Why I Oppose the October 4, 2009 “Great Communion” Celebration of the Restoration Movement

The last time I checked, Luke 22:14 did not say, “Do this in remembrance of Thomas Campbell.”

Declaration and Address by Thomas Campbell. Published December 1809.

"Declaration and Address" by Thomas Campbell. Published December 1809.

I wish to question publically the decision to participate in the “Great Communion” celebration of the Restoration Movement churches as it is presently planned. The elders of my local congregation, the University Church of Christ in Malibu, CA, have decided to participate in a “Great Communion:” a bicentennial celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, and a centennial celebration of the first “Great Communion,” which was marred by nonparticipation due to sectarian divisions between denominations that once comprised the American Restoration Movement.

This second “Great Communion” is the brainchild of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, which according to its website is a communion and worship service designed to, “Remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his table.”

Some will no doubt question why anyone would object to a celebration of our religious heritage, especially a lifelong “born and raised” member of the Churches of Christ. However, I object to the purpose and the timing of this special communion not for sectarian reasons, but for ecumenical ones.

First, the idea of scheduling a communion service with the specific purpose of celebrating our movement is wholly antithetical to the original purpose of the Restoration Movement itself. (And yes, the Churches of Christ are a denomination. The sooner we admit that we are, in fact, a denomination, the sooner we can move forward with the progress of the church. The mere fact that a “Great Communion” has even been conceived is evidence enough that the Churches of Christ are a denomination separate and apart from the Disciples of Christ, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the International Churches of Christ.) The initial purpose of the Restoration Movement was to set aside denominational differences and worship together as Christians only. And yet, some want to celebrate our commitment to the elimination of denominationalism with a special communion dedicated to remembering our denomination. This is the equivalent of auctioning off slaves to celebrate abolition of hosting a keg party to celebrate prohibition; it is the very anthesis of the movement’s initial intent.

Second, the singular purpose of communion is to remember Christ crucified—nothing more. A communion is the celebration of a community of followers of Christ by reenacting the Last Supper, which Jesus established the night before he was crucified. The Last Supper was, in fact, a Passover meal, which Jesus and the disciples celebrated in accordance with their Jewish customs. The gospel of John invests new meaning upon the crucifixion by portraying Jesus as the Passover lamb sacrificed for the redemption of mankind. Likewise, Jesus invests new meaning upon the symbolic elements of the Passover meal—the bread and the wine—redefining them as his body and his blood broken and poured out for humanity to redeem them of their sins. This “blood of the covenant” mentioned in Matthew 26:28 echoes the traditional covenant found in Exodus 24:8. Thus, the bread and the wine of the communion celebration are to commemorate one thing and one thing only: Christ crucified.

The last time I checked, Luke 22:14 did not say, “Do this in remembrance of Thomas Campbell.” Communion celebrations should absolutely never be designed to celebrate anyone other than Jesus of Nazareth. But, according to the “Great Communion” website, the purpose of this special communion is to:

remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his table.

The order of these four items is striking (if not patently heretical)! We do not participate in communion to “remember Thomas Campbell”—ever! Matthew 26:13 does not say, “Wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what he has done will be told in remembrance of him.” We do not remember Thomas Campbell; indeed, Thomas Campbell is most likely rolling over in his grave! (Yes, he’s still there; we are a resurrection tradition.) The very purpose of Thomas Campbell’s “Dedication and Address” was to eliminate denominations, not to celebrate them!

What is next? Will we have a special worship service dedicated to Barton W. Stone? Will we have a special communion to remember ‘Raccoon’ John Smith? Shall we host a special communion to remember David Lipscomb? Can we next honor Kip McKean? Jeff Walling? Max Lucado? Richard Hughes? Where does it end? Why are we hosting a special communion service to “remember Thomas Campbell?” Again I must ask: why do we worship? To remember a man, or the man: Christ?

