Our discussion this week brings us to one of the “most common doctrinal controversies” – Holy Communion. Virtually every church that celebrates Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, feels its way is the only way. Their way is the only “truth.”
This is why I chose the quote for this week. Albert Einstein said:
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up a judge in the field of truth and knowledge
is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
~Criminal Minds Episode
The debates over the “truth” of Communion have been going on for centuries. Should the wine be mixed (with water) or unmixed? Should the bread be leavened or unleavened? The Catholic and Episcopal Churches use wafers; while many Protestant Churches use cut loaves of bread. Some feel only wine is acceptable; others feel that grape juice is sufficient. Then there’s the issue of standing, kneeling or sitting.
Added to the “how” is the “who” – who is permitted to partake in the feast of Holy Communion? And, how often?
In the early Catholic Church, children were allowed to receive Communion. Today, in addition to being baptized, they must go through Confirmation. Additionally, no one is invited to partake unless they have been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic faith. On the other hand, in many churches, all that’s required is a profession of faith and the desire to partake.
In some churches, only the clergy receive both the bread and the wine. Everyone else simply receives the bread. In others, everyone receives both bread and wine.
As to how often – many churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week; some only once a month. And, still others reserve the Feast for special times of year, like Christmas and Easter.
A main controversy also has to do with the nature of Communion itself. Roman Catholics, and others, believe in the transubstantiation – the bread and the wine actually become the body and the blood of Jesus. Others who, quite frankly, find the concept of transubstantiation to be akin to cannibalism, see Communion as commemorative – “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) And, some churches, like the Quakers, no longer celebrate Holy Communion at all.
The Debate Goes On
In 1950, a committee was created at the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois. The committee’s sole purpose was to study and discuss ways to standardize the practice of celebrating Holy Communion. The committee was given a period of ten years. As of 1979, when Alternatives was first published (almost 30 years later), no standardized plan had been developed, much less accepted and adopted.
I find it interesting that of the four Synoptic Gospels, only Luke includes the statement, “do this in remembrance of me.” Mark and Matthew do not include this instruction. Neither Mark nor Matthew seem to indicate the Celebration of the Feast as something to be ongoing. John is completely silent on the subject.
As with many topics of debate, one can find scripture to validate one’s point of view as the “truth.” When researching this topic, I found numerous websites pointing to Scripture that validating many different opinions. Maybe, as Einstein says, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in the position of judging in the field of truth lest we be shipwrecked. Maybe we need to realize that the celebration of Holy Communion is a deeply personal, spiritual experience.
Jesus said, “the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” For me, Communion is very personal. And, I relate very much to the sentiments of Mr. Fischer:
Let’s consider the sacraments, in a deep sense. Wine represents blood, and blood represents life. Therefore, wine is symbolic of the Life of God coursing through our bodies. Bread represents the body of Christ, and this in turn Is representative of divine substance. If the flesh profits nothing and the words are the important thing, why not observe communion by using our words in prayer? Since communion is concerned with the life and substance of God, then a real communion service is a prayer time when we appropriate more of divine life and substance into our lives.
Mr. Fischer goes on to describe Communion as a very personal thing, not necessarily something that must be observed in a formal church service. On this, I agree. Communion is often celebrated in homes, hospitals, places of healing, etc. And, it’s important to remember that celebrating the Feast is not something that requires clergy. There is no Scriptural instruction that the Lord’s Supper must be presided over by a member of the clergy. The heart and the mind are what’s required.
Now, Mr. Fischer indicates that we could easily substitute a personal and private Communion for that which we celebrate when we come together. I would submit that it is not something we should do “instead of,” but “in addition to.” Whether alone or as part of a formal service, what’s important is the prayerful experience with God and with Jesus. In this, I like what Mr. Fischer has to say:
“As you take time to have a real communion experience, you must become very still. In the dynamics of your silence, begin to think of the life and substance of God becoming more evident in every aspect of your life. Affirm for yourself that God’s life is a powerful, divine element flowing through you, strengthening and energizing your body. God’s life gives you a greater sense of service and a desire to be of greater benefit to others. In this rarefied consciousness of God working through you, you become more aware of His substance as evidenced in every aspect of your life. This substance represents more of everything in life that is for your highest good. Your life is mightily blessed.”
This, to me, is the essence of “remembrance of me.” Jesus’ life was powerful, a source of strength, one of service and benefit to others. When we connect, or Commune, with God and Jesus in this way; when we transform our lives into lives of service to others; when we become a source of strength to others – that’s when we live up to our statement of remembrance.
We may never agree on the who, what, where, when, and how. We each must be free to celebrate our Lord’s Supper in the manner which is true for us. We must also be careful, however, not to judge others in how they choose to celebrate according to their truth. Whether in a formal service or not, whether bread or wafers, wine or juice, what matters most is the spiritual experience between ourselves, God, and Jesus. What matters is remembering Him, what He stood for, what He represents in our lives, and how we can make Him come alive through us. As Mr. Fischer says, “This is a life-changing experience. What could be more inspiring?”
- Luke 22:19
- John 6:63
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