“For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (death).” 1 Cor 11:29-30
This is a follow up to my original post on the substitution of grape juice for wine in communion by most Evangelical Churches today….see post 1 here…
So not only have we changed the Church’s most Holy Sacrament and a 2000 year old tradition on whim… almost overnight… without any a discussion, synod or meeting …we minimize Holy Communion in many other ways too especially by making it feel rushed and overly casual.
For some background both biblical sacraments Baptism and Holy Communion pre-date the church itself. Although Jesus was baptized himself, he didn’t actually perform baptisms on others (John 4:1-3) like he did Communion at the Lord’s Supper, he left Baptism for the Disciples. Also, Baptism happens only once where Communion is on ongoing lifetime Christian ceremony. Scripture spends vastly more time describing proper Communion details (1 Cor 11) and neglects to mention any baptism details. The Lord’s Supper is mentioned in all 4 Gospels which makes it very important. And Communion alone comes with warning that if we fail follow these precepts (1 Cor 11:27-30) it could lead to sickness and even death, Baptism has no such dangers of getting it wrong. Biblically its inarguable that Communion a far more important sacrament for us to get “right” than Baptism.
I been blessed to have visited in my travels over 100 Evangelical churches, and about 90% of those offered grape juice only for communion. It varies widely but in many of the churches I have visited communion is performed without much fanfare, ceremony or instruction, just cue the music, and only instruction people often receive is where the tables are. People stand in line to get their tiny cup of grape juice, and when they do it’s like a shot they throw it down… without much thought. No discussion of why we do this or the solemnity it deserves. Do we drink it here or back in my seat? No one really knows because there is rarely any time or guidance to “examine themselves” as Scripture commands (1 Cor 11:28). Rarely is enough time allotted to even impact the rest of the service schedule. It just something we all too often get through as fast as we can, and in the age of smoke machines and laser lights. To often today Holy Communion is treated not treated as Sacred Ceremony that reminds us Christ’s death for ours sins, but resented intrusion into our regularly scheduled programming.
Although we follow the biblical dictates to not make communion a meal, allow people to get drunk, or to argue… avoiding those extreme errors on their own may not be enough to avoid allowing an “unworthy” manner and follow Paul’s guidelines to “examine themselves” (1 Cor 11:17-34). We need to stop patting ourselves on the back.
The movement among Evangelical churches now for over 40 years has been to make church more casual and less confusing. Part of this is good, because a lot of rote action that new people don’t understand may make people feel like they don’t know the secret code. But Biblically we need to put casual aside when Holy Communion comes time, and biblically we need to get reverent, holy and solemn.
I have attended Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican Churches, all churches where they take Holy Communion very seriously. There is a clear sense of deliberate and holy reverence that something special and worthy of honor is about to happen. A time for personal reflection and confession is almost always provided, and they deliberately read an account directly from Scripture. Despite the issue of Transubstantiation I think the Catholics have greater reverence for Holy Communion that is more in-line with 1 Cor 11 than the Evangelicals are. This is special and our relentless pursuit of casual needs a hard stop when it comes to Holy Communion.
Many of the same churches that are casual about communion, are VERY serious about Baptism. Many churches often have a detailed procedure, matching t-shirts, special baptismal bath or “font”, pre-baptism classes, and taking far more service time than communion does. I know one that had a baptismal font in the “sky” that was specially lit, it was about 12 feet above the floor in a special room protruding into the sanctuary. It was very showy and fake to me but it demonstrates how far we push one sacrament to establish our “denomination distinctive” rather than getting back to the Bible. If Baptism is more “special” in your church we are putting are putting our emphasis in the wrong area. Legalism is not just about creating rules, its also a distortion of priorities (Luke 11:42).
Evangelicals must bring back a sense of reverence to the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Although I don’t want to get legalistic on the specific details, we need to stop rushing through it… we should read from scripture accounts of the Lord’s Supper, offer a specific time for quiet confession to fulfill the warning to “examine yourself first. I cannot recall a single Evangelical church that I have seen has ever warned the congregation about taking communion in an “unworthy manner”. We need to remember it is called a “Sacrament” because it is a “sacred” ceremony.
I am grateful my church offers both wine and grape juice, because to me wine reflects the reverence Holy Communion much better than Welch’s (and has the added effect of firing a shot across the bow of legalism). Although it may be impractical in some churches, many should bring back wine, and those that can’t should work harder to increase the biblical sense of reverence in all other ways.
But…It’s not just wine that is missing, that is just a symptom… what is all too often missing is our reverence about our most sacred institution. Fundamentally Evangelicals too often neglect in giving Holy Communion the heart, time and priority it deserves and this is both unbiblical and even dangerous.