October 17, 2017

Leithart on “The Persistent Marginalization of the Eucharist”

The Last Supper, Duccio di Buoninsegna

Lent 2012: A Journey through the Wilderness
Leithart on “The Persistent Marginalization of the Eucharist”

“When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross.”

• Peter Leithart, “Do This” (First Things)

• • •

Readers and emailers have brought Peter Leithart’s March 23 article in First Things to my attention in recent days, and it is worth our discussion.

Leithart is pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, and Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature at New St. Andrews College. His thoughts are especially appropriate for post-evangelicals to consider during Lent, for he puts his finger on a weakness in evangelicalism that most of us have sensed deeply. The wilderness we have experienced is a place of hunger and thirst, and like deer panting for streams of water we have longed for nourishment and refreshment evangelical church culture simply could not provide.

Leithart explains one of the main reasons why.

“I was recently asked to identify the biggest cultural challenge facing American Evangelicals. In my judgment, the biggest cultural challenge is not “out there” in “the culture” but internal — I almost said, “inherent” — to Evangelicalism: the persistent marginalization of the Eucharist in Evangelical church life, piety, and political engagement. Evangelicals will be incapable of responding to the specific challenges of our time with any steadiness or effect until the Eucharist becomes the criterion of all Christian cultural thinking and the source from which all genuinely Christian cultural engagement springs.” (emphasis mine)

Why does Peter Leithart assert that the Eucharist is so important, so central, so significant for Christians and our relationship with our culture?

The Last Supper, Serra

First of all, Leithart says it is essential for the church to keep Jesus central and that it is the Table that enables us to do so.

One might respond that a strong emphasis on Scripture enables Christians to do that. This is the standard evangelical position. However, the evidence is rife that the “Bible-believing” approach can and does easily degenerate into “biblicist” readings that make any number of emphases prominent, leaving Christ on the periphery.

In my experience in evangelical churches and in my own ministry as an evangelical pastor, I would say that the ethos of evangelicalism is often more Bible-centered than Christ-centered. My own approach has often been to preach and teach books of the Bible in expository fashion. Though I still affirm that as a viable method, one can easily lose track of the “big picture” of the Bible’s story and get wrapped up in details rather than keeping the focus on Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Sermons can become discussions about any number of “Christian topics” instead of Gospel proclamation.

The Sacrament is the single great remedy God gave to make sure our reading of Scripture stays focused on Jesus and the Good News. Gospel worship includes both Word and Table.

Leithart puts it like this:

The church is called to keep our Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection, as the focal point of worship, witness, service, and mission. How do we protect ourselves from darting off after each fresh fad? Jesus didn’t think Christ-centered preaching would be enough. He left his church not only a gospel to preach, but rites of water, bread, and wine to practice. It’s difficult to forget Christ and his cross when we proclaim his death in the breaking of bread at the climax of every week’s worship. When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross.

Second, Leithart notes that our inability to share the Table with each other is one of the main hindrances to our witness before the world.“Do we expect to evangelize the world when we cannot even eat together?” he asks. The one practice that is designed to bring the family together has long been a source of discord.

Furthermore, in common evangelical practice communion that truly demonstrates “common unity” is rare.  The meal meant to reinforce our family identity has been transformed in the evangelical churches to a time of individual meditation. We sit as individuals thinking about “what Jesus did for me” rather than letting the elements nourish and shape us into a community that gathers around Christ, feeds on Christ, and shares Christ with the hungry.

The Communion of the Apostles, Fra Angelico

Third, there are political consequences to our eucharistic neglect. When evangelical churches fail to maintain a rich heritage of ritual and symbolism, their members are tempted to gravitate toward other symbols for meaning. Peter Leithart notes how many Christians will take fierce stands for the sanctity of the flag but recognize little sanctity in God’s own “holy things for [his] holy people.”

It also affects our sense of economics when we fail to savor simple blessings like water, bread, and wine, acknowledge our own hunger and the hunger of those around us, recognize the value of the labor that goes into producing and distributing the means by which we live, and neglect our responsibility to welcome those less fortunate to the Table to share on equal standing with the rich.

The Eucharist grounds us in the common stuff of this world and enables us to see the sacramental nature of life in every aspect of creation. “The Supper closes the gap between joy in creation and pious devotion to God. At the table, delight in the taste of bread and the tang of wine is delight in God, though this double delight is not unique to this meal. Every meal and every moment, every encounter and every project burst with the promise of communion with God. This world…is the matter of God’s kingdom.”

Leithart sees the Eucharist as an essential anchor for the church. It keeps us from drifting, from chasing every fad and new wave of our culture. It moors us to Christ and the Gospel. It unites us as a forever family. It keeps our feet on the ground, constantly reminding us that God is at work in this world, birthing a new creation by using the simple elements of this creation and the people who handle them in the process.

Comments

  1. I agree that many evangelicals are screwed up. However, let me make a point or two… that I think weigh against what is said here….

    If the eucharist is so crucial to worship why do many churches leave it closed and prevent others from being involved? On Saturday after talking about the Reason Rally with a friend of mine on Capital Hill, I had second thoughts of going to that event due to some of what I saw. So I noticed that St. Joseph’s on Capital Hill was having mass and after what happened that afternoon felt maybe I should sit in and think about a few things.

    I sat through half the mass and left before they started the eucharist. My reason for leaving is that even if I wanted to particate I couldn’t. As a former Catholic gone evangelical turned agnostic/I don’t know what…. I wouldn’t have been allowed to participate even if I wanted to. The Catholic church by its very nature excludes many people from eucharist.

    I have a second cousin that went thorugh a divorce and re-marriage in the 1970’s. She’s excluded today and can’t participate either. So the question I have is this…if the eucharist is so important why do these churches marginalize and set up barriors to keep people from participating?

    • Many view the Sacrament as something that ‘we do’. Our repentance is what matters…or our worthiness…or our proper doctrine.

      We view the Sacrament of the Altar as free gift…pure gospel…for those who know they are not worthy.

      If you are Baptized, and you believe Him to be truly present in it…then it is for you and we welcome you to come and receive the gift that the world could never buy.

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Honestly, every time I hear someone promoting closed communion (and I’m not oblivious to their reasons for believing in that), I want to scream, “It’s the LORD’S supper, not yours!” To believe in closed communion, you’d have to be ready shoo one of the apostles (or, heck, even Christ himself) away from your church’s communion table if you found out they believed differently. If we say the words of institution and commune as baptized Christians, the meal has to become what God intended it to be, just like the saving gospel becomes what God intends, not what we want when we sign up for it. Some people trusted Christ because they were scared of hell, and God somehow managed to save them. (I know I’m phrasing this with evangelical terms, but please see the point behind it.) God’s words will not return void, but they’ll accomplish his purpose; I think that scripture could easily apply here.

      My church (IFBX) has communion every…well…two or three years? It’s criminal. I’d like to hear the pastor’s thoughts about having sex with his wife being so infrequent because he “wanted it to be special” or “didn’t want it to become a ritual.” I wish the Lord’s Supper would replace the altar call as a quiet, sobering alternative. If the point of your message is to get people to repent, it seems you’ll get a lot more doing that in preparation for the Table than you will by telling them to “leave your seat and leave your sin.”

    • Eagle, there is no way that this Catholic grandmother is going to do justice to the RC emphasis of the Eucharist. Despite many years of formal Catholic education, an expert on all things Catholic I am NOT. Would you allow me to share my feelings on this, understanding that I speak from my own faith, not as a designated representative of the Church? I am not trying to change anyone’s mind or faith, but I do plead with you to be gentle with me, as this is really from the bottom of my heart…..

      The process by which Christ imbues Himself into our simple offerings of bread and wine is a mystery that I cannot break down into simple steps or rationales. I can SUGGEST that it is akin to the mystery of Christ Himself while He was on earth…..how CAN someone be 100% human AND 100% God? How can anyone or anything be two DIFFERENT things at the same time???? It is mind-boggling, yet it is what we profess as Christians. In the same vein, how can a bit of unleavend bread and a cup of jug wine contain God? Through the same divine process that requires us to see with our hearts and souls….and because He told us that this is what He meant to do, in order to be present to and for all of us.

      Looking at the carpenter from Nazareth, all anyone could see with their eyes was his human form…..yet the Divinity was there. Looking at the bread and wine after consecration, we see……bread and wine. Yet the Divinity is there, “seen” with soul and heart, not eyes or taste buds.

      In order to respect and worship Almighty God Himself, it is crucial that anyone presenting themselves to receive the Eucharist totally understands and accepts that they are taking Christ into their own body, in a very real and intimate manner. Communion is not a symbolic vignette to help us recall the Last Supper, it is a physical joining in the Body of the Risen Christ. Therefore, the Eucharist is limited to those who agree in faith that the bread is Christ, unseen but truly and deeply REAL. Those who do not understand or agree are asked, as a matter of respect, to abstain…..NOT because they aren’t “good enough” (none of us are) but because accepting Christ in this way without recognizing Him is a disrespect bordering on blasphemy, however inadvertent.

      “,,,and they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread…”

    • I don’t understand either why many churches make it so difficult to receive communion – and yes, I have also heard the reasons why but they are blown out of the water by the sheer generosity of God towards all of us – none of us are worthy to receive it except through Christ. How then can we possibly judge who is ‘worthy’ enough to participate in the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/ communion? Something that is so simple and goes deep if we let it but instead of just letting God work through it in His way we try to make it complicated and legalistic. It’s very sad.

      • This.

        We attended a church that practiced close communion for a few years. Despite the fact that my husband had been a very committed and active member of his former church for decades, communion would have been denied to him for a little over a year in his new church. He was expected to go through nine months of classes and wait til Easter before being permitted to commune. Ridiculous! He understood the church’s belief on communion and was in agreement. A simple question asked of him would have settled it immediately.

        I wonder how many people that feel drawn to the Catholic and Orthodox churches turn away and give up because they are required to jump through hoops just to take communion. Legalism at play.

        • It is hard for us in our western culture today to wait for anything. it was not always so. For hundereds of years in the early church new catachumens would have to wait before being received into the church and allowed to participte in the ultimate gift, the Eucharist. This was done because ours is not a blind faith, it was done so that these new members could be properly catechized before coming into the church. This is lost in today’s “I want it now’ mentality, but in days gone by it was a buildup of anticipation for what was to come.

          Second – the Eucharist is not completely closed off from all outside the Catholic tradition. We acknowledge that the Eastern Church (Eastern Orthodoxy) shares the same understanding of the Real Presence and so are permitted to partake as their tradition permits.

