Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tight-laced Evangelicals, Miracles, and the Lord's Supper

My short experience as a Christian (compared to some) has mostly been with the tight-laced sort. We don't get too excited (like the Charismatics do), and we aren't superstitious (like the Roman Catholics tend to be). Worship is engaging, but you won't see any dancing, tambourine-waving ladies down front. We accept the miraculous, but we don't look for the Blessed Virgin in our spaghetti dinner. I don't mean to be uncharitable to these other traditions -- I'm just enjoying a bit of fun at their expense.

In the last two years, however, my family has been worshipping at a more liturgical church. You would think that Presbyterians are as tight-laced as they come, but surprisingly, I've found the stereo-type to be off the mark. Our church has actually helped us become more open to the idea of the miraculous. I.e., our laces are loosening, but not in the charismatic sense. I've become more receptive to the idea of supernatural activity during worship, but primarily within the event of the eucharist, and perhaps in the liturgy itself.

Now, as a card-carrying, tight-laced evangelical (TLE), I have always held the respectable view of the Lord's Supper -- the Memorial View. Nothing magical, nothing mystical, just a symbol. Grace comes to us through the word and prayer, not bread and grape juice. But this is being challenged. In our new church, we celebrate the Lord's Table every week (with fresh bread and really cheap wine). Could it be that something more is passing into my soul than physical nutrients? (I'll explore this scripturally in a future post.) I'm open to this idea.

Now, in the midst of all this, I've observed something interesting about myself, and perhaps other tight-laced evangelicals as well. Have you ever noticed who it is that fights tooth and nail to defend the historical (and future) miracles of the Bible (even those that are not widely accepted)? That's right, TLEs. Ironic, isn't it? Or is it? My hypothesis is this: TLEs will battle to the death to defend the miracles of the past (and future), because we have no miracles of the present. Other traditions don't have as much to lose if it turns out that the universe is billions of years old, or if the sun didn't actually "stand still" for Joshua. They witness the miraculous every Sunday.

Any thoughts from fellow TLEs?

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Blogger Joel said...

I don't know if I'm a TLE, primarily because I don't know that I fit the "E" portion of the acronym. I do, however, belong to a church whose tradition it is to celebrate the Lord's Supper every week (Disciples of Christ/Christian Church). There is often talk of the presences of God in our midst during many parts of worship, but specifically during communion. I don't remember how I interpreted communion as a child. As an adult, however, I have more often than not attended a Disciples church and do not take a Memorial View of communion. I would probably fight your definition of tight-laced given my lack of outward excitement and superstition as a part of my worship experience. That said, I also don't know that I am the first to defend miracles of the past and tend to look for natural explanations for what might appear to be supernatural occurrences. We could get into specifics of these at another time. Maybe the difference is the lack of the "E" in my acronym.
Either way, enjoy your communion experience, whatever is happening. I know that I never really thought much about it when I was a child. Whether that was because of youth or the infrequency of the celebration, I don't know. I do know that weekly communion has made that exercise more meaningful to me as an adult.

8:08 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Hey Joel -- I'm not quite sure if you are agreeing or disagreeing with me. My guess is that you wouldn't fit neatly into my constructed TLE category. I'm not sure I fit anymore either. I'd say (and I can say whatever I want, since I made up the term) that holding the memorial view of communion is a necessary condition for being a TLE. Thus, I'm probably on TLE probation.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Chris, I appreciate that you're wrestling with this issue. The longer I walk with Christ the less need I have to define things so tightly. Since the Scriptures don't nail down "exactly what does and what does not happen at the Lord's table," then I'm off the hook - I don't have to nail down such things either.

I agree with Joel: we should enjoy and experience God at the Lord's table without having to think we understand it all ahead of time. I'm in favor of experiencing as much grace as possible as frequently as possible.

You're a good man, Chris.

