Monday, November 05, 2007


I am often blown away by the powerful imprint of Western culture. When my wife recently asked my nephew what his favorite food is, he said "McDonald's." I'm not sure he even realizes that McDonald's is not a food group. I think my wife was thinking of something like "potatoes." My nephew was thinking of french fries. Modernity delivers some ironic twists. I call the church version of this malady "pre-processed Christianity." Among other things, pre-processed Christians think that you can't have church without a peaked-roof building, a lit cross on the front wall of the auditorium, fresh flowers on the altar and name tags on the ushers. Sadly, pre-processed Christians lack understanding about what underlies these traditions, or went before them.

At a recent Lord's Supper I was confronted with my own "pre-processed-ness" (OK, now I am really making up words). First, let me set up the "problem." In Burlington, Washington, where I pastor, at the last service on Sundays (11:30 am) we take a break after the singing, before the message, to eat lunch together. We have sandwiches and soup set in the back of the auditorium for everyone. We take about a 10-minute break to enjoy food and fellowship. We've only been doing this for a few weeks, but it's proved to be a lot of fun. So this last Sunday I was faced with a dilemma. How do I integrate the Lord's Supper with our lunch? Are we going to enjoy a meal together, and then turn around and pass out a small cracker, and a thimble-sized cup of juice? Something's not right with this picture.

Then I caught myself. Just the fact that I am trying to figure out how to make a lunch go together with the Lord's Supper shows how far removed we are from the original episode. The Lord's Supper was, after all, a meal. A feast, really. The feast of Passover. Jesus is seen reclining with his disciples. It appears that it is when the meal is mostly over that Jesus takes the bread still on the table (probably a mat on the floor instead of what you've seen in pictures) and indicates special symbolism ("this is my body"). The scripture says that "after the supper" He took the cup and said, "this is the blood of the new covenant." But the Lord's Supper wasn't divorced from the supper. It was the supper.

As near as I can tell from Scripture, the early church carried on this format of a meal. When Paul corrects the Corinthian church for problems in administrating the Lord's supper, the top two issues were people forcing their way to the front of the line, and overeating, not leaving food for others (1 Corinthians 11:20,21). Kind of reminds you of your own family gatherings, doesn't it? You sometimes feel you need a fork, not for the food, but to keep your brother from eating it all.

It is only in pre-processed Christianity that we feel "stuck" trying to deliver the smallest cracker in the world, and calling it communion. I think we're maybe missing something of the original joy, the sharing, the supper. So here's how I "solved" the problem: Prior to eating lunch at the 11:30 service I told the folks about how the early Christians ate meals together. I commented on the original setting with Christ and His disciples. I spoked of Paul's rebukes in 1 Corinthians. Then I said, today we are eating this meal "in remembrance of Christ." We had larger chunks of bread and cups of juice on the table as well. Following the meal I said a prayer of thanks for the Lord's provision for all of us. It felt a little wierd, to be sure. But I told the people in attendance that our experience today was probably closer to to that of the first century church.

Oh yeah. One other part to the story. At the very end of the service, while we were singing the last song, a man came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Can you tell everyone to go back and get communion? Not everyone got juice when they went through the line." I smiled and said, "We'll let this be our mulligan." Modernity strikes again!


I'm pretty certain that the above discussion of the Lord's Supper will leave some of you disturbed and defensive. The subject, as it should be, I guess, is pretty personal and powerful. If we can step back from the topic a moment, and dial down the emotions, we will realize that well-meaning Christians can behave in different ways here, and we can all be family. At CTK, we have tried hard to "keep the main thing the main thing." As Augustine said, "In essential matters unity, in non-essential matters diversity, in all matters charity."