          • myowname says:

            children who take the first bread and cup…
            i’ve seen them dressed in white fancies
            like little princesses…

            and the pastor…
            the wee ones see in Christ…
            it’s a day that is special..

            it’s supposed to be a start..
            a beginning.

            and then, the Spirit
            but in the home, the parents are deaf…
            they’ve read, though.

            and the child respondes
            because the child can hear

            and when it’s sweet and… the parents
            can pat the child on the head
            and joke, “she’s our little nun… haha…”

            and the child then draws inward..
            and some of the actions are the words not heard…
            and so seen is “bad behavior”.

            and so the father in the house
            see… he took on “the fathers” in the Church
            and said, “you did this and that wrong”

            and so on…
            and so on…

            So, away she flies…
            Because of grace

          • In the book of Acts, thousands of new believers were added daily to the church. There is no year+ of catechizing. It seems like spiritual snobbery to deny the eucharist to someone that has been a Christian for many years. What’s the point other than insistence that the incoming learn the ways of that particular sect of Christianity. The basic premise of the eucharist is simple. Jesus is simple. Men and tradition has made it difficult.

        • myowname says:

          BELLA!

          I said, “Where have you been?”

          • Bella,

            The Orthodox Church believes that to partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist is to partake of the true precious Body and life-giving Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Eucharist is not something to be taken lightly. The church has a responsibility to do everything in its power to discourage people, including members of the Orthodox Church, from partaking of holy communion unworthily, which would be to eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Cor. 11:29). Orthodox Christians pray before receiving communion, “May the partaking of Your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your Most Precious Body, and Your Life-Giving Blood, which I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and life everlasting. Amen.” This is why regular Confession is required for an Orthodox Christian to participate in Holy Communion. So hopefully you can see why the Church would not want offer the Eucharist to someone who has not placed themselves under the care of the Church. The Church does not want to facilitate someone possibly eating and drinking unto condemnation. It is not the intention of the Church to be snobbish towards non-Orthodox Christians.

          • @Bella:

            Partaking unworthily, in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, is more likely about having a Lord’s Supper in a way that disrespects or abuses other, poorer members (i.e., persons) of the Body of Christ (likely the referent for “body” in 11:29) than about a person’s unworthiness to “partake” due to her or his sinfulness, lack of catechetical instruction, etc.

          • Yes, the situation described in 1 Corinthians 11 is dealing with disunity/lack of love in the Body of Christ, but that does not mean that is the only instance in which one can participate in the Eucharist unworthily. Also, unworthily does not mean sinful. Obviously we are all sinful, so if worthy = without sin, no one could participate. We need the Grace of the Eucharist to fight sin. Unworthiness rather has more to do with unrepentence. In any case, my point was simply to show that the Orthodox commitment to “closed communion” is not spiritual snobbery as was charged.

          • ? What are you talking about?

    • FWIW, my experience on the ground level is that the vast majority of the time, “closed communion” is in theory only and not in practice. It has practically disappeared from Lutheranism, and I have received it as a protestant in Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches (not to mention Anglican and Presbyterian). I have been turned down once by an RC priest because I inquired in advance, but in most cases if you just show up and they don’t know you, they won’t deny you. One time, at a mass in Japan, the Canadian priest who knew his congregation well enough to know I was a visitor gave me the elements and then recognized with a slight shock that I was obviously a foreigner. So in perfect English he asked me, “Are you baptized.” I responded that yes I was (in fact, at the time I was BaptIST), and he allowed me to proceed.

      Bottom line, all baptized believers are welcome. If you belong to Jesus, the meal belongs to you. Out of curiosity, if you don’t believe in Jesus, for what purpose might you desire participation in the sacrament? However, if you have been baptized and believed in Jesus at least once before, you may still belong to Him even if you feel consumed by doubt/skepticism. If I were serving the meal, Eagle, you would most certainly be welcome.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Out of curiosity, if you don’t believe in Jesus, for what purpose might you desire participation in the sacrament?

        In the 18th and 19th Centuries, when break-every-mundane-rule Hellfire Clubs and Pop Satanism was veh-ry fah-shionable among Our Betters (i.e. the Paris Hilton set of the time), consecrated Hosts were in demand to be mocked and defiled at the Black Mass. Attending eucharist and palming the consecrated Host was an obvious method to acquire them. Closing communion would throw at least some obstacle in the way of this.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I agree Miguel. Denying the Table to another baptized person simply builds up walls of separation that are not needed. The Table should be a place of welcome, communion, and celebration. I also agree that it holds more in theory now than in actual practice. But I hesitate in going to the Table where in theory I’m not welcome. Requiring this and that before one can partake again makes sense on one level. However one can pass through all the hoops and still not be prepared.

        Christ is one who welcomes us, one who does not turn us away.

      • I’ve never baptized But i take part in the bread & wine. i’ve been an evangelical all my life , I find the understanding of baptism there , is rather different than others. Other traditions see it as a rite of passage or your admission into the church , but for most of my life i often hear it is ” a step in obedience” & “a public declaration of your faith in Christ” (even though it is in front of people who probably know you and have watched you grow up). so, should i stop taking the eucharist?

    • “My reason for leaving is that even if I wanted to particate I couldn’t. As a former Catholic gone evangelical turned agnostic/I don’t know what…. I wouldn’t have been allowed to participate even if I wanted to.”

      … and so your mind has cost you… there you go thinking again…

      So Eagle… maybe you should have dropped the baggage for a moment, stuck it out, got in line and received communion. I am sure you were not wearing a shirt that said “I’m an agnostic”. Apparently you were feeling a pull to be there and sometimes for the good of you – you should just go with it (and by the way I have a hard time with that concept myself). In fact, if I had been there I would have been pushing you to do so (and I am pretty devout in my tradition) because apparently there was something at work inside you.

      My two cents Eagle –

      • I hear you…no one would have known, however if my family found out…that would not have gone over well.

        Sometimes Radagast I get the feeling that what drives some of this is the human condition. Perhaps we were born to be unsatisified, to crave, to yearn, to hunger. Perhaps people are born with this “the grass is always greener” mindset. Some evangelicals are going to mainstream Protestantism or Catholicism. Some Catholics go the evangelical route, some Christians who struggle with faith turn toward secular humanism. Whatever it is…is seems like a rat race with people searching, seeking and always remaining hungry. I wonder if those who have embraced the ELCA or Anglicanism still feel that desire to search and seek. I wonder if after a few years they will move onward in their search.

        I hate to be nihilist here (correct word?) but sometimes I want to ask…what’s the point of it all?

        • And sometimes for me at any rate, I need to stop thinking, drop down on my knees (I prefer a church setting), let go of my baggage and just say ‘here I am Lord’ and sit quietly – for a long while.

          For me Eagle, I need to know someone loves me unconditionally and that’s the point. Now I have a family I came from with all the baggage that brings (I’m a black sheep), and I have a current family I adore ( and that brings its own issues), but to know there is something else out there…. and for me it is expressed best in my tradition, that man made one with its flaws, and yet when I look past the surface and a little deeper at others around me, they are there struggling like me, we’re struggling together – cool stuff. And there are no individuals putting demands on me (like accountability partners). Anyway that’s why I’m where I am – may not work for you but I think the next time you get the urge, let yourself go and follow…. except if it leads you to what you came from (fundementalism)….

          Although, being an inquisitive soul I think one day I will go to a conference such as the one you attended just to see how others think….

        • Eagle, not all of us are driven to eternally seek ‘greener pastures.’ For nine years after i became a Christian I belonged to four different denominations. I found that there is plenty of cow dung in whatever green pasture you have climbed a fence for. You finally have to make peace with yourself, with God, and with whatever church body and congregation you choose. It happened for me somewhere along the way, and I have been a Lutheran for 22 years now. i will be buried in Lutheran dirt. Is it perfect? No. Is this my church and are these my people? Yes.

          It like choosing a mate. Its a compromise, but eventually you find one of whom you can say ‘I can live the rest of my life with them for better or worse.’

  2. If you don’t mind me asking…Have I said or done something that resulted in a good majority of my comments being moderated? I hope I have not steped on anyone’s toes…. If I angered or offended someone…I’m sorry about that.. it’s not intentional.

  3. “When evangelical churches fail to maintain a rich heritage of ritual and symbolism, their members are tempted to gravitate toward other symbols for meaning.”

    I think that is true. For American evangelicals, those symbols are increasingly materialistic.

  4. Umm, I’m going to disagree a little. Regular celebration of the Eucharist certainly hasn’t anchored the Episcopal church or large swaths of the ELCA and the UMC. Hey I’m all for weekly celebration of communion, but I think the author exaggerated greatly while waxing poetic about the supernatural sustaining power of the sacraments.

    • Let me push back a little bit, Pastor Brendan. I would argue that it is precisely the liturgy and the Table that have kept churches alive even when their leadership has gone astray. Still today, I could go to the most liberal of Episcopal churches for a worship service and, because they have kept the liturgy and the Table, hear more Gospel than in any number of evangelical churches, whose services don’t keep Christ central.

      • Brendan, I’m not sure what “large swath of the UMC” you’re talking about. If you’re talking about issues of human sexuality, then perhaps you need to take a look at the official UMC stance on this.

        http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1728

        The UMC welcomes persons of different sexual orientation, but does not condone homosexuality as a lifestyle. There’s a difference between welcoming and condoning.

        To counter, I would add that not celebrating the Eucharist certainly hasn’t helped “Bible as the sole authority” evangelicalism avoid scandal, faulty theology, misuse of church discipline, shifting by-laws, embezzled money, and abuse. Prosperity Gospel? Ted Haggard? “Bishop” Eddie Long? Earl Paulk? Paul Crouch? Angel Food Ministries?

        I would never believe that any of the aforementioned are the faces of “non-eucharistic” Christianity. My point is, though, if you want to use extreme examples to make your point, then you forfeit the right to be offended when someone uses extreme examples to define your own brand.

        • petrushka1611 says:

          At the same time, there’s a lot of sins and abuses that constant celebration of the Eucharist hasn’t helped at all. :/

        • Lee:

          I wasn’t arguing that biblicist are better at being anchored than mainlines. But I have been to several VERY liberal Episcopal Churches and services. Two churches had a Lesbian priests and another one spent his entire sermon on almost saying (repeatedly) that Christ wasn’t the only way for salvation.

          The fact that Fundies aren’t better anchored more or less proves my point. The sentimentality attached to either the Eucharist or the Scriptures is a bit far reaching. We should be attached to both and equally so if we wished to be anchored.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Many years ago I had a prof in seminary who made this very point. The gospel resides in these elements of worship, liturgy, and Table, not in the pastor or other leadership. Thus, while it may be important, the individual theology of the pastor matters less.

        • You hit that one out of the park David….

          It keeps the focus on the table and Jesus and his Passion, death, and ressurrection, instead of on the cult of personality expounding on the Gospel. We could have a pastor giving a terrible homily on a weekly basis yet the people keep returning… for the Eucharist. It also helps cut down on ‘the Show’ mentality….

          • Completely agree with you both.

          • petrushka1611 says:

            I listened to an Anglican priest (from an Anglican church in FL) about a year ago, and my still-sometimes-Baptist mind was a little shocked to hear him say something like, “And when I’m at a church where the priest is giving a lousy homily, I think, ‘Well, at least we have the Eucharist yet.'” I say “shocked” because of the centrality of the sermon I’ve grown up with. Having been around a little more liturgy now, I totally get it. And I’m amazed at how people could MISS the gospel in the liturgy!