To hold a special, second communion on October 4th to celebrate the Restoration Movement after our regularly scheduled communion mocks the communion that our congregation regularly partakes of on Sunday morning. Is our regular communion not enough? I am the first to argue that members of the Church of Christ should learn their denomination’s history; for far too long, members of the Church of Christ have denied their own denominational history and have pretended to be the direct descendants of the early church. We should attend conferences, take courses, and join historical societies, but we should reserve the communion memorial to remember Christ, not Thomas Campbell.

Third, scheduling the “Great Communion” on October 4th, which is otherwise known to the rest of Christendom as “World Communion Sunday,” an ecumenical celebration of Christian congregations around the world, only underscores the sectarian history that apparently still persists within the Churches of Christ and the greater American Restoration Movement. Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address was given on August 17, 1809 and published on September 7, 1809. This means that the actual bicentennial would be closer to Sunday, September 6, 2009. However, the “Great Communion” website specifically references World Communion Sunday on October 4, 2009:

We are calling on churches all around the world associated with this movement to gather in their own communities on World Communion Sunday – October 4, 2009, to share in communion using the resources on this website.

Thus, it is evident that the October 4, 2009 date was deliberately chosen to coincide with or perhaps even replace World Communion Sunday with an intentionally belated remembrance of Thomas Campbell and celebration of the Restoration Movement.

Scheduling this special communion in the first place is bad enough, but to schedule a celebration of the Restoration Movement on the very day that has been set aside to celebrate ecumenicism within Christianity is a slap in the face to the very concept of ecumenical Christianity. In doing so, we bury our movement’s original concept of “Christians only” and resurrect the sectarian memory that we are the “only Christians.” What on earth possessed the leadership of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to sponsor a communion with our closest cousins—the Disciples of Christ—when the rest of Christianity—Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and many other denominations—reach out to all Christendom? To schedule this special event on the same day as World Communion Sunday creates the terrible impression that we are willing to reach out to other Christians, but only to those that are very much like us. The result is quite the opposite: while the elders may claim that this is an ecumenical effort, the fact that it is celebration of the Restoration Movement (regardless of whether members of any denomination are invited) betrays the underlying and persistent perception that the Churches of Christ in general—and the University Church of Christ in Malibu specifically—are a group of sectarian Christians that refuse to worship with Christians of other traditions, even on the one day that is set aside to celebrate ecumenicism in Christianity. Additionally, because the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships on the campus of Pepperdine University, where half of the students and faculty that consider themselves Christians do not attend a Church of Christ, this celebration further alienates those students who already may harbor feelings of resentment because they are not a part of the minority, yet ruling Church of Christ class at Pepperdine. Hosting the second “Great Communion” in celebration of the Restoration Heritage on World Communion Sunday only further increases the cynicism of an already skeptical Christian community that feels the Church of Christ students and faculty reap countless benefits at the expense of other, non-Church of Christ Christians.

According to the Pepperdine “Grat Communion” blog:

As heirs of this common heritage, the University Church of Christ will invite members from area Stone-Campbell churches to gather at the Lord’s Table with us on Sunday, October 4, at 3pm, in Elkins Auditorium on the Pepperdine University campus. We will recall our past and look towards our future as we remember our Lord, proclaim our faith, and affirm our baptism into God’s family. This Great Communion service will be one of many across the world on October 4, gatherings devoted to Campbell’s reminder of what it means to be called Christian.

The “ecumenical invitation” appears to be one that invites only “area Stone-Campbell churches” to a special communion, which is “one of many” Restoration Heritage celebrations around the world. Again I must ask: why not invite everyone and celebrate all Christianity and not limit the communion to just “Stone-Campbell” churches? Perhaps it would be better named the “Targeted Communion” if it celebrates Restoration Heritage churches. Or, does the adjective “great” describe the quality of the four denominations celebrated and not the quantity of other Christian heritages that are not the subject of celebration at this special communion?

