8 concerns about the Christian Chruch (Disciples of Christ)

Written by Joel on September 13th, 2009

I continue to discern my place in the church. As I come closer to ordination there are a number of questions I wrestle with concerning the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and my place in it. I intend to follow this post closely with one which praises many gems I have found within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I hope to explore each of these items, both concerns and gems, in more detail in future posts.

This list is in order from most troubling to least troubling (for me). I encourage your thoughts and critiques, especially from my fellow Disciples out there.

1. No Creed. Although the Nicene Creed is found both in the Chalice Hymnal and Chalice Worship, and the Preamble to the Design relies heavily upon the creed; we have hesitated to go so far as to say “Disciples affirm the creed.” It will be difficult to enter into greater ecumenical communion within the universal church without ascribing to the creeds. What is it that we believe anyway? What are the “essentials” we are united in? If you deny the content of the Nicene Creed, you might not be a Christian.

2. Re-baptism. This practice explicitly destroys the common unity which all Christians share in baptism. The creed affirms “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” See also Ephesians 4. Baptism is once and for all, and it is what unites us. Rebaptizing Christians in a word says “your baptism doesn’t count.” Or worse, in the case of a request for re-baptism we say “its all about you.”

Numbers 3-7 are Eucharistic difficulties. There are a number of difficulties I have with the way the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in many Disciples churches. First, I am not saying everyone must believe what I believe. However, congregations often make theological choices about the Eucharist and then put those choices in the liturgy in such a way as to deny other possibilities. This is my primary critique, and I will elaborate on this concern in future posts. You will find some examples below, in brief.

3. Non-presence. When the celebrant misquotes scripture saying “This represents my body.” This denies the possibility of real-presence, which I affirm. What’s wrong with faithfully quoting scripture? Jesus said “this is my body.” You can talk about what the word is means in Sunday school class, not in the celebration of The Lord’s Supper itself.

4. Open Table. I believe Eucharist unites us not only with God, but also with each other. That kind of unity does not exist between me and a non-believer. Even in a non-sacramental, memorial only view – how can a non-believer “do this in remembrance of me?” Again, I am willing to commune with those who disagree with me, however an explicit welcome to “all” is often part of the liturgy. This forces me to either violate my conscience and receive, or remove myself from communion in that particular worship experience.

5. Poor reverence for the elements. So often I see congregations throwing the “leftovers” in the trash, feeding the bread to the birds and pouring the cup down the drain to the sewer! These same churches show more respect for the American flag, in it’s disposal. How can a church show more respect for the symbol of a country which is here yesterday and gone tomorrow, and yet disrespect the symbol of the Body of our Lord, Jesus Christ who reigns in heaven forever?

6.Weak Eucharistic Liturgy. Disciples celebrate The Lord’s Supper each week, and are symbolically identified by the red chalice with St. Andrew’s Cross. Yet, we often have one of the shortest Eucharistic liturgies I have seen, with minimal congregational involvement.

7. Lay celebrants of communion. This is intentionally low on the list, because I am not sure it is out-right wrong. I have celebrated communion and I am not yet ordained, as there is no biblical instruction on who may preside. However, this seems to be out of sync with the universal church both in modern times and throughout Christian history. Is this a practice we should continue?

8. No historic episcopate. We cannot trace our regional ministers back to the historic apostles like the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal communions can for their bishops. Again, this concern is low on this list because I am not sure if it matters. For example St. Paul was an apostle, but did not know the earthly Jesus. Being apostolic is about being sent, not completely about where we have been. Still, this deficiency seems to be out of sync with the universal church. This concern also addresses the tendency for Disciples to forget that Christian history/tradition/practice is older than the year 1950.

Have I missed any of your concerns? Any critiques of my concerns? I am especially interested in what my fellow Disciples have to contribute. Please leave your comments.


 

21 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jerry says:

    What are 8 things you like about the DoC?

    Jerry

    • Joel says:

      Oh Jerry, always the positive one.

      Indeed, I did write “8 things I like about the DoC.” I wanted to let this post settle just a bit before I publish it. Does any of this apply to your experiences in the ABC (American Baptist Convention)?

  2. donald crone says:

    i was a Methodist Layspeaker for two terms.ATERM IS THREE YEARSand in that time i was instructed rthat the Nicine Creed didnt make the church creedal. I have had a few conversations with my preacher about this one which almost got me angry.The Methodist are desendence of Episcopal Church.Ibelieve that we all have the right to choose and believe as we are growing in faith.I also believe that what we do is an example of that faith.We are viewed by the world as strangers because of our actions which are not understood therefore we shouldbe carefull in what we do so that we dont make it a joke to the world.

  3. Adrian says:

    Although I’m no longer active in the DOC I felt compelled to comment.

    1. Being without a formal creed is one of the most important foundational elements of the denomination. From what I understand the reason for this is to allow the growth and evolution of our beliefs as a group. Each is free to interpret the scriptures in their own way. That which unites us should not be the specifics of our beliefs, but our love and a common respect for a certain historical and cultural tradition. I deny several parts of the Nicene creed and I do consider myself a Christian. Frankly I’m offended by anyone questioning my identity as a Christian based on my refusal to accept a creed which was originally forced on Christians by the State.

    2. If someone doesn’t consider their first baptism to have been meaningful or legitimate for some reason, who are you to deny them the opportunity to have what could be a deeply moving spiritual experience?

    3. Scripture doesn’t say “this is my body”, it says “οὗτος σῶμα.” The idea of “real-presence” or whatever you want to call it, is based on an interpretation of a translation. I think Jesus did mean “represents”, that’s my interpretation of it, so I’m fine with quoting it as “represents” and in a DOC church I’m allowed to interpret it however I want. (see 1)

    4. I’m not sure how deep I want to go on this one. I’m going to ignore the issue of your inability to feel a certain degree of unity with “non-believers” and just address this on a practical level. Would you really like to make a disclaimer before communion that if you haven’t been baptized or made a declaration of faith that you aren’t welcome to partake? I don’t think I’d be visiting your church again if that was your attitude and I was on the fence about the whole thing. Doesn’t seem very welcoming or Christlike to deny welcome to your table. Furthermore, are you going to ask to see a membership card before you serve anyone?

    5. I’m pretty much with you on this one actually.

    6. This one too.

    7. This is definitely a practice that should be continued. It is not out of line with practice throughout Church history at all. I’m not exactly sure where you got that idea. The earliest Christians had no formal “ordination”, just informal assignments of duties within the church community. Whatever happened to the priesthood of all believers?

    8. I don’t even understand what you’re talking about here. You want to have some sort of historical lineage tracing the transfer of church authority all the way back to the historical apostles? Why would this be at all an issue if you believe in a living Jesus who is supposedly present in the worship service?

    I admit to not having read all of the rest of your blog, although I have peeked at it before. However I’m awfully confused as to what it is about your beliefs specifically that makes you not want to be a Catholic. You sound really, really Catholic in this one. I’m no longer an active member of the DOC for reasons similar in nature to your concerns here (although wildly different as far as the specifics) and I’m quite happy. Why exactly do you want to remain a part of the DOC?

    • Joel says:

      Hey Adrian, long time!

      I do want to respond to all of your points, and I found the critiques very helpful. Perhaps it is best to wait as I address each topic in detail, and incorporate your thoughts.

      I do want to address your #3 quotation. Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19 all agree and all say “This is my body.” Greek (NA27/IBS4) “τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.” word for word this is the body of me. 1 Cor 11:24 “Τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα” word for word here: this of-my is the body. Word order may imply an emphasis on the word “my.”

