Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jettison the Lord's Supper?

I’d heard it in the rumor mill, but now it’s been confirmed. At least one Christian Church scrapped the weekly Lord’s Supper.

In the first of a two-part article entitled, “How Do They Grow?,” Paul Williams noted that Christian churches are increasingly identifying with the evangelical community at large. Then, commenting on this, he added, “Some large churches and several new churches are jettisoning the Lord’s Supper from the main worship gathering of their weekend services. (The first large church of influence to do so was Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.)

Frankly, I found this disturbing.

Watch what is said above, though. Paul said these churches are jettisoning the Lord’s Supper from the main worship gathering….” I can picture the thought process leading to that decision:

  1. The Lord’s Supper is designed for Christians to remember the Lord’s sacrifice for us.

  2. The weekend services, especially Sunday morning, are the prime time for guests to attend.

  3. Many of those visiting the services will not be Christian; others will come from fellowships unfamiliar with a weekly communion service.

  4. Since 1) and 2) are true, the weekend services are primarily designed for “seekers.”

  5. Services designed for “seekers” should not involve elements that unbelievers and the unchurched will find confusing.

  6. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper should be jettisoned.

  7. The communion should be offered outside the main service or at another time. Perhaps it would be offered in another part of the building or at a service specifically designed for believers.

It might be argued there is precedent for this in the early church. In the second and third centuries, the church dismissed the catechumens (those preparing to become Christians) prior to observing the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). In those days, church leaders probably applied similar reasoning. Furthermore, as testified by Justin Martyr, portions of the Lord’s Supper were taken to those believers absent from the assembly.

For all of that “high minded” reasoning, there is still a hollow ring to it. Here’s why. If weekend services are the prime time for guests, they are also the prime time for Christians. Many, perhaps most, Christians will attend a gathering on the weekend and not return during the week for a second or third assembly time. Will the churches observing the Lord’s Supper at another time make sure those unable to attend will have the opportunity to receive the elements of the Lord’s Supper? I doubt it.

I recognize the Bible gives no express command for frequency or time of observance. Nonetheless, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have long observed a weekly communion for a good reason: it was apparently the precedent of the early church. Acts 2:42-44 and Acts 20:7 express ample precedent for a regular, even weekly, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Testimonies from sources outside Scripture, as noted above, help us understand the early church’s practice. Whatever happened to the principle that “apostolic precedence equals divine command?”

A few years ago, the church I was serving in Ohio withdrew their support – substantial support I might add – from a missionary. They did so for two reasons. First, the elders called upon him to implement a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper as done in Christian Churches. They saw this as an activity that identified the mission with the Restoration Movement and the Christian Churches. Second, when the missionary refused, they judged him guilty of insubordination and withdrew support. On the same basis, I wonder if they would withdraw recognition from Central Christian Church as a “real” Christian Church because of their decision to jettison the communion. I also wonder if it would make a difference if Central continued to offer communion to believers in the communion preparation room after each service.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches continue to observe the Eucharist daily. Those groups continue to grow. It is required that a church hide what it holds to be the central truth of its confession in order to win the lost and unchurched? I don’t think so!