          • Petrushka, I feel exactly the same way. For years, I heard “vain repetition” used over and over in reference to liturgical churches, from folks who would literally pray the same “prayer from the heart” word for word every Sunday morning from the pulpit!

      • I appreciate Pastor Brendan’s remarks, and I am simply fascinated with CM’s response. I have never attended a “very liberal” Episcopal service, but I am not surprised to learn that more gospel is heard there than in the average evangelical church service. I had never considered that it was a Christ-centered liturgy and Table that kept life in the most liberal of churches . . .

        The question has been raised as to what keeps us “anchored” in Christ-centeredness. Some would argue the Word, and others the Eucharist. Both certainly play critical roles, but I would suggest that Christ-centeredness first requires deliberate determination. When Paul was about to enter Corinth, the most infamous city of the empire, he declared “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” I wonder what today’s Christians would determine to know upon entering the same city? Paul could have chosen any number of topics to “know” in Corinth but he determined to know only one. Could it be that Christ-centeredness comes down to a deliberate act of determination on the part of church leadership, and that Word and Table are gifts from God that point us to such a resolution?

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “I have never attended a “very liberal” Episcopal service, but I am not surprised to learn that more gospel is heard there than in the average evangelical church service.”

          I have. The biggest practical difference between it and a conservative Episcopal service is that the liberal Episcopal priest might well be a woman. There is a much much smaller chance that the priest will be openly gay, where the conservative gay priest will be decently closeted. A bad liberal sermon has a different quality than a bad conservative sermon, but its principle badness lies in the loss of twenty minutes of your life with no recollection whatsoever of what transpired. But the bulk of the service will be the same whether liberal or conservative. Interestingly, bad liberal Episcopalianism can also manifest itself architecturally. I visited the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York about ten years ago. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to build a Gothic cathedral with so little acknowledgment of Christianity. I immediately followed it by an unplanned visit to the Cathedral of St. Patrick, just to be in a cathedral that felt like a church. I didn’t attend an actual service at either, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I expect that even at St. John the Divine it would have been traditional Christian worship.

      • Gotta agree with you Chaplain.
        I left my 3rd wave Charismatic church and heard more gospel and scripture in a liberal Anglican church than I had heard in years.
        In the worst case if one of the liberals gave the homily, they had at most 20 minutes to ‘undo’ the liturgy and word.’ In my charismatic church I saw them take all 2 hours to undo the word.

        • I wouldn’t consider your 3rd wave Charismatic Church typical of the American evangelical experience. I know we like to dog the Evangelical Church here at iMonk, but I’ve sat in plenty of good evangelical churches that did not undo the word in it’s sermons.

      • Still today, I could go to the most liberal of Episcopal churches for a worship service and, because they have kept the liturgy and the Table, hear more Gospel than in any number of evangelical churches, whose services don’t keep Christ central.

        Chaplain Mike

        My biggest complaint about liturgical tradition (and mind you I’m in favor of liturgical tradition) is that it can become a rote empty ritual devoid of impact. Much of the BCP liturgy and prayers (again, which I respect) is filled with “Christianese”, a language indecipherable to American English speakers not trained in theo-speak. This would include the Rite II mass and the “contemporary” collects. Without sound theology from the pulpit, the Eucharist loses its meaning as “faith comes through hearing”. And not only do you need sound theology, you need a skilled preacher who can take potentially “empty” words and rituals and bring them to the heart and ears of the worshiper so they understand the Gospel that is being proclaimed. If the pastor is a universalist then all the rituals and even the Eucharist gets redefined by error, and thus lose their meaning. I have flat out seen this happen.

        • …such a church will not be anchored. You cannot keep the bread and wine if you do not keep the Scriptures

          “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – Jesus

        • David Cornwell says:

          I’ve read some liberal teaching that explains away the Eucharist and thus it becomes devoid of meaning. But I’ve also seen some more conservative types trivialize it by how it s handled in youth groups and even in what they see as contemporary worship. I’m not talking about music, but the casual attitude of here’s something to make you feel better, a kumbaya moment with some juice and a snack (or that’s what it seemed to me).

          • ok, but my point is a refutation of the blog post. Having Eucharistic centered worship does not necessarily guarantee a Christ centered community.

            I have no comment (defense or critique) regarding how many evangelicals treat communion.

          • Biblicism and Eucharistic centered worship go together. If you reject “this is my body” you are a very bad biblicist. If you reject biblicism, at least the basic idea that it contains Christ’s literal true teachings that can’t be rejected in favor of competing paradigms or explanations or concerns, you are very likely to have a wrong idea of what is going on in communion. Or at least, an incomplete view.

            (Which is why it’s so important to receive proper instruction in communion and its connection to the Gospel before communing, which is the purpose of closed communion)

      • Chaplain Mike and David Cornwell, your comments amount to a plug for Thomas Howard’s book Evangelical is not Enough. Highly recommended.

        • Amazing how far down these comments get filed when it’s a hot topic. My comment was in response to Chaplain Mike’s and David Cornwell’s comments about the liturgy and the table being of prime importance, more than the pastor’s theology or the leadership.

          By the way, HUG recommends the book too.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s one of the best explanations of liturgical church practices for someone from a non-liturgical background.

    • FWIW, I think the mainlines have largely received a bad rap because of overly influential left wing fringes. There are humongous numbers of moderate evangelicals in the ranks of all three denominations you mention. Gene Robinson etc… aren’t the absolute norm for the group just because they receive the most press. Go to any average mainline church, and you are 10 times as likely to hear a sermon about Jesus as you ever would be in a Calvary Chapel, EV Free, or Southern Baptist church. I came from that world, and “how to have a great marriage” is their priority. Communion can be annual there, and some years even skipped. The sacrament directs the focus where it belongs, and the churches that don’t do it loose focus. They don’t do it because they believe the elements are meaningless, and as Luther said, “they are of a different spirit.” When you’re in low church right wing evangelicalism, the mainlines are often painted as left-wing-free-love-pot-smoking-hippies who are more interested in promoting their progressive, anti-life, sexually hedonist and libertine agenda. It’s just not true. If an alien visited a typical SBC service and then proceeded to an ELCA church, he’d probably hear more about Jesus in the latter.

      • I’ve heard that there are even some conservatives that attend mainline churches (gasp!)… ; )

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Your point is well taken, though I say “moderates” rather than “moderate evangelicals”. Some years ago an Episcopalian asked me if Lutherans have an equivalent of Bishop Spong serving as a liberal boogie monster conservatives use to scare one another. My reply was that no, we do not, but that Bishop Spong is so scary that he serves double duty and is cited by conservative Lutherans.

        A point which I have made before but which merits repeating is that “liberal” is a word of many meanings. “Liberal theology” and sometimes (or even always) voting Democratic are different things. They are often conflated by the confused and by persons of ill will. I have literally not once heard liberal theology propounded from the pulpit. I’m not saying it never happens, but it is rare, and not a strong force even in “liberal” mainline churches.

  5. St. Oram says:

    “Gospel worship includes both Word and Table”?! Who wrote that?

    Not all denominations have a “eucharist,” you know. (In fact I had to look it up to see what it was.) There’s a lot to be said for minimizing ritual, especially when for historical reasons, there’s a danger of it being misconstrued as having magical powers. Christianity has plenty of symbols, like the Cross the the Bible.

    The eucharist has nothing to do with having a meal together–it’s just bread (or crackers) and wine (or juice). Maybe its just a symbol of having a meal. Also people don’t talk to each other during it, like they would in a real meal. Coffee and donuts after the service is more effective for socializing, and avoids the risk of theological confusion.

    • StJohn117 says:

      I don’t think that Christ commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of me” to be an optional thing. And in some ways, when I attempt to explain why I feel that the Eucharist is so important, I’m butchering it. Nevertheless, I’m going to try.

      First, it’s a reminder for us, among other things that we do not get to heaven on our own. No matter how good we think we are, it’s not our righteousness that gets us in the door.

      Secondly, we are equally in need of God’s grace. It is the one thing that we share regardless of what denominational tribe that you’re part of. It’s the core of our faith that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

      Thirdly, it’s a very subtle reminder that “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Without us taking Christ into ourselves, our spiritual lives will never blossom.

      Perhaps it is best that we don’t speak when the eucharist is served. Sometimes we just need to be silent and listen to what God is saying, for far too often we drown him out with the noise. This is his supper, he is the founder of the meal, its subject and the head of the table. We bring nothing but ourselves here, where as he has brought everything. I am often reminded of the admonition in Ecclesiastes about prayer… that we are to speak slowly, to be of few words and to be silent because He is God, we are not.

      I realize the best that I have done is perhaps bang a couple of trash can lids together and give a couple of gutteral utterances to try to explain what’s going on. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface in terms of what the Eucharist is all about.

      I think there is a reason that the Eucharist has so much written about it and I feel far too often in Evangelicalism, the table gets shoved off into some corner of the room to gather dust and do every once in a while out of duty. We haven’t a clue what to do with it because we don’t know what it means. It’s difficult to put into words. It’s symbolic. It’s mystical. And we’re uncomfortable with that which we can’t explain easily. But make no mistake about it, Word and Table should be part of Christian Worship, held together in equal standing.

      • Stanislav says:

        Somewhere, people are making the same argument on behalf of foot-washing.

        • Because we pretty much refuse to wash each other’s feet (serve our neighbor’s ), He comes to us, anyway, in the Supper.

          “Whoever does not eat my body or drink my blood, has no life in them.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Perhaps it is best that we don’t speak when the eucharist is served. Sometimes we just need to be silent and listen to what God is saying, for far too often we drown him out with the noise.
        — StJohn117

        “Let all mortal flesh keep silent…”

    • Oram’s comments reflect some of the Protestant world’s attitude toward the Eucharist.

      I’m so glad that these aren’t the majority.

    • You may be right, but then it would seem that Jesus has linguistic dyslexia when he said, “This IS my body” if he meant “this REPRESENTS my body.” Pretty big err for the Son of God, don’t you think? 😛

      Lee, I’m not so sure of your optimism. The Zwinglian view of the Lord’s supper is near universal in evangelicalism, it would seem that it IS the majority of Protestants. Though perhaps there is a trend moving the other direction?

      • I’m basing my thought on real numbers not Western perception. The 4 largest denominations in the world (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran) are all sacramental in terms of the table. Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists are all sacramental in terms of the table. Just because most of my neighbors in the rural south are either Baptist, charismatic, or non-denominational, doesn’t mean it’s like that in the rest of the world.

        That Zwingli. I’m sure that sucker burned down a rood screen and a bunch of icons I would have liked to have seen during my time in Europe.

        • Well, for what the wikipedia stats are worth, the three largest protestant groups globally are Pentecostals (130 mil), Baptists (100 mil), and non-denom evangelicals (80 mil). The sacramental traditions tend to cap around 75 mil, but there are more of them. (Apparently “Anglicans” are no longer considered Protestant, but if you count them, it seems to be somewhat of an even match.)

