Great Communion 2009

Written by Joel on September 21st, 2009


Sunday Oct 4, 2009 is World Communion Sunday in which Christian congregations all over the world will celebrate The Lord’s Supper as a sign of our unity in the feast. On the same day, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is celebrating Great Communion Sunday which is meant to bring together the three strands of The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement: Church of Christ, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

At first I thought that these two events were separate, that Restoration Churches were celebrating Great Communion Sunday (GCS) instead of World Communion Sunday (WCS). However, GCS appears to be set within the context of WCS as a way for Restoration Churches to strive for more explicit unity within their realm of influence, that is among congregations of similar historical background. GCS has additional meaning in that 2009 is the bicentennial of Campbell’s Declaration and Address and the centennial celebration of a similar GCS which marked the one hundred year anniversary of Declaration and Address. The document called for visible unity among all Christians.


Following is a responsive reading which will be used for the GCS service at a church in my region:

Leader:  Every person has the right to private judgment.
People: O God, we thank you for our freedom to be different from each other and to be blessed by those who are different from us.
Leader: The scriptures will be the sole authority; no human creeds or inventions.
People: O God, thank you for speaking to us through your word so that, in freedom, we may work out our salvation and together be guided in our mission.
Leader: The sectarian spirit is evil; bitter jarrings and janglings of party spirit, clashing human opinions should be at rest; restore unity and peace.
People: O God, in your love, forgive us for harsh judgments, inhospitality, and harmful divisions.  Let the peace of Christ heal your church.
Leader: The Bible alone for our rule; the Holy Spirit for our teacher of truth; and Christ alone as our salvation.
People: O God, as we pray over scripture, pour out your Spirit so that we may look to our Lord Jesus Christ to live fully and faithfully His prayer that we may all be one.
Leader: We pray in His name,
People: Amen.

The liturgy continues with more themes about individuality and prayers which invoke Campbell’s Declaration and Address.


Then I wondered how all this informs my concerns stated earlier. I can finally put my finger on it: the extreme focus on individuality. Yes, we are individuals, but the whole point of corporate worship is that we come together as one Body to worship our one Lord, Jesus Christ. Not to emphasize our individuality, but to emphasize our unity. Not to mention, this is a responsive reading, meaning the congregation is given this text to read…together. Does anyone else see the irony here? I can’t help but imagine The Borg from Star Trek doing this responsive reading: “We are the Borg, We are individuals, We have freedom. Resistance is futile.” The fact that this is a corporate responsive reading is an affirmation that the individuality called for within itself is untenable. It is a paradox. Namely the call to unity in…what is it that unites us?

I must also question the timing. Why celebrate Great Communion Sunday on the same day as World Communion Sunday with the risk that the former overshadow the latter? I can’t help but think this is an particular example of the Restoration Churches (e.g. Disciples) hanging on to our individuality in spite of unity with the universal church. Campbell, in his Declaration and Address, echoed Christ’s prayer “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:11). This is a call which spans all denominations. For the sake of unity, are Restoration Churches willing to sacrifice a degree of freedom and individuality? I suggest we must.

Campbell, in his Declaration and Address was not arguing for a complete freedom to “believe what-ever you want to believe” and to have “unity no matter the cost.” Quite the contrary, Campbell said Christian churches must be agreed on the great doctrines of the faith.

“all the Churches of Christ which mutually acknowledge each other as such, are not only agreed in the great doctrines of faith and holiness, but are also materially agreed as to the positive ordinances of the Gospel institution; so that our differences, at most, are about the things in which the kingdom of God
does not consist, that is, about matters of private opinion or human invention. What a pity that the kingdom of God should be divided about such things!” – D&A page 10, line 31-38

Yes, we have freedom in those matters that are not of the Kingdom of God, those things which are not important. But we (should…must) be united in the Christian faith. Scripture does not call us to freedom of belief; it calls us to subjection to our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us emphasize our unity and oneness in worship, not our differences.

Unity is not a magic word, just because you say it does not make it so.

Today, Disciples claim that our unity is in our individual freedom (i.e. disunity, and in some cases rejection of “the great doctrines of faith and holiness”); that is no unity whatsoever.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. keith says:

    Bravo, Joel. Well said. I’d like to add that saying “Every person has the right to private judgment” is a lot like saying “Every person has the right to go to hell.”

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