This past Sunday my six year old Kayla and I were walking into our church. Our church is a large church in a wealthy suburb of Nashville, Tn. It is somewhat in the middle of the evangelical universe - Nashville and Dallas probably compete for the title "buckle of the Bible Belt." We have been here for almost four years and my relationship to the community has been difficult but very good. In my opinion this area needs prophets - nice ones though...so people might listen to them. I realized a couple of years ago that I am not that guy; that God was calling us to different lands. To be honest I didn't know that would mean New Jersey, but I am thankful for that assignment. Anyway, back to six year old ecclesiology.
Ever since my kids were old enough to understand anything I have worked to teach them that the church, the New Testament ekklesia, is a people not a building where you go on Sunday. I call our current church buildings - the buildings where our church meets, etc. I really work hard on this because there are church buildings everywhere here. For the most part I think Kayla (6) and Ky (4) are getting it. Tommy of course is 20 months and doesn't have a clue yet - but he sports a mean head butt. Anyway, this past Sunday I almost had a debate of sorts with my six year old about what the church actually is. Too fun.
This year we have talked quite a bit about the life we will soon be living in New Jersey "as the church," namely it will be in our living room. No matter how much we talk about this, it will still likely be a very different experience than a big church with a multi-million dollar budget that is reflected in our surroundings here. Maybe that was an understatement. In our conversation this weekend I told Kayla that the church is called into existence by Jesus through the gospel, so a church gathering will be a Word-centered gathering that will include the Bible. Second, I told her that the church visibly lives the gospel together in community "marked" by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Table. The sign of baptism marks entry into the community when one repents and believes the gospel and that the Lord's Table is the sign of God's covenant faithfulness and our sustenance by Jesus over time. In it we proclaim the gospel visibly, participate with Jesus, receive sustaining grace, remember his work for us on the cross, etc. So this means a church gathering is not only a Word-centered gathering it will also center on communion. At this she disagreed...I was actually encouraged because I want my kids to think.
She basically said this: At church we hardly ever do communion so it cannot be central to the church's gathering. She was concerned that Jacob's Well would participate in the Lord's Table every week in New Jersey as part of our life together in the gospel. This seemed strange to her. I reassured her that historically and biblically there was great precedent for the Table every week. We see this in the first century church and of course historically, most Christians celebrate the Table weekly.
Justin Martyr's book Apology has a reflection on church gatherings from the 2nd century. I wanted to tell her about that. Here it is for those interested:
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
Additionally, I wanted to tell her that the early pastoral manual of sorts known as the Didache, had this to say about our gatherings:
But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: "In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations."
I thought of some of the reformed confessions of the church which say of gatherings and ordinances:
The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God. - Westminster Confession
Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. - Augsburg Confession
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. - London Baptist Confession
Yet I chose to simply listen to her thinking out loud about "the church" and it was beautiful. I then told her that when the church observes the table it is doing more than having a memory or an object lesson - it is meeting with the risen Jesus who is spiritually present with us. She thought that was a good thing to do every week...I agreed. I am thankful to hear the buzz around our church to make communion "more central" - thankful indeed. Yet I fear in many evangelical houses of worship that if you never came to the table it would not even be missed. It has become such a small part of Christian worship and I think this is a great loss.
My six year old reminded me of this - thank God for six year olds who see simply what we do (or don't do) in life as worship.