Thursday 9 April 2020

Zooming in on the Lord’s Supper? Some reflections… Part 5

Two final objections that could be raised:

Are we no longer churches then?

You might say the church is the gathered people of God and if there’s no gathering there’s no church. Well, of course the universal church remains. Secure in Christ, his church, his bride, his body endures. Local churches exist in complex ways, as legal entities, charities, and, at least for those churches with a formal membership, as a covenanted community of believers governed by elders. How the body build itself up in love and serves the Lord is clearly affected by a lockdown but is not prevented. Elders, like Paul, find themselves distanced from their congregations in some painful ways which require the use of media which allow some things to be done well, others not so much. In light of comments above though, I would be wary of saying the church meets on Zoom without qualifying that statement quite heavily. I would be even more wary of saying that a live-stream broadcast is same as a Sunday gathering in a different medium. In each of these scenarios I think there is a severely diminished sense in we are addressable, accountable, and vulnerable. I want to expand on that at some point, but this is long enough already!

A more Reformed definition of the church would emphasise two or three marks. In the words of the Belgic Confession,

“The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin” (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

Can a church claim to be church then if the sacraments halt? Clearly yes, if they believe circumstances prevent their administration “as instituted by Christ”, namely, at the physical gatherings of the church.

Have we not effectively excommunicated believers?

Given the connection between the Lord’s Supper and church discipline, is the halting of the Lord’s Supper not adding an additional burden to God’s people? Punishing them in a season of hardship? No. Not every season of fasting or lament is a punishment. And what the Supper symbolises is still wonderfully true. It’s another point made clear in the BCP. In the event that someone is too unwell to receive communion, or if there is no-one who can accompany the minister to serve them the Lord’s Supper,

the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul's health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

That after all, is what John 6 is all about. To believe in the Lord is to receive the bread from heaven, to feed on his flesh and to drink his blood. His completed work still stands.