          • Pew Research Council, as my memory serves, gives the Baptists credit for 47 million adherents, 40 million of whom are in the US. Pentecostals are broken into so many splinter groups, it’s difficult to determine how many there are. Non-denoms are considered a denomination unto themselves in each church body, so they’re completely disunified.

            There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, 200 million Orthodox Christians, 83 million Anglicans, and around 47 million Lutherans. There’s 130 million sacramental Protestants, without including Presbyterians, Methodists, Christian Church, etc. That’s a lot of folks who take communion every Sunday!

            Anglicans are Protestant, even if they are strangely unfamiliar to our Baptist neighbors. Even though we are the Via Media, our roots are in the reformation.

            The problem with numbers, particularly in the Baptist church, is that churches just flat-out lie. I served in one church that refused to report to the local Baptist organization that their attendance ever dipped below 150 (though it often did). On different websites, I’ve found claims that Baptists number anywhere from 33 million to 100 million. That’s a dog-gone big discrepancy.

            One thing’s for certain…there are over 33,000 denominations. Shame on us for that.

          • What? You mean Wikipedia is wrong? Not possible! 😛
            I agree that Anglicans should be considered protestant. Lutherans are really more of the via media on the theological level.
            Baptists are not alone when it comes to membership inflation, they just receive the most public rebuke for it because they trumpet their numbers the loudest. I’ve seen the rap sheets for many a mainline congregation, it’s not uncommon to find a church reporting 1500 members with 200 average weekly attendance. They have dead people on their lists.
            And as for 33,000, I personally don’t think all the different Anglican churches count if they’re part of the same communion; it’s only a different region, not really a different church. The same goes for many of the Eastern Orthodox: they view themselves themselves as one church organized by country/region/ethnicity. Take away all the non-trinitarian groups included in that number as well and the total is drastically reduced.

          • Just a quick note. By some definitions Anglicans are not considered Protestants because they were initiated by Henry 8th prior to the Protestant reformation. As a result you have high anglican which looks very Catholic, and low Anglican which was influenced by the reformation and looks very protestant.

            Someone with a better knowledge of Anglican history can correct me if I am wrong.

          • Michael, as an Anglican, I consider the church to be Orthodox…British Christianity has its roots in the earliest days of the faith, back to Joseph of Arimathea. In fact, if we would get rid of that little fiioque clause, those rogue TULIP’ers, and stop ordaining women here in the US, it’s quite possible that we could share a table with the Orthodox Church in America.

            That being said, I doubt those things will ever happen…unfortunately…I guess.

            At the same time, I also feel compelled to label us Protestants, because we became separate from the Catholic authority in the 1500’s. Perhaps I need to correct myself and say that we are a reformed body, and not Protestant.

            Interesting discussion all the way around today.

          • Isaac (except when I'm Obed) says:

            Catholics worldwide account for almost 2 billion people. FWIW

        • Zwingli was an iconoclast?

        • Part of our problem is the confusion of symbols and signs. Signs and symbols both point to reality beyond themselves, but a symbol participates in the reality two which it points. A national flag is the most common example of a symbol, especially regarding the patriotism associated with the American flag. From this perspective, I have fewer issues with Zwingli. I struggle with the necessity of real presence of blood and body. Zwingli’s debate with Luther raised some interesting questions, specifically if real presence demands the omnipresence of the physical body of Christ; to which Luther responded in the affirmative. I believe the sacraments are important in providing objectivity to the faith to guard against emotionalism and pietism, but the fact that we debate the issue of open and closed communion raises the the dark side of objectivism, that it can reduce God to and object to be fenced, rationed, controlled, and used as tool of manipulation. Reducing God to an object also reduces us to the same. For someone who loves poetry, seeing Jesus through the bread and wine means much more than seeing Jesus as bread and wine. It’s sad when I have seen some much time and energy defending and debating sacraments rather than extolling their benefits. I have heard some discuss sacraments as if it was more important to receive true blood than body than to meet Jesus there. I hate it when communion feels like a trip through the Thanksgiving buffet line. I don’t want blood and body; I want Jesus.

          • Sacraments also point us to the incarnation. Evangelical groups which don’t observe sacraments drift toward gnosticism. Jesus was born, died, was raised, and ascended bodily. Nowhere did Jesus cease being fully God and fully man. But I’m not sure that necessitates real presence of body and blood in the Eucharist.

          • petrushka1611 says:

            Ox, that’s a fascinating point about gnosticism. I will be turning that over in my mind for a while.

            On the Real Presence (and I have no doubt I’m treading on well-traveled ground here, and that many people here have compelling responses to this), Jesus also said “I am the vine,” and he certainly wasn’t a leafy plant slowly climbing a fence. Like I said in a previous comment, the supper is the Lord’s, and I think it accomplishes what he pleases in his disciples.

          • petrushka1611: several authors have addressed the issue of gnosticism in evangelicalism; unfortunately, I can’t put my hands on those books right now; I think they made trip to the crawl space.

          • petrushka1611: “Evangelical is Not Enough” by Thomas Howard is a good place to start.

      • One of the pastors at my church used to do that nearly everytime we had Communion. If he was leading the service and it came time for Communion, he would “This REPRESENTS my body” or “This REPRESENTS my blood”. I was squirming in my seat and wanted to say, “Um, no, you’re changing the words in order to make it fit your theological belief”.

        But in contrast I went to the funeral of an uncle a year-and-a-half ago which was held in the Catholic church he had raised his kids in the 60s and 70s. No one in the family had gone to this particular church for decades, but his children wanted the funeral to be there for nostalgic reasons. What they didn’t know was the new priest was an uber-Traditionalist. Among other things, during the Consecration, he leaned far over the altar and said very dramatically: THIS – IS – MY – BODY! and THIS – IS – MY – BLOOD! I couldn’t imagine Christ being so melodramatic at the Last Supper.

        My own view currently is something along the lines of C.S. Lewis: The command is “take and eat” not “take and understand.”

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Um, no, you’re changing the words in order to make it fit your theological belief”.

          This would be an absolute deal breaker for me. The closest thing to a defense I can think of is that he didn’t actually realize that these words he was changing are Scripture. But having a pastor that ignorant of Christianity would also be a deal breaker, so this isn’t much of a defense.

        • But Christ did not say THIS IS MY BLOOD full stop. He tied blood to covenant. As Paul understood it: “”This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Or as I would interpret Paul… Christ. This cup represents the new covenant that you have made because of my death.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            It is one thing to hold that interpretation. It is also fine to expound on this interpretation in some suitable context. It is quite another to misquote the actual text in order to make it fit (or, if you prefer, make the fit more obvious) with this interpretation. There is a long tradition of deliberate mistranslations. I don’t doubt that in every case the mistranslator did so with the intent of making the true meaning more clear. This does not change the fact that this tradition is gravely dishonorable and a scandal.

        • I guess you could put some Monopoly money in the offering plate and tell the pastor, “this REPRESENTS” my tithe.”

    • I’ve looked at Eucharist from a more objective 20 thousand foot view. If the Gospels were written not as a converting mechanism but for existing christian communities, then why, out of all the material oral tradition would have on Jesus, would three of the four Gospels include it in their narrative (excluding the whole existence of Q theory), the fouth Gospel talk about it in John 6 and Paul write about it in Corinthians? Apparently it must have been pretty important to those communities where the Gospels were derived from and important enough for Luther to hang onto it 1500 years later.

  6. I particularly like your last paragraph, Chaplain Mike.

    Being Roman Catholic, I understand and appreciate why receiving the Eucharist is “closed” to those who believe that they are truly receiving the body and blood of Jesus. That said, I can’t help thinking of things that I have read where people who were not Catholic (and in one case, not even Christian!) received communion and had their lives changed in such positive ways. In one case, a woman was assisting a disable Catholic man to get down the aisle to receive communion and she decided to receive as well. After doing that four times, she wanted to become Catholic and did so! The case of the non-Christian was Sara Miles who walked into an Episcopalian church and decided to receive communion even though she said she had no idea what it was all about. She was later baptized and has been an active member of that church and has started a movement that gets food to hungry people in her large community. (She has also written a couple books.)

    If the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus, then it is not our believing it that makes it so. If it is so, then wouldn’t we want as many people as possible to partake? I know…I am not a good Catholic and I would not tell anyone that they can just go to communion in the Catholic church as I respect the position the Catholic church takes. But still…I can’t help wondering the things I wonder about.

    AND…I do want to leave anyone with the impression that I think that by partaking, our lives suddenly become “better” somehow. It does for some and is not so obvious for others even if they are the greatest believer or not. We just don’t know how God works in all this. We believe that God is changing us to have his own nature, but we can’t always see or feel that working.

  7. Oops, I see I left out the word “not.” It should say in my last paragraph “I do NOT want to leave anyone…”

    “Not” is a important word to leave out of something said!

  8. Even more concerning to me is the persistent marginalization of the Eucharist in the Church that claims the Eucharist is central to their faith – the Catholic Church. With the dangerous decline of vocations, along with the Institution’s refusal to even consider changing vocational requirements, we are at risk of losing the Eucharist all together. I find this to be an atrocity. The Institution of the Catholic Church would rather deny us the Eucharist than consider married individuals or women for ordination. Sad.

    • Ugh!

    • The Eucharist is indeed central to the Catholic faith: the Second Vatican Council called it the “source and summit” of the life and mission of the Church. But, Lauri, you pose a false dichotomy. Precisely where the shepherds of the Church are clearest about the authoritatively declared reservation of priestly ordination to men do vocations to the priesthood tend to be most numerous. It may seem counterintuitive that there would be fewer priests when a larger pool of candidates is declared eligible; but look at the plummeting membership of denominations such as The Episcopal Church and the United Church of Canada that open ordained ministry to women, and it becomes clear that departure from two millennia of tradition comes with a cost.

      As for ruling out married men from the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, that is purely a disciplinary rather than doctrinal matter, and so it is subject to general revision and indeed there are already numerous dispensations from the rule in the case of already married clergy who are received into the Church.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        My prediction for the Catholic church, at least in America, has long been that the priesthood will gradually become a niche, performing only those functions which absolutely require a priest and with deacons and laity taking on everything else. I picture priests riding a circuit of parishes, performing mass and consecrating the elements for later use when the priest is elsewhere.

        • Radagast says:

          sadly, you may be correct over time (unless an influx of immigrants from over the border revitalizes things)….

        • Such a model of stagnation in the priesthood often becomes a self-fulfulling prophecy. But it doesn`t have to be this way. Plenty of dioceses have booming vocations to the priesthood. Consider the variations described here, from one seminarian per 2,625 Catholics versus one per 237,000.
          http://www.ignatius.com/Images/Products/USVocations.pdf

          Bishops and vocations directors who make it a priority to go out looking for (and forming!) “men with a deep love for the Eucharist, for the Mass, and for the Church” will find them.

  9. When Jesus gave The Sermon on the Mount did He finish with “do this in remembrance of me”? No. When Jesus gave The Last Supper, thought, He did. And as was pointed out in another comment, the Disciples recognized the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.

