Friday, June 16, 2006

Evangelicals attempt the Eucharist

While at the bookstore, I picked up a book to look at called, In remembrance of Me: A Manual on Observing the Lord's Supper, by Jim Henry. I figured this represented an "Evangelical" take on the subject, and I was curious; although when I realized he was former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, his approach was no surprise.

As a rule, I don't offer much criticism of other Christian bodies; not because I don't see the differences, and their importance, but because I just don't care to do that. Its easy to take shots, and I doubt my critiquing other religious bodies does much to win them to the Catholic Faith. So what follows I do not mean to be criticism, or worse, mockery.

Mr. Henry starts out by acknowledging something interesting -- something I had felt during my years as an Evangelical -- that there is something odd about celebrating the Lord's Supper so infrequently. Now, my guess is that was to cut a wide path away from the Catholics, and the Catholic-like churches, but I really don't know. For whatever reason -- I will put it down to an irenic spirit -- Mr. Henry does not get into all that. And he says, as a pastor, he felt he should have communion more often.

Then he gives a rather brief "theology" of the Lord's Supper; I note the brevity, considering the way he emphasizes the importance of this "symbol." Here again, I note he avoids getting into polemics, although he acknowledges how "some Christians" believe it is a sacrament, but others -- for whom he spoke -- did not. He managed to sneak in a quote by St. Augustine, which takes a certain amount of brass, but I think Mr. Henry meant well! (And in fairness, many Protestants believe Augustine would agree with them on these things, rather than the Catholic Church; of course, I disagree!)

So then he talks about the basics, and describes the standard way Evangelicals usually celebrate communion: with trays of pieces of bread and little cups of grape juice, either passed down the aisles, or at stations where you can go. The point of his book, of course, is to make it easy for other Evangelical pastors to do as he has done, and emphasize communion more.

The latter half of his short book has a series of plans for communion services; and this is what I found interesting: the need (so it appeared), to "jazz up" the communion service, to make it "relevant," if it was going to be offered a lot more frequently. (FYI, his more frequent was to go from quarterly to once a month; when I was in the Assemblies of God, they did it every month.) I sympathize with him; the basic service he described was so sparse (and so it was in my Evangelical days) that it did seem unable to bear the "great" symbolic weight he argues it has.

(I wondered if he'd do any borrowing from Catholic ritual; he did not, which I think was right. He did, however, borrow what I think was something Anglican, although he didn't say so. Actually, each of his plans was submitted by various pastors, so that one was probably from a "low Anglican.")

But here is what I found really interesting: several times, it seemed as if there was a lot of effort, in the plans, to "bring it alive" and "give it meaning": "pass out nails to people," or this one -- this'll have you drop out of your Lazyboy: "have someone dressed as the Lord enter the church, walk around, touch people on the shoulder, and then leave, silently"!*

Did you react as I did? I was thinking, "this guy wants to make Jesus present!"

My other thought, a little more polemical, was: "okay, you want to prepare a 'manual' for celebrating the Eucharist (he used the word) -- why not see if such things already exist? Why not find out how the early Church did it . . ."

Well, I can easily speculate, but I would rather not; by why not look at St. Justin Martyr and the Didache? I don't assume he doesn't know about them; and I assume the man has decided these things are not inconsistent with his Baptist beliefs . . . anyway, it was curious.

*My quotes are from memory, and approximate, to be fair to him.)


Anonymous said...

Father Fox
I think your take on what Pastor Henry was saying was fair and honest. I was born and raised a Southern Baptist, and so I happily remained for 45 years until the Lord showed me the truth of His Church---Thanks be to GOD! One of my growing discontentments in my Southern Bapist denomination was the infrequency with which the Lord's Supper was celebrated. As a child growing up, we always had it on the first Sunday of the month. Over the last 20 years or so there was an increasing movement to not having it a regular announced times. Instead it would be done at odd times, and on many occasions I heard the faithful remark that, "It should be done infrequently and unannounced." In that way, "Only the most deserving, serious Christians" would receive it. I grew increasingly puzzled over why a "symbol" should be withheld so. I pray for the unification of all Christians, and that the true Bread that came down from heaven will nourish all who call Jesus, "Lord."

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

I think one of the most important questions for Catholics to ask our Protestant friends (particularly as they talk about, think about, sturggle with just what part the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist should play in their services/life) is - 'What if it's REALLY who we say it is - Jesus the Son of the Living God? Wouldn't you give up anything to have Him?'

I beleive this is also true and appropriate when the question is Baptism - for those denominations that think it is only a symbol - doesn't really do anything. 'What if it REALLY does something - that you REALLY become a son or daughter of God, have your sins washed away and are part of HIS Body?'

They are tough questions that will continue to percolate in their minds and with the Holy Spirit - you just never know what's going to happen.

Have a great time in Washington DC.

Terry said...

I concur with Miss Meg that you dealt with this charitably. Interestingly enough, I was looking at the Summa regarding this matter literally right before coming to your blog!

Apparently, St. Augustine's been used for quite some time to argue against the Real Presence. However, if you read his works both in their entirety, it's plain he's clearly taken out of context, not to mention he must have been a proto-Mensa member.

glorybe said...

I have a very close Baptist friend. We have discussed this for many, many years. All I can say is, people believe what they want to believe for their own reasons.

Some are so conditioned by what their church has taught them, that even the truth falls on deaf ears.

Being a Catholic carries many difficult responsibilities. Many are not willing to take that on. It is more convenient to not believe.

So sorry if this sounds harsh, but it just seems that way from my experience with my non-Catholic friends.

I pray for them all.

Anonymous said...

Like Miss Meg,

I was a Southern Baptist for many years, and it was the Eucharist that helped bring me home.

One of the saddest things, that I experienced is this.My stepmother, between only going to church for Sunday School, and then being a shut in, went for over 20 years without celebrating Communion. Of course, being Baptist, any visitors from the church wouldn't think to bring it with them.

Mari said...

When I read: "have someone dressed as the Lord enter the church, walk around, touch people on the shoulder, and then leave, silently"!*
I had a physical reaction of disgust, complete with "eeewww" noises. No blog post has ever done that.
I was raised Baptist and communions were hit or miss and sometimes you had to come at night. For the time being I am an Episcopalian with a great appreciation of the Eucharist, it is the reason I drag myself to church, well that and coffee hour. After receiving the body and blood of Our Lord I feel different, and I never really did when I was a Baptist. Maybe because the liturgy is all leading to the Eucharist with the confession, creed and prayers, which isn't so with my childhood church.