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Online Communion?

The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry met recently in Nashville to discuss the relative merits of offering Communion online. You can find detailed background of the meeting here. Here is a portion of that article:

The meeting follows growing discussions about online Eucharist in local churches around the globe, particularly in Europe, said the Rev. Larry Hollon, the top executive of United Methodist Communications. His agency includes United Methodist News Service.

He noted that some nondenominational churches already offer online communion, and some United Methodist churches are considering expanding their online ministries.

“There is a need to recognize the value of online community as well as an equally important need to discuss its limits, as is true with actual community,” Hollon said.

The Rev. Daniel Wilson, who plans to attend the Nashville meeting, is preparing to serve as online campus pastor forCentral United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C. The 178-year-old downtown church near Charlotte plans to offer its first service at the not-yet-working http://centralonline.org on Christmas Eve.

“I believe, yes, there is community that happens online, that for certain personalities and certain people is just as significant as the (sense of) community I feel in a group of people gathered together in a sanctuary,” Wilson said. “I don’t expect everyone to understand that or believe that. But yes, my belief is that community can be the same online.”

He said his online campus will use the United Methodist liturgy for communion. “You will see onscreen an invitation from one of our pastors to get your elements of bread and juice or wine. We do not want to water it down so much that people use Goldfish (crackers) and apple juice.”

As people watch worship online, he said, a team from Central will be available to chat with viewers, share in prayer and answer questions. That includes questions about the sacrament.

His congregation’s vision is that the new campus “will be the DNA of Central Downtown-Concord taken to an online medium.”

“We still will be very mission focused. There will be teaching and Bible study opportunities as well as online worship. …To our knowledge, we are among the first mainline congregations attempting to make a holistic online congregation. My No. 1 goal in all of this is that it becomes a very relational way of doing ministry.”

Read the rest here.

This is an important teachable moment concerning the nature of worship that I don’t want to ignore, so I’d like to open up some discussion about this issue.

First, what does the offering of Communion online reveal about their understanding of the nature and purpose of Communion?

One of the questions those involved thankfully wrestle through is whether true “communion” can take place online. Is such horizontal communion even necessary? If the Table is seen as either a means of grace or merely a memorial, why couldn’t online Communion be acceptable?

Third, notice this comment in the article:

“We do not want to water it down so much that people use Goldfish (crackers) and apple juice.”

This raises interesting questions about cultural contextualization in the Lord’s Table. Are bread and wine necessary? What about grape juice in place of wine? Must the bread be unleavened? Are there any biblical limits to what might replace bread and wine? Would Goldfish and apple juice be a legitimate contextualization?

How would the regulative principle of worship inform this discussion?

Finally, what does this discussion say about how online social media have changed contemporary views of church, community, and spirituality?

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.

44 Responses to Online Communion?

  1. Vaden says:

    Wow Scott I give it to you..this article really made me think about a lot. Where to start with this…hmm…Well I am going to take the side that I think with the way that technology has changed how we conduct life and made us where a lot of people thrive on line more than in public places. I think that under the right circumstances for online church goers its a good idea. Just based on the fact that you can participate in the Lord’s Supper. Now saying this I will address the if gold fish and apple juice are fine. I am a traditionalist on this aspect that we should be drinking wine and unleavened bread. And I believe that you should strive and participate in the Lord’s Supper as close you can to that of the Bible’s. Now saying that I think that like the widow’s mite story if all you can afford is goldfish and apple juice to take the Supper then that is fitting because God knows that that is all you have to give to God. I see no problem in having online church goers participating in online Communion. Now saying this I will not be participating for the sole reason that I am not an online church goer. I will participating with my local church that I attend. I know some will see an issue with this method of thinking. My whole thing is that the church and God’s kingdom moves through the times of history and if we are impacting the world through online then let us be able to give on-liners the tools they need to follow the Word and what it says about worship.

  2. ai-chin says:

    What is the reason that churches offer online communion? I assume it is for believers’ convenience. I understand that if your circumstances really (to the extreme) don’t allow you to go to church and partake the communion with other believers. But if you partake the Lord’s Table online simply because of convenience. I will say a big NO NO.
    First, the Lord’s Table is an intimate act of our relationship with King Jesus. Let us imaging this together. Today is your father’s birthday and you are busy and don’t have time to go home. Your mother is cooking your dad’s and your favorite food. You call your parents and tell them that you will buy the same food that your mother cooks. Then you will skype them and eat with them at the same time. All these might work. But don’t you think that something is missing. Yes, the intimate and quality time.
    Second, online communication has been so common in our lives. I don’t oppose online communication. I skype with my family every day. However, the action of online communion is a sign of compromising to the world. Today, we are offering online the Lord’s Table, because we don’t have time. Tomorrow, we might even make it more “convenience”—texting or calling communion. To make it convenience, we can text a church the word “communion”, and the church will use machine to reply to us the steps of communion and we can partake communion by our own. Where is the original meaning of the Lord’s Table? Yes, gather together with other believers and remember Jesus. Maybe, this is not convinced enough. What about online Baptist?
    I should say if we keep compromising to this world—even on things that might not seem to be a big deal—one day, we, Christ followers, will spiritually die without noticing, just like the frog dies in a slowly heat up pot.

