Category Archives: Regular Posts

A Faith for Manly Men?

There are far more women than men active in my church, and we’re pretty typical of other churches. I am a man. Aye, there’s the rub.

While God is the God of women and men, women are more likely to be involved in the Church. We are talking here about women in the pews, not necessarily in leadership, which varies according to tradition. And this is not a new situation; it has always been the case (as far as I am aware). In fact, as Rodney Stark contends in his The Rise of Christianity, its appeal to women was one significant factor in Christianity’s eventual domination of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.

One common portrayal of Jesus…

For male pastors the challenge has always been how to draw in men, who need the Gospel as much (I’m tempted to say more) than women. But men are not likely to feel at home in a congregation mostly female. And we male pastors, because we run an institution composed mainly of women, tend to do things in a way that appeals to that constituency. Thus, many men charge pastors with being too feminized. It doesn’t help that the qualities needed to be an effective pastor, which include a certain level of sensitivity, patience, and emotional know-how, plus a certain bookishness depending on the tradition, are not seen as very manly traits.

Like many male pastors, I am sometimes tempted to try to be more manly in order to connect with men in and out of the church. I am not one of those Harley-riding pastors, but I try to pepper my language with sports references occasionally, don’t advertise that I care not a bit for the NFL, and avoid cataloging the list of birds I saw last weekend, since birding is not so macho.

At the same time, I have appreciated the men-focused events and teachings I have encountered over the years. I went to a Promise Keepers event around the time my first daughter was born and I ate up the emphasis on being a good husband and father, using my strength as a man for the benefit of my wife and daughter. The reminder that the Gospel is an adventure and a quest, as John Eldredge, among others, has written, does resonate with me deeply. I have always come back energized from the men’s retreats our church has attended, appreciating the connection with other men and the teaching.

…and a different portrayal, still with great hair, though!

The question in my mind is what can we do in the church to better present the Good News of Jesus Christ to men, especially men who do not value the church, yet do need to know Jesus. Can we present the Gospel differently? Can we have programs and ministries focused on men? Can we do something outside of the church? Perhaps a more important question: should we do these things?

To get at an answer to these questions, I turned to the men’s movement that spanned the turn of the 20th century, the Muscular Christianity movement. The men involved sought to save a “feminized” church and arouse the sleeping giant of men’s committment to the Church, by calling men to a vigorous Christianity so that the world might know. What I found was not what I expected…

Upcoming: The Muscular Christianity of Teddy Roosevelt and the Christian Student

So, what have you done or seen done in an attempt to involve men in the life and work of your church? Leave a comment below.

 

Advertisements

An Upcoming Read

I was excited to learn about a new book by Katie Day, a Presbyterian professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary. It is a look at the history and development of the many churches and faith communities up and down Germantown Ave., a street that reaches across the vast breadth of the city of Philadelphia, and was settled very early on colonial history in these parts.

The church I grew up in is on Chelten Ave., right off Germantown Ave. so I have some knowledge of the street.

I’m looking forward to reading it, and uncovering some local church history. I think I’ll download the ebook and dig in soon.

The cross.

Great post on how we Christians put crosses around the world. Features an underwater crucifix in Lake Michigan, and a hill in Lithuania that holds over 100,000 crosses! The cross brings hope, and declares the undoing of the powers of this world.

wretchedshekels

I was cruising around the internet and I found a really neat photo of Christ on the cross.   It is in Lake Michigan, near Petosky, MI.  It got me thinking and I wanted to explore where there may be other places which are out of the way, where the cross might be found.  I hope you enjoy my findings, please let me know which is your favorite 🙂

The city of Siauliai was founded in 1236 and controlled by Teutonic Knights during the 14th century. The tradition of placing crosses seems to date from this period and may have risen as a symbol of Lithuanian defiance toward foreign invaders. Since the medieval period, the Hill of Crosses has represented the peaceful resistance of Lithuanian Catholicism to oppression. In 1795, Siauliai was incorporated into Russia but was returned to Lithuania in 1918. Many crosses were erected upon the hill after…

