Issue #196 -------
June 28, 2005
A people among whom
custom is altogether sovereign
endures the despotism of the dead.
Bertrand de Jouvenel (1903-1987)
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one" (Luke 10:41). These words could easily be spoken to -- and, indeed, should be spoken to -- those disciples of Christ who are "worried and bothered" about the countless intricacies of their Pattern Theology. In their endless squabbles over minutiae, they have far too frequently failed to focus on what truly matters in the sight of the Lord. How our Lord must grieve over the pitiful wrangling of His people as they fuss, feud and fragment over petty particulars of some elusive pattern they feel compelled to deduce, assume and infer from the Scriptures and then impose upon the rest of humanity as conditions of fellowship and terms of eternal salvation. We should be ashamed of ourselves!
Martha was flustered over her many preparations for a meal to be served in the presence of the Lord Jesus, and it seems to be the "Lord's meal" that equally "worries and bothers" the patternists today. Let's be honest with ourselves: the vast majority of the sectarian squabbling and factional feuding that has arisen among those disciples concerned with precise practice of "The Pattern" involve the "five acts of worship" in the so-called "worship service" (an expression which never appears in Scripture). How we sing, for example, has divided brethren for generations. The practice of four part harmony, the use of shaped notes, song books containing musical notation, hymns written by "denominationalists," instrumental music, pitch pipes and tuning forks, praise teams, and other "weighty matters" about which men have been "worried and bothered" have split the church into countless factions. I wonder if perhaps Jesus might say to these misguided brethren, "Only a few things truly matter; really only one -- are you singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God; encouraging and admonishing one another?" (Col. 3:16). Brethren, I seriously doubt our Lord is "worried and bothered" over shaped notes, pitch pipes and four part harmony. His focus is the heart.
Of all the many concerns of legalistic patternists regarding the "Five Acts," however, the greatest seems to be centered on various aspects of the observance of the Lord's Supper. The battles among brethren that have been fought over this "feast divine" are literally too numerous to list. How the bread should be broken, and when, and by whom ... is the "fruit of the vine" to be fermented or unfermented ... should the elements be served in connection with a meal (the "agape feast") ... a single cup or multiple cups ... leavened or unleavened bread ... should the trays be covered ... may women pass the trays ... in what order should the elements be served ... how many prayers should be offered during the Lord's Supper ... should the collection be associated with this observance, or is this "mixing acts of worship" ... should there be a dress code for those serving at the Table ... who may partake of the elements ... how often may we partake of this meal, and on what day ... may hymns be sung as the elements are passed ... and on and on! These few don't even scratch the surface of the list of "troubling matters" that could be given. Yet, every one of these issues, and more, have led to the formation of feuding factions within the family of God. We have become so hopelessly divided over what constitutes "The Pattern" that one wonders if we will ever know again the joys of a united family gathered around the Father's table!
I believe that at times, as Jesus did with Martha, we must call out to our "bothered brethren," halt them in their tracks, and call attention to the absolute absurdity and uselessness of this obsession with things that really don't matter. In this present issue of my Reflections I would like to call out to the "Martha's" among us with regard to a practice known as "the second serving." Closely associated with that tradition is the practice of "carried communion." Although shocking, it is nevertheless no great surprise that these two have also led to division in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is this "second serving" that seems to have some legalistic patternists so perturbed? Actually, it is a practice that one will find in a great many Churches of Christ (as well as other groups), most of whom do not even give it a second thought. It is the Sunday evening "re-offering" of the Lord's Supper to those who "missed it" during the Sunday morning assembly. Perhaps a few of the members were sick or traveling that morning, or maybe had to work. Thus, to allow these also to partake of the elements of the Lord's Supper, the bread and the fruit of the vine left over from the morning "worship service" are offered to them (often in a back room) at the close of the evening "worship service." This has raised a number of concerns among some disciples:
Bro. Patrick Donahue, in his concluding remarks in the above referenced debate, declared, "In the Old Testament, God made provision for those who missed the Passover. God has made no provision for those who miss the gathering of the disciples for the purpose of breaking bread, so neither should we." Of course, the other side argues that if God was concerned that His people "make up" missed Passover meals, wouldn't He be equally concerned that His people "make up" missed observances of the Lord's Supper? If He is concerned with such, counters the opposition, then why didn't He say something in Scripture? And back and forth the battle is waged. He said ... He didn't say ... He intended ... we inferred. Frankly, we have been "hoisted on the petard" of our own flawed CENI hermeneutic; it is the very foundation of patternism, and it is destroying us!
