I’m excited to share with you a post from the first guest blogger here at ‘live the upward call!’ Recently a friend of mine and fellow blogger/worship pastor wrote a two part series on individualism and communion.I’m excited to share with you this series! Matthew Wilhelm is the Pastor of Worship Arts and College Age Ministries at Woodlands Church in WI. He currently blogs at http://www.mmwleader.com
How Individualism Cheapens Communion… Matthew Wilhelm
The title seems a bit strong, doesn’t it? I sincerely mean it. The individualism that has run rampant in America and in American churches has cheapened our view of communion. Personal possessive phrases about Christ such as “my Jesus” are so incredibly myopic that we tend to miss the big picture about why we’re even in church on Sunday mornings.
We must admit that – myself included – God and his great salvation through the work of Christ have been made to be all about ourselves as individuals. Jesus died for me right? He was thinking of me when he went to the cross, right? These are things that I’ve said and continue to find myself saying, so much so that I perpetuate the thought that Jesus actually died for me specifically.
Individualism isn’t found in evangelical circles only, but I would argue that in American evangelicalism we find a more extreme, more deeply evolved form of it. Individualism has seeped its way into the very fibers of how we encounter Christ and how we encounter his Body, the church.
For example, what do we remember – I mean truly remember – when we take communion? What is our verbiage when we corporately come to the Lord’s table? I would firmly argue that individualism prevents our churches from being unified through the body and blood because our verbiage pushes an individualistic focus. “Christ died for you and he died for me. Remember what he did for you as you take the bread and wine.”
Those phrases aren’t untrue, yet we have to broaden our scope of the symbolism of communion. Call this taboo, but is the symbolism of the Eucharist really limited to substitutionary atonement only? Let alone substitutionary atonement for the individual, as if the individual was the penultimate focus of the cross. The idea of “world” as we read in our English text of John 3:16 has been skewed to read “mankind,” and then eventually “me.” However, the Greek word kosmos means neither, but rather refers to the entirety of God’s creation.
So if we limit our view of communion to a mere remembrance of what Jesus did for me alone, where do we go from there? We take the bread and wine in five minutes of meditation…and then what? If there is another lens through which we can view communion besides substitutionary atonement, what is it? The presence of Christ is that lens.
The Unifying Perspective We Might Be Missing
Am I arguing for transubstantiation (the view that the bread and wine transform into the actual body and blood of Christ)? Definitely not. Am I arguing that the presence of Christ in His church is a key factor represented in the symbolism of communion? Absolutely.
There is something beautiful found in the corporate local church taking the bread and wine together, a symbol of a unified group giving up themselves to the nourishment and will of the Word made flesh. More than a symbolism represented, remembering and celebrating the presence of Christ among us gives mission and purpose to us as a body…it sends us out with a fresh sense of our restorative mission as Christ’s church.
The act of taking communion was never intended to be individualistic, yet in the midst of the Sunday morning crowd we’ve somehow managed to make its significance more individualized than corporate.
What if we no longer think only of ourselves in the act of taking communion in our churches? Perhaps a fresh vision for evangelicals of a unifying act remembering the presence of Christ among you could be an inspiring vision for the collective whole. Let’s no longer take communion with merely the individualistic sense of looking back on what Christ has done. Let’s take communion as a reminder of the power and presence of Christ among us also; let’s recognize the life and vitality that exists in communion and make it our mission to take the presence of Christ to the world.