View original post 1,800 more words

The Great Divide: Faith and Medicine, continued

In one of my first posts in this blog I took an historical look at faith-healing, wondering whether the stark divide that we see some Christians make between scientific or rational medicine and trusting God to grant healing miraculously had any basis in the way Christians have seen the matter in the past.  This question was raised for me by the prosecution of a couple in Philadelphia for failing to take their child for medical treatment, choosing instead to rely on prayer. The child died of a simple infection. The couple and their church’s rejection of medical technology and know-how is based on their belief that this was the practice of the first century church. I set out to look into the matter.

My conclusion was that in the first century, and before and after as well, there was no such divide between rational medicine and religious healing. While many Christian teachers and preachers called believers to not forget to seek God’s healing in prayer, and to realize that some sicknesses may be more spiritual in nature, it simply was not the case that they saw a radical difference between rational medicine and faith healing.

I came across further support of this idea while browsing through the library of Westminster Theological Seminary, not far from my home. The 2012/2013 issue of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Univeristy Library of Manchester (volume 89 Supplement) is dedicated to “ancient medical and healing systems and their connections to modern western medicine.”

I thought I’d share some of what that issue said.

In the Introduction, Rosalie David makes the point that a divide rational medicine and religious healing was not recognized. There were indeed two distinct influences to treatment, the more physical treatments we consider rational, and “magico-religious” treatments that dealt with spiritual powers, but it was never one or the other all the time.  Different situations called for different treatments.

A Shrine to Asclepius in Athens turned into a Christian Chapel

A Shrine to Asclepius in Athens turned into a Christian Chapel

“The assumption that, in antiquity, healing achieved through rational means was in direct opposition to magico-religious treatment has now been largley superseded, with modern scholarship accepting that no definitive distinction can be drawn between so-called rational and irrational methods (a categorization which the ancient healer themselves would not have recognized)” p. 8

Another article, “The Cult of Asclepius: It’s Origins and Early Development”, by Trevor Curnow, confirms the wide-ranging popularity and reach of the Asclepius cult throughout the Roman Empire up to the time of Constantine, when it was replaced by the church. There were some 700 cult centers throughout the empire. These houses of healing were places to receive both rational and religious treatment.

The most thorough article is “Roman Medicine: Science or Religion?” by Audrey Cruse. Did the Romans see a divide between rational and religious healing? No. She quotes a Hippocratic treatise, a Greek writing (the Greeks have usually been seen as the ones beginning the rational practice of medicine), “On the Sacred Disease”, where the writer seemingly mocks superstitious, magical practices, only to replace them with other practices we would regard as superstitious.  Secondly, the Asclepius cult combined the two with no contradiction noticed. And third, surgeons’ tools often had religious symbols on them, and doctors often took Asclepaides as a common name in order to identify with the God, giving their treatments credibility. Cruse draws a lesson for modern medicine from all this:

“Just as there was considerable diversity of knowledge and practice in medicine during the Roman era, so diversity remains a feature of the medical scene today. Indeed, we now have a much larger world which encompasses numerous religions and belief systems. In many of these faiths the traditions of religious and orthodox medicine survive side by side! As can be seen at the sanctuary at Lourdes, for example…Religion in medicine can be present in any our all cultures, today just as it was in antiquity.” p. 252

The notion that either we go to the doctor or we pray to God for divine healing winds up being a modern idea. And those who advocate only divine healing, far from being in tune with the early centuries of the church, show themselves to be thoroughly modern in their failure to see that the two, rational and divine healing, go hand in hand.

While the Journal is not available on line without subscribing, for those interested in exploring these ideas further, Audrey Cruse did write a book published in 2004 called Roman Medicine, published by Tempus.