    Seems to me the expository explanation of Biblical things has a place but only as an adjunct to The Eucharist (this is My Body…This is My Blood…do this in remembrance of Me); not as a replacement, or as an emPHAsis. It’s what feeds and sustains us within the Kingdom of God.

    After years of sitting through very learned evangelical lectures on the finer points of Reformed doctrine, I am ever so grateful to be back in a church that celebrates Communion. BUt that’s just me…

  10. A timely post for me. There are 2-3 couples that we meet with, 2-3 times each month for prayer and Bible study, and I’ve been leading them through a study of Henri Nouwen’s “With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life”. As I respond to today’s post and the points above, note that some of these thoughts are mine, and some Nouwen’s…If I don’t differentiate, please don’t think I’m intentionally plagiarizing ideas.

    1) Keeping Jesus central.

    I’ve seen for years the phenomenon of pastors who claim “the Bible as the sole authority” for their faith movement, then have little scripture actually included in any type of congregational setting…worship service, small groups, Sunday School, etc. The liturgy leading up to and surrounding the Eucharist is saturated in scripture, and the Gospel is recounted several times throughout this pattern of worship, including in the words of institution (“This is my body…This is my blood…”).

    Sometimes I wonder if we’ve become too concrete as a culture to embrace the mystical aspects of the table. When I became Anglican, I heard that staff at a Baptist church where I once served often spoke of me “chanting and burning incense and doing incantation.”

    (Heavy sigh…) If only mysticism were so easily explained. Jesus is absent from our sight, but present in the table. Jesus must be invited to the meal by open, lifted hearts, but once He is present, He becomes the host at the table, taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the meal to us. These are hard concepts for us to swallow (no pun intended). We want a Jesus who impacts our lives monetarily, emotionally, sexually, and from a relational standpoint, but believing that He could impact us through what many view as a tradition of man (It’s not…Jesus Himself instituted it in the upper room, and again with the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus)…that’s a lot to wrap our brains around.

    2) Our inability to share the Table with each other is one of the main hindrances to our witness before the world.

    At the table, not only do we share communion with God, but community with one another. In fact, Luther wrote that the table is only place where this occurs. As much as he loved singing and writing hymns, it wasn’t corporate worship where Luther believed we were bound in community…it was the table. The table is the place where we bring all of our brokeness, all of our good, all of our bad, all of our darkness and light, and all of our weariness, for refreshing. I’ve often read that if baptism is the door through which we enter into faith, then the table is where we get food for the journey. Like the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, we are fed there, our hearts are set on fire, and we can’t help but go out and tell the world what we have tasted and seen.

    The table is a unifying force. It binds us as family. There are very few of our daily acquaintances that we invite into the dark corners or our lives, even fewer that we ask to sit and share a meal with us. At the communion table, we invite Christ to infiltrate our very beings, along with the others with whom we share the meal.

    Creed binds us Christians in belief. The table binds us in our poverty of spirit…our need for refreshing, in the face of a world that is a desert place, in terms of spirituality.

    3) Political consequences.

    Quite a while back, I stopped on a Sunday and bought a fresh loaf of bread to be consecrated by my priest, so that we could serve it in another setting. The bread was quite delicious, I must say. After the group I was with shared in the table, my sister and my wife immediately took off, running upstairs to the kitchen, pushing each other in their race. I asked what was going on, and my wife said, “Your sister said that she’s going to eat the rest of Jesus’ body before I can get anymore of it, and I’m not letting her have that good bread!”

    Okay, so that probably wasn’t really appropriate of them to do. We often forget, though, the simplicity of a good meal. Bread and wine…It’s basic, but all you need. There’s a small charismatic church called Mt. Sion in Varna, Bulgaria that I love to visit. I don’t understand a word of the service, but I do know that at the end of the service, I will be offered homemade bread and wine as a part of their weekly communion. Both are absolutely amazing, a labor of love for members of the congregation, a way for them to be actively involved in the preparations for a meal where the King will be present. Too often, we’re focused on a “worship experience”, and forget the basic, simple things that make corporate Christian gatherings truly great.

    I’ll close my lengthy comment with this…I would challenge the other evangelical pastors who comment here to devote some time to teaching your congregation about the value of the table. When I was becoming a “post-evangelical”, I was desperately in need of peace with God, and peace with the Church. I needed quiet. I needed to rest in Him. I had traveled in Eastern Europe, and remembered the closeness I felt to God in Orthodox churches, ancient places with ancient traditions and liturgies. I decided to visit a little stone Episcopal church in Athens, GA, a place I had ridiculed as an evangelical pastor for its “vain repetitions”. In the liturgy and in the table, I found the peace and refreshment that I needed. As much as evangelical congregations love programs and exciting worship and catchy sermon titles, those same congregations are filled with people who are hurting, and need a place of peace. My challenge is for our churches to offer them just that. There are some old English churches that have this carved into their entries…

    “Enter this door
    As if the floor
    Within were gold,
    And every wall
    of jewels all
    of wealth untold;
    As if a choir
    in robes of fire
    were singing here;
    Nor shout, nor rush,
    But hush….”

    This is how I enter when I know I will celebrating the Eucharist…at peace. I wonder how different the face of evangelicalism would be if we approached Sunday worship in the same way…
    For God is here.

    • Oops…”For God is here” is the last line of the little poem. I am terrible at cutting and pasting…

    • Excellent comments Lee… So many abuses in focusing on the charismatic leader could be avoided if the focus was shared with Jesus at the Table….

  11. Okay, Chaplain Mike, you’ve convinced me. Now how do I convince my pastor and elders??? We have communion 1st Sunday of every month at my church. What I hear over and over is, “If we have communion every week, then it will lose its impact and become just a boring, empty ritual.”

    Any simple, graceful words to respond to that criticism?

    Thanks, Brian

    • Jack Heron says:

      I once heard someone respond to that with ‘I kiss my wife every day, but it’s never become an empty ritual for me’.

      • Good point. I’ve talked to evangelicals who can’t stand liturgy, but when you ask them to describe what they liked about their wedding day, often self-described as the most important day in their life, the “special moments” are all liturgical: wearing white, getting walked by dad down the aisle, exchanging vows and rings, lighting candles, and sealing it with a kiss.

    • Tell them if we have sermons, prayers, and congregational singing every week, then these will become empty, boring rituals that will lose their impact over time.

      Hopefully that will get them thinking.

    • Try Acts2:42 on them. Breaking of the bread was an integral part of the life of the early church. If they want to be like Peter and Paul like so many churches claim to be, then it’s like voting in Chicago–commune early and often.

      • O come now. Every good Baptist knows that when the verse says “breaking bread,” it is obviously referring to a potluck, and not communion. 😛

        • Whatever it refers to, there is something about sharing a meal that binds people together. Our church has gotten so that we eat a meal together every Sunday night.

    • My snarky response would have something to do with tithing and how we don’t worry about that losing meaning… perhaps you could put that a little more delicately.

      But seriously, almost everything else that’s done is done every single week. I think it’s just if communion is added then the pastor had to give up some preaching time or let things run long and have everyone get mad at him.

    • Changing a culture takes a long, long time and requires much trust and perseverance in conversation, prayer, and forbearance.

    • Seven-day communion challenge?

    • Isaac (except when I'm Obed) says:

      Brian, Might I recommend the works of Robert Webber, especially “Worship is a Verb” and anything from the “Ancient-Future” series. Webber was a Baptist-turned-Anglican and he addresses that objection in several places in a way that I thought was really well reasoned.

  12. I was somehwat surprised by a kind of joy, by way of this article. I at first thought too much weight is being vested in the significance of the Eucharist. But I think there is more to this than can meet my jaundiced evangelical eye.

    What liturgy in its heritage and structure provide is a form by which love for God in the context of love for Christ’s body of believers is expressed and manifested. Its effects are not unlike telling your spouse, “I love you,” or giving some other expression of love.

    One might rationalize that the love is there regardless, and the spouse should know it–but there is something powerfully incarnate in the expression that roots the abstract truth in our physical reality. I think that’s what especially resonates with me in Mike’s apt conclusion of keeping “our feet on the ground, constantly reminding us that God is at work in this world, birthing a new creation by using the simple elements.”

    When we regularly come together and express our communal affirmation of what God did in human history by way of the Gospel story, so as to draw us together in fellowship with one another (in the present as well as throughout history), and therein communion with him–it gives an arguably consumate physical form to the abstractions of loving neighbors and loving God,

    I don’t know that this communion needs to be especially magically mystical (though it certainly could be–just not necessarily so), any more than how love for any person (God as well as human) is itself mystical and supernatural. It’s the expression of and participation in love that makes the Eucharist so profoundly sustaining for the church.

    We the communal body are blessed to regularly practice incarnation–love made physical, material, flesh and blood, bread and wine.

  13. If nothing else, if we can’t agree on the mode of Christ’s presence in the eucharist, it is at the very least a visible and edible representation or communication of the gospel. (Of course, I certainly believe it is much more.) But a church that does this has the gospel preached whatever the sermon may say. Jesus said by so doing we proclaim his death until He returns. Churches that do this regularly are the ones who are faithful in their proclamation of the death of Christ. (…not to mention, they regularly say things like: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…) Churches that do not often have a somewhat different proclamation in mind. (Jesus died to give you a better life…)

  14. Although we now attend a church that takes communion monthly(wish it was weekly) I still would like to see us move away from the introspective “examine yourself” kind of language. I think we promote the idea that we somehow have to set things right with God so we don’t participate in an “unworthy manner”(based on a faulty interpretation of 1 Cor 11:27). And to me, that is just the opposite of what is intended.

    The point is that none of us is worthy and yet Christ still offers himself to us. It is a gift that is given to broken people which applies to, well, everyone.

  15. I’ve probably said this here before, but I’ll repeat it. The focus on the Eucharist is key. The preached word is very important but I can tell you as one who was a baptist pastor for years and is now an Anglican Priest, that there was a lot of pressure as a baptist pastor for the sermon (as the climax) to the service to be something special and big each week. My own thoughts is that this focus on the preached word, or rather the preacher, is what leads to so much cult of the personality that plauges many churches.

    On the other hand, as an Anglican, the service focuses on the Table. Heck even the one Sunday a month we do MP instead of HC the focus in more on the corporate nature of our prayers and not the sermon. The Table ensures that the gospel is the focus. Some times my sermons are good, sometimes they seem poor, but the Table is reliable.

    I agree with you statement above Chaplain Mike about the Table being able to keep some churches afloat long after their leadership has went crazy. I’m not looking to start a TEC mud slinging contest here, but I can tell you that one of the best attended services at our local TEC is the Wednesday night Eucharist with NO PREACHING. Hmmmm. I’ve had members there tell me they go precisely because there is no preaching.

    • Austin, I often wonder how my friends who remain in Baptist and non-denominational settings would react to a Eucharist with no sermon. You know, there is a time and place for a 45 minute lesson…in Sunday School, small groups, or discipleship classes. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church (or Episcopal), in my opinion, salvaged my own relationship with the Church…not a charismatic pastor with a forceful message.

