Wafer Madness: 500 years of communion arguments made simple

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What happens to the elements and the people who consume them? When we are talking about Communion, the answer is “it depends”. The options are listed below from “Why bother?” to “I’m seriously considering becoming a wafer-addict!

Memorial: Nothing happens to the elements. Nothing happens to the people.

Calvin: Nothing happens to the elements. Something happens to the people (Jesus is present when faith is present).

Lutheran: Something happens (is added to) the elements (Jesus is “in, under, and through”). Something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Orthodox: Something happens to the elements (but that “something” is left undefined). Something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Roman: Something happens to the elements (a complex and nuanced “transubstantiation”) and something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Does what someone believes about communion matter? If you are a memorialist, since nothing changes and nothing happens, not really. However, if you believe Calvin’s position, it matters. And, if you believe the Lutheran, Orthodox or Catholic view, it matters even more.

Yes, the Eucharist can mean nothing if you do not approach the table with eyes of faith. But is Holy Communion, at its best, intended to be a “Happy Meal” (fun, but no real nutritional value) or a “Magic Cracker” (that will change you if you let it)? The issue isn’t really what you or I think it is or want it to be, but what the Scriptures say it is, and what the early and undivided church taught it to be.

Beyond the facts is the experience of being changed in a Eucharistic community. You can down a wheat chip cellophaned to the top of a disposable cup, or you can feast at the family meal of the Body of Christ. I am hard-pressed to understand why someone who could eat gourmet in their neighborhood bistro gratis would settle for a Happy Meal from the drive-through. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

Wafer Madness.001

 Am I advocating wafer madness? Maybe a little.

While song is the worship language of memorialists and the megachurch, supper is the historic worship language of the church. This isn’t about preference, but about faithfully practicing what was given to us by Jesus, the New Testament authors, and the early and undivided church. For three-quarters of Christian history, Word and Sacrament was literally the ONLY paradigm for worship. This Sunday it will characterize the worship of more than two-thirds of the world’s Christians. I am not trying to be negative, or run down another’s “tradition.” But I do want to say that when you find yourself spiritually hungry, a meal awaits.

If song is your only worship language, consider experiencing the blessings of bi-lingual worship – add supper.

I’m Lovin’ it!

You don’t seriously think…”man’s rules” matter, do you?

“You don’t seriously think…” is a format for responding to reader’s questions in more depth.

All traditions are not created equal.

All traditions are not created equal.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002Greg, responded to this week’s “Why I dropped church” post on his blog thependulumeffect. He writes:

I AM a traditionalist…I traditionally believe that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength…we give Him our lives in faith. THAT is tradition. The rest is just man’s rules…Jesus…teachings are devoid of anything dictating whether or not we have stained glass windows, acolytes, liturgies, music, organs, guitars, pews, coffee, candles, multimedia and light shows, or even church buildings…Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?

Hello Greg,

Thank you for responding to my post in your blog. It is a great complement when others write to you, even more when they blog in response to your ideas. The simple answer is: “No and Yes.”

I  am right there with you, Greg, when you say that the main thing is to “love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.” However, faith as the main thing was not in question in my post. It was assumed. My purpose was the search for a deeper discipleship.

All Traditions are NOT created equal

Your argument, in essence, is: Since faith is what matters, traditions do not. From your list of “traditions,” you appear to mean “practices in historic worship.” I am curious as to why you view those as categorically opposed to faith? Traditions might be irrelevant. However, “traditions” that teach faith, shape faith, and form faith matter specifically because of what they accomplish: the building of faith. To say anything else is to say that the actions of a Christian DON’T matter, something I am pretty sure you would not say.

Any faith practice can be perverted, subverted and elevated beyond recognition. They can distract or bury the Gospel…this is true of modern “traditions” as well as ancient ones. “Traditions” can also be used as they were intended – to cause a greater surrender to Jesus, a growth in grace and mercy and as deep discipleship to send Christians into a lost world to bring the Good News of Jesus.

The “Rules of Men”?

There is a big difference between “the rules of men” (rabbinical teachings added to the Law), and “the practices of Christians in worship.” Let me use one of your examples: acolytes. I have never met anyone who would say that an acolyte is a worship necessity. However, many would say that the procession in which acolytes march is edifying: The Cross of Jesus is brought into the place of worship, reenacting the consecration of pagan Roman sites for the worship of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the reclamation of Roman processions in which Christians, forced to bow before the emperor when he came through town, were now able to bow before the emblem of the real King who had come to establish God’s new Kingdom. That is a “tradition” about a new citizenship in a new Kingdom-one for the benefit of “men” but most definitely not about “men.”

