Contextualized Communion

Nick wrote about contextualized preaching.  My turn.  New subject: The Lord’s Supper.

Miami is dominated by Catholic Culture.  It seems as if everyone is Catholic but only a small portion of the everyone goes to mass.  It shows up in language, rites of passage, apparel, everything.  Miami is culturally Catholic. In my opinion, the appropriate posture for reaching into this culture with the Gospel is to take on a posture of leverage as opposed to an adversarial posture.

So, where possible/profitable, we leverage some traditionally Catholic forms within our context where possible.  One such area is Communion.

COMMON CUP

I’m not the biggest fan of a pre-packaged juice in a plastic cup with a aluminum partition for a wafer though I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with it.  But, the symbolism of a common cup is beautiful.  The meaning is deep.  And, it fits wholly within Pentecostal Theology.

Beyond the symbolism, we are able to bring a familiar piece of religious culture into a venue that is almost devoid of religious pictures.  It is a bridge into a new church culture that speaks deeply and provides a common reference point.

Our Pentecostal theology shows up each week during Communion as the communion tables become a place of prayer where our leaders are able to lay hands on the sick, pray for the hurting, and lead people to repentance. The Communion table and the common cup becomes a point where Jesus is lifted up, grace is revealed, and repentance is called for.

In our culture, the practice we engage is beautiful, understandable, significant, and it creates a bridge from the dominant culture into a minority counter-culture.

  • What elements of church have you contextualized?
  • What are you doing presently that may need to be reimagined and reinvented as a Scripturally faithful culturally comprehensible practice?
Advertisements

48 Responses

  1. Travis,

    Are you using the communion table in lieu of an altar call??

    I’ve been exploring the idea as well. Much of our country is dominated by the Catholic culture. I’ve also thought that weekly communion may be more appropriate than the monthly/quarterly thing. (At least for what we want to do.)

    One thing I’ve found missing at our church is some sort of response time… ie: communion, altar call, prayer time, etc… I feel like it’s one of the things that is really missing from where I’m at. But it’s also a non-denominational church born from the Southern Baptists.

    I’ve been talking with one of my team mates, and we’re looking at response options.. Instead of the traditional altar call at the end, it’s something similar, but no pressure.. There would be options on how to respond — prayer, praise, communion, singing, meditating…. whatever you’re thing is.. We want to be ecumenical and reach try to cast a wide net..

  2. Very interesting, Travis.

    I also minister in a strongly Roman Catholic culture and yet we’ve gone in a totally opposite direction – for reasons of both contextualization and theological concern.

    In an Irish Roman Catholic mass you get people who have no relationship with God yet they participate in taking the eucharist more as a badge of identification with Catholicism as their cultural identity as Irish people (this is more inculturation than contextualization – but that is a big enough issue to merit a future blog entry on its own!). This is rigorously enforced. For example, some years ago our nation’s President visited an Episcopalian Church and, out of politeness, received communion. For this she was publicly rebuked in the press and on live TV by the country’s senior Catholic clergy. To partake of heretical communion was, in their eyes, a denial of her membership of Christ’s ‘one true Church’.

    So, on a contextual level, for us to celebrate communion on a Sunday morning would actually clash with our purpose of the Sunday morning as a seeker friendly outreach service (BTW, forget any ideas of seeker friendly meaning compromise etc. Our’s is a thoroughly Pentecostal seeker service). We want visitors to our church to forget denominational labels and consider Christ’s claims upon their life. To include the communion in that mix in an Irish context would be to ask our visitors from the first visit to do something that would seem like they were repudiating their national heritage.

    Secondly, and I think more importantly, there is a theological issue here. I strongly believe that the Catholic mass has devalued communion by making it something that every attender does, whether they actually believe in the doctrine or not. It has become a mystical ritual that people don’ty really understand – but they do it because it seems vaguely religious or spiritual.

    This unthinking religiosity is invading Pentecostalism as well. I was troubled at the GA to hear an ordained Bishop propose an amendment to the (ultimately failed) motion concerning Exhorters that spoke of administering ‘the sacraments’ instead of the ‘ordinances’ of communion and baptism. I went from being troubled to being flabbergasted when another ordained Bishop came to a mic and asked “What about the sacrament of marriage?” !!!!!! When even our pastors are so confused about these basic issues then what chance does the first time visitor have?

