Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 11th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Online Communion = gnosticism

online communionThis 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.

 

 

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “Online Communion = gnosticism”
  1. Hey Joel, thanks for the post and the link to mine. I’m a bit startled that I wrote anything remotely close to the best argument for online communion as it’s not something I’ve really given much thought about. Up until recently I was very much against it.

    Ironically, the only thing I really disagree with you on here is your very first paragraph, where you rejoice that we are talking about something “more important” than sex, a supremely physical act of immense importance. I would argue that those who are (or will be) practicing communion online will be entering the kingdom of heaven before those practicing sexual immorality, which would make the latter far more important than the former, IMHO.

    grace and peace!

    • Chad, I don’t disagree with your order here — however, I would add that proper living will come from proper veneration. a true and living orthodoxy will lead to a true and living holiness.

  2. Gnostics are given a bad rap here. I don’t think they had the Internet, and I think at least some of them practiced a Eucharist. I think perhaps the “bread”, being “body”, for Gnostics, was more like John’s “Word”, or “Truth”, for Jesus. Or “Give us this Day, our Daily Bread”. But anyway, your referenced UMC description of “The Mystery” was a little like the Gnostic’s double talk. The UMC should have just said “We use Wonder Bread” in the Eucharist, and it would make more sense. As oppose to Shepherd Bread, or Raisin Bread. But they might work too, like Raisin’.
    Example:

    Gospel of Philip
    “Before Christ came, there was no bread in the world, just as Paradise, the place were Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain man. Man used to feed like the animals, but when Christ came, the perfect man, he brought bread from heaven in order that man might be nourished with the food of man.”

    The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber.

    This world is a corpse-eater. All the things eaten in it themselves die also. Truth is a life-eater. Therefore no one nourished by truth will die. It was from that place that Jesus came and brought food. To those who so desired, he gave life, that they might not die.

    The cup of prayer contains wine and water, since it is appointed as the type of the blood for which thanks is given. And it is full of the Holy Spirit, and it belongs to the wholly perfect man. When we drink this, we shall receive for ourselves the perfect man.

  3. OK, sorry about that. Forgot about the modern ones…

  4. Oh the danger of making the symbolism so meaningless that the thing which it symbolizes is also meaningless in response to making the symbol higher than the thing it symbolizes! Whatever it is I would say that the word “communion” added to its purpose when instituted by Jesus (physical fellowship of the brethren) do indicate why “at large” communions are not desirable. I know that many will insist that ministers have taken the elements to hospital beds and administered communion to a sick person individually thus making “online”, or individual communion nothing new. But are these two the same thing? If they are, where is the Biblical command or exigence that a sick person take communion no matter what? Again, oh the danger… etc. you can read above.

  5. If only UMC would replace the Welch’s grape juice with wine. But their bread is better than the Mormon’s. The Mormons always seemed to want to use Wonder Bread and tap water. Very blah experience, especially when a couple young kids were repeating the verbatim prayers. And if they made a mistake, they had to repeat it. I didn’t enjoy it. UMC experience is more enjoyable. I’ll pass on the Internet stuff.

  6. There are obviously options. The UMC I go to has gluten free wafers as an option, which just began last Sunday. I prefer Shepherd Bread. But Sourdough would be more appropriate for my personality.

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: