Why We Won’t Have Online Communion

"Many churches will work to adapt their normal practices to online formats, including the Lord’s Supper. We, too, have worked to provide continuity of worship and Bible study via the internet, yet we will not be making the same provision for the Lord’s Supper. Here are three reasons why." - GARBC

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Mark_Smith's picture

and you take that seriously, what about multiple services? You are not all gathered. In fact, on purpose you have not all gathered.

And what about multi-site churches. You NEVER gather together...

And what about communion for shut-ins?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Really, what you're doing is arguing from silence, 

Actually,. I am arguing from explicit revelation--what God actually said. You are the one arguing from silence by your own admission, that it there are "not very many examples" and it is "awfully thin in terms of evidence." I am appealing to the words of Scripture: "When you come together" which is explicitly contrasted with staying home. God is not silent. It is 1 Corinthians 11. How many times does God have to say something before we have enough to call it "not very thin"?

Again, I ask, Are we free to remake divinely ordained acts of corporate worship into things that reflect our own thinking or acceptability? Or are we bound to do it the way God has said to do it? Does God get to regulate worship in his church? Or do we?

 

Larry's picture

Moderator

It would be helpful if you didn't impugn everyone who disagrees with you as being weak in ecclesiology!

It isn't that people disagree with me really. It is about the fact that we don't even have the catogories to discuss it. And it isn't just this conversation. I have concluded this over a number of years.

By your logic, I can say the following:

Where in Scripture do we see a pastor using a microphone? The answer is "nowhere." So any argument that a pastor use a microphone is imported into Scripture. It does not arise from Scripture.

Not by my logic you can't. I want to be careful not to impugn anyone, but this kind of makes my point. My logic leads to nothing of the sort. If you think using a microphone is the same as communion, we have not done well in teaching ecclesiology and the RPW. They simply are not the same type of thing .Completely different categories (see paragraph above). Communion is something God has commanded as an act of worship. It is an element of worship. Microphones are, at best, a circumstance but I think most would not even consider it a circumstance. But the categories of elements and circumstances matter in this discussion. 

Our regional GARBC association is fairly split on the issue. These are guys with graduate training who are convictional Baptists. Some pastors are doing it, others are not. Our church is not

That's fine. Are we really bothered by robust discussion about it? I am not. If people disagree with me, fine. But let's not shy away from discussing the issues involved.

Larry's picture

Moderator

what about multiple services? You are not all gathered. In fact, on purpose you have not all gathered.

I agree this creates problems.

And what about multi-site churches. You NEVER gather together...

I agree this creates problems.

And what about communion for shut-ins?

This is a bit of a different category than above and I think a workable solution could be found through the approval and commissioning of the congregation to faciliate this were it desired. I am not sure I would do it, but I think there is a solution that could be workable.

RajeshG's picture

Larry wrote:

Really, what you're doing is arguing from silence, 

Actually,. I am arguing from explicit revelation--what God actually said. You are the one arguing from silence by your own admission, that it there are "not very many examples" and it is "awfully thin in terms of evidence." I am appealing to the words of Scripture: "When you come together" which is explicitly contrasted with staying home. God is not silent. It is 1 Corinthians 11. How many times does God have to say something before we have enough to call it "not very thin"?

Again, I ask, Are we free to remake divinely ordained acts of corporate worship into things that reflect our own thinking or acceptability? Or are we bound to do it the way God has said to do it? Does God get to regulate worship in his church? Or do we?

You are right, Larry. The Greek text makes plain that the coming together is in one place:

1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.

BGT 1 Corinthians 11:20 Συνερχομένων οὖν ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ οὐκ ἔστιν κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν·

"Sunerxomai" means to 'come together.' "Epi to auto" adds that it is 'at the same.' Place is understood from the context , especially by the explicit contrast between coming together and at home ("come together" in 11:20 vs "houses" in 11:22; "come together" in 11:33 and 11:34 versus "at home" in 11:34). There is no biblical basis for online/virtual communion (observing the Lord's Supper) or church.

