November 20, 2017

An Invitation to Communion

Recently, I reworked the text we put in our church bulletin each Sunday inviting people to the Lord’s Table. As I have said in our discussions here before, I think that “open” communion is the approach that is most compatible with the faith of Jesus. That is not to deny that the Lord’s Table has a special place in the life of the baptized, merely to say that, just as Jesus fed the multitudes, and even Judas in the upper room, so our guests at church should not be denied a place at the Table, where they can meet Jesus and be encouraged to have faith.

This is the emphasis you will see in the following statement, and I would love to hear your feedback and discussion about it.

• • •

Invitation to Communion

At the table of our Lord Jesus Christ, God nourishes faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses to the Good News. Here we receive Christ’s body and blood and God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We receive these blessings through faith for the strengthening of faith.

Participation in the sacramental meal is by invitation, not demand, however we urge our church members and guests to make the sacrament a frequent rather than an occasional part of their lives.

Communion is primarily a meal for those who are baptized, but all are welcome because it is the Lord’s Table and Jesus invites everyone to come to him. If you have not been baptized, we invite and encourage you to come to Christ in baptism, to learn the faith of the Church, and thereafter to faithfully receive Holy Communion as a member of the church family.

Comments

  1. I think this invitation, its simultaneous openness and articulation of the special Christian character and shape of Holy Communion, is right on target. Jesus invites everyone to come to him, in Holy Communion and Baptism. And children especially, of whatever age.

    • Those in the Western churches who use the text where Jesus says to allow children to come to him as basis for infant Baptism should also find in it a basis for infant reception of the Eucharist (of course, as long as they are developed enough to safely chew and swallow it). That they haven’t found such a basis seems to me a major inconsistency in their sacramental theology. Everything theologically germane that can be said about the fitness of an infant to receive Holy Baptism can also be said about their fitness for Holy Communion.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I don’t think it is about fitness (or at least shouldn’t be). The theology is that we receive the holy spirit in baptism as a free gift. The Eucharist is also a free gift, but the difference is that Jesus says “*Do* this in remembrance of me.” The Eucharist is active participation in the body of Christ (the gift being the opportunity to do so), so I would say that if you are not participating in faith. it’s not that you ought to be excluded, it’s that you are not in truth participating in the Eucharist at all. Perhaps this is why Paul says that you eat and drink judgement on yourself if you do not perceive the body: you are trying to gatecrash the party to take away the free goodies for yourself rather than joining yourself to the body of Christ in the church.
        Giving it to babies would do them no harm, but no good either, and would be harmful to the church by treating the Eucharist as a magic potion to be consumed rather than a joint participation in Christ.

        • I used to think this way. I’m no longer dogmatic about it, because this line of thinking subtly marginalizes those who are unable to fully cognate their theology and faith. If Christ is the primary mover in baptism, He is no less so in the Eucharist.

          • Christiane says:

            true statement, Eeyore

            we Catholics are focused on understanding and affirming ‘Body of Christ’, but who among us fully comprehends the mystery of Eucharist . . . . . of anamnesis?

            I have a photo of my son with Down Syndrome receiving Holy Communion from a priest . . . . my son, who does not speak, is smiling

            who knows, and and what level?

            I hold a precious memory of sharing communion with my father before his death . . . . the hospice nurse was also a Eucharistic minister . . . . . ‘food for the journey’

        • Let me explain, in decidedly non-theological language, my position. If my family has a special dinner to which guests are invited, would it it be charitable to make them sit and watch us while we eat?

          If we’re going to have public worship services to which all are invited, and communion is part of those services (which I think it should be normally — because worship itself is a family feast), then no one should be intentionally excluded.

          Yesterday a young man came to our service who I know is not a believer. As I came to serve him I asked him if he wanted to partake and he said no. So I gave him a blessing. But I think Jesus wanted me to invite him to join us at the Table.

          It’s a matter of simple hospitality as far as I’m concerned.

          • +1

          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            Now you put it that way, I think you are probably right.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            This line of reasoning, which I believe I first encountered here, led me to favor a more open communion. Not that I was ever a closed communion guy in the LCMS sense, but in my youth I favored a statement of what Lutherans believe communion to be, and an invitation to everyone who agrees with it. I have come around to a more “communion as hospitality” view, while still accompanied with a statement of belief so as to give everyone fair warning.