    So our response has been to take the communion out of the Sunday service altogether. Instead we set aside a midweek service every 4 to 6 weeks and celebrate both communion and water baptism. (Having regular water baptisms also encourages the membership to realize and rejoice in how quickly the church is growing). This way our communion service is seen as something that Christians do – enabling us to teach properly on the meaning and significance of the ordinance. It is also pretty special when baptismal candidates celebrate their ‘first communion’ as believers prior to going in the pool.

    As for the common cup. I like the idea of it as being more biblical – but it’s pretty nasty when you’re last in line and there are globs of saliva and breadcrumbs floating in a soupy mix! Also some people were concerned about AIDS since we have a few folks in the church who are HIV+. I tried to reassure them that you would have to drink 2 gallons of saliva to catch AIDS that way – but that just grossed people out more. The rush to take communion first while the wine was still clean was geeting too unseemly – so we reluctantly switched to little individual plastic cups.

  3. Nick,

    Great stuff. I especially love the first communion being given just before baptism. That is a beautiful thing. Here are a few responses:

    HYGIENE OF THE COMMON CUP
    While we use a common cup, we don’t drink out of it. We dip the bread into the juice.

    PARTICIPATION IN COMMUNION
    I found that in passing communion, everyone received the elements as it was passed around. Now, we fence the table and explain each week that it is for followers of Jesus.

    It becomes an opportunity for repentance and commitment to Jesus.

    THE VALUE OF COMMUNION
    Communion seems to be missing from our Pentecostal services and loses value by being ignored. Ultimately, we are responsible for placing an appropriate value on it as ministers in leading people into communion and as individuals in receiving it.

    Like any aspect of the church, Communion can easily become routine or forgotten.

    PARTICIPATING IN COMMUNION WITH NO RELATIONSHIP
    I continue to struggle with this. I have since the first time I’ve ever led the receiving of Communion. I have resigned myself to teach, lead, be mutually submitted to my church, and to trust that the Gospel will work in the lives of my church family and those who are curious about my church family.

    While me make the request that only followers of Christ who have allowed Christ to make themselves right with Him, I know people participate in Communion unworthily. At the end of the day, I can only be responsible for righting myself with Christ.

    This aspect of any Communion has always been a challenge…believe it will probably remain so.

  4. Brandon,

    We don’t use it in lieu of an altar call. But, it is our altar area. Necissity is the mother of invention. Since, we literally have no altar space (the front row and the stage touch), we had to rethink through how church was happening for us.

    Communion happens for us during the song set. Each table has someone administering communion and someone to pray with people. We have four tables with 8 leaders. Without a doubt, the Communion tables are a significant place in our worship environment where people find a place to interact with God, present their needs, find grace through repentance, and bring requests for someone to agree with them in prayer. It is often our most significant personal spiritual intersection in our church service.

    At the end of the message, we provide an opportunity for people to pray for one another in groups. We also communicate to people if they need special prayer at the close of the service where in the venue they can go.

    We always use our connection cards as written instrument stating what commitments/decisions they made during the service. Yesterday, there were over 100 spiritual and practical commitments ranging from commitments to follow Christ/baptism to child dedication and membership and specific prayer needs. By the time yesterday was over, everyone of those people received appropriate follow-up to help move them forward on their journey with Christ.

    In the end, I wouldn’t say that the Communion stations have replaced an “end of service altar call.” But, it is a really large part of who we are. And, people are able to participate in the spontaneity that characterizes our tribe…even if it is organized a little differently.

  5. Brandon,
    At our church, we have a “response” time after the sermon in each service. The altars are open for those who want to come and pray there, and there is also the option for you to pray/respond where you are.

    I’ve been here (Westhaven COG in Jackson, MS) for 4 years, and I have to say – this has worked much better than what I’ve seen other churches do.

    I do really like the idea of a weekly communion at the end of the service as a response time. We do communion once a month, which is more than what I’ve experienced elsewhere; but, I like the idea of celebrating communion each week (I would go with separate cups though, or dipping).

