I’ve always been fascinated at how arrogance justifies suspicion in Christian circles. The title of my post today refers back to the second century when Christians gathered in churches for the regular ‘love feast’, the term given for the Eucharist or Communion at that time. For those who weren’t Christians in the 2nd century, not only did it allude to sexual orgies but these love feasts were thought to be parties where babies were sacrificed and then eaten by those gathered. What sort of sick and twisted picture of communion is that?!Those misconceptions of the second century help to highlight how misconceptions are still in play today. But not only is it with those who are on the outside of church looking in, but also those sharing the same ‘love feast’ meal together on Sundays – Christian against Christian.
I am an Anglican, though I never used to be. I was brought up in the Calivnistic Methodist wing of the Welsh Chapel movement, known today as the Evangelical Movement of Wales. We were, and they still are a straight-laced bunch, generally. High authority of scripture, an adherence to the five solas and long constitutions to make the movement heresy proof. Equally, as much as they stand for what they are for, they rigorously stand for what they are against. Like many of us, are prejudices are made not because of our own experience and learning on practices and beliefs, but our outside opinions and understanding based on a warped story given by something or someone else. Don’t worry; I’m not targeting any specific groups here – I’m merely reflecting on my personal experience and my own prejudices!
When I was young, I thought all Anglicans were fluffy liberal do-gooders. I thought that they were going to hell because they had different theology and doctrine to me; and that was just the start of their faults. They didn’t talk like me, dress like me, worship like me and they certainly didn’t agree with me on all my opinions. How on earth could God accept a Christian that wasn’t like me?!
I mean, take their crazy traditions. Why all that repetition? Why all the said prayers? Were they completely incapable of praying themselves? And the person who probably wrote the prayers was a heretic in any case, so they weren’t even praying the truth. And who on earth do these vicars and bishops think they are, dressing in all that garb? The train of thought would go on…
And then I’d get to church on Sunday. Of course, everybody believed the same as me, talked like me, dressed like me, worshipped like me and agreed with me on everything. I loved my church! I loved the repetitions of the loud ‘Amen’ through prayers, the nodding of the head in agreement with the pray-er or the preacher. I loved the way there was a formality to the service, humble, Christ centred, unchanging… and I loved it that the ministers and preachers thought it important to dress in suit and tie as they brought the Word on a Sunday morning.
See what I’m getting at?
Yes, prejudice is a funny thing. We often make prejudices not realising that we’re actually being prejudiced against ourselves. As I’ve explored and learned my faith and grown in my faith as I’ve matured, I’ve come to realise that Anglicans and Calvinistic Methodists aren’t all that different as far as my prejudices went a few years back. Sure, those two different sects of the Church do have differences; some practical, some ecclesiological, some theological. But that’s OK, isn’t it?
Take communion for example. In most free/evangelical/chapel/independent churches I go to, the mentality of protest is still ingrained in the communion service; communion is New Testament, a strict memorial only and not done every week. It can be administered by anyone, pretty much. In Anglicanism, communion is often weekly, rooted in Old and New Testament (as is priesthood), not only a memorial but a recognition of Christ’s presence in us and it can only be administered by an ordained priest (or commonly, vicar).
Quite different, I know. But they both believe that it is a sacrament; an outward, visible sign of an inner spiritual grace; the outward sign being bread and wine, the inner being Christ’s body and blood broken and shed for us.
I see the benefits of the free church ways of doing communion, and I understand why they may do it like that (even the little shot glasses, as a friend referred to them as in my first year of university), yet for me, and for where I am theologically, I identify more with the Anglican view of communion. I like communion regularly. I believe it feeds me spiritually. I believe that Christ is really present with us at that memorial meal. I find it humbling that only ordained ministers may give and consecrate communion bread and wine. I certainly don’t think they have the ‘magic’ but that same magic doesn’t reside in me. I just believe that communion should be a reverent act – not to be done or taken lightly or wantonly, but to be upheld honourably.
There are differences in theology and practice, but the core meanings are essentially the same. I would never dare to say that much of the difference I see in different churches is wrong, merely different. Of course, the difference between right and wrong theology/practice is a whole different issue altogether.
My theological reflection for today is this – the Nicene decrees that there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. What does that look like in practice? Does it mean a single denomination? I don’t think so. I think it’s all about who a church places as its head. Theology and practice are important. It’s important to know why you don’t agree with another church’s theology or practice. But it’s also important to note that disagreement doesn’t necessarily equal a practice or theological position as being right or wrong. Indeed, what is wrong is a position held or an opinion formed based on prejudice. With that in mind, I would like to hope that 2013 will be a year that I can believe what I believe and say what I say based on my own research, understanding and exploration rather than a few braggadocios and scorns that I could be plagued with based on uninformed stories, gossip and slander. Here’s to theological reflection!