Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Southern Baptists and the Eucharist

It is common in many Southern Baptist churches to offer communion only two to four times a year. Michael Spencer thinks that this is tragic, and has for several years began participating in it weekly:

The aspect of weekly communion that has been the most significant for me is the constant reminder that inclusion in the community of Jesus comes with the reception of forgiveness. The community of Jesus is not formed by miracles or testimonies, but by Christ’s forgiveness of sinners. Rather than focusing on “walking the aisle,” weekly communion focuses on constant forgiveness from Christ himself. In communion, Christ is active, faith is receptive and I am passive.

In my Baptist upbringing, we were frequently told that weekly communion turned the supper into a meaningless, rote ritual. Roman Catholics and those in the “Disciples of Christ” churches were examples. Of course, this same standard didn’t seem to apply to preaching, the offering, choir specials, hymns and, of course, the offering. It is was always obvious to me that the kinds of demeaning language used in describing frequent communion was not rooted in the Bible, but is simple prejudice: we don’t want to be like the Catholics.

The difference has become clear. When communion is properly elevated in worship, the meaning of communion is elevated. I am not particularly fond of the idea of dividing the service into “two” liturgies. I prefer to keep communion in the area where Baptists typically think about the invitation, but instead of walking the aisle, we are offered Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

This is interesting. I would like to invite regular reader and Anabaptist Dan Trabue to share his thoughts on the Eucharist in the comments, if he would be so kind.


Andrew C. Thompson said...

I think a couple of things are important to remember here. The first is that Eucharistic practice has varied widely throughout Christian history. In medieval times, it was common practice for the laity of the Roman Catholic Church to receive Communion only once per year, and then only in 'one kind' (that is, bread but not wine).

On the other hand, I am told that at Medieval Times, the restaurant, Communion is not celebrated at all. But I'm digressing.

We think of Episcopalians as weekly participants in Holy Communion, but that was not always the case. One reason John Wesley had to write "The Duty of Constant Communion" back in the 18th century was because Anglicans of his day communicated so infrequently. It was only in the 19th century that Anglicans began to place more emphasis on frequent Eucharist.

Thus, Baptist practice should not be seen as inherently deficient simply because it focuses more on the service of the Word. Whether Baptist theology is deficient when it comes to the sacrament is another matter. In this case, practice and theology may, but do not necessarily have to, correlate.

That said, the commentator makes a good point about superficial objections to Communion that are made with respect to making the Supper more 'common.' Weekly celebration provides a powerful means of grace in a congregation - one that can aid in salvation, disciple-making, community formation, and public witness. While it is not at all clear that any tradition should be ashamed of a past with little attention to sacramental observance, it is clear that present reform toward such observance can help the church to more fully be the church.

chilanganadiense said...

Interesting. When I was a Jehovah's Witness, I didn't realize that other Christians actually got to partake of the eucharist. Passing around the bread and wine once a year without actually eating or drinking always felt like an empty ritual... Jehovah's Witnesses just don't communicate at all. What a shame.

truevyne said...

I have a longing for my protestant evangelical faith to deeply attend Euchartist. I am painfully aware that communion isn't always held sacred. I was next to a man recently in a church service who got on his cell phone to check messages as the bread and wine were passed. I couldn't believe it!

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the special invite to participate, but I don't know that I have a whole lot to contribute.

Growing up So. Baptist, we did communion quarterly, usually. My current church (to be clear, we are nominally Baptist, not anabaptist...I just identify myself as an anabaptist as it fits my belief better, and fits our church fairly well, too), does communion monthly.

It is a different sort of communion than that which I grew up with, all are welcome to participate, including the children. We leave it to the individual to decide if they would be participating "in an unworthy manner." It is a very joyful, sometimes even funny, communion - as opposed to the solemn occassions of my youth.

My anabaptist side also finds a meaningful communion service in the regular meals that we share at one another's houses and with the homeless and mentally ill at our drop-in center and coffee house. These are easily the most meaningful communions I experience, and more in fitting with the actual dinner experience described in the Bible, for me.

Aelred Hexham said...

"The community of Jesus is not formed by miracles or testimonies, but by Christ’s forgiveness of sinners" - end quote.

Shallom. either this is literally meant by the blogger or not i chose to be literalist since most of the baptists are literalist with scriptures. if we read the four canon of Gospels its easy to notice that it is when Jesus perform miracles - healing, cast demon out, raising the dead etc - that is when the 'rumors' of Jesus spread wildly. and many from all over the land of Judea came to find Jesus until He dont have time to eat and rest. it is the testimonies of Saint Peter and Paul and the Apostles that build many converts to christianity. but we have to remember it is by the Father's mercy only that we accept Christ. the miracles can only be granted when God's mercy aka forgiveness bestow on us. if there is no Christ, no forgiveness, but if there is no forgiveness, no miracles. we know that miracles and testimonies are euphemism for people to embrace Christ.

I wan to stress-out that the "community" of early Christian is formed by faith in Jesus. that faith resulted by miracles and testimonies. whosoever let themself be baptized shall their sins be forgiven. so, it is not only Christ's forgiveness but instead those who will submit to His teachings which is not all recorded according to St.John the evangelist. so when you put it in a small scope of "ONLY by Christ's forgiveness of sinners" will we think those who are not baptized by Christ like the hindus, moslem, buddhist etc.

About Eucharist, Exodus 12 foreshadows the Eucharist taught by Jesus in John 6:53(unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall have no life in you). In JOhn 1:28-30 Jesus, called the Lamb Of God who take away the sins of the world. if by eating the flesh of the lamb in Exodus will save a person's life why would Jesus emphasis again about His truly body and truly blood in John 6. if Eucharist is just a mere symbol why st.Paul in (1 corinthians 11:27-32) says receives the Body and Blood of Jesus unworthily are sinning against His Body and Blood as if "murder". the liturgy of the Eucharist is not new since the Reformation but it was always around the Tradition of the Catholic and Apostolic Church back in the 1st A.D. it is not only in the Roman Church but also in the Orthodox. about the hymn, no the early Church of the Apostles doesnt use R&B soul music but rather simple which they term sacred. The Catholic Church (not necessarily of Roman) teaches that the Bread and Wine become Real Body and Blood of Jesus as written by St.Paul. That's why it is guilty to take it in unworthy manner. the early Church grow benefits grace more from the Eucharist NOT by reading the Bible. not all people are literate in Greek and Latin when the Bible was compiled in 325 AD. and not everyone possess handy in cheap prices after the printing machine was first introduced in 14th century. So i guess now the condition for people to be save is to be illiterate to read the Bible which is contrary to the very early Christian which can be traced back through the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

God bless you all. Emmanuelle!

P/S: I'm Catholic NOT Roman Catholic. and yes, i have personal relationship with Jesus, both Spiritualy and Physically(Eucharist).