What I don’t wish to accomplish with this article:
It is not my intention to discuss whether The Salvation Army’s stance of the practice of communion (or lack there of) as soldiers and officers is wrong. I am not going to debate and criticize, nor is it the goal of this article to sway you one way or the other.
It is, however, the intent of this article to simply (as possible) present the facts, discuss the results of the survey that was conducted and lastly formulate my personal opinion (because hey, it’s my blog). There will undoubtedly be debate, those who will strongly oppose even discussing this topic, and some who will just shake their heads. I would ask everyone to enter into this discussion with an open mind, to set aside preconceived notions (where possible) and look at this topic objectively. It is not my intention to undermine the Army’s leadership and/or doctrinal decisions (please don’t think me a rebel or one who questions authority), but rather to look at this topic from all angles.
“When the early believers broke bread together they were really expressing their fellowship in a manner that was both down-to-earth and highly significant. In a simple common meal they celebrated their life together. And, at the same time, they recalled the life and death of Jesus Christ and recognized his risen presence amongst them.
What could be more natural? Jesus had often broken bread with his disciples (John 6:11). During his last meal with he had used that simple action to explain to them that as food and drink sustained their physical life, so his body broken and his blood shed in death would bring them spiritual life. And after his resurrection he had revealed himself in the home of Cleopas in that same simple action (Luke 24:30).
The breaking of of bread was, quite simply, the most natural way for the early Christians to celebrate and reinforce their exciting new fellowship with each other in Christ…The Communion service became separated from its roots in the common meal. The Church began to believe that the ritual had power in itself to convey the grace of God, even to teach that the bread and the wine actually became the body and blood of Christ.
This kind of thing encouraged the idea of a special priesthood who alone had the right to administer the grace of God through the giving of the cup and the bread to ordinary believers.
(Battle Orders, Chick Yuill p. 84-85)
It was against this kind of thinking that our Founders reacted.
“…There must be no baptismal service that can delude anyone into a vain hope of getting to Heaven without being ‘born again’. There must be no Lord’s Supper ‘administered’ by anybody in such a way as to show anything like a priestly superiority of one over another – every saved person being a ‘priest unto God”…There must never be a sacramental service at the end of a meeting so as to prevent the possibility of inviting sinners to the mercy seat.” (A statement drafted by George Scott Railton and issued by William Booth in 1881)
What we can then understand Communion to mean within the context of the early Church and through the above quotes is that gradually the Church began to ritualize this sacred moment within fellowship of believers thereby the origin intent of such a intimate moment became blurred or marred within institutional practice.
Commissioner Philip Needham puts it this way –
“Perhaps it is not quite accurate to say that the Army ‘discontinued’ the Lord’s Supper. Let us say, rather, that the sacrament was transported from the high altar…out of the sanctuary and placed back in society. Could we be so bold as to say that the meal was brought closer to its origins in the Early Church?” (Philip Needham: Community in Mission)
Questions to consider:
Has the Church (Big C) lost its focus on the importance and relevance of such an intimate fellowship? Can we practice “Communion” within the context of The Salvation Army if we exercised only the original practice of the Early Church around the dinner table? Do we lose something when we “throw the baby our with the bathwater” so to speak? Given the above explanations and quotations have we as an Army completely steered away from the Early Church practice of fellowship in this way? Lastly, the Church became bogged down with regulations and ritual that it lost the true significance and even corporate practice of what the disciples and Jesus practiced at the supper table…are we in that same danger when we consider sacramental living and that of our regulatory rituals? Have we stopped preaching holiness and sanctification?
I only ask these questions because when we become organized the danger is we begin to protect things considered sacred when it was never intended to treated as such.
Question #1 “Have you ever participated in a Communion Service?”
Of those polled 91% said that they have participated in a communion service at some time. I would venture to guess that most likely these services those participated in were conducted at a liturgical church some where. Given this statistic most understand the dynamics of the traditional communion service which involves the bread and wine (or grape juice) depending on the denomination conducting the ceremony.
“Why, in your opinion, does The Salvation Army take such a hard stance against this sacramental practice of the traditional Church? “
“It goes back to William Booth’s thoughts…did not want people to be confused on what is expected to be saved. His people were basically unchurched.”
“Not a hard stance, but a practical one.“
“Old fashioned idea about not wanting people to cling to the ritual instead of Christ. If it’s done right, that won’t be an issue.”
“Hard? It is a respectful stance, offering a visible argument against disrespectful and superstitious abuses of these ceremonies.“
“I thought initially it was because people thought water baptism and partaking in communion was a means of salvation and the decision was made to stop for that reason!“
“Because of the fear that people will exchange living in Holiness for the sacraments, meaning it doesn’t matter how I live because I partake in communion. Confusing the saving grace of God with ritualistic acts“
“Do you agree with The Salvation Army’s position on the practice of Communion?”
35% said ‘Yes’
48% said ‘No’
16% said ‘Unsure’
Something to consider within this question is this: does The Salvation Army and its leaders, including corps officers, take the time to adequately explain this position in formal and informal settings?
“Are there detractors in participating regularly in communion and if so what are they?”
“The sacred can become commonplace.”
“Anything can become routine or old hat. If it loses the significance, it should stop. Like Sunday night mtgs, high collars and open airs“
“Like any “ritual”, you run the risk of wearing it out. It becomes more about doing the ritual than what the experience means. That’s unfortunate and potential unavoidable. If we could guarantee deep, sound and continuous teaching the value is increased dramatically.“
“I find practice does nothing for my spiritual life“
” see it still as that which separates those who are worthy to take the sacrament with the unsaved or those who’s hearts aren’t right. I’ve heard it offered far too often like this, but Jesus offered the Seder to everyone at the table. I like Booth’s analogy that we need a bigger table, and it is in our homes.“
“Just as in our stance of zero liturgy, practicing liturgy all the time might cause one to lose meaning because communion become mundane. How should one administer it? Should only corps officers? Should it be wine or grape juice? What type of bread should be used? Could CSM’s administer it? Who is allowed to participate in it? Are soldiers and adherents or also non-believing Salvationists?“
“I think it is easy to substitute the “practice” of the sacraments (a means of grace) with the daily living out of our salvation. The sacraments could become a Salvationist Yom Kippur where you repent once a year for all your sins of last year and all the sins you will commit next year. “His mercies are new every morning” for a reason.“
“Are there benefits in participating regularly in Communion and if so what are they?”
“Yes. Taking communion requires a deep examination of your heart, attitudes, and behavior.“
“Old fashioned ideas about not wanting people to cling to the ritual instead of Christ. If it’s done right, that won’t be the issue.”
“If taken seriously, it can be a moment of personal reflection as to the sacrifice of our Lord. Sitting in the corps hall staring at the mercy seat doesn’t always have the same impact. Also, I tended to view the mercy seat as a place where you came when you were really bad and needed forgiveness. However, participating in communion is a reminder of the grace and forgiveness we are offered, even if we do not have a major sin to confess.“
“It is a nice period of reflection when it occurs.It makes you feel at one with the congregation, but so does the altar call at the penitent form and holiness table.“
“Participating in the sufferings of Christ, partaking of the presence of Christ alongside his bride the church, fellowship at God`s table, confession of sin and receiving forgiveness“
“Reaffirming/ reconnecting with God and your covenant with Him. Prior to becoming soldiers we were Methodists who participated in communion. Nobody thought that taking communion was saving us, it was a time to refocus and remember Jesus’ sacrifice.“
“We know a few soldiers who were raised in a liturgical church who “needed” the sacraments. They were provided for them in a private setting (usually at Easter and Christmas). Their own personal spiritual formation was contingent upon receiving them. Who are we to argue?“
“Feeling of belonging.“
Of those polled –
22% said ‘Yes’
26% said ‘No’
14% said ‘Unsure’
Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on left)
“We are missing out on a beautiful expression of our devotion to Christ.“
“Our original stance for not practicing communion is no longer valid”
“I hate the prohibition-like attitude towards communion, the mocking from Officers and Soldiers towards those who choose to partake in communion. I don’t think it should be required but to forbid Officers from administering it is silly – why do we say God can use any space/person/activity to bring Him glory and then put a specific stop to something that does no spiritual harm?”
“It is okay that the Salvation Army does not practice communion, but we lose something by not understanding the practice. I think the Salvation Army can continue not practicing, but should be more educated about communion.”
“I don’t think we need to change our stance, but I do think we need to know it better so we can teach it better.”
“Don’t threaten discipline due to participating in a SA setting.”
“As (we) will never be fully recognised in places such as South America, and parts of Europe without use of sacraments in worship.”
“Are there scriptural references that make the practice of Communion wrong?”
Of those polled –
2% said ‘Yes’
79% said ‘No’
8% said ‘Unsure’.
Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on right)
“Wrong is maybe too hard a word. But the passages describing Communion in the NT (the Synoptic accounts and 1 Corinthians 11 for example) describe something far different from modern communion. The early Church would not recognize what is being done today.”
“1 Corinthians 11:23-32 Paul says it’s a communal meal, says any time we eat together as a church we should remember Christ, and Mark 7:1-23 The elders had decreed how to keep scripture and voided it with their traditions, Jesus charged them with deserting the commands of God and He candidly rejected their authority and called it sin.”
“in 1 Corinthians 11 Communion was addressed but not as wrong. But that it was being practiced incorrectly. Paul, therefore, did NOT discontinue the practice, but told the Corinthians how to do it properly.”
“1 Tim 4:7, Romans 14:17“
“Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 11 make it clear that ‘the Lord’s Supper’ was much more like a “Potluck supper” than the ritualistic emblematic rite that it has become in most churches. I wouldn’t say that this makes it wrong to do communion, but practice would need to be reviewed.”
Question # 8
“Does the practice of Communion, in your opinion, detract from the emphasis of the workings of The Holy Spirit? (Within the realms of The Salvation Army demographic)”
Of those polled –
4% said ‘Yes’
73% said ‘No’
12% said ‘Unsure’
Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on left)
“Communion can easily become a distraction when the focus of holiness becomes the act, rather than the action of the Holy Spirit and the need for personal holiness. Holiness is foundational to TSA, and its non-sacramental position says something to the Church, and frees the preacher/teacher to explore the range of holiness.“
“It can. If we place our trust in ceremony that in and of itself confers grace (that is what a Sacrament is!) then we are excluding the Holy Spirit from being anything more than mechanical.”
“The majority of Army church members didn’t receive their Christian education from TSA. So you would create chaos for the sake of being like other churches.”
“It would create two classes of salvationists. It would devalue those who do not take part. The Holy Spirit is impeded by deliberate disunity.”
“How can we speak powerfully about the sacramental life — EVERY moment can be a sacrament and THEN turn around and say, but we have this special moment too. It does not make sense and it detracts from part of theology.”
“What did Jesus mean when He said “Do this in remembrance of me”? (Luke 22:19)
“When we share in the bread and wine, we are reminded of the suffering of Christ…which He did willingly for you…and me. I love focusing on the suffering of Christ, while partaking…a strong reminder of His great love for me. Words from the old musical, The Witness, tell us in celebrating communion..”take it and eat it, and when you do do it in love for me.“
“Take time to remember what He went through to bring us salvation.”
“Every time you meet round a table remember me.”
“There are several answers to this depending on your denominational affiliation(s). I grew up Presbyterian, thus we followed the command that Christ gave to his disciples which was to continue on in His fellowship by practicing communion in fellowship with each other. I was also taught that it is a done in remembrance of his sacrifice AND his returning. I continue to believe this today and take communion when I attend church with my parents who are still Presbyterian – it is very sacred to me and has such a deeper meaning now that I am ordained and commissioned into His service. I continue to stand firm, however, that it is not necessary to my walk with Christ nor in seeking holiness.“
“He was celebrating the Passover, which was a full (if ceremonial and symbolic) meal. So it either means “whenever you celebrate Passover remember me” or “whenever you break bread remember me.” By the way, Jesus Christ is only recorded as saying that in Luke, and John doesn’t even record the Last Supper. Kind of strange if it was to become a Sacrament as many modern Christians understand it today.“
“Gathering of believers in fellowship in His name.“
“Sit down and have a meal together. No ritual, just commensality.“
“Communion is not necessary for Salvation (this we know) and we should adequately explain this to soldiers and recruits of The Salvation Army, BUT…might we be losing anything in our efforts in avoiding such a practice within our Corps services? Why or Why not?”
“Yes. In thinking of new people coming into the corps family, many have been raised in a church where communion was shared. Many have indicated they do miss this practice in the Army. I have shared communion with women at Women’s camps and have had many thank me and noted how much they missed this sacrament. (I also had a few critics!)“
“The only thing we would lose is the togetherness but only if it meant the same to everyone.“
“Communion is, in my opinion, the first object lesson sermon. It had little or no significance to the Disciples in the upper room when He instituted it. However, communion has become for some, an important aspect of their Christian life. Not because it bring salvation, but because they feel it helps bring them closer to God. Communion is NOT represented well within The Salvation Army, it is ignored and disregarded as a meaningless ceremony. I don’t think ANYTHING that actively calls us to remember Christ, and His sacrifice are things to be ignored or written-off as meaningless.“
“I think we lose a lot, it is a real act of worship when the motivation is right, it can assist us in drawing closer to God when we are setting our minds on spiritual things.”
“Yes we are, because few officers — not to mention soldiers — understand our position. I have known soldiers who thought they were sinning if they partook! Ridiculous! Our example of emphasizing that which is symbolized above the symbol is sound and, I believe, helpful to the church at large. If we were to ever institute the Sacraments in TSA, it should not be because “Israel wants a king” to be like everybody else, but because we have and teach a thoroughly thought out theology of these ceremonies. And we should NEVER call them Sacraments!”
“not if we explain it in a good way.”
“I’m not sure why TSA is so convinced that most people who practice the sacraments think that they are saved by them. I think what is lost is a tangible reminder of our redemption and a physical act of fellowship with our savior and each other. To think that we are above practices that most other churches engage in seems somewhat arrogant and separatist to me.”
“One of the secondary motivations for being non-sacramental is our Egalitarianism. The resistance toward women giving Communion to men was absolute in 1865 and could easily be that way today. For the sake of unity we dont practice the sacrements. if we did would people get a spiritually fufilling moment sure, but at what cost? isnt it better to be one church too singleminded in advancing the cause of christ that we make this a non-issue. I believe scripture bears out we keep the rememberance of Christ better than anyone who practices communion.“
“No. If we are intentional about teaching/preaching/living sacramental lifestyles, then the simple practice of partaking in communion will not enhance our meetings.”
At times man has imposed ritual upon things and places that was never intended to be. I do not discount the significance for those who participate in Communion, nor do I criticize the act. It can be a wondrous and beautiful commemoration of what Christ has done for us. BUT…there is danger in anything losing its significance if done out of ritual and practice without teaching and instruction.
Secondly I believe this topic to be quite complex and very personal to many people, hence the varying responses in the survey above. One person even asked, “why conduct this sort of survey won’t it only cause conflict and division?” This was never my intention and in fact I believe it only serves to display how unique the body of Christ is and how unique each person’s perspectives and convictions are.
Lastly, if in fact, the original intent of the ‘Last Supper’ and the early Church’s practice of Communion simply meant breaking bread together and eating food whilst recalling the wondrous sacrifice and salvation through Christ, shouldn’t we get back to that? If this was the origins which became so deeply entrenched in tradition and ritual shouldn’t we reclaim the origin and not the ritual…and more importantly seek to grow in personal and corporate holiness? Shouldn’t the Lord’s table then be our tables at home as we teach and instruct our children and families? Anything can become ritual including wearing our uniforms whilst losing any and all of its significance.
I have more to say on this topic…but I will conclude here.
So…what do you think?
Something more for the Army world to ponder today.
Disclaimer: This survey represents a small portion of our Army and is in no way representative of everyone. We were able to collect a total of 98 responses from this survey (those who participated) and we thank everyone for your responses. Secondly these are responses from people and soldiers of our army and does not necessarily represent the beliefs and personal views of pastorsponderings.org. Thank you for reading and participating.