  4. keith says:

    You’re right, the no-creed bit is a problem. It’s especially weird b/c DOC’s have historically replaced the creed with slogans (e.g., “No creed but Christ!” whatever that means.) But as far as concerns 2 thru 7 go, different congregations do different things. I am a DOC pastor and I do not re-baptize. I try to affirm the real presence of Christ at his table without saying HOW he’s there. I make sure (inasmuch as it depends on me) that the elements are treated with respect (usu. consumed) after the Eucharist (and many African-American DOC’s do the same.) I’ve discovered DOC congregations with a rich Eucharistic liturgy, and there remain several that do not practice the open table. Some DOC congregations, especially rural ones, don’t have lay eldership at the table. I’ll agree with you that the DOC denomination is a theological mess, but that of course means there’s room for you and me in it! :)

  5. Agellius says:

    Regarding “Lay celebrants of communion”, in my view you are missing the main point: The difference between the DoC and the majority of “the universal church both in modern times and throughout Christian history” is not merely whether legitimate “celebrants of communion” may be laypersons, but whether they need be *priests*. Ordination per se is not the issue, since deacons are “ordained ministers” in the Catholic and Orthodox communions, but still cannot confect the Eucharist.

    This is so because to the majority of “the universal church both in modern times and throughout Christian history”, the Eucharist is not merely communion but is also, of its essence, a sacrifice.

  6. Jeff says:

    1. Campbell taught not to use “creeds as a test of fellowship.” No problem using them to study and discern, but if someone wants to claim saving faith, the traditional question is “do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior?” Then, welcomed into the community of faith, you can work through creeds to comprehend what the Bible is teaching about Christ. Just don’t use them to bar people from coming forward to make their initial confession of faith.

    2. Not many DoC churches re-baptize — hardly any that i know of, and it’s taught against in all our official seminaries.

    The others have been nicely covered by other commenters, so i won’t pile up words unnecessarily! But historic episcopate: that train left the station a long, loooong time ago for the DoC. We ain’t got it, ain’t worried about it. 99 out of 100 DoC folk would need 30 minutes of explanation to know what you were even talking about. But most DoC churches believe that any baptized Christian can preside, but under most circumstances it should be an elder, or perhaps a deacon, and under special circumstances, any layperson. But you can find plenty of DoC congregations where you’ll see the whole nine yards just short of “ad orientem.” (That, you won’t see.)

    We tend to be fairly “consusbstantiation” in outlook, though; it’s the Body as the gathered Body partakes — when the Body disperses after the benediction, it’s just bread that’s left over. I have seen elders debate whether letting kids eat it is more or less respectful than letting the birds eat it — and i’ve seen it go either way, but once it swung to birds based on an argument appealing to Francis of Assisi!

    • Joel says:

      Jeff,

      Thanks for your positive perspective on these issues. I also hesitate to make the creed as a test of fellowship. However, in my experience, it has been outright avoided. I grew up in the DoC church but didn’t even hear the Nicene creed until high school when I had some Catholic friends. I think the normal affirmation is a good entry point, and lowers the barriers to entering the church. However, I would hope we would teach a new believer who Jesus is, what it means to call him Christ, and in which type of God we believe. These questions are addressed in the creed, and should be taught as the faith. Again, in my experience, I was (too often) left to figure it out on my own.

      rebaptism: Perhaps my experiences are the anomaly, and that gives me some comfort. Just about all the DoC churches I have spent any time at have rebaptized. The most recent congregation even highlighted the fact that they were performing rebaptisms.

      As far as most of the communion questions: I am asking here for allowable diversity in the liturgy. Let the mystery stand. When a preacher says “represents” or there is an introduction that over does the memorial-view, I have trouble entering into the mystery of the Eucharist.

      Thanks for offering your perspective, Jeff!

      • Joel says:

        Keith,

        knowing there is diversity in the DoC has helped me to open these types of discussions without fear of punishment. Can you give me an example of one of those rich Eucharistic liturgies you have seen?

        In my experience it is very limited, and often all done “up front.” The congregation often only signs a hymn and receives. This as opposed to communions which have extended very important parts of the liturgy. In fact, in those more “liturgical” denominations it could be argued that Eucharist cannot happen with a congregation to play their part. In most Disciple Eucharistic liturgies it is celebrated by a few, up front, and may only include a prayer and the ipsa verba of Christ.