3 Reasons Shared Leadership Rules

Last post I gave a super brief history of where the Presbyterian idea of an elder-led church came from. In this post, I ask the question, “What difference does it make?”

A difference in terms

01v/11/arve/G2582/020One new thing I discovered in my research in preparation for the panel was that there has been some division within the Presbyterian tradition over how to line up the offices of leadership with the words for leaders in the New Testament. I have always understood that the “elders” of the New Testament were the same as in the Presbyterian church, and that pastors were considered to be elders whose special function was teaching and preaching, as 1Timothy 5:17 says. I was surprised to learn that Calvin did not see it that way. As said above, he named four offices: pastor, teacher, elder and deacon. Calvin connects the New Testament “elder” with his idea of pastor. He recognizes that there is a great interchangeability in the words for leaders, and especially notes that “bishop” and “elder” are identical. But he equates that office with pastors. His office of Elder he connects with the Biblical word “governor” in Romans 12. The word, “elder”, of course, at its simplest means older person, presumably experienced and wise. It’s not specifically a title. And Calvin seems to take it that way.

So some strands of Presbyterian tradition link the Biblical “elder” with our current elder. And some do not. This seems to me to question the whole distinction we, in the PC(USA) are now making in our own denomination, seeing pastors and elders both as teaching elders and ruling elders respectively. Calvin did not agree with that distinction, seeing pastors and elders as two separate offices, as two types of one office.

A difference in substance

That’s just the words though. In function the Presbyterian tradition is clear and consistent. Elders and Pastors lead the church together. To shift the focus of this post, I will give three reasons why I think this practice is a good thing.

First, as best as I can tell, it is Biblical. As I already mentioned, it is not easy to read the New Testament and determine how the early church was structured. This is probably because it was not clearly structured yet. That would come later. It is  also because we are really only able to over-see or over-hear how the ran the church in the pages of the New Testament. It is not something that is directly addressed beyond Paul’s qualification lists for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy and Titus. But what does seem clear is that the church in any given city or town was governed by a group of elders, sometimes called bishops, and they were the decisive leaders in that church.

The best view we have of church government in action is in Acts 15, the so-called Jerusalem Council, when the church decided what to do about God bringing in Gentiles into what was up to that point a Jewish sect. I often teach this passage in classes about church government. I ask the question after reading the passage, “Who makes the decision?” I realize that one’s own church background may strongly influence one’s answer to that question, but I see the decision decisively being made after the apostles and the elders agree. It’s not Peter, or James, or the people as a whole, but this representative group that decides the matter. Since the office of apostle, according to the Biblical definition of an apostle as one who has learned the Gospel directly from Jesus (see Acts 1:21-22 and Galatians 1:11-12), ended with the Apostles themselves, that leaves elders, which, unlike Calvin, I understand to refer to leaders who were not, but may include pastors.

powerSecondly, you can’t trust power further than you can throw it. A hallmark belief in the Reformed tradition is the total depravity of man. I remember my seminary professors pointing out that total depravity does not mean people are totally awful, but rather that it means that every area of our lives are touched and twisted by sin. This is true of our use of power. Left to his own devices, it is only a matter of time before a person with power, like a pastor or priest, will use his power for his own purposes. Spreading out that power, in the church among a group of leaders, or in a nation a separation of powers, minimizes the chances of such an abuse of power.

Finally, shared leadership is a demonstration and living-out of the communal aspect of our faith. As Paul makes a point of emphasizing, Jesus is the head of the Church. The rest of us are, together, the body. And we all need to be in it and connected to one another. Jesus is the head. There is no room for another.

Respect Your Elders

My next two posts may be kind of in-house posts as they reflect on the way the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination, is governed, but I share them because there can be no more practical idea in the church than who is in charge in any given church. And our ideas in this matter are very much shaped by our church’s and the Church’s history.  

