Some reflections on the Lord's Supper, while I'm working in the local Methodist cafe using their free "prescient WiFi" (I foresaw in advance this morning that I would be using their wifi for job searches and blogging.) The UMC is NOT my first choice theologically, but they have a nice quiet cafe for computer work, so who am I to refuse?
At ORRB family camp this summer the pastors talked about various ordinances of the church, including the Lord's Supper and the instructions from I Cor. 11. One of the things I found really nutty about the Methodist application of this meal was that that pastor, prior to distribution of the elements, would give a fairly watery (and non-Scriptural) warning that the elements were only to be partaken by believing Christians or those considering becoming Christians. This struck me as odd: so basically, someone could be in the audience of a Methodist church, could think, "Hmmm, that was a nice message, and that brief sermon about self-righteous moralism felt really good to me. Maybe I'll try some communion!" I can't see this without finding it problematic.
Per the church discussion this summer, this faulty UMC view of communion is apparently something like a "half-way covenant", which allows for people merely thinking about becoming believers to eat the meal. The point made from family camp was that believers should iron out the implications and decide for themselves prior to taking the elements. The Apostle Paul lays out some stern warnings in I Cor. for the wrongful taking of the elements, and I think it ultimately detracts for the importance and symbolism of the meal to do it is such a frivolous manner. But the UMC has a habit of cherry-picking what they want to believe from the Holy Spirit's words through the Apostle Paul (primarily from I Tim. 2, but that's another can o' worms...)
Another thought is on the usage of the word "sacrament". I've discussed this one with Presbyterian Dad recently, and I'm not sure its an accurate label to refer to either of the ordinances (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) as sacraments, because by definition a sacrament implies that a measure of grace is ALWAYS imparted as part of the act. I don't agree with this position for a number of reasons, but the primary objection would be on the grounds that, much like in the UMC, an ordinance like the Lord's Supper could be taken in a totally hollow, superficial manner - so how or why would grace be imparted in that situation, to an individual who's just sitting there and appreciating the taste of the elements without giving any genuine reflective thought to the meaning of those elements? Likewise with baptism, particularly paedobaptism, I don't see how the term of "sacrament" would apply in situations where a Presbyterian infant is sprinkled with water, and then that child grows up and walks from the faith for the rest of their life. Where, then, is the grace? Was it wastefully imparted to one who was never elect in the first place?
The term "ordinance" refers more to instructions from Christ - he instructed his followers to baptize and to remember him through the elements of the Supper. *IF* grace is imparted as part of this act, then praise the Lord. But the blanket understanding of grace always being a part of these ordinances doesn't seem to work, especially in situations of individuals who don't partake in a deeper meditative understanding of what these ordinances represent. And how can a toddler know what those baptismal waters of death really represent?