It is a fundamental New Testament principle that for a church to function properly, every member has a role to fulfill. For a period of time when we were a part of a group of believers calling ourselves, “Bread Fellowship,” I had several responsibilities, not the least of which was to provide the bread for our weekly communion observance. During our history, we tried several different approaches, but it seems the one that worked the best was for me to simply bring a small loaf of bread.
I am not unfamiliar with the workings of the Lord’s Supper. When I was a young child after our church observed the Supper, my sister and I would finish off the juice and bread that was leftover. I’m sure we were allowed to do this because my mother has never thrown away anything in her life. We always considered it a treat to be able to recreate the event before being hustled off to bed on Sunday night. I will confess now that I always hoped for a small crowd at church since that meant more leftovers for us later.
Early in ministry, it was necessary for me to begin developing a theology of the Lord’s Supper. I grew up in Colorado where my father had been a tenured pastor and a highly influential patriarch in the denomination. After graduating from college in Texas, I enrolled in seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The expectation was that upon completion I would return to Colorado to serve as a pastor. Daddy was in a position to make that happen.
As seminary graduation approached, Daddy called and asked if I wanted to pastor a church in Colorado. After assuring him that was my plan, he mailed an information form that he would share with some available churches, and everything would be smooth. In addition to personal information, the form asked for my opinion on two issues—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
I knew that my position on the Lord’s Supper differed from my father, but he had also taught me to stand up for what I believed. I did and mailed it back to him. Since I was writing papers and reading textbooks, I didn’t give the information form much thought until it came back to me via the mail, along with a handwritten letter from my Dad. He asked me to change my answers to the two questions, and he would find a church for me. When I tell this story, people think I should have been surprised or offended or perhaps even insulted, but I wasn’t. Not only did Daddy teach me to stand up for what I believed, but he also taught me to expect the same from him. After I told him I couldn’t change my answers my fate was sealed. I never did serve a church in Colorado. The good news is that neither Daddy nor I had a problem with the interaction. Our relationship was not affected.
Instead, my incorrect Lord’s Supper theology led me to the Texas panhandle where I held the position of pastor for thirteen years. Being the pastor of the same church for thirteen years, I organized the Lord’s Supper in every way imaginable to avoid falling into a meaningless routine. One of the most memorable times was provided by an unexpected source. We had a young mother, Rosalinda, who gave her life to Jesus one evening in her home. She and her children began attending church every week, always sitting on the front row. She was growing in her faith every Sunday.
One of my earliest memories is sitting around a tiny wooden table, actually, a table my sister used in playing with dolls. On the Sunday evenings after our little Baptist church served the Lord’s Supper, my father, who was the pastor, brought home the leftover wafers and grape juice (we were Baptists, so we didn’t use wine). The wafers were those tasteless tiny white squares of water and paste that came in a box from the Baptist Bookstore. My sister and I didn’t pretend to mimic a religious ritual, we simply enjoyed what we considered a treat.
I’ve had a lot of experiences with the Lord’s Supper since then. My father, who was a highly influential man among Baptists in Colorado refused to recommend me to pastor a church upon graduation from seminary. One of the factors was my belief about the Lord’s Supper (the other was baptism). Consequently, I never served a church in that state.
As a pastor in the Texas panhandle, we had a young mother named Rosalinda discover Jesus and begin attending our church faithfully, sitting on the front pew every Sunday morning. In today’s climate, we would be expected to report Rosalinda to the immigration authorities, but we chose to enjoy her presence instead. Several weeks after she began attending, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. As the platter filled with the tiny wafers was passed around the room, Rosalinda assumed we were collecting an offering. She placed her gift of a dollar bill on top of the wafers. We heard snickers as the tray containing cash and stale crackers circulated around the room.
On another occasion, one of our resident legalists came to my office in the days preceding a scheduled Lord’s Supper the next Sunday and offered to sit in the back and point out who should not be allowed to participate. I’m not sure how he would do this, but I refused his offer as graciously as I could.
One of the more memorable experiences was watching my son who was sitting beside Omer Ritchie. Omer was a well-known fundamentalist pastor in his heyday, long before this event. My son Matthew was wearing a ball cap, and his arms are covered with tattoos, an unlikely duo for most churches. Omer and Matthew loved each other, and it was a touching moment to see Matthew’s large inked hand stretch out and place the loaf of bread in Omer’s frail shaking hand and say, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”
A few minutes later, with the cup of juice moving the other way around the room, Omer said to Matthew, “This is Christ’s body shed for your sins.”
The adventure that Sharon and I began a couple of years ago continued today at a Lutheran church. We have attended Catholic, Methodist, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Independent, non-Denominational (although not sure the difference between those last two) and of course Baptist churches during that time. In fact, this was the second Lutheran church for us.
The first was somewhat unusual. It is the closest Lutheran congregation to our house, just a few blocks up the street. Although I have studied a great deal about Martin Luther in college and seminary, I knew little of the Lutheran church today. I expected to encounter a formal, liturgical style of worship, which is something I typically enjoy.
However, this particular Lutheran church was no different than any other church we have visited that is enamored with what is known as contemporary worship. It began with the first beat of the worship team. The base was so loud and the pounding so strong that Sharon almost had to leave.
The most unusual thing that morning was the announcement that the men’s Bible study group would be meeting next week at a nearby brewery. If you attend and pay the twenty dollar entrance fee, you will not only be able to participate in Bible study, you will also receive two pints of their finest brew. That part does sound like something Martin Luther might have enjoyed, but it is not something I have ever encountered in church before.
But the Lutheran church we visited today was nothing like that. It was extremely liturgical, which I had deduced from their website, and I was looking forward to the experience. Although the liturgy was a little different than what I expected that was not the most noticeable thing about our church experience this morning. Continue reading