Communion Commotion
Communion Commotion

From After Class Podcast

A kerfuffle at First Church of Christ these last few months shows no signs of abating. During a study on Communion in the early church, the congregation learned that first-century Christians took Communion as part of a community meal at their regular gatherings. First Church, which is committed to restoring the New Testament pattern of worship, now has a potluck each Sunday after church. At about the midpoint of the meal, participants pause to remember the body and blood of Christ by sharing broken bread and the fruit of the vine.

Though it has been well received generally, this practice is not without detractors. A longtime church member who desires anonymity has taken issue with the new format. “How can we focus on our personal sins and unworthiness to enter into God’s presence during Communion when we’re laughing and talking with the people around us?” the man lamented. “No one is going to feel the weight of his guilt and sorrow in that kind of environment.”

Another concerned member asked, “Doesn’t the very definition of Communion require us to focus solely on God in a moment of quiet personal reflection?” She wrung her hands and added, “I don’t understand how food and fellowship create a communal experience.” 

The popularity of this change among most, however, suggests First Church is unlikely to revert back to its former method for Communion. Supporters point to the church motto, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love,” and stress that they are of one mind in their desire to persevere in their efforts. Yet challenges persist. During the autumn months, many members struggled to coordinate potluck attendance with football viewing. Also, the ad hocnature of the event makes it nearly impossible for regular attendees to stake out permanent places to sit week after week. Many enthusiastic participants seem determined to move around in order to talk to different people, frustrating all such efforts.

And now an unforeseen theological question threatens this new practice. Is it right for unbaptized children to participate in the potluck? After all, the entire meal is being treated as Communion—albeit with a break in the middle when baptized members remember the broken body and shed blood of Christ—so can just anyone participate in the wider meal? And what about guests who may or may not be baptized?

Only time will tell if the shift is sustainable.

The After Class Podcast guys are Bible and theology professors at Great Lakes Christian College; from left to right in the logo, they are Samuel C. Long, Ronald D. Peters, and John C. Nugent. They strive to engage provocative contemporary topics with wit and careful biblical scholarship.

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