Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thoughts On Communion: The Post Behind the Post

Here's the consideration that was driving my thinking resulting in the digression that led to the previous post (that was a mouthful). I'll be simple and to the point, but I'm hoping to stimulate discussion or at least generate feedback.

When considering the Biblical data, must we do communion at "church" or it is appropriate to convene small gatherings of believing friends at someone's home?

Qualifications:

1) Church is in quotes because I'm not fond of using it in this way. However, all of you are aware of the context I am speaking from (in case I'm wrong, 21st century America, evangelical or fundamental common conceptions). Don't get distracted as to whether or not this is how we should conceive of the church; it's not, but that's another post (a whole nuther post, if you will).

2) Please don't introduce an either/or fallacy. If you're in favor of both, that's fine, but what I'm driving at is the legitimacy of the second option.

3) I'll tip my hand by saying that I am currently in favor of both. Nothing in the Biblical data I've considered indicates that we are commanded to only practice it in formal, worship gatherings. In fact, the formal worship gatherings that are currently en vogue among western churches are imho more or less foreign to the NT. Whether that's good or bad is also another post. The biblical refrain, "Do this in remembrance of me" is somewhat ambiguous (probably intentionally) regarding frequency and manner. The multiple "whenevers" in 1 Corinthians 11 also seem to leave this open. In the book of Acts, there is an interesting pattern established:

Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Here, they were meeting corporately (mass gathering) in the temple courts and privately to break bread in their homes. Now the case would have to be advanced that "breaking of bread" indicates what we would call communion (as opposed to just sharing meals, as I am inclined to take it), but at a popular level, this is often how I've heard this text preached. Of course, even still this would simply function at the level of description and not necessarily prescription.

The only exception I can think of is in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul sets off the discussion with the expression "when you come together." Especially significant is the fact that he says "when you come together as a church" (NIV) in verse 18. It seems he is using the term here as a local assembly. However, again, I would argue that this passage is also description rather than prescription. This does not preclude private meetings in homes.

4) The question behind the question is actually very practical in nature, rather than theoretical. This is a legitimate concern I have, since my new schedule will prevent me from attending PM services which is when CBC does communion. There are a few of my peers who are in the same situation. So do we A) forget about communion and go on with life (NO!) B) Petition our local assembly to modify their practice for the sake of a few individuals or C) As I am suggesting, get together on a Friday or Saturday and proclaim the Lord's death in somebody’s home?

What say ye?

27 comments:

Mwelwa said...

Nate, you took the Sun-Thurs shift? I'm sorry. I've thought about this communion issue too. Take it for what it's worth. I feel inclined to go with option C. Is it explicit with what constitutes "gather together"? Even if it was, I like your discriptive instead of prescriptive idea. I was wondering why the singles group couldn't do this if they were gathered together having a great time of worship and the elements needed were available. Mike did come up with a few logical reasons why not though. The one I distinctly remember is, it could be misunderstood as or actually become exclusive. We definitely do not want that.
You are in a bit of an odd situation. Good thing your flex weekends, if you have one, are generally the first week of the month, the same time we have communion (I know because I used to go back up to PA for those weekends and miss out at CBC)

NWMihelis said...

Thanks for the info, I hadn't thought about the flex weekends.

Mwelwa said...

Did you check out my blog yet?

Mwelwa said...

I've was talking to Tim today about this. What is your view on the importance of the specific elements used in the New Testament? Context: If I'm going to Zambia and working in the bush, they don't have have wine and bread. Even if I was able to bring it out there regularly, 1. they wouldn't understand the concept 2. they wouldn't be able to do it without my help (that doesn't help making it indigenous). Now, if I used Nshima, the staple food, they would understand that like the Jews understood bread. Obviously, I would teach them the model displayed in Scripture. I just don't want to limit their ability to have communion to my being able to take the specific elements to them. Sorry if this is off the subject, but I'd really like to hear what you have to say.

jeileenbaylor said...

Nate- as you know, I am certainly not an expert, but I tend towards your option "C". What if we are in a country someday that does not allow us to meet in an official church building and it is necessary to take communion in someone's home with the gathered "church"? I believe we crtainly would. I recently listened to a lecture about Luther and he said that he wanted to have communion EVERY sunday. His church however, did not seem to think that it was practical, so they did not do it so frequently. This does however, show the importance that he placed on "the breaking of the bread", as certainly Christ does as well. Wasn't the first communion in a person's home and not in an "official" meeting place? hmmm...
All that to say, I'm all about you meeting with some other brother's of the faith to remember the death of Christ by communion.

p.s. be sure you write out your "list of sins" ahead of time and turn them into the church though... or we may find you all DEAD :o)hee hee just kidding... that's a WHOLE other post topic for another time :o)

David Hayton said...

Allow me a Luther-like comment, please: "Anyone who prevents option C is either a fool, a bastard, a papal monster, or the devil himself!"

David Hayton said...

