Monday, July 31, 2006

Plea for Weekly Communion Examined

A new website, the Reformed Liturgical Institute gives a link to a paper encouraging weekly communion. It deserves a response.

Rev. Daniel Hyde is the author and his plea is divided into exegetical, theological, historical, and practical reasons for going to Weekly Communion. I shall deal with the first two in this post.

His exegetical reasons revolve almost exclusively around Acts 2:42. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, an in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Rev. Hyde argues that this shows the early church gathered to do these four things during their worship. But is Acts 2:42 talking about worship? Is breaking of the bread the Lord’s Supper? Luke 24:35 uses the same phrase, "breaking of bread" to describe Jesus in the home of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was known to them during the breaking of bread. This is how the disciples related it to Peter and the others. Luke 24:30 specifically tells us that Jesus sat "at meat" with them then broke bread and revealed himself. The addition of the phrase "at meat" makes it fairly plain Luke is talking about a regular meal, not worship and not the Lord’s Supper. Another problem for making the phrase breaking bread to be a synonym for the Lord’s Supper is just four verse later in Acts. Although Rev. Hyde mentions Acts 2:46 where "breaking bread" is done ‘daily’, his paper still argues for weekly rather than daily communion. Why the difference? It is not explained. He also does not deal with the implications of partaking the Supper in one another’s home without elder supervision, which is how every church practices it today. Acts 2:46 also includes the idea of "eat their meat with gladness", which indicates regular meals rather than the Lord’s Supper. Why then is one verse speaking of worship and the other speaking of just eating at another’s house?

Rev. Hyde does move along to deal quickly with I Corinthians 11, but does not specifically single out verse 20 where we see the actual phrase the "Lord’s Supper". The act is named specifically, which leads one to wonder why the euphemism of "breaking bread" if the proper title is used as proven by I Corinthians. Why would Luke, a companion of Paul, use a euphemism when Paul never uses the euphemism, instead calls it by name?

His theological reasons also leave much to be desired. He does give quite a few theological reasons, and I shall deal with them in the order he provides.
First, the sacraments are the gifts of God for the people of God. And as His gifts to us we need to take advantage of them as much as possible as we live in "this present evil age"
This is a stretch at best. I agree the Supper is a gift, but does that mean we must use them as much as possible? Was not Passover a gift to the Israelites, but they did not celebrate it weekly. The Day of Atonement came but once a year as well, yet it was gift. Baptism too is a gift, but it is to be administered only once in your entire life. If the Supper is a gift to be used as often as possible, then why not partake daily? Why limit it to weekly? Daily makes a consistent fit with Acts 2:46. He has not supported the idea that a gift must be used often or weekly to be used rightly. In fact, there is ample biblical evidence that sometimes overuse is a bad thing. Take the Bronze Serpent of Moses. It was a gift to be used when bitten by a snake, yet it was overused, and its meaning lost. It had to be smashed because what was given as a gift had become perverted. A lesson not dealt with by Rev. Hyde.
Second, they are an accommodation from our Father to us. This is the meaning of "mindful." As David says in Psalm 103, "For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust." This is true, but not an argument for weekly communion. The same is true for his third and fourth points.

He then goes into a discussion of the application of the blessing, and he makes the following dangerous statement. We are not Pietists nor are we Zwinglians, we are Reformed. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is not a matter of my working, my receiving, my believing, my preparing, my coming, but of God’s action, His work in us through these means. Notice what Rev. Hyde has said, the blessing of God comes through the means of the Supper even if you do not believe. If this is true what blessings do those unbelievers receive when they partake of the Supper, and what is Paul talking about in I Corinithians 11:29 when he warns of unworthy eating receiving, not a blessing, but damnation? These questions Rev. Hyde ignores.

