Monday, May 12, 2008

Unity in Communion?

Recently, over at The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer asked a question about how communion relates to unity with Christ. He wrote:
All Christians are united with Christ by the sovereign, gracious work of God himself. All the benefits of salvation come to us because of union with Christ. So how does union with Christ relate to your understanding of the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper?

Growing up that I had been taught that one of the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants was whether Christ was physically present in the bread and the wine, or whether he was just spiritually present. I also knew that there were a variety of opinions on the topic. As I discovered in reading the comments to Michael Spencer's post, these opinions were quite varied, and held quite fervently. So fervently in fact that I found two things happening.

  1. People were less than charitable in describing each others positions.
  2. A number of people would not take communion with you unless you shared their opinion.

In response to the comments I was reading, (and I would encourage you to read the thread), I made the following comment:

I realize that this is an important topic to many by the impassioned comments on this blog, but the comments are really over the top. I am tired of people who proclaim that my (take your pick) denomination/mode of baptism/communion/union with Christ/experience of the holy spirit/version of the bible/understanding of the scriptures/understanding of truth - is better than yours.

If you want to know why young people today are being turned off of organized religion, denominationalism and the church, then just reread some of the comments posted above. As for me, I cherish my union with Christ, which has been deepened through many different experiences. My table and fellowship is open to all those who have also expressed a union with Christ, no matter what their background.

I know that there is such divergent Christian thought about so many topics that I can’t possibly get it all right. But I can try to earnestly follow Christ with all my “heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

When we get to Heaven someone may point at me and say to Christ, “He believed incorrectly about topic X”. Christ will say something like, “I died for him, and he has chosen to follow me as best as he knows how. He belongs to me. Why did you exclude him from my table/my church’s membership? He is welcome at my table and in my church.”

Bror Erickson responded:

Quite frankly I haven’t heard anyone here say you or anyone else won’t be in heaven, where all sins will be forgiven even sins of the mind.But that doesn’t mean false doctrine should be tolerated, or doctrinal divisions should be glossed over here in the church militant. God has given us his word. If we love him with all our heart and with all our mind we will take that quite seriously. And those that are teaching things contrary to the word of God should be told as much, warned, marked, rebuked and avoided, it really is the only charitable thing to do. It is infact what the New Testament tells us to do in many places. It may not be nice by worldly standards, it may not be politically correct, it may even come off as unloving. But we don’t get to choose what parts of the Bible to believe, and what parts to ignore.If I was to take what you said to heart, I would have no choice but set aside my ordination, forsake all my Lutheran distinctives, and swim either the Tiber or the Bosphurous. If doctrine doesn’t matter, than none of us had any reason to break with Rome, or Constantinople for that matter. Nor do we have any reason to split from a creedal Church chanting the mantra “only the Bible.”I’d much rather be open about our differences and discuss them candidly. No one is served by anything less.

Feeling as if I was being understood, I made the following comment back to Bror:

I think you have misunderstood my post on a number of fronts.

I agree with you that false doctrine should not be tolerated and doctrinal division should not be glossed over. I agree that “those that are teaching things contrary to the word of God should be told as much, warned, marked, rebuked and avoided…”

My point is that I am a member of Christ’s church. I believe, like the creeds, in the “holy catholic (universal) church.”

When we disagree on secondary doctrinal matters, I say, let us agree to disagree, but as long as we both hold to a classic Christian faith as expressed in the creeds, you are welcome at my church and at my communion table. Because it is not my church, and not my Communion table, but Christ’s, and if he has accepted you into his family, then I call you brother and accept you into mine.

It saddens me that I would not be welcomed into your church and allowed to participate in your communion in the same way I would welcome you into mine.

You state that you would “rather be open about our differences and discuss them candidly. No one is served by anything less.” I am totally in agreement with that, as long as it is done with a spirit of gentleness and generosity. I have felt like that gentleness and generosity has been sadly lacking in many of the posts above.

Bror respoded:

Thats just it. I think if you agreed with me, then you wouldn’t see Lord’s Supper as a secondary issue. It’s not, not for Lutherans. It is the “New Testament” Christ’s Last will and Testament, in his blood. How serious does it have to be before it is not a secondary doctrine? Your messing with God’s Testament here. For us Lutherans it is quite simply the gospel itself we are consuming. As I have said before it is at the heart of everything we believe, teach and confess. What you confess about the Lord’s Supper colors everything you confess about Christ and who he is.

And for this reason I would not want to join you in what I can only see as a profanation of the Lord’s Supper. And for that reason I would ask that you wait until you are thoroughly instructed as to what us Lutheran’s believe teach and confess, before you make a common confession of faith with us at the Lord’s Table, so that you understand what it is you are receiving and why.It may be a secondary issue for you. But understand for us it isn’t, we ask that you respect that.

So that was the start of our discussion. What do you think? I will be adding some further thoughts a little later.

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