We practice shared leadership at Coram Deo. That is partly a response to the biblical idea of what it means to be a body (each individual part doing its part, Eph. 4:16), and partly a conscious attempt on my part to resist the intoxicating lust for control (which happens to be a significant heart idol of mine). The upshot of this is that unpredictable things do happen, regularly.
Like this morning, when glazed donuts symbolized the Lord’s body in our Communion observance.
Before you write this off as an obnoxious, postmodern, emerging-church experiment, realize that the architect of this morning’s feast does have a seminary degree. So I tend to trust his thoughtfulness and reflection on these matters. Kurt often talks of viewing the Lord’s Supper through multiple facets, and I have given him permission to help us explore those facets. (This morning’s facet: the sweetness of Christ’s sacrifice.) Having said that, I must confess that as Gavin was preaching a masterful sermon, I was wrestling with the abnormality of having donuts and grape juice instead of bread and wine.
The inner wrestling brought me face to face with the question of truth and preference. I began to ask: why am I bothered by donuts in communion? Is bread more biblical than bread-cooked-in-oil-with-a-hole-in-the-middle? Is this a matter of truth? Or a matter of preference? Even as I write, my soul isn’t totally at rest. I take seriously the role God has given me to guard sound doctrine (Titus 1:9) and guide obedient worship (1 Cor 14:37-40). But I also like conflict and tension and messiness – especially in my own soul. Following Jesus is not formulaic.
I opened my copy of the Westminster Confession to the section on “The Lord’s Supper,” where I found the words “bread” and “wine” to describe the elements. So I reasoned that if it’s literal obedience we’re after, substituting grape juice for wine (as is common in many evangelical churches) is at least as big of a stretch as substituting donuts for bread. The whole experience revealed to me at least one angle on the matter that I didn’t want to think about: I prefer plain bread because that’s just what I’ve come to expect. It has little to do with biblical regulations and a lot to do with my cultural preference.
If donuts became the norm every week, I would have to object. But by the same token, if a certain form of bread becomes so ‘normal’ that it defines what communion is, are we not simply elevating our cultural preferences to the place of truth? (I mean that as a question. Your comments are welcome.)
Caveat: The Lord’s Supper is a thing of deep spirituality and mystery. It is not to be trifled with. And I do believe that the elements are prescriptive, not descriptive. Bread is the basic staple of life. As it sustains us physically, so Christ sustains us spiritually (John 6:32-33). (So donuts are a stretch, since they fall in the category of “junk food” and not “basic sustenance”). Wine, as it lingers on the palate, reminds us both of the bitterness of Christ’s death (Matt 27:48) and of the joyful feast that is yet to come when we are reunited with our Bridegroom (Matt 26:29).
So I believe in bread and wine. But I also believe in the prophetic role of bringing us to confront our worship norms, asking why we have them and what they have to do with the fabric of the gospel – which is at least one thing that happened for me this morning. Thanks, Kurt, for taking us there.
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I seriously have always wanted to have donuts and grape juice for communion. Not just because I am a fan of Krispy Kreme. But really, communion for me has always been about coming together as a body and celebrating what Christ did for us. Donuts are one of those things that are usually at celebrations of people coming together. Think about it. Anytime you have ever come together to serve and labor, ie: helping someone move in, cleaning up a park for a service project, things like that, there’s usually donuts around. And juice (usually orange, not grape, but thats beside the point). I am honestly pretty jealous of you guys right now. Not just because you got to eat donuts. But I guess donuts at communion has always been a dream of mine. It just seems more intimate and COMMUNal, which is what COMMUNion is really all about.
Bob, I think that Coram Deo can use all the donuts they want as long as they keep out the good-basement-dwelling-straight from France, wine.
But that’s not why I post…this is why: In your last two blogs you have become defensive towards postmodern/emergent style stuff without anyone playing the offensive side of the coin. What’s with that? If you keep talking about how much Coram Deo isn’t emergent, that alone will make it emergent! Seriously!
At first I thought, “Donuts for communion?” Wellll, ok, maybe. Then when you said it was to highlight the sweetness of Christ’s sacrifice, I began to weep. Jesus suddenly came into focus in the discussion. And his death. For ME. As a sweet and fragrant offering. I embraced him and bowed in worship, for he is indeed SWEET to all who believe.