  6. Kevin,

    We did communion at the end of the service for about a year. We quit doing it mainly because there was a rolling close to our service. People would take communion and leave. I guess they were out of there seats so they walked out the doors like a bunch of lemmings.

    The symbolism there and the message we shared was, “You have received Christ who was broken and spilled out for you. Now, go into the world and do the same.” It was beautiful. But, it was a competing value with our heart for community. People tended to leave the building as individuals.

    We moved it to the middle of our song set, which is a spiritually significant time. People’s emotions are being tapped. They are looking inside themselves. The Holy Spirit is working significantly throughout the crowd. For us, that has been a good fit.

    The vacuum it left at the end was perfect for us to move people to make commitments and next steps in writing. Now, we have an ability to follow-up with tangible/actionable next steps on Sunday afternoon. We’ve seen quantifiable results.

    I think we may have worked around some cultural issues and rhythms associated with other religious cultures and have been able to disrupt how they think its supposed to happen…exactly the opposite of what we’ve tried to accomplish with Communion itself.

  7. You guys have found an interesting topic for someone who was alternately Episcopalian and Roman Catholic.

    First: the technical term for dipping the bread into the wine/grape juice is “intiction,” and is one I was raised with as an Episcopalian. Using non-alcoholic grape juice and having HIV+ people in the congregation, I think the hygiene issues are legitimate. They actually go both ways, since the HIV+ people are more susceptible to infection because of their condition.

    Second, I went back and forth on this issue from an Anglican viewpoint with my blog partner from down Kevin Walker’s way at

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=345

    My arguments can be applied to both liturgical and non-liturgical situations.

    Third, Nick Park’s comments about how vacuously Roman Catholics receive what Jaques-Benigne Bossuet referred to as the “sacred pledge of the Eucharist” are spot on. That was a major bone of contention between the Jesuits and the Jansenists in seventeenth century France, and you can see that the Jesuits’ victory has stuck. His comments about the employment of the term “sacrament” in a Pentecostal context are also true. If we’re going to use this term, we need to explain what it means and the changes to our existing theology that it implies.

    Fourth, on the stampede out of church after Communion, that too is a good Catholic practice. I found that out the first time I visited St. Edward’s in Palm Beach:

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=357

  8. In our context here communion has taken on the sense of renewal, revival and recommitment. I always emphasize the fact that this act is not sacramental in that the act itself does not confer any grace to the participant, but it is symbolic of the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the provisions of the cross to the believer. We practice an open communion and invite all who are present to come first to the altar to prepare their heart before they receive the ordinance.

    As far as scheduling is concerned I tend to play it by ear. Whenever I sense that the life of the church needs re-tuning I plan a communion service. (BTW I am the same way with calling fasts). On average I would say we have communion 5-8 times a year. Last year we did 4 consecutive sunday nights until we got a breakthrough.

    Although I agree that there is danger in reducing the significance of communion through overscheduling, I would say that most churches (including mine) probally don’t have it often enough. While many may associate it with Catholicism the truth is easily explained and that obstacle can be overcome.

    Now how about feet-washing? Any takers?

  9. Trav, I really like the idea of connecting the worship time and communion. Kind of a reminder that communion really is a worship experience.

    We serve the congregation at their seats, so we haven’t had the problem of people leaving. Although we have other factors that help that too – mainly being a small church, and the fact that Jackson isn’t really a Catholic town.

    You’ve got my wheels turning with this one. I may switch up communion time the next time I lead that service.

  10. James, you asked:

    “Now how about feet-washing?”

    I believe the saints should have washed feet.

  11. I’ve been in 2 foot washing services in my life.. One was when I was a kid, and I think I washed my dad’s feet… He washed mine like he was bathing me.. Kinda weird, but that’s my OCD dad…

    When I was at Lee, we had one with the Ministerial Association. It was everything a foot-washing should be.. People reconciled, admitted sin, and just loved each other.. It was great..

