Monday, November 14, 2011

The benefits of Weekly Communion, reasons 9-20

We left off on reason 8. Just a brief recap: Weekly communion helps keep worship Christ centered, guarantees the gospel message gets through, is the historic worship practice of the church, gives a tangible picture of the gospel, serves as a safeguard against the circus, keeps peripheral emphasizes from displacing core doctrines, sets worship apart as specifically Christian, and shows that we come to worship in order to receive. Continuing on down the list:

9. It demonstrates to believers what is important. This goes back to emphasis: Whatever is done consistently week in and week out demonstrates priority. What happens in your church every sunday? Do you hear cheesy jokes? Flashy media clips? Loud, hip, and trendy music? How often are all these, which have nothing whatsoever to do with being a Christian, much more prominent in our life of worship than proclaiming the death of Christ? Lord have mercy.

10. It demonstrates that we worship as a united family, not individuals seeking self-expression. We all share from one cup and one bread. We all receive equally and are received equally into God's family. This is an act of worship that is intrinsically corporate. While singing, thanks to the charismatic revival, has become an individual act where we connect with God alone in our chair and tune everyone else out, communion is something that we consciously and deliberately all do together as a group.

11. It levels the playing field - no super pietism is possible. There is no status around the table: all receive equally, and we all come to God as beggars. Just as God's law is an equal opportunity condemner, so receiving his grace shows us that we are all the same family, united in one faith and one baptism. Nobody gets an extra cracker for being more pious. This is especially a good counter to charismatic worship music. In most churches, there is that one lady near the front with her hands raised who just can not stand still during the singing. Or some dude in the back whose excessive exuberance barely escapes catastrophe. We excuse the eccentricity by saying they are just being expressive in their worship. But are they? Can we really see into their hearts? Do we know they aren't just putting on a show of pious performance? While we certainly ought not to judge, we should remember Jesus frequently referred to the public worship of the Pharisees as hypocritical: doing their acts of devotion in public to be seen by men. I'm not saying we shouldn't be expressive, but worshiping God is not ultimately about the expression of self; it's about the reflection of Christ. And of all things, boisterous and obnoxious enthusiasm while muttering mindless mantras posing as song lyrics isn't the first thing that comes to mind when pondering Christ like character. Communion is an act of worship that doesn't leave room for this.

12. It gives God room to work amidst all our technology and plans. Too many worship services seem like they are planned with the goal of impacting people. Powerful music and emotionally charged motivational speakers combine with tear jerking videos designed to coerce a decision to commit, whether or not the audience is sufficiently equipped to follow through with their newly inspired good intentions. God couldn't possibly work through boring sermons or bad music now, could he? While I am all for making the music as good as possible, nothing can be done to improve communion. You just take it and eat it. If anyone is edified in the process, its not due at all to our brilliance in execution. We couldn't possibly take the credit for how God ministers to people through this.

13. It unites us with believers around the world and throughout time. This is the one act of worship that has been consistently in use through all traditions and all centuries. The prayers have varied and changed. The sermons have been improvised, well studied, or simply read out of a book. The liturgy has been Latin, set in stone, and completely reinvented. All Christians sing, pray, and hear God's word read and taught in worship, but the modes and manners are so diverse, it is practically impossible for a Russian Orthodox to worship with a Brazilian Pentecostal. However, they can share a table (issues of closed communion aside).

14. It lifts the focus off of what we are doing for God. I just can't stand all these songs that talk about how much we're worshiping God and we just want to live for Him, we want to know/see/hear/touch him more… Its all about what we are doing for God! This combines well with moralistic preaching to create emotional exhaustion. When we come to church and don't feel like worshiping God, if the focus is on what we're doing, quite often one is tempted to go through the motions with no enthusiasm because there is nothing inside to give. Good news! Jesus came in order for God to give to us! In the Lord's Supper, we see that God is generous, and delights in dispensing mercy to those who so desire. What a relief! Even if I've had a bad week and don't feel like chanting the mediocre melodies while lifting my hands and making a scene, God still loves me just the same and still offers me the same grace and forgiveness because of the death of Jesus. Proclaim that good news if you say nothing else! Say it over, and over, and over again. We're here to celebrate what God for us 2000 years ago, NOT how we plan on trying to repay Him for it.