We can profit from what we receive online/virtually, but those things are not corporate worship of a gathered church. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Place is understood from the context , especially by the explicit contrast between coming together and at home ("come together" in 11:20 vs "houses" in 11:22; "come together" in 11:33 and 11:34 versus "at home" in 11:34).

Granted, there is a place. Where does it say the place must be physical?

Paul also speaks of not being at home in the body, but rather, present with the Lord (2 Cor 5, I think). When we are "with the Lord" is it a place? Of course. Is it physical?

Might want to pause there.

We will have spiritual bodies (1Cor 15, I believe)... which seems like a glorious oxymoron, but I don't think it really is. It involves a different kind of substance.

Anyway, a place need not be physical in order to be a "place." 

To have a "meeting" you have to be in the same "place in time." In the first century, you also had to be in the same place physically. But we don't now. I think I've participated in like 3 dozen meetings "at work” while being physically located at home in just the last few weeks. Nobody doubts these are real meetings. We get actual work done (usually!). One project is being done 100% by a team we hired and collaborate with, and will never meet in the physical world, and that was the plan before COVID.

Point is just this: it's always been true that human nature meant we were capable of meeting without physical proximity. We just didn't know it. Now we do. (We've known it since the telephone, really)

I'm not saying it's just as good.

Much of this debate really depends on how long this lasts. At what point would we be guilty of failing to "do this in remembrance of Me?" It's impossible to put a number of days on it, but at some point, if we're not doing it, we're disobeying.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Place is understood from the context , especially by the explicit contrast between coming together and at home ("come together" in 11:20 vs "houses" in 11:22; "come together" in 11:33 and 11:34 versus "at home" in 11:34).

Granted, there is a place. Where does it say the place must be physical?

Paul also speaks of not being at home in the body, but rather, present with the Lord (2 Cor 5, I think). When we are "with the Lord" is it a place? Of course. Is it physical?

Might want to pause there.

We will have spiritual bodies (1Cor 15, I believe)... which seems like a glorious oxymoron, but I don't think it really is. It involves a different kind of substance.

Anyway, a place need not be physical in order to be a "place." 

To have a "meeting" you have to be in the same "place in time." In the first century, you also had to be in the same place physically. But we don't now. I think I've participated in like 3 dozen meetings "at work” while being physically located at home in just the last few weeks. Nobody doubts these are real meetings. We get actual work done (usually!). One project is being done 100% by a team we hired and collaborate with, and will never meet in the physical world, and that was the plan before COVID.

Point is just this: it's always been true that human nature meant we were capable of meeting without physical proximity. We just didn't know it. Now we do. (We've known it since the telephone, really)

I'm not saying it's just as good.

Much of this debate really depends on how long this lasts. At what point would we be guilty of failing to "do this in remembrance of Me?" It's impossible to put a number of days on it, but at some point, if we're not doing it, we're disobeying.

What we will have is not what we have now. Place certainly means one physical location until we have our glorified bodies. In fact, even when we have our glorified bodies, we will not be omnipresent so that we can be in multiple places at one time.

When Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, he was not saying that we continue to be in the same place where we used to be when we were in our physical bodies. When we are present with the Lord, we are not present here in this place on the earth. 

There is no biblical basis for saying place in our gathered corporate worship is not a physical location.

John E.'s picture

This thread illustrates why I've soured on the regulative principle. Ultimately, the rp's application comes down to arbitrary decisions rooted in cultural contexts and is often revealed to idolize a culturally constructed ideal. But that's a larger discussion for another day. To the point at hand ...

For those of us who are sacramentalists, to varying degrees or other, the discussion about communion being administered via technology is beyond the abstract. It matters because we (I) do believe that grace is imparted. Like Aaron, I'm not convinced (not even close) that an online gathering doesn't count. It appears that many have an a priori assumption welded to the ideal and, hence, are discounting the unity we have in the Spirit.