As you all probably know by now, I am about the farthest thing from a "legalistic patternist" one will likely ever find. In fact, I deplore it. Nevertheless, I must admit that I am not altogether unsympathetic with their position regarding the "second serving" and "carried communion," although the basis of my own concerns are somewhat different than theirs. Whether the first century church ever had a "second service" or a "second serving" is entirely irrelevant to me. I could care less one way or the other. Their practice is not my pattern. I find no specific command from my God declaring their application of divine principles and precepts to be the sole approved methodology for all men in all locations for all time. However, I am concerned over some of the implications of these two traditions that have arisen within the Churches of Christ (as well as in a few other groups within Christendom).
First, let me hasten to assure the readers that I do not personally believe that the "second serving" or "carried communion" is sinful or unacceptable in and of itself. It is simply a traditional practice of the church, and thus is inherently neither good nor bad. I have absolutely no desire to "make an issue" of these practices, nor to cause dissension within a congregation that employs them. Indeed, the congregation for which I preach, and where I serve as one of the elders, practices both. Some of the members know how I feel about these practices, most probably do not. I am not reluctant to share my personal convictions on the matter when asked about them, but I certainly don't make it the focus of my preaching and teaching. My fellowship with my brethren is not based on positions or personal preferences; it is based on a Person! Thus, I tend to focus more on the latter than the former in my public ministry.
Nevertheless, keeping in mind the above vital qualifiers, I must admit to having some serious concerns regarding what message we may be sending by such traditions as a "second serving" of the Lord's Supper and "carried communion." Chief among these concerns is that by these practices we may well be promoting, albeit unwittingly, a sacramental view of the Lord's Supper. The "doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist" has taken a simple memorial meal and transformed it into a "sacrament of the church" whereby grace is said to be conferred to the recipients. Indeed, the "sacrament of the Eucharist" came to be viewed as the chief religious function of the church during the Middle Ages, and abuses surrounding this sacrament eventually led, in part, to the Protestant Reformation. Many reformers have sought to return the Lord's Supper to its original simplicity, however there has always been a human tendency throughout history to elevate this commemorative meal to something more than it was ever intended to be. I fear some of our focus in the "second serving" and "carried communion" may actually be more of a return to the purposes of Roman Catholicism than a restoring or recapturing of the purposes and principles of the early church.
I actually had an elderly lady tell me a few years back, after she had driven for hours to get home in time to attend the Sunday evening assembly, "I drove like crazy to get here in time. I just couldn't afford to miss that weekly dose of Communion. What would God do if I died this week before I could take it next Sunday?!" I guess my lower jaw almost hit the floor!! My first thought was, "I have failed this woman in my teaching!" The more I thought about it, however, the more I wondered if perhaps we haven't all failed her in our practice. By urging those who miss the morning assembly to "make up" the Lord's Supper, even packing it to them in portable kits if they can't come to the building that night, haven't we actually been guilty of promoting such a sacramental view?! I fear perhaps we have!
I must also admit, in all honesty, that it bothers me to see a congregation shuffle off those who missed that morning to a back room at the end of the evening assembly, apart from and out of sight of their fellow believers, so that they might "make up" the Communion. In what possible way are we "communing" with these brethren while they are cloistered away in another room? "Well, they're not actually communing with each other, they're communing with the Lord," it is countered. Although the Lord is unquestionably present and party to this commemoration, nevertheless Scripture makes it clear this event is a remembrance and sharing together among the members of the One Body. If it was just an event where one person was communing with the Lord, then that person could observe this commemorative event alone on the side of a mountain (which some do, using this very same argument). No, the Lord's Supper is an event where the members come together and share in the one bread as One Body! Indeed, it is a unity meal. I would encourage the readers to review Reflections #55 -- The Lord's Supper: Perceiving Its Purpose.
In light of the above, some congregations seek to remedy this by serving these persons within the auditorium in the presence of the other members. This is at least an improvement, but as a rule no one else partakes of the elements except those who missed. The rest generally sit silently as passive spectators while a handful of their brethren "make up" the "missed meal." The extreme legalistic patternists would likely say, and rightly so if one is to be consistent with the tenets of their rigid theology, that such a practice still violates the biblical pattern of the Lord's Supper. I would contend that, more to the point, such a practice entirely fails to perceive the biblical purpose of the Lord's Supper. It is not pattern, but principle that I see as the overriding concern here.