  7. Russ White says:

    Joel, these are great questions and valid concerns of discernment. It sounds as though you would make a happy Episcopalian priest and an ineffective Disciples pastor. At the least, given your noted understandings and commitments, the CCDC seems a poor fit for you.

    • Joel says:

      Russ,

      Thanks for your honest reply. Could you give me a bit more context about where you are coming from? (You can use the “Contact Me” page, if you would be more comfortable).

      I am well aware that I am at the extrema of Disciple theology. One of the things that is keeping me from “jumping ship” is the Disciples’ ecumenical experiment, so to say. I feel a call to honor the Disciples’ call to diversity in our unity. Christian diversity includes those, like myself, who are at the conservative/liturgical/catholic/orthodox/evangelical end of the spectrum. I fear that if I cannot find a home in the CCDoC, it dishonors our attempt at Christian unity – within a single structure. Does that make sense?

  8. Adrian says:

    Alright so you got me, I’m still just learning the Greek alphabet. I’m assuming you’re a tad more advanced than I at this point. However, despite the literal connotation of the grammar, it’s still a perfectly legitimate viewpoint to interpret the words as symbolic. There are plenty of other instances where Jesus says makes a grammatically literal statement, but we interpret it figuratively. Christians aren’t any saltier than non-Christians, yet Jesus said “you are the salt of the earth.” Jesus spoke figuratively and used symbolic language all the time.
    If the quote was “This is TURNING INTO my body” or “This HAS TURNED INTO my body”, there would be no argument about the interpretation, but he didn’t and there is. I interpret it as symbolic, because he’s sitting there with them telling them the bread is his body, yet his body is clearly already right there. For me the idea of real presence seems unnecessary.
    It doesn’t matter to me if you want to say “this is my body” during communion, and I don’t think many people would even notice a difference. However the wording “this represents” is in line with the interpretation of what I assume is the majority of DoC and is part of the denominational tradition. But, as has already been mentioned, since it IS the DoC, you are allowed to disagree.
    I think the basic question throughout all of these issues for you, is whether or not you feel comfortable with other people being comfortable disagreeing with you, or whether you would be better off finding a different spiritual home where you didn’t have to deal with that tension.

    Personal note: I myself couldn’t deal with the vagueness and wishy-washy nature of the way the DoC handles these questions. I think it was Keith? above, who called “No Creed but Christ” a slogan, and I agree. I ending up loving the idea of doing without a formal creed, but when I took that idea to it’s logical conclusion, substituting a creed with a silly slogan became a problem as well. I’ve since embraced Quakerism; the branch of Christianity where “Creed” is a dirty word. I say this not necessarily to get into any details of my own faith since we’re talking about you! But to give an example of how I think everyone should feel comfortable finding a spiritual home that suits their own needs, wants, and beliefs. If you truly can be comfortable with the loose theology of the DoC, that’s great! But if you think you would end up unhappy, craving more structure and sound doctrine, I would personally encourage you to try something else! Finding your spiritual niche is wonderful!
    I look forward to reading more! Maybe see you at an inter-faith or interdenominational picnic some day? That’s where the unity could be! over a meal sometime… oh wait! Wasn’t that what Jesus was talking about with that whole supper thing???

  9. Joel says:

    Adrian,

    That is a fine conclusion and acceptable interpretation of the text. My argument for staying close to the text is so that we can re-member it better. Not simply “remembering Jesus in our hearts” but an attempt to be there as best we can.

    Disciples are very open, but it seems to me that many congregations are making choices that exclude those who may be more conservative/orthodox/whatever. Saying “represents” (whether you believe that’s what it means or not, excludes those who accept real presence – indeed the majority of Christianity)

    There are others moves which exclude our openness. (Please just an example, I don’t want to get into this here!) Voting to be an open and affirming congregation. Doesn’t this exclude those who have legitimate concerns about the practice of homosexuality? The O&A label may actually marginalize.