There is still much beauty in the Churches of Christ. Likewise, I love my local congregation in Malibu, CA, and am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. We still have much to overcome in terms of our continued suppression of women and their roles in worship and church leadership, reaching out to homosexuals, and with issues of social justice and service to the poor. Issues of ethnic diversity are more a result of the lack of diversity in our location within the city of Malibu, and within the student population at Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu meets. But, there is much beauty in both the denomination and specifically in my local congregation. The University Church of Christ in Malibu is a highly progressive and eccumenical church that regularly reaches out to other local churches in other denominations throughout the year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our holiday services are models of true ecumenical worship. Likewise, many of the Pepperdine students that worship on campus on Sunday mornings can be found at Malibu Presbyterian on Tuesday evenings worshipping and praying with Christians of other denominations. This is the true Pepperdine and the true University Church of Christ model. Again, why shut the non-Restoration Heritage churches out on World Communion Sunday by hosting a Restoration Heritage celebration?

Because it meets on the Pepperdine University campus, the University Church of Christ in Malibu is also a highly intellectual church. It is the kind of place where you can throw a rock and hit a Ph.D., which isn’t a bad idea given the decision our elders have made to participate in the second “Great Communion” of Restoration Heritage churches.

The University Church of Christ in Malibu is also quite autonomous, and does not cower to the pressures and opinions of more conservative and sectarian congregations within our tradition, or at least I thought so. The University Church of Christ in Malibu should celebrate its uniqueness among the congregations of Christ, and should seek to reestablish itself as a progressive, truly ecumenical leader within our heritage and not simply follow along to the sectarian beat of influential historical societies.

The University Church of Christ in Malibu should not participate in the limited-scope vision of the “Great Communion” as it is defined by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. Rather, it should participate in a truly ecumenical gathering: World Communion Sunday. It should do so during its regular Sunday morning worship service. We should celebrate together as a body the way we always do, and not participate in a limited, sectarian celebration of the Restoration Movement, which was by its very nature designed to do away with denominations.

It is not too late. I urge the elders of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to respond swiftly and embrace the true meaning of ecumenicism, exercise their autonomy and not yield to ideas from another church body, withdraw their sponsorship of the Restoration Movement “Great Communion,” and celebrate World Communion Sunday with the rest of the Christians around the world during our regular Sunday morning University Church of Christ services.

The beauty of our movement is that while we acknowledge our movement’s history, we don’t celebrate it. The entire Restoration Movement was based on the elimination of denominations; to celebrate our movement would be contrary to its very purpose. Instead, we should actively deny our movement’s history and place focus upon Christ himself.

Or to put it biblically, we deny ourselves, and follow Jesus.

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.

23 Responses

  1. while i was in lubbock this past weekend, i attended the vandelia cofc. i saved the bulletin, which i found to be quite profound. in it, there were two paragraphs under the heading ‘unity services.’ the top noted that the vandelia church of christ was holding a joint service with other neighborhood congregations hosted by the oakwood baptist church. the second paragraph said that the broadway cofc was hosting a ‘great communion’ on october 4th for all stone-campbell area churches.

    now i ask you: which one was acting like the church, and which one was acting like a church of christ?

  2. Bob,
    Not that long ago the United States celebrated the bicentennial of its Declaration of Independence from England. I am sure you would not have argued then that the nation-wide celebration made the country jingoistic or even nationalistic. It was nothing more than a remembrance of who we were as a nation and a call to return to some of the nation’s original values. So too the Great Communion. Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and International Churches of Christ have roots that most members have long forgotten, if they ever knew them. October 4, 2009 is a day set aside to remember that common heritage–a family reunion, as it were–to celebrate it, and to recall one of the movement’s founding documents that laid down principles for Christian unity. How better to do that than at the Lord’s table, the weekly observance of which is one of the distinctives of the tradition. As for making a special effort to have members of our extended family come to the table with us, the University Church of Christ is not excluding anyone else. As you well know, it is our tradition, and the tradition of the entire Restoration Movement, to open the table to any person who feels worthy of sitting at it. We intend to invite members of other faith traditions to join us.