Wetzel!

Hey, I didn't know that picture of "mwelwa" was you, until I read your Zambia comments...

Re: communion in Zambia... In my opinion, just use "sinkwa" (a bread-like thing they make out of nshima; I'm using the Lozi word) for the bread. What about the wine? Good luck. In certain urban areas, grape juice or wine might be available(but is extremely expensive, and the very cost might inhibit the indigenous principle). In the bush, the only drinks I know of are water, chibuku (beer), or worse (some pretty hard whisky-like stuff). I would be inclined to just stick with water. Any other thoughts ought there?

(btw, all you M.Div. holders, this is one more reason to get you Jesus-loving bigger-brains-than-I out and among the upg's...)

NWMihelis said...

I'm inclined to agree with Hayton regarding working with what's accesible. The one issue you may want to wrestle with is the unleavend bread and the symbolism that it conveyed. I'm not sure that you can duplicate it in the culture, nor am I sure that our saltines exactly duplicate it perfectly. But if we can use grape juice without indemnity, I'm not sure why other options couldn't be pursued.
BTW
My content protect pops up when I try and view the comments due to all the wine discussion. How ironic, being censored on my own blog.

Finally:
Are there ANY naysayers out there? I find it hard to believe that everyone agrees with option C. Surely there must be someone out there who doesn't fit into Hayton's 4 categories :-)

Mwelwa said...

Hey hayton, glad to see you're on here. Emailed your brother. Glad to see he's coming around.
Nate, I talked to Daley about this one when we were moving the library a while ago. He was inclined to say that if you don't have those specific elements available, then it shouldn't be done because the imagery breaks down. But I must say that I agree with you that it breaks down even in our holy saltines. The bread thing I can deal with. Maybe it's because I don't really understand the imagery at all. The wine... oops sorry, grape juice (don't want to offend your content blocker ;) is where I really struggle. I find it hard to bring myself to use water when it's supposed to portray the blood of Christ.

Mwelwa said...

Nate,

Hayton and I were talking about the importance of the actual elements in the Lord's Supper earlier today. I started a thread on it (I didn't want to distract from the purpose of this one anymore). I would like your more educated imput on this one. view it at sonsofblunder.blogspot.com (not trying to take away from your blog either, feel free to erase the post if you want)

MOsborne20 said...

I am a little late in the discussion, and since I never see you anymore Mihelis I will respond briefly via blog. 1.) By not letting us discuss the nature of the church, you are stripping any naysayers of their ability to argue. Obviously, there is no exegetical support for the opposing position. Any evidence would have to be theologically derived from one's understanding of the nature of the church. 2.) Now that I have gained a platform to discuss the church, let me say that I think communion can be done in people's home. However, my understanding of the nature/responsibility of church leadership requires that the leadership be informed if it's taking place. Heb. 13 says that leaders watch over the souls of their members. The sobriety of communion and its consequences necessitates that leadership be involved in some manner. For example, I have asked DKD if we could do communion at a Single's event (thanks for the shoutout wetzel). He said we could. 3.) Finally, let me say that this view may very well put me in one of Luther/Hayton's categories. Let me be frank. I think those words in this context violate Scripture: Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give cgrace to those who hear."
I don't care if Luther used that language or not. He may very well have had a legitimate reason for using such harsh language. This blog does not legitimate such a reason. And if Luther used such speech without just cause then to that extent I do not follow him.

Mwelwa said...

Ozzy,

So when are we having Singles communion?! Only thing about that. I know of a few people in particular that would have a real hard time with that. Not that we bow to those around us, but isn't there something lost in the rememberance factor when we do it in a way that's really distracting for a brother? I'm not saying that it is a weaker/stronger brother issue but I'm just worried about distracting from the purpose. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited for the day we get together for a singspiration and we pull out the matza and oinos and remember His death until He comes.

Another interesting thing to bring out that's a little derail from the thread (sorry Nate). I was talking to a messianic jew (or atleast claimed it) the other day who pointed out that there is actually leaven in the run-of-the-mill saltine cracker and our oyster crackers we like to use at CBC (they are oyster crackers, right?).

David Hayton said...

Mike O.,

I appreciate, and at a very real level, I accept your rebuke from Ephesians 4:29. I am sorry for offending you or anyone else out there by using such speech; moreover, I am sorry for mispresenting the nature of God & the Gospel if that is indeed what I have done. Please forgive me.

Do also, though, let me clarify a couple of things that may (or may not) temper such a rebuke:

1) I never meant to insinuate that I don't believe in church leadership, or that I believed that it was wrong for the leadership to be informed and be knowledgable as to what is taking place in their flock. What I am strongly opposed to is "preventing" the ongoing, williful (and spontaneous), sacramental memory of Christ by His followers.