I learned the importance of church government when I worked as Youth Director in a Congregational church back in my first year of seminary. I learned to appreciate the more connectional nature of my own denomination when I got involved with the congregational church’s way of doing things beyond the local congregation.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  

So, if you are not Presbyterian, think about how your church is governed and what that says about your church’s values and about its beliefs about people and the business of church.

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion at our Prebytery meeting that focused on the heart of what makes Presbyterians Presbyterian—the role of elders in the leadership of the church. This was brought about by a recent change in the names of the ordained offices in our denomination. We have three such offices. They used to be called Minister of Word and Sacrament, Elder, and Deacon. We have renamed the first two Teaching Elder and Ruling Elder respectively. The change provided an opportunity to talk about why the names matter and what they say about how we do church today.

The big thing is that the leadership of the church belongs to more than the clergy, and especially to more than any one pastor or priest. And this makes a world of difference when you talk about discerning God’s will and giving stability to the church.

An elder-led church goes back to the Reformation, when the stranglehold of the clergy on the neck of the church was challenged and broken. While this led to a divided church, it also led to a more faithful church, even within Roman Catholicism. 

It was the so-called Reformed branch of the Reformation, embodied most fully in John Calvin and the church of Geneva, that a new idea of leadership took greatest hold. The church was to be led by a group of Christian men (and it was just men at that time, and for centuries, of course). Calvin named four offices of leadership: pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. Pastors preached and gave pastoral care. Teachers taught the Bible in the Genevan schools. Elders, with the Pastors, oversaw the spiritual growth of the members of the church and encouraged them to live faithful lives, and Deacons were charged with caring for the poor and the sick. 

The idea of a shared leadership, involving both clergy and non-clergy was a very controversial idea. Calvin got this radical idea from the Bible, turning to such passages as 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 which emphasize that the Spirit has spread out gifts for leadership in the church. These passages, and several others in the New Testament, reveal that in the early church, local churches were led by a group of leaders called elders, not by a sole priest as was practiced by the time of the Reformation. This practice no doubt arose out of the Jewish synagogue which was led by men of the community (elders) and not by priests or even rabbis.  Since the first Christians were Jewish, they continued the practice they knew. Like most of the other Reformers, Calvin did not regard himself as a teacher of innovations but rather as one calling the church to return to earlier, more faithful practice.

To shorten a long story, the path from Calvin into Presbyterianism as we know it today went through Scotland via John Knox who visited Geneva for a time and famously called it “the most perfect school of Christ.”  I suppose the more spread-out power of an elder- and pastor-led church appealed to the Scottish mindset.

That’s a bit on the origin of the Presbyterian-style elder-led church. Next time, the “so what” in all this…

5 Facts about a Pastor’s Visiting drawn from Church History: Visiting and the Pastor, Pt 3

So, having had some time to mull over the lessons of history regarding the place and practice of regular home visitation in the pastor’s work, here’s what I have learned:

1) Home visitation, or at least personal visitation no matter where it occurs, has always been an important part of pastoral ministry. Public gatherings for worship and teaching, however frequent and regular, just aren’t enough if the goal is spiritual development. Pastors have always gone to their people. It is, without much exaggeration, what makes a pastor a pastor, and not solely a teacher, preacher, or theologian.

Ideas about what needs to happen during a regular visit, and what furthers spiritual development, have varied over the years. The Apostles taught the Gospel, presumably in ways that mirrored their writings in the New Testament. The priests of the medieval church grew more concerned about exacting confessions and prescribing penance to preserve the glory of the Church. The Reformers and Puritans seemed most concerned about catechizing, instructing in basic doctrine, and encouraging the flock to live out the teaching. In more recent years, in this age of psychology and informality, it has taken a more therapeutic shape of semi-counseling, or simply a social visit.

