Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Communion and all that

Alan Stibbs (see here) suggests some ways that the administration of the Lord's Supper can be made more biblical and thus convey more clearly its function and meaning. I'm not sure what I think about every point he makes, but it ought to spark discussion at the least (italics and bold bits are my emphases).

Firstly he says 'Blessing God the Giver is the proper way to consecrate material things for men's use. So new extended thanksgivings are desirable, first, for the bread, and later for the wine, similar to those regularly offered in some Free Church forms of service...these thanksgivings should be regarded as the consecration of the bread and wine for their use; without any introduction at this point of the decisive words which indicate their sacramental significance.'

Secondly, 'our Lord's declaratory words, "This is my body given for you", "This is my blood shed for many", should be removed from the introductory consecration, and, in accordance with the pattern of the Lord's institution, made an essential and simultaneous part of the actual administration.' This, he argues, is because the 'words and actions together of the movement of administration' make the bread and wine sacramental. Hence to disjoin the words from the action is to half do the job, or imply that the sacrament exists apart from the administration.

The third recommended change is that 'the bread and wine ought deliberately to be kept apart and administered separately, first the bread to all, and later the cup to all.' The reason is to 'fully follow the pattern of our Lord's institution, and to preserve the vivid winess to His death which we thus dramatically remember' and also 'make fellowship with others' easier (i.e. evangelical Free Church bros and sisters who already administer the bread and wine separately).

Having suggested these three changes to the CofE order of service, Stibbs goes on to suggest other areas where there is 'room and urgent need for a fuller obedience to the teaching and the principles of God's written Word' regarding the Supper. These include -

a. Administration of the supper 'by any member whom the body of believers may entrust with this ministry'. Having noted that things need to be orderly, and that giving this ministry to entrusted elders fits in with this sense of order, he also asks 'why, for the lack of a bishop or presbyter, should congregations be deprived of the Lord's Supper, when they have in theri midst mature and godly members, who could, if given the opportunity, worthily fulfil the necessary ministry?'

b. Not having 'a so-called sanctuary at the East end' of a church building that suggests the sacrament is the 'exclusive preserve of a special ministry'. Stibbs then advocates bringing the table into the middle of the congregation and that before communion begins the church should be 'conveniently placed for the reception of the sacrament, without further movement on their part'. This would restore the supper to what he sees it was intended to be in the rubrics - 'a corporate act in which a number share' with every believer 'directly at or around the Lord's table throughout the whole service'.

[All quotes from p84-88 of 'Sacrament, Sacrifice and Eucharist' by Alan Stibbs (London: Tyndale, 1961).]


Ros said...

Oooh, I have lots of things I want to say about this but am still writing my essay due tomorrow so mustn't. Will comment at length later, I promise!

Ros said...

Okay, I've handed out my paper and I have ten minutes before class so here goes...

(i) The words which Stibbe considers to be essential to the sacrament seem to include the words identifying the elements as Christ's body and blood. The problem with this is a) there is no clear instruction in scripture to use these words liturgically and b) there is good evidence to show that they weren't used liturgically until the third century.

This is basically what I just wrote my paper on - it is Christ's speech act instituting the supper which identifies the elements used in each celebration of the supper with his body and blood and NOT the speech act of the minister which identifies them as such. The words of institution are not a necessary part of the performance of the sacrament.

In Luke's account the command to 'Do this...' seems most naturally to refer to the preceding acts of taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking and sharing it NOT to the act of saying 'This is my body... Do this...'

In 1 Cor the command is clearly extended to the parallel acts with the cup but again there is no suggestion that the words of institution need to be repeated as part of the celebration of the sacrament - they're given to help us understand and perform the sacrament rightly but not as a necessary and effective part of the sacrament.

This is not to say that we shouldn't say the words of institution at the supper - there are lots of good reasons to do this but I would strongly resist Stibbe's suggestion that they should be moved to form part of the sacramental act of eating and drinking.

(ii) It seems clear to me that the role of the minister in the sacrament is a word-ministry role. He declares to the people that they are partaking in the sacrament; he offers the prayer of thanksgiving; he may repeat Christ's words of institution; he explains what the sacrament is and who it's for. Not to mention, of course, his role in exercising church discipline by excluding some from the table. Why would we think it appropriate for anyone other than the pastor of the congregation to do this?

