articulate (or even generally articulate) leaders to facilitate (thus building the sense of community in general and ministry team cohesiveness in particular),(4) it provides a sense of continuity of message and purpose, aiding the process of remembering (which is, of course, the point of the ordinance), not only during communion but throughout the month, and(5) it ensures that each celebration of communion will cover all of the necessary bases. The final benefit would serve to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy, clarify expectations of the group (such as, for example, “This is an ordinance given to the Church by Jesus Christ to be regularly observed by those who confess him as Lord and are trusting him, and only him, for the eternal salvation of their souls.”), and even to potentially facilitate an ‘invitation’ of sorts to trust Christ for salvation.The temptation of churches, when putting these types of things in writing, is to fall into autopilot due to familiarity. But this seems to only be the case with churches who are thoroughly characterized by rote tradition and are not constantly stretching themselves to express their faith in new and creative ways. I know you all are FAR from succumbing to this temptation. One of the strengths of the emerging church over both the traditional church and pragmatic church is that they hold a deep appreciation for historic practices of the church and incorporate many ‘liturgical’ elements into their corporate expressions of faith, but they are committed to doing so within a forward-looking, creatively engaging, sense-stimulating, community-fostering, practical paradigm. Their rootedness in historic confessions and practices is one of the main things that distinguishes them from the wide variety of streams of the modern/pragmatic/seeker-driven church movement and is, IMO, the only hope for the future of the Church.I pray for the Lord’s blessing as you as you continue to work through this, and I praise God that you are taking the initiative to make it a priority. :-)Grace,

  2. Very well thought out. I think one of the most pivotal points you made was in reference to the fact that no one can decisively know whether or not someone else has truly been born again. We can be fairly confident based on the fruit of a person’s life, but we cannot be absolutely certain, and sin when we claim so. As such, there is no way in any church to actually ensure that everyone partaking of the elements is a genuine member of the Body of Christ.This brings up an important distinction, then. Communion ought not necessarily be thought of as an ordinance obeyed exclusively by the redeemed, but rather by those who <>confess<> Christ as Lord. Like you said, if they lie about their acknowledgment of Christ’s lordship, that’s between them and God.I also felt that you did an excellent job at clarifying the role of the spiritual leader in administering communion– making sure everyone knows what it is they’re participating in, both what it inherently symbolizes and what it means when one partakes of it. What I would highly recommend <>adding<> to the criteria you gave in your post, at least insofar as any kind of public statement or official guide to practice is concerned, is what exactly the ‘minister of the sacraments’ must <>say<> in order to facilitate communion. Most faith traditions have this explicated both in official church documentation and in hymnals, prayer books, etc., which serves as an example that would be wise to follow to some extent.There are a number of benefits to putting this sort of thing in writing (not necessarily to be read verbatim, but all the content to be conveyed accurately).(1) It takes the burden off of the minister to remember to say everything that needs to be said, (2) it removes the pressure of the minister to feel that he/she needs to be persuasive in speech,(3) it provides optimal opportunity for less doctrinally articulate (or even generally articulate) leaders to facilitate (thus building the sense of community in general and ministry team cohesiveness in particular),(4) it provides a sense of continuity of message and purpose, aiding the process of remembering (which is, of course, the point of the ordinance), not only during communion but throughout the month, and(5) it ensures that each celebration of communion will cover all of the necessary bases. The final benefit would serve to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy, clarify expectations of the group (such as, for example, “This is an ordinance given to the Church by Jesus Christ to be regularly observed by those who confess him as Lord and are trusting him, and only him, for the eternal salvation of their souls.”), and even to potentially facilitate an ‘invitation’ of sorts to trust Christ for salvation.The temptation of churches, when putting these types of things in writing, is to fall into autopilot due to familiarity. But this seems to only be the case with churches who are thoroughly characterized by rote tradition and are not constantly stretching themselves to express their faith in new and creative ways. I know you all are FAR from succumbing to this temptation. One of the strengths of the emerging church over both the traditional church and pragmatic church is that they hold a deep appreciation for historic practices of the church and incorporate many ‘liturgical’ elements into their corporate expressions of faith, but they are committed to doing so within a forward-looking, creatively engaging, sense-stimulating, community-fostering, practical paradigm. Their rootedness in historic confessions and practices is one of the main things that distinguishes them from the wide variety of streams of the modern/pragmatic/seeker-driven church movement and is, IMO, the only hope for the future of the Church.I pray for the Lord’s blessing as you as you continue to work through this, and I praise God that you are taking the initiative to make it a priority. :-)Grace,

  3. I made an interesting observation today. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning at Harvest BC, and I realized that our pastor did not explicate who was and was not to partake of it. It was sort of assumed, understood. The whole rest of the service was centered on Christ (as it always is), and so I guess that was context enough. He also weaved it very intimately into the fabric of his sermon, albeit at the end, which was extremely meaningful… tangible. And we used unleavened crackers. :)[I take it this is not a subject quite as intriguing to others as it is to you and I. Could this perhaps say something about calling? I think it must. One body with many parts, all different in function but equal in importance in God’s sight. Beautiful, each one and the whole.]

  4. I made an interesting observation today. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning at Harvest BC, and I realized that our pastor did not explicate who was and was not to partake of it. It was sort of assumed, understood. The whole rest of the service was centered on Christ (as it always is), and so I guess that was context enough. He also weaved it very intimately into the fabric of his sermon, albeit at the end, which was extremely meaningful… tangible. And we used unleavened crackers. :)[I take it this is not a subject quite as intriguing to others as it is to you and I. Could this perhaps say something about calling? I think it must. One body with many parts, all different in function but equal in importance in God’s sight. Beautiful, each one and the whole.]

  5. My husband is from the LDS church……….I have been aBorn-Againn Christian 8 years before I met him…I really wantto take Communion with him,He understands it to be very Holy,too Holy from the “Mormon” point of view….like he is not good enough as a human being to takethe element’s…or maybe he feelsleft out when I take Communionby myself…….I say that itwould be o.k. because I am marriedto him,it’s not against Scripture.Am I right or wrong?……Deb.

  6. My husband is from the LDS church……….I have been aBorn-Againn Christian 8 years before I met him…I really wantto take Communion with him,He understands it to be very Holy,too Holy from the “Mormon” point of view….like he is not good enough as a human being to takethe element’s…or maybe he feelsleft out when I take Communionby myself…….I say that itwould be o.k. because I am marriedto him,it’s not against Scripture.Am I right or wrong?……Deb.

  7. I also struggle with the communion pictures. Try going to google images and search for “Last Supper by Simon Dewey”. This best represents it in a pic so far.

  8. I also struggle with the communion pictures. Try going to google images and search for “Last Supper by Simon Dewey”. This best represents it in a pic so far.

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