Friday, April 9, 2010

Latte Communion?

Believers through the many centuries have held different views about the church.

Some have believed that the Church achieved its most ideal form in its earliest days. People who hold this opinion think that we should return to the government, doctrine, and mode of operation that characterized the Church in its earliest stages of development. These believers attempt to eliminate everything from public worship or church government that they believe does not to have the specific authority of the New Testament. “Speak where the Bible speaks; be silent where the Bible is silent,” such Christians say.

Other Christians have taught that the early church pragmatically developed its form of government and style of worship to meet the needs of the time. Although we must be faithful to the words of Christ and His apostles, the church is free to evolve to meet the needs of people in whatever era or location it finds itself. “By all means, save some” is the cry of these believers.

Yet others have insisted that the traditions that come to us from the early Church and which have developed through time, are our best guide. Thus, we should interpret the Word of God and practice our faith as it was defined in the first few centuries and developed through the ages.

This school of thought interprets church government and doctrine thorough the long lens of history, much like our American legal system used to do. In this view, the development of the church has been like that of a growing child; we can't return to the primitive innocence of the early church any more than a man could return to his childhood.” “We hold to that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the people of God,” claim those who hold this view.

These different views of church affect how we receive our faith. Did the Lord Jesus establish the sacraments and ordinances of the church? Have these been faithfully passed through the generations from teacher to teacher? If so, such things are valid for all time and we have no authority to tamper with them. However, if practices of the church – such as the use of wine and bread in communion – were culturally conditioned expressions of faith for the first century; then
we can accomplish the same intention by sharing coffee and pastries at Starbucks.

Most Christians will express some sympathy with each view of the church. Finally though, one must decide which of them the most faithfully carries out the Lord’s teaching.

How one makes his or her choice about the way he or she views the church creates denominations.

One Christian insists that we should meet in homes because early Christians met in homes. The same person may disagree with a friend over whether or not one should use a piano in worship since early Christians had no piano. Both of them may uncomfortable with a third Christian who argues that we should all speak in tongues because early Christians spoke in tongues. As these three argue among themselves about church buildings, pianos and tongue-speaking, they may suddenly unite against an Orthodox Christian who uses incense in worship. “After all,” he will say, “God told Moses to use incense in worship. When did God change His mind?”

As these four argue, another Christian from the “seeker sensitive” sort of church will roll his eyes and remind the others that seekers are lost; they cannot understand all these complex arguments about “trivial things. We must present the gospel in ways that unbelievers can understand.”

Likely, all the previous arguments will now cease as the others gang up on the new guy.

Perhaps it is getting clear that the particular way we envision “church” will lead us to all sorts of conclusions about what church should look like. These conclusions can separate us from sincere and godly believers who disagree with us.

It can be frustrating!

On today’s date in 1954, Edward Murrow and Fred Friendly aired a show called See it Now, in which they exposed the political witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. A Communist scare had blazed through the nation and left everyone implicated that did not dot every ‘I” and cross every “t” of Senator McCarthy’s definition of patriotism. Leaders had been smeared in the arts and sciences as well as in political life. No one had seemed immune from the fiery ignorance of McCarthy’s uninformed populism.

None of the organs of government seemed capable of stopping the daily slander against dissent and difference. What signaled the beginning of the end was a television program made possible by the founding documents of this county. Fortunately, a free press was as sacred to Americans as our three branches of government. The living tradition of freedom, passed down from our revolutionary forefathers in countless poems, stories and fourth of July celebration picnics, erupted to protect some of the citizens from the mob spirit of the rest of the citizens.

This has occurred in the history of the church as well. Church leaders do not always get it right. Power can corrupt and wealth can even blind otherwise great leaders. Evangelists, priests, pastors, presbyters, superintendents, popes, elders, vestries, monks and theologians can err and have erred. The masses can err too and fall prey to snake oil and smoke for a generation or two. Sometimes it is the church structure that corrects the mob; sometimes it is the piety of the pew that corrects the pulpit. Sooner or later though, the truth prevails and err is rebuked.
The Lord told us that this would happen. He said that Hell would try but would not succeed at stopping His Church.

I haven’t answered the questions I raised earlier in this blog. I have my opinions. However, in the end, it is a mystery how the church continues its way from century to century and from culture to culture. Saints have emerged from all parts of the church and when one consults them, he gets many different opinions about how it’s all supposed to work. Nonetheless, the work continues.

Most Protestants believe that Mother Teresa was a Christian, although they disagree with her doctrine. Most Roman Catholics believe that Billy Graham is a Christian, although they can’t understand why he doesn’t make the sign of the cross when he prays. Most Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit was at work in the Reformation, although they are hard pressed to discover which reformer spoke in tongues. Spurgeon was a great preacher, even though he smoked a pipe and C. S. Lewis was a saintly thinker even though he drank too much wine. General Booth did a good thing when he founded the Salvation Army, even though they don’t receive Communion.

What a mess! What a fascinating, confusing mess!

(I called this blog Latte Communion, because hopefully it caught your attention! My daughter wrote a blog last week called Chocolate Communion, in which she talks about chocolate, children, and Communion. You can read her blog by clicking here: )

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