Article XXIV-The Church-The Lord’s Supper

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶125 The Church–The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves.

Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken, and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Mark 14:22-24; John 6:53-58; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 10:16; 11:20, 23-29.

This Article is one on which, as a denomination, we are actually on shaky ground. The classic Methodist understanding of the Lord’s Supper, also called variously Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Sacrament, is that somehow Christ is present in the sacrament. We do not know how he is present, only that it is not the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

John Wesley, who was a faithful Anglican priest through the day he died, believed that the elements of Communion themselves became the means by which God communicated his grace to us. He did not believe that the elements transformed on a microscopic level into flesh and blood, but they were the actual, physical vessels that communicated the body and blood of Christ to those who would receive them in faith. This is the classic Methodist understanding of the Eucharist as well.

This article shows how the Free Methodist Church has a convoluted understanding of the sacrament. The first section is the classic understanding inherited from Wesley, and thus the Church of England. The second section is more anabaptist in its denial of any meaning to the bread and wine. This may sound like splitting theological hairs, but here is the issue: In the first section, the bread and wine are necessary for the sacramental experience of receiving God’s grace. In the second section, only faith is necessary.

In fact, the first sentence of the second section is actually contradicted by the rest of that section. Either Christ is present in the bread and wine or he is not. If the presence is spiritual, i.e. through the Holy Spirit, he is still present. It really does not matter whether we can explain how Christ is present (especially because we can not do so).

Methodists have always been a part of the Church that believed in Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper. It is a mystery how that occurs, but we have always believed it is true. Not only does Scripture back up this interpretation, but so does almost all of the history of the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. We may have debated exactly how Christ is present, but we have always believed he is present in the bread and wine.

The portion of the Article that reads, “No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements…The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith,” runs counter to that understanding.

We would do well to stop trying to define exactly how Christ is or is not present in the sacrament and simply state that we believe Christ is present in the sacrament. We would be on much more solid biblical ground, as well as historical ground with the entire Church (not to mention our own Wesleyan heritage).

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Chapel at Central Christian College


I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!

Acts 2:42-47 and Church Growth

Here is a post from earlier this year on Acts 2:42-47.

 

peter_preaching

There is so much information about how to grow churches.  There are so many different ideas, programs, worship styles, outreach strategies, and other ideas that it can seem very complicated and confusing.  In Acts, we see some of the firstfruits of growth.

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.  A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.  All the believers were united

and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.  Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity.  They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Here is the result most people would want to see: God adding daily to the number of those in the fellowship community.  So it would be wise to see what caused such a response by God.

First, there are four aspects of life in the Church that these believers hold: the apostolic teaching, community, shared meals (breaking bread), and prayers.  Let’s look at each of these:

Apostolic Teaching: This is the proclamation of the Good News that in Jesus Christ the long awaited kingdom of God and the restoration of all things has begun.  It is the preaching and teaching from Scripture (in this case only the Old Testament since there is no New Testament yet!) to show how God has been preparing the world for this from the beginning.  It is faithfulness to what God has done in the past, application of those past actions to the experiences they had with Jesus, and how these things now apply to people’s lives at that moment.

Community: This is more than Bible studies and fellowship meals.  The former is in the apostolic teaching and the latter will be dealt with below.  This is the kind of community that shares with one another emotionally and physically.  It is the kind of community that seeks to care for each other and provide for one another.  It is a community that creates a new family based upon following Jesus.  It is people that truly love and care about each other and want to be a part of each others’ lives.

Shared Meals: Eating together transforms fellowship time into something more.  There is something that is almost sacred when people get together and eat.  And while these first believers were sharing meals with one another, building their relationships and community, this is also inclusive of the sacramental act of breaking bread, Holy Communion.  In this way, people experienced God’s grace afresh and anew every time they gathered together because in the breaking of bread, Jesus meets them.  People have debated for centuries what actually happens in the Lord’s Supper, but what we know for sure is that in some mysterious way Jesus meets those who gather in his name to celebrate his sacrament.

Prayers: This is a time of spiritual fellowship and communion with God.  The term in Greek is actually the prayers, which implies something radically different than what many people in today’s reading would understand.  This implies the believers were still participating in the times of prayer established in faithful Jewish life, complete with the prayers that go with those times (and this is shown in the beginning of chapter 3 when Peter and John go to the Temple at the time for prayer at 3:00 pm).  It would also include the Lord’s Prayer and other, specifically Christian prayers that the community was taught (which we get hints of in Paul’s letters).

