26 December 2011

Christmas, Communion, and the Incarnation 2

The Blessing of Communion

If it's a blessing, is it desirable or even prudent to neglect it?

Is frequent or regular Communion superstitious?

I could argue those who regularly abstain are either failing to understand its import or are themselves superstitious.

I'm thinking of those who believe having the Lord's Supper every time we meet or frequently approaches the realm of danger wherein we might be eating and drinking unworthily, failing to examine ourselves and thus falling under condemnation.

First of all, let's be realistic about self-examination. No one is going to do this perfectly. No one can say they completely apprehend what's happening in terms of Covenant symbolism and Sacrament. A 20 year old new Christian is going to have a profoundly different understanding than an 80 year old veteran Christian. Should the 20 year old be excluded then? Of course not.

Second, the issue of examination and discerning the Lord's body certainly hearkens to Scriptures like:

2 Corinthians 13:5 - Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

But largely I think the passage is dealing with the Corinthian failure to not recognize the composite nature of the Lord's body...meaning the members of the Church. They were focused on themselves, their own issues, and desires and were grossly missing what it was all about. There wasn't communion there because the group wasn't a united body. Taking the Supper was a mockery and thus they in reality... were not eating the Lord's Supper. (1 Corinthians 11.20)

Sadly this lesson has not been learned and many turn the Supper into a personal introspective exercise. Certainly they're not cutting the poor out of the fellowship or potluck (as we call it in America), but they can be just as guilty in failing to discern the body. I'm afraid the modern understanding of Church as the building, or understanding the people as audience watching a performance only enhances this lack of discernment.

It's also interesting many believe frequency leads to lack of discernment, unworthy participation, and thus the danger of 'drinking judgment'.

So they do believe the Sacraments are efficacious!...but only in terms of curse, not blessing? Misuse it and come under condemnation. Use it rightly in faith and...nothing.

Lack of frequency can be just as superstitious. And there's no doubt in some High Church circles they have become more than a little superstitious about it. The answer is not to remove it, but to correct the understanding.

The Supper shows the Lords death till he come (v26). It is supposed to turn our eyes heavenward and focus on the Lord, our dependence upon Him, our union with Him, and our hope in Him and His return.

It's not about us, wrestling with our own emotions and woefully inadequate self-evaluation and assessment. It's a powerful expression and reminder of the glory and wonder of the Incarnation and why our salvation is absolutely dependent upon this reality.

I could also talk about the heavily symbolic and sacramental language of John 6, but I think for now I will abstain. That I think would press some readers beyond the breaking point.

As I've said repeatedly...to Baptists I'm going to sound Roman Catholic...to Catholics, I'm going to sound like a Baptist. Maybe I'm just a muddled mess, or maybe both sides are very right but also quite wrong. Maybe they each see something of one side of the truth of the issue, but then because they only see the one side they add on additional doctrinal structures to compensate for the missing pieces? If anyone is interested I can point to some other stuff I've written that might help in trying to work through some of this.

In the end...the Baptists are wrong...but can still possess the Gospel. I can't say the same for the followers of Rome's Bishop.

When we innovate, when we develop new means of entering into the covenant, worshipping, or in this case celebrating the Incarnation, it can only lead to a detraction from the Means God has already provided.

When we think of Ecclesiastical Means and symbols to celebrate the Person and Work of Christ.....we should be thinking of the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

Instead when we think Ecclesiastical Means and symbols to celebrate the Incarnation...we think, Christmas.

Is it wrong to point a little extra focus on this for a day or a season of the year?

Aside from the Authority/Tradition dilemma... if we're doing it every single Sunday or even twice a week...then how do we need a special season?

See to me, the argument for needing the special Incarnation season means...you really don't appreciate the Incarnation, or at least might be in danger of the charge. If your Incarnational focus is only for 1 day or 4 weeks of the year....then you're not properly appreciating Christ the other 364 days or 48 weeks of the year.

The Incarnation is the very essence of the Gospel. Every aspect of Redemption flows through or focuses on this Truth.

If I were to create a liturgical calendar I guess we'd have to have Christmas every Sunday to properly appreciate the centrality of Christ's person and work to our faith and salvation.

But then...well, if we do it every week it won't be special, we won't get the warm tingly sensations that accompany the season...

We might treat Christ as mundane.

So let's only really focus on Christ during this special season.

I can't imagine a more destructive idea that puts the Gospel in danger of being overthrown.

I would rather just stick with Scripture and the Means God has provided. He's given us quite powerful symbols, if we would take the time to learn about them and practice them. They've been terribly abused by some and shamefully neglected by others.

This way of thinking about these issues would be one area in which I really do appreciate the Medieval Dissenters. Some Waldensians took on Baptistic characteristics, but many still maintained a high and robust sacramentology based on Scriptural Authority...not that of the Roman hierarchy. The Hussites also proved remarkably strong on this point. They recognized the perilous error of the works-based Romish gospel, but reading Scripture did not argue for a rejection of Means.

This was lost in the fog created by the Reformation and when Protestants combined Sacrament with Sacralism...Baptism equaling citizenship and all that goes with it...it's no wonder the Dissenters went ahead and purged not only the covenantal efficaciousness of the Sacramental symbols, but even the whole concept of Means. Concepts like covenant became purely metaphysical and eschatological categories. They lost their temporal/Not Yet import.

So to answer the question...I do celebrate the Incarnation. No hope without it. I wish Churches would celebrate more often the Person and Work of Christ and do so by simply employing the means God has provided.

While many Christians who celebrate Christmas also pay homage to the Incarnation, they inadvertently detract from the God ordained Biblical order.

This proves true on many fronts. I argue virtually every innovation ends up taking away from the revelation based pure and clear message and makes it all the more difficult to worship in spirit and truth.

Inevitably we end up arguing about the application and details of the man-made means or symbols we have introduced.

I remember sitting and listening to two Anglican priests discuss liturgical reforms, arguing endlessly about whether you should turn this way at this time, drape the cloth over your arm this way or that way, whether the bell should be rung after this line or before that one. It was quite amusing but also very sad.

We're not doing that with Christmas...I hear an Evangelical saying. We're not distracting ourselves and others from the true message of the Incarnation with all our fussing over plastic nativities, laws, state acknowledgment, trees in the 'sanctuary', Christmas programs, decorations, Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays, and all rest.


Remember the reason for the season? Well, if Christ is the reason...in order to remember Him properly...we need to get Christ OUT of Christmas.

Practically speaking we must show patience and love, especially to the lost. But I assure you...you're more likely to get into a good conversation when you don't go along with it. It's arresting and people can't help but be inquisitive.
What's wrong with people spending time with family, having good cookies, drinking egg nog? Nothing. It's great. Let's call it Festivus, or Winter Festival. Then it's just Northern European culture. And I participate (or not) as a Christian. There's no threat to the theology of Scripture.
Call it a holy day, call it Christmas...then I have to look it all in light of Scripture, and we start running into problems. We're tangling with and substituting Scriptural concepts with cultural ones.

And even though I have both Biblical and historical legs to stand on...thanks to the Evangelicals...people immediately think I'm a cultist.

Even worse...that in rejecting Christmas...I'm an innovator!