    I think you articulated my struggle very well. Not only do I feel a level of discomfort being an extreme minority in the Disciples; I feel rather discomforted with the loose theology of the Disciples generally. I could go somewhere more “comfortable,” but I fear I will rob the Disciples of their attempt to be united in our diversity. And I feel some sort of vague call to bring reform within the Disciples.

    Though it would be nice to share a common foundation/context/ethos with the church I serve, in order to be more effective.

  10. Kate says:

    Okay…yes. I’m Joel’s wife. I know all about this blog but usually don’t read comments and don’t make comments. But I guess I want to.

    It seems a lot of suggestions on these concerns are all hinting towards changing denominations. I haven’t read them all in great detail, but the gist I’ve gotten is “Joel, Don’t like it? Then get out.”

    I’m a family therapist and really believe in systems and the importance of how you come to be who you are because of or in spite of where you grew up. I think lots of people would agree that a church is a community much like a family. Very often, we are “born into” a church/denomination, “Cradle Catholics” and so forth. Sometimes, like you can’t choose who your parents are, you can’t choose easily where you are raised spiritually. And without making this too long, I find it strange how easily people abandon their religious roots once they enter that magical age of adulthood. Should it be so easy? Could you suddenly divorce your parents or your siblings so easily?

    Many people don’t consider Catholics who were baptized as infants to have one of those really cool born-again, I-see-the-light sort of personal experiences. But my story of religion just tickles me pink. To think that I was chosen to be a Christian at a young age…chosen by my parents, by my community, by the Roman Catholic church, and above all, by God…the whole thing completely out of my control. Well, it makes faith and spirituality as natural to me as being a woman. I didn’t have to wake up one day and decide to be a woman, I just became that.

    I know Joel has had a similar upbringing. His parents choose a church and the community and his family helped to form and shape him.

    Now we all get concerns about our families every now and again. It can make you want to disown members when they’re doing or saying things that have you concerned. But you stick by them because of that history and the way you were chosen to be related to them beyond your control.

    I’m not saying that no one should ever switch denominations or join churches. I’m not saying be loyal to the way you were brought up at all costs, because eventually the metaphor breaks down a bit. But if you are very much tied to the denomination that makes you who you are, in a very familial way, it shouldn’t be an easy process of “just become” Episcopal… or Catholic or whatever. Are we not called to continue to be a part of our families even in adulthood and become voices within them to shape who and what they are?

    Is the ease with which we leave an affiliation today a cause of so many problems? Divorce runs rampant through this nation because we’re stuck in this mentality that if it doesn’t work, give up and try a new one. (also another kettle of fish that isn’t a perfect metaphor.)

    Anyway…my bottom line. Sometimes it’s not so easy to just change denominations to suit what you think you want. I think you should work with your family awhile before you decide it can’t work out and you need to divorce it. Especially this being the DOC. I mean, come on, if there is no place for a family member like Joel, who has these concerns, then are they really fulfilling their mission of Christian unity? Sometimes you can’t give up on your family, and you pray that they don’t give up on you despite the lack of “perfect fit,” if there even is such a thing anywhere.

  11. Russ White says:

    As layperson who came to the Disciples as a young adult in the mid-1980s, my experience is that unity is important to Disciples, but not most important. We are quick to trade unity for self-determination. I find that most would exchange unity for diversity in any number of manifestations. But I speak of unity here in the sense of retention, not invitation. What I like about Disciples’ sense of unity as I have best experienced it is that we welcome everyone to the Table, but do not insist that everyone accept that invitation. If one cannot sit at the same Table with one’s neighbors (or sinners, or tax-collectors), then one is free to leave. Orthodoxies are divisive in their binding attractions. My understandings of the Disciples’ orthodoxy of diversity and autonomy and your conservative/liturgical/catholic/evangelical orthodoxy suggest to me that for you, a Disciples pastorate would be akin to your trying to teach a pig to sing: it will only frustrate you and annoy the pig. ;-) The Church is not a single Vessel — it’s a Flotilla. If you can travel peaceably as a Disciple, then good for all of us. If not, all will be fine if you decide to “jump ship” from the Disciples; find a craft that suits your convictions, and we’ll see you in Port, friend. Your conscientious choice to choose another way does not dishonor the Disciples hope for unity, but honors it.

