Before this latest occurrence, I thought that this injury would one day be healed in my lifetime. But now, I fear that it will not. It is beginning to look like I will take this pain to my grave.
This is a wound not of my body, but a wound of my soul. It is one that begins to ache when I see the Holy Communion being used to bring separation between believers in Christ. The pain comes when I see that the Lord’s Supper is used for division instead of being a sign of unity in fellowship, as Jesus intended it to be. The wound that has come to me is one of my heart, and is an affliction that actually drains me even of physical strength.
When the pain started again, I was in attendance at a wedding that took place in a church several months ago. I will not mention the denomination. It was a meaningful and very nice ceremony and even was to include a Communion of the Saints. This is when the pain began again for me, for printed in the program, there were very clear instructions for all who were not members of that particular denomination. The instructions told us that we would not be allowed to share in this meal of commemorating our Lord and Savior. It was at this point that I was shut out from the fellowship and not welcomed to be a part of it.
It was then that my heart again began to ache. For some reason, the sorrow was particularly distressing for me in this wedding; even more so than it had been at other occasions. At other times when this wound had been opened, I have been able to let it heal, if only just a little. This time however, the healing has not come. The lesion has continued to fester. It is for this reason that I think this wound will not be healed in this life.
Things that We Hold in Common
The Holy Communion is called by various names. We know it also as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. When Jesus instituted it with his disciples, he intended to show that it was to be the utmost expression of Christian fellowship within the Christian community under the Lordship of Christ.
As I sat in that church on that wedding day, I was genuinely happy for this young couple and wanted to share in this joyful occasion with them. However, because I was not a member of that church or that particular denomination, I would not be allowed to do so. The fact that I was a follower of Jesus Christ did not matter. I was shut out from this fellowship. I was an outsider, allowed only to be a witness. Nothing more.
There was an explanation for my exclusion printed in the program for the wedding. I quote it below:
For our Fellow Christians
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us “that they may be one (John 17:21).
Because this church believes that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not fully united are ordinarily not admitted to the Holy Communion.
As I read the above explanation in the wedding program, I could not help but think of statements put out by either the Democratic or Republican political parties who were trying to explain an inconsistency in their policy. In our culture, we have become very adept at putting political “spins” on any controversial statement in an attempt to shift the blame from ourselves to the other party.
This was my take on this explanation in the program. Behind the “talking points” of why I was not welcomed to have a part in the communion, was a political spin to show why this prohibition was not the fault of the church where the wedding was taking place, but it was my fault.
Below are some of my additional thoughts as I read this statement in the wedding program.
A Sad Division
As for the first paragraph of the wedding program explanation, the only comment that I have is “Amen.” As is stated in the paragraph, the present divisions that exist within the body of Christ have always been “sad” to me as well. In my work overseas, I have worked with very many different Christian church denominations. I also tried to reach out to most true denominations of believers in Christ – in fact, every one of them with whom I had the opportunity.
With some of them however, it was always without success. Because I was not of their particular church group, they did not consider me as being on equal footing with them. In one country where I was working, there was even one denomination that refused to cooperate with me, not because of my own beliefs or practices, but because I was open to work with others! The others with whom I wanted to work were not cults or heretics, but also true believers in Christ who simply did things a little differently!
It was actually initially surprising to me how many denominations simply will not have any part with other churches because of some petty difference in a certain doctrine, even though both have a common confession of commitment to Jesus Christ and a common belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word in the Holy Bible.
I am an older man now, and in my life I have had my fill of explanations and rationalizations for this attitude of exclusivity. In the end, every explanation consists only of hollow words meant to placate the speaker’s own thinking and build up his or her own pride. I have grown extremely weary of listening to them.
The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper
An example of this becomes apparent in the second of the paragraphs of the explanation that I read in the program. I had always before been under the impression that the reason this particular church denomination shut out other Christians from joining in the Eucharist was because they believed that other Christians had different interpretations of the meaning of what physically and spiritually occurred concerning the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist observance.
I have written in other places concerning that particular issue. However, here we will look at the objection as stated in this second paragraph of the wedding program explanation.
As it is stated, “Because this church believes that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not fully united are ordinarily not admitted to the Holy Communion.”
As far as I am able to understand here, the objection that this church had with me, a fellow follower of Jesus Christ and redeemed by his blood, is because there is not a present day “oneness of faith, life, and worship.”
I cannot say that I am altogether sure what was meant here, because if that denomination considers oneness of faith as meaning that it is centered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and redemption by his blood as stated in their explanation, that is also my testimony and has been for many decades.
Concerning their point of the oneness of life, my observation is the same. I have spent my adult life serving Christ in every way that I have been conscious. I know that there have been failures in my life, but service to Christ has been the overwhelming motivation for my living and in my work.
The only factor in this explanation for a disagreement that I could see that those churches must have with me is concerning the oneness in worship. It is true that I do not normally worship in a church of that denomination, but I was on that day. And why was it, I wondered to myself, that up until the time of the Eucharist during the wedding ceremony, I was allowed to be one in worship with all present? It was only at that point I was shut out and ostracized.
The line of separation between me and other Christians in this particular ceremony came at the time of the Eucharist. To me, this seems to be a direct contradiction of what was stated in the first paragraph: “We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us.”
If the true desire is for unity through the action of the Holy Spirit, I do not understand how shutting out another fellow Christian and follower of Jesus Christ is conducive to that unity. Quite the opposite. The attitude expressed in the statement seems instead to be contrary to the desire to dispel “these sad divisions,” as the instructions for the communion called them. It only serves to deepen the division.
The Party Spin
In the end, I would have to say that this is why these words sound to me like nothing more than a political spin on a divisive practice. The Apostle Paul said of the Lord’s Supper, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Paul’s emphasis in this is the “oneness” of the church – those holy things that we have in common.
In the Lord’s Supper of that day of the wedding, there was no communion, there was no blessing, there was no oneness. Instead, there was only an emphasis on division and polarization. What was more, the church then attempted to cast the blame of the divisions upon me. It seemed to me that the real message behind the political talking points is that if a Christian does not belong to that particular church denomination, he is not a Christian at the same level.
Correct or not, that was and remains my impression of the view of this specific church denomination concerning my faith in Christ. They call me, “a separated brother.” I suppose they consider that a rationalization. To me, the words seem hollow.
The literal meaning of the word Eucharist is “showing favor or thanks.” Showing favor? I hardly think so. In this case it was the casting of blame and judgment. It only served to deepen a wound that already existed in my soul.
My wound will one day be healed, but at this stage of my life, I fear that it will not be healed in my lifetime here on earth. It seems to me that this healing will only come by the direct intervention by Jesus Christ. We, in the church, have done a deplorable job in bringing healing to this wound.