In thegospelside I try to get people to question uncritically held assumptions about the way we do things and where they lead…the backsides of every coin. Everyone can see the downsides of dead tradition. Although we are beginning to see a change, people are still embracing unquestioned mega-multisite-evangelical virtual-popery.

Preferences. Schmeferences.

I do not write about preferring one style over another. I point out two essentially different visions for Sunday worship: One is worship as “an experience for the unchurched.” In this model, the Sunday worship “environment,” is “church for people who don’t like church,” as Andy Stanley and North Point Church articulate quite compellingly. In the relevant model the Christian exists as an “inviter” for the high-horsepower preacher and the sanctuary exists to evangelize the lost. In the ancient model, church was to “equip the saints for the work of service,” to quote Paul in Ephesians 4, in order that individuals would each go to the world to evangelize it. The relevant model utilizes the gifts of the gifted to accomplish what the gifts can accomplish. My assertion is that use of gifts in the sanctuary to do the ministry rather than to equip others to do it is a new “tradition,” one divorced from 2000 years of Christian tradition…and one that will not help us in the long run.

Historic Christian worship was to accomplish the purposes of building faith and equipping the believer through things such as having us kneel before our Savior in the public confession of our sins…come to the Lord’s table with outstretched hands to receive rather than “take communion.” Humans take nothing in grace. It is all receiving. In The Church of the Great Tradition one bows before the cross and at Jesus’ name, not out of legalism or tradition, but out of a reminder that there is a Lord, and he is not me.

Greg you asked: “Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?” I ask you the question back. How much of what your church does on Sunday is in Scripture? The worship pattern of popular evangelical Christianity is bound by song and sermon. The pattern of the early church was Scripture and Supper-based on synagogue and Temple. Those elements were narrative based, and symbol rich. They had a purpose, purposes we lose if we subtract the symbols and narratives.

So, Greg, I thank you for reading and also for keeping the main thing the main thing. That does not mean, however, that all roads to the main thing are equally biblical or equally formative in their effect. And that was my point.

*Greg has an interesting and well-written blog: thependulumeffect

How we worship…and does it matter? (Pt. 1)

Henri-Le-Secq-Chalice-ca-1850-painting-artwork-printWhen the subject of worship “style” comes up, people generally start getting antsy. We stop listening and begin forming our objections. The young among us say, “I can worship any way I like.” The more mature, recognizing the self-centeredness of statements like this, will rightly counter with Paul’s limitations on Christian liberty, (1 Cor. 10:23-33) but go on to say, “How we worship is optional, subject to the preferences of the unbeliever, and not mandated by Scripture.” Whether or not that is true will be the subject of a later post.

Let us suspend those arguments for a moment and ask why worship matters… Passages of Scripture that immediately come to mind include the first two commandments, the Psalms, the practice of Jesus both in private and corporate worship (In the gospels we often see Jesus in the synagogue, temple, & private prayer. Jesus begins his ministry at Baptism and ends it with instituting the Lord’s Supper before going out to pray on his way to the Cross to lay down his life. The life of Jesus is surrounded and ordered by worship.) In the book of Revelation, the last thing we are doing is engaged in the “chief end” of humanity, in the words of the Westminster Confession, “to worship God and enjoy him forever.”  Indeed, It appears an inescapable fact that all humans, regardless of religion or irreligion, worship something. We were made to worship.

How then, I wonder, can we say, that the manner in which we worship does not matter? Unless, of course, the object of our worship does not matter.

What if we assume three things about worship, simply because it is true of all of the Christian life: First, that what other Christians have done and thought through time is relevant. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Asking how those who stood closest to Jesus worshiped, is surely wise. Second, that the aspirations of our youngest members is relevant, since they will carry the baton when we are gone. Third, that we are part of a universal church, “one holy catholic and apostolic,” …that we are umbilically tied to every Christian in every corner of the globe, so their practice is also relevant.

Interestingly, On all three of those assumptions, the question arises, “What about liturgy?” After all, It is the way the first Christians worshiped and is the worship pattern enjoyed by 90% of all Christians who have ever walked the earth. Liturgy is also making a comeback among young evangelicals in unlikely places like PhoenixOne, a 1000 person young adult gathering, and on the stage of the church that invented the non-denominational “seeker movement,” Willow Creek. Third, it is the form of worship utilized by 2/3 of the Christians on the planet today. So you might want to check liturgical worship out, if only to see what the cool people are doing. Ok, so I’m joking. Sort of.

The most important thing about liturgy is that it isn’t taught, it’s caught…or, more accurately, something you get caught-up in it…like being tossed into a cold swimming pool by the older kids in elementary school.