I am grateful that we live during a time that allows for us to gather as God's people even if we can't be gathered in the same building. That's a blessing that past brothers and sisters in Christ did not have. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Ultimately, the rp's application comes down to arbitrary decisions rooted in cultural contexts and is often revealed to idolize a culturally constructed ideal.

I think this is exactly backwards. The RPW is not arbitrary at all and it removes the decision from cultural contexts and roots the decision in revelation regardless of the context. So what God has commanded in worship is commanded for all times and place. And the way God has commanded us to worship is prescribed for us because God knows what pleases him.

John, maybe you can answer this question that I can't get anyone else to answer yet: Are we free to remake divinely ordained acts of corporate worship into things that reflect our own thinking or acceptability? Or are we bound to do it the way God has said to do it? Does God get to regulate worship in his church? Or do we?

As I said earlier, I think the way we answer this question will indicate how we answer the more narrow question.

If you are a sacramentalist, then yes, you will answer this question differently. But that actually is whole 'nother discussion. 

I think the whole idea that we can gather while being apart seems absurd to me. I know that sounds harsh but how in the world do we turn "come together" into "stay apart"? If we can do that with language, what else can we do? And if we can do what God has commanded by staying apart, why would we come together at all?

John E.'s picture

Questions about the rp is something I've only recently begun mulling over since my family moved to the Orlando area. Having been a pastor in a church directly connected to the 9 Marks mothership, I was (am) steeped in the regulative principle. Faced with finding a church family in a context that is not D.C. revealed idols in me and my wife's hearts. As I've thought through and prayed over my own struggles and sin, I've had conversations with pastor friends around the country and am now beginning to understand the criticisms of the rp. Yes, God regulates how we are to worship Him. In that sense, I remain a rp guy. The preaching of the Word, corporate prayer, the right administration of the sacraments, etc. are all non-negotiable for me. It's the in-between stuff, though, that has prompted my move away from the rp. In application, it's inevitable that all rp churches become normative principle churches. As it was pointed out above (I think it was Bert), what about microphones? Why have a piano? Padding on the pews? Choirs? Singing corporately versus a piano solo while the offering is collected? Honoring mothers on Mother's Day? Do the elders go to the congregation and distribute the elements or does the congregation go up front to receive the elements from the elders? These and a whole host of other questions/decisions that aren't "regulated" by God in the Bible blanket the corporate gatherings of churches. Again, this is a larger discussion and one, frankly, as I stated above, that I'm on the frontend of. Also, if anyone thinks those questions and others like it seem silly, well, I could relate all kinds of "silly" discussions I've been involved with regarding the rp and how we "do" church. 

Now, regarding your question, again, God regulates how we worship Him. So, yes, communion is only to be administered when God's people are corporately gathered. The divide between you and me (I think) is that you have decided that an online gathering does not count. As of this moment, I've neither heard nor read a compelling argument that an online gathering does not count considering the "unicorn" moment the Church finds herself in. 

Why would we come together (physically) at all? Because that is the ideal. That's what our hearts long for. We also long to physically be with Jesus, which is why we pray "Please come quickly, King Jesus." In the meantime, though, we rejoice that Christ is present with us through his Spirit and, dare I say, through the sacraments. ... Honestly, as I write this, I can see how if I didn't hold to a sacramentalist viewpoint I could make an argument that an online gathering doesn't count. That would (and probably will) make for an interesting Masters thesis in the future for someone who wants to contrast the differences. ... During this "unicorn" event, we gather as God's people the best way we can in a spirit of thankfulness. And in those gatherings, we continue to offer worship as God has regulated, including the sacraments. 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"Before [Neil] Armstrong and [Buzz] Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module on July 20, 1969, Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. He had brought them to the moon from Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, where he was an elder. Aldrin had received permission from the Presbyterian church's general assembly to administer it to himself. In his book Magnificent Desolation he shares the message he then radioed to Nasa: "I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.

