« Carl F. Ellis, Jr. Responds to Bill Boyd's "Renewing Worship" | Main | Bill Boyd Responds to Kidd, Ryken, et. al. »

October 02, 2008


Thank you, Professor Muether! Exactly! Listening to Bill Boyd leaves me mentally groping--where is the Biblical emphasis on the metaphoric? The metaphor--now you see it, now you don't! It keeps getting merged into the reality it speaks of. (When it isn't subsumed into a present earthly feasting!) The "not-yet" metamorphoses into the "already" of the Bridal Feast in Revelation. minus the Parousia. But we are still pilgrims, sometimes weary warriors, sustained on our journey by the Lord's Supper, by its solemn remembrance of the body broken because of our rebellion, by its peace because we are cleansed and invited to sit at His table, by its deep joy as we are truly fed with a foretaste of the promised feast to come, by delight in the presence of the Host. His body is food indeed. Again, thank you!

"Lord Jesus, Who in the Eucharist make your dwelling among us and become our traveling companion, sustain our Christian communities so that they may be ever more open to listening and accepting your Word. May they draw from the Eucharist a renewed commitment to spreading in society, by the proclamation of your Gospel, the signs and deeds of an attentive and active charity,"

- Pope John Paul II

John - Thank you for your excellent post. I had a post in mind, but you and Dr. Ryken covered the big stuff and covered it well.

Lois - I'm blessed by your comments. Thanks for taking the time.

By His grace,

What I think Bill is getting at is this: part of recovering biblical worship, in relation to the Lord's Supper foremost, is reclaiming the "meal-ness" of it (and the contrasting descriptions-- Bill's "gathered worship" and John's "public worship" are perhaps telling– it’s possible to be in a public group, but not gathered with others there).

I don't think that Bill’s suggestions entail a pot luck (or a pub excursion) for worship. I hear him, rather, asking whether we have neglected one angle on worship to our detriment. I don't think this means replacing the lecture hall with the table. But it probably does mean taking the words of scripture at face value in the context of the supper, instead of abstracting the elements and placing them in the lecture hall.

Not that John would ask us to do that– but though we’ve got the resources within the Reformed tradition to escape a lecture hall vs. pub dichotomy, I don’t see us making much effort to do so. I think Calvin’s idea of the congregation as seated in the heavens for the Lord’s Supper helps us there. But that’s something rarely discussed, in my experience, let alone emphasized.

Bill’s talk makes the point that taking stock of how our worship measures up to the shared meal pattern in scripture may help us in subtle and profound ways. I’m no church historian (so feel free to pile on here). To go back a ways in history, the transubstantiation doctrine was a philosophically shrewd answer to a dumb question. And that dumb question was the brainchild of a church that had lost sight of concerns intimately related to this discussion. The church was an audience to the work of the priest. Hence the eucharist was more of something to look at and think about, and less something to receive and proclaim. Hence there was a priest/penitent dialectic, not mutual burden-bearing. At that level of generality, at least, the failings of the modern church don’t stray far from theirs.

I think it’s worthwhile to focus on the act of sharing the meal together, as opposed to focusing on the elements involved. Or at least give them shared emphasis. It’s as critical that the body is broken for you (which we can and ought to proclaim to each other) as that it is bread. And if we’re telling each other that, we’re not, I hope, looking at (and analyzing) the bread and wine so much. Also, consider that double reference there– that the bread is the body of Christ broken for us, and we are the body of Christ. His body is broken in the celebration of the supper– yet it knits us as the body together as we partake in a spirit of unity.

Returning to Bill’s words, then– I imagine Bill would take ready note of John’s point that the scriptures don’t unequivocally present meals as founts of goodness. But I’d at least say, accounting for John’s discussion, that shared meals are certainly acts of great significance and, potentially, transformative events. For good or ill. The point then is not to sanctify the sharing of meals, but to tap into the way a shared meal can help us drop our defenses and bind us together, just as Bill described in a setting outside the walls of the church. I’m optimistic that considering that perspective would help us to remember that the supper points to the work of Christ, and that work of Christ is for each other. It's less of a move for the meal to supplant the word, than for the meal to help make us able to listen.

Dr. Muether: It’s genuinely fun to read your creative words. I’d love to buy you a pint someday – probably Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. With that said, I don’t think anyone has argued the Supper (banquet table) is primarily meant to satisfy our “cravings.” It is meant for many things, but perhaps what some previous writers were trying to get me to feel (viscerally) is, for example, my likeness to Mephibosheth and the radical joy and humility he must have felt to be at the table of the King, because of the love the King had for another – regardless of the quality or quantity of the fare on the plates. My lame, Irish frame walks down the aisle each week to the tasteless cracker and miniscule cup, but with confident hope the Spirit will remind me (through the pastor and the liturgy and the preaching and the reading of Scripture and my fellow saints) of whose Table it is I sit. That is the real craving. It’s the Host, not the fare. I like the rare practice of some churches that place an empty chair at the Table to specifically remind the gatherers of the Host (presuming, we remind them also that he is not “absent”).