10:33 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Thanks for the comment, Steve. Do I know you? Steve R.? Anyway, that's a good way to think of it. But do you think the R. Catholics are wrong? If so, why? If not, then there seem to be some serious implications, like we're missing out on something outside the R. Catholic chuch. I'm not losing sleep over this, but if something spiritual is happening during communion, I don't want to oblivious to it.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Chris, I don't know if I was agreeing with you or not, either. I just felt like I'd contribute because I have been away from the internets for a bit. To be quite honest, I didn't realize there were multiple views on what communion is.

To your final point above, something spiritual can happen anytime in my estimation. I would think that if you want something spiritual to happen during communion, it will. If you want it to be a clinical exercise, it will be that as well.

I also think the universe is billions of years old. So, I could be off the mark ; )

7:53 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I think you're right about that Joel -- it depends in part on the participant's attitude or perspective. The three main views are: (1) transubstantiation (Roman Catholic) -- the bread and wine literally become the flesh and blood of Christ, and we are saved in part by consuming these; (2) Consubstantiation/Real presence view -- Christ is somehow present in the elements, but they are still bread and wine. This is not a "metaphor" -- Christ is literally present, and not just in your mind; (3) Memorial view -- the practice of the Lord's Supper is just a way to remember what he did on the cross. There is nothing supernatural about the elements. This is a crude treatments of the subject, but you get the idea. Lutheran/REformed/Anglican folks tend to hold (2), and everyone else probably holds something like (3).

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Gina said...

As an R.C. I welcome you all to read John 6 and experience the beauty of the eucharist. I went to both an Evangelical Free church and a Catholic Church for a year. What I found was that I could not go on without the unifying power of the Eucharist. It seemed that without the Eucharist church wasn't all that it could be. I pray constantly that non-Catholics could reflect on such things and decide in their heart that every week at communion they could also physically receive Jesus into their hearts. It is the bomb. diggity.

2:53 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Thanks, Gina. :)

5:42 PM  
Anonymous derek said...


I appreciate your reflections here. I think that since conservative evangelicals typically (over?)emphasize the sermon, the Eucharist is an anfterthought. It seems that most people don't even think about what is happening at the Lord's Table. To me this is tragic.

My two cents on why we are where we are is that conservative evangelicals have a severely deficient pneumatology. This is evidenced in many ways, one of which you pointed out in your recent post about J.P Moreland. ALthough this is changing the Holy Spirit is still, in the great theologian Karl Barth's (and maybe Picard's) words: "the Holy Spirit is the last theological fontier."

How this fleshes out in the Eucharist is that since we often fail to realize the presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit we relegate Jesus back to the 1st century and "remember" Him in the Lord's Supper. Jesus doesn't need to merely be remembered. Jesus wants to connect with us here and now when we take the sacrament. I know that i'm caricaturing the memorial view a bit, but i think that many fall into this trap of merely "remembering" what Jesus did your for them, as opposed to being lifted into the presence of Christ here and now in the sacrament.

All that said, i'm not sure wha category i best fit into. I don't know if i need to have absolute clarity on this matter: mystery seems okay here to me at this point. I do know that i've moved past a mere "memorial" view. I think that's a good thing.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Derek said...


I agree with you in regards to think through these issues in order to achieve whatever clarity is possible. Here is the main “middle path’ between the memorial view and the RC view of transubstantiation:

1.) The basic view is that Christ is really present in the sacraments of bread and wine. One view in this vein is the RC view of transubstantiation, while the other is the belief born out of Lutheranism called consubstantiation, which affirms the real presence of Christ while rejecting the transformation of the elements found in the RC view. Christ is “in, with, and under” the actual elements.

I think that this is where i land at this point Chris. I think that this view makes sense, and is possibly required, by a properly developed doctrine of the Holy Spirit, one of the roles of which is to reveal Christ in our midst. This role must surely include the Lord’s Supper. How this works exactly, i’m not sure. Hence, the mystery in the midst of clarity.

11:31 PM  

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