Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unity and disagreement

When I was in the army, there was only one Christian fellowship in the garrison where I was stationed. The official Norwegian Lutheran church ran a chapel, and a Lutheran priest was employed by the military to hold service every week, which was all Lutheran psalms and liturgy. However, many of the young soldiers that attended the church, like myself, were not Lutheran at all. We were Baptists, Roman Catholics, followers of different protestant traditions, and non-denominational Christians. Yet, we all shared the same bread and wine, we all sung the same songs, and we all ate the same waffles. It was beautiful.

Many of the best discussions I’ve had were in the discussion group in that chapel. The discussion group was open for everybody, and many that showed up weren’t Christians at all, but adhered to different spiritualities, to quasi-philosophical agnosticism, or even atheism. Much to learn and much waffles to consume. I really got to know a lot of good hearts in those discussions. Honest hearts. We were not united in beliefs, far from so; but in mutual respect we built something as rare as a unity in heart. It was not a perfect heart; but I believe we were headed in the right direction. Those of us who simultaneously were intentional in seeking Jesus’ heart, were amazed how these discussions brought such light to our quest. Or at least I was.

I fell in love with unity.

So I was distressed when the Catholic Church didn’t want to share in communion with me. And as I left the army and moved to Pittsburgh, I was heartbroken to find that the Lutheran church, which I had come to love so much, didn’t want to share communion with me unless I was Lutheran, or at least something close. I probably could have passed the “test,” but then what I loved about the church was lost. On top of this, in a non-denominational church of the faith-movement I visited, they didn’t allow undergraduates to share in communion. Nowhere, it seemed, did they acknowledge me. I was rejected.

Mark 14:17-25 (NIV)
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"

"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

Look at it: Even Judas Iscariot was allowed in communion. Man, if Judas Iscariot was allowed communion, then who should not be? And imagine the atmosphere at the table. Everybody is suspicious towards everybody. So much tension... Is it Peter that is going to betray Jesus? After all, Jesus called him Satan just a few chapters ago. Is it Simon the revolutionary zealot? Or Matthew the tax collector? It surely is not I, is it? Suspicion. Mistrust. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. Because Jesus himself is what communion is about. It is not about the agreements between those who partake in it. Rather, communion is about looking past the disagreement in style, looking past disagreement in politics, and looking past disagreement in doctrine. Even looking past our suspicion that the other partakers are betraying Christ and his ideals. It is about looking past the dust and focusing everything on Christ himself. That is communion. That it is beautiful.

In the last weeks, I have realized this is difficult. You know those fundamentalist Christians that just make you so ashamed of your faith? Like when televangelist Jerry Falwell in October 2004 boldly proclaimed his support of the Iraq war: “You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops and I am for the President — chase them all over the world, if it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” How can I invite such a man to communion with me? Can I partake in communion with him? Really? Fact is I can’t stand the man, by knowing nothing more than that very quote. I just can’t. He repulses me, and I am highly suspicious he is betraying Jesus big-time. I do not want to be associated with that man. At all.

But pause for a moment. Is it not sad how I have made myself such a demonized image of Falwell? I most certainly am doing the man injustice. What do I really know about his heart? Well, nothing. I am still suspicious, sure, and I do not expect to agree with him in much. I am allowed to disagree; I am allowed to be suspicious. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless. (though sharing with Falwell truly is a tough reputational sacrifice)

What do you say: Jehovah’s Witness claims that Jesus is just one of several expressions of God. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Hard core Calvinists claims that God does not love everybody. Should we invite them to communion? Really? Are they not worshipping a different God altogether?

Should we draw a line?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives the book of Mormon equal weight as the Bible. The Adventist church is obsessed with the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. The Catholic churches pray to saints. Churches of the faith-movement emphasise emotional experiences. Some churches show signs with “God hates fags.” Some churches do that. Some churches do this. Churches disagree on everything, even on Jesus himself. And the churches are allowed to disagree. But Jesus made his disciples share the communion nevertheless.

Say we actually draw a line. That man is allowed communion, this man is not. That man is one of us true Christians, this man is not. By doing so, are we not making ourselves judges? Jesus himself, the only one righteous to judge, did not.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a good discussion. I am all for confronting views such as “we should blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” It was trough discussion (which surely was heated at times) that we gained this rare unity in the army chapel. It was through honest struggles with challenging questions we shed light on our path to a kingdom heart. But even as we usually ended up disagreeing at some point, we shared the waffles nevertheless.

How much more, then, should the church be able to share communion, we who all are intentionally seeking the heart of Christ...


  1. 1. Shared adversity typically builds unity. I suggest that the trials you underwent as a group in the military created a bond between you. Possibly events occurred in which one or more of you made a small sacrifice in service of another. In any case, I know that within Joyful Noise, the more difficult the year, the stronger the bond between those that make it through.

    2. Communion is for Christians who have made a public declaration of faith in Jesus. Jesus said to eat in remembrance of him--people who have not accepted his body have no business taking Communion. What exactly are they remembering? But for us who are saved: we accept it joyfully with all our brothers and sisters.

  2. 1. I guess we shared the experience of being soldiers. Only one of my friends from the chapel were in my platoon, though, so I knew them not primarily as soldiers. But I guess you are still right.

    2. The Roman Catholic tradition on this issue is to not accept communion when you don't feel right with God. As long as you let every man judge for himself, I think that is wise.

  3. A beautiful song on my mind:

  4. You're right! Paul shouldn't have written Galatians, he should've just had communion with the Judaizers. That's right!

    I'm sure Romans 16:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 2 John 10-11, Titus 3:10, 2 Timothy 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Matthew 18:17, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 & 1 Timothy 6:3-5 are all interpolations, added by some Calvinistic fundamentalist. They appall me with their non-loving God!

    Excuse me while I get back to praying with my Muslim friends!


  5. Galatians: Paul is clearly unhappy about the judaizers. I bet Jesus was pretty unhappy about Judas as well.

    Romans 16:17: I am not trying to argue against this, even though I realize I might come off that way. There is nothing wise about casually hanging out with people you suspect are betrayers of Jesus. But though subtle, there is an important difference between avoiding people and denying them Christian citizenship altogether. Because in doing the latter, you are making yourself judge.

    2 Thess 3:6-15: You can't read verse 14 without reading the next verse (verse 15), where it is explicitly stated that you still treat him like a brother, even though you shouldn't associate with him.

    2 John 1:10-11: Again, there is a difference between actively enabling deceivers to work and to deny them communion. As I said, I am all for confronting self-proclaimed Christians who do not teach to "walk in love," like John is talking about here. I would not welcome Falwell to speak in my church, for instance.

    (By the way, I think Falwell labelled himself as a baptist, if that is of any interest.)

    Tit 3:9-11: This passage is actually all about how we should "avoid foolish controversies." It is telling us to have nothing to do with _divisive_ persons.

    Matthew 18:15-18: If a brother sins and he does not listen even to the church, then we should treat him as we would a pagan or a tax collector. How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? Well, he didn't judge them, then neither should we. Disagreeing and shouting at hypocrisy is all good, but deciding what people are and are not allowed to do, is judgement.

    And about verse 18: Continue reading to verse 21. Peter (which Jesus in Matt 16:19 gave a strikingly similar authority) asked how many times he should forgive. This is a reasonable question, considering the talk about binding and loosing - judging, that is. Up to seven times? But reading from verse 22 and out the rest of the chapter, Jesus gives me a firm impression that we should never cease to forgive. Because God has forgiven us so much more in the first place.

    1 Corinthians 5: I think this passage actually provides a good argument for denying certain people communion. I do not know if Paul is talking about communion in verse 11, but I guess that is not unreasonable to assume. It is also interesting to see how Paul is allowing judgement strictly inside the church. I guess it is a power of the community over the individual: the ability to judge itself.

    In dealing with this passage, I assume the following: the individual Paul wants to expel from the community is holding on to sin and refuses to repent. Now, such a man is not really seeking Jesus, is he? You cannot make Jesus Lord and proudly refuse to repent at the same time. Because making Jesus Lord is all about repentance. Hence he should not receive communion, and if he fails to realize so himself, someone, for his own sake, should tell him.

    However, this is not always obvious. Like when I was visiting the Catholic church, the priest invited all _Catholics_ to the alter. But if I call myself Catholic or not doesn't really reveal anything on whether I am making Jesus Lord, does it? Or if I am Calvinist. Or Lutheran. Or of any other doctrine.

    1 Timothy 6:3-5: I really agree that teachers of false doctrines exists, though we may disagree exactly who these are. But as these verses so eloquently point out, teachers of false doctrines have "an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words." What I can do is to avoid them, and find myself a community of brothers I trust. But I am really saddened by the interest in controversies I see in the church today, and I suppose this blog post is an expression of that.

  6. Yes, we're not supposed to judge, that's so correct. Discernment is of the Devil (the Calvinist god)!

    I don't buy your interpretations of the passages though... you said everybody is allowed to eat and have communion with each other. Those verses say we're to avoid them. So I still believe they're interpolations put in by judgmental fundamentalists.


    (On the serious side, though, JWs don't teach that Jesus is just one of the manifestations of God--that's called Modalism (aka Sabellianism, Patripassionism). They teach he's a created being separate from the Father, a mighty god but not almighty God, which is a form of Arianism.
    Furthermore, Catholics aren't Christians--they're works-salvationists, so to speak. Definitely not Christian.)

  7. Hey just wanted to give my 2 cents on this topic. The general idea behind not allowing all people to have communion is to protect them and for their own good. This being in sight of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Therefore if you encourage those who are not believers to take part in communion you are only hurting them by them eating judgment on themselves. The other major issue I had was the placing of Calvinists in the same category with Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons... Though it was not the topic discussed here passages like those found within Romans 9 show that God has at least a distinct love that He doesn't have for others.

  8. Jon, I really appreciate your comment. I see that I might come off as equating calvinists with Jehova's witness, and that was probably not the best move on my part. There is of course a world of difference between the two; I do not at all suggest they are the same. I was just trying to point out that I disagree with both of them. Much more so with JW, but that was not the point. The point was, though very subtle, that I think every doctrine has faults; also my own.

    I really think the verse you are citing is worthy of mention when discussing how to share communion. I do not think Paul is talking about "worthy" in the sense that a man has the right doctrine, though, which is what the church often makes it to be. The only obvious interpretation of this passage is that we should receive communion with a sense of dignity, and actually make it a remembrance of Christ rather than a frat-party.

    You can read other meanings into some of the verses, and that might be correct or incorrect, but it is in any case out of context.