Someone posted under Dr. Kidd’s comments that the Supper was only “relatively essential” while the Word was “essential.” But the Supper is the Word – just visible (Calvin). And the Word certainly means more than just preaching. All should be Word-saturated – the liturgy, confessions, testimonies, sermon, songs, supper. He also wrote that we should not call TE’s “Ministers of the Word and Sacraments” but rather just Ministers of the Word. I agree, but for a different reason. He did not want to combine them since, presumably, Sacraments are subordinate to Word. But Minister of the Word is not the same as saying Minister of Preaching. Since the Sacraments are just the Word made visible, calling someone a Minister of the Word should comprehensively mean Minister of Preaching and Liturgics and Sacraments. I think we may often limit Word to preaching.

Finally, on the subject of frequency, there is an irony swirling. Many hold that Preaching is paramount and required each week, but the Supper is less so. But at the same time, they insist congregants “prepare” for the Supper in some deeper, fuller way than they prepare for the sermon (or the Word in the other parts of the service). Is there some sin that is un-acceptable to bring to the Table that would be OK to bring to the sermon? We certainly imply so. And our people think so. And I think it stems primarily from a misunderstanding of 1 Cor 11:27-29 and the newer commentaries (last 40 years) are shedding some welcome light.

Last, my left-brained practical side is convinced that until and unless our seminaries begin to place greater value and emphasis on worship, it’s not likely “renewal” will come quickly. We are blessed today by some fine seminaries, and the fine men coming out of them, but think it’s sad that even our best Reformed and Presbyterian seminaries require 100+ semester hours for an MDiv, yet with little or no training in liturgics (from only 1-3 hours required at three of them). And if someone wished to get a PhD in the subject, he would probably go outside our tradition. I very much appreciate the contributions made by Dr. Kidd at RTS, Dr. Dalbey at CTS and Drs. Old and Ross at Erskine. But I also pray the Lord will give us a wealthy guy or gal willing to contribute a couple million to endow a Chair of Liturgics, and then someone can get an MA in Worship (along with the MA’s already offered in Counseling, CE and Music). And maybe our children, passionate for worship, can be trained there – learning the best of the old and new. Show me your church budget, and show me your seminary’s required core curriculum, and I think I will be able to guess your ethos.

Al & Bill,

I was going to let this go, but with respect, I don't buy the meal motif as presented. If I may relate it to Descartes': "I eat therefore I worship" just isn't a good bumper sticker. David probably didn't feel that way when Saul tried to kill him during dinner. I respectfully suggest looking at the Last Supper in context. John did this well in his post above, but let me touch on another side of it.

How does John's gospel fit the meal motif? The upper room events cover Chapters 13-17 and are the most complete in Scripture. Out of those 5 chapters, Jesus spends 9 verses washing the disciples' feet, 3.8 chapters formally teaching and preaching (the lecture hall?), and 1 chapter praying. Although all those things were important, I believe that the relative space accorded each by John is a pretty good indication of what our Lord thought was most important. John doesn't directly mention the supper itself, which doesn't diminish its importance, but it does put a damper on the family meal motif.

Also, the Last Supper wasn't a happy occasion punctuated by the clinking of wine goblets in toasts. This was the LAST Supper, and they knew it. Jesus said there that He wouldn't drink of the fruit of the vine again until He returns. He was going to be tortured and murdered the next day and preached on the implications of that. I can't speak for anyone else, but that doesn't sound like my usual family dinner conversation.

I find Hebrews 12:18-24 instructive on worship. Nothing there about the presence of food, but a lot about the presence of God. He doesn't mention toasting with Welsh ale, but twice mentions the fear of the Israelites when God spoke from the mountain--the voice that shook those mountains. And the image of the heavenly Jerusalem contrasts sharply with the average family meal.

I'm not trying to minimize the role of grace and the victory over sin through Christ's perfect life, death and resurrection that we celebrate in the Lord's Supper. We should approach with grateful hearts, joyful about His immeasurable gift for us yet mindful of the cost of that grace to our Lord. We share the Lord's table in His Spiritual presence, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly. Even John who was as close to the Lord as anyone in His ministry fell on His face in presence in Rev 1:17. I don't see there that he asks for a menu.

I fear that the family dinner/pub motif does little justice to Scripture's actual description of the experience of worship. It does little justice to the context of the apostle John's narrative of the Last Supper. While I have no problem with participating in the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis, I do have issues with treating it and worship in general with less than the dignity that God gives it in Scripture.