In trying to determine my own stance in visiting practice, I appreciate what Thomas Oden says in his wonderful Pastoral Theology: “Visitation runs the dual risk of either turning in the direction of an overbearing inquisition or reducing itself to an awkward routine of social trivia. The first error prevailed in the seventeenth century; the latter in the twentieth.” (1)

In order to avoid both of those errors, and yet to take seriously the heritage of pastoral ministry, I make these further observations:

2) Spiritual development, sanctification, discipleship, or whatever else you would like to call it, is the point of a pastor’s visiting. If there is no attempt to further that development than it may be a visit, but it is not pastoral.

3) There needs to be a plan to visiting. The pastor needs to develop a plan that will encompass the entire congregation he or she is responsible for, providing for a regular routine of visiting, whether it is once a year or four times a year, or some other frequency. And like other non-urgent but important things it needs to be fit into the weekly schedule with intention, letting other duties fit into place around this commitment.

4) Visiting should focus on the needs of the person being visited, not the needs of the pastor or the Church. The Medieval Church’s shift of focus to the confessional was also a turn away from the value of the individual Christian and a turn to what best serves the glory of the Church, i.e., an obedient people. Perhaps this is best symbolized in the intentionally anonymous confessional booths with its partition between priest and parishioner. While such confession may have its place (there’s a future post here!), it is not enough to replace regular visitation, which properly focuses on the whole of a person’s spiritual development.

5) If we keep regular pastoral visitation from becoming limited to the sacramental act of confession and penance, then others besides the pastor can join in the work. As we have seen, Calvin visited along with the elders of the church of Geneva and Richard Baxter divided his parish with an assistant. While this work is the special call of the pastor, and he may direct others in their visiting, it is more important that the work gets done than who does every visit. So share the load, and make it happen. The “pastoral” part is in its purpose, not in the title of the one who does it.

All of this is mostly a confirmation of what I already thought, with an greater sense of the importance of regular visitation in my own work. It needs to get into my weekly schedule first. Because of my difficulties in visiting, which I shared in the first post on this subject, I find the emphasis on making a plan and defining the purpose of such visiting helpful. I am also challenged to try to bring other leaders into this work. But it is hard to train others in something you find a challenge yourself. And training is necessary if we are to avoid the errors of visiting that Oden pointed out above. Bringing others into this work can also help provide better care for those members of the congregation who, for whatever reason, don’t exactly get along with the pastor. In those situations, crisis visits are rarely awkward because the need is so great, but routine visits can be uncomfortable for all parties.

Regular pastoral visitation. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. And the more the merrier!

—————————–

(1) Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology, Harper San Francisco, 1983, p. 178

…But Someone Has to Do It: Visiting and the Pastor, Pt. 2

The question we are asking of the history of the Church in this post is, “What place has regular pastoral visitation held in the practice of the church?”

Starting at the beginning, the Apostles, including Paul, went “house to house” preaching and teaching the Gospel. (1)  And in the couple centuries following the New Testament time, many writers, including Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, the writer of the Apostolic Constitutions, Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, and Augustine, spoke about people needing more than the public times of teaching, but private instruction as well. (2)

As the Church came to emphasize the sacraments as the means of grace in the middle ages, the focus of pastoral work shifted to “the glory and power of the mother church rather than the spiritual development of the members.” (3)

ConfessionalThe private confessional, which began in the monasteries and spread throughout the church by 1215, became the main contact point of the individual and the priest/pastor.  It’s purpose was to make an obedient congregation worthy of the mother church. (4)  In the words of Peter De Jong, “Every Roman Catholic manual on pastoral theology speaks at length of the confessional and it’s place in the life of the church. It is the heart of the spiritual care which the church exercises over the lives of her members.” (5)

The Reformers rejected the idea of the priest mediating forgiveness and turned away from the practice of the private confessional.  Eliminating that “heart of spiritual care” they replaced it with the apostolic practice of going house to house.  In doing so, “Protestantism devised an effective replacement for auricular confession that preserved the best aspects of personal pastoral dialogue, yet tended to protect it from familiar medieval abuses.” (6)

Naturally, such a practice was also very useful in spreading the teaching of the Reformers and correcting the practices they were purging from the Church.