  12. A majority of footwashing services that I’ve been a part of have been, well, a bit awkward.

    But one – when I was attending William Carey College in Hattiesburg, MS – was exceptionally good. It was at a small college service at Main Street Baptist Church. The leaders had us take off our socks and shoes in the hall, and as we walked into the room, they washed our feet. We walked in while someone was playing guitar, singing a soft worship song. Then, they came in and sat the bowl down in the center of the room. We had a really great time of worship, and then they said that the floor was open for us to wash one another’s feet. People confessed sin, asked forgiveness, etc. etc.

    It was amazing.

  13. I love this post Travis!

    The culture I am reaching is so diverse, and communion services had become so typical, that I began to explore multiple ways for serving. As a result, communion services are seldom the same anymore making each service a distinct memory.

    I may use the individual cups and wafers one service and intinction with khallah (a Jewish loaf) the next. The purpose for me is not to cause confusion at the Lord’s table, but to express the multiple ways in which communion is celebrated while maintaining the unity of all who partake.

    One service I spoke on serving, put on an apron, and then seated everyone at a table where I served them. Of course I reminded them of Christ washing the disciples’ feet, but did not demonstrate it …though we do have one service a year where we offer washing the saint’s feet.

    When practical, I also like to have a Thanksgiving Eve communion service to drive home the original meaning of “Eucharist”.

    As a result, everyone in the church has distinct memories of specific communion services, not just vague memories of a traditional Pentecostal communion service.

    I know these ideas won’t work for everyone, but this is what works for us.

  14. The big win in our communion services this month is a young couple about 23 years old. One of their parents has been a part of our church for the last 6 months. Four weeks ago, this couple came to the Communion Table after the opportunity was given and a call was made to follow Jesus.

    They both said, “we are ready for forgiveness and to follow Jesus.” One of our leaders prayed with them and gave them Communion. They’ll be baptized in three weeks. Yesterday, they brought a friend and he did the same. Now, all three of them are being baptized in three weeks.

    In Communion, Christ is lifted up in our lives. When we fence the table and articulate who Communion is for, people are given an opportunity for introspection and an opportunity to choose Jesus. It is one of my favorite parts of our service.

    Darrell, I love how you work to make it meaningful each time. That’s hard work. It shows that you value that moment. Thanks for those stories.

  15. Great discussion! I planted a church in my small Mississippi hometown three years ago. Having been to a Wesleyan Holiness seminary, I felt compelled to make the sacraments an active part of our congregation’s worship life. We celebrate communion the first Sunday of each month by intiction and more often during the Lenten season.

    We celebrate footwashing the evening of Palm Sunday each year as we focus on Holy Week. If I understand John 13 correctly, footwashing is a perfect picture that prefigures Christ’s work on the cross. Christ’s self-giving love is seen as the basis of our communal life together as we come to the Lord’s table and as we serve one another.

  16. I am interested in your thoughts on the difference between “Sacrament” and “ordinance” as relates to a shifting required in our Pentecostal theology. In some areas our movement has lined up with the Wesleyan side (holiness, sanctifcation, church government), in others we line up more with the Baptist tradition (ordinances, believer’s baptism, etc). It seems we’ve been pretty Baptistic in our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. I lean the other way; I’m beginning to sense that I’m not the only one within the Pentecostal movement who feels a shift is needed.

  17. Daniel, let me give this a shot.

    Stipulation: we’re only talking about Baptism and the Holy Communion. I don’t want to get into the 7 sacrament system the Catholics use.

    An ordinance is a purely symbolic act which represents a step in the life of the believer (baptism) or a pure remembrance of the crucial events (past and future) in the life, death and ministry of Jesus Christ (communion.) As you mention, this is at the heart of Baptistic thought.

    To use the Book of Common Prayer definition, a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Since grace is what saves and grows us as Christians and comes from God, in a sacramental system we actually receive grace from God through the sacraments.

    Baptists object to the whole sacramental concept because their idea is that we can only receive grace from God either as a result of our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Arminian concept of election) or purely by God’s election (Calvinistic concept of election.) Another problem is that it’s easy for people in a sacramental system who aren’t paying attention to be lulled into an idea that, if they go through the motions of the sacraments, they’re OK with God. And, as Nick Park will attest, there are many Catholics who aren’t paying attention. (My first parish priest, of Irish descent, delightfully described this process as “making a business deal with God.”)

