A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Lord's Supper in Wesleyan Perspective #1

On the Duty of Constant Communion

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism was in complete agreement with most of the church throughout the centuries; the Eucharist was the center of the church's worship. The religious society with which John and Charles (1707-1788) were involved in their academic days at Oxford, covenanted together to partake of the Lord's Supper at least once a week. This was certainly significant as most Anglican churches in their day did not celebrate the Lord's Supper with any sort of frequency.

Throughout his life, Wesley urged his fellow Methodists to commune constantly. Indeed, Wesley used the word "constantly" because he rejected the use of the term "frequently." He writes,

I say constantly receiving; for as to the phrase of constant communion, it is absurd to the last degree. If it means anything less than constant, it means more than can be proved to be the duty of man. For if we are not obliged to communicate constantly, by what argument can it be proved that we are obliged to communicate frequently? Yes, more than once a year, or once in seven years, or once before we die? Every argument brought for this, either proves that we ought to do it constantly, or proves nothing at all. Therefore, that indeterminate, unmeaning way of speaking ought to be laid aside by all men of understanding ("The Duty of Constant Communion").

Wesley gives five reasons why it is the duty of the Christian to commune constantly: 1) It is the plain command of Christ. Indeed, Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of me," is given as Christ is preparing to lay down his life for us. These words are, therefore, his dying words. 2) Its benefits are wonderful. In the Lord's Supper we receive "the forgiveness of our past sins, the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls." 3) In Communion "[t]he grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, and enables us to leave them." The soul is strengthened by the elements and we are enabled to "perform our duty" that we might go on to perfection. Wesley notes,

If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord's Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us ("The Duty of Constant Communion").

4) The first Christians constantly participated in the Lord's Supper. 5) The Eucharist is a continual remembrance of Christ's death.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for this new series, Allan.

Being raised in the Mennonite, Anabaptist tradition, I was not grounded in any sacramental understanding of "communion".

I am coming more to a sacramental understanding of it. Certainly more open to that.

Good to get John Wesley's thoughts on it. I do think the practice of communion is rather vapid (or dead) in so many of our circles, at least as I've seen it. It does need a better emphasis and place given, it seems to me. We need to keep working on that.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks, Ted. I know that the general consensus among Protestants is that if communion is celebrated too frequently, it will lose its meaning. I think the last five hundred years of church history, however, has revealed that those traditions that commune the least appreciate it the least.