Communion & Charity

Why do we celebrate weekly communion? There are many good reasons but one of the most important is one we might not think about often enough—communion with the risen Christ also entails communion with others who are united to him by faith. Union and communion with our Lord leads us into union and communion with our brothers and sisters in the church, and (to a lesser extent) all people. John Calvin highlights this when he writes about the importance of communion. Calvin calls communion the “bond of charity” and explains, “For as the bread, which is there sanctified for the common use of us all, is made of many grains so mixed together that one cannot be discerned from the other, so ought we to be united among ourselves in one indissoluble friendship. What is more, we all receive there the same body of Christ, in order that we be made members of it.”[1] For Calvin, communion with Christ is the foundation, and the motivation, for communion with others. This is one of our greatest motivations for mercy ministry—weekly communion reminds us of how much mercy God has poured out on us in His Son Jesus Christ. How can we hold anything back we see others in pain, in loneliness, in brokenness? Every week we participate in the sacrament of healing and wholeness, which equips us to be agents of the Kingdom in the lives of others.

[1] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and only Saviour Jesus Christ,” in J.K.S. Reid, ed., Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), 151.

Worship as the “Pulsating of a Common Life”

Ralph Martin writes:  “The worship of the church means the pulsating of a ‘common life’ (koinonia) that flows through the body of Christ and in which the individuals participate through their baptism by one Spirit into one body (see 1 Cor. 12:13).  To conceptualize the church at worship as made up of isolated units, however personal, each worshiping in a self-contained compartment, however closely associated, is really to mistake what the New Testament means by the church.  As E. Schweizer well illustrates, the ideal set forth in the pages of the apostolic church is that of fellowship-in-worship.  He deals critically with the latter-day notion of the Christian community as split between one speaker and a silent body of listeners; and equally his study rebukes the excessive individualism of what passes for worship in many modern churches.  Recovery of the wholeness of the church’s life as ‘life together’ in Christ, in Bonhoeffer’s phrase, would go a long way to set our worship as a corporate exercise on a stable basis, and deliver modern congregations from ‘ministerial monopoly’ with one person conducting a virtuoso performance on the one side, and overemphasis on the narrowly individualistic–such as a disfigured Corinthian assembly where koinonia had tragically broken down–on the other” (The Worship of God:  Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections,12-13).

In the coming weeks, and months, I’ll be writing more about this topic, because it really goes to the heart of a shift I’ve experienced in my life and my theology.  I’ll be posting more about the intersections of liturgy and practical ministry.  God has given me many opportunities to get into the nitty-gritty, painful, work of walking alongside people in really messed-up situations.  In a sense, I’ve been forced out of my “ivory-tower” of academic scholarship.  In another sense, I’ve been encouraged that I’m in good company with many other faithful scholars who have gone before me.  So, no new revelations will be forth-coming, but I will be sharing some of the wisdom that I’ve found, wisdom that’s been neglected.