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« Bowing to the Altar of Relevance | Main | Without a Rite-of-Passage... »

September 18, 2004

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Maybe offering an open table is how we can be relevant.

Wow, I just read that page of MC this week, probably on Wednesday or so. Crazy coincidence. Good book.

This is why, in most Orthodox parishes, the entire parish *along with all visitors* share a common brunch/coffee hour where all are welcome. Blessed bread (but not communion) is shared among all at this time as well.

One doesn't need to sacrifice the historic and clearly biblical mandate for careful guarding of the sacraments to build "unity" or whatnot. You can have "both/and" here!

Karl, maybe I'm not understanding... but how does "yes" to table-fellowship together, but "no" to Holy Communion together constitute the "both/and" reality you're claiming within (most of ) Orthodoxy?

Because we have the benefits of sharing meals with all those who come to worship with us, building bonds of friendship--while at the same time taking seriously the patristic understanding and experience of Holy Communion as an end, not a means of unity as the Body of Christ.

When I left home to join the Navy, my pastor gave me a little card to put in my wallet. It was a communion card. It was so that, if I went to a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and wanted to take communion, I could prove I was on the "inside" and it was OK.

A bulletin notice at that same church asked readers to refrain from communion unless they were members or had had an individual interview with the pastor.

I've always been taught that communion ("with" + "unity") was exclusively for those who had given themselves to follow Jesus. I did some looking, and the only scripture I can find to touch on this is 1 Cor 11:23-34. But that is sketchy at best. Paul is speaking to a specific church about specific divisions -- telling those folks to examine their own motives before they eat and drink (or judge others).

Without any other scriptural underpinnings I'm not sure if opening the communion table to those "unsaved" among us is more detrimental to them than asking them to abstain. If we ask them to abstain, we are potentially modeling an exclusivity which would turn some away from the faith as "yet another place where I can't be a part of things". But in some teachings I've heard, the passage above is referenced as meaning if an unbeliever takes communion they might die!

But two other things impress me here:

(1) Jesus' model
(2) Our traditional model for baptism

(1) Jesus ate many meals with "sinners" and offended the religious folks. But He also practiced exclusivity at times. He only picked 12. He only sent out 72. Sometimes before healing someone, He sent people out of the room. On the mount of transfiguration, He only had Peter James and John with Him -- He told the rest of the disciples to stay where they were.

Most notably: while He ate many meals with many people, He ate the last supper with only His 12. Only those on the "inside" were allowed to share the mystery and the majesty of that feast together.

(2) Baptism:
Compare and contrast communion access with baptism. Would it be acceptable to you to have someone who has not given their life to follow Jesus enter into baptism? Why or why not?

As sacraments go, it also reminds me of marriage. One man and one woman agree to covenant together with the Holy Spirit binding them into one. This is a very exclusive arrangement. Of course I would not claim only Christians should be allowed to marry -- but I would say that only those individuals who have fully committed themselves to the covenant between one another and God should be allowed to take those vows.

This is one of the reasons I find polygamy so objectionable. This is also one of the meanings I see behind the traditional warning that marriage is not something to be entered into hastily or lightly.

Finally, I'm wondering if we've spent so much time moving away from the either/or modern worldview because of it's exclusivity and so much energy embracing the both/and postmodern worldview...

...that we've now erred on the other side of the pendulum swing?

(sorry in advance for the semantic mind bend)

Maybe it does not have to be either "either/or" or "both/and"?

Maybe we can have both "either/or" and "both/and" within our life and practice of faith.

After all, along with all the scriptures supporting inclusivity, doesn't scripture also paint a picture of how it is the very prohibition of a thing which makes our longings perk up and say "Hey, I want that!"

Maybe being real and honest with people in our day-to-day lives and eating meals with them will temper any bad feelings they get from being excluded from the communion table.

Maybe we're too worried about people's feelings sometimes, and not concerned enough re: the way God wants things.

Jesus died for all. Whether they accepted Him or followed Him or not, the price was paid for the sins of Hitler, Idi Amin, and Jeffrey Dalmer, etc etc etc. That, my friends, is inclusivity my mind cannot understand.

But Jesus will also sit in judgement of all. Matthew's gospel account pulls no punches when it quotes Jesus as saying beyond the shadow of a doubt there will be both sheep and goats. Granted, He decides that, not us. But it is clear He will not say to all those gathered "Well, I'd hate for any of you to feel bad about not being included, so c'mon in and enjoy the rest and joy prepared for you."

He is both exclusive and inclusive.

So on the one hand my personal conviction is this: communion is for the fellowship of those who proclaim to have given their lives to following Him, just like baptism.

But I also think it is only He who can decide whose people really are. Maybe a card in a wallet would help, or maybe an interview with the pastor. At our gatherings, we inform people of the seriousness and mystery of the sacrament, but then leave it to them to decide whether or not to join in.

OK, enough rambling. =O) If we were all sitting in a room and talking, I'd thank you for letting me "bend your ear" -- since you've been reading this I'll simply close by thanking you for letting me bend your eyes.

~ Keith

There has to be SOMETHING out there that is reserved for believers. I think the backlash against gatherings exclusively intended for the flock is taking us too far in the other direction. There is something powerful that happens when it is just those of us who believe.

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