  3. Sze Wing Ho says:

    From my point of view, it is quite unacceptable to have online worship, and of course online Communion. According to the book of Hebrew, worship is a process of drawing near to God through Jesus Christ. If people are not willing to go to the church in person to worship God, I wonder how much they want to spend time to develop a personal relationship with God.

    In the New Testament, people are always gather for corporate worship. The communion in corporate worship involves our fellowship with God, as well as the fellowship among believers. It is important to know that God wants us to enjoy His presence together with other Christians. In Hebrew 10:25, God remind us not to “give up meeting together” and we should “encourage one another”. One may argue that we can still “meeting together” and “encourage one another” with the aid of the advanced internet technologies, however, is there any technology that is more powerful than a hug?

    The offering of Communion online reveal that some people underestimate the importance of fellowship between godly people.

  4. Jin Young Park says:

    Concerning the nature of worship,  online communion must be forbidden. United Methodist Board uses online communion for one of ways to expand and share their ministry  broadly, but they know that the meaning of communion could be minimize by online communion. Communion is influenced by culture contextualization when the article says “We do not want to water it down so muuch that people use Goldfish (crackers) and apple juice.” The article says online social media expands the participation of congregation even though they are not able to  attend worship in their situation. The contemporary meaning of Christianity is getting wider by online social media, but I believe that the onlie participation of worship makes Christianity one of TV shows. 

  5. Danielle Davidson says:

    Online communion is like having online baptism. It’s absurd. If we are going to have church online and stretch it so far as to where the body is never joined together as one body than what is the point of church at all. The body is supposed to have parts that make up one body-we are the parts. We are to help one another, strengthen one another and build one another up with love. We can’t do that if we never join together. Paul didn’t only write letters to the different churches and people- he desired to be with them and made that his mission to go to them and strengthen them in Christ.

    Ai-chin made a great point about the family meals. Would you not join your husband or wife on their birthday to celebrate. Not only that would you not make that top priority and do everything you could to make sure you were there with them? Is not God more important than our earthly families? The regulative principle would mark this a heresy! The example laid out in biblical text is joining together. Jesus didn’t say, “Here is some bread and wine. Each of you go to your own private rooms and remember me.” No, Communion was even a fulfillment to communion in the Old Testament. It furthered the fact that communion is open fellowship with God. You cannot have fellowship with someone you are not with. If separated communion is not commanded or alluded to in scripture than it is wrong in worship! By offering it only you are making that adiaphora a proscribed worship. That believer is essentially taking communion by themselves in a room. That is absolutely wrong.

    Another thing about online communion or even online church- it is a one way communication. It is not a dialogue where fellowship is possible. It is simply one person watching a screen in similarity to one person reading a book. God didn’t say to read his word and take communion on your own. The gathering together of believers is important to God.

    Instead of putting our efforts into creating online ministries we should be looking into planting more churches near those who are too far to attend. Even a gathering in a house for a church is better than watching a screen and calling it fellowship with the body.

  6. Boyoung Lee says:

    I was shocked to hear about the online communion. Rev. Duniel Wison said “my belief is that community can be the same online.” I don’t disagree about his online ministry for the local community. But I disagree that all sacraments of the church are performing through the online. Even though they insist to focus the center of the heart and mind for God in even the online communion, I believe that forming the liturgy in the visual aspect is important as much as we have the faith to God, because our liturgy of the sacrament must be preserved and carefully conveyed to the next generation. The online communion might be very lightly regarding to the importance of the sacrament. If it would keep doing it, the next generations might not be able to discern the value and the purpose of the communion. I think that the conservation of the inheritance of the worship liturgy is the most important thing for us and our obligation to the next generation.