He then ate and drank the elements. The surreal ceremony is described in an article by Aldrin in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine: "I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

He also read a section of the gospel of John. During it all, Armstrong, reportedly a deist, is said to have watched respectfully but without making any comment."

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/13/buzz-aldrin-communion-moon

-----------------------------

That's gotta be the all-time distance record for physical separation!  Smile

Dan Miller's picture

When Jesus said to his disciples, "this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me," He was referring to the Passover meal, which as a family meal more that a meal of the assembly. I think we have as much call to encourage that families have Passover meals as we do to insist that the church must all be present for Lord's Table. The disciples and Jesus were part of the Jewish assembly and in that upper room, they were in no way attempting to meet with that assembly. 
 

Paul’s stated in 1 Cor 10 that "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” 

But the point was not that all must eat the same piece of actual bread. This is part of a long argument about whether a person could eat from an idol sacrificial food and not really participate in that sacrifice.

Paul's point in bringing up the Lord's Table was that neither time nor distance change the fact that when we eat and drink, we are participating in the sacrifice of Jesus. The "one bread” is Jesus. Not transubstantiation, not re-sacrificing - but in fellowship of belief in the one sacrifice. 

Therefore, when my church has Lord's Table, we are eating the same One Bread as each of your churches. 

If you take the position that the whole church must be present, I would take that to mean that every time you do it, you take role. And if EVEN ONE MEMBER is absent, you don’t serve it. It’s not the “whole church” if it's not the whole church.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry,

First, I'm not saying that we (vs. God) regulate how we worship.  I don't disagree with you on that.  I question whether "coming together" requires physical presence in the same building.  I get that in the 1st century AD, there was really no other way.  However, today, if I'm not close enough to another worshipper to touch them, in what way am I more together with them by being in the same building, then I am across a virtual link where they can also see and talk with me?  That's what I'm trying to work through.  My point about the technology was this -- is a microphone that brings the pastor's voice close enough for me to hear really different in substance from a video-chat service that brings him face to face with me?  I think the answer to that is not as obvious as you claim.

2nd, I wasn't talking about numbers per se.  I agree that a church of 10 or 10,000 is equally valid as a church.  However, if a church is large enough, then as Dan said, there will always be a subset meeting, as it will be unlikely to ever meet with 100% attendance.  And when the early church met house to house, that was even a much smaller subset of the full church.  Again, "breaking bread" may not have always meant "Lord's supper," but we also don't have any record of the entire 5000-strong church meeting in one place for communion.  Sure, the Acts church was a church in transition, but I'm guessing they also did not believe that they were contravening how the Lord wanted worship to take place.  I think it would be hard for us to argue that if we did things the way they did, we would be disobedient, except where it was clearly noted that they did wrong.

Dave Barnhart

RajeshG's picture

If, in spite of what the Scripture reveals, it is legitimate to observe the Lord's Supper together virtually with each person ingesting the elements in his own home instead of in the gathering together of a local church in one physical place, why stop there?

If being in one physical place is not necessary for us to gather together as a church, why should we not also practice the taking of the elements of communion together virtually with some software that puts us all together virtually into one virtual place and allows us on-screen to ingest together virtually virtual elements of communion that all come from one virtual loaf and one virtual cup (think along the lines of the technology of many highly sophisticated video games, etc.)?

If our being physically together does not matter and virtual communion is legitimate, who is to say that physically ingesting physical elements of communion is still necessary when we "gather together" virtually?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

why stop there?

Because there is no need to go further.

Next question.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Dan Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

If, in spite of what the Scripture reveals, it is legitimate to observe the Lord's Supper together virtually with each person ingesting the elements in his own home instead of in the gathering together of a local church in one physical place, why stop there?

...

In my understanding being together (real or virtual) as an entire local church is simply not a prescribed aspect of Lord's Table. For centuries, Jewish families or small groups ate Passover every year in their homes.