DWhite… come on baby… to define what you ARE, you have to define yourself in contrast to what you are NOT. And since lots of people lump anything new and culturally relevant into the “Emergent” pile…
I agree… “Emergent” has come to mean everything and nothing. So no need to be bothered if someone doesn’t wear an “Emergent Church” T-shirt or otherwise carry the label.
The significant question to ask is not whether this is “emergent” or not, but whether it is challenging me to get past the cultural baggage and approach Christ. Is it for Jesus? Or is it just another nifty (but new) cultural thrill?
I also find myself wondering why I am slightly bothered by the donuts…and have landed on the conclusion that it challenges my convention. However, that is a good thing and one of the key reasons for seeking community in Coram Deo. I want to be challenged to understand why I want to worship in a particular way. That being said, it is not really the element–whether donuts, bread, or those little cardboard wafers–for all are symbolic. The key question for me is more “Am I able to enter into the supper in a worthy manner, guarding my heart and mind against earthly distraction and focusing on the sacrifice the supper is intended to remember”. This time, I was able to focus on the facet that Kurt was trying to invoke-the sweetness of Christ. I don’t think I would want to do the donut thing regularly, but this time it worked. I prefer bread because of the symbolic acts of breaking the loaf and of sharing from loaf in community, but anything that causes me to ponder on the beauty of the sacrifice and challenge me to validate my convention is a good thing.
Since you are talking about communion…
I was pressed with a theological challenge this past week: did Jesus intend for communion to be observed ritualistically, as the church has always done, or was he saying, “Whenever you eat a meal together, remember me?”
Last week someone shared his view with me that what Jesus was saying was essentially that ANYTIME you eat or drink together, remember me (this came from our “how to eat a sandwich to the glory of God” conversation). If he is right, then it wouldn’t matter if cheeseburgers and diet cokes were substituted for bread and wine, as long as we remember Jesus and his body and blood as we do it.
I don’t know if I agree with that. I think the picture of communion in the early church looked different than it does in churches today, but yet I think there was something significant about what they were doing that separates observing communion from sharing a meal with friends (even if the meal is shared to the glory of God). I think donuts used specifically in observance of communion are ok, but I don’t think every time I eat a donut I’m observing communion.
I’m all about defining what you ARE by stating what you ARE NOT, but two shots at “not being emergent” reminds me of the emergent folks talking about how they “ARE NOT” structured or traditional. I just find it a little humorous. (By the way, I won’t know what to do if you do it three times in a row!)
Did I mention that we are not Emergent?
Wes, nice thoughts. I agree.
Cody, to put it bluntly: anyone who says “anytime we eat a meal together we are sharing communion” is either off their theological rocker or just uninformed. You are right in sensing that there is something significant in the Lord’s Supper that sets it apart from having a cheeseburger and a diet coke.
So: nice discernment. You should tell that person, lovingly and gently of course, to learn some theology and church history before waxing eloquent about the body and blood of Christ. 🙂
Bob, I’m so mad at you.
I hate critical, anonymous first-time posters. So this post is first a hello to the Coram deo family. This is Andrew W., son of Mike and Brenda whom many of you know. I’m a big supporter in prayer of you all from bustling Iowa City. I’ve had the privilege of fellowshipping with you once and look forward to doing it again in the near future. I think that C.D. is “hitting the nail on the head” when it comes to living out the Christian walk in community, even while using at times unconventional “hammers.” We need churches (can I say that word) like you to strengthen and stretch our stagnate (I like alliteration) pews. Keep up the good work.
Ok, now the second post.
I think that any argument one could make on theological grounds of why donuts should not be served at the Lord’s supper is counter-productive, because at the end of the day it is a shouting match of traditions and a duel to see who can use their “Sword of the Spirit” better than the other. So I won’t make that argument, even if my scabbard is a twitching.