  7. Jessica Wan says:

    I was laughing with Keji as we imagined people using gold fish and apple juice to represent the elements. However, as funny as it was, I remembered my friend shared with me how her mentor and her had communion with tea representing the blood and dumplings representing the body. Given their circumstances, the representation of communion took the form of what was available. Hence, I do not believe communion must be conducted with wine and unleavened bread but more on the meaning behind the elements. I think Paul summarizes the purpose of communion well in I Corinthians 11:26 as he says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

  8. Keji Lu says:

    Personally, I’m not agree with the online communion. The Lord’s supper is mean for Christians drawing near to God through Jesus Christ. According to what Jesus did with his disciples, communion is to fellowship with the Lord and with other believers. It’s a cooperate worship, so if people do it online it will lose the meaning for doing it. As RPW defenition said “anything is not permitted is forbidden,” online communion is obviously not permitted in the Bible. People can communicate through internet, but personally I don’t feel it is real communicate with people, we can only watch people on screen and here there voice. If people do online communion, they can’t really communion with believers and it’s had to focus on God and worship Him in that way. However, one may still find online communion will works some good for those believers can not make it in a real Lord’s supper because of health issue or in some isolated place. But for belivers don’t have those difficult issues, they should always go to a real Lord’s supper.

  9. Leyi Ling says:

    According to the definition of the Regulative Principle of Worship, whatever is not permitted is forbidden, online- communion should be forbidden, because “online” is not even mentioned in the Bible. Since this article did not clearly state the purpose of the “online communion”, with different purpose this topic could turn out very differently.

    For people who are physically sick and could not attend church to have the communion, I think online communion is a good idea. It would make those people felt they could have the communion equally with others, instead of being the who could only waiting people visit them after church. When I visited a sister in Christ, who was physically very sick, I felt that she truly appreciated the church treat her differently, at the mean while, she also felt sad about the fact that she was treated differently and could not physically be there. I believe that online communion will make those people, who are like my sister in Christ, feel they are not only in the church body’s visiting and prayer list, but also “be” there and being part of “one body” during the communion.

  10. Daniel La Nu says:

    Do these people really understand the nature and purpose of local church? The scripture clearly teaches us about the nature and purpose of local church, and its corporate worship. If you watch the screen individually at a convenient time and partake the bread and wine at your apartment, I would not call this fellowship. In addition, the local church is not about online marketing or meeting the need of people’s convenience. Of course there is an online community, but you can only get virtual relationship unless you switch it into a genuine one in a real life. There’s no question about online media being used as an effective tool to spread the gospel, but it’s not a place or means for corporate worship.

  11. Leyi Ling says:

    On the other hand, I believe that there is a big difference between online communion and physical face-to-face communion. Physically sitting in the same room and having the communion definitely bring a different atmosphere of worship. It is like the difference between a physical hug and a word “hug” through facebook.
    In addition, I disagree with Hollon’s point on “There is a need to recognize the value of online community as well as an equally important need to discuss its limits, as is true with actual community”. First of all, the recognition of the value would help people decide if they should keep on doing the things they are doing right now. Secondly, through the Bible we can see God cares how He is worshipped, it does matter both heart and action. Hollo’s point sounds like as long as we have a true and right heart to worship, the method is not so important, since we reach the goal of worship. I strongly disagree with it. Worship is not a task; it is more like a process. We cannot say as long as we reach the goal and fulfill the purpose, the method is not so important. Dr. Aniol emphasized a great statement on worship, in our class, that for worship, heart and action are equally important, because God cares both. Put one above another would be very dangerous.
    Online-communion is a good thing for special cases, but I do believe that for ordinary circumstances, regular worship communion is right way to go.

  12. Bradley Anderson says:

    I think technology has done good things, but I never thought I would see the day of online communion! Corporate worship and communion is about coming together as a group of believers. I can kind of understand having worship for members who are shut-ins, in the hospital or maybe deployed overseas in the armed forces. But giving the option for online worship/communion simply out of “convenience” is ridiculous! Where in Scripture is coming together tor corporate worship and communion, etc…supposed to be convenient? If it wasn’t important for believers to come together and worship, then why is it emphasized in Scripture? What’s next, online baptism as Danielle put it?

  13. Daniel La Nu says:

    Do these people, who are advocating online communion, understand the nature and purpose of local church? Scripture clearly teaches about the nature and purpose of local church, so I am assuming people understand the importance of corporate worship. If we watch the screen individually and partake the bread and wine, how would corporate worship take place. I just cant imagine that!!The church is not about online marketing, or meeting the need of people convenience.Of course, there’s an online community, but you can only get virtual relationship unless you switch it to make a genuine one in a real life. Having said that, virtual relationship within the body of Christ is questionable.