2) I really do think that church leaders "preventing" even the spontaneous pracitce of communion is dangerously tantamount to the obstruction of faith. What should we think about church leaders preventing spontaneous/private prayer, or singing, or Bible reading? Moreover, the NT seems rather clear that baptism itself was never a "clergy-restricted" enterprise (cf. John 4:2, Acts 8:38, 1 Corinthians 1:17, et. al.) I mean, was Philip (who, btw, was a deacon, not an elder) right to just go ahead and baptize his new convert immediately without first getting "approval" from the church leadership? I see no Biblical warrant for elevating Communion to some different or higher level than these other means of grace (prayer, Bible study, praise & worship, baptism). And while certainly the Church has been bequeathed with a real and tangible leadership (itself a means of grace) to assist and feed and watch over the flock, it would be a mark of Pharisaism and false teaching for such leaders to ever "prevent" people from a private or spontaneous engagement in such activities, prorvided that they are being carried out Biblically (i.e., keeping an eye out and making sure their folks aren't privately sutdying their Bibles dispensationally, :) )

3) Therefore, I do see some Biblical justification in the usage of harsh language to confront such Pharisasim (as I see it). I am not hereby retracting my genuine apology. And I am quite aware of my own deceptive heart and often-sinful motives. But I do want all of us to remember that many times both Jesus and the Apostles decided to confront serious Gospel-error with very harsh and very offensive speech (i.e., calling someone a "viper" or a "fox" isn't exactly "gentle"--nor is it generally considered polite to demand that your oppents promptly "casterate" themselves...).

In summary, please do forgive me; but let us all increasingly labor to be fully-orbed and "balanced" in our posture: not chucking 2 Timothy 2:24-25 on the one hand, but neither abandoning Titus 1:12-13 on the other.

NWMihelis said...

I appreciate the give and take on eph 4 and I think it was well placed. Regarding the nature of the church, my assumption was that most of us are in agreement on that one. Either way though, it's always welcome and I'm glad it was included.

Mike,
I'm not quite sure I agree with you on the authority issue though. To be sure, I recognize Hebrews 13 and have practiced it to the best of my ability, especially these last few years. While I would be inclined to run it by the leadership anyway, it would be more to cover my behind from any negative fallout rather than out of a sense of submissive compulsion. Due to the fact that I was previously on staff, I wouldn't want their to be a misunderstanding. However, I'm not so sure that the "private" (for lack of a more clear term) practice of communion in one's own home with fellow believers would be something that must be sanctioned by the leadership of a local assembly. That doesn't seem to hold up on exegetical or theological grounds as far as I can see. In fact theologically, it seems to run close to catholic theology (i.e. the legitimacy lying in the authority of the leadership). I'm open to suggestions though.

MOsborne20 said...

I can't help but think that the medium of blogging is going to limit this discussion, but hopefully I have something to contribute.

1.) Are we taking the warning of 1 Cor 11:29-30 seriously enough? "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." Dave H., this is why I don't think we can lump communion in with prayer, Bible reading, nor baptism. None of them carry such a stern warning. If they did the Presbyterians would have a hard time keeping members :-) This does not necessitate/demand leadership involvement, but it should keep us from flattening out all the means of grace.

2. We need to understand clearly what it means to participate in an unworthy manner. Divisiveness is the issue. In Corinth's case it was the rich and the poor, but the division could be caused by anything. All too often we examine ourselves for our own personal sins, when the thrust of the Lord's table is unity. Check out the often overlooked discussion on the Lord's table in 1 Corthians 10:17, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." Thus, communion by its design is corporate in some sense. Now it is no accident that God gives men to the church in order to promote the unity of faith. Ephesians 4:11-13, "He gave...pastors/teachers for the equipping of saints...until we all come to unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. If a major thrust of communion is unity and God has specifically given leadership to the church to promote such unity, then this must have some implications for communion. I'm open to responses.

3. We need to consider the dynamics of such a "private" celebration. Would we be at least tempted to exclude some members of the body? Unless you are a hypocrite you would have to say, "Yes." Any private meeting that is anyway exclusive violates the Lord's table, and you should tremble.

4. Let me say a brief word about leadership. If leadership were more biblical this would not be such an issue. Leaders ought to be so intimately involved in the lives of their people that it's not a "permission" issue, but simply and "information" issue. That's a whole other thread.

5. Mihelis and Dave H., let me concede here at the end. Informing leadership is not "required." Nor should saints be "prevented." However, those saints need to know how DEAD serious the Lord takes the celebration of His death, resurrection, and return (they learn this from leadership!). These saints also need to submit to God-given/ordained leadership for the cultivation of unity so that communion can be celebrated fully and properly. Thanks brothers.

NWMihelis said...

Mike,

Good stuff. I'm not sure it changes my thoughts significantly (nor was it necessarily intended to), but it definately provided some needed tweaking! Thanks.

Nate

NWMihelis said...

Mike,

Good stuff. I'm not sure it changes my thoughts significantly (nor was it necessarily intended to), but it definately provided some needed tweaking! Thanks.

Nate

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