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September 02, 2006

Bloodless Christianity

Christianity Today's Christian History & Biography newsletter contains a comment by Elesha Coffman on Communion. The comment leads off with a description of a new method for preparing communion developed by an evangelical church leader:

[R]etired engineer Wil Greenlee has invented a Communion cup filling machine, reducing the average time it takes to fill a 40-cup tray from 5 minutes to 2 seconds. The time savings really add up at Greenlee's church, massive Southeast Christian in Louisville, which goes through 20,000 cups of juice in three weekend services. A process that used to take a 75-member prep team two nights to complete can now be finished in one morning, and with less spillage.

"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary," Greenlee says of the improved routine.

The comment then describes in brief detail the communion practices of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

I don't want to debate the essential meaning of communion, nor argue “real presence” versus some other theology. However, I was struck by the last comment of Mr. Greenlee above:

"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary."

It would be unfair to pick on Mr. Greenlee for his comment. He was likely just commenting on his invention and not elucidating an over-arching theory of communion.

His comment, however, may describe the only real philosophy behind the communion practices of many evangelical churches. In many evangelical churches, and I’ve been to quite a few around the country, the communion portion often feels perfunctory. It is usually not the center of the service--the worship service now fills that function. And, communion is anything but communal in most evangelical churches. We go through the motions so we can get on to the sermon, and then get home. This is completely contrary to the twin functions communion has traditionally serviced in the church--a celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, however defined, and a ceremony meant to draw the body of Christ together as one.

Ms. Coffman has some interesting closing thoughts:

The assembly-line efficiency of Communion preparation at a church like Southeast Christian seems like it could strip some of the mystery and meaning from the ancient ceremony, but that doesn't bother me terribly. What goes on in the sanctuary and in each believer's heart is certainly more important than what went on the kitchen several hours earlier. It does bother me, however, that so many evangelicals can get excited about efficiency while so few actively engage in dialogues on ecumenism, sacramentalism/symbolism, or even eucharistic theology. Somehow the "what" and "why" of Communion have been subordinated to the "how."

As an evangelical myself, I'm not just pointing fingers here. Honestly, I wonder what we might be missing.

One might wonder indeed. A bloodless Christianity.

Posted by Mark at September 2, 2006 07:21 PM

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You lost me with the 'bloodless Christianity' comment. Even those believing in 'some other theology' acknowlege the importance of Christ as a blood sacrifice for our sins. Surely 'bloodless Christianity' is an oxymoron.

I think the improtant thing, more so than a theological understanding of transsubtantiation or the structure of the service order, is the state of the heart during communion. I don't think any denomination is immune from the danger of communion becoming 'perfunctory' for some of the participants. However, it is up to us to seach our own hearts before taking the bread and cup. If you find it 'perfunctory', don't do it.

Posted by: bruce at September 3, 2006 05:17 PM

First, welcome to a fellow South of the River Minnesotan.

Second, I would have preferred "you had me at 'hello'" to "you lost me with the 'bloodless Christianity' comment," but a comment is a comment, who am I to complain?

In the event, I anticipated both of the issues you have, and they are pretty important, so I will post on them tomorrow (which is now today I see) in the main column, rather than the comments. In the meantime, enjoy our sneak peek at mid-Fall--rain and cold.

Posted by: Mark Sides at September 4, 2006 01:22 AM

Thanks for the welcome. I've been lurking here for some time, and post occassionally. Minnesota is paradise during the summer, but keep it a secret, will ya.

I'm looking forward to your response. My verse reference should have been included in my post. It is below.

1Co 11:27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
1Co 11:28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.

Sometimes for me, 'examining myself' can take awhile. It's not unusual for me to still be holding my bread chunk and disposable plastic mini-cup of fruit drink through the second stanza of the song after. I'll be stitting with my head down while everyone else is standing for the song. After my stubborn heart is again humble before the Lord, I eat, drink, and stand up feeling clean.

This is what I love about my evangelical church. No one looks at me funny or even seems to notice. Everyone is comfortable doing things as God has laid upon their hearts. The same is true for raising hands during praise songs. Some do, some don't. Everyone is free without judgement to express themselves in worship as the Spirit moves them. No one considers either behavior 'more spiritual' than the other.

I believe that God is not impressed by a mysterious 'ancient ceremony', but by a broken and contrite heart. (Lots of verses here). I'm 100% convinced that the manner in which the cup was filled does not matter to God.

Posted by: bruce at September 6, 2006 10:03 AM

I attend a very large seeker church north of Atlanta. I have really grown as a Christian but they have only offered communion once in a year. I personally HAVE to have the sacrament of communion in my life so every once in a while I'll visit a Catholic or Episcopalian church so that I can feel his presence through the obedient act of communion.

Posted by: mt at September 9, 2006 12:28 AM

The Adam & Eve story is taken from a Chaldean myth. It never really happened. Christians say we need a savior, since those people in the garden were disobedient. Since the Adam & Eve story never really happened, we DO NOT need a savior. We are our own savior. By trying to live a righteous life, we progress thru many lifetimes to a perfected state.


Posted by: ReligionGuru at October 9, 2006 12:37 PM