John Calvin and the leaders of Geneva visited each family four times a year in preparation for receiving communion.  They distinguished between family visitation and discipline. Visitation was not to “pry into the hearts…but rather to exhort and stimulate the believers to a life of sanctification,” unlike in confession. (7)

English: Title page of The Reformed Pastor

The Protestant teaching visit reached its peak form in Richard Baxter, the English Puritan, who wrote The Reformed Pastor, one of the standard readings for seminary students of all stripes.  In that book, Baxter lays out his program of visitation.  He believed that a church should be no bigger than what was possible for the pastors to visit once each year, which he estimated at about 800 families (!).  Each week he and an assistant would set aside two days to visit with families for an hour each.  Baxter would invite families to come to him in the town.  The assistant would go out to the country.  Together they would visit with 14 families a week.  The purpose of each visit was to catechize, to instruct the families, usually continuing what has been publicly preached, and to inquire about their spiritual life as a family.  Baxter makes a point to emphasize that such visits were always voluntary, but he never had a family refuse. (8)

That, in brief survey, is what I could ferret out about the history of pastoral visitation.  It’s hard to pin down the practice, which isn’t always described, but the overall path from Gospel-proclaiming to sin-confessing to Bible-teaching is a telling one.

But more on that next time…

—-

(1)  Acts 5:42 & 20:20

(2)  Peter Y. De Jong, Taking Heed of the Flock: a study of the principles and practice of family visitation, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1948, p. 21.

(3) ibid

(4) ibid

(5) De Jong, p. 22.

(6) Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology, Harper SanFrancisco, 1983, p. 175

(7) De Jong, p. 24.

(8)  Andres Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, Westminster John Know Press: Louisville, 2001, pp. 111-114.

 

It’s a Tough Job…Visiting and the Pastor, Pt. 1

There are lots of hard jobs out there.  And there are lots of ways jobs are hard.  In a recent article in The Presbyterian Outlook, Clark Cowden points out that the great business guru Peter Drucker once said that being a  pastor was one of the four hardest jobs in America, after being the President of the United States, the president of a University, and the CEO of a hospital! (1)

Being a pastor is hard because no one really knows what the job is, or to put it more accurately, everyone has an idea of what the job is, and everyone’s idea is different.

The idea of what a pastor is supposed to do has shifted from decade to decade.  As Cowden summarizes, in the 1950’s it was to preach and teach and visit people in their homes.  In the 60’s it was to be a social activist.  In the 70’s, a counselor or therapist.  The 80’s required that pastors be church growth experts.  The 90’s, it was business CEO and fundraiser.  In the 2000’s, a pastor has to be a pro at technology. (1)

It is tough to figure out what, of all those things, needs to be done in any given week, or day.  Some things are easy to find time for; some things I seem never to be able to fit in the schedule.

The particular duty I find hardest is planned, routine visitation.  When I first heard the call to ministry, I resisted it because I always heard about those middle of the night calls, and I doubted whether I was up to handling the crises people face.  But after being in ministry for a while now, I don’t have a problem with those, hard as the situations may be emotionally.  It’s the routine, non-crisis, more social type of visitation that I really struggle with.  And I guess I do for several reasons:Door

1)  I never saw it done.  The church in which I grew up was a pretty big and professional church whose pastors were not that accessible.  They just didn’t do home visits, at least not to my family or any family I knew in the church.  The only other church I belonged to was during seminary, and while I saw the pastor there do hospital visits, and went with him when I interned with him, I did not see him do regular home visiting.

2)  I am an introvert, like many (most?) pastors.  I value spending time with people; it is the most meaningful part of being a pastor.  But it takes a lot of energy for me, and it can be emotionally exhausting.