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
In my understanding being together (real or virtual) as an entire local church is simply not a prescribed aspect of Lord's Table. For centuries, Jewish families or small groups ate Passover every year in their homes.

Well, we are talking about the Lord’s Supper, not Passover, and for the Lord’s Supper Paul says to gather together in one place.  Obviously not everyone can make it to any particular service, but it ought to be performed at a service that most people can come to.  If everyone is Zooming in from home, or watching from home via LiveStream, they are actually in multiple places not one. Communion isn’t an individual act of worship it is corporate. One of the issues with trying to do a corporate ceremony remotely is that you lose the togetherness that comes when people are together physically. You can’t tell who is there with you very well. You don’t feel the togetherness like you do when you are physically together.  You can’t tell if everyone is ready or if everyone has been served. You lose the solemnity of the ceremony. You lose the pressure to stay focused. You lose the pressure of not participating if you are not right with the Lord (much easier to partake when you should not if you are alone at home).  There are probably other aspects to this that I have not thought of.  It is one thing to provide preaching or teaching remotely as doing the best you can do in a bad situation, but it is another to view the service as a real gathering, when it’s not a real gathering. For the Lord’s Supper, I think that is a show stopper.

Now, some might protest that Zoom (and similar) provides some additional functionality over Livestream or YouTube that mitigates some of these issues, but many of those benefits go away when you have large number trying to participate, or don’t know how to use the features.     

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you like online, virtual education = you'll lean towards online communion

If you hate online, virtual education = you'll not like online communion

The reasoning and the mindset for the respective positions is often similar.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding 1 Cor. 11:20, Paul describes them coming together with a word not usually used for the Church in his main purpose of telling them that what they are doing really isn't the Lord's Supper.  Notice; it's a description, not a prescription.  Otherwise, the main actual descriptions of the Lord's Supper are of the original one in the Gospels, which predates the Church age altogether.  

There are a fair number of things Paul does tell the Corinthian church about how to do this, and how not to, but one thing that he doesn't do is tell them what constitutes a quorum, a rightful setting, and the items here.  Again, historically speaking, there's a reason for this; it was an extremely common occurrence practiced in a church founded among those (Priscilla and Aquila) evicted from Rome for Judiasm, and was practiced among house churches there due to persecution.  So they came together when they could, and I'd argue we ought to do the same.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

AndyE's picture

TylerR wrote:
If you like online, virtual education = you'll lean towards online communion

If you hate online, virtual education = you'll not like online communion

I did a full MA in Bible completely online. I'm also teaching my adult SS class via Zoom right now. I'm for distance education.  Of course, my kids are home from college now and doing class work online.  It's not the same and it is not as good.  It's great to be able to do distance learning when there is no other option, but the experience is not as good.  I just think the gathering together in person is an important part of the Lord's Supper, for what it means and how it is to be conducted, and that doing it another way loses enough that we ought to wait until we can do it properly.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I would appreciate some context from folks who know - how does the persecuted church do the Lord's Supper? How did persecuted Christians in days gone by do the Lord's Supper? Surely they didn't all gather together; it had to be sub-units. I'd appreciate any insight this could bring to our discussion of virtual communion.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Dan Miller's picture

Quote:
Well, we are talking about the Lord’s Supper, not Passover, and for the Lord’s Supper Paul says to gather together in one place.

Interesting use of the exclamation mark, Andy. I take it that the idea that the Lord's Table has it's foundation in the Passover is somewhat shocking to you. I get that. But should it be? Do you agree that when Jesus said, "As often as you do this...," he was sitting at Passover meal?

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

Interesting use of the exclamation mark, Andy. I take it that the idea that the Lord's Table has it's foundation in the Passover is somewhat shocking to you. I get that. But should it be? Do you agree that when Jesus said, "As often as you do this...," he was sitting at Passover meal?

That's from all my years of programming in C.

