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September 29, 2008

Comments

Great response Reggie. I love the line: "Let the Word be read! Let the sermon explain the text! Let the Table preach the text again! Then let our lives preach it one more time!" I also prefer the weekly Table celebration as the most comprehensive expression of the central "banquet hall" theme in Scripture that Bill so wonderfully brings out in his talk. But I also appreciate your reminding us that those who emphasize preparedness with less frequent celebration of the Supper are not de facto "neo-Gnostic" and that Reformed Catholicity helps us be not only loving to one another but accurate and fair as well.

great content from bill boyd.
and reggie, your observations are both thoughtful and helpful.

i have found that weekly celebration of the table does its part of nurturing spiritual health as importantly as weekly celebration of the word. (but i also like your comment about honoring those who differ.)

in 1989 i moved from a church in one city that celebrated the table on a quarterly basis to a church in another city that observed the table on a weekly basis. after a few months a fellow elder from my previous church called to ask my counsel. he said they were considering changing their communion schedule to a monthly one. knowing that i was in an even more frequent regimen, he asked if the frequency "diminished the force" or "specialness of meaning" for me.

the week before his call i had "shadowed" my new church's pastor for a day. i shared with my friend that day began with a 6 a.m. communion with a few of the faithful in our church. at noon i accompanied him to a lunch / discussion / gathering of clergy in our area. that gathering began with another communion. in the afternoon, we visited a couple inmates in the local maximum security women's prison that had been "adopted" by our church. after some visiting and ministry from the scriptures, my pastor led the four of us in another communion service.

i told my friend and fellow elder i may not be the best person to poll on this issue; because it seemed to me that with each subsequent observance, the bread and the wine brought home with increasing power the broken body and spilt blood that reconciles us to god.

your comments about the amish stir the need to value deeply the insights of other parts of our great and diverse family. it seems that each branch of the family of god seems to "get" and "excel" at particular aspects of worship, service, ethics, etc. i have learned things from roman catholics, pentecostals, wesleyans, eastern orthodox and charismatics that have deepened the evangelical faith i have grown up in. if only all parts of the family could strengthen the best parts of our own heritage and then enrich those with the best parts of the the heritage of others.

regarding the "regulative principle:"
it certainly may be different for others, but meeting eyes with family and friends with greater frequency at the lord's table is a powerful incentive in my life to keep those accounts short and those relationships in the light of the lord's ways.

thanks again . . . stirring thoughts, indeed!

In this presentation by Bill Boyd, as with those preceding, we hear a very strong ‘relational’ emphasis which is seeking to right a balance perceived to have instead favored for too long the ‘cerebral’. At the same time, there is again present a less overt but still-powerful shift from the traditional Reformed emphasis on God as transcendent to Christ as immanent. (Happily, this is not at the expense of the centrality of the Word read and preached.) We need to ask whether this shift at two levels, if uncritically embraced, would breed an opposite set of fixations to the ones which now leave many unsatisfied.

Boyd’s emphasis on the importance of the table is interesting. Anything that more closely links the preaching of the Word, Sunday by Sunday, with the administration of both sacraments, is welcome. Yet I listened for, but did not hear reiterated our important theological principle that the two sacraments are auxiliaries to the Word. By tendency, Bill's presentation would lead to an equating of these.

The presenter was also too eager to make a transition from the non-debatable NT emphasis on the importance of the sharing of ordinary table fare (which can admittedly have a strong element of koinonia) to the sacramental table. The actual NT emphasis implied to underlie the latter is rather faint. The N.T. references to ‘klasei tou artou’ (breaking of bread in Acts 2.42 & 46), in the Synoptic resurrection accounts and in places such as Acts 20.7 are far more likely to be simple references to a shared meal than to any explicitly sacramental practice. (Admittedly in 1 Cor. 11, the common meal is woven together with the Lord’s Supper).Overall, the collective thrust of this NT evidence is more definitely towards the benefits of Christian fellowship incorporating a common meal than it is towards promoting sacramental observance. The term in Acts 2.42 which far more likely has sacramental reference than ‘klasei tou artou’ is ‘te koinonia’ (the fellowship) which Paul incorporates into his extended discussion of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 10.16.

When the ‘breaking of bread’ language of the NT is subtracted from supposed NT references to the sacrament, the net effect will be that we discover that there is a paucity of strictly biblical evidence supporting weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This practice, which has been favored by various branches of the Christian tradition (and had Calvin’s support), is hardly compelling, considered on these biblical grounds. And it does no credit to Bill Boyd’s otherwise stimulating presentation that the flow of the argument tends so much in this direction when hard evidence in its favor is so hard to locate.