"Okay, brother Maxey, what would you recommend we do?" Well, I'm glad you asked!! Although I would never be dogmatic about it, and certainly would never press it to the point of dissension or division, my own personal preference would be for all those assembled Sunday evening to observe the Lord's Supper together during that assembly! Why not?!! We have always reasoned in Churches of Christ that Acts 20:7 declares the purpose for the assembling of ourselves together is "to break bread." Why is this the purpose Sunday morning, but NOT Sunday evening?! If we are going to insist on a second service, why not also a second serving?! After all, there is just as much biblical "authority" for one as there is for the other! Would it somehow infuriate our Father that we remembered the sacrifice of His Son twice that day?! Would He send us all to hell and torture us for umpteen zillion years because we dared to commemorate that death again during the evening assembly? If He would, then would He also perhaps cast us into the lake of fire for having a second assembly on Sunday (after all, where is such "authorized" by "book, chapter or verse")? If this is how our merciful Father would react, then I have completely failed to perceive the true nature of my Father as revealed in Scripture. Frankly, I think He would be pleased if we remembered the sacrifice of His Son every time we assembled (why wouldn't He be?), and it certainly would be a spiritual uplift for all those assembled. After all, the only thing Jesus had to say about frequency was, "As often as you do it, do it in remembrance of Me!" (1 Cor. 11:24-26). We would violate no divine precept, yet we would validate divine principle, by such a practice! And, yes, I'll elevate precept and principle over pattern any day!!
As for the tradition of "carried communion," I personally would discontinue the practice altogether. However, if some felt it should be continued, I would at the very least encourage several members to go to these sick and shut-in members, and I would encourage all of them to share in the elements of the Lord's Supper together. Let this be a time of genuine sharing, a true communion with one another, and remove the event as far as possible from the appearance of sacramentalism. Again, let me hasten to assert that these are strictly my own personal views and concerns, and I in no way would make them tests of fellowship or conditions of salvation. Nor do I seek to judge the hearts and motives of those who do prefer the practice of a "second, segmented serving" of the Lord's Supper on Sunday evening. Traditions are neutral; thus, I neither condone nor condemn them, but merely acknowledge them. It is the message they send, and how they impact the purposes and principles of the Faith, that often concern me, and about which I sometimes speak out, as I have done in this current Reflections.
From an Elder in Texas:
It seems to me that the most diligent "speck removers" among us consistently fail to see the "beam" in their own eyes. I also saw in the "Christian Affirmation 2005" our own historic sectarian bias. Which early church pattern should we strive to emulate? -- the predominately Jewish, or the Gentile ekklesia? Their common spiritual challenge, as I see it, was that they were failing to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:29). That still remains the single greatest challenge for all those who claim, in surrendered faith, "Jesus as Lord." We all, myself included, should read often Paul's encouragement found in Philp. 2:1-18.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, I read Bro. Peterson's reply to Bro. Garrett's statements. This Christian Affirmation has also been a subject of much discussion in our family. When I first read it, after receiving my copy of that issue of Christian Chronicle, I was immediately struck by the way this Affirmation sounded so much like other very similar dogmatic statements of doctrine. In truth, I was a little surprised to see some of the names of the signers actually putting their reputations behind such a sectarian statement of faith -- for I can make no other interpretation of it. This Affirmation, instead of opening doors of conversation, seems to be closing them. I was really taken back by Bro. Jeff Peterson's response to Dr. Leroy Garrett. His statements have served only to strengthen my own understanding of his sectarian stance and defense of a Church of Christer doctrinal view. I have seen the denominationalizing of the Church of Christ coming for over 20 years, and the recent Christian Affirmation seems to be the final "stamp of approval" by a large group of "leaders" of the Churches of Christ. Now comes the harvest. I thank you for your comments in your last issue of Reflections.
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, Maybe my eyesight is playing tricks on me as I get older, but I saw the very same sectarian spirit in the "Christian Affirmation" that you did. I believe it would more aptly be called the "Church of Christer Affirmation." What brought about so much religious craziness in my own mind as I was growing up was that the church seemed to be constantly striving for "what's not wrong" instead of "what's right." One shouldn't define oneself by what they're against. Not if you plan on attracting people to God's church. I believe that if folks like you continue to batter away at the walls of legalism and patternism, God's grace will eventually shine through. The late Pope John Paul II said that there is no greater prison than that of a closed mind. Keep up your efforts. Who knows? Maybe minds will be changed and souls saved. Thanks again for your courage and your dedication to spreading God's grace.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Bro. Al, My wife and I wanted to share our own joyous occasion with you. Wednesday, June 8th, 2005, our son, Benjamin, was born and entered our world. As I've been told many times, "Words can't describe the feelings" that he has brought with him. We hope to introduce you to him in November when we come through there again. My hope is that he will benefit from your work long after we have left this world and await our victorious return home. Have you ever thought of doing a work similar to that of Bill O'Reilly, and writing something like a "Reflections for Kids"? I know your plate is full enough, but if our children don't get the message in their own language, "responsible reform" may take longer. Just a thought. Keep it coming, brother!