Must go. Maybe write more later...

Dave Williams said...

Well a whole lot of suggestions there.

He must have been in a Brethren Gospel Hall once. There the table is set in the centre with everyone seated around.

The whole morning service every Sunday is given over to Communion. Not, if done right a service with communion tagged on the end.

People (well strictly it's men in the Assemblies) will come and share thoughts from scripture, say prayers, and choose hymns.

When it goes well it really is a fantastic thing to be part of :o)

Incidently what were your thoughts on todays approach?

Pete said...

Thanks a lot for those thoughts Ros. I think you are probably right about the speech act of Christ being the key, and therefore the words of the minister/president are helpful but not essential to make the meal sacramental. Your essay sounds interesting!

However, does this not slightly undermine the second point you make about it needing to be the Pastor of the congregation? Maybe not, since it is still a word-ministry either way.

I also think the quote from Stibbs is slightly unhelpful suggesting a broader notion of who can administer than I think he intends. when he gives an example of who else should be given the ministry he only mentions lay readers and other godly leaders in the congregation who are able to carry out the ministry. He sees this as a matter of good order rather than scriptural prescription however.

As for myself? The jury is still out on this one. The bible's teaching on good order, church discipline and the nature of the sacrament itself would seem to lead to the appropriate application of leaders with a recognised word ministry in the Church being the people who ought to preside (although, good order does not necessarily mean leader-led, nor is church discipline the sole charge of the pastors/elders i.e. the congregation is required to enact the leader's decisions anyway for the discipline to be effective, so could it be that dsicipline at the table is exercised by congregation members acting on the instructions and authority of their leaders?). However, just as leading word-ministry is not restricted to one person, so neither should administration of the supper. I think I'd probably have all teaching 'elders' recognised within the church able to administer (a recognition that is to some extent across several churches/ a denomination but is primarily the recognition of a local church i.e. the pastor of a church can appoint other people to teach and to administer the sacrament, we don't need a Bishop or other 'connectional-level' church-leader to do it, as desirable for fellowship as this might be).

Pete said...

Thanks Dave
I enjoyed yesterday's arrangement, even if my legs got a bit tired (in case others don't know - yesterday in communion we were sitting and standing for various bits of the service -sitting for communion and standing for the sermon, it was all a littel weird but made you think!). I really enjoyed the separate administration of the bread and the wine and the fact that we stayed sat rather than lined up at the front a row at a time. Having lots of consecutive singing at the end was great as well.

I don't know about Stibbs but I was brought up in a brethren church and only left when I was nearly 22. I think the 'all gathered round the table' element is probably one of the few elements I'd probably like to retain from those days. Both in my understanding of what's going on and who should do what I've changed my mind quite a bit. Still, we used to drink a very nice foritified wine for the Lord's Supper :).

Also, I'm pretty sure Stibbs didn't get the idea about the table in the middle of the congregation from the brethren - it is found in the prayer book rubrics I believe and was certainly the practice around the time of the reformation in Britain.

Ros said...

Let me guess - Fieldy?

We did that a couple of years ago and I really liked it. The trick with standing for the sermon, I found, was to take your shoes off.

And Pete, I think you're right that the administration of the sacrament should be done by those who also have teaching responsibilities. But that then pushes the debate back to the whole issue of church governance which is a whole other kettle of worms!

Pete said...

Yeah it was Fieldy. Not sure what the visiting preacher thought about it (Richard Underwood Gen Sec of FIEC) - maybe it will become general practice in FIEC churches! I enjoyed it too. In each 'phase' of the service we had a different posture (kneel for confession etc., stand for reading, sermon and creedal/intercessory response, sitting for the supper and reponse). Last year I was challenged by a comment JR made suggesting we give too little thought to the physicality of what we're doing when we gather together, so thursday was a good reminder of that.

Yeah, church governance very big issue. One day I might blog about it, who knows!

Dave Williams said...

I think JR and Fieldy must have colluded. It was only the Monday before that James held forth on the Evangelical slouch to us first years