Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | July 15, 2008

Eucharist and Salvation Part 2

The two churches that I pastor celebrate communion every week, but in the past they only took it three or four times a year. My congregation in Nashville has been celebrating communion every week for about 7 years and the congregation in Murfreesboro has been doing it for the last 4 years.

It’s been inspiring and encouraging to watch the change in our lives as we have embraced the thanksgiving (eucharist) meal of the Church – this first of the only two rituals that Jesus has given us (the other being, of course, baptism).

I thought about it again this week when I read Ted’s comment on my post from this past Friday. He pointed out that the Lord’s supper is “an invitation to believe”.

This is interesting to me because I’ve noticed that almost all congregations have some ceremony or ritual at the end of their weekly worship service in which they invite people to express their belief in the good news.

In many Protestant congregations it is an altar call, or an “invitation to discipleship”, or some other ceremony. In Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox congregations it is a celebration of the eucharist that is only for baptized Christians.

After seven years of celebrating communion every week I see several aspects of what it means that communion is “an invitation to believe”:

1. In contrast to other forms of congregational response (such as altar calls), communion has a Christ-centered substance that other rituals lack. Communion says “Jesus gives himself to you, believe it!” In contrast, altar calls and other such rituals say “You need to give yourself to Jesus, if you believe in him and give yourself to him then he will accept you.” Communion is communicating the gospel correctly!

2. Trying to control access to the eucharist is unbiblical and a waste of time. The bible no where says that you must be a baptized Christian to take communion. In fact, Jesus says the opposite: “Let the little children come to me and don’t hinder them,” and “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden.” If Jesus is really present in communion (and I believe he is, as he is really present in the whole cosmos) then we need to call the world to his table, not set up barriers to prevent them from getting there.

3. And besides, how can any system of control ever be anything more than artificial? With all due respect to my Catholic brothers and sisters, just because someone’s been sprinkled with water doesn’t mean you can know what’s in their hearts or what they truly believe. As I pointed out in Friday’s post, the incarnation of the Son – symbolized in the bread and wine – is the gift of the Father to all humanity, not just to those who’ve performed external rites of passage like baptism or confirmation.

4. Many people who are accustomed to taking communion less frequently than once a week fear that it will “not be special” if they take it every Sunday. Of course, such a fear never stops us from having a sermon, songs, and prayers every week. Some Sundays the songs are special and some weeks they’re not but we still do it every week. Why? Because it is integral to worship. So is communion.

5. What we have found is that weekly communion has actually helped us understand far more clearly how necessary and central Christ is to our lives. A Sunday service without the body and blood of Christ would be like a Sunday service without prayer or without the Bible.

Throughout the Christian world we see the eucharist returning to the place of central importance that it held in all of Christian worship for the first 1500 years of our faith. I personally believe that this is part of the Holy Spirit’s work to reform and refocus the Church on the centrality of Christ.

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Responses

  1. Excellent summary concerning communion, including a defense of an open Table.

    I’m reading J.B. Torrance’s book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace” – he has some wonderful insights on all worship, communion included.

    For J.B., worship is our participation, through the Spirit, in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship…” (p. 15).

    Speaking specifically of the Table, he notes that there we are “remembering in such a way that we see our participation in the past event [of Jesus for us] and see our destiny and future as bound up with it…At the Lord’s Table we do not merely remember the passion of our Lord as an isolated date from nineteen hundred years ago. Rather we remember it in such a way that we know by the grace of God we are the people for whom our Savior died and rose again, we are the people whose sins Jesus confessed on the cross, we are the people with whom God has made a new covenant in the blood of Christ…” (p. 85).

    He notes that Jesus is not a distant memory at the Table, he is fully present, and we are, through the Spirit, participants in his new humanity: “The Christ who meets us at the table, on the one hand, is the one in whose representative humanity our broken humanity was assumed and judged, the one in whose self-consecration and self-offering we were consecrated and healed. On the other hand, he is the ascended Lord in whose continuing humanity our humanity is presented by our great high priest to the Father, the one by whose eternal Spirit we are given by grace to share in the substitutionay self-presentation of Christ in the Holy of Holies…The Christ who draws us into such wonderful communion is the whole Christ, the God-man, in whom and through whom God and humanity are reconciled” (p. 87).

    J.B. then quotes Calvin, who noted that “The Lord’s Supper [is] an evangelical ordinance [that] enshrines vividly the inner meaning of the Gospel” as the “great exchange” (p. 90). Thus the bread and wine serve as a memorial that “the Son of God assumed our life…our body of flesh, our mind, our spirit, sinful though they be, sanctified them in his own person, and in our name made that Offering which we could never make…[now he comes to us at the Table] in an act of self-giving ans says: ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is for you’…He gives back our life to us, converted and regenerated in him….As Luther put it…[at the Table] we do not commune with a ‘naked Christ’…a divine Christ shorn of his humanity. We do not merely commune with the Son of God as the second person of the Trinity…but with the incarnate Lord” (pp. 91-92).

    In short, at the Table, Jesus, with our humanity risen and perfected, is fully present for us and with us.

    What better place would there be to meet this Jesus for the first time? Come to the table and believe. Come and receive. Come and be fed.

    Glory!

  2. This is a GREAT post and it and Ted’s comment here and earlier point out how truly meaningful and EXCITING communion really is. It is precisely this kind of discussion and conversation we must have at the congregational level – again and again. By clearly seeing and experiencing communion as a living, intimate, CONSCIOUS participation in the Triune life of God and a true presentation of the Gospel, we can avoid the pitfalls that those who oppose taking communion often warn about. Over the years, I have seen what a lack of understanding in this area can look like. I remember attending a Baptist church’s communion service on a Wednesday night several years ago (this church celebrated communion once a month this way). Only a handful of people showed up. The contrast between what I had always been used to in WCG was striking. Another time, I was on staff at a WCG youth camp and communion was held for the younger kids. Most of them didn’t know what was going on and mostly distracted each other during the service laughing at each other and making fun of each other as they took the symbols. They were definitely NOT discerning the Lord’s body! Don’t get the impression that I am opposed to people expressing joy during communion – Hey! – we are CELEBRATING communion, aren’t we? Having our prescription changed (how we look at communion), in the way you and Ted have talked about, Christ-centered, IS the answer! Thanks, guys.

  3. Thanks for the great, encouraging, comments guys!

    I have returned again and again to “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace” it really is one of my top books – thanks for drawing our attention to it, Ted. I love the way you phrased it “what better place would there be to meet this Jesus for the first time” – and then to realize that he was always the one who was always there in your life!

    And I agree with you, Jerome, we ought to really celebrate communion with joy and at the same time help our kids understand what is happening. Perhaps in my next post I can share a few experiences I’ve had along those lines in the last few years.

  4. Thanks for a great commentary on communion. For several years I have been inviting people to meet Christ each time we make communion available – especially when we have visitors. In fact, it gives me a little extra “umph” when visitors are present during a communion. I strongly encourage them to come to the table and meet Jesus.

    Even with young children it seems to me that if they “eat His flesh and drink His blood” they will have experienced His Truine life even if they don’t understand it yet. I trust the Holy Spirit and the people around them to take them the rest of the way!

  5. I agree, Glen, I think we have to embrace the mystery that is inherent in communion – we can’t fully know or understand what is happening with kids and new/non-believers, all we know is that Jesus said he is present in the bread and wine and that we should “feed his sheep”, and what else would we feed people but Jesus himself?


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