Tuesday, October 08, 2019

From Last Supper to Lord's Supper

1. From what I've read, the fundamental objection to female priests is that a priest assumes the role of alter Christus at Mass. When celebrating the eucharist, the priest is a stand-in for Jesus. Therefore, a priest must be male.

Since I repudiate the whole sacerdotal paradigm, I reject female priests for the same reason I reject male priests. My objection lies further upstream. I reject a key presupposition that underlies that understanding of communion. 

I'm not fighting over a word. If Anglicans wish to call their clergymen priests, I don't care. 

2. However, the issue doesn't stop there. With the possible exception of the Plymouth Brethren, in nearly all Protestant denominations of my acquaintance, elders officiate at communion. From what I can tell, that's a relic of the Catholic paradigm. 

So this is a Christian custom rather than a divine mandate. I don't object to Christian customs, per se. I've always attended churches where the clergy officiate at communion. I do think that's a somewhat pernicious tradition because it fosters bad subliminal theological conditioning. However, I never felt called to start a whole new denomination over this one issue. 

It's one of those things where I sometimes have private mental reservations when I attend a church service. My own theology is so developed that I don't expect any denomination to be the mirror-image of my theology. 

3. This does raise a live issue in theological method. How does the Lord's Supper correspond to the Last Supper? Is the Lord's Supper a theatrical historical reenactment of the Last Supper, where participants resume the same roles as the Last Supper? A sacred play in which the original parts are represented? Or does the Last Supper provide general guidelines for how the Lord's Supper should be celebrated?

4. There's no presumption that the way in which a practice is inaugurated furnishes the template for how it's subsequently observed. For instance, festivals like Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks were inaugurated by a thunderstorm theophany and angelophany at Mt. Sinai, but that doesn't mean the initial conditions are repeated every time the festivals were celebrated. Indeed, the initial conditions were unrepeatable.

Likewise, the new covenant community was inaugurated at Pentecost with a fire theophany and xenoglossy, but that doesn't' mean every time the lost are evangelized or a new church is planted, the initial conditions are repeated. Indeed, the fire theophany is unrepeatable while xenoglossy is rare. 

5. For instance, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal. As such, roast lamb was on the menu. But when we celebrate communion we don't repeat that detail as a historical reenactment of the Last Supper. 

Needless to say, few denominations practice foot-washing whenever communion is celebrated. Jesus led the disciples in singing a Hallel Psalm at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). But that's not a fixture of most communion liturgies I'm aware of. 

6. The fact that we follow the instructions in the institution of the Lord's Supper doesn't entail we reprise the role of Jesus. That's a non sequitur. We repeat the instructions, not the instructor. If a physician prescribes a medication, that doesn't mean someone must reprise the physician's role every time the patient takes the medication. 

The fact that Jesus presided at the Last Supper doesn't carry over to the Lord's Supper because the Last Supper is a one-time event with some unique circumstances–the foremost being Jesus himself. The instructions for the Lord's Supper don't include instructions for somebody to take his place when we celebrate communion. That confuses the descriptive level of the narrative with the prescriptive level. 

1 comment:

  1. In Reformed circles the minister is, specifically, the minister of "Word and Sacrament", so baptizing and conducting the Lord's Supper are seen as, well, ministerial duties just as is the role of preaching the Word. No need to reach for a priestly model or alter Christus model.

    Also, the issue of church discipline makes the administration of the Supper by ministers/elders a practical consideration. They have to revoke the celebration from excommunicants (and others who are not members in good standing in a true church).