Some Concerns About Weekly Communion
January 26, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
The elders of Oak Hills have decided to transition our observance of the Lord’s Supper from a monthly occurrence to a weekly occurrence. The ultimate reason behind this decision is our understanding of the meaning and significance of this meal. I used the Touchpoint articles in the past two weeks to unpack what Scripture and our doctrinal confession says about the significance of communion (you can read those here and here). It is a means of God’s grace to feed us spiritually on Christ.
Let me use this space today to address some commonly expressed questions and concerns related to weekly communion. If you have a question in mind that is not addressed here, please do not hesitate to let us know. We will also allow for interaction at our congregational meeting this Sunday, January 29.
1. Weekly communion runs the risk of becoming mechanical or a vain routine. In other words, as the concern is sometimes expressed, observing communion weekly will make it less special or significant. I have to admit, because the human heart can be dulled by sin and laziness, this is a legitimate concern. It is not, however, in my estimation, an argument against observing communion on a weekly basis. It is a reminder and warning that we can take any of God’s means of grace for granted. Scripture reading and study. Regular prayer time. The fellowship and worship gathering of the church. We can easily fall into a routine of “going through the motions” in any of these activities. The fault is not in the means of grace, but in us and our spiritual sleepiness. In fact, I personally want to receive weekly communion as an additional proclamation of God’s grace for me in order to startle my sleepy heart all the more! Bottom line: whether we partake in communion weekly, monthly, or annually, we need to heed Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 11:28, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup,” every time in order to guard against this tendency.
2. Weekly communion runs the risk of exalting the sacrament to a salvific status. In other words, there is concern that weekly communion observance is too similar to Roman Catholic practice, and, therefore, would also incorporate Roman Catholic theology of communion. Abuse or misunderstanding of the sacrament, however, does not require us to avoid weekly observance. We can misunderstand communion whether we observe it weekly or monthly or quarterly or annually. That’s why Oak Hills, as a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, follows a careful order of how to serve communion. Every time we serve communion we give instruction about the meaning and significance of the meal, in order to safeguard against misunderstandings and misuse. Observing communion weekly actually will give us more opportunity to teach the truth of communion.
3. Weekly communion detracts from the centrality of the Word of God for our faith. In other words, this concern is similar to the previous, that our faith and salvation will come to rest on a sacramental action instead of faith in the proclaimed gospel. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We have no intention, in this transition to weekly communion, to limit the role of preaching in our services. And, as mentioned above, with weekly communion we have the opportunity to explain how, in this meal, our faith is fed by the spiritual realities represented in the bread and cup. Communion is a proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 11:26) and so plays a role in feeding faith, not separate to or in competition with the word of God.
4. Weekly communion may be foreign to, or even offensive, to a visitor. We have visitors on a regular basis at Oak Hills and we pray that God would use us to introduce people to Christ and saving faith. So, we care about our visitors. There is much, however, in our services that may be “foreign” to one who doesn’t have a church background (corporate prayers, responsive readings, preaching, even congregational singing). There have been churches in the modern era who have gone to great lengths to remove anything “churchy” from their services. We choose not to do this because we believe God calls us to certain forms of worship and is honored by these practices. So, we aim to do two things for our visitors on Sunday mornings: 1. Be thoughtful in our language as we walk through our order of worship. The bulletin redesign is helpful for this in giving us “space” to provide explanations for what we do. But we also want to speak from the stage with visitors in mind. 2. Encourage the warm welcome from every member of the church. We want to give visitors space and time to learn about worship of God. Your gracious welcome helps create that safe space to grow.
5. Weekly communion will only lengthen our services and weigh heavy on the children’s ministry volunteers. We are indebted to those who serve us and our families by caring for our children while we worship. They help make known the astonishing grace of God. We want to be careful to not burn out our volunteers. We believe we can make some minor adjustments to our service (like starting on time at 10:30am) that will help with this transition. Also, if someone is serving our children downstairs on the first Sunday of a month, they will not have the chance to receive communion for two months. Throw in there a sick day or travel out of town, and some may miss communion for several months. Weekly communion service will be a blessing to those who volunteer with our children. Now, if you want a shorter service so that church doesn’t get in the way of your Sunday afternoon activities, that’s a different conversation….
The elders love Oak Hills and we want you to look to Christ as your all-sufficient salvation. We hope to proclaim this through the preaching of the Word and through the regular observance of communion. We pray that you find this a blessing to you and your faith.
- Pastor Dale