Tuesday, April 27, 2004

April 27, 2004

9:46 PM John Kerry and Communion–Part 2. Part of the problem stems from expectations. How is a priest or a pastor supposed to know the beliefs and attitudes of every person who takes communion? Note how I phrased it – “every person who takes communion,” because in almost every church, so many come and go that it’s very difficult to keep track of people. In other generations, this was not as much of a problem, and perhaps it’s not a problem in very small congregations in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else. But most churches today reflect the increasing transience of modern life. At Calvary we turn over hundreds of new people (that is, people in and people out) every year. When we surveyed the congregation a few years ago, we discovered that the majority of our people had been in the church 2-5 years–and that most of our people would be moving in the next few years. That’s just the nature of life in a big city. In such a situation, the pastor (or priest) faces the danger of “selective judgment.” It would not be right to single out Senator Kerry simply because he is famous or because he is running for president. And no minister wishes to appear overly partisan in an election year. I say that notwithstanding the fact that I sympathize with the Catholic position on withholding communion. But if you never withhold communion, and then you suddenly withhold it from John Kerry, you open yourself to the charge of unfairly singling out one person. So I work it the other way in my mind. It would not be tolerable if every time you came to communion, there was a big ruckus because someone else was being denied. Again, I’m thinking through the practical realities here. The Catholic priest on the “Pastors Roundtable” said that he had once withheld communion–and had gotten in trouble with his superiors because of it. I’m not sure why. As I think about it, in my 26 years as a pastor, I’ve seen it happen two or maybe three times. Now this is one point where our practice diverges from the Catholics – and some Protestants as well. At Calvary we pass the plates instead of calling people forward. In our system, it’s virtually impossible to literally “withhold” communion. However, there have been a couple of times when, as part of church discipline, the elders have asked people to refrain from taking communion for a period of time. No public announcement was made–none was necessary–and almost no one outside of the leadership and the person involved knew about it. Was it effective? That depends on what you mean. It certainly sent the message that the leaders take communion seriously and we expect our people to take it seriously also. The big issue as I see it is what it means to say that communion (the Lord’s Supper) is an “ordinance” of the church. Two centuries ago Christians understood that taking communion meant being in a right relationship with the church. Today we tend to think of it more in terms of our personal commitment to the Lord. In the old days no one would be surprised at a church withholding communion. The fact that it’s big news says a lot about our changing cultural values. More on that in the next installment. 9:32 PM So far, so good. I finished my first day at Word of Life Bible Institute and now I am staying warm in my cabin on the shore of Schroon Lake. The BI is located in upstate New York, in the Adirondack Mountains, which means that spring has not quite arrived yet. Stu Page picked me up at the Albany airport yesterday and on our way to the BI, we talked about living in this part of the world. The scenery is picture postcard-beautiful in the winter and the summer. Spring is lovely when the trees begin to bloom—which should happen very soon. And people come from long distances to enjoy the fall foilage. They say we may get an inch or two of snow tonight—which is fine, except that I would be happy to be through with snow until next winter. I’m staying in the “Big Chief” cabin—recently redecorated in traditional Adirondack resort style. They call it “Big Chief” because this is where Jack Wyrtzen stayed when he would come up for the weekend. So far everything has gone well. I taught for three hours today. The students had two hours of classes before I started. Classes meet in the new Jack Wyrtzen Center instead of Council Hall. It’s a lot more comfortable for the students. After I finished teaching, I drove to Schroon Lake to pick up some supplies—Triscuits, hard salami, dry roasted peanuts, mini-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, red grapes and bottled water. They have excellent meals in the Dining Hall but I’ve got to have snack food in case I get hungry. The best part—they have high-speed Internet in the cabin so I can surf the Net as much as I want. Today I covered Galatians 1 and half of Galatians 2. Tomorrow I speak twice—and if all goes well, we’ll end up in the middle of Galatians 3.

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