Sunday, October 8, 2017

Reader's Question on Communion and Vows

I received an interesting question this week, and with the author's permission share it here, along with my answer. The email is as follows:

"When I participate in Communion and the Lord's Table, I prefer to not make any vows or covenants with the people at the table. My conscience seems to prevent me from participating at Ch. of Brethren. To describe the situation:  After the communion at Frederick Church of the Brethren, everyone was reading the following aloud, but I did not and will not because I think that the Bible says not to make vows unnecessarily:

Here is what was read out loud:

FCOB communion covenant. 

“Unison: Having now experienced the grace of God and confessing Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we joyfully and sincerely covenant: 
That mindful of the teachings of our Lord, we will walk together in love, be slow to take offense, be ready for reconciliation, participate in each other's joys and sorrows, and with Christian care and sympathy bear one another's burdens. 
That we will love temperately, be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and do unto others as we would have them do unto 
us. 

That in keeping with Christ's great commission; "Go and make disciples of all nations" we will use every opportunity of word and deed to bring kindred and acquaintance to the knowledge of Christ. 
With humble faith and the help of God, we accept this covenant with the earnest prayer that is set before us, and so live that we may be prepared for the life everlasting, which is our hope in Jesus Christ.”


My point is not against vowing but against having it seem to everyone in the room that I have participated with everyone in speaking this vow. I think there is no scriptural reason to require a vow at the time of participating in the Lord's Table. In fact, the disciple Peter's vow at the Last Supper was out of line (saying he would lay down his life for Jesus.)   I think I should explain that the Ch. of the Brethren in general may not perform this exactly as my local church does.

I would perhaps be misstating  the problem if I were to say that this "covenant" they recite is a requirement for participation in the Lord's Table. Rather, what I should say is that the liturgy includes the covenant-statement and it seems implicit that the covenant is part of the Lord's Table participation, although some participants might say that I would be able to partake of the Lord's Table and then simply not speak when the recitation of the vow or covenant comes around. But my conscience, if that is what it is, makes me think that everyone in the crowd will assume that all attendees have said the same liturgy. That is why I felt that, socially speaking, it was an implied requirement.

There are several points which could be made. One point would be: why are people being asked to vow at the Lord's Table? Is it thought that vowing to go all out for the Lord will really motivate you to go all out? Is it implied that one is not receiving the Lord’s body and blood unless one makes these vows?

Is this vow-making true to the intent of the Lord to give a free gift to His church? Did He and does He require these vows for participation in His communion?"

My answer: 

First, thank you for your question. It is well thought out and I can tell you take Communion seriously, as you should. Far too often people receive Communion with little care or attention to the state of their hearts, the importance of the ritual act itself, or even the presence of Christ in our worship. I'm happy to see you're thoughtful in this regard.

I'm not sure that the Brethren view this part of their liturgy as a vow as much as they do a reaffirmation of their commitment and covenant to and with our Lord. In that sense there is nothing wrong with the affirmation. Sometimes people feel the need to reaffirm their baptismal covenant, and for them this portion of the Brethren liturgy might fulfill that need. I looked over the statement you provided from their liturgy and found nothing that implies you cannot receive Communion unless you affirm those things contained therein, but to be honest, every Christian should affirm those things continually in their lives. And while Communion is for the Church, it is the memorial of Christ's sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world. Yes, it is offered freely, but a gift is no less a gift simply because it is predicated on obedience. Salvation and eternal life are promised to those who persevere, and those who obey the teachings of Christ. So an affirmation of one's dedication to those principles of the Gospel in no way reduces Communion to a "work", so to speak. Does Christ require a reaffirmation at Communion? I've not found anything that says He does, nor do I find it in the Early Church. What we do find, however, are warnings that we should not partake of the sacrament unworthily. In other words, while we are in a state of willful sin, rebellion, etc. Of course, one who was in such a state and who affirmed the things contained in the Brethren liturgy would simply be a hypocrite. My advice is this: if for some reason that portion of the liturgy causes you to violate your conscience, then don't take part in it. If, however, you're simply worried that it is legalistic or misguided, I hope I've put that to rest. It is no more an error to affirm one's commitment to the gospel than it is to affirm the same at your baptism.

I hope that helps.

God Bless

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