            • Good comment, Richard. Let me clarify one thing. Communion is not just or even primarily “hospitality.” It is, as the statement says, primarily a Christian feast. It is a celebration and partaking of Christ in the sacrament. It is our family meal as a Christian family.

              But we have public worship services to which all are invited. And this is where hospitality comes in. As I stated in my illustration, it seems appalling to me that we would invite others to join us, but not let them come to the Table.

              If churches want to hold to a more restricted view of communion, well fine. Then hold private worship services where everyone is on the same page. Or do what was done in the early history of the church: the unbaptized were dismissed after the Service of the Word and only the baptized participated in the Service of the Table. I’m not sure how well that would go over today, but at least it’s consistent and clear-cut.

        • I think infants are fully capable of faith, appropriate to their level of development. So did Luther. But I go further: I believe every infant comes into this world with faith, so all are suitable subjects for Baptism.

          As for Paul’s warning, I think he was speaking about the way the privileged hogged the table of food and wine in the conjoined Agape Feast/Eucharist, as the sacrament was celebrated in his time. The rich did not make room for the poor, and in this they did not discern the body of Christ in their brothers and sisters. I think we in affluent congregations continue to bring judgment on ourselves when by design or neglect we exclude the poor and needy from our Communion tables. We only compound that judgment by turning away the poorest of the poor, infants, and the stranger in our midst.

          • This actually dovetails with CM’s comment, since the judgment that Paul warns about is the result of hoarding and hogging rather than sharing and welcoming.

        • Remember, Ian, when Paul issued his warning, he was not talking to unbelievers who gate-crashed the party, but to professing Christians who did not see Christ in their brothers and sisters, who also wanted to approach the table.

        • The last supper was a group of Jewish men sharing a meal before Pentecost. We really have the order backwards. Excluding people from the table does not work in my experience.

  2. My conservative Evangelical church practices “open communion” in the sense that membership at our church is NOT a requirement, but it is asked that you don’t take communion if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ or if you are in open, continuous, rebellious sin.

    Nobody checks – of course. It is your conscious about your situation.

  3. Steve Newell says:

    With Holy Communion being open to all baptized believers, does what we believe about Holy Communion come in to play? Is the Lord’s Supper a sacrament or an ordinance? I am now Lutheran (LCMS) but grew up Southern Baptist. One cannot find a more different view than these two traditions. While Lutherans view Holy Communion as a means of grace where we receive forgiveness in the wine and bread, Baptist view the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal that Christians have. Lutheran view that Christ is present in the elements of wine and bread, Baptist believe that the it’s just grape juice and bread.

    Also, another why to understand the difference is that Lutherans focus on “This is my body” and “This is my blood” while Baptist focus on “Do This in Remembrance of Me”. Why do I make this statement, in most of the SBC churches that I grew up in and have in that have an alter, with “Do This in Remembrance of Me” inscribed on the front. Also for most Lutheran Churches, the alter in the center piece of the Chancel while for Baptist churches it is the pulpit.

    • The way I look at it is, whatever *our* views of communion are, as long as it’s God the Father and Jesus being celebrated, They will sort out the actual spiritual workings. I’m no longer convinced that we can deduce with 100% accuracy what goes on in communion, so we shouldn’t be willing to divide ourselves over it.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘Baptists believe that the it’s just grape juice and bread.’

      yes, perhaps, but Baptists also realize Our Lord’s connection to the grape juice and the bread:

      “16For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (from Colossians, chapter 1)

      Even the ancient Hebrews had special blessings for bread:
      ““Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
      (Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam lehem min ha’aretz.)

      There is something ‘more’ to this blessing than what is apparent . . . . . it is also about ‘the world to come’.

  4. Iain Lovejoy says:

    In the Church of England (to which I belong) the tradition is that we don’t take communion until confirmed. The invitation, though, is extended to anyone who customarily receives communion in their own church. It seems to me sensible to teach that you should not receive communion until you are sure about what you are letting yourself in for.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    “I think that “open” communion is the approach that is most compatible with the faith of Jesus.”

    I like the way you articulate the invitation the reasoning behind it. Thanks.

  6. Steve Newell says:

    So if a church body says that this is what they believe, teach and confess about Holy Communion and anyone who agrees with that statement of belief are welcome to commune is that what you consider to be “open communion”? If not, why not?