From a Reader in Missouri:
Dear Bro. Maxey, I was recently introduced to your Reflections by my husband, who was referred to them by a friend of his. I've found them to be interesting reading. Our church is presently studying through Hebrews, and I noted that you pointed out something I had also discovered concerning the author of Hebrews: that he uses the name of Jesus without any title nearly a dozen times, while Paul never does. Some years ago, I was memorizing my way through the Pauline epistles, beginning with Galatians. By the time I got to Hebrews I immediately noted the difference. Like you yourself --- Reflections #128 --- I think Apollos could well be the author. I commend you and all others who are working to promote unity among separated brethren, especially the ones who can't seem to regard those who disagree with them as their brothers!
From a Reader in Utah:
Dear Brother Al, I was raised in the one cup church. We were patternistic to the extreme. In fact, grandpa believed everyone was in error except him and grandma; therefore they could only meet in their home. After serving in the army, I returned home and married. We both came from the same one cup tradition. It seemed there was always someone wanting to divide over one issue or another. After ten years of enduring this nonsense, my wife and I decided to worship with the main-line congregations. I guess I was mistaken, but I really thought things would be different. Instead -- Same attitude, different issues. I've found it so amazing, even though there is so little conversation between different factions of the Church of Christ, how much alike we all are in this. Wouldn't it be wonderful just to have Jesus without the issues?! I hope that all of us who are a part of the Stone-Campbell movement can find our way back home.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Al, Thank you for the beautiful picture of the doves, and for the touching words. Also, may your book Down, But Not Out bring a breath of fresh air and hope to those in need of help and healing! Olan and Barbara Hicks are dear friends of mine. For the past eleven or so years they have stayed in my home for a number of days each January. During each yearly visit, Olan has taught a session on marriage, divorce and remarriage to those who desire to come and be enlightened on that subject. His writings and teachings have been a tremendous blessing to me personally. He and Barbara are among the most loving, caring, and serving people I have ever met. Only God knows the number of marriages that have been saved and lives that have been changed for the better because of the ministry they have provided.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I am so delighted to hear about the publishing of your book. The transcript you gave me years ago has been a blessing to me time and again. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do. I pray that you and Shelly have a blessed vacation and are refreshed by this time away. I love you, brother!
From a Minister in Massachusetts:
Brother, have a truly great vacation. I'm looking forward to your book.
From a Reader in Washington:
Bro. Al, What a beautiful photo! I find I do not want to stop gazing at it -- it is so beautiful!! Truly God's creation is beyond description. There is just so much beauty to behold when we allow ourselves to see it -- and you did! Thanks for sharing that picture of the doves with us. I hope you and Shelly have a wonderful vacation, and we will pray for your safe travel. We look forward to your writings when you return. I also look forward to reading your new book, and will watch for it. Thanks for making us aware.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, One of the members of the little church I worked with in Abilene, Kansas informed me that doves mated for life ... and I haven't gone dove hunting since! I hadn't thought about that until you sent that picture. Y'all have a great time! Relax! Enjoy!
From a Minister in North Carolina:
You "hit the nail on the head" about the undercurrent of exclusivity that pervades the Christian Affirmation. Regardless of what the signers and supporters of their new "creed" say, they believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong. And some brethren I know are even so bold as to preach this! Keep the faith, Al, and I hope that you and your wife have a very relaxing and safe vacation.
From an Elder/Minister in New Jersey:
Congratulations, brother, on the seven years of ministry at Cuba Avenue. Even more congratulations on your longer ministry with Shelly (32 years). I wish you a happy and restful vacation and pray for safe travel. Since you will be halfway here, you might as well come up to New Jersey and visit the real world. Have a wonderful time, and don't worry about Reflections while away ... have a real vacation. Even though you will be physically closer to us than normal, we will still miss you while you are "away." We will miss hearing from you, but will just be all the more appreciative when you return. God be with you 'till then!
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, I thought you ought to know that there's been a terrible ailment sweeping across the country and portions of the world. Symptoms of this ailment are folks repeatedly checking their e-mail day after day, accompanied by mumbles of "I hope he's not dead." Those who suffer from this ailment also experience a marked "dumbing down" in their efforts to understand the Scriptures. Patternists and legalists around the world have been heartened by the spread of this ailment. Some have even said they hope this syndrome sweeps the known world! One good-hearted brother whom I know, who dearly loves the Lord, but who has a bit of a conspiracy theory bent about him, was telling me that he truly thinks it's a diabolical plot of the legalists to destroy grace-centered Bible study! Unfortunately, he's experiencing this very same ailment as well. I have tentatively labeled this horrible sickness "Reflectionus Withdrawalitis Maxeyus." I have referred sufferers to your web site. I have pointed out the veritable treasure trove of accumulated wisdom that they may have missed in the past. Fortunately, symptoms were drastically reduced after this course of treatment. I'm not sure how long this can last, however. I truly feel that this is only a stop-gap measure. Only you, brother Al, can stop the spread of this terrible disease with a new issue of Reflections! On a more serious note, I hope you are having a wonderful vacation. I look forward to the next issue of Reflections!
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