Monday, March 22, 2010

Elders as administrators

Do we need the church to administer the Supper?

I was reading an article on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog regarding what a “lay person” needs from a church. The blog post was titled Five Things reflective of the five things the lay-person needs from a church from a Reformed Baptist persepctive. Set aside the obvious problematic issues with that whole question for a moment. One of the things this designated lay-person needed was for the church to "administer the sacraments". We hear that a lot but what does the word “administer” mean? According to the handy dandy Dictionary.com app on my blackberry it means:

1. To manage or direct

2. To give

I think given the traditional view of the Supper, the second definition takes a subordinate role to the first. The traditional view sees the Supper as something to be controlled, to be managed. It requires a pastor to bless it and deacons to pass it out. Just any old meal cannot suffice and it must take place in the sterile setting of a church building. Of course there is neither command nor example of any of that in the Scripture but it just seems more proper in our religious eyes to do it that way. It needs to be passed out on plates in utter silence (maybe the pianist can play very softly in the background) and quickly so that the whole thing doesn’t take too long. People have places to go and the church has a schedule to keep. We expect and insist upon the Supper taking the form that we are used to.

Even the second definition of “administer” has some meaning for the church. The Lord’s Supper is something that is given by the local church. You must come to us to partake. The supper is something to be restricted, to be doled out based on the rules of that local church. In many congregations, it is a closed communion, restricted to those who are in formal “membership” with that local church. The form of the Supper, the frequency, the method are all tightly controlled by that local gathering. Changing the form or frequency of the Supper is a painful affair. It is a unifier only for that local congregation with no connection to the greater Body of Christ as a whole. We go to our church and pass the plate, you go to your church and pass the plate and everyone is happy. What is lost is the great witness of the Supper as something observed by God's people for thousands of years and as importantly what is lost is the sense of fellowship and communion that the Supper should represent. You are not in fellowship with the person you met once or twice in the pew next to you just because they pass you a platter of crackers.

There are other problems with these "five things". I don’t really need someone to tell me week after week after week that I am a sinner. We spend so much time clubbing ourselves over the head about our sinful state that we never get around to what we should be doing now. If your local body of believers is made up of regenerate Christians, you really need to focus less on “what happened?” and more on “what now?” The reality of sin is vital for understanding evangelism and understanding sin is likewise essential to understanding why we don't behave as the church the way we should. From a justification standpoint though, I am no longer a sinner under condemnation but a new creature saved by grace. Saved for what? Saved for good works (Eph 2:10; Titus 2:14) not saved to keep pondering how I was saved. Again, it is a vital doctrine but we can spend so much time studying how we got saved and how it is all going to end that we pay no attention to what is happening all around us. In other words, soteriology and eschatology take up so much of our attention that ecclesiology gets short-shrift and tradition rules through inertia. In a perfect world, the knowledge of sin and of salvation would lead us to good works. In reality there seems to be a disconnect here. The local church should be a place of gathering for the purpose of sending. What it has become is strictly a place of gathering. The gathering is an end in and of itself.

I found that this list of things the laity needs from the church is pretty typical. It falls right into not just the historic Reformed notion of "the word truly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and discipline faithfully exercised" as the marks of a "true church", it also matches up with our cultural expectations for what the church is and does. We expect to "go to church" and get something out of it: music, a sermon and perhaps a ritualized passing of the Supper. I also think it speaks to the way that the gathering of the church has lost its original meaning. The church gathering ought to be a place of edification, fellowship, prayer and witness for the purpose of preparing us to go into the world to proclaim Christ in both word and deed.

(I will say that I like the list of five things that we don't need the church to be far more than any of the things we do need the church to be.)

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10 comments:

Aussie John said...

Arthur,

My answer to your heading question is
a resounding "NO!"

I wish many of my Reformed (?) brethren (and Arminian ones) would do some serious challenging to these traditions which have brought rigor mortis to their congregations.

Tim Aagard said...

"The church gathering ought to be a place of edification, fellowship, prayer and witness for the purpose of preparing us to go into the world to proclaim Christ in both word and deed."

When you say this I would add the specific idea that all these things are to be done with mutual participation by all - children included. The whole point of "communion" is mutual participation, not having it performed and expressed for you. Fellowship has become social chit chat in the foyer or in a SS room, rather than believers coming prepared to express truth via encouragement, exhortation and teaching. Prayer is outsourced to the preacher by following along behind his words, rather than personal expression by believers. It's all systemic outsourcing of what God has designed for us to do to a few experts.

One of the most exciting things for me after I left institutionalized forms was to encourage a brother with severe cerebral palsy to participate in the expression regarding the Lord's table, drooling and all. The Spirit's working through this weak brother was powerful.

The scripture is specific. The warning to "not forsake assembly" specifies "one another" communication, the exact opposite of one-way communication as in pulpits and pews.

Tim Aagard said...

Every time I load your blog it takes 30+ seconds to go past the green color that keeps you from being able to read the text. Is there a solution for this? This occures for me both on my Mac with Safari and my pc with IE.

April said...

Interesting you bring this up. While visiting family, I just this weekend had my first experience with being barred from partaking in the Lord's Supper because I am not a member of this specific denomination. It was actually rather unpleasant to be made to feel like a second class Christian. Remember that post I wrote a couple weeks ago about how we need to not treat a brother like an idiot when he is in error? I had to eat a big slice of humble pie and take my own advice, because it was very tempting to think that way. The reasoning for the closed communion was based on the concept of resolving disagreements with your brother before you come to the altar. There are so many things wrong with the way that was being applied to communion, but I won't go into them here, because I'm sure you see the same issues I do. Anyway, this is definitely something that's been on my mind pretty heavily the last few days.

Arthur Sido said...

Tim, I think it is the widgets. I takes a few seconds for it to load for me too. I may ditch those widgets since they interfere with the loading.

Arthur Sido said...

April,

The barring of a Christian from the Supper is tragic and unscriptural. We are supposed to examine ourselves and the only people I can see being excluded from the fellowship of breaking bread are those in open, unrepentant sin.

Come up to Michigan, in our assembly we would welcome you and your husband to share the bread and fruit of the vine as a sister and brother in Christ.

Arthur Sido said...

Tim, I took out three widgets, it seems to load faster now.

April said...

Arthur, if we are ever up that way, we would LOVE to fellowship with you and your family.

And yes, your page loads faster now. :)

Alan Knox said...

April,

The table of the Lord is meant to portray our common union (i.e. communion) in Christ. It is never meant to separate and divide brothers and sisters.

If we read Paul's warnings and admonitions in 1 Cor 11:17-22, and compare those to what you witnessed, then I think what you witnessed was probably not "The Lord's Supper" regardless of what it was called.

-Alan

April said...

Alan,

I agree completely. Thanks for the encouragement!

-April