Use as Directed: Some Thoughts on Communion

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I haven’t always held a very high view of the Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper was, for me, a symbol, as it is for many other Evangelicals and Pentecostals. I never seriously considered any different understanding of it. Despite the mighty shifts that shook my faith in my late teens and early twenties, my sacramental theology remained undisturbed.

It wasn’t until seminary when I started investigating the question of the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t often that the classroom itself prompted me to think in that direction. Instead, my coterie of friends, which included Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Catholics, challenged my underdeveloped sacramental theology to grow heartier. It was then that I started to think about what I believe about all of the sacraments, including the Lord’s Supper.

In retrospect, it is quite odd that Pentecostals possess such a meager eucharistic theology. After all, we are a people who believe in healing, demon-possession, mantles of anointing that can be shared with others, and prayer through televisions. It seems inconsistent that a people who already subscribe to such beliefs would have such trouble with the idea that Christ can be present, one way or another, through something such as a sacrament. After all, the manifestation of God’s presence when the people of God gather together in one accord is foundational to Pentecostal worship.

This contradiction becomes increasingly apparent when one considers the manner in which most Pentecostal communities celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The celebration typically includes a reading of Paul’s warning against abusing the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11, which admonishes the Corinthian Christians to take care in how they partake in the sacrament, as “Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment” (v. 29). So, it comes as no surprise that, with threat of damnation but with no expectation of grace, many Pentecostals often abstain from taking the Lord’s Supper. After all, if there is no promise of reward but only a threat, what do I really have to gain from it? That it gives me the opportunity to remember what the Lord did for me on Good Friday? I can watch The Passion of the Christ and do that and, as far as I know, no one ever brought eternal damnation upon themselves by watching The Passion of the Christ, despite its problems.

Things are looking up for Pentecostals in regard to Eucharistic Theology. Doctor Green is a professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tenn. His most recent book, Toward a Theology of the Lord’s Supper (CPT Press, 2012), represents an effort within the Pentecostal movement to develop a unique vision of the Lord’s Supper. I do not intend on reviewing the book fully here, but I will say that I am excited about its existence and what it potentially means for the future of the Pentecostal movement. Green examines the history of Pentecostalism and finds enough material there to begin construction of a truly Pentecostal theology of the Eucharist.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of something new. Hopefully Pentecostals and Evangelicals can find ways to incorporate communion within their worship services and their theology. After all, so much of charismatic worship centers on the idea of God’s presence in the midst of the people of God. Eucharist can do that better than any guitar or altar call. At the altar call, we offer ourselves to God; in communion, we receive God.

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