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Let us keep the feast!

Because I now believe in baptizing infants, I have begun the process of finding a new church home in Birmingham. Yesterday morning, I visited a wonderful PCA church, where, for the most part, I was very pleased. We sang quality hymns; we affirmed the historic faith by reading the Apostles' Creed; we heard a good exegetical sermon that handled the text carefully and made me want to cling more to Christ; the people were friendly, and I met a fellow Beeson Divinity School student whom I had not previously met. Were those aspects my only consideration, I could very happily become a member of that church.

My only complaint was that the church did not serve the Lord's Supper. As I search for a new church, I am trying not to slip into a consumer mindset where I become a customer looking for the best deal; however, I do not think that I am asking too much to look for a church where they weekly participate in the body and blood of Christ.

The only explanation that I have ever heard for avoiding taking communion weekly is that those churches are trying to avoid making the Lord's Supper so commonplace that it becomes a routine ritual, devoid of any meaning, but I must respectfully disagree with that logic. My newfound desire for weekly communion stems directly from a huge increase in my appreciation for the sacrament that I recently developed. Furthermore, I would imagine that most churches who want to make communion "special" by only having it every once in a while have no problem with a weekly sermon. Does hearing the word of God week after week make the Bible a routine chore, or does it speak to our high reverence for it?

Please don't interpret this as a bashing of a particular church--I am quite sure that the church I attended yesterday (as well as the many others who do not enjoy weekly communion) is full of godly, wise people who have sought the Lord's direction in this and who are acting on their convictions. I am simply expressing my disagreement and disappointment with that decision, for I believe that it misses out on the great joy that comes through regularly celebrating the mystery of our faith:

Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
     Alleluia! Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us!
Therefore let us keep the feast!

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I totally agree with you. I am accustomed to weekly communion (pretty much every church I have attended regularly happened to have it). Having communion at most of the church services has not decreased my appreciation of it. Heck, Christy and I insisted on serving it at our wedding!

I think a lot of people think communion takes too much time and creates a dead space in the service. I think the quiet time before and after being served is a great opportunity for prayer and meditation.

That's too bad. Did you ask how often they do serve communion? I'm just curious.

Well said; it's sad that skits and ever-increasing numbers of songs are considered better uses of service time than communion, which allows for the prayer and meditation of which you wrote.

By the way, I really liked how you served communion at your wedding; if I had my druthers, I would definitely serve communion at my own wedding one day. (As I understand it, the groom doesn't get all that much of a say in such things.) Also, it was the first time I ever took communion with wine.

I just talked to a member of their church who guessed that they probably only serve it once every two months or so. (I'm hoping that it only feels to him like two months, and that it is actually more like one month or something.) He shared my conviction that it wasn't enough, but he only knew of one PCA church that does serve communion every week: Red Mountain Church.

I have visited that church about four times now (it meets in the evenings, so I've been able to visit even as I wrapped up my time at my Baptist church and as I visited this other Presbyterian church yesterday), and the only way I could describe it is if you pictured a church that encapsulated the spirit of the Indelible Grace albums. Not only do they put out their own modern sounding hymns, but the whole service lives in a tension between being very laid back (the pastor preaches in jeans, for example) but very reverent (highly liturgical, subdued mood, candles, etc...). It is traditional without being stuffy and contemporary without being fluffy.

I really like that church, but I would ideally like to join a church similar to one that I might one day pastor. I'm not sure that my personality would be able to pastor a church like Red Mountain, although I couldn't exactly put my finger on why. It is a very difficult church to describe, which I suppose means that they are doing something right.


My thought is that finding a church like the one you want to pastor is a lesser concern than some of the others, esp. the Lord's Supper. (a) As you acknowledged, you don't know exactly what kind church you're going to pastor. (b) You can still learn lots about pastoring and increase in appreciation of other styles of ministry. I haven't heard any complaints from you about Red Mountain, so my (very uninformed) advice would be to consider it.

Well, I didn't mean to give the impression that I wasn't considering it--in fact, it's currently at the top of my list. I was more expressing the (few and minor) issues that I would have with joining Red Mountain.

