Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, has convened a Colloquium on Ecclesiology this week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – the first of three such gatherings he intends to organize to discuss the purpose of the church.
The discussions, from April 23-25, center around seven papers that were written in advance and posted online. The format for the discussions is this: For each paper, the author presents a 20-minute summary; comments are then offered by members of the Austin seminary community and the event planning team; then in a question-and-answer session from those attending in Austin and submitted online by people watching the live-stream
For each session, the Outlook will provide a snapshot of the paper and a few memorable points of the discussion.
Session 6: The Centrality of Eucharist
Written and presented by: Thomas B. Smith, pastor, Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes, Angola, Ind.
Drawing on his experience as a pastor, Smith writes about his convictions that the Eucharist is central to Christian identity, to Christian evangelism, and to Christian mission. He pastors a church in a vacation area in northern Indiana which pairs a “comes as you are” style with serious evangelistic commitment – and where he described the Eucharistic table as the Lord’s inclusive table, not a Presbyterian one. Smith focuses on the sacramental transformation of the participants at Eucharist, resulting in Christian mission and witness out in the world. Their love becomes an expression of what they have experienced in worship. The union with Christ celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrament is inseparably connected to the church’s missional witness, with bringing God’s mystery out into the world.
Ideas from responses:
Unfenced table: To have an open table for the Eucharist doesn’t seem to give sufficient attention to the warnings against eating and drinking unworthily, as Paul says in I Cor. 11. Smith responds, “Paul’s reprimand was for not including the poor. The sin was their exclusion. By being exclusive they are sinning.” Jerry Andrews, pastor from San Diego responds, “The words of warning have nothing to do with the integrity of the table. The warning is not that the table will be harmed but that the person unprepared to come can be harmed.” But Smith comes back: “The not rightly discerning of the body of Christ is that they are not rightly discerning the church. That brings harm on the church. All of the elements of preparation – confession of sin, hearing the Word, offering of ourselves – are in the service itself. Giving the benefit of the doubt at that stage seems to be the way Jesus handled it.”
Eucharist and baptism: Marney Wasserman, a pastor from Tucson said that “I will admit to being puzzled … when we’re talking about who is or is not being invited to the table, why so often does baptism gets left out of the conversation? Is not the font also where we learn who and whose we are? I think we implicitly treat baptism as just a hoop to get through to get to the table.”
Grace: “I do think that I emphasize not just an interactional but a transformational experience at the table,” said John Leedy, pastor of University Church, Austin. “The debts that we owe to God for the grace of this life, especially for his grace and mercy – we are standing at a moment where we cannot possibly imagine a way to repay. All we can bring is thanksgiving.” Smith adds: “The grace they receive is a costly grace. Everything on the table says that. The broken body. The poured-out blood. That’s why holiness matters. This should linger in their heart and mind, and as those patterns of worship are repeated that becomes an imprint, should become an imprint that is selfless.”