Rather, I want to make the anthropological argument that serving donuts at the Lord’s supper is a bad idea. Symbols are important not just for what they symbolize to the people using them, but also for what they are perceived to symbolize by those who don’t use them. That is a subtle distinction but I think a valid one. Let me describe what I mean. Coram Deo is located downtown, it has cool abstract paintings on the wall and rugs on the floor. This means something to the members of Coram Deo. As a community you have chosen to be in the heart of the city, willing to engage the culture in all of its abstract post-modernity on its terms and “look different,” to engage and change people with the Gospel. You have chosen these symbols to represent that vision to the city in the hope that it would be perceived that way and I think partially to make people feel comfortable to open up and show the messiness of their life. Bravo, to this and if I may say it is a message that is being heard, responded to, and effecting change.
At the same time, you also chose to NOT have some symbols included in your representation to the city, such as crosses, or pulpits, precisely because of that same desire to meet people on their terms. For many people these symbols have the connotation of oppression, dogmatism, and close-mindedness. By not including those things, you didn’t want people to have to “get over” their feelings of what a cross means to them, to then start talking about what the CROSS can do for them in their life. While you at CD could infuse the cross and the pulpit with all the positive things that they symbolize to you (salvation, deep thinking, the preached Word etc.) this would not change what they mean to those who are not a part of the community. I think you recognized this and you didn’t want the SIGNS to get in the way of what you really wanted SIGNIFIED, namely Christ and His saving, transforming work.
Then why would you pick a symbol that has certain inescapable cultural attachments to it (American, mass produced, junk food) to represent the spiritual/mystical/transcendent/immanent/glorious prescriptive (Bob you’re right on) presence of Christ with His people and His people with Him? Why set up a barrier for the people of the Lord and visitors to have to get over in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper. I think non-christians would be puzzled at the choice of donuts, asking is there any difference between my Sunday morning experience and my Monday morning drive to work. If not, why change. Secondly, for a non-American Christian who visits, wanting to partake of symbols which transcend culture, nationality and speak to the spiritual unity of the church as it comes together on Sunday morning, to place before them a donut would immediately segregate them from the experience.
To choose an inherently cultural symbol of American consumerism and then try to infuse it with spiritual significance seems to be what a lot of mega suburban churches do every Sunday and not something CD stands for, or am I wrong?
Bob, you quoted the Westminster Confession, but you didn’t quote from two sections up from the part on the Lord’s Supper. In the Section on Sacraments the confession says they stand to “put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.” I would ask whether eating a donut, granted to think about the sweetness of Christ’s grace but isn’t that a signified concept and not the sign itself, puts a “visible difference” between those that are of Christ and those that aren’t? Christ took the simple piece of bread and made it sweet spiritually. By serving donuts you are trying to have your cake and eat it too (pun intended), by attaching the spiritually sweet to the physically sweet.
Now you may say, “but Jesus took a cultural item, bread used during the Passover ceremony to represent his broken body, so we as Christ’s followers can do the same.” Touche, and depending on how you read scripture’s regulative principle, whether all things are game as long as it isn’t explicitly prohibited by Scripture, will dictate how you feel about doing this. I am all for a lot of freedom in worshipping our Savior. Take the podium out, put rugs on the floor and rings in the pastor’s ears, nose and tongue. Praise the Lord. But if there is one place I would want to be careful is the Sacraments, especially considering the warnings of I Cor 11: 17-34. If there is one enduring symbol of Christ with his people it is at the LORD’S Table. And that is the important emphasis. We may be Christ-followers, but Christ as the Son of God set the rules. Jesus took the bread, broke and distributed it, saying do this in remembrance of me. By even having this discussion about the signs and now what they signify are we really even doing this, or again focusing on the followers and not the one to follow?
Andrew… your logical and theological prowess is well demonstrated in this post. Nice thoughts. I think you’ve at least convinced me by putting some words on my intuitions. I like what you’ve done here. Move back to Omaha and plant a church with us already.
Very well said, Andrew. I agree with you that the donuts were not suitable for the elements of the Lord’s supper. But I wonder if your stigmatizing the donut as the symbol of American consumerism is reading too much into it. For me, it wasn’t so much that the donut represented something contrary to what the Lord’s supper should as the donut didn’t represent anything at all. It felt sort of contrived, a little too cute, a little too self consciously hip. And that is not what Communion should be.
(tongue in cheek) In fact, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this, the most interesting symbology of the donut experience was that a peace officer came up with it. Cops and donuts, what is the deal?