    The whole subject of baptismal regeneration (which is implicit in considering baptism as a sacrament) is a long dispute based in part on the interpretation of the New Testament and in part on the whole idea of baptism as necessary to eliminate original sin. The latter has been used to justify infant baptism, a concept I intensely dislike. There are ways to get around this problem, though.

    With the Holy Communion, the core problem with the ordinance concept is that the New Testament doesn’t teach the concept of a purely symbolic Eucharist. That doesn’t mean that we have to adopt transubstantiation (we don’t) but it means that we need to think through the whole business of the Lord’s Supper differently than we have.

    I think it’s fair to say that most modern Pentecostal churches adopted the Baptistic ordinance concept without giving things much thought. I’m inclined to agree with you, however, that perhaps it’s time to reconsider some of these issues.

  18. I agree with DB. In my experiences, I feel like both the Lord’s Supper and Footwashing are more in line with Sacraments instead of simply Ordinances. Something very real spiritually takes place during these types of services – and, not to be too catholic on anyone, I think that grace (not for salvation) is received when these Sacraments are taken with the right mind and right heart.

  19. Then it would seem that the question is are there aspects of grace (charismata) that are only obtainable by and exclusive to communion? This would mean that all of God’s grace is not available exclusively through faith in Christ alone. And since the “sacrament” involves only the body and blood of Christ the grace communicated would necessarily be limited to healing and the remission of sin. Two graces that I have seen effected many times without participating in the Lord’s supper.

    I would be careful about going too far with the sacrament idea. You might end up like the oneness pentecostals who believe that baptism in the name of Jesus only is necessary for salvation.

    I think we are better off to stay close to Matthew 26 and Luke 22 and simply teach it as the symbol of the New Covenant than to plant the idea in the minds of partakers that they may gain some spiritual advantage from the materials themselves. No doubt I have seen miracles take place at the communion table but I regard them as having more to do with the faith of the people involved than any “grace” contained in Welch’s grape juice.

    The scriptures are clear, this service is a memorial to the death of Christ, a reminder of our status of being under the New Covenant, and an anticipation of his soon return (MT 26 ; MK 14 ; LK 22 ; 1 COR 11) and nothing more!

    PS – Water baptism has a much stronger claim on being sacramental than communion, it has more scriptural support (Acts 2:38 ; Romans 6:1-6) and typically occurs prior to one being eligible to participate
    in communion. Just Saying!

  20. James, I definitely see what you’re saying, but I think you took my grace comment the wrong way. I’m sure I’m not explaining it as well as I would like to – but I certainly didn’t mean to imply that taking communion was one way to receive remission of sins.
    I do, however, believe that it is a perfect reminder of Who we must go to for the forgiveness of sins.
    I’m simply saying that something very spiritually significant happens when we take communion – that it isn’t just something we do because the Bible says to do it.

  21. I think the image of the common cup is actually very important. It symbolizes that God feeds us, his children, as he gives bread and drink to his one family. The meaning of passing around a tray and each person serving himself communicates autonomy (don’t we already have enough of that in the US?) and makes communion from a community act of worship and remembrence and empowerment to a form of individual piety.

  22. abu daoud,

    I love the picture of a common cup. It is beautiful and meaningful. But, while we probably fail to see the beauty of communion, period, there is some symbolic beauty to be found in passing individual cups.

    When we pass individual cups, I see that as symbolic of Jesus coming to us where we are. There is a good message there. But, I’m guessing that many of us fail to see the depth of Communion…like I largely failed to see the beauty of it before I began to look through the eyes of my community and saw what they were accustom to practicing.

    With that said, I do prefer to approach the table for many of the reasons you just listed.

  23. Hmm, Jesus coming to us invidividually? I suppose so, but do we need more ‘personal Jesus’ in the West?

    You might find interesting the Communion prayer in the Didache, which was used in Africa, Europe, and Asia in the early church (2nd C.) and it basically is a short guide on church worship and discipline.