Beyond these four things that grew and enhanced the believers’ spiritual lives, they “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.”  Spiritual growth, faithful participation in the life of the Church, and practical demonstrations of God’s love to all.  If we had congregations like this, God would most likely add daily to them “those who were being saved.”

Leviticus 20:24-26 and Remembering God with Food

churchpotluckMost churches love food.  In fact, a regular mantra at many congregations is, “If you feed them, they will come.”  Jesus did most of his ministry around meals, as well.  Food is a large part of our lives, from what we choose to eat to how we prepare it to the company with whom we eat it.  It should come as no surprise, then, that God relays this injunction within the Law about why there are food restriction laws at all:

I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from all other peoples.  So you must separate between clean and unclean animals, and between clean and unclean birds. Do not become detestable through some animal, bird, or anything that moves on the fertile ground that I have separated from you as unclean.  You must be holy to me, because I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from all other peoples to be my own.

Every time the Jewish people were to eat, it was to be a reminder to them that God had separated them from the rest of the world for a special purpose.  It was to show them that God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt, and that God will continue to make a distinction between Israel and the nations in Canaan, to which they were going.  It was an ever-present sign that God had given Israel a mission to be a kingdom of priests in the world to bring the knowledge of the Lord to the ends of the earth.

This translates to the Christian experience as well.  Through the sacrament of Holy Communion we experience a reminder that we were bought with a great price (especially on today, Good Friday).  It is a reminder that God has called us to take up our own crosses every day in order to follow him.  It is an ever-present sign that God has given the Church a mission to be a kingdom of priests in the world to bring the knowledge of the Lord to the ends of the earth.  And it is a sign that we are to do this together, as the Church, since the sacrament is celebrated in community with each other.

The Israelites were reminded of this every time they ate.  Christians are reminded of this every time they partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Therefore, since we humans need to be reminded frequently, receive Holy Communion as often as you can.  If you attend a congregation that does not celebrate the Eucharist frequently, ask why and ask if the frequency can be increased.  We never tire of kissing our spouses or spending quality time with our families or doing anything else with people we love.  Why would we ever tire of feasting at the Lord’s table?

Acts 2:42-47 and Church Growth

peter_preachingThere is so much information about how to grow churches.  There are so many different ideas, programs, worship styles, outreach strategies, and other ideas that it can seem very complicated and confusing.  In Acts, we see some of the firstfruits of growth.

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.  A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.  All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.  Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity.  They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

Here is the result most people would want to see: God adding daily to the number of those in the fellowship community.  So it would be wise to see what caused such a response by God.

First, there are four aspects of life in the Church that these believers hold: the apostolic teaching, community, shared meals (breaking bread), and prayers.  Let’s look at each of these:

Apostolic Teaching: This is the proclamation of the Good News that in Jesus Christ the long awaited kingdom of God and the restoration of all things has begun.  It is the preaching and teaching from Scripture (in this case only the Old Testament since there is no New Testament yet!) to show how God has been preparing the world for this from the beginning.  It is faithfulness to what God has done in the past, application of those past actions to the experiences they had with Jesus, and how these things now apply to people’s lives at that moment.

Community: This is more than Bible studies and fellowship meals.  The former is in the apostolic teaching and the latter will be dealt with below.  This is the kind of community that shares with one another emotionally and physically.  It is the kind of community that seeks to care for each other and provide for one another.  It is a community that creates a new family based upon following Jesus.  It is people that truly love and care about each other and want to be a part of each others’ lives.

Shared Meals: Eating together transforms fellowship time into something more.  There is something that is almost sacred when people get together and eat.  And while these first believers were sharing meals with one another, building their relationships and community, this is also inclusive of the sacramental act of breaking bread, Holy Communion.  In this way, people experienced God’s grace afresh and anew every time they gathered together because in the breaking of bread, Jesus meets them.  People have debated for centuries what actually happens in the Lord’s Supper, but what we know for sure is that in some mysterious way Jesus meets those who gather in his name to celebrate his sacrament.

Prayers: This is a time of spiritual fellowship and communion with God.  The term in Greek is actually the prayers, which implies something radically different than what many people in today’s reading would understand.  This implies the believers were still participating in the times of prayer established in faithful Jewish life, complete with the prayers that go with those times (and this is shown in the beginning of chapter 3 when Peter and John go to the Temple at the time for prayer at 3:00 pm).  It would also include the Lord’s Prayer and other, specifically Christian prayers that the community was taught (which we get hints of in Paul’s letters).

