Thoughts About Church (1)

In an earlier post, I talked about differences between the liturgical style of the church I now attend and the more free-flowing style of the church I grew up in. I wanted to expand on some of those differences in a short, observation style.

In the Baptist church I grew up in, and many other evangelical churches I’ve been to, communion is a strictly symbolic ceremony. The grape juice and cracker symbolize the blood and body of Jesus Christ, and unlike the Catholic or Episcopalian versions, it’s simply that. There’s no transubstantiation or anything that would grant anything more than symbolic meaning. It’s juice and crackers.

Yet if it’s simply symbolism, why is the service so incredibly formal and stiff? I’ve noticed many communion services where the ushers and pastor rigidly serve one another in a regimented order that you fear cannot be broken on penalty of death.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the pomp and circumstance of communion in the Catholic or Episcopalian churches, it makes sense. Their theology grants special importance to the bread and wine (notice that it’s actually bread and wine), and they treat it as such.

Yet other Protestants seem to not even understand what they’re doing. It comes off as a ritualistic religious ceremony. Sometimes I wonder if all the forms of communion I’ve described are just missing the point. Jesus broke bread and shared wine, something the people of his time did every day. It’s akin to unwrapping a burger and popping open a can of Coke. I think that it’s through these daily rituals, shared with believing friends, that we are to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Not in once-monthly batches of Welch’s and saltines.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts About Church (1)”

  1. I grew up Lutheran, and we saw things a little differently.

    Basically the cerimony itself is very similar to a Catholic/Episcopalian service, but rather than transubstantiation the believed occurance was somewhere inbetween symbolism only and literal body/blood.

    The best description I ever got out of anyone was that while the crackers and juice really are just crackers and juice, but since Jesus said to do it, as a result of obeying him it becomes a means of grace. So no there’s not any magical happenings, just some spiritual doings refilling your grace-filled battery of sorts. I’m not sure if I buy into it, but its a neat view anyway.

  2. Kevin, I’m interested to know in what concrete ways you would change the way protestant churches do their ceremony so that it would fall in line with what we believe.

    Then, after you’ve got some things in mind, bring those to your pastor and ask him (her?) if those ideas make sense and might be able to happen. I mean, if we’re going to complain and say we need change, then we need to make the change happen.

  3. I should also add on one additional thing just for “well duh” sake: your pastor may have good reasons for not integrating your ideas into the service, and it’s important to hear those out and weigh them carefully and prayerfully. If we’re a part of a body, we have to do what is best for the body, not just what is best from our own view point. For example, some people would say that the “ritualistic” nature of the ceremony shows that we take Jesus’ sacrifice for us very seriously. What’s wrong with that?

  4. First of all, let me just say that I grew up with the Baptist Welch’s and saltines communion thing, and yeah that stinks. Fortunately in my college days, I fell in with a campus ministry that grew out of the Christian Church/Churches of Christ tradition which practices communion every week. This weekly sacrament of communion was more informal, more like breaking bread together as brothers and sisters. And at our evening “candlelight worship” service, the communion time was when the campus minister gave the greatest meditations on Christ, the cross, the meaning of His death and resurrection, the significance for our lives today. Communion was really realized in a great way, I think — as a time of joining together as the body of Christ, to share in the body and blood of Christ, to remember His sacrifice for each of us, and to be refreshed and renewed by that time of reflection around the elements. Dang, that was good Communion! And, yeah, a lot of churches (even “emerging” ones) don’t treat Communion as the significant, thoughtful experience that it could (and should) be.

  5. I don’t have a problem with the formal or informal stuff. I think that it is my mindset and heart that determines how it the service is going to effect me. When it is communion time, I pray practically the whole time. Many people around me do the same thing. I confess my sins to God. I ask him to help me understand what His sacrifice really means. I sit in silence. I listen. I’ve been able to do that regardless of the format of the ceremony. I’ve been able to do that regardless of the kind of church I was in. If we, as the Church body, stop coming to God during this time because we “don’t like the service” or whatever…then we’re all screwed. I’ve heard the same arguments regarding the style of worship (contemporary vs. traditional). Come on people, let’s worship God with our hearts and our minds and our voices and stop being so whiny about everything.

  6. In response to Josh’s comments, I’m not really trying to change the church. I’m just observing some differences from my experience and pointing out what I think are inconsistencies. I don’t attend any of those churches now, so there’s no point in talking to the pastor about making changes. And even if I was attending, it seems like a silly thing to make a fuss about (Uh yeah, Pastor Joe? Could you be a little less rigid when you pass out the grape juice? Thanks!). I can think of more worthwhile things to complain about. (they why am I talking about it? Simple observations between two different styles of church).

    In response to Steph, that sounds like a wonderful, happy world. I wish I was that mature. Unfortunately, I notice things style and how a church service is conducted. While you’re right, we shouldn’t be getting tripped up in these little details, I think they are still important. When a visitor comes to a church they will be tripped up in the details, especially if those details are no longer biblically correct (not that I want to make any biblical judgments about anyone’s method of communion).

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