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Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Symbol of Unity as a Tool for Division

The divisive result of Luther and Zwingli's "Marburg Colloquy" continues to be dramatized in many of today's churches.  It is odd that symbols of unity and sacrifice as the bread and wine are used by many Christians as tools for division.

Here are some areas about the Communion over which professed Gospel proclaimers war with each other:

Frequency.  Although the Bible is not really clear on how often the Communion should be partaken of, some churches insist  based on their inferences of a few scripture passages (Acts 20.7; I Cor 11.18,f. with 16.2) that it should be done once a week only and that to observe it on a daily, monthly or yearly basis is an abomination to the Almighty.

Elements. There are believers who argue that only grape juice and wheat flour  should be used notwithstanding the fact that these two elements are culture-specific items whose signification may be represented by other similar items in other cultures (strawberry wine and rice cake in my culture, for example). Some find cosmic significance in the question as to whether the grape juice should be served in just one container or in multiple cups.[1] Others fiercely insist that the juice container should have a handle for  it to be a "true" Cup of the Lord. [2] Many still engage in the age-old debate on whether Jesus Christ is actually present in the bread and wine, their dogmatism preventing them from  focusing on  what they hold in common regarding this church ordinance.  Finally, remember that one of the issues that led to the Great Schism of 1054 was whether the bread used for the Communion should be leavened or unleavened.

Procedure. Some Christians say, "The Biblical pattern is to eat the bread first before drinking the wine.  Altering the sequence is a violation of God's Law." And others demand that there be a prayer first before the eating of bread, and another before the drinking of wine; lumping the prayers for the bread and wine into one is thus deemed sinful. Some argue over whether the Lord's Supper should be observed before  or after the sermon or the offering. There are others who contend that it is wrong to sing while partaking the Lord's Supper since one "cannot do two acts of worship at the same time. " (Of course, those who insist on this law have no problem with their preachers singing in the middle of their sermons or singing a prayer song.) I once read of a church whose custom was to file out of the worship hall after doing Communion only to return to their seats immediately thereafter because  Matthew records that after Jesus instituted the Communion (that was on a Thursday night, by the way) he and his disciples "went out to the Mt. of Olives." [3]


[1] I still have a copy of a debate between two Church of Christ preachers "On the Number  of Containers on the Communion Table" and "On the Use of Classes and Women Teachers." This published polemic exercise (in futility) is entitled Porter-Waters Debate, published in 1952 by the Murfeesboro, TN-based DeHoff Publications.  Believe it or not, there are some churches in the Philippines who still think wrangling over these petty issues is worth their lifetime.

[If you are interested in a no-nonsense exposition on the "Role of Women in the Church," I recommend these two free e-books: ♦ Rowland Robert. 1991. "I Permit Not a Woman..." To Remain Shackled. Newport, OR: Lighthouse Publishing Co. Available online @ freedomsring1. ♦ Steelman, Sharon & Ray. 1997. All God's Children: Women's Leadership and the Church. New Market, AL: Steelman & Associates, Inc. Available online @ freedomsring2.]

[2] This preacher is quoted in an article posted on this ultra-conservative website.

[3] Dallas Burdette has an intriguing article on patternistic hermeneutics entitled, "Oddities in Pattern Theology "@ If you intend to pursue this topic further,  Carl Ketcherside's article on "Patternism" is also worth your time.

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