Beyond these four things that grew and enhanced the believers’ spiritual lives, they “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.”  Spiritual growth, faithful participation in the life of the Church, and practical demonstrations of God’s love to all.  If we had congregations like this, God would most likely add daily to them “those who were being saved.”

John 19:34 and New Creation

angelicoThere is a strong tradition within the Church that Jesus is a new Adam (see 1 Corinthians for an obvious example of this) and with the new Adam comes a new creation.  Let’s connect a few dots here with regards to something John wrote in his Gospel.

However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

This is what happens once the soldiers decide to make sure Jesus is really dead on the cross.  Now, let’s look back at Genesis and the story of creation.

 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being (Genesis 2:21-22).

Jesus called death “sleep” when he was speaking to his disciples concerning the death of Lazarus.  And the Church is the Bride of Christ (seen in Paul’s writings and Revelation).

The two things that help mark out Christians from the rest of the world are the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Each of these are ways in which God gives people his grace and presence in their lives.  They are means by182-3 which God moves us from grace to grace and glory to glory as we become more and more like Christ.  It is the waters of baptism that confirm our relationship in Christ and his Church and the blood of Holy Communion that gives us our spiritual strength for the journey with Christ.

So, Adam fell into a deep sleep, something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (Eve).

Christ fell into a deep sleep (of death), something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (the Church).

I love the way God has guided the writers of the books of the Bible to tell one grand narrative!

Food for the Journey

passion_of_the_christ_supperAs Sunday is the first Sunday of the month (a usual time for Holy Communion in many congregations) and World Communion Sunday (the day when all congregations are encouraged to celebrate Holy Communion), I thought it would be timely to write about the sacrament.

There are several different names:

Eucharist–from the Greek “to give thanks” (many of the times we see this phrase in the New Testament, it may just be that the author was actually talking about breaking bread.

The Lord’s Supper–since this was part of a meal when Jesus instituted it.

The Last Supper–not an appropriate name since this only properly refers to the meal in the Upper Room on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.

Holy Communion–having fellowship with God and each other in a sacred way.

Sacrament–from the Latin “oath or vow.”  Now it usually means that there is an outward sign of an inward grace.  Thus a sacrament needs a sign (physical object) and a thing signified (grace).  It is a translation of the original Greek term Mysterybecause it is a mystical experience of God.

Ordinance–usually called this because it was ordered or decreed by Jesus to be celebrated.

There are also several different understandings:

Transubstantiation–the belief that the bread and wine literally transform on the atomic level into Jesus’ flesh and blood, but still appear to us as bread and wine as grace (so we are not “grossed out” receiving it).  This is party-line Roman Catholic belief.  It is also Eastern Orthodox belief, although they wouldn’t try to parse out how the transformation occurs (hence their comfort with the term Mystery for the sacrament).

Consubstantiation–the belief that just as Jesus was all God and all man, the bread and wine are all Jesus and all bread/wine.  Jesus’ presence is said to be “hidden within” the bread and wine.  This is party-line Lutheran belief.

Virtualism–the belief that Christ is physically seated in heaven, so he is spiritually present in the bread and wine.  This is not “virtual reality,” but rather that all the virtues of Christ’s presence are in the bread and wine.  This is party-line Calvinism (Reformed and Presbyterian, and to a lesser extent some Baptist) belief.

Memorialism–the belief that nothing of Christ is present at all and this is simply a reminder or group memory of what Jesus did 2000 years ago.  This is party-line for some Baptist beliefs (and a whole host of others that don’t fit in any other category).

Absent from this list is a party-line Wesleyan-Methodist belief.  That is because it is very difficult to pin down what Methodists believe on the Lord’s Supper.  Wesley had a very Anglican belief (no surprise there since he was a priest in the Church of England), which is like Virtualism modified.  Christ is spiritually present, but something actually happens to the bread and wine during the sacrament.  Most of the earliest Methodists believed the same, but after years of the movement growing and no real training on issues like the theological meaning and importance of the sacraments for its preachers, there is a wide variety of beliefs within the movement today.

In a situation like this, it is probably best to realize that, just as we cannot explain the Trinity or the Incarnation fully and completely, we will never be able to explain the Lord’s Supper fully and completely.  In this case, the Eastern Orthodox have a point.  It may just be a mystery to us.  Thanks be to God that He is bigger than our understanding of things.