  12. Jessica says:

    Joel,

    I think what can help you to focus right now is to decide what you want to do with your ordainment. You’ve said several times that you feel God is calling you to aid in the Unification of Christians. You can do that no matter what church you are in.

    Now, we all know that you grow stronger by struggling, and we all know that the DOC’s won’t “kick you out” as you say because you have more conservative beliefs. The questions you have are very healthy at this point, and you’re very lucky to have such a well-rounded group of individuals here to help you. The only thing you need to decide is what you will be doing with that piece of paper once it’s framed on your wall. Do you want to be the minister in a DOC church? Are you still looking to become a Chaplain for the Army? Are you thinking of founding your own church? You have many options once you’ve become ordained, and the assumption that you will immediately be placed in an existing DOC church, while likely, is not the only option you will have.

    The suggestion that you become an Episcopalian priest seems like the easy way out. (Yes, Russ, I realize it was just a suggestion) If you want to achieve God’s calling for you, I feel that can be best directed through either the DOC or the Catholic Church. Both are members of the CCT, so you can work towards Christian Unification with a nice start in either church. (Or, if you really want a challenge, get the Episcopalians to join the CCT!)

    Back to my point: no matter which church you are in, you can achieve your goal. Remember that it’s ok to make mistakes. Like Russ said, “all will be fine if you decide to ‘jump ship’ from the Disciples.” Just have a talk with the Lord one of these days and see if he can give you a little more guidance.

  13. Joel says:

    Thanks all for your comments (and I certainly still welcome them). This is still part of my discernment process. I had been working this over in my mind for the last several years, and now made some attempt to articulate the concerns, and certainly appreciate everyone’s input.

    This is by no means a “critical point” of decision. I just wanted to fully work out just what my concerns are before I bring it to my nurturing committee, my denominational mentor, and so on..

    I am fundamentally opposed to leaving a denomination simply because it doesn’t suit my tastes. This is American individualism at its worst. Where is the sense of mystery and understanding that the Church is so much bigger than oneself? Not to mention that switching denominations (as a minister) is not as easy as changing your socks.

  14. Jeff says:

    Joel, tell your beloved that we all should have a discussion of family systems therapy approaches and congregational life — it’s not ecclesiology, but it is destiny of a sort.

    I agree with you that over-emphasis on “represents” in the words used at the table in worship makes my scalp itch, although i have no problem accepting someone with that view in fellowship. It does not communicate either mystery or the tradition very well — but i can affirm that in our more Baptist-influenced areas (i.e., rural, but not only rural), that’s language that gets foregrounded at the table, especially by elders/lay leaders.

    As for Russ’ point “We are quick to trade unity for self-determination,” if only he were incorrect on this, but he is not. All too true.

  15. Joshua says:

    Joel,

    Very interesting post, and conversation.

    I am a Disciple, and currently in Seminary, just so you know a little about me.

    I wanted to comment about a couple of the things you have said, both in the post and in the comment section.

    You have talked about feeling marginalized by the word usage in communion, that a theological viewpoint is being shown by saying “represent” instead of being literal with it. The beauty of the Disciples denomination is that every church can have their own idea about that. Personally, I don’t believe that the bread and “wine” is literally the body and blood of Jesus, and so I prefer the person presiding to say that and might feel turned off if they made a big point about it being literally the body and blood of Jesus. The thing is, that within the Disciples denomination, you can find a church that fits in with your theological beliefs. The idea that those presiding should only use your interpretation throughout the denomination totally goes against what we stand for as a denomination. You can definitely choose as a church home a church that believes as you do, (and notice that I am not suggesting at all that you should leave the denomination, because I definitely do not think that you should) and let those of us that feel more comfortable with representative or figurative language continue to have and use it.