So, shorn of this conclusion, Bill’s presentation is calling for a more relational, more immanence-oriented, physical and tactile worship by God’s people. Is this indeed what he calls ‘Reformed catholic’? It is more obvious to me that the affinity lies with the counsel readily available to us from broad evangelicalism. That is not to disparage this source, but simply to recognize that it does not necessarily proceed from theological principles we would applaud.

Dr. Kidd,

I, too, appreciated your sympathetic response to Rev. Boyd's lecture on worship.

I do have clarifying questions to ask:

What do you think God's will is for his church with regards to the frequency of communion? Your call to catholic appreciation of both frequent and infrequent confuses me. Does God not care how frequently we partake? Has he left it open to considerations of cultural context? If so, how do we determine which cultural scruples are legitimate factors in restricting the frequency of communion rather than human failings of conscience?

I can the potential for value in differing traditions. But then again, I don't always see differences legitimated by theological appeal to a biblical foundation. Just because a different tradition has developed and has philosophical coherency doesn't mean it's what the Lord wants. People in error (and I'm deliberately not invoking the narrower category of heresy here, so please don't read too much into what I'm saying) generally still have reasons for believing what they do, even if they are biblically incoherent or behaviorally motivated or whatever.

Not trying to be hostile, just wanting to hear you talk some more!

In Christ,
Barrett Turner
M.Div. at CTS, '10

In reverse order:

Barrett:

Good questions. Thanks for asking. Well, I do think passages like Acts 2 & 1 Cor. 11 assume a weekly Communion. I think the covenantal pattern that unites Word and Symbol (e.g., Exod 24:7, 11; Luke 24:27, 30) is suggestive of a healthy pattern for covenant life. Such passages point, I think, to a basic weekly rhythm of feeding on the Word from the Pulpit and the Table. But I recognize that the inferences are not beyond debate (as Ken Stewart’s remarks illustrate), and that the NT doesn’t clearly prescribe frequency of Communion. So, I simply can’t judge that brethren who demur in favor of “pastoral care” considerations (like, wanting to interview congregants) are wrong in doing so. (Sorry, I don’t know how to put it in terms of “cultural context” as such.)

I will volunteer, further, that I’ve never found the formula I was introduced to during preparation for my ordination exam, “Frequent enough to be special, not so frequent as to be rote,” to be especially apt. It would be laughable to apply the same standard to other normal aspects of worship: praise, prayer, preaching. Most churches I know feel it’s their job to make all of those aspects of worship special and not rote each and every week. Why not also the Table?

So, I’m for getting to the Table as frequently as I’m allowed to come — there are weeks when the thought of meeting Jesus there is about all that gets me through the week. I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t feel the same. Fact is, though, they don’t. And the Bible doesn’t tell me that sin or disobedience is necessarily the reason.

Ken:

Bill will have to speak for himself, but I think he’d be surprised to find that anybody would conclude he might be sacrificing a transcendent God for an immanent Christ. As to weekly Communion, I don’t have much more to offer right here than the above, along with the encouragement to keep availing yourself of the means of grace, trusting that the Lord will feed you as you need.

Darrell:

I couldn’t have made the point about the “specialness of the Table” not being diminished by frequency any better. Thanks. And, yeah, the trick, it seems to me, is to be comfortable enough in your own skin (theologically speaking) that the presence of others only makes you better. Perhaps the sign of a truly stable meta-narrative is that it gives you grace to extend grace.

Mark:

Thanks for your opening remarks. Your last phrase (“… not only loving to one another but accurate and fair”) reminds me of Peggy Noonan’s call for political discourse that consists of “summoning and assuming good faith on the other side” (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2008). May it ever be so among us.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Yes?

With you on the simpatico, but is affirmation enough? I have thought about a "token" approach to the supper. That ain't contextually plausible if catholicty involves American evangelicalism, except in a kind of Keswick atmosphere. (Honestly, that makes me cough like second-hand smoke of really cheap cigarettes.)

So, what are the higher levels of the conceptual heirarchy that can embrace these very different, uh, applications. Or, maybe I'm asking counsel for folk in our geographically promiscuous age. In town for a weekend of business, don't take airfare on the Lord's day, attend worship where tokens are necessary. If what I "do" is determined by the authority of the church, what the heck do I think if I'm not admitted to the table like every other Sunday back at Boyd's gymnasium?

That sounds e'er so idiosyncratic. So, a more formal and accessible academic question: can the token system be embraced as more than a proof of our broad-minded tolerance, does it express a REQUIREMENT for the every Sunday folk too? Does it ask questions that we'uns must answer?

