Monday, January 26, 2009

Can Communion be observed outside the local church setting?

I've accepted the position of Worship Coordinator at Honeyrock camp this summer. My job will entail the organization of all worship services, and maintaining a focus on the spiritual aspect of camp. Honeyrock is an adventure based camp, with not a lot of formal curriculum, so it will be my responsibility to keep the summer staff and campers focused on prayer, worship, and God himself.

As part of that unique position, I've been looking into how to have meaningful worship services for the 100 plus staff for the summer. Most of the staff will be here 4 months with no chance to go to church. So for many the weekly worship service will be the only worship service they attend all summer. So I'm pondering how to I create authentic and Biblical worship services for this group of young Christians in this unique situation? I've talked with the camp director about some of the ways they've previously addressed this problem, and am stuck. Should a temporary community of Believer's, worship in the same way as an established church? In particular, can the share in communion?

I've read arguments on both sides, and have been convinced by neither. I've heard that Acts 27:35 is Paul having communion outside the confines of the local church. I've also heard arguments from those who think only a priest can offer the Eucharist.

Obviously if we were to have communion it would be in the Open Communion ideology. Anyone with an opinion based in scripture is welcome to respond.


Tom 1st said...

I guess I don't see the problem. The church is not restricted to a building and as membership is not even a biblical idea, then why can't the church of God, wherever they gather and whoever is among them, take the communion? To me, legalism is running rampant when we restrict the taking of the communion in any of these ways. Especially considering the Bible has absolutely no regulations on where or when to take it.

I say take it as oft as you can!

Seth McBee said...

Good question, but you (or those on the side of church only communion) would have to show me biblically where we are commanded to do it only in a church building, or "formal" church setting.

To my knowledge this is never stated in the Bible.

theledbetter6 said...

I understand the biblical meaning of church to be an assembly of a body of believers who have personal relationships with Jesus Christ who come together to learn, teach, encourage,serve and edify each other while also reaching out to unbelievers and showing the love of Jesus to them through living authentic lives in service to Christ. The church isn't 4 walls. It's a people... a body of believers. Whether you meet in a specific building each week at designated times, in a basement of a house,in a remote village once a month or under a tent at a camp, it's still church...a group of believers gathering to collectively worship God.
My study Bible footnotes say for 1Cor.11....." The Lord's Supper was the centerpiece of earlyChristian worship. Gathered around one table, fellow believers met with the Lord and with each other in unity.Christ had expressed this type of humility and unity when He instituted the Supper in Matt26:-30,Mark 14:22-26,Luke22:14-23. The Corinthians were violatingthe spirit and purpose of the meal." So the purpose of the Lord's Supper is for a "church body" to look back on Christ's death and forward to His coming again. I don't see any reason not to observe the Lord's Supper at HoneyRock this summer..... after all... we are a body of believer's... a church.
I'm so excited you will be leading us in worship Tim and please let me know if I can help in any way... and btw, a cool site -

Sam Byers said...

Well, Tom is absolutely right. The Bible does describe church membership as we know it today.

At the same time, the Bible does not describe the epidemic we have today of people who claim to be Christians and do not worship, live, serve, and give of their finances alongside other Christians. There was no such thing as the independent, consumeristic “Christian” that is so prevalent here in the U.S.

The Bible does, however, give sufficient support for the current practice of church membership (at least among churches that have a high view of membership). Just consider this:

* The NT knows of no such thing as an independent or “Lone Ranger” Christian (I Jn. 2:18-19)
* There seems to have been a record of who was part of the church (Acts 2:37-40)
* There was a list of those needing the care of the church (I Tim. 5:3-16)
* The church is a place of accountability for believers –both to leaders and to each other (Heb. 10:23-25, 13:17)

Now regarding the Lord’s Supper, we’re working with a limited amount of instructions and a few descriptive incidents. The evidence would seem to say:
* The Lord’s Supper was part of Christian worship
* Christians worshiped on the Lord’s Day/Sunday and observed the Lord’s Supper together
* The Lord’s Supper was part of a meal
* The error of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth was a disregard for other believers
* Paul warns Christians that by not discerning the body (seems to mean fellow believers) they eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Based on these things it would seems that local churches observed the Lord’s Supper together as worship and as fellowship with one another. While it is no where stated that it was a “members only” (closed or even close communion), it would appear (given 1st century churches met in homes facilitating 50-100 people) that the people probably knew each other and were walking in relationship together. Also, considering Paul’s numerous commands regarding church discipline, early churches must have clearly identified who was part of the church and who wasn’t.

With all this in view, I tend to react to consumeristic Christianity and say, “The Lord’s Supper is church only,” because there is nothing else in the NT. I guess with regards to a youth group, FCA or Christian camp staff that would want to take the Lord’s Supper, I would ask, “Why not take it with your church family?” I’d probably ask the same question to someone who wanted to get baptized at camp, “Why not do it in front of your new church family?” Because the local church is so central to New Testament Christianity and as Americans we tend to be so individualistic, anti-authoritarian and focused on self-rights, I get really suspicious when people want to do things historically observed within the local church apart from the local church.

Would the worship at HoneyRock be the only Christian community for the staff workers, essentially a local church for three months, or would staff workers be free to worship at a local church Sunday morning with worship among the staff being at a separate time?

Tim Faulted said...

Essentially, from May until the first of September Honeyrock will be the only community of fellowship and worship for the 100+ staff. Many of the camp sessions last up to 6 weeks, so the staff are not free on Sunday to worship somewhere else.

Honeyrock is more of an extension of Wheaton College's Student Development office rather than a traditional youth camp, in that it exists for the counselors rather than the campers. So our summer staff will be mainly Wheaton College students, and my desire is to lead them in a growing relationship with Christ, and leading them in healthy worship of Him this summer.

I do understand Sam's point as well, and would usually discourage the use of communion with an FCA or Younglife type group, where the sacraments would be better observed within the context of the local church.

Sam Byers said...

I think it shows humility and wisdom that you're asking these questions. Giving the circumstance of the camp situation, the closeness of the relationships with those there and their inability to be otherwise involved in a body of believers, it would not be unfitting to observe the Lord's Supper together at Honey Rock. Thanks for asking me to weigh in on this. God bless!