26 December 2011

Christmas, Communion, and the Incarnation 1

How Christmas overrides the Scriptural way of corporately celebrating and recognizing the Incarnation.

So, why don't you celebrate the Incarnation?

I was asked this one year by a friend. It was asked in a non-hostile spirit. This particular person comes from shall we say a rather High Church, Anglo-Catholic position...as in Newman and Pusey. If those names mean anything to you, you'll understand where the question was coming from.

I found the question interesting in how it was framed. My rejection of Christmas was immediately assumed to be a rejection of the Incarnation.

So we talked about the Sufficiency of Scripture, then some history, and then since I sensed a loss of flow and/or interest I let it go.

But one line this person found striking, and had time and interest permitted I would have liked to develop it further.

I said, "I do, every Sunday. We celebrate the Incarnation every time we meet as a Church. We celebrate it every Sunday when we partake of the Lord's Supper, His body and blood."

That's not verbatim but pretty close.

Of course most Protestants don't actually have the Lord's Supper every time they meet or even every Sunday.

I don't mean for this to be a treatise on the Lord's Supper but I'll touch on just a couple of the issues.

One argument is that if we have it too much...we'll treat it as something ordinary and mundane.

Another argues, that if we have it too much...we're being superstitious about it.

Of course in Reformed circles there has been a historical tendency to build off the first argument and spend weeks in preparation (usually evening sermons) before one can partake.

It's pretty clear in the book of Acts that they broke bread every time they met. High Church circles can't really imagine a gathering without it. Low Church circles have put the emphasis on preaching and the Sacraments or Ordinances have taken something of a back seat. There are other theological reasons for this as well, and I've certainly touched upon them in the posts dealing with a Theology of Means.

And that's really the problem here...the whole concept of Means.  

Many Protestants reject the concept that God works through external means, like the Covenant, it's signs and symbols. This theology insists these are empty forms that ultimately convey nothing.

Of course to Sacramental or Sacerdotal theologies, the Means become absolutely everything, virtually essential components to the faith.

Both the anti-Means and the hyper-Means camps greatly err.

Though it makes many uncomfortable the Scriptures use language like...

The cup of blessing which we bless (1 Corinthians 10.16)

The manna and water of the Exodus are referred to as Spiritual meat and drink (1 Corinthians 10.3-4)

Some might try and dispute that reading of the passage. But why? Are you assuming something in your reading? Wasn't Christ the manna? (John 6)

What about Titus 3.5?

Is it possible to separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the symbols and the language that accompany it? Is not baptism the washing of regeneration?

Wait a second some will say...am I saying the Sacraments or Ordinances are in some sense efficacious?

We could spend a bunch of time trying to figure how the Lord's Supper is a 'blessing,' or we can just take it at face value and accept what the text says.

Blessing implies something is given to us. It's not empty.

Was Christ 'blessing' the children an empty gesture? If they benefited, then blessing by raised hand in person, or blessing by cup in absentia...what's the difference?

It must be mixed with faith.....of course. But since I can't look into your heart and see if you're really and truly Born Again and you can't look into mine, what are we left with?

The Means (signs and symbols in this case) God has provided.

If we are treating the elements of the Supper as mundane, then the answer isn't to space it out so we appreciate it more. The answer is to correct our understanding of what Communion really is and represents.

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