      While my career and family obligations prevent me from being as active as I would like to be in our diocese, I can say that on the weeks when I’m unable to participate in the table, I long for it in my spirit. As corny as that may sound, I literally grieve at times when I don’t participate in the Great Thanksgiving. I think if more people understood the depth of the table, then they would feel the same…

      • Lee,

        I agree completely. Most baptists, or at least the ones you and I experienced, would be shocked if the sermon wasn’t at least 30 minutes. A good 10-15 minute (at the most) homily can be chocked full of truth and the gospel.

        In my residential week at Nashotah this winter I don’t think a single homily went longer than 10-15 minutes. Some were much shorter and they were all (every single one) great sermons. And if the preached word can find balance with the Table at Nashotah then it can do it anywhere, where being Anglo-Catholic the Table is obvioulsy the focus.

        Being a liturgy geek, I love this time of year. Sure it means a lot more prep on my part and a lot more logistical issues, but, and I don’t mean this condenscendingly, I really feel sorry for my friends who don’t get to do things like a Palm Processions, Bless Homes for Epiphany, Solmen Collects on Good Friday, the Veneration of the Cross, Stations of the Cross etc. It’s absolutely fantastic and sublime. I even got to bless a boat a few weeks back.

        I still, to this day feel like a man who has stumbled upon on oasis in the dessert and I’m just content to sit and gulp water and stuff my big belly with dates:)

        • “Being a liturgy geek, I love this time of year. ”

          Right there with you brother. I love the Holy Thursday Mass and Good Friday Services, the Tenebrae on Good Friday, the Blessing of the bread on Holy Saturday and of course Easter Sunday. It is a time that almost borders on the surreal at times.

          • We should get together and visit Austin’s church, Radagast.

            I’ll be slipping quietly over to that little Episcopal church I mentioned earlier during Holy Week, for sure…

          • Amen, Amen! The whole journey from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday morning, with it’s climax at the Vigil on Holy Saturday, is the high point of my year. Wonderful and sublime. Pace to the Baptists (my family are all still Baptist and we get along fine), but I can’t imagine going back to a Baptist Easter with a sermon on Good Friday and another on Easter Sunday. It would feel like the difference between eating a hearty meal while participating in animated discussion with friends, and hearing a scientist giving a lecture on the process of digestion.

        • I feel sorry for me, too, Austin. My sister attended an Anglican church in Wheaton when she lived there and loved it. I’ve attended Ash Wednesday services for the past few years with her and it’s made me hungry for more liturgy. This year I think I’m going to a Maundy Thursday service.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          And don’t forget The Great Vigil of Easter!

        • This was one of the reasons why a fellow I knew left our church for the Catholic church. He said the same subject matter that our pastor took 30 to 45 minutes to cover could be covered by a Catholic priest in 10 to 15 minutes.

    • Austin writes, “but I can tell you that one of the best attended services at our local TEC is the Wednesday night Eucharist with NO PREACHING. Hmmmm. I’ve had members there tell me they go precisely because there is no preaching.”

      Austin, I cannot attend very many weekend Masses because my husband is not Catholic and is very…demanding?…of my free time on weekends. Soooo, I try to attend some of the 8:30 a.m. Masses that my local priest presides over. We have usually one a week and often two, depending upon if there are funerals that week and upon other things. Usually there are around 10 people at those Masses (which occur in a small chapel room). The priest gives a very short homily…it may last three minutes. Yet, there is so much of importance that can be said in three minutes and I often find myself very touched by what the priest said and I know the others are as well. Sometimes, though, the priest will tell us there will be no homily as he has other obligations which are making him move things along quickly. Then that is OK too because we know Eucharist is coming up and that is the main purpose for our coming together.

  16. Dormant Barbarian says:

    Being in a Lutheran congregation that practices closed communion (not just in theory), perhaps I can partially explain why we do so. I fully understand that many of you will not agree with what I write, but perhaps some insight into this practice can foster some understanding.
    First of all, we are trying to be faithful to the Scriptures, especially 1 Cor. 11. Now I realize that many American Christians read these words differently. However, when we look throughout the history of the Church, we find quite a bit of agreement on understanding these words to suggest closed communion (cf. Werner Elert’s “Eucharist and Church Fellowship”). For sixteen centuries, this was the dominant practice of Communion. The term closed communion itself comes from the very early practice of closing the doors to the worship space after those who had not yet been catechized left; only then did the service of Holy Communion continue.
    Secondly, we are actually trying to be loving to those who visit our congregation. The apostle Paul warns that “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). We read this as a double entendre referring not only to the church as the body of Christ but to Christ’s body truly present in the meal and received in one’s mouth in, with, and under the bread. Thus we believe that if anyone were to receive Holy Communion without believing that Christ’s body is truly present (and not just symbolically or spiritually present), then that person would not receive blessing from God but judgment. Because we do not wish anyone to receive God’s judgment, we believe that the most loving course of action would be to prevent this. It’s as if I saw someone with a peanut allergy about to eat peanuts. Would it be more loving to let him ingest the peanuts or to try to prevent him? You may think that our understanding (as well as that of sixteen centuries of Christianity) of Scripture is delusional, but please understand that it is meant to be loving. We are not suggesting that the person is not a Christian or even an inferior Christian (if there is even such a thing).
    There are other reasons involved but these I think are especially important. I know I open myself to much disgreement, but I simply wanted to let this ancient practice be known.

    • Thus we believe that if anyone were to receive Holy Communion without believing that Christ’s body is truly present (and not just symbolically or spiritually present), then that person would not receive blessing from God but judgment. Because we do not wish anyone to receive God’s judgment, we believe that the most loving course of action would be to prevent this.

      There are a lot of things I could say in response to this line of reasoning, but the most obvious one is how in the world does being baptized in a certain church add any real guarantee that someone isn’t doing this? No one really has the power to discern the earnestness of an individual’s profession of faith other than God. It just seems to me that once we go down this road, it just leads to more and more distrust between different churches. If I’m basically saying you’re lying when you’re coming to partake of the Eucharist, it doesn’t seem likely that our relationship will progress very far.

      • Dormant Barbarian says:

        Phil M.,
        In the Lutheran tradition, after a child is baptized, he will be catechized. Or if someone wants to join our congregation (assuming he’s already been baptized in any denomination), he will be catechized. Both child and adult will then confess before the entire congregation that he believes the historic faith. Is it possible that someone would confess this faith without really believing it? Of course. But we take people at their word; that’s all we can do.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        But, Paul never says to exclude anyone who might be drinking damnation to himself. Paul’s command is for a man to examine himself, not for the church to examine him.

    • I think it is great to offer a lot of education first to people wanting to become Christians who see the Eucharist in a very sacramental way. As you say, Dormant Barbarian, that was done for centuries within the Church. Yet, I don’t think we can say it was done like that from the very beginning. It seems like if Peter or Paul or any other of the early disciples spoke to people and some of those people then said, “I am persuaded by you that Jesus is the savior of the world. What do I do to become a disciple of Jesus?” then Paul or the others would say, “You will be baptized and then you will worship and pray with other believers.” From what Paul writes in the letters, it does appear there was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and we may have different ideas of what that looked like, but it was happening.

      Perhaps as time went on and Christianity spread, there was a need for further education as people may have been getting misinformed about what Christianity was. So education is a GOOD thing. I just would not want a lack of education to be a dividing force among people who want to be strengthened/comforted by the Presence of God in the Eucharist. If I was a minister or priest, I would not want to be put in the position of deciding who I will give the Host to. There could be many Catholics coming to receive who actually only see it as symbolic, no matter what the Church teaches. And then you could have someone who had never been to a Catholic Mass who comes in and hears the Gospel, the liturgy, the music, the people and is suddenly hit with the realization that he or she is going to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist! How would I know that as a priest or minister? I would prefer to leave it to God.

      • Dormant Barbarian says:

        JoanieD,
        The apostle Paul believed that “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29) and so should not commune. Certainly by the second century, early church writings made reference to the practice of closed communion (when the whole business of closing the doors was first reported).

        • I understand all of that. All I’m asking is that if a church is willing to take those who have been baptized under its specific tradition, why not take the word of those who have been baptized in other traditions? I can understand saying Communion is for believers only, but I can’t understand limiting it further than that.

          • I meant this reply to go to Mr. (or Ms. 🙂 ) Barbarian’s reply under my earlier comment.

          • Dormant Barbarian says:

            As my original post said, the primary concern is the attempt to prevent a person from eating and drinking without recognizing the body of the Lord thereby eating and drinking judgment on himself (1 Cor. 11:29). Most congregations in America either teach that Christ is only present symbolically or spiritually. We believe that the apostle Paul has written that a person who believes such a teaching and communes would, in fact, eat and drink judgment on himself. We do not wish that upon anyone.

        • Dormant Barbarian writes, “Certainly by the second century, early church writings made reference to the practice of closed communion (when the whole business of closing the doors was first reported).”

          Yes, I am aware of that, Dormant Barbarian. Giving the people education before letting them partake of Holy Communion certainly makes sense in an overall way. And I do know about Paul writing, “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What do you think he meant by that? Would he mean that anyone doing that would get ill? I don’t think so, because people do that now and you don’t hear about them getting ill from doing so, though perhaps it is happening internally and in a slow way that we cannot see. But if there IS a person who believes that he is going to receive Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine, should he be prohibited from receiving until he has received the full education? To be consistent, perhaps we should say “Yes,” but if we truly believe that we are receiving God in a special way apart from other ways of receiving God, then it seems almost cruel to tell believers that they cannot yet receive.

          • Dormant Barbarian says:

            JoanieD,
            In Holy Communion, we do receive Christ in a special way. We receive, as He says, His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, through faith. That is, we believe His Words spoken to us: “This is My body… This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:26, 28). What does this mean? There are some things we should know first. In order to know what our sins are, we need to be familiar with God’s Law, which is nicely summarized in the Ten Commandments. We need to know who this God is that is coming to us in the Sacrament, which is nicely summarized in The Apostles’ Creed. We need to know how we are connected to this God in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. And we need to know, of course, what else the Scriptures say about Holy Communion. Now it just so happens that the Lutheran Church has collected all these nice summaries into a short booklet called “The Small Catechism.” It is simply a collection of Scripture passages with some explanations of them. These are the basics of the faith.

        • I dislike how the 1 Corinthians 11 verse is largely taken out of context by those who believe in closed communion. It wasn’t belief or lack thereof that the Apostle was condemning or warning about, it was behavior.

          17In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! …27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

          There is no way that this text can be faithfully exegeted for condemnation concerning the mental belief about the elements, rather its a condemnation for the lack of love and respect by those who were participating in the meal. To take the meal selfishly and without concern for your brother is what you need to examine within yourself.

