As I mentioned a few days ago in my post “A Spiritual Remembrance“, I am reading through Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, edited by John H. Armstrong. The first “view” is the “Baptist View” presented by Russell Moore. Since I was raised in Baptist churches, I’m very familiar with the popular version of this view. There are problems with this popular view, which I’ve mentioned before. However, Moore speaks against many of these same problems. He says:
The need for a community focus around the table cannot, however, be eradicated. Baptist churches that celebrate a curt “Communion” every three months still find themselves with this need for a truly communitarian Lord’s Supper. Often these churches seek to fill this need for table fellowship with a “Dinner on the Grounds” Sunday meal or coffee and doughnuts before the Sunday School hour or lunch after services at the local steakhouse. These moments of fellowship are crucial, but they cannot take the place of the Supper Jesus has given us. Part of the problem is the individualized way we present the elements themselves. Most contemporary Baptist churches – and many other evangelical Protestant churches – distribute chewing gum-sized pellets of bread and thimble-sized shot glasses of juice. Increasingly this practice is even more individualized by companies that sell to churches “disposable” Communion “sets,” a plastic container filled with juice with a wafer wrapped in cellophane on top (ideal, we are told, for the college group’s summer retreat in the mountains).
This practice nullifies the thrust of the New Testament emphasis on a common cup and a common loaf, both of which signify the unity of the congregation in Christ. It also mitigates the meaning of the Supper as a supper, as a meal. The meaning of the Supper would go a long way toward recovery in our churches if we asked the congregation to tear apart the bread and to drink together from a common cup of wine – practices that would have been commonplace in the early New Testament communities. Some would shrink from such a practice, no doubt, out of fear of illness or discomfort with such close contact with others. But that is precisely the kind of American individualism that is obliterated by the gospel emphasis on the church as the household of God, a family united through the Spirit. As we encourage the congregation to eat together around the table of Christ, we call them to faith, asking them to recognize and welcome the presence of Christ – not in the elements or in the heavens about them, but in the body he has called together, the assembly he rules and protects even now as King. Only then will we understand what the New Testament Scriptures mean when they call us to “fellowship”. (pg. 41-42)
Similarly, in the last sentence of Moore’s chapter, he says, “It is true that, in one sense, ‘the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking’ (Rom. 14:17). But we must remember that, in another sense, the sounds of the kingdom of God are not those of eerie cosmic silence but of the murmur of voices, the clinking of cups, and the tearing of bread.” (pg. 44)
From my experience, the popular Baptist view – that is, the view that I heard and saw growing up as it was expressed in many different Baptist churches of many different sizes and in different states – focused on many good things. They encouraged quiet retrospection. They required everyone to eat and drink at the same time. They reminded us that the bread was unleavened.
However, I think that while these focuses are good, they completely miss the best about the Supper that is stressed in the New Testament: the one loaf, the one cup, the sharing of a meal, the equality around the table, the concern for one another. Primarily, they missed the idea of the Lord’s Supper as it reflected the church as a community – a group of believers in fellowship with one another through the Spirit.