Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Danger of Weekly Communion and High Liturgy

I thought I would follow up on an earlier post. I mentioned that the Mercersburg men won their battle for a new version of reformed theology, not by direct confrontation, but by agitation for a high liturgy. The Federal Vision adherents appear to me to be trying a similar tact. I worry that they too will be successful if more attention is not paid to the theology of liturgy by old reformed churches.

Weekly communion is one example of that higher liturgy that is likely to gain inroads for the Federal Vision theology. Many pastors do not see a problem with weekly communion. In fact, they do not appreciate any suggestion that weekly communion is dangerous to the preaching of Christ crucified. With so many churches already moving towards a weekly communion, it is easy to see how the argument for a high liturgy will be an easier sell for the Federal Visionists than an outright change of orthodox dogma would be. Especially when you consider that other ministers advocating a high liturgy like Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul, who are not known to support Federal Vision adherents, may now be aligned with them in this fight to change the worship service. Some might say that one could promote a high liturgy without holding to a Federal Vision view of sacraments and justification. Let us hear John Nevin of Mercersburg on this issue.

In this way our liturgical controversy is, in reality, a great theological controversy; one that should be of interest to other Protestant Churches, no less than to our own. We see in it two general schemes of theology; two different versions, we may say, of the meaning of Christianity; two Gospels in fact, arrayed against one another, . . .(Catholic and Reformed, Vindication of the Liturgy, pg. 381).


One cannot take an altar-based liturgy, of which weekly communion is a part, and peacefully put it in the pulpit-centered churches of Geneva. One of the two must give way because they are of a different spirit. Henry Bullinger, in his Second Decade, wrote that that God is a spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and holiness. This type of worship commanded in the second commandment is contrary to any outward honors or displays (kneeling or prostrating or turning towards a cross) made to any thing, including the Eucharist. He goes on to decry the ministerial robe as a copy of the priests and a tradition of man, given only to create superstition (Fifth Decade). The Puritans, like Samuel Mather and John Cotton, rightly argued that a book of prayers sets itself against the Bible as the only sufficient book and that form prayers set themselves against the unction of the Holy Spirit and against praying in the Spirit.

The weekly communion service, with the rest of the elements of high liturgy, elevates the supper to a place where it does not belong. The weekly service harmonizes well with the teaching of Federal Vision adherents that the supper keeps us in union with Christ. Practicing Communion becomes essential for continued salvation. It naturally turns the focus of worship from the invisible proclamation of Christ in the gospel to the visible proclamation in the sacrament. Faith is replaced by sight. It will raise the call for more and more objective, visible elements appealing to all the senses, which in turn will lead to the introduction of unbiblical elements into worship. The argument that our worship is structured on the OT sacrifices of the temple will be employed to justify such things as incense, processionals, robes, and prayer book formulas. Slowly the table will again become the altar. This is how the medieval Roman Church built the mass: first an over-emphasis on sacraments, then the suggestion of the corporal presence of Christ, then the concept of transubstantiation, and finally the presentation of the mass as a real sacrifice central to salvation. The reformed understanding of the gospel has not existed peacefully with the practice of weekly communion in the history of the church. Not in Rome, nor in Constantinople, nor in Wittenburg, nor in Canterbury. Reformed theologians need to rally and to proclaim the Biblical understanding of worship and liturgy before it is too late.

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