The Lord’s Supper is the great untouchable. In the worship evolution over the decades, most churches of Christ have maintained a frozen communion practice. There have been additions of “new age songs” (as friend Jim Ingram calls them). Screens and projectors now occupy a prominent place in many churches both conservative and progressive. NIVs fill many pew racks where KJVs used to reside. Some churches purposefully change the order of worship each week to keep things from becoming boring and predictable. Every liberty possible has been taken with each of the “elements of worship”, but for the most part communion remains unchanged.
The Lord’s Supper is, for many, THE reason for the assembly. I have heard the same prayer in almost every church I have ever attended prayed before each element. It is uncanny. The Supper is regarded by many as a time of solitude and silence in the assembly. The elements … and sometimes even the brand name of the elements … have remained exactly the same. In some churches cloths are laid over the elements, although no one knows why they do that any more. In many churches there are words of Jesus etched onto the front of the table. Expensive communion ware adorns the tables, sometimes silver, sometimes gold. Sometimes with crosses, and sometimes without.
Week after week we partake of communion, and though other “items” of worship are tweaked to meet today’s standards (without abandoning Scriptural principle), communion remains the same. No Scripture obligates us to partake of communion every Sunday, but I would never want to leave that wonderful tradition. (I know, some of you are blazing around the ears that I refer to this as tradition, but it simply is.) It is a tradition that belongs almostly exclusively to churches of Christ / Christian churches. It is discussed in detail in the Bible. Established on a Thursday night (probably) by our Lord, practiced daily by the early church (Acts 2), and a normal part of Christian assembly through the ages, I would be the last person on earth to suggest we abandon this practice.
Communion is fellowship. It is connection from saint to Savior, and from saint to saint. Together we consider not only what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do – but the gathered community of faith who share one Spirit and recognize the powerful sacrifice that draws us together in the unity of that Spirit. The mystery of the body and blood of Christ that has far reaching power to cleanse the modern soul should occupy our hearts during the feast. The mind boggling ability of God to forgive sinners, accepting the righteousness of Christ as our own, a body of believers held safely in His love … that is the sphere in which we find ourselves communing with Christ and Christians.
And that is precisely why we must guard the truth of communion from the pale rider of boredom. We cannot afford to conduct ourselves in such a way that dust gathers in our minds as the most predictable segment of worship begins. I am certain that it is not this way at all for many Christians. I am also certain that we have allowed many of our communion traditions to be exalted to the ether heights of truth.
A few years ago John Mark Hicks came out with COME TO THE TABLE: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper. It was both criticized as heresy, and hailed as liberation. It certainly caused a number of people to reconsider this moment we practice every Sunday. I do not have any tricks up my sleeve for making communion more memorable. I will leave John Mark’s book for you to read and consider. But I do want to take note of a few dangerous / distracting aspects of our tradition.
*A Mistaken Notion That We Are Partaking of Communion Exactly As Did The Early Church. No doubt there are similarities. However, missing in the picture is the meal around which we should be gathered. Also, our communion ware is a modern invention. Jesus met in an upper room (observed as a “must” by only a few small sects). Some congregations have only one prayer before the elements are passed. To some, this would be an assault on Christianity. Our thought that we are doing communion just like the Acts bunch is just a mistaken notion, though it comes from good hearts with good intentions.
*The Bread Must Be Unleavened. True, this was the command of passover. True, it is the bread that Jesus would have used when instituting the Lord’s Supper. True, leven is mostly used as a symbol for evil / spreading influence of evil. However, there is no command to use unleavened bread. We arrive at this conclusion through a series of inferences and sometimes present them as issues that relate to salvation!
*Special Rules for Servers. Some congregations have special rules for the attire of those who serve communion. They must wear a coat and tie. A teacher I had at Magnolia Bible College suggested that participants wear coats and ties because that is what we would wear to a funeral. I know his faith was in a resurrected Christ, but his point was made without consideration of what he was saying. If we are going to a funeral on Sunday mornings, then we are in the wrong place! Another special rule we have made up is that all servers must be male. Since in passing a serving tray we are in no way “usurping” the authority of anyone, this man-made rule is passe, and should be abandoned.
*Too Much Attention to Furniture. I remember when a friend of mine was preaching for a congregation that remodeled the sanctuary. They extended the pulpit area forward several feet. They then placed the communion table up on the top level of the stage, and the pulpit at the front lip of the stage. The communion table was to the back. Enraged Christians accused the leaders of minimizing the communion. Our communion table ended up in the back of the auditorium quite by happenstance and it is still there. Not only is this disturbing to some members, the same charge has been leveled. First, to what Scripture will we turn to find a communion table? (or even a church building?) Second, should it be inscribed or non-inscribed? Third, must it match the other furniture. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me where it is. I’m sure a table will be placed in the traditional place up front again sometime in the future. I do want us to be careful, though, that we are not worshiping the table. It can become an idol if its absence causes us to miss the meaning of the Supper. Perhaps it is time to call our attention back to the Lord and away from the wood.
*Sunday Night Communion Should Involve the Congregated Community of Faith. If we offer an evening communion, all who are gathered should partake. This is a hard habit to break. How can we even ask if it is scriptural to partake of communion more than once on a Sunday? I know, we’re not used to it. I have always thought that those going off into another room or (even worse) having to come to the front row like penitents begging for forgiveness for being ‘providentially hindered’ is a bad idea. I think it’s great to offer the second communion. But I think we are missing things a bit to do partial communion. Where is there Scripture for that? Maybe one reason we do not do this is because we believe we may have to contribute money again as well? Smile.
*Two Acts of Worship At Once! Some of the most meaningful times of worship for me have been a communion time while softly singing The Old Rugged Cross with my brothers and sisters. The argument is offered that this is “two acts of worship at once” and therefore declared illegal. Where did this rule come from? Not the Bible! I would guess most people pray while partaking of the Supper. Two acts of worship at once. Some may like it, and some may not … but this is not a matter of right and wrong.
Maybe you know some other communion rules we have set up that detract from our true goal in partaking of the Supper. Whether you agree with me or not, I think we all have common ground in that we do not want the Lord’s Supper to become mundane. The question is, do we treat it as mundane and hope no one notices …. or do we purposefully call attention to the Lord by engaging the mind and heart?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.