  14. Megan Maxwell says:

    This is an interesting issue, especially considering where the nature of our society is heading. A community online seems far less foreign than in the past. However, there is a a lot of personal relationship that can be hidden over a computer. I understand if people are unable to be together, staying in fellowship through the computer. However, to make everything online seems to take away from true fellowship that believers are supposed to participate in. I understand why online congregations would see the importance of participating in communion since it is commanded in the Bible as a part of worship. However, the purpose of the Table is for believers to remember what Jesus has done in the context of fellowship. I would have to argue that true fellowship in a purely online context is nearly impossible to achieve.

  15. Sarah Teichler says:

    “Wow” was precisely my response as well. Where to begin?

    First, I do believe that these Methodist pastors truly desire to minister to people and are seeking further ways via online avenues. Second, I believe that community can develop online. However, it is a very different sort of community, a sort of partial community. People often act and speak differently online than they do in person. (Even Paul was accused of being one way in his letters and another way in person.) A person may be more antagonistic online than in person, or they may say all the right things, but not actually live any of them out. The only way to truly build relationships with someone is to spend time with them. So, I think the main flaw in online communities is a lack of accountability.

    In the article “Restoring Meaningful Church Membership” (in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches), Mark Dever addresses this very problem of what a church is, how meaningful membership has been lost, and what steps can be taken to restore it. He says, “…People who do not give themselves in loving commitment to each other have no reason to think that they have given themselves in loving commitment to God” (57-58). Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    The flip side of the accountability coin is the responsibility of the pastor. Dever says, “Pastors again must meditate on Hebrew 13:17, ['Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account,'] and consider the seriousness of the accounting to God we are to give for those to whom we have given assurance of their salvation” (61). Rev. Daniel Wilson claims, “My No. 1 goal in all of this is that it becomes a very relational way of doing ministry,” but the bottom line is that online church is anti-relational. Therefore, offering communion online is, I believe, a dangerous practice and very irresponsible, as there is little means of accountability on the part of the individual and little responsibility on the part of the pastor.

    I think online ministry is a great tool and supplemental resource, but I think it needs to have the goal of driving people toward an actual physical community of believers.

  16. Jae Won Baek says:

    Oh…this discussion is really hard. But it is very important issue for today worship. Certainly, through online people cannnot have deep and true relationship. Nevertheless today generation, they cannot live without online condition. Even Church homepage is providing for Christian including non- Christian like video of sermon, praising in worship, and various rooms for notice and communication with them. I think the bread and wine can be contextualized, if their sorrounding or condition is not the same as normal church. For example, for one country which hard to prepare real bread and wine, it is possible for replace. And in case of young people, wine is not permitted because of their age. So when I was young, I participated the Lord’s Supper with bread and ‘grape juice’. Under the very special cases, like the serious patients, woman who give birth to baby, I think it is possible having online communion. But it must do it very carefully. Still I need to think more for these issues.

  17. Sarah Teichler says:

    Our Western culture is so focused on the individual and what is “best” for him. As leaders, we often try to give as many options as possible (am/pm service, contemporary/traditional, dressy/casual, TV/online/in person) so we can “meet everyone’s needs – AKA let everyone choose how they like to worship. This is not biblical.

    Ai Chin, you’re right: this is a matter of convenience, rather than extreme circumstance. It is a very tiny minority (the ill, homebound, or geographically isolated) that requires a TV or online community to be their primary source for corporate worship. The majority of people who choose this type of impersonal worship experience are valuing their individual autonomy above submitting to the authority of God’s Word. Perhaps they don’t want people meddling in their lives (accountability) or perhaps they just want to stay in their comfy pj’s and watch from the comfort of their own couch, because worship is all about me and my preferences.

    Communion is meant to be observed together with other gathered believers. It is not just about the individual. God’s Word is very clear on the importance of meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25) and the practice of sharing communion with fellow believers. I say it once again, the online venue is a great place for evangelism and individual study, but it is no substitution for being a part of a local, physical congregation of believers.

  18. Sarah Teichler says:

    One last comment: My former pastors would sometimes take bread and wine (juice) to congregants who were shut-ins and celebrate Communion with them. In this way, they could maintain a personal relationship with them, have accountability, minister to them and share the Lord’s Supper with them. This is a much more biblical alternative to online Communion.

    There is a world of difference between evangelism and Communion. Evangelism is for the lost – use whatever means we have available to get the Gospel to people. Communion is for the believer – for the gathered body of believers. We must not confuse the two.