It really is a great church, and I would be thrilled to become a member there. I just don't know if that's where I should be, and I don't want to be o'er hasty about a decision. :)

I can understand wanting to have the Lord's Supper every week, but I don't see it as a big deal, partly because I've grown up in a church that originally did it once every two months and is now doing it just once a month. I know my pastor would like to do it every week, and I would too. Places that do it just once every month or every other week or something like that almost entirely do it that way because of the time concern. A lot of people want church to be an hour and only an hour. It's part of our culture of moving through things instead of taking the time to appreciate it. It's like how Americans tend to pray compared to how Christians in other cultures pray - much less time spent in prayer and meditation.

To add my two cents, the frequency of the Eucharist (just so we get all the possible names into this post) hasn't been a terribly big deal to me, probably because I've grown up with it being done once a month, though now both churches I go to (AR and NE) serve it once a week. However, since that is of great importance to you, you'd best stick with finding a church that supports it. Have you tried expanding your search at all? You do live in the Deep South after all, and you can't throw a rock without hitting a church (or a Wal-Mart for that matter). I'm sure a search would turn up more PCA churches than you knew existed in the area.

Actually, there really are a ton of PCA churches in Birmingham--this is the PCA's founding city! As for finding them all, the PCA's web site has a church directory organized by city, so I know where they all are. It's just a matter of finding the one to which I want to commit. :)

In that case, you'd best start categorizing according to congregation size, with cross-sections of who serves the best coffee ...

What we really need is a Wal-Mart and church IN ONE. After all, taken together, these two institutions comprise 1/3 of the world's most underpaid laborers. :)

I propose "First Waltonian Church of Birmingham." Or "Assembly of Sam." Take your pick.

Indeed, at Wal-Church we might even be able to take communion with coffee and doughnuts instead of those stuffy, traditional elements of bread and wine. That seems like the best combination of Lindsey's and Andrew's concerns.

(Sadly, I've heard stories of people bragging about doing such things, even claiming to have "communion" over a cheeseburger and coke at McDonald's.)

Now that you've brought up the idea of doughnuts and coffee into communion, you should think of maybe having gluten free communion bread or wafers for those who might be allergic to it or for those who won't eat it because their significant other is allergic to it. Did you know that in most Catholic churches, someone who is allergic to gluten is still forced to eat the same gluten filled communion bread as everyone else because the bread must have so much wheat in it to be a proper host. Just something to chew on (figuratively, not literally). (I had to delete my earlier post because I misspelled a word and didn't catch it until after I had posted. That was dumb, huh?)

By monday or tuesday of each week, I am usually looking forward to the weekly communion at Zion. I crave it. I love having it every week. I can't imagine having it another way now.

Another point that has come up recently is who can serve communion. Eric Tonjes and Craig Gant and myself have expressed intrest in serving communion to each other. In the PCA, elders must be present and I understand why they would make such a rule. But I'm not sure if there is anything wrong with breaking bread in each others houses on a regular basis.

There may be a historical reason for that. Back in the day (I'm talking early 2nd century), Ignatius (possibly a disciple of the Apostle John) wrote the following to the Smyrnaeans:

8:1 [But] shun divisions, as the beginning of evils. Do ye all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment. Let no man do aught of things pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be held a valid eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it.
8:2 Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal Church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve, this is well-pleasing also to God; that everything which ye do may be sure and valid." (emphasis mine)

The problem was that, during that time, many Christians were being led astray by Gnostics and similar people who were holding their own "love-feasts." So, for Ignatius (keep in mind that everything we have from Ignatius was written while he was en route to becoming a martyr, so he's pretty passionate about what he writes) the easiest way to control this was to say that a eucharist was not valid unless it was performed by the bishop (roughly the equivalent of a modern pastor).

Since there was only one bishop per city at the time (e.g., the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Antioch, the Bishop of Jerusalem, etc...), that was a simple way to control the problem. If you were an early second century Christian and were celebrating the eucharist led by someone other than that one bishop in your city, you had probably fallen in with the Gnostics.

Now, whether that rule should still be in place is a different issue. I wrote all this mainly to demonstrate that I had indeed learned something in my Church History class. :)

But, in regard to the first thing you said, I also crave communion. (This, by the way, I believe to be a good and natural thing for a Christian.) During the semester, I am very thankful that Beeson offers a weekly communion service on Wednesday. It's a beautiful Anglican service, with a wealth of liturgy, Scripture reading, prayer, and the feast. Definitely the highlight of my school week.

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