          • Dormant Barbarian says:

            Before the boundaries for faithful exegesis on 1 Cor. 11 are drawn too quickly, please consider the manner in which many of the early church fathers have handled this text as well as Martin Luther and his fellow reformers and many exegetes of today that are far more brilliant than either of us.
            Context, of course, is key. The context here goes beyond behavior, for certainly belief and behavior are connected. In the opening chapter of this epistle, Paul is critical of the Corinthians’ divisive behavior. What should be done? They “should agree with one another so that there may be no divisions amnong [them] and that [they] may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1:10). What is the foundation of this unity? Christ crucified. We find a pattern here for the rest of the epistle: Paul addresses deviant behavior at Corinth (e.g. sexual immorality, lawsuits, pagan sacrifices, etc) and rather than just merely say stop, he finds the root of their problem in their deviant beliefs. Deviant belief yields deviant behavior. 1 Cor. 11 is no exception. Why does Paul need to reteach the Corinthians about Holy Communion in vv. 23-26? They have a deficient understanding of what is happening in the Sacrament. (There is more to be unpacked here, of course.)
            Secondly, consider the context of the word body in 1 Cor. 11. In v. 24 and v. 27, the word explicitly refers to Christ’s personal body. Then in chapter 12, the word is used of the church. Sitting in the middle of it all is v. 29–a very clever double entendre. Surely all of this should be understood in the context of 10:16-17: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a particiaption in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” Yes, context is key.

          • I respect Church Tradition but I do not think it flawless or inerrant (hence I’m a Protestant). You’re response only further proves my point. While I agree that errant beliefs can lead to errant behaviors, he is clearly concerned and condemning the behavior. It was for their behavior that “some fell sick and others died”. While beliefs about the elements may influence behavior, it doesn’t always. Good Catholics and Lutherans sin and they can even be selfish despite their mental beliefs concerning the elements. Paul is clearly calling them to account for their behavior towards others, as they partake in the Eucharist, lest they fall under judgment.

            But disrespectful and evil behavior can still be looked down upon even from a “memorial” standpoint. Just as certain behaviors can be condemned at a funeral or a wedding (even secular ones), one does not necessarily need to believe in Transubstantiation or Real Presence to enforce respect during communion. Disrespecting a memorial can be just as sacrilege as disrespecting a sacrament.

          • Dormant Barbarian says:

            In response to your 8:05 post:
            My reason for including the refrences to the church fathers was not to establish their words as the final authority but to suggest that, despite previous suggestions of unfaithful exegesis, a “closed communion reading” of this text is a legitimate possibility. Good exegesis does not just look at my own understanding nor only those of our generation. Good exegesis takes into consideration two thousand years of wrestling with such texts. Perhaps the ancient voices are wrong; perhaps those of today are wrong. But I would be arrogant to think that only MY reading is worthwhile. There is much more in the text to flesh out concerning the interplay between the behaviors of the Corithians and their beliefs surrounding the Sacrament. If you would care to see a different perspective, let me know.

  17. humanslug says:

    The first Eucharist meal was, of course, observed within the context of the Jewish Passover meal — which is a ritualized meal with a specific order and elements. But, in the midst of all the ritual, there is also a lot of room for informal fellowship, interaction, and improvisation (as can be seen in the gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper).
    The very early church continued this in the Love Feast, which, as I understand, was a mostly informal meal with a ritualized observance of the bread and wine elements occurring at some point in the meal.
    Later, as we all know, the informal aspect of the meal was gradually phased out, while the ritual part was emphasized and adorned with even more ritual, until love feasts were eventually banned by church authorities.
    Something about that historical progression bothers me and seems out of line with the character of Christ. Then again, current evangelicalism’s de-emphasis and marginalization of the Lord’s Supper bothers me, as well.
    As part of a small, simple church fellowship that centers our gatherings around a shared meal, I enjoy our time around the table more than anything else we do. It’s during that time that the relational business of our church mostly happens — all the encouraging and admonishing and strengthening that the NT writers so strongly emphasized.
    But I am increasingly starting to feel that a weekly observance of the bread and wine elements is needed to make our gatherings complete and to sharpen our focus on Christ. But I’m not quite sure how we would incorporate it or go about observing it. We’ve got no official clergy and no sacred or blessed utensils.
    And I’m not sure how the others would feel about the idea. I haven’t brought it up yet. Besides, none of us really has any experience conducting ritualized religious observances.
    I’m definitely open to suggestions.

    • I’m not quite sure how we would incorporate it or go about observing it. We’ve got no official clergy and no sacred or blessed utensils.

      And I pray you keep it that way. Add a blessing to the Father for the bread and wine, in the name and remembrance of the Son and His covenant with you, and a concurrent sharing of the loaf and cup, to your communal/communion meals, but don’t separate “the bread and wine elements” from the meal for a “weekly observance” of them.

      IMHO. 🙂

  18. To be extra simple and mundane about it, it is what you make of it. It is deeply mysterious but not magical. It is the communion of the elements with the heart of the partaker that embues it with life and meaning. Of course that’s stating the obvious. It has life, real life, when one is looking for it. For the half-hearted or disinterested it is empty ritual.

  19. A couple of thoughts, in no particular order, that I hope no one else has covered before. And I’m painting with a broad brush, so be merciful of my errors.

    The progression in Protestant churches over the past half millenium has been to move the real presence of Christ in worship to an increasingly subjective location. The real presence has gone from the Catholic view that Jesus really and truly does show up at the moment of consecration to the Reformed view of a spiritual presence. From there the real presence was moved to the reading and proclamation of the word, leading to the emphasis on the sermon mentioned above by Austin. From there, the real presence has moved into the subjective experience of each and every person in the room during the worship service. In other words, if _I feel_ God’s presence during the service, then God deigned to show up that morning. Notice the movement from concrete and communal (bread and wine shared by the congregation) to something ethereal and individual.

    I am convinced that a lot of the sturm and drang contained in the worship wars finds its grounding in the terror felt by the congregation in the possibility of missing the presence of God: of not _feeling_ anything during worship. This terror is passed on to the worship leaders (pastors, musicians) who find themselves having to work harder and harder, attempting to produce that special feeling of God’s presence for each and every person. That this is ultimately a pagan notion–that the gods only descend to bless us when we get all the words and actions right–turns worship into acts of works righteousness, not a simple receiving of the grace of God.

    I’ll stop there with that line of thought and pass along this tidbit that Dale Bruner got from a Catholic friend: “Worship without the Eucharist is like a man marrying a woman and then talking to her all night.”

    • “That this is ultimately a pagan notion–that the gods only descend to bless us when we get all the words and actions right–turns worship into acts of works righteousness, not a simple receiving of the grace of God.”

      Let me rephrase that disaster of a sentence:

      That this is ultimately a pagan notion-that the gods only descend to bless us when we get all the words and actions right–escapes all involved. Ultimately, it turns worship into a chain of acts of works righteousness, not a simple receiving and responding to the grace of God.

    • Those are some thought pondering comments….

    • I’ve said it before here, and I’ll say it again: a LOT of evangelical churches treat emotional participation in worship music as being sacramental.

      • Rev Dave says:

        Cuts out part of the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” defintion of a sacrament, doesn’t it?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          More like reduces it to swaying like seaweed in a current, eyes closed and hands raised.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        In my church, Christ is viewed as most present when the sermon gets scrapped and there’s unplanned singing and testimonies. He’s REALLY REALLY REALLY present if someone runs the aisles. And if people start carrying the Christian and American flags around, you’d best look out, because we just got ushered into the holy of holies. But…presence in communion at all? *snort*

        It’s sad.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          He’s REALLY REALLY REALLY present if someone runs the aisles.

          How about barking like dogs, laughing like hyenas, and other behavior more associated with Voudoun?

          And if people start carrying the Christian and American flags around, you’d best look out, because we just got ushered into the holy of holies.

          As in their version of the Eucharist, to the tune of “God Bless America!”?

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I would qualify this more clearly that you are talking about the Reformed tradition. The Lutheran tradition is quite different, with a strong emphasis on real presence. Most strains of American Protestantism derive, with varying degrees of indirectness, from the Reformed tradition. The irony is that the Reformed tradition is more rationalistic, so my “liberal” Lutheran church has a much deeper sense of divine mystery in this regard than does an Evangelical church.

      • Rev Dave says:

        Yep. Skipped right over Herr Luther. And to further split hairs, Zwingli, not Calvin, is the more influential Reformer on protestant eucharistic practices. But I was trying to paint with a broad brush.

  20. Clay Crouch says:

    Eagle, you would be welcome at the communion rail of our little Episcopal parish. All are welcome, especially the doubters. That probably goes for most if not all Episcopal churches. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world.”

    • Clay,

      Your thoughts on the Diocese on Oregon (TEC) that is trying to move towards dropping the restrictions on even being baptized to recieve communion?

      Austin

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Austin,

        I’ve been thinking about that very thing recently. To be honest, I’m ambivalent. What got me to thinking about truly open communion was the book, Take This Bread, by Sara Miles. She had a radical conversion she attributes to receiving communion as an atheist. I can understand those who are resistant to any obstacle placed before the Body and Blood of Christ. When I returned to TEC (from a Southern Baptist church) it was the Word and Sacrament that made all the difference. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll continue to straddle ;o)

        • Isaac (except when I'm Obed) says:

          While I definitely maintain a belief that being a baptized Christian is a proper requirement for Communion, Miles’ book is the strongest argument for completely open communion. I disagree with her on a lot of stuff, but love to hear her interviewed nonetheless.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            When reading her book, I ran the gamut from deeply moved to frustrated to angry and back again. But I don’t remember a book that brought me to tears as often as her’s . Let’s just say that she is not a good, aged, single barrel bourbon, but moonshine right out of the still.

  21. I wish that evangelicals would get over the need to have noise going on all the time. When my church holds communion, which is fairly often compared to other Baptist churches in our area, our pianist plays hymns the whole time the bread & wine (or in our case, grape juice) is being served. I find it more distracting than helpful, because I’m trying to meditate and the music interferes. Silence in worship is definitely a lost art.

    • CJ,

      Silence is odd to us sometimes isn’t it? When we have special Eucharists during the week they are understandably with folks schedules these days not crowded events. Because of that we hold them in our chapel. I don’t ask the organist to play b/c she likes to sit out from time to time and I just dont’ feel right asking our part time organist to work extra preparing music for these services unless they are big ones like Good Friday or Ash Wednesday.

      This past Monday we had a spoken Eucharist for the Annunciation. The silence was profound.

      • Austin, it’s not only odd, it’s downright disconcerting to most people because they don’t know how to handle it anymore. I’ve tried unsuccessfully for several years, first with our previous pastor and now our current one, to get times of silence built into services. Not all the time, but if we’re going to call a meeting a prayer meeting, then make it a time for people to pray and include time for silence. But no one wants to go for that; we’re losing the ability to appreciate silence, which can be the very time for the best communion with God. No wonder our churches are full of starving sheep.

