The Internet Monk recently wrote an excellent post entitled, “Your Mission: ‘Resacramentalize Evangelicalism.’” Being raised Anglican, I’m not the primary audience of his post. In it, he makes good points about what a sacrament is and how Evangelicals need to rediscover not simply “the sacraments” but the concept of God inhabiting the things that go on during public worship.
This reminded me of an essay I read in Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century* (I posted on a different essay from the book here.) The essay I thought of was, “Reclaiming Eucharistic Piety: A Postmodern Possibility for American Evangelicals?” by Joel Scandrett (pp. 155-169).
Scandrett begins his essay with the following quotation from John Wesley (one of the great gurus/saints of the Evangelical movement):
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 for which our Lord has prepared for us. We must neglect no occasion, which the good providence of God affords us, for this purpose. This is the true rule: So often are we to receive as God gives us opportunity. (“The Duty of Constant Communion“)
Scandrett notes, “Wesley was devoted to weekly and sometimes (during the Christmas and Easter seasons) daily communion throughout his adult life. For Wesley the Lord’s Supper was ‘the “grand channel” whereby the grace of the Spirit is conveyed to human souls, and . . . the first step in working out our salvation.'”**
However, the Free Methodist Church in Canada, the only direct successor to English Methodism remaining here since the Methodists joined the United Church, only requires the celebration of Holy Communion once a quarter. Four times a year is nothing as compared to 52+! An encouraging sign of rediscovering the original Methodists is the practice in many FM churches of at least monthly Communion. I believe that such a resurgence is healthy and rooted in the very Articles of Religion of the Free Methodists, which state:
THE HOLY SACRAMENTS
Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ. They are means of grace through faith, tokens of our profession of Christian faith, and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen, and confirm our faith.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves.
Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken, and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.
The Free Methodists, of course, are not alone in this practice of infrequent Communion. Many of the denominations that call themselves “evangelical” and are descended from the same roots as the Free Methodists also partake of the Lord’s Supper rarely. I had friends in High School who would receive Communion maybe twice a year. If Wesley is right, they were missing out on the very medicine of immortality!
So come! Rediscover the sacramental heritage of Wesley’s evangelicalism! Encourage more frequent Communion at your local church. Read Wesley’s reasons why. Read some of the Reformation discussions of Communion. Read the tales of those who have felt that their spiritual lives have profited from the practice of frequent partaking of Holy Communion. If Christ is truly present in the sacrament, then take it to your comfort.
*Ed. Kenneth Tanner & Christopher A. Hall. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2002.
**Quoting Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), p. 202.