    Just Google the word “didache”. It is significant because, like the Apostles Creed, it incorporates elements of both the Christianized sacrifice-offering to pagan gods AND the Jewish fellowship meal.

  24. I see Jesus coming to the Ethiopian eunuch by way of the Evangelist Philip. I see the little children coming to Jesus. I see the Father seeing His son a long way off in the distance and running to him to receive him back.

    I see nothing sacred in the form. But, I certainly see something sacred in the life of Jesus extending Himself to us AND also suffering us to come to Him. For me, the method is determined by culture or even the moment. The way Communion was delivered by Jesus in the Scriptures was descriptive, not prescriptive. If it is anything else, I’d propose that we’ve all got it wrong.

  25. i’m an associate pastor in charge of y&ce. when i do communion in the youth service (usually only during passion week) we actually break a common loaf and i serve the youth grape juice as they come up to the table/saw horse. we play a soft reflective song and display images of the cross/crucifixion on the screen. i will usually pick one of the students and wash his feet to show the humility of Christ. i encourage them to do the same. it’s pretty cool seeing a high schooler pick another one and was his feet.
    in our sanctuary we often times set up a table with seating for 12 and distribute numbers before the service. the congregation come and receives communion as a small group. it really focuses the congregation on the act of communion and the meaning of the bread and “wine”.

  26. This is an outstanding discussion. I too think that we must both rethink and incorporate the sacraments/ordinances into our corporate worship. The form and structure of how we do things also speaks loads as to its importance.

    I also believe that feetwashing is both scripturally and experientially vital to the life of a body of believers. One has only to participate in a feetwashing to know that God is present in the time spent humbly washing one another’s feet.

    I would like to hear some thoughts on the theological significance of feetwashing. Do you think that it merely a sign/symbol of humility and servanthood or do you see feetwashing as a cleansing of sin?

  27. One thing we do in our Church is to invite our people to come to the tables rather than have servers handing them the bread and cup. I have a real aversion to any kind of clergy/laity distinction (priesthood of all believers and all that) and so I avoid anything that reeks of first-class Christians handing the elements to the hoi poloi. This also draws a deliberate contrast to the Irish Catholic mass where the communicants only receive the bread – the wine being reserved only for the priest.

    As people gather round the communion tables they are crowded round all 4 sides, so they look one another in the face as they break the bread. We encourage them to greet one another, pray for one another, and prophesy to one another during the communion. This creates what I like to call “a holy hubbub” rather than a solemn silence.

  28. Here are some pictures of us receiving Communion during our services. In total, we have 4 stations:

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=communion&w=31542737%40N00

  29. Hi TravisJohn, I should have been more clear. My point is this: American Christianity is already too individualistic and ritual language which reinforces this is not helpful. What is needed (in the US and Canada at least–this discussion is about contextualization) is ritual language that reminds people that it is NOT just about Jesus and them, but Jesus and ALL of them, Jesus and the Church, Jesus and his bride, Jesus and the People of God. That was my point. Asif (sorry).

  30. Kevin

    I’m with you on the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t mean to shout you down, I was just trying to remind all of us that to go farther with a doctrine than the scriptures allow is to invite trouble! The context of the Lord’s Supper was the Passover meal. This meal (not just bread and wine) was commemorative in nature, not sacramental. In reality Jesus was simply telling his (at this time 100% Jewish) disciples that when they got to this part of the meal they were to recognize a new significance to the bread and the cup. In the early church this ordinance accompanied every “church dinner”, it was not a separate “special” service. In fact it was its commonality that led to the abuses mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 11.

    But I agree with you completely that anytime you can bring the focus of the church to the cross and the blood of Christ you can righteously expect “grace” to flow free and clear through the body.

  31. Here is an internet article that I stumbled across on the Wesleyan understanding of “sacraments.”

    http://www.revneal.org/Writings/WesMean.htm

  32. Wow. This is just an outstanding dialog!

    To have this kind of conversation about the nature of sacraments/ordinances is really important, as my sense is that communion, footwashing and baptism are all largely undervalued in contemporary pentecostalism (at least in the US) and we need some serious theological reflection here. What a great start.

