This will not be a long post, because the topic of online communion is almost worth not having. Yet, it is a theological one and frankly, this is great because it means United Methodists are talking about something more important that genitals.
Chad Holtz, with whom I disagree vehemently regarding inclusion has written one of the best send ups in favor of online communion. I disagree with his proposal, but I do recommend his piece. I will not offer a rebuttal of this proposal, but simply state why I feel it is not theologically sound to do this.
In my opinion, an online communion — taking the bread and the wine over the internet — is a form of gnosticism. It allows one to create a false persona, to hide behind it, and to live apart from the real, physical community.
The world is separated into two spheres. One, the physical, is regulated to non-necessary. Our physical community is now no longer necessary. Rather, what is elevated is the spiritual, or cyberspace. No longer do we try to have physical contact, but we are satisfied with an image on a screen.
If the Eucharist represents/is the real presence (or, flesh and blood) of the ascended and divine historical Jesus then it must be taken in person — to phone it in or to suppose one can simply throw blessings around from the Aeon of cyberspace relates back to the notion that non-material supplants material, that our material world is inconsequential.
If the act is nothing but a memorial, an act meant to remember something, then an online communion is fine. However, biblically, theologically, and traditionally speaking the Eucharist is not merely about “remembering” a past event. Rather, the Eucharist is about breaking bread, which is the body of Christ, so as to enjoy the real presence of Christ. The official United Methodist Church stance can be found here. It is a mystery of the Christian faith with therapeutic inclinations. It is more than that, I believe.
This is not short-sighted, but Christocentric-sighted.
Worship, bible study, etc… are not official sacraments of the Church. The Eucharist is. It is not merely about taking it, but about receiving it, and then receiving it in a community or presence.
We are entering into a place where the intimate can not be replaced with the inanimate.
While Joel is on vacation, I promised him I would contribute a few original posts this week on here. For the past year, Joel has given more of his energy to the United Methodist Church and the -ism Schism controversies within it. What are the reasons for schisms, and who are calling for them. There are some rather unwise persons out here in Christianity calling for schism over their pet issues, without even knowing what it means historically. Do they not understand that schismatics desire bloodshed? The history of Schisms in Church history is a rather gory one. The Protestant Reformation brought with it about a century of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. The Eastern/Western Schism in the 11th century was followed by the anti-Greek Orthodox Crusades in the 14th century and the invasion of Constantinople. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus declared Indians as non-persons, and pretty soon Africans replaced First Nations persons as the enslaved class, only to have thousands of “Christians” die in battle for the right to own other people during the U.S. American Civil War.
What I am trying to say is this: religious bloodshed does not happen in a vacuum. The context for each of these conflicts is church schism. The one primary example of church schism is the Donatist controversy. Blood was shed on both sides. The Donatists rejected men as bishops if they were suspected of turning over fellow Christians and the already rare copies of sacred writings. The Donatists believed their words and actions made them the one true Pure Church. The debate became about tribalism versus the Church Universal. I don’t think the Donatists were in error; they just needed to understand our righteousness comes from Christ, and not our own beliefs or commitments.
I do believe it is possible for progressives and conservatives to fellowship together. When yet another leader of the NeoCalvinist movement was selected to a high position within the Southern Baptist Convention, I said to myself this is problematic. I mean, I live across the street from Southern Baptists who identify as more Armininan. The Southern Baptist church I attend is labelled as “liberal” by Al Mohler because it ordains women deacons, and yesterday, we had the honor of having an ordained UMC elder provide the sermon for us yesterday. Her message was a testimony to the possibilities of church unity. Not only did she recognize the persecution of Christians around the world, but also the racial divisions that keep us separated here at home. She reminded us of Paul’s teaching of biblical solidarity, that Christians are all of one body. Schism is an attempt by one limb of the body in order to several all the others off. Schismatics are inherently prone to violence, and they will inevitably fail.
First, let me tackle William Law, an intellectual predecessor to John and Charles Wesley:
What does it mean to have serious faith? From the time he was a boy, William Law attempted to make his commitment to Christ real in all aspects of his life. He felt strongly that one’s commitment to God took precedence over all competing commitments. Law lived this out, willingly giving up his fellowship at Cambridge rather than breaking an oath. Both in person and through his written works, Law had a major influence on John and Charles Wesley.
The Works of William Law contains all of Law’s writings, as well as his letters. Research Law’s influence on Wesley by examining their works side by side. Get definitions for obscure English words using the dictionary lookup tool. See Scripture references on mouseover. Get near-instant search results using Logos’ powerful search tools.
Skimming through Law’s works, I find some interesting bits. For instance, he didn’t care for “stage entertainments.” But, in particular I want to focus on Vol V, in which he offers a rebuttal to English deist, Matthew Tindal.
For Law, the sacrament of the Eucharist is the foundation of Christian doctrine:
The Foundation on which he proceeds, and the principal Matters of his Discourse, are not only notoriously against the Truth of the Sacrament, but plainly destructive of the principal Doctrines of the Christian Religion.
And if this Key of Knowledge, put into your Hands by this Author, is accepted by you, you will not only lose all the right Knowledge of this Sacrament, but be rendered a blind, deaf, and even dead Reader of all the other Doctrines of Scripture. For the Way he points out to find the Truth of the Doctrine of the Sacrament, is the only Way to lose the Truth of all the most important Parts of the Gospel. 1
As you can receive or believe nothing higher of our Saviour, than that he is the Atonement for our Sins, and a real Principle of Life to us; so every Height and Depth of Devotion, Faith, Love, and Adoration, which is due to God as your Creator, is due to God as your Redeemer.
