As anyone who has been in the Vineyard for a bit of time can tell you, there’s no such as the Vineyard way of doing a lot of things. Our movement is diverse enough that you’ll find a lot of great ways to do things, from a lot of great women and men spread across the Vineyard. Because of this, there are probably a lot of different ways in which Vineyard churches celebrate the Eucharist. Yet I’m often asked questions about what should be done, how it should be done, where should it take place during the worship gathering, and why it should be done certain ways. This is my attempt to provide you a resource to help you as your celebrate Communion.
That being said, I’d like to provide both some biblical, theological, and practical thoughts on how a Vineyard church (or anyone else reading this) might consider celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In one sense, this can be viewed as a way of answering the pragmatic questions raised from the Vineyard Resources booklet I wrote, Come to the Table. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to post a number of approaches to Communion and, when I’ve finished the short posts, I’ll share a PDF with all of the different options as a resource for pastors and churches.
Before posting a number of ways Communion can be celebrated, allow me to clarify that I believe there is a lot of freedom in regards to the ways we receive the Bread and Cup. I’ve celebrated the Lord’s Supper in a variety of ways all over the world, from Baptist churches in North America, Pentecostal churches in Africa, and church plants in Nepal. Each experience was profoundly powerful, somewhat similar, and yet unique. So what follows are simply some of the ways you can receive Communion; they are by no means the end all, be all. In addition to talking about the how, I’m going to try and explain what I perceive to be possible strengths and weaknesses of each approach. After I’ve listed a number of ways for churches to consider, I’ll provide some thoughts on related issues such as whether you should use grape juice or wine, what you should do about children, etc. This week we’ll consider what I call “Open Communion.”
In the Vineyard, we often express the value that “everyone gets to play.” This is a simple way of emphasizing a core theological belief – the priesthood of all believers. Our ecclesiological approach, for better or worse, attempts to flatten out the leadership structures within our local churches in a way that equips and encourages every single person to participate in the works of Jesus. While other ecclesiological traditions suggest that only “ordained clergy” should preside over baptisms or the Lord’s Supper, the Vineyard values suggest that all followers of Jesus can participate in these practices!
Open Communion is most often observed during the music portion of a worship gathering. Throughout the music, people will move toward the Lord’s Table (either in the front, back, or sides), receive the Bread and Cup, and take it back to their seat and eat and drink as they feel led.
Positives: Open Communion allows those who are convinced that the Eucharist should be celebrated every week to follow their conscious. It also challenges people to reflect over the course of the service and move forward when they are personally ready. In many churches, entire families will come forward to receive the Bread and Cup and will return to their row of chairs to partake together. Open Communion emphasizes personal spontaneity and I’ve observed numerous times where, while receiving the Eucharist, people will begin to pray for each other and charismatic gifts are manifested.
Negatives: As Communion is a sacrament given to the community of the kingdom, the Church, Open Communion could become far too individual based and miss Paul’s emphasis on the corporate celebration of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 11:17-34), not to mention the regular way in which the early church conducted its worship gatherings (Acts 2:42). Furthermore, if people are unclear of what to do or what to say or how to pray during this time, it can be very awkward for those in the congregation (the solution to this is simply to communicate clearly, right?).
Recommendations: Before you begin the music portion of the gathering, you must “create space” for Open Communion by clarifying the what, the how, the why, and the who. This means that someone (a pastor, worship leader, or someone else?) needs to tell the congregation what is happening (and when), how to do it, why it’s being done, and who can participate (if you have convictions about this). If you aren’t clear, people will be confused and most of the goals you have for this sacramental space will be completely lost. I’d also recommend that if you use a projector for your song lyrics, create a slide that has some of these basic details on it and have it on the screen while the person who is explaining it is talking.
Next week we’ll look at what I call “Communion Served.” Feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions in the comment section below…