    I personally have come down much more on the “sacramental” side in recent years. I consider myself very Wesleyan, and of course Wesley bequeathed us with what I call a “quirky catholicity,” that is a faith that at least in some areas has a truly catholic shape (I emphasize “some”–Wesley obviously accepted the basic terms of the reformation in terms of Justification by faith, etc.) I am increasingly empathetic with Flannery O’Connor’s strong statement that “if that’s not the body and blood of Christ, to hell with it.” Not that I have some belief in transubstantiation…trying to figure out exactly how Christ is present in communion is generally fruitless. But I do believe He is present in a way I can’t begin to understand.

    It would seem that the very fact that people were getting sick and dying for receiving communion unworthily gestures toward something far more than a symbol. In the last year I have been thinking a lot about anointing the sick taking on a sacramental quality, to receive the touch of Christ through a brother or sister. I don’t have any great insight about this, just something I have been thinking through.

    It does change the game quite a bit when you begin to believe that in these Christian practices that God is objectively present whether we feel Him or not. It seems to me that a sacramental move combined with a really dynamic belief in the Spirit is a combustible combination–I get excited about that.

    It’s really cool to hear other COG pastors and youth pastors talk about how they handle this (thanks for getting the ball rolling, Travis, I LOVE how you guys are doing it in Miami). As for Renovatus, we are still doing once a month, common cup, dipping the bread. I have been toying with weekly communion for some time, but haven’t gone there yet. My wife wrote a wonderful communion hymn we use every time we celebrate–it goes like this:
    Sacramental love, borne of fruit and grain

    Act of ages past, this we do again.

    Pre-chorus:

    Shadow of a feast, that is and has not been,

    We crucify ourselves, that we may call you kin.

    (repeat verse and pre-chorus before playing chorus)

    Chorus

    This mouth will taste, these lips will sing

    Of all our loss to gain a King

    Our fellowship forged in the flood

    We eat your flesh we drink your blood

  33. A Greek Orthodox minister once told me, “Somewhere between the Orthodox belief and the Church of God belief is where we will find what the Lord’s Supper is truly about”.

    Since then I’ve wondered what the Church of God belief really is.

    This dialogue has been great for me to understand better our own belief, while I am still learning the truths in the beliefs of other believers outside the CoG.

    The posts I’ve read here indicate to me I am not alone, and that to me is one of the purposes of communion as a whole.

    Darrell Buttram, Jr.

  34. Darrell, this thread has been quite an eye opener for me, too.

    You guys doing a Eucharistic Congress any time soon?

  35. A CoG Eucharistic Congress could be interesting…I wonder what such a thing would look like in a Pentecostal setting?

  36. […] This was especially true in the number of ministers who expressed interest in sacramental theology in this MissionalCOG post. (Are you guys working on a Eucharistic Congress?) Sacramental theology, and considering anything […]

  37. Darrell, that would be interesting.

    In the meanwhile, if you really want your brain to melt down on this issue, check this out (HT to Abu Daoud) :

    http://perennis.wordpress.com/2008/08/29/just-what-is-transubstantiation-anyway/

  38. Very interesting Don…thanks!

    Hebrews 11:1 is interesting in the light of transubstantiation because faith is the “hypostasis pragamaton” hoped for. Understanding faith as substance makes it easier for me to understand the concept of the mystery of the Body in the elements…still can’t agree with transubstantiation as a whole, but it does have me thinking.

  39. hypostasis pragmaton…sorry typo

  40. What got me from my non-sacramental Bible Church roots over into a rather sacramental Anglicanism was reading the early church. It was very clear that Communion was, in their worship, the glue that held the other aprts of the worship together–reading the Scripture, prophecy, baptisms, and so on.

    St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, 7, 110 A.D.:

    I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

    Here is a list of quotes, very good.

  41. This is interesting. What started out as a discussion on contextualized communion has turned into a discussion on the theology of communion.

    I guess I’ll throw my hat in the ring and simply say, I have a rather simplistic view of Scripture. I don’t know that I can say that Communion is more than obedience, remembrance, and repentance. It is significant. But, I can’t imagine it being more in substance that bread and juice. Though, spiritually it is so much more.