  3. Bob – this is incredibly well-worded. I have always returned to the name of Christ, when troubled by issues of ecuminism. I think the Church of Christ has a great name. But you’re right, the failure to admit denominational status is simply put – frightening!

    I also like the “communion” move you made. I have a friend who was raised Church of Christ (in Tennesee – just 45 minutes from me here) who has since become episcopalian (near and dear to my heart!) at her wedding, her family and his refused to take communion. It was nothing short of heart-breaking for her and her now husband. I was deeply saddened as well. Communion is one of those things that just simply SHOULD NOT GET political and sectarian. Forgiveness, trust, love, humility, repentance….all of these things should be in play when true communion is happening. There’s a reason that Jesus set up communion, and not doctrine (or the non-yet-extant Bible) to be the central act of rembrance of him. As a practice, it eshews intellectual divisions and promotes something far more profound, relational, difficult,……..and transformative!

    In the episcopal church – we talk about “one holy communion of believers”. We intend to mean *anyone* who calls on the name of Christ. I think this is why it took me by deep suprise and wrenched me with great sorrow when one of my Catholic friends came to my episcopal church once and refused to take communion, saying that her church and she did not recognize this ritual outside of the Catholic eucharist. Now – I knew I was not invited to take Catholic communion – and I can rationalize this within my notions of religious identity and the importance of boundaries…not all boundaries are evil. But it did feel evil that she would not recognize my central act of worship/faith to be viable, or even recongnizable.

    Ayways – keep on with the empassioned engagement with church! You need to stand fast (which I can’t see not happening) with the convictions you have been given! With all my prayers for this and future charges!

    :-) ingrid

  4. thanx ingrid :)

  5. David – I hope you don’t mind if I respond to you, though I don’t know you. I like your point about identity and knowing your own past. I do think this is important to recover for people, especially if they are unaware of where they come from.

    two things I very much disagree with, however.

    1. The Church and Christ and the United States of America are incomparable. The analogy is not at all appropriate. The US is a state with no fundamental or stated relationship with a transcendent God. A church is a completely different kind of body. A church should not take up arms to defend itself in war. A church should not distribute wealth according to the cold-hand of capitalistic favor. A church should not raise a flag a pledge allegiance to itself. A church is, in my view, a compeltely different entity with a fundamentally spiritual nature.

    2. “…to open the table to any person who feels worthy of sitting at it.” You may not have intended this wording precisely – but as it stands, it seems to assume a theology of human-merit. I don’t believe a person is worthy in his or her-self to sit at a communion table and take the body and blood.

  6. dr. baird,

    thanx for your comments. i don’t actually remember celebrating our nation’s bicentennial (i was three), but i have seen footage. i saw fireworks and speeches and read articles about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are headed as a nation.

    but nowhere did i see a communion service dedicated to ‘remembering george washington’ or ben franklin or thomas jefferson, etc. i am guessing this is probably because organizers of our nation’s bicentennial knew better than to mix a celebration of our nation’s history with a religious ceremony dedicated to remembering christ.

    (i also noticed that they invited members of all parties to participate, not just federalists, democratic-republicans, whigs, and others who were a part of the original movement.)

    there’s just something about using communion to celebrate or remember anyone but christ that irks me. there’s just something about a denomination that pretends not to be a denomination celebrating its denominational history by reaching out only to those who were at one point or another in the ‘in’ group that makes me cringe, especially when the movement was formed to do away with denominational affiliations.

  7. dr. lilly,

    thanx again for your comments.

    dr. baird is a good man and a respected elder at our local congregation. rest assured that we at the university church of christ in malibu do not mix church and state. we do not sing battle hymns and we do not march military troops into worship during fourth of july services to celebrate our nation’s military strength. our preacher does not use the pulpit to push political agendas, and we do not regularly use the communion service for anything other than that for which it was uniquely designed: to remember christ.

    i believe that this decision was an attempt to follow the direction or suggestion of some other church/historical society, instead of recognizing the uniqueness of our local congregation within our heritage and leading from a position of strength and progressive innovation that is rooted in the text – a leadership style that made pepperdine unique among the church of christ schools and that made the university church in malibu unique among churches of christ.

    we don’t normally have special masses to celebrate individuals within our denominational history. this is what is so confusing about this decision. just know that this is a rare exception and one i hope we don’t see again (even in a hundred years).

  8. Bob – I know. I’ve visited the Malibu CoC – with you, actually. And I found it to be lovely. I know it’s not a congregation that mixes church and state. I loved the head-pastor (he spoke with integrity and a Christian commitment that ws immediately apparent.) I felt welcomed, even as an outsider.

    But the analogy was made concerning CoC’s celebration and our Country’s, which remains a poor analogy, in my view. With all due respect to Dr. Baird, I merely wanted to disagree with the analogy.

    I am very sorry if, as an outsider, I’ve overstepped my bounds in talking about an issue you’ve raised. It’s only that for me, it is not an isolated issue distinct to the Church of Christ – it’s somehting I encounter all the time, and wish to address as a Christian who is committed to ecuminism! Christian identity so very frequently degenerates (in my opinion) into self-glorification to the detriment of Christ in whom is our being.

    I would enjoy Dr. Baird’s response to my points.

    Ingrid (and Dr. Lilly)

  9. You say the church of Christ is a denomination. It is not according to the definition of the English dictionaries. The religious definition (not the irrelevant general definitions) of a denomination is, in essence, an organized group of congregations. The churches of Christ have no umbrella organization, no hierarchy. They are independent. No independent congregation of whatever beliefs and practices can be correctly called a denomination.

    I take it that you are using “denomination” in an idiosyncratic way. What exactly is your specific defnition? I can guess, but not know for certain.

    At any rate, according to the King’s English, your statement is incorrect.

  10. frazier,

    you are making the aged argument in defense of the cofc regarding its denominational status. for one, the cofc congregations do not possesses ‘whatever beliefs.’ they are similar with some outliers holding differences of opinion on certain issues. but make no mistake: if they each identify themselves as peloni almoni ‘church of christ’, then they are making an affiliation claim.

    according to your reasoning, if you deny that a body of like-minded congregations is a denomination, then it is not one. simply denying something does not make it untrue. and no, one does not need a hierarchy to be a denomination. yet the fact is, the cofc does. as richard hughes has pointed out in his book, reviving the ancient faith, rather than a general conference or an annual convention, the cofc has lectureships. rather than top-down dictates, the cofc in its heyday had a number of periodicals that dictated and defended beliefs. likewise, rather than a governing body, the cofc established a series of colleges and preaching schools to ensure orthodoxy of beliefs and practices of cofc ministers and members.

    the entire tradition is designed to skirt the fact that we are, in fact, a denomination.

  11. it should also be noted that thomas campbell’s declaration and address was given on aug 17, 1809 and published on sept 7, 1809. so the actual bicentennial would be closer to this coming sunday, sept 6, 2009.

    additionally, the great communion website specifically references world communion sunday on oct 4, 2009:

    We are calling on churches all around the world associated with this movement to gather in their own communities on World Communion Sunday – October 4, 2009, to share in communion using the resources on this website.

    so it appears that the date was deliberately chosen to coincide (replace?) world communion sunday with an (intentionally belated) celebration of thomas campbell and the restoration movement.

    i have updated the article accordingly.

    sigh.

  12. Frazier – there are many “denominations” that don’t have an umbrella organization. My parent’s go to a Congregational church – this “denomination” is low-polity, similar to how Church of Christ is set up. They still consider themselves a denomination, which is appropriate, since there are publications and institutions that claim affiliation with them.

    Denominational polity does not have to be hierarchical – like say, my episcopal church. Low polity is still organization.

    Btw – i liked your appeal to the King’s English (although, isn’t it called the Queen’s English – that’s what I’d always thought, anyways!) :-)

  13. Bob,

    Just to be clear, I think I agree with your objections to the “great communion.” And I appreciate your thoughtful and communicative response to my note. However, I believe that my point was not blunted by your answer. I am speaking mainly of terminology. The standard dictionary definitions of “denomination” cannot be accommodated to fit the particular case in point. Maybe something like “semi-denominational” would be appropriate for some elements of our movement. Further, my brethren (myself included) have often used the term denomination to simply mean “a false religious body.” That definition is also erroneous.

    More to the points you raised I would make these observations. I have had memberships in and been preaching for many years for “churches of Christ.” My sermons and class lessons came from the NT, not from editors, lectureships, periodicals, or preaching schools. My conscious loyalty is only to the Lord Jesus Christ. The church treasuries to which I have contributed went only to what my local elderships decided. The common faith and practice in those local congregations was based, so far as I was concerned, on sola scriptura. I thought I was a member of an independent local body of Christians. I did uncomfortably accept the sign “Church of Christ” over our doors. Did that alone nullify my non-denominational status?

    I simply cannot accept that a congregation which has formal ties with a larger group of congregations, which willingly pays money to an umbrella organization, which proudly wears a name in common with those other congregations, and which accepts the oversight of an extra-congregational organization is in the same category with the several local churches of Christ with which I have identified over the years.

    I might ask these questions: Is there any congregation of Christians which can be described as non- or un-denominational? Who are they? What are their characteristics? How many are there like them? Would replacing the name “Church of Christ” on a meeting place make a congregation non-denominational?

    I hope my tone in this note is not unpleasant or offputting. I appreciate the opportunity to have dialog on these matters.

    For accuracy in terminology,

    Frazier

  14. Ingrid,
    I think I am failing to be a good communicator. My principal point is a simple one: by definition a “denomination” possesses an umbrella structure. This is what the English word denomination means in its religious definition, according to the English dictionary. This means that a non-connected congregation cannot be a denomination. I suppose one might affirm that they are quasi-denominational, or semi-denominational, or denomination-like. But to my mind you are either independent or you are not. If a group is an independent local congregation it is no more a denomination than it is a desk stapler.

    I suppose it is the prerogative of every person to say that when they use the word denomination they mean something else by it. However, I think it is only fair when making a statement like “The church of Christ is a denomination” they should at least warn listeners that they are speaking non-standard English–and then clarify what their special definition is.

    I am not advocating an idiosyncratic usage of language since it makes dialog and communication very difficult or impossible. When I hear people say that I am in error when I say that the “Church of Christ” is not a denomination–I think they should be careful to define their terms or else be sure they are using standard (the Queen’s?) English.
    Regards

  15. Wow, really? I do not believe any one from any of the camps would say “let’s have a communion service this week and we’ll set Jesus to the side and remember Thomas Campbell.” You take a qoute out of context in your blog! You said, “…according to the “Great Communion” website, the purpose of this special communion is to: remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his table.” But it does not say that. It does say, “…gather in joint worship on Sunday October 4, 2009 to remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his Table.” I read that to say that as a part of our worship service, let’s remember Campbell and what he did to further the church and for all together to partake in “Christ’s invitation to HIS table.” Anyway, that’s how I read it. Maybe you see it different!

  16. I have followed this thread from a distance (Australia and from within the Anglican church). I left the Australian Churches of Christ in 1995 in despair at its lack of commitment to things ecumenical. I work in a truly ecumenical agency that has 15 denominations of the church – Catholic, Orthodox and protestant – as members.

    In many senses I do not find it surprising that it seemed a good idea to someone to celebrate what Restorationists hold dear as a denomination (Denomination is related to the name, not the ecclesial structure), the things that mark them as a distinctive people, on a day that has been celebrated for many years as one in which all Christians can put aside their differences and be one people in Christ as we are intended to be.

    A truly “Great Communion” would be one at which all Christians in any particular community gathered together to celebrate Jesus as their Lord, and gathered around one table to unite themselves to him in bread and wine – his body and blood.

  17. the pepperdine paper, the graphic, has picked up on the story:

    http://www.pepperdine-graphic.com/news/great-debate-over-communion-1.1935403

  18. Thanks for sharing this over at my blog. You managed to go into more depth here than I was able.

    I am right there with you: The Great Communion celebration is antithetical to Campbell’s intent, and its completely bonkers to have celebrated it on World Communion Sunday.

  19. Robert, I agree that this another example of sectarianism by the University Church of Christ. I think that Pepperdine University would be better served by dropping its affiliation with the sectarian denomination known as the Churches of Christ.

    I’ve set up a Facebook group to challenge the direct influence of the Churches of Christ over the University.
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108186385850&v

  20. Lots of words here. For anyone who contributed, could someone explain to me exactly what the Lord’s assembly should look like, that is, what characteristics, teachings, practices would one observe and then compare to scripture to know that he had found the Lord’s assembly?

  21. I would hold that Acts 2:42 (not 2:46–different subject) was intended by Luke to describe a normative Lord’s day worship assembly. Luke depicts sessions of teaching (from or by the apostles), and a fellowship marked by the Lord’s Supper and prayers (which would encompass singing). For the sake of fellowship and unity only those elements of worship should be incorporated in the common assembly that can be grounded in the NT. Since one cannot ground monthly communion, incense, instruments of music, and multiple other worship practices in the NT, they should be omitted.

  22. Frazier,

    You are on shaky ground at best when you require omission of anything not explicit in the NT. Following that rule you could not use English in your worship, you can’t meet in a church building, forget about those good ‘ol 16th century hymns.

    Also, on what scriptural basis are we to base these restrictions? Where does it say “you can only worship in ways described here”? Scripture is not, and is not meant to be, the bylaws and constitution of the church.

    When looking at Acts in particular, scripture is a record of how imperfect Christians attempted (sometimes successfully and sometimes failing) to share the Gospel and worship Christ.

  23. Joel,
    You have misstated me. First, I am not “requiring” anything. I am suggesting something as a sound and unifying principle. Second, I am not referring to all that is not “explicit” in the NT. I am discussing what common practices one should engage in in the worship assembly. Third, my suggestion is that assemblies of Christians should engage in those worship practices which can find solid grounding in the NT. I fully believe that one can ground in the NT the use of a language understood by the participants. Besides, which particular language is used is not, per se, worship. Worship is rather what is communicated in those languages in teaching and praying. One may worship inside or outside of a church building. Therefore the place of worship is irrelevant to the worship proper–not a part of it.

    The Scriptural basis for limiting our worship practices to those that can be grounded in the NT is that Christians should seek fellowship and unity with each other–not invent new forms of worship that may be unacceptable to one or more. Who can object to those common worship practices which can be grounded in the NT?

    Every assembly of Christians will by the practices it engages in adopt “bylaws.” If I come into an assembly, and those assembled have arranged to practice the burning of incense, then if I participate in that worship I am going to be required to engage in worship by incense. If I should object, I can seek to change the practice–at the minimum for that particular assembly. And if I succeed, then I have imposed a new by-law for that assembly: no incense. All who come to that worship will be unable to use incense. The only question is on what basis will Christians include or exclude. I suggest that for common worship assemblies it should be that which can be grounded in the NT, not that which is the personal opinions of human beings. It will have to be one or the other.

    Acts is not the record of how imperfect Christians attempted to share and worship. It is the record of how the Holy Spirit of God guided the first Christians in faith and practice. Acts is canon. It is Holy Scripture. It was and is intended to instruct and guide people into sound and divine faith and practice–not just be a mere observing witness to some interesting things that happened in the first century.

    Regards

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