Rev. Hyde then makes another astounding statement. He claims the Supper is the "clearest way the promises of God are given to us." Wait, are the sacraments more clear than preaching? Rev. Hyde thinks so. The preaching of the Word is not the clearest manifestation of the Gospel, then. Note that well. Instead, it is the administration of the sacraments through the hands of ministers that most clearly gives us the Gospel. For his support he cites no Scripture, but only a quote from Calvin and one from Beza where they speak of the Word not appealing to our senses while the sacraments do. No one denies the Supper appeals to different senses than the preached word, but does that make it more clear because it is more physical? That is not what we see Paul saying in II Timothy 4. Instead Paul commands preaching of the Word. In Romans 10:14 says ‘how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?’ Paul is not talking about the Supper, he is talking about preaching. Jesus does not even mention the Lord Supper in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19). If the Supper is the clearest way to present the promises of God, why is it left out? Why do we believe that the Supper should never be separated from the Word if we think the Supper so clear by itself? Would not the Supper then become the high point of worship, and not the preached word, if the Supper is indeed the clearest explanation of the gospel? Yes, yes it does, and Rev. Hyde agrees. For his last point is the point so often made by James Jordan that the Supper is a covenant renewal ceremony. Jordan and Hyde, on account of his echoing Jordan, believe that true worship and covenant renewal has not taken place without partaking of the Supper. Thus we see the weekly communion tied into the redefinition of worship so that it is God renewing his covenant with us, and one must have the sacrificial meal in order to seal it. Rev. Hyde does not explain why God must renew his covenant of grace with us, or what happens to those who do not take the Supper weekly since God has left the covenant unrenewed for them. Yet, these questions shed light on a few of the problems of this redefinition of worship as a covenant renewal. Why does the covenant of grace need to be renewed? Why renew it weekly? What is the new character of the Supper since it is now essential to remaining in the covenant, or at least essential to God renewing his covenant with you? This questions are important questions because one gets the sense that weekly communion redefines many other doctrines, at least weekly communion as argued for by Rev. Hyde.

8 Comments:

Gregory Soderberg said...

Hi, Lee:

I think you raise a number of good points, which take us right to the basic issues involved here. I just have one question: why do you think Calvin wanted weekly communion so badly?

Gregory Soderberg said...

Oh, don't forget the latest post on the RLI site... I don't like to simply dismiss the wisdom of Reformed thinkers like Hart and Muether.

Lee said...

Gregory,
I have noticed the new article, and will deal with it soon.

As for Calvin, I do think the Hart/Muether article nails the reason he wanted weekly communion. He thought it "the worst of the many abuses of worship in medieval Catholicism." In short, he wanted to make sure the people understood the difference between the Mass and the Supper. However, I think the stress Calvin laid on it is over played. After all, he did submit and not ever practice weekly communion. But I am getting in that later post . . .

Gregory Soderberg said...

So... Calvin placed too much emphasis on the Supper? In what other ways was Calvin confused? Perhaps in the matters predestination or other core Reformed doctrines :-)

In your upcoming post, perhaps you could also present some exegetical (or historical) reasons defending anything other than weekly communion? You seem to treat weekly communion as a threat to Reformed orthodoxy, and I'm curious to understand what reasons folks have for monthly/quarterly/annual communion.

Gregory Soderberg said...

Sir:

I did not relize you were a pastor. I must have blinked when I read your profile. I also took some time to learn about your church and denomination. I don't know much about the Dutch/German side of the our Reformed family, being a new-comer and a product of the PCUSA. Anyway, my previous comments may have been a little flippant. I believe the pastoral office is worthy of great respect. However, I still do look forward to hearing your tradition's point of view regarding weekly communion :-)

Lee said...

Gregory,

No need to apologize. I took no offense and your comments were not disrespectful at all. I will take your advice and try to present some exegetical and historical reasons for non-weekly communion. I also want to add that I do not think weekly communion is unorthodox in and of itself. I think it presents some challenges and dangers, but is not unorthodox. However, I do think many who promote it now, promote it because of their new and unorthodox view of the sacraments, worship, and justification to name a few. This is not true of everyone who desires weekly communion. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make that point. I probably should have made it in the post itself.

Adam said...

Lee, I appreciate your willingness to address this subject and I think you bring up some key questions that ought to be answered before our Reformed churches adapt the Covenant Renewal paradigm.

I especially share your concern regarding any approach that seeks to make the Lord's Supper, rather then the preached Word the preeminent element of our worship. I think the scriptures are clear (and there is broad agreement in our Refomred tradition) that the *primary* responsibility of the teaching elder is to preach God's Word to His gathered church. It would seem to me under this new worship paradigm that teaching elder takes on the primary role of priest rather then preacher. Isn't that a rather radical shift?

Thanks again and I look forward to your series.

Gregory Soderberg said...

Gentlemen:

On a practical note: I've been a part of three churches now that practice weekly communion, and while it is a real danger to overemphasize communion (as in some Anglican churches I've seen) at the expense of preaching, the three churches I've been a part of have sermon lengths of 45-50 minutes. So, it is possible to have both!