Yeah, I understand that.  I view that as an indication that Jesus is fulfilling the picture of the Passover and instituting a new ordinance.  We are NT believers and now the assembly/church is where we practice the Lord's Supper.  We don't kill lambs, spread its blood on our doorposts, or eat a passover meal at homes anymore.

Dan Miller's picture

I take that to mean Jesus expected it to continue, but with a new understanding of what it was. 

I actually believe that we should be having a full passover - BUT, it has clearly been truncated to bread and wine at some point in church history. I don't have a big problem with that. Just as I have no problem with missionaries using other juices besides grape.

But I also join Bert in observing that the "whole church" aspect that we enjoy is at most descriptive, not prescriptive. I also see no indication that the whole Corinthian body of believers was in one place based on the text of 1 Cor.

Bert Perry's picture

The understanding that I have is that the particular part of the Seder Jesus used for the part we celebrate as the Lord's Supper is the finding of the last matzo and its eating as "afikomen", which observant Jews often translate as "Nachtisch", or "dessert".  

I don't believe that it must be normative for Christians to observe the whole Seder, let alone in its modern Talmudic form, but about 20 years back, my family hosted a Passover meal and used the actual order (brought by a guest who grew up Jewish), and it was uncanny how the elements of that service paralleled Biblical truth.  So at the very least, I think that at least from time to time, a full Passover meal could be extremely beneficial to believers.

Where one might interpret these things differently, IMO, is where Paul tells the Corinthians that they ought not be gluttonizing and getting drunk at the Lord's Supper, and tells them more or less "if you need to eat more, do so at home!".  That would at least be compatible with the Lord's Supper being not specifically the Seder as a whole, but rather the Afikomen and the fourth (?) cup.  The counter-argument would be the comment that people would be tempted to gluttony more if it were the full meal and not just the last matzoh/last cup.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

Bert Perry wrote:
The understanding that I have is that the particular part of the Seder Jesus used for the part we celebrate as the Lord's Supper is the finding of the last matzo and its eating as "afikomen", which observant Jews often translate as "Nachtisch", or "dessert". 

I don't believe that it must be normative for Christians to observe the whole Seder,...

This idea is what I meant by "truncated."

Bert Perry wrote:
... The counter-argument would be the comment that people would be tempted to gluttony more if it were the full meal and not just the last matzoh/last cup.

Yes - it is tough to imagine people selfishly chowing down on bowls of little dry crackers.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, everyone, for an interesting discussion.  It seems that there is something here for everyone to ponder.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Smiling.  :^)  My best guess is that the Manischewitz matzo are dry because they'd ferment in the box if they weren't, and that's a Talmud violation.  The matzo we made were actually quite moist.  Still not what you'd eat a ton of without something on it, but that noted, early Christians did indeed subsist mostly on bread and such, no?

But that said, apparently it was the wealthier believers who were gluttonizing--the very people who would not have necessarily been limited to bread and water for dinner.  So again, I can argue that one either way, too.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

AndyE's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

But I also join Bert in observing that the "whole church" aspect that we enjoy is at most descriptive, not prescriptive. I also see no indication that the whole Corinthian body of believers was in one place based on the text of 1 Cor.

I'm not completely sold on the idea that Paul intended it to be descriptive only.  The term "church" itself means assembly.  The very name indicates to me that we ought to be physically gathering together.  Then, regarding the Lord’s Supper, the contrast is between what happens at church (the assembly) and at home.  Paul says if you are going to do something illegitimate concerning the Table, do it at home, not at the church. The church is where the official, legitimate Supper takes place.  There is no provision for doing it at “home” if that is not where the church is assembled.

Larry's picture

Moderator

If you like online, virtual education = you'll lean towards online communion

If you hate online, virtual education = you'll not like online communion

The reasoning and the mindset for the respective positions is often similar.

Speaking for myself, I am opposed to both but my reasons have nothing in common whatsoever. They are completely different.

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