It’s time for the United Methodist Church to end its observance of World Communion Sunday. Our understanding of communion and catholic communion liturgy ought to make it clear that every Sunday is world communion Sunday. By its very nature, every communion service is a celebration of the world wide unity of the church in Jesus Christ. (And, by the way, we ought to be offering our people Christ in accordance with his promise every Sunday. To withhold communion is to withhold Jesus!)
World Communion Sunday is observed in a handful of denominations on the first Sunday in October. It was the 1940 creation of the U.S. Federal Council of Churches, predecessor to the increasingly irrelevant National Council of Churches. I think it is amusing that a group of American mainline Protestant denominations in the mid-20th century thought that they were inventing something new when they proposed the observance, and even more amusing that they thought their bureaucratic ecumenism could set the agenda for the whole church.
With the liturgical renewal of the late 20th century, the church adopted a worship calendar built on the biblical story, not one built on a series of special observance Sundays. World Communion Sunday is not part of the catholic tradition. Rather, it is an unfortunate remnant of pre-renewal American mainline Protestantism: isolated from the church catholic with a belief in its own ascendancy.
The observance of World Communion Sunday has become one of the UMC’s mandatory fund-raising opportunities. and I’m sure that those in power would hate to give up an important source of income. However, it’s time for it to go.
When we gather to worship God in and through Jesus Christ, our hymns may:
- Address God directly, giving him our praise and thanks, confessing our need and making our petitions to him.
- Ascribe praise to God, recalling his mighty deeds, his divine nature and the story of our salvation proclaimed in the Bible. We sing for God’s glory in the presence of all creation. If we believe our corporate prayer flows into the one great act of worship at God’s heavenly throne, then we are singing for God, for the angels and the saints in glory, and for the people standing next to us in the pew.
- Call God’s people to faith and faithfulness. We address our brothers and sisters in Christ, pointing them to the God who has made himself known through Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A single hymn may incorporate all three approaches. These demonstrably Christian, God-centered hymns contrast with what appears to me to be a more recent trend toward people-centered songs in mainline churches.
Continue reading To Whom do we Sing?
Gathering with the saints at Christ’s table is often for me a Revelation 5 moment, or an Isaiah 6 moment, if you will. I don’t exactly see the myriads of angels or hear the sounds of every creature in heaven and earth singing praise to God with one voice. I’m not hallucinating or having mystic visions. But it is often an extraordinary moment. When the words of a hymn carry me to the throne of God or to the consummation of all things in Christ, my voice soon fails and my vision blurs from tears. I am literally “all choked up.” The reality is too glorious to bear and the hope too much for words.
No, I can’t see the angels or the heavenly elders or the saints of every place and age who are gathered with me around the throne of grace, but like John, I can see the lamb who was slaughtered, the one who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. He is right there, according to his promise. This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you.
Mark 9:38-50 is a strange passage. At first reading, it appears to be a collection of disconnected sayings and anecdotes tied together by an arbitrary string of keywords highlighted below. Mark may have indeed received these sayings as stand-alone logia. Together, though, they answer the question, “Who was the real threat to God’s work in the life of Christ, and to the community that formed the seed of the coming kingdom?” It wasn’t the tangentially connected or the marginally aligned, those who saw and responded to only to part of what God was doing in Jesus. It wasn’t even really the evil men who would put Jesus to death, for God promised to raise his messiah from the grave. God’s victory over evil is certain.
No, the threat that most concerned Jesus was the internal threat. Those who followed the worst examples of religious piety were concerned only with themselves. There were believers within the messiah’s own fellowship who aspired to worldly greatness. Moreover, some members of the Christian community were leading their brothers and sisters astray, taking them away from the saving life of faith and causing them to fall.
How they were causing their brothers and sisters to fall, Jesus does not say. Was it false teaching? Was it worldliness, a lack of commitment or setting a bad example? Was it hypocrisy or insincerity? Was it a lack of love or a failure to build a fellowship that incorporated all believers? All can be deadly.
If the church’s mission is to seek and save the lost, every apostasy – every case of falling away from the kingdom – is a kind of mission failure (one which the church should never seek to remedy by force or threats).
Instead of looking at the threats outside the church, Jesus’ followers should look at their own lives and the quality of the fellowship within their own community.
Continue reading Who Was the Real Threat to the Kingdom Community?
Marc Livecche has written an excellent article for The Philos Project that, despite its title, isn’t really about the atomic bombs that ended WWII in the Pacific: Hiroshima and the Dilemma of Force Protection. Rather, it’s really about the broader ethics of balancing of force protection, mission accomplishment and non-combatant immunity in the light of moral injury.
Livecche’s thesis statement comes well into the article:
In light of moral injury, when trying to achieve that balance between force protection and noncombatant immunity, it is crucial to not so dial back discrimination in deference to force protection that we increase the likelihood of warfighters committing morally injurious actions. Our appropriate commitment to keeping our fighters safe may well mean that we expose them to greater physical threat in order to protect them psychically.
Let’s discuss terms for a moment.
Continue reading Force Protection, Noncombattant Immunity and Moral Injury