The Greek word leitourgia comes from two root words – laos, “the people”, and ergas, “a work”. Therefore, you will hear it said that liturgy is “the work of the people.” That’s a little bit true since liturgy is participatory…the term “pew aerobics” comes to mind. Liturgy does involve all of you in worship – your whole body, which is important because our hearts and heads follow our bodies. You know that intuitively if you have raised your hands or bowed down in worship.

But “work that people do” is not really the meaning of “liturgy” at all. leitourgia was the word to describe an act of public service initiated by a wealthy benefactor. For instance, a person of means might build a temple and foot the bill, but the work itself benefited the community. Any public work done in service to the gods, but for the benefit of the community was liturgy. So liturgy is work dedicated to God, initiated for people, and which serves to transform the world-and that is the big meaning: liturgy is about the faith community being transformed for the purpose of going out and transforming the lost world. And a transformed community that couldn’t stop sharing the Good News is exactly how 11 scared dudes turned the most powerful empire in the world upside down in less than 300 years.

So liturgical worship is for God, transforms us, and benefits a lost world. Who wouldn’t want that?

Case Study: PhoenixOne. Bursting at the seams with young adults.

How do we engage the post-modern 25 year old? Certainly it isn’t easy. They are very conflicted. On one hand they distrust large events. On the other, they flock to things with momentum -in Phoenix that is PhoenixOne, a gathering of 20-something “young professionals.” In existence for 18 months, it is now attended by more than 1000 young adults.

What is PhoenixOne doing to gather the crowd?

First, they use technology well. All 1000 of them facebook and tweet the meeting. It is very organic in it’s invitation.

Second, they are relational. They work very hard to connect with people and help them connect with one another.

Third, they are in a place of “otherness.” They meet in a 100 year-old church-ancient by Phoenix’ standards. It is quiet. Solid. It feels stable – like a church.

Fourth, they bring in communicators who speak to their experience. Most of them are known names who have an audience already. They go for high content/good presentation over low content/great presentation. They have thoughtful speakers rather than uber-motivational types.

Francis Chan

Fifth, they have ditched the really big band for a guitar, piano and drums. It is actually quieter than the 40 year-old’s “relevant” church.

Sixth, they use technology, and they experiment with ancient liturgical forms. Chant, candles, confession, contemplation have as big a role as slick graphics. Young adults are rediscovering mystery, symbol and narrative…artfully done.

Ancient liturgical experience explained.

Seventh, they get people to work in the world for good. While the over 35 world is busy saying young adults are selfish, PhoenixOne has them active doing things for good. Young adults actually do want to do things-just not like we do them. We want to make church like the world and work in our churches to avoid the world. They want to make church churchier and then work to take Jesus into the world.

Eighth, and this one is important, they work to work together through difference rather than ignore difference. The mega-model ignores history and denominational backgrounds, to the point of hiding denominational affiliation, they engage in thoughtful dialogue around being blessed by the fullness of Christian tradition.

Are you noticing the relationship between the cultural realities of 25 year olds and how effectively reaching them includes both connecting them to one another and the world, and artfully adapting classic Christian worship practices and disciplines to connect them with God? 

The leader of PhoenixOne is my friend, Jeff Gokee. He is a student of his culture who is not afraid to innovate. When young professionals fill out “connections” cards, he reports, they list two or three different “home” churches:  One church  for music, one for teaching, one  for small groups…and PhoenixOne. Jeff says, “that is a crazy fact that is shaping how we do church in the future.”

Jeff confirms my two over-arching points: a “go” rather than “come” starting point and relationships blended with authentic ancient-future worship when they do arrive. About relationships Jeff says, “I believe the local church is truly is the hope of the world.  I have spent most of my life as a pastor trying to get people to come into my church context instead of going into theirs…I believe in order to re-engage this generation we have to be incarnate in their culture the way Jesus did 2000 years ago.  He goes to the women at the well…He visits Zaccheaus in his home…and he comes to all of humanity on the cross…we need to have a relational revival, because this generation wants to be known.” Worship, says Jeff, “is not just about singing and doing…it’s about being with God.  Sometimes that happens with a big band, sometimes that happens in silence, sometimes it happens when your clapping and don’t know the words. We don’t have to create worship…it’s all around us, we just get to join in wherever it’s happening.”

It is a new day for the church and the culture. There is an old expression from biology: Adapt or die.

Hopefully we will learn to listen to our young adults, read the tea-leaves of our culture and relearn what the early church knew – How to live in the world as a distrusted minority that prayed the Scriptures, worshiped with life-giving narrative and sacrament. They ventured forth from that rich transformed community to serve the world and spoke of the power of God in Christ everywhere they went. We can do this. We have done it before. We can do it again.