I recently had a man leave CTK in Burlington over the issue of our administration of the Lord's Supper. His main concerns were that we don't observe it weekly, and that we don't sufficiently warn people to not take it unless they are "worthy" of taking it. Here's some of my correspondence with him. I'm only giving you my side of the conversation, but perhaps you can glean from it. I'm not giving this to you to try to convince you to see the world the way I do, just so you know that there are truly different ways the world can be seen. Just for the record, the man left our fellowship a couple months before we did the lunch/Lord's Supper deal. I'm sure that would have really set him off!

Letter #1

Thanks for writing.

The Lord's Supper is an area where believers have differing views, so I hope that even if we don't come to the same conclusions that we can stay in fellowship. There is a lot of church history that colors the ideas folks have. I don't imagine that I have perfect clarity on these issues either, so I'm open to ideas and discussion.

Here are a few brief responses, and then we can get together if we'd like.

When Paul uses the phrase unworthily/unworthy manner it seems to me that he is referring to an actual problem described three verses earlier....

When ye come together therefore into one place, [this] is not to eat the Lord's suppers. For in eating every one taketh before [other] his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise [you] not.

Many have taken the word "unworthily" out of context and then defined it as "not being worthy of taking the supper" (either because they are not believers, or not living a godly life, etc.)

At the Lord's Supper (the passover meal) Jesus served Judas first, which was a symbol of honor and inclusion (the honored guest at the meal). It is not clear from John 13 when Judas left, but he left "after the supper," and after dark.

I do believe that people need to observe the Supper reflectively, but I'm not certain it is required that I give a "warning". I don't see Jesus doing that in the original supper even though he knew Judas was there. I am aware than many churches/pastors do this, particularly if they practice closed communion. Some churches I know don't allow folks to take communion unless they are saved, baptized, members, and "prayed up." I used to agree with this approach, but don't any more. It seems to come out of fear-based/legalistic traditions, but not from scripture. I believe that Jesus' only limitations (other than Paul's instructions about decorum) are that we do this "in remembrance of" him. So I think it is important for me/someone to explain the significance of the elements and that the taking of them be reverent and mindful of Him. But conceivably, someone could "receive" Christ for the first time in observance of the Lord's supper, though I believe the supper is more of a memorial than a transubstantiation or consubstantiation (the Catholic and Lutheran ideas).

In general, I don't believe the elements of communion are about how good we (the eaters) are, but how good Christ to us. I'm not sure I've ever taken the Lord's supper "worthily" if by that is meant I was worthy of it.

Letter #2

I agree with a lot of your thoughts here. I would say that I have a spiritual connection to Christ by faith, not because of the Lord's supper. But I believe that the Lord's supper celebrates and reinforces that connection to be sure. Both John 6 and 1 Cor 5 speak of spiritual partaking of Christ, not the Lord's Supper. If the Lord's supper is in view in John 6, then we should be serving flesh along with bread, since Jesus used the word flesh as much as bread, and his listeners understood him that way. These are metaphors that help us to understand both passover, by looking at Christ, and Christ, by looking at passover. The metaphor does not stand on all fours, nor should it.

The challenge is what did Jesus mean when he said, "This is my body." I believe the meaning was clarified by the word "remembrance" - that is, that these elements signify or symbolize his body. There is a view called the "spiritual presence" view of the Lord's supper, that God is not physically present in the bread when blessed (transubstantiation) or physically present in the bread when eaten (consubstantiation), but that he is "spiritually present" in the elements - that the elements do actually "contain" Christ, just not physically. I do not subscribe to this view. It sounds as if you might. And if so, that is ok. Again, I think that there are different conclusions that people come to, and like Augustine said, "In essential matter unity, in non-essential matters diversity, in all matters charity."

With apologies to Halley, I think it is a difficult idea to support that the supper happened after Judas left, instead of before. I think it might be better to say that either a) Judas was a believer, hence his participation, or b) that Judas never ate the bread that was given to him (and Jesus knew He wouldn't). But remember in John 13:18 Jesus set up the whole context by saying this is a fulfillment of prophecy "He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me." The ceremony described is a passover meal - bread dipped in juice, etc. But what Christ asked his followers to "remember" him by were just two elements of it.