3)  I fear rejection.  Every time you reach out, whether a phone call or a visit, you take the chance that you will be rejected.  On good days, I say, “bring it on!”  On bad days, I say, “I’ll do that tomorrow.”

4)  Regular visiting is never pressing.  In the Stephen Covey Time Management system (2), regular visiting is in the “important but non-urgent” category, which is usually pushed aside by the urgent stuff, whether it is important or not.  It always seems to be the area from which time is taken to deal with the task with a deadline, or to oil the squeaky wheel.

So, what does the history of the Church have to say here?  I mentioned the changing expectations of pastors since the 1950’s.  What can be learned about where routine, regular, home visitation has fit in the list of expectations and duties of pastors over the centuries?  Preaching, teaching the Bible, and ministering to others in crisis have always been a part of a pastors call.  What about regular visitation?

That’s what we will explore next time.

———

(1)  Clark Cowden, “Appreciating the Pastor as Juggler”, The Presbyterian Outlook, Sept. 30, 2013, pp.13-14.

(2) See his famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”

3 Questions: Children and Communion, Pt 3


So what do we make of all this?

History doesn’t decide ministry.  To decide what we will do about our children and communion in our church we don’t just poll history and go with what has been done most.  To decide our policy, we need to turn to Scripture and approach it theologically.  But history does inform ministry; considering how a question has been answered in the past helps us answer it today.  It can also raise other questions for us that are not arising in our own time and context.  As a Protestant, I am suspicious of tradition.  It is not an authority on par with Scripture, but seeing how Christians have sought to live out the teachings of Scripture helps me to figure out how to do that now.  

So what questions is this history asking me?

1) If you are a supporter of infant baptism, why would you reject infant communion?

Until the 13th century, infant communion immediately followed infant baptism.  They were seen as one piece.  If one was baptized then one also partook of the sacrament.  If I support one, why not the other?  My tradition asserts that if the child understands the significance of the Lord’s Supper they can take it.  Yet one can be baptized without understanding it.  And we know infants are not participating knowingly in their baptism.  Why not let them unknowingly participate in the Lord’s Supper?  There is a Biblical argument to be made, based on 1 Corinthians 15, where we are told we must eat “discerning the body”, but some have suggested that is not ironclad.  Perhaps I hold a double standard when it comes to sacraments.  One option would be to deny both sacraments to infants and children until they are more aware of the meanings, as some traditions do.  Another would be to offer both to infants as the Greek Church does.  Perhaps my tradition is being selective and fails to give a basis for it.  Think it through further.

2) Is your protectiveness of the Lord’s Supper consistent with your view of the Sacrament?

As we saw, the practice of infant and child communion ended as the belief in transubstantiation rose in importance, which led to a desire to prevent the elements from being handled with disrespect or casualness. If we deny children the Lord’s Supper because they will in some way profane the sacrament, are we not doing the same thing?  Yet, my own tradition does not believe in transubstantiation, but insists on the common-ness of the elements and that they do not change.  This seems like it may be a contradiction between our theology and our practice.

3) Is your assumption that a person must understand the Sacrament before partaking of it too individualistic?

The idea that the individual had to understand the sacrament to take part in it rose to greatest prominence with the Protestant Reformers, who emphasized the individual’s own relationship to God, and the importance of personal faith.  Until that time, the individual’s participation in the community of faith seemed to be the greater emphasis, and communion, especially for all the baptized regardless of age, embodied that emphasis.  It strikes me that my own tradition’s emphasis on understanding may be an overemphasis on the individual at the expense of our sense of connection to the community.

So while a look at the history has not answered my original question in any certain terms, it has given me much to think about and to talk to my leaders about, questions that had not come up before.  I am, however, leaning toward including younger children more, but I do want to wrestle more with Scripture, especially 1 Corinthians 15.

What about you?  What does the history suggest to you about how we handle the participation of children in the Lord’s Supper is our churches today?  I’d welcome your comments and thoughts.