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)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Lord's Supper in Wesleyan Perspective #4

The Significance of the Debate Over the Doctrine of the Lord's Supper

In 1525, Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg wrote in a letter to his friend Ambrosius Blamer, "Future Generations will laugh at the pleasure our age takes in quarrelling when we raise such a disturbance about the very signs that should unite us" (Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers). It is, of course, unfortunate, that so much pain has been administered over a meal that was intended to be a supper of peace. What is terrible is the hatred and hurt perpetrated because of disagreement, not the disagreement itself. It must be realized that Luther, Zwingli, Wesley and others became involved in these debates because what was at stake was nothing less than their own understanding of Christ and the Christian faith. If the Lord's Supper is as important as Christians profess, debate should be expected and welcomed. Indeed, debate is necessary to the theological endeavor. Stephen Sykes states,

...because Christian discipleship necessarily throws the disciple into internal controversies, he or she is forced to employ doctrinal discussion as a means of clarifying and ultimately making the decisions which conflict imposes. There is no dimension of Christianity which is not controversial. For example, rituals differ; some rituals are held to be appropriate and others are set aside. When one asks how this discrimination is made the answer is bound to involve doctrine (The Identity of Christianity).

If it were not for disagreement over the Lord's Supper in Corinth, we would not have one of our most important pieces of early material on the subject. If, therefore, disagreement over theology is here to stay as long as we "see through a glass darkly," then let us debate the issues vigorously without killing our children over them; and let us not cast the debate aside as irrelevant in favor of the nonsensical claim, "It doesn't matter what one believes, as long as one is sincere." Debate need not hinder church unity; it can enhance it. John Wesley did say, "If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand," but he never intended for his comment to mean that the doctrine of the Trinity or the bodily resurrction of Jesus were not essential doctrines of Christian faith. He had the same understanding of the doctrine of the Lord's Supper.


Ted M. Gossard said...


Thanks. I agree that we can disagree and can debate issues such as the Lord's supper. In our denomination a pastor is required to know why they hold to a certain doctrine as they do, such as water baptism. But members are given freedom and their freedom is honored. The appeal is always made to Scripture and its interpretation.

Of course other matters, such as the Trinity, Deity and humanity of Christ, etc., leave no room for debate as to their truth, if one is to be Christian.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Good observations. In a sense there is a "we allow you to disagree, but certain doctrines are non-negoatiable" approach.