Letter #3

To give you an overview of the issue, there are four views, each commonly and widely held, about the nature of the statement "this is my body."

1. Transubstantiation, (Christ's body, physicallly present in the elements after being blessed by the priest)
2. Consubstantiation, (Christ's body, physcially present in the elements, upon partaking)
3. Spiritual View, (Christ's body, spiritually present in the elements, upon partaking)
4. Memorial View, (elements are a memorial to Christ's body and sacrifice)

I happen to take view number four. I do not consider my view to be heretical, but a legitimate interpretation from scripture. By number of adherents, it is probably the most widely held view among protestants. I believe that when Jesus says, "This is my body" he explains himself further with the words "in remembrance of me." You are not required to interpret this the same way as me. I could be wrong. But I have good fellowship with a number of folks who interpret things differently, and was hoping that you would continue to be my friend, even if I took a differing view than you. But please don't imagine that I have departed from "a basic foundational issue of Christian belief." I have not. I also believe that it is incorrect to assert that only "your way" would yield a "deep and personal relationship with Christ in the spirit." I'm afraid you are confusing style with substance. The impact of the Lord's supper on a participant may be substantial regardless of style.

There are three views, commonly and widely held, about the participants (who is the you in "broken for you"?):

1. Closed communion (only church members may participate)
2. Open communion (anyone can participate)
3. Close communion (those who understand the spiritual significance can participate)

I happen to take view number three. I always explain the significance of the elements, and I always set a tone that is appropriate so that people do not participate casually. Frankly, I set a reverent tone in which people of varying views can truly worship Christ in harmony during the partaking of the elements. I know this to be the case, because at CTK there are folks from Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist backgrounds, and I have received good feedback on our Lord Supper times. Here again, there are believers who feel we (I) should somehow police the Lord's Supper, or at least scare people away from it. I have fellowship with them, and it is always my hope that they can have fellowship with me. But again, I do not view my perspective to be a departure from faithfulness to Christ, but based on my true understanding of scripture, both what Christ did and said at the original Lord's Supper, and Paul's instructions (in context) in Corinthians.

As to frequency, there is no "one way" here, and no biblical or historical evidence that the early church celebrated the Lord's supper weekly, as you assert. But even so, Paul's instructions were "as often as you do this." He could have easily given us a schedule, but He did not. This is an area in which there is freedom. In areas of freedom there should be grace extended for leaders to set different schedules. Even within CTK there is variety. Some Worship Centers observe the Lord's supper weekly, some monthly, some every other month, some quarterly. In addition, we have small groups that observe the Lord's Supper weekly (a couple in Burlington do this). Other small groups do not observe the Lord's supper at all (only in the corporate Worship Service). This is fine. This is not, in my opinion, something to be dogmatic about. This is personal preference. It always grieves me when believers break fellowship over personal preference. But this is your choice. We live in a free country, as we celebrate today.

Finally, I've got to say that your closing statement is offensive to me. To write that "We are praying though,that you will sometime along grasp the importance of all this" is a statement that is quite demeaning and pedantic. You are assuming that if I knew as much as you do on this subject, or cared as much as you do about it, that I would come to your view. I have tried to remain egalitarian in all my correspondence with you, and I will continue to do so. If you have further conversation with me, I request that you treat me with as much respect.

As the scripture has told me to do, I have tried to gently correct you from some misunderstandings and the dogmatism with which you have taken your positions. I hope that I have treated you kindly. Personally, I am not praying that you will grasp what I grasp on this topic. You actually may be right, and I may be wrong. I am praying that you will understand that our fellowship in Christ does not require 100% agreement on all issues, just the issues that are eternal, life-changing and life-giving. I am hoping that you will not leave CTK over this, but if you choose to do so, please know that I love you and XXXX and wish you well.....

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