    • Excellent points from CJ and Austin. You know, as evangelicals we expect a host of greeters handing out gift baskets to first time guests in our churches…In the first Anglican church I visited, I was handed a bulletin, and then stepped into a silent sanctuary. People were kneeling and praying silently prior to the service. I’ve often heard that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, and only goes where invited…I’m pretty sure He felt right at home in that place…

  22. IMO and experience (Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Churches) and study (Scripture, Dix, Bradshaw, Apostolic Fathers, Pelikan, Ferguson, Bouyer, ancient liturgies, etc.), when the church separated the “Eucharist” from the meal of which it was a part, and then later introduced a sacerdotalism and ordained priesthood to officiate/confect it and deemed it a “sacrament,” it lost its Jewish meal/zikkaron and family-gathering moorings and became something neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever intended it to be.

    “Closed” versus “Open”? I think it depends on whether the Lord’s Table is a repeat of a covenant meal like Jesus had with His group at His Last Supper, or a continuation of the meals Jesus had with tax collectors and sinners and whoever wanted to hear about the Kingdom of God. Arguments can be made for both.

  23. Joseph (the original) says:

    Communion. Eucharist. Jesus present. A remembrance. Common union. Communal participation. The elements. Unleavened bread. Leavened bread. Wine (red or white). Sweet or dry. Grape juice (red or white). Crackers.

    The presence. The real presence. The more real presence. The most real presence.

    Sorta like the concept of a Holy Ghost baptism being that extra spiritual ‘umph’ to live a godly life that Pentecostals emphasize?

    Those dear saints that are not Pentecostal or charismatic only have a partial Holy Spirit dwelling in them? All sanctification but no power???

    And those saints of varying worship tradition only have a partial Jesus in their communion expression? Jesus only a temporary tenant in the hearts of His saints without the Real Presence? Just His spirit but not His body???

    Where I think the communion misunderstandings happen is in this very jit & tottle of frequency, elements, ritual, method of consecration, theological hair splitting, etc. at the expense of appreciating its grander communal worship dynamic. I appreciate most the communal aspect that seems to be downplayed or simply ignored during the times of celebrating communion. And shouldn’t it be a partaking together? Not the individual receiving it, but the congregation partaking together? That is what I do appreciate about the deliberate times of corporate communion I have experienced in certain Evangelical services…

    • I can only say that in the Anglican tradition we either line up and kneel at the altar, or are served standing up, so I have always sensed that I am in community when I take Eucharist. It is a group activity, but we are served individually.

      A lot different than sitting in a pew doing it by myself.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        i can appreciate your personal perception of participating in the ‘group’ dynamic, since my former RCC background in most ways mirrors such a methodology…

        however, individual communion is not the same as a corporate meal/experience no matter how spiritualized it is made out to be. it becomes part of the tradition that has become accepted in spite of the fact it in no way represents what happened at the Last Supper (does the title give any clue?) to what the Passover Seder was…

        i have done the RCC, the Episcopal/Anglican, the Lutheran, the Orthodox, communion participation. none of them begin to resemble the ‘supper’ aspect or the communal (all together) participation that was clearly expressed in the gospel accounts…

        so, the manner which Christian ‘communion’ is presented is not what Jesus did in the Last Supper while highlighting its key component of the Passover Seder. no one can make such a connection no matter how convinved they are that their ‘tradition’ does it ‘rightly’…

        i have sat at the Passover feast with a Jewish family where the entire Reader’s Digest condensed version is annually celebrated. amazing how much the feasting (corporate) participation is not just an add-on, but the entire crux of the ceremony. even in its abreviated rendition, the tradition is preserved. imagine the Last Supper that took many hours to celebrate with each element deliberate & detailed. the individual taking communion in any faith tradition today has no similiarity at all.

        now you may argue that in your ‘tradition’ such rituals/changes were practical or inspirational or simplified. the emphasis now on a separate clergy who alone have the ‘power(s)’ to pronounce bread & wine the Real Presence of Jesus bodily. you may insist on such a prerequisite based on such traditional precedent. i will still make the obvious point that it in now way mirrors what happened at the Last Supper as recorded for us in the gospel accounts…

      • In most evangelical churches I have attended, we are served by the passing of the bread, and the cup(s) and then we hold each element until all have been served and partake together.

  24. I don’t think anyone or any church can afford to be too dogmatic or judgemental when it comes to communion beliefs and practices. There is precious little information about it in the scriptures. And what little info we have is difficult to understand.

    • +1

      THAT is one of the main problems with The Lord’s Supper/Table/Communion/Eucharist. The Gospel/NT/Early Church sources are somewhat disparate with each other, as well as incomplete/unclear. Any C/church which claims to have “the” (or even “a”) clear and proper teaching and understanding of this practice/rite/”sacrament” has chosen and emphasized some historical/theological/textual elements to the exclusion and de-emphasis of others.

    • That concept can be applied to just about anything in Scripture when it comes to how to live as a Christian. I think it’s highly significant that Jesus never outlined a full 10-step program — he only emphasized the commands to love the Lord with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Period.

  25. Final Anonymous says:

    With all due respect to those of you (the majority, it seems) who derive great meaning from the Eucharist, I still don’t get it.

    I WANT to get it. In fact, ChrisS’s comment really made me stop and think — am I going in half-hearted or disinterested? I don’t think so. Cynical and skeptical, yes, but open enough to learn something new, and I still don’t get it. Raised in a mainline that was quite liturgical at times, and still it all seemed like empty ritual to me.

    And all the hoopla surrounding everything — who can take it? Real or symbolic? What if a priest doesn’t bless it, is it still communion? Talk about taking the focus away from Christ. Depending on the service, there is nothing that makes me feel further away from God, dealing with meaningless man-made drama, than communion.

    Please understand I am being blunt and honest only about my own experiences. I really DO want to understand why it is so beautiful to others. Does anyone have a resource, a book, a website, they can recommend? Do you think some of us just programmed differently, able to commune with God best in the real wilderness, away from what feel like the trappings of institutional church?

    • myowname says:

      the best one that i remember
      is when i brought flat bread and real wine for a small group there…
      and one of the developmentally delayed men raised his hand and asked
      “Can I please serve the bread!”

      (He was so happy to do it…
      Maybe that would help ya’ll…)

      So… he took the whole package of flat bread (and it was cracker-like-crispy)
      and he lifted his hand and thanked God and the snapped that pile of flat bread like
      there was no tomorrow! Cracker crumbs when flying!

      And I LOVED IT!

      So, then, he passed everyone there the bread… And I thought, “What God calles
      Holy is holy…. and it wasn’t all perfect and stuff.. I sounded beautiful to me.

      Now, sometimes I see “fancy” like that too…
      It’s cute when the guys want to look real fancy about it, isn’t it?

    • Rev Dave says:

      I’ll point you to two things that have deeply influenced my thinking on communion.

      First is this article from Touchstone: http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-02-023-f .

      Second is Eugene Peterson’s extended reflection on communion in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places”, focusing on the verbs in the liturgy: take, break, bless, give.

      And don’t think you have to ‘get’ communion to take it. Anybody who claims to truly understand it, doesn’t.

    • To Final Anonymous…reading The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn
      could be helpful to you. Hahn was a Protestant minister/professor until he attended a Catholic Mass out of curiousity after he kept coming across writings about the liturgy of the ancient church. He has been Catholic since, I think, around 1986, and has written a number of books and he appears on the Catholic TV channel, EWTN. He says that each Mass is “heaven on earth” and he shows how the Book of Revelation and the Mass are so closely related. Good luck!

      I have to say that there are some things about the Eucharist that still seem…odd…to me. In some areas of the world, it is popular to put a consecrated Host in a monstrance and parade it around in the streets in a celebratory fashion. Maybe it is because I am an American or because I am a quiet, shy type of Catholic Christian, but it just doesn’t seem right to me.

      • Radagast says:

        JoanieD,

        We also have Eucharistic Adoration (exposition of the Eucharist) here in the states as well. I have experienced this and I find it a great time just to sit and be silent for a while – something that would have been hard for me 20 years ago – and now I crave….

        I have also read Scott’s book as well… Scott has an interesting take on things….

    • Isaac (except when I'm Obed) says:

      Not to beat a dead horse, but again, I’d like to recommend the works of Robert Webber, especially “Worship is a Verb.” Studying that book in my grad studies is what kickstarted my appreciation of the Eucharist.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        Thanks for your stories and suggestions everyone. I realize I just may never understand the thrill, but I’d like to give it a try.

      • Issac, I was thinking I had read a book by Robert Webber, but when I looked through his list of books, I didn’t find it. But now I see it was Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. I don’t have the book right here to see if there was a section on Holy Communion, but the book is worth reading for any reason. But I do want to read some of Webber’s works as well.

  26. Moonshadow says:

    Isn’t this the difference between Protestantism on the Continent (mainland Europe) and in the British Isles? My opinion is that, as more and more writings from mainland European thinkers become available in English, their influence is increasing on American Evangelicalism.

  27. Stanislav says:

    Stepping back a bit, what should be the most central features of a Christian church service?

    For Catholics and Orthodox, the answer is (a) the formal reading of the gospel according to a lectionary, and (b) communion, in which is understood to be actually present (in a way which would not otherwise be true).

    Liturgical Protestants are the products of Reformation-era compromises between pressure to eliminate Catholic aspects, and a countervailing desire on the part of north European governments to control the pace of Reformation, maintain power over the population through large state churches, and finesse sectarian conflict. Thus they continue to practice Communion, albeit in a somewhat lessened role.

    The radical Reformers identified any number of alternative foci for Christianity, ranging from nudism and communal living to the Quaker values of peace and simplicity. The Baptist emphasis on adult baptism has its origins in this milieu.

    Pentecostals point to tongue-speaking, spiritual healing, prophecy, and exorcism as central practices of the New Testament, without which church is dead.

    Some churches really do wash one another’s feet.

    The liberal tradition of the Social Gospel emphasizes Christ’s command to feed the hungry, etc. as most central to his message.

    All of these perspectives (except perhaps nudism) have some basis in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. It is not an easy thing to decide which aspects Jesus though of as most central to his message, or whether some of them (like communal living or exorcism) may be imappropriate for the modern age. Limiting myself to the issue of communion, most writers link it to the Passover ritual (which I believe survives in the synagogue service as the blessing of the wine and bread).

    The book “Rabbi Jesus” speculates that the ritual originated as Jesus’s adaptation of the blessing of offerings to be presented to the Temple for sacrifice, and that it represented his radical rejection of the then-prevailing purity requirements, which served to benefit an elite class of religious professionals. It occurs to me that despite Protestant rhetoric about the “priesthood of all believers,” most Christian churches have such a class of religious professionals as well, who are equally concerned to preserve a role for themselves, and that pressure from this group has been responsible for preserving many ritual elements such as communion.

    • Stanislav says:

      I should have added an “Evangelical” category for whom the central element is conversion and missionary work. And perhaps there should be a “pietist” category emphasizing personal prayer.

      In any case, the Bible is a multifaceted book, and Christ too is difficult to reduce to any single message or symbol. Perhaps Christianity is best served with numerous churches, each with its own unique emphasis (whether this includes communion in some form, or not).