By His grace,

Quique Autrey: did you get lost on the superhighway? Presbyterians don't regularly cite the bishop of Rome. And when they do, they usually feel the urge to explain their citation.

Bob: You raise some fair points.

1) At first glance, "I eat, therefore I worship" doesn't resonate well with me (by design, I'm sure). But I wonder if you may have inadvertently captured something there. Beings who eat are not self-sufficient, but dependent. They have to go outside themselves for sustenance, or else they die. The Supper is our spiritual food. We eat it for life, and we eat it unworthily to our mortal peril. So while "I eat, therefore I worship" sounds a bit off key at first, I think it's actually quite apt-- though perhaps better said, "I eat, therefore I must give thanks."

The Lord's Supper is perhaps then the paradigmatic meal. While we ought to give thanks for all things, and certainly for our daily bread, it is that spiritual food we receive in worship on the Lord's day that is central to our life and upon which our daily bread depends. Considering the "meal-ness" of the Lord's Supper may have the effect of reminding us of that as we break bread during the week.

2) I agree that there's no uncritical embrace of eating as an inherently worshipful, edifying (metaphorically, of course!), or holy act in scripture, but I didn't see Bill arguing that. By comparison, it's also true that public verbal proclamation is not inherently worshipful, holy, or edifying. Sometimes it is ugly and evil. But to bring it down to basics, we spread the gospel by saying it out loud. Foolishly simple, it has been said, but that's what God has ordained, and he knows us better than we know ourselves. We also proclaim the Lord's death by eating bread and drinking wine in worship. Simple things-- eating and saying-- but made powerful by his covenant faithfulness.

3) Why is the space afforded to the Supper in John's gospel an indication of its importance? Isn't that arbitrary? Wouldn't he know that we'd have the other gospels? It's rather like saying John's omission of the genealogy of Jesus as an indication of its relative lack of importance. And don't you undermine that argument by acknowledging that it's a good thing to celebrate it weekly, even though it was only obliquely referenced by John?

4) Why do you think that the meal motif is an attack on the dignity of worship?

All this I say because I fear there may be much talking past each other. I can see a concern that the meal motif may run roughshod over other aspects of worship, certainly something to guard against. But I don't see anything that radical in what Bill said.

On the question of whether the sacraments are essential in the sense that the Word read and proclaimed is essential, this is a common thread of Reformed theology, usually discussed under the heading of 'The Necessity of the Sacraments'. If this is a distinction that is unfamiliar to you, you can find it discussed and upheld in the following places:
Hodge _Systematics_ vol. 3 p. 516 ff
Berkhof _Systematics_p. 618
Heppe _Reformed Dogmatics Set Out from the Sources_ p. 618
Calvin _Tracts and Treatises_ Vol. II (Consent of the Churches of Geneva and Zurich on the Sacraments) p. 218 heading 19

The general principle stressed is that the two sacraments offer the same grace that the believer has already received in responding to the Word in faith.
The fact that the two gospel sacraments are not absolutely essential or necessary for salvation is emphatically _not_ a reason to dispense with or neglect them. Yet it is also a caution against the growing current insistence upon their unfailing administration. I would be less concerned about the latter if I heard and read the admitted non-necessity of the sacraments (in the above-defined sense) acknowledged more regularly. For lack of such admissions, there is reason to suspect a creeping process which will erode this important principle.

Ken Stewart

Bob - As much as I value pub fellowship, I don’t expect anyone was actually arguing for a “pub motif” in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But it was a welcome refocusing away from the sometimes exclusively dirge-like atmosphere in our observance. We can be imbalanced at both the gloomy and the frivolous ends of the spectrum. We simply need the same balance we all strive for in the Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon in the liturgy. We need to feel the weight and horror and consequences of our sin, but also the extraordinary freedom, release and forgiveness of them. We need both Heerman’s “Ah, Holy Jesus” AND Watt’s “Arise My Soul Arise” (preferably sung to the rousing tune from Kevin Twit & Indelible Grace). http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/a/h/ahholyje.htm & http://www.igracemusic.com/ig1/

The comments to this entry are closed.

Welcome to CGO

  • Welcome to Common Grounds Online. Readers of Common Grounds have suggested a website to continue the explorations they began in the book. In keeping with the interactions of Professor MacGregor, Brad, Lauren and Jarrod, the theme of this site is ‘learning and living the Christian story.’

    I have invited friends, and a few friends of friends, to communicate aspects of the Christian story that have been significant in their own lives. We’re all trying to find joy and pleasure in this life and the next, but often we forfeit the joy that could be ours by living out foolish, competing scripts. What distinguishes Common Grounds Online Contributors is not our own goodness, achievement or service, but rather the recognition of our need of God’s grace abounding in our lives.

Follow Us

CGO Contributors