  7. “He was known to them in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35) Jesus IS in the sacrament, in some mysterious way, and it is for everyone. It was this blog post that made it just that simple for me.
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/journey-into-new-life-6-2

  8. Patti Rose says:

    I have a communion story that turned what I believed upside down. About 20 years ago our small church started an outreach program to an area apartment complex that was primarily used as subsidized housing. A few of us went on Sunday morning before church to have a Sunday School type of experience for grade school children. There were three children that were there almost every Sunday. One Sunday, I mentioned that we needed to wrap up the lesson, and they asked me where I was going. I told them that I was going to our 11:00 service at church. They asked if they could come with me. This was early cell phone days, and my husband offered his work cell phone to take there for safety reasons. I called each of their parents, in one case the boyfriend of the parent, and they gave them permission to go with me. From then on, these children went to church with me, and I took them home afterwards. About three weeks of doing this, we were coming into the sanctuary when the pianist had already started playing. After we all got settled in, I realized that we were having communion that Sunday. I didn’t have time to explain what communion meant and that, as Baptists, we believed that it was for those that had made a profession of faith. As I was trying to decide what to do, I was struck with the realization that I could not tell these precious children, who were on the fringe of society, that they were not included. There was a profound sense for me that their taking communion could help them understand God’s love for them. I am still moved to tears by this experience and remember it often.

    • That’s a beautiful Patti. Thank you for sharing.

    • So glad you did the right thing, Patti. It’s a beautiful story. I have a less pleasant memory from the mid 1970’s during the bus ministry days. The small Church of Christ where we lived and worshiped had such a ministry. One Sunday morning my wife and I happened to be sitting on the left end of our pew, next to the wall. Behind us, by themselves, were two African American young men, under ten, I’d guess. Though it has been many years and I may be wrong about their ages. At the proper time, the server came by our row and handed me the tray with the cup. We were by ourselves with no one to pass to and so after receiving the cups gave the tray back to him. Then the server walked right past the two young men behind us. I heard one of them say something like “Why did they pass us? Is it because we’re Black?” My heart broke.

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Thank you for that story. I was of the view that communion should be reserved for those fully professing the faith, but Chaplain Mike’s point about hospitality changed my mind, and if there was any doubt at all, your story has removed it. Whatever the theological arguments, we can’t tell anyone they are not welcome at Jesus’s table.

    • Suffer the little children to come unto me….

  9. Our small church in Croatia has a very diverse community, made up of Croatians, Americans and people seeking asylum who are from about 7 different nations. Some who come are Christians. Some who come are seeking. Some are Muslim. When we have communion we make it available to anyone who wants to eat and drink. It is explained beforehand, but people aren’t denied. I see Communion as a means of grace, as a way God/Jesus meets us where we are.

  10. I can appreciate the sentiment you are going for here, especially when you consider that a welcoming and hospitable environment is one of the two most important factors for a congregation to thrive.

    However, proponents of closed communion are not intentionally advocates of inhospitality or ostracizing visitors. We eagerly desire new people to join up and come into full communion with us.

    Neither is an open table the only place where this sense of welcoming and invitation ought to be practiced. There are so many other, little things that can be done towards this goal that, if they are all done well, it can easily more than compensate for a fenced table, as I have seen from extensive visits with Catholic congregations around the globe.

    Further, the reason that I fail to find these sorts of arguments to be very compelling, is that they insist on the value of the primary goal (hospitality) and the preferred method (open communion) without considering that you can have the one without the other (either way) quite easily.

    And finally, I’ve yet to hear this argument made in a way that adequately addresses the two principle arguments for closed communion, those being the practice of the early church (who seemed rather unconcerned about the inhospitality of ushering non-members OUT OF THE ROOM before the supper), and the admonitions of Paul concerning the dangers of partaking without discerning the body.

    I’m certainly open to some good, reasonable counters to those two points, but I’m still waiting.

    • I think I can answer the second. Watch for a post soon.

      I can’t the first, except perhaps to say that I’m guessing there was far less likelihood of “outsiders” coming to meals in the earliest church. In later periods even unbaptized Christians were forbidden, but I think that was a step too far. Perhaps I don’t understand all the cultural dynamics of those times and places either. At any rate, I don’t think churches had the same sense of meeting in public spaces and being open to all comers in the same way we’ve known it in our culture.

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