I just don't want to be confused by your congeniality so that I miss the contribution from this other version of Reformed piety for my own. It seems patronizing to suggest they are "earnest and darn good folk too" while refusing to feel the authoritative weight of their practice. When plurailism is relativism, we respect nobody though pretending to be kissing cousins with folk we would never marry.

Ben:

When we’re the Body of Christ we can respect attempts to honor God even when we can’t see the particulars as biblically binding in themselves.

I don’t find the case for “tokens” compelling. I do find the pastoral conscience the practice embodies to be convicting. There other ways a similar pastoral instinct can be carried out. I once worked at a church that sent pairs of elders and pastors to visit every congregant or family at least annually. The purpose was to ask about spiritual growth and to pray with the individual or the family.

Moreover, though from afar I think I can admire the principles embodied in Amish practice: may every Communion be an occasion for “re-enlisting” in the community of faith, for reaffirming the faith itself, for examining my heart, for communing with Jesus, and making sure that as far as it depends on me I’m at peace with all.

Thanks for your thoughts. Peace to you.

Ken,
Can you elaborate on this a bit?

"Yet I listened for, but did not hear reiterated our important theological principle that the two sacraments are auxiliaries to the Word. By tendency, Bill's presentation would lead to an equating of these."

By auxiliaries do you mean less important? Less foundational? I just am not sure I understand. I don't see a reason to view them hierarchically if that is what you meant (but maybe it's not)? I also have some questions about what you said about the nature of the shared meals in the NT. You said they were more likely just common meals shared among believers but why do you think so. There are many in the Reformed tradition, as well as contemporary Reformed thinkers who disagree (and often for exegetical reasons). Especially given 1 Cor. 11. When we have one text that melds and numerous texts that are ambiguous why assume the one is unique? Again, maybe I'm misunderstanding but it felt like there was a lot of assertion that without exegesis could simply be countered by the counter-assertion.

Thanks for your interaction.

Ken,

On a historical note, if less frequent communion was not an apostolic practice, it becomes much more difficult to explain why communion was
celebrated at least weekly by the post-apostolic church in such a rapid and extremely widespread fashion. The liturgical historian Robert Taft wrote an article on the frequency of the celebration of communion showing that
anything less than weekly has no claim to reflect traditional Christian
liturgical practice from the apostolic and patristic foundation of the
church that was firmly in place by the middle of the second century.

I concur with Reggie that texts like Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor. 11 assume a weekly communion. I would not concede that the breaking of bread in Acts 2:42 refers to normal daily meals. In that verse, the breaking of bread occurs in conjunction with reference to apostolic teaching and the prayers (with the definite article denoting something more specific and formal than merely any prayer in general). The conjunction of all three seems to fit a corporate liturgical setting. I agree that 2:46 is probably denotes more general meals, but I think this only strengthens the case for a sacramental interpretation of 2:42 because there would be no need to single out this one element for repetition in such a terse summary of early church practice in this short periscope.

Furthermore, your critique seems to assume that the only legitimate way to
establish biblical warrant for a practice is to find an explicit NT command or normative example of the practice in question. However, the Bible teaches us by way of precept AND principle, and we also cannot neglect the OT background to the NT either. The strength of the case for weekly
communion arises not merely from NT proof-texts but also from broader
biblical-theological patterns in which eating sacred meals with God play an
intrinsic and vital role as the culmination of God renewing and embodying his covenant relationship with his people (e.g., Exod 19-24, Lev 9, 1 Kgs 8, 2 Chron 9, Isa 25, Rev. 19).

In the biblical narrative, speaking and eating with God are regularly paired together as means by which the people of God encounter the presence of God in worship. It is precisely this complementarity that makes me question why we should subordinate one gift of grace (the ministry of the Lord's Supper) to another gift of grace (the ministry of the written word of God). Both are ministries of Jesus the living Word of God (capital W). If God has chosen to give us both word and sacrament as central ways in which he meets with us in corporate worship, why should we have to say which is more "important"? It seems to me that God's liturgical economy in OT and NT always has a right arm and a left arm, word and sacrament, and if asked to choose whether I ought to use my left arm more than right arm, I want to say that I rather like using both of them all the time and don't want to be forced to choose! :)

I mistakenly wrote:

"On a historical note, if less frequent communion was not an apostolic practice, it becomes much more difficult to explain why communion was celebrated at least weekly by the post-apostolic church in such a rapid and extremely widespread fashion"

The first line should read: "...if less frequent (than weekly) communion WAS apostolic practice, it becomes much more difficult..."

Sorry for the confusion.

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