  42. Yes, btu Trav, maybe they go together–I mean contextualization and communion. That was my point above: that we need to use a ritual language and have a theology of ritual (specifically of Communion) that takes us beyond the shallow (and unbiblica) individualism of the West today.

    Jesus did not tell his church to sing songs, or to preach sermons (to other Christians), but he did tell them to celebrate Communion. That is surely something significant and betokens the deeper meaning of communion qua sacrament that has been mentioned here several times.

  43. Abu Daoud,

    Excuse me for the rabbit trail I’m about to follow. I’ll get back on point in a second. If Christians in the West are individualistic and westerners in general are individualistic, wouldn’t contextualized ministry meet westerners in that mindset? I would think so.

    So, I don’t see cultural differences as a barrier as much as I see it as a language that needs to be spoken by missionaries to the West. That doesn’t mean that we leave people where they are. In fact, the counter-cultural message of Jesus moves us from contextualization (a shaping of the presentation of the Gospel around people’s lives) to sanctification (a calling out/a setting apart of one’s self to the revolutionary life of Christ). I’d propose we agree on some of this but at different points on the Gospel continuum.

    Secondly, when I look at the Scriptures, I don’t want to cloud them or read too deeply or be too imaginative with them. For instance, when Jesus says we are his “sheep,” I do not want to look beyond what I know as reality and actually believe He was literally saying I am a sheep (oversimplification).

    For me, when Jesus says, “this is my body and my blood,” I have a hard time looking beyond to see some cannibalistic ceremony. Now, I absolutely believe there is great depth to Communion. I believe it is an utterly weighty moment. We are to handle Communion with care. But, I don’t want to strain for a doctrine based on Scriptures that leave me lacking information. When Scripture is silent, I want to be silent. When Scripture speaks, I want to speak.

    So, the only personal statement of belief I can make about Communion is that it is significant, symbolic, weighty, to be practiced, and not fully comprehensible. I won’t say that it is only symbolic. I also won’t say that it is more than symbolism, though it certainly may be.

    When I practice it and open the table for our people, I simply want it to be done in a way that connects with them, lifts up Christ, and calls us to repentance.

    I agree with you concerning what we are commanded to practice as a church. There are minimal requirements. We’ve accessorized the church, which is fine…until we make it some kind of law and imply that if people do not practice forms like we do that they are lesser Christians (or not COG enough).

  44. James,

    Sorry to be so late coming back to this.

    I do not believe that saying communion is a sacrament is the same thing as saying that forgiveness or healing is only obtainable through this means. John Wesley taught that although we may be tied to the means of grace, God is not. God is free to minister His grace with or without these sacraments–immediately to our spirit by His Spirit.

    I also do not believe it is fair to draw a line between receiving grace through a sacrament and grace received through faith in Christ. The woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment and the man whose eyes were anointed with mud received healing via some intermediate means. Anointing the sick with oil or using a prayer cloth as Paul did can be a means of healing grace.

    I believe that is a false dichotomy. Apart from faith in Christ, taking communion is just snacking on bread and juice–or worse, it may be taking communion in an unworthy manner and drinking judgment to yourself.

    If grace can be communicated through anointing with oil or a prayer cloth, why cannot grace be ministered to us at the Lord’s Table? God is not limited to this means, but is it not a genuine means of grace?

  45. Dear James,

    One other note. You mention that communion is clearly only commemorative and nothing more. How do you account for Paul’s words that the cup we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ? If it is only symbolic, how do we drink judgment to ourselves?

  46. […] Reflections on an Orthodox View of the Eucharist: Part I19 September 2008, me @ 00:00In a recent posting on MissionalCOG on the contextualisation of Communion, the thread turned from how to contextualise it to what it meant, and specifically whether it was […]

  47. […] my Pentecostal bretheren on this subject, after the considerable back and forth on this subject here.  Sooner or later this will be an issue but, like everything else, Pentecostals have an entirely […]

  48. Excellent discussion. In my research, I have found that Church of God pioneers were very sacramental, even suggesting a “real presence” in sacraments. I have found that sacramental worship enriches Pentecostal worship. Blessings!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: