Friday, June 29, 2007

Hierarchy+Communion = Incompatability

Update 7/1/07 I was reminded (convicted!) this morning that 1 Corinthians 10:31 says it best: So then, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to honor God. (The Source NT)
Are we applying this in our lives? Mea culpa, as well.

One of my favorite blogs has been engaged in a dialogue, or a "communion of ideas" and I got a hand-slappin' over there, so thought I would finish my thoughts here. And, since my thoughts might contain the word "hierarchical," I'd best remain here, since that word apparently causes some sort of reaction in one of the commentators. ;-)

My contention is that communion within a hierarchical environment can never fully be the communion that Jesus desired for us in the NT. Paul did a little hand-slappin' himself when the Corinthians got out of line at the communion table. And, I think, a TABLE it was. The early church was not just a large gathering, it was small groups in homes. I wish the church dinners that occur today would be the communing that Jesus sought at that last supper. I wish these dinners would be done in remembrance of Him, however, in my experience the church dinner happens, then, later in the service, "communion" happens.

Koinonia has been translated to mean "communion." It also has been translated as fellowship. A translation that is closer to the NT times has utilized the word as "partnership"- - even to mean a business partnership. Either way, none of those words, including communion, are compatible with the word "hierarchy" which implies that someone is above the others, somehow superior in his (yes, usually male) station in life and holy matters, and that only they are qualified to lead the sharing.

The only qualified leader that belongs in the celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is Jesus Himself. The most meaningful sharing in which I've taken part has been gatherings (lunch, dinner. . .even coffee!) where anyone (sometimes the homeowner) serves (not administers) the sacraments, or speaks from their heart; real dialogue takes place, and there is no "Head of the Table" other than Jesus Himself. I have experienced some intimate communions within smaller churches where anyone could serve the sacraments, and there was a genuine "eye to eye" meeting, greeting, and a feeling of togetherness and reverence.

I'm including some interesting information that I came across while formulating my thoughts. I long for the true communion that occurred in earlier centuries; where people shared, cared, got fired up, and just loved their Savior and remembered, with true reverence, what He did. The ritual communion of today is a culture-devised entity that bears little to no resemblance to the original.

Here is an excerpt from an article by James E. Biechler, the whole of which pretty much sums up my thoughts. I believe that Dr. Biechler is a Catholic, and part of the ARCC's team (Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church). I visited their amazing website. (Full article:
Rights 8: Church as Hierarchy or Communion )

Church as Hierarchy or Communion
By James E. Biechler
As a Catholic, the main problem I have with the ARCC Charter of Rights is its underlying assumption that lay people in the Church are equal to the clergy. My understanding is that Christ established the Church as a hierarchical society. Doesn't that mean that the clergy are superior to the laity? (Superior!?!)
--W.L.B., St. Charles, MO

The Code of Canon Law states: "In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one's own condition and function" (Canon 208). ARCC's Charter of Rights is in perfect accord with this canon and goes further in spelling out its implications. ARCC's Charter is based more on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council than upon the Code of Canon Law. A good case could be made for the fact that the Code is not always in agreement with the teachings of Vatican II. A significant number of theologians and canonists have commented on the retreat from Vatican II which the Code "canonized."
Few New Testament scholars today would agree that Jesus "founded" a "hierarchical" church. The distinction between "clergy" and "laity" was surely unknown to Jesus. One thing upon which there is growing agreement among scripture scholars is that Jesus was an egalitarian, a man who actually disregarded the social and religious obstacles to interpersonal equality. He associated with riffraff, ate with sinners and the socially unclean, accepted women and took them seriously even when they wanted to discuss theology. He practised open commensality in a society which placed great importance on discrimination at table.

Some more links that say it better than I: (The Eucharist by William Webster) (ARCC) (The Community and Commitment of the Early Christian Church)


Paige said...

Sorry to hear about the smacking. But I'm sure you are no worse for wear. If we all let love guide us, we would see that none are above the other, but that we all stand side by side in battle for the way of God.
Granted I am but a young child, I have found that organized religion is for the higher ups and love is but a cast off meant for beggars and starry eyed souls.
Each on our journey shall find the path to freedom, where Jesus points the direction and God opens the door of heaven for us to enter as equals none above the other; for we are all sinners and unworthy-save for the sweet grace of God that has washed us clean.

We are doing well, hope the same for you my friend.

karen said...

amen, paige. i'll hang with the beggars and starry-eyed souls! :-)Tons of wisdom in your "young" words.
I pray you all continue to be well.

Kansas Bob said...

I so agree with this Karen:

"I long for the true communion that occurred in earlier centuries; where people shared, cared, got fired up, and just loved their Savior and remembered, with true reverence, what He did."

Didn't mean to shut the conversation down at my place ... just didn't want to get into a debate around "The Eucharist" and transubstantiation.

You and I are on the same track about communion especially when you write:

"communion within a hierarchical environment can never fully be the communion that Jesus desired for us in the NT"

Blessings, KB

karen said...

thanks, and not a problem, kb...check out that ARCC website if you get a chance. . .like a breath of fresh air!

Kansas Bob said...

Just got another comment on that post and here is a part of what Kristen said:

I go to my church's early service because it's quieter and has a much smaller group of people (~20), which feels more intimate to me. Communion is my favorite part of the service because we all go up to gather behind the altar together in a circle. We're shoulder to shoulder and can see everyone's faces. That experience has helped me see what communion means for me - a weekly reminder of how much Jesus loves me - and it has also made me feel very close to the people in my church (even if I may not actually know them very well otherwise). It's been very powerful for me because communion always felt sort of rote before, and I had trouble connecting with it.

I think that churches could be a bit more intimate but they would have to organize the service differently.

karen said...

Ditto to Kristen's thoughts. She put it very well. Thanks, KB

Bruce said...

I especially liked Dr. Biechler's comment about hierarchy being "a historical product, a social construction, a politically pragmatic structure of human invention."

And in our pragmatic structure of the church you have those who are perceived as leaders doling out the blessings of communion, telling us when to eat the stale crackers and drink the old grape juice.


Missy said...

Karen, I read your post a coupla days ago - Bob's too. You know some of my thoughts on the issue, but to be honest I never really talk about it. Ritualistic behavior in general is unsettling to me, especially the religious kind - and I don't like to get worked up about it.

I started reading 1 Corinthians 10 early Sunday morning, ironically during our communion service. Then of course you make reference to a verse there in your update - creepy! Hopefully I'll get the nerve to post on my thoughts from it.

Anyway, I'm still working my way through it, but I still feel like communion is not necessarily something we DO, but something that HAPPENS when we find ourselves loving one another more than ourselves.

I imagine Jesus looking around Him as they sat together for supper. These men laughing, an unlikely bunch joined together as family all because of one man. I imagine Him thinking this is how He should be remembered by His disciples - as family. I imagine that He knew that a time of being scattered would occur and how hard it might be for them to come back together after they would break one another's hearts.

Communion is not always a happy thing. It is not always an easy thing. But according to the Lord, it is something He desires us to do - to come together - to continue to come together even when it is unhappy and difficult. It's not about bread or wine or a meal - I think it was an encouragement to the disciples to return to one another, if for nothing else, in memory of Jesus.

This was my first impression of the scripture before I had any instruction. I have yet to find any further reason to believe otherwise. The "rite" of communion works in some churches or gatherings because it truly is a coming together - big or small. I've been involved in gatherings of 3 and of 1,500 that were truly communions. I believe there is nothing a minister can do to make it "happen" other than teaching and encouraging the flock to love, be open, and forgive so that coming together is something everyone will continue to do.

Recovering said...

I think this post is well-said. I think Church-life would improve dramatically if communion weren't so ceremonial, and more intimate.

karen said...

missy, great thoughts. I'm with you. If there is something that is holding you back from saying, you're okay here! Go ahead. I'm with you...had communion over the phone with a friend this morning!

recovering. . thanks for stopping by. You reminded me to visit your wonderful blog again!

karen said...

bruce, LOL! yes, when to eat the stale crackers and drink the old juice...

Don R said...

Great post, my friend. Gotta check out that website.