    And I know that you said you didn’t want to get into here, but you brought it up, so I feel compelled to reply to it, you say that you feel it would be marginalizing to a segment of a congregation for a church to become Open and Affirming (and I think that is the reason the denomination has not done that as of yet, because there are many churches that do feel it would be wrong to become Open and Affirming and there is fear that churches would leave the denomination over it), but ultimately that is a decision that a church has to make for itself, and deserves to be able to make for itself. Again, in my theological understanding, Jesus would want churches to be Open and Affirming and although I am not gay myself, I would feel much more comfortable and believe that I am in a more Christ-like community if my Church were Open and Affirming.

    Those that disagree still have churches within the denomination where they can feel at home.

    Other then points 1 and 4 (and maybe 7 and 8, but which you admit might not actually be a problem in your mind) your concerns about the DOC are not actually about the DOC as a whole but about certain churches within the denomination. Like others have said, most Disciple ministers I know abhor the idea of Re-Baptisim. But the beauty of point 1 is that you can find a church that fits with you on most of these other issues.

    As for Point 4, I believe that an open table is absolutely essential and there is no scriptual basis whatsoever for denying anyone the right to come to the table, and I think that pretty much every Disciples church is in agreement on that. I’m not sure why the invitation for all to come to the table is a turn off for you. You say that you can’t join in with a non-believer, but if there is a non-believer there at the worship service, chances are good that they aren’t going to join in the communion anyway, and if they do, then it is an opportunity for you (or someone) to talk to them about what exactly that ritual means. It would provide an evangelical moment. I don’t see it as being something that should keep you from participating in communion. And even if it were not an open table, there is no guarentee that every other believer that is taking communion has the same understanding of what that means that you do, how is that any different than someone who doesn’t believe at all sharing the table with you? And how about someone who is a believer, but is experiencing doubt in their faith. I have certainly been there before, should I have not joined in at communion because of that? I would hope that you wouldn’t answer yes to that question, because it was a large part due to communion that I came back to the church and to Christ and am now studying to become a minister myself. If the table had been closed to me at that time of doubt, I would most definitely not be in Seminary and working at a church now. I agree that communion is about more than just uniting us with God and that it does unite us with each other, but being united with others in a different place then yourself either because they are non-believers or because they have a different understanding or because they are having a crisis of faith does nothing to lessen YOUR experience of the Eucharist or your unity in that ritual with God.

    • Joel says:

      Thanks Joshua for joining the discussion and blessings on you as you continue to prepare for the ministry. I will be addressing these points individually in-depth, but you do raise a number of good points I do want to explore here.

      As for the words of institution: No church anywhere will ever have any problem with a faithful reciting of scripture. As stated earlier all three gospels, and 1 Cor agree the words Jesus said are “This is my body…” I agree, the introduction to communion (why do we have one of these anyway??) should not over-emphasize any one aspect of the feast. You can interpret is how you like, but represent has only a very limited meaning. I will argue for saying “This is my body” primarily because that is what scripture says, 2) because it makes the meaning most alive and open and 3) it can be accepted by every Christian denomination.

      Further on the communion question concerning an open table. Inviting non-Christians to the Eucharist is unbiblical, against Christian tradition, and counter-intuitive. 1 Cor 11:27-29 “Therefore, 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (NIV) Here I believe Body of the Lord is a reference to the Church. Those who cannot discern the church, i.e. those who are not part of it, should not participate in the feast which unities us as Christians and recalls our baptism (see an allusion to baptism in 1 Cor 10). The Didache, chapter 9 says it explicitly “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord.”

      If you are looking for an inclusive meal narrative (that is to invite all to the table), why not use the “Feeding of the 5,000?” The Last Supper was among Jesus’ disciples, and the early church shows us it was a meal for Christians only.

      This is not about putting up fences, but rather accurately declaring reality. Non-Christians cannot “discern the Body of Christ,” nor can they “do this in remembrance of me,” nor affirm their baptism in the feast. To celebrate Eucharist with a non-believer, thus saying we are “in communion” while not sharing in the same Lord is, quite frankly, a lie.

      I do invite you to continue the discussion. Thanks for those questions.

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