Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Still in Chicago ...

... and limited internet access.  Not  to mention time!  This ecumenical orientation for foreign missionaries would be a pretty exhausting thing even if Baby Anonymous weren't along for the ride.  Which he is. 

So pity poor Father A., who is temporarily unable to offer his tart commentary on all the subjects that interest him (including, nota bene, the apparently imminent rebirth of Captain America.  That was fast -- it took something like fifty years to bring back Bucky).

But here are some of the things that have caught our attention this week:
  • Item:  Henry Louis Gates arrested for entering his own home.  
  • Item:  The McCormick Seminary admin building, which we mentioned a while back, is very attractive.  Some architect earned his money.  Too bad they spent a more on it than they are likely to sell it for.
  • Item:  Here's where we went to church last Sunday.  Not (by a long shot) the prettiest building we have ever seen, nor the best liturgy, nor the warmest crowd.  But all of the above were done well enough, and one thing was done marvelously:  child-friendlinesss.  This did not mean condescension -- no "children's church" or smarmy Sunday School presentations.  Just a lot of kids, doing the things kids do, and nobody letting it bother them.  (And a small note mention in the bulletin of a staffed nursery, which nobody felt the need to use).
  • Item:  These people offer security consulting for churches sending out foreign missionaries.  Good to know they exist, innit?
  • Item:  Swine flu will kill us all.  After it makes us change our communion practices.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Thank God we don't believe that we can only have TRUE communion if we drink from "the" cup. Is the real cup still in existence? Thanks God that people can chose to not drink from a common cup if they think that they have a virus or bacterial infection without being denied communion. Thank God this is recognized by those in authority.

Regarding security: I traveled to an African country for a sort of "mission" (not faith related, however.) It was very strange to realize that the semi-modest hotel had armed guards at night, as they always do. Then we stayed in a country house, where armed guards were patrolling the grounds. If we hadn't been there, but just the owners, then their really nasty dogs would have been on patrol. And at a secondary school we stayed at, there was the night watchman paroling, as usual. He came up to me during my night-time journey to the latrine. So, apparently, this is considered necessary and not at all unusual in many places.

Father said...

I can't really agree about the question of the cup. This is one of those classically Lutheran questions about things that are clearly adiaphoron (that is, not church-dividing), but which are not for that reason unimportant.

In this case, it's not so much a matter of whether the communion is "true" or not. We can agree that it is, even in one kind. But there are other questions worth asking, about this as about any church practice: Is it Biblical? Is it traditional? Above all, what does it teach about human beings and about God?

The common cup is clearly Biblical ("he took the cup"), and clearly the most historically prevalent means of administration, albeit among many. It will win on these tests against any other method.

Communion in both kinds -- which is what a few Anglican parishes have chosen to suspend -- is also clearly Biblical. I suppose you could argue that it is a little ambiguous as a matter of tradition, given the long and widespread custom of withholding the chalice from the laity. But, and it's a big "but," this was an enormous issue for the Reformation churches. It is hard, at this remove, to remember how big it was: Luther called it an example of sacerdotalism and papal tyranny, and it figures in virtually all the Protestant confessional writings.

So the real question, about both matters, is: what does it teach, and what do the alternatives teach?

I suppose you could argue that the individual cups which have become common in American churches teach something about a flexible approach to tradition, which is certainly a Lutheran virtue. But beyond that, there is a the danger that they teach a deeply problematic set of modernistic precepts: individual autonomy, fear of contamination from our neighbor, doubt that God's gifts are truly life-giving.

These last concerns are clearly driving the decision to withhold the chalice from some communicants.

On the whole, historic Lutheranism (except for a brief interlude which began in the 1920s or thereabouts and has been ending slowly for thirty years) has chosen decisively in favor of a Eucharistic administration that strongly resembles medieval practice -- host-breads, wine, chalice, etc. -- with three major differences: the Canon of the Mass has been either removed or rewritten; the chalice is administered to the laity and (at least in theory) Lutherans receive the sacrament far more often than most medieval laypeople did.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I found this 1906 Lutheran article interesting. Hope the link works.

The Individual Communion Cup

According to what I read in the above link (but NOT according to the English translations I own) the language of THE cup are in the Epistles, but the Gospel reference to the Last Supper say "A" cup.

The gist of this is that we DON'T insist on the exact cup, ie THE CUP that Jesus used.

It is mincing words, I know. But it also shows why translations can't be trusted to be exactly literal.

We discussed this at Bible Study. Our pastor noted that she has realized that people are very influenced by the practices that they had when they were being formed in their faith. For example, infrequent communion came about because of circuit rider pastors rather than because of a spiritual reason, but it became the norm (only 2 - 4 times/year) for many people in rural areas. Yet Luther said communion should be every Sunday.

I grew up with only individual cups and ONLY spoken liturgy, in spite of a very dyed in the wool Lutheran background, including a Lutheran college, so both seem just fine to me. Etc. No time to say more now. I'll look forward to your response.

Diane said...

I actually like using the common cup, even though it is a "new" experience for me, having never experienced it before the church I serve in now. Of course my "liking" it or not is not the reason to do it or not, but just to point out that I am over 50 years old, and I don't have an experience of the common cup being normative.

We used the common cup as an intinction cup in my church growing up. The symbolism was lost on me, though.

I agree with you that the symbolism is problematic: individualism, contamination, etc., but the other issue is that it seems that this was a normal way to share a meal in Jesus' time, and it is not in ours. (Not that we shouldn't do something that's not odd...)

I just fear other practices are so deeply imbedded in our congregations that we are fighting a losing battle. As far as denying people the cup at all, the liturgical powers that be were suggesting that for alcoholics in our worship books, I think, saying that this is a better option that providing a non-alcoholic option. (so, the book said, just receive the bread...)

this comment has gotten too long, but I wanted to say --

Are you going to be a missionary? I was a missionary with the LCA in the early 80s, before becoming a Pastor. I thought the mission staff was pretty excellent back then,too.

Father said...

Yes, I'm going to Romania in a few weeks. My wife and I have been invited to help organize an English-language ministry for the ELCR. We're very excited.

As for the other thoughts:

1. Just a reminder that the underlying issue here is a few CofE parishes withdrawing the cup from the laity (temporarily) precisely because they are afraid of contagion. They may not even be foolish to do so, but I am deeply suspicious of liturgical changes made "temporarily," because they can be so hard to unmake. And I'm deeply suspicious of science -- whether used rightly or not -- as the criterion by which a critical dogmatic question is decided.

2. Please note that I have explicitly agreed that the common cup is adiaphoron -- it is isn't commanded by Scripture or required for a sacrament to be valid. But I think it is, pretty decisively, the most traditional means of administration -- and this blog, taking an evangelical catholic tack, has a preferential option for tradition.

Others may differ, but it does seem to me that they need to articulate a clear reason for preferring individual cups, straws, or even the comparatively time-honored Orthodox spoon.

(The use of de-alcoholized wine or grape juice is an instance in which the people who use it believe that they have made such a case. The rest of us don't, but at least the argument is clear.)

3. That said, I realize that many US Lutherans don't use the common cup. Individual cups were an early 20th-C. innovation that caught on with astonishing speed, given the customary reluctance of Lutherans to make such changes. (And in fact, it is worth noting that Lutherans and Episcopalians did resist the change far longer than any other Protestant churches; I've got a mess of articles illustrating this, tucked away on my hard drive).

But, in all fairness: When I talk about individual cups dying out, I may be jumping the gun a bit. I am drawing on the experience of my own synod (Metro NY), where common cup is by far the most common means of administration. (Weekly communion is also the custom in most of our parishes). I do know we are a bit odd in the East -- but the Midwestern parish where I have worshiped these last two weeks, chosen for no reason beyond its proximity to where I sleep, also uses it.

4. As for "other practices being too deeply embedded in our congregations" ... well, they do say that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. But, more seriously, I do think that there are some practices which are valuable enough to defend, even if they are unpopular with a particular parish.

And that's not just about communion. Years ago, I heard about a congregation which declared that it would no longer use the Brief Order, on the grounds that its sins had been forgiven once and didn't need to be mentioned again. the pastor resigned, on the grounds that if they truly believed that, he had failed at his job for years on end. To this day, I applaud the guy.

In the same breath, I need to say that every pastor has to decide which hill to die on. There may be times when liturgical change is a parish's most pressing need, and others when it isn't even on the list. We've all seen the occasional liturgical purist make a pastoral hash of things, and nobody needs more of that.

Diane said...

about the Brief Order : I think that might be the hill I'd die on; I've been to Lutheran churches where there is NO BRIEF ORDER, no nothing, no confession, no absolution.

I am dumbfounded.

Diane said...

P.S. Congratulations about Romania! Being in Europe will be different for you than being in Asia for me, but it did really get me thinking about what WAS essential for faith, what was foundational, and what was adiaphora (although I didn't know the word then).