Jacob’s Ladder that reached from Earth to Heaven, and was filled with Angels ascending and descending between Heaven and Earth, is but a small Signification of that Communion between God and Man, which this holy Sacrament is the Means and Instrument of.
Now here it may be proper for you to observe, that whatever Names or Titles this Institution is signified to you by, whether it be called a Sacrifice propitiatory, or commemorative; whether it be called an holy Oblation, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the Heavenly Banquet, the Food of Immortality, or the Holy Communion, and the like, matters not much. For all these Words or Names are right and good, and there is nothing wrong in them, but the striving and contention about them.
For they all express something that is true of the Sacrament, and therefore are every one of them, in a good Sense, rightly applicable to it; but all of them are far short of expressing the whole Nature of the Sacrament, and therefore the Help of all of them is wanted.2
Joseph Butler is best known for his contributions to religious philosophy and Christian apologetics. His profound spiritual insight coupled with his vast knowledge of earthly wisdom helped him grapple with the complex philosophical issues of his time. He explored questions of human nature and morality, using them as a basis for establishing our apparent design. A well-known Anglican preacher, Butler laid the foundation for William Paley’s watchmaker analogy.
One of the principle founders of the Methodist movement with his brother John Wesley, Charles Wesley was also a gifted preacher, orator, and hymnist. In fact, Wesley is said to have penned over 6,000 hymns! Many of these hymns are still used today—including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “Soldiers of Christ, Arise.”
The Works of Charles Wesley (22 vols.) brings together all of Charles’ most important writings, including:
G. Osborn’s 13 volume Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley
Thousands of Charles Wesley’s greatest hymns
The much loved Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures, Charles’ poetic commentary on the Old and New Testaments
The two-volume collected journals of Charles Wesley
Sermons of the Late Rev. Charles Wesley
John Telford and Thomas Jackson’s biographies of Charles Wesley
And much, much more!
This is the most complete collection of Charles Wesley’s writings available in print or electronically! What’s more, the Logos edition makes The Works of Charles Wesley (22 vols.) more widely available and easier to access than ever! From the countless Scripture references linked straight to the biblical text, to the powerful search tools in your digital library, the Logos edition lets you encounter Wesley like never before. Logos also makes navigating lengthy, multivolume works easier than ever—such as the 13 volume Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley or his massive catalog of hymns and poems. The Works of Charles Wesley (22 vols.) is a must have for pastors, teachers, and anyone interested in studying the works of the “sweet singer” of Methodism.
With the wealth of theological texts available today, trying to find the most valuable books can be daunting. To guide divinity students as they wade through centuries of theological scholarship, John Randolph published Enchiridion Theologicum: A Manual for the Use of Students in Divinity. These two volumes bring together what he professes to be the most vital theological texts on which a student should base his or her studies. Its intention is not to detract from larger topical studies or assert these writings as superior to all others, but simply to provide a textual basis for understanding and interpreting the truth of Scripture—one that has passed the tests of time and scholarly examination. Randolph calls these texts “landmarks” to help direct larger studies.
Enchiridion Theologicum contains 21 essential texts for students in divinity. A handful of well-known texts are in Latin, including The Apology of the Church of England by John Jewel. These writings discuss free thinking, deists, transubstantiation, the mysteries of Scripture, divine revelation, the Trinity, and more.
William Law, The Works of the Reverend William Law (vol. 5, 9 vols.; London: J. Richardson, 1762), 3. ↩
William Law, The Works of the Reverend William Law (vol. 5, 9 vols.; London: J. Richardson, 1762), 53–54. ↩
Oft times, Methodists like to pretend that the theology we inherited from John and Charles is that of a symbol — yet, in reading the stanzas, we see sacrificial language, mimicking the high sacramentarianism of the Catho-Anglicans.
This hymn was part of our Maundy Thursday service, and I having never heard it before, listened as intensely as one does to an new lover.
(I note the singers of this version left out some pertinent parts…)
Come, sinners, to the Gospel feast;
Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
Ye need not one be left behind,
For God hath bid all humankind.
Sent by my Lord, on you I call;
The invitation is to all.
Come, all the world! Come, sinner, thou!
All things in Christ are ready now.
Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed,
Ye restless wanderers after rest;
Ye poor, and maimed, and sick, and blind,
In Christ a hearty welcome find.
Come, and partake the Gospel feast;
Be saved from sin; in Jesus rest; O taste the goodness of your God, And eat His flesh, and drink His blood!
You vagrant souls, on you I call;
(O that my voice could reach you all!)
You all may now be justified,
You all may live, for Christ hath died.
My message as from God receive;
Ye all may come to Christ and live.
O let His love your hearts constrain,
Nor permit Him to die in vain.
His love is mighty to compel;
His conquering love consent to feel,
Yield to His love’s resistless power,
And fight against your God no more.
See Him set forth before your eyes, That precious, bleeding Sacrifice! His offered benefits embrace, And freely now be saved by grace.
This is the time, no more delay!
This is the Lord’s accepted day.
Come thou, this moment, at His call,
And live for Him Who died for all.
Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.
What about Protestants who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? When I was in Baltimore this past weekend, I attended mass at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin. No one would have known I wasn’t Catholic, but I didn’t feel it appropriate. I would, however, love to have taken the Eucharist.
I’ve read this throughout the day and it is powerful. I mean the entire document, of course.