15. It keeps the sermon from dominating the service. Many preachers preach shorter when they know there is this additional element to the service, so that people aren't let out too late (that would be the biggest crime in the industry!). This is, in my opinion, an improvement. I am wholeheartedly against the 45+ minute sermons. I've yet to hear one that couldn't have been said in much less (and I've heard tons). Long sermons pose as reverence to God's word, giving the preaching of it prime importance. Baloney. The most "exegetical, verse by verse, expository" lecturers are not going in deeper for spending more time. They are just giving more of their opinion, or their personality, or lame jokes. Or telling irrelevant sentimental stories that they stole from a book and pretend happened to them. 25 minutes or less. Anything more is a waste of time. You're respecting your own ego, not God's word. The deepest sermons I have ever heard have been brief. I repeat: long sermons are not out of respect to God's word. The MacArthur types often spend all that time teaching on just half a verse! Really? You got all that meaning out of a few words? I think it is more likely that the verse is being used as a springboard to jump onto another agenda. Read more scripture, and preach shorter. If we really respect God's Word, we would give it more air time and ourselves less. The sermon isn't God's word.

16. It bridges the gap between the intellect and the emotions. Some churches are really into the intellectual side of worship: You are expected to take notes through the lengthy lecture, and contemplate on the meaning of the doctrine you are singing. Others major on emotion: Theological finer points are too dry and stuffy, we just want to love Jesus and express our love for Him! This group spends more time singing, with exuberance. Neither extreme is healthy. Communion gives an opportunity for emotional worshipers to THINK about what God has done, and for the thinkers it provides a moment of introspective contemplation, where we examine what AFFECT God's self giving has on us.

17. It helps us find peace and rest in the finished work of Christ. When God's law is emphasized over his grace, it can begin to feel like we go to church to receive marching orders. Being under this repeatedly over time creates unrest, anxiety, and frustration. We can never do enough for the kingdom of God. Good news! Jesus doesn't need your help! He can build his Kingdom here on earth with or without your help. When he said "It is finished," he really meant it. Not that there isn't plenty of work to be done, but when we remember what Christ did accomplish on the cross, it puts in perspective the feeble gifts we have to offer him and assures us that His truth will prevail despite our failure to live it out.

18. It nourishes us spiritually. Regardless of what you believe about the nature of the bread and wine. If you believe they are only memorial devices, actually transformed into flesh and blood, or anything in between. If the former, it is at the very least mentally beneficial to reflect on Calvary. If the latter, the more Jesus you can get inside of you, the better. If in between, like most reformation traditions, we believe that through the elements God actually nourishes us with his grace, creating and sustaining faith in us. Why should we starver ourselves spiritually? If God's grace is freely given to us, let us feast on it!

19. It reminds us of why we are there in the first place. Our worship is not something done to earn God's favor. It is a response to the favor he has freely given us. Jesus is the reason we live, and we love him because he died for us. Take that away, and the church is reduced to a social club. Indeed, on a functional level, many churches have become exactly that. Frequent celebration of communion can help fight that syndrome by keeping foremost the reason the Church even exists.

20. It shapes our image of God over time. Is your understanding of God one who demands? Is he never happy or satisfied? A distant authority figure that can never be pleased? While it is easy to recognize these descriptions as technically incorrect, what do your emotions say? When we are constantly coming to worship to give our singing, give our money, give our attention to the sermon, give our time in volunteer service, etc… over time we begin to psychologically associate God with the draining of our resources. If we come to worship to be filled and receive from God grace, healing, forgiveness, and life, it becomes much more natural to love Him. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Emphasis determines priority! God is good! He is generous, and he loves to give forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.
I leave you with this quote from Isaiah: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." Oh yes please. Let us not make excuses, but take every opportunity to feast on God's grace, even if only symbolically.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work, you have put much thought into this. I like reading your thoughts because it gives me more time to think about