  19. Ben says:

    The more things like this come into the light, the more I am disillusioned with technology. It has its place in the church because today’s world is run by computer, internet, and who has the fastest signal. However, there is a time that lines are crossed and self/convenience becomes the focus instead of Christ.
    When people are too lazy to get out from in front of their computer to worship corporately, there is a heart problem. When they only take communion through a computer screen, the issue grows exponentially!
    If arguing the regulative principle, this practice would be condemned in a heartbeat. Not using wine has been argued and is generally accepted, but not using bread is altogether another thing. Couple these aspects with the failure to commune corporately, and the regulative principle advocates would be praying for a global blackout.

  20. John Gray says:

    Wow!!! The Methodist that support this must not believe that the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance (or sacrament) for the local body. They may argue that the online community is a local body, but this is flawed. They are forsaking the assembly (how can proper edification occur), thus making it not a local body. I also find the statement that “We do not want to water it down so much that people use Goldfish (crackers) and apple juice,” to be troublesome. How does one know the limits to watering down Scripture. Personally I believe we must stick to what scripture says, and not water it down at all. I do believe grape juice is a fruit of the vine though it is not fermented. The question of whether the bread should be unleavened or not goes back to the question of whether the last supper was during passover (as stated in Mathew, Mark, and Luke).

    I personally hold to a view of closed communion. This means that the Lord’s Supper should be taken by only those in the local body. Though I hold to this view, I do understand the argument of those that believe in close communion. This states that anyone who is a Christian (or of like faith) may partake of communion. I totally disagree with open communion. This is the belief that anyone can take communion. This goes directly against Scripture that says it is just for Believer (1 Cor. 11 talks about the brethren coming together to eat).

  21. Daniel L Nu says:

    The bread and wine (goldfish cracker/apple juice/ wine whatever its) will be delivered to your doorsteps just like amazon.com and other online delivery services. Churches here in the States compete each other to provide you the best services: feel-good sermons, emotional frenzy contemporary sounding music, best acoustical sound-system, free coffee and fellowship meal. All you have to do is church-shopping or church-hopping, pick the best one that suits your needs. This online communion service is going to be provided for your convenience. Many church ministers think of congregation as there potential consumers, and try to come up with different strategies to get you buy what you want. In other words, church people invent methods that are contrary to biblical principles to attract people to come worship. This is just sad!

  22. Malena Torres Martin says:

    Daniel I agree with you, because when the church becomes a bussines for some leaders more than a service of love to God, all these weird things happen. As Dr. Aniol explains this issue of the Lord´s Supper has been contextualized in the church. It is not enough to contextualize the worship at Church?. Also now some leaders and pastors of the Church are pretending to change one of the most important celebrations of Christianity; the observance of the Lord´s table, this is inadmissible. What a tremendous pretension. What does the Lord should be thinking in this time? if the church is changing the representation of his covenant (bread and wine), a memorial act to honor the sacrifice of Christ between the body of believers for an online practice.Let me clarify that I am not against the technology and media, because these massive media can help to spread the Gospel. However, it is completely different to preach the Gospel online, than to share the Lord´s Supper through a computer. Because, many consequences can happen, for instances: there is not real communion, if the person partakes of the Supper alone in his home, it does not have any biblical support for this action ,even if it is watching the program simoultaneously. I think it is just a way to reduce the significance of this act. There are certains things men should not change, and apparently looks like something with good intentions, but it is not, because God had established principles in His word.

  23. Malena Torres Martin says:

    Concernig about the elements (wine and bread). I remember the celebrations of communion in the Churches of Cuba were a challenge of faith, because as a consequence of the economic crisis and lack of food the Lord´Supper was celebrated with pieces of crackers instead of bread. But the fellowship was a wonderful moment when the communion took place. The union, respect and a meaningful introspection of our relationship with God were indispenssable. It is impossible that a profound conviction of partaking the Lord´s Supper happen through an online service, and adding that the person may not have the elements (bread and wine) in the house, possibly the Lord can consider this carelesness as an act of sacrilege. Because if the people at home use “goldfish crackers and apple juice instead of wine and bread they are water it down the Supper of the Lord as the article shows. I would like the celebration of the Lord´s Supper to be the most accurate possible to the Biblical teachings. But in some cases just as my church in Cuba that many times they did not have the unleavened bread or regular bread, they substituted for crackers, which is perfectly understandable, I do not have any reproach in this case.

  24. Ryan Thiessen says:

            On Line communion: an interesting idea and perhaps even worth looking into in this age.  It does however seem to to be a contradiction in terms.  Communing is at its very core not really possible in any other forum but in physical presence with the body of believers.  It would seem dependent on a person’s view of communion.  Is this seen as an individual act communing only with Christ or with the body of believers as well.
            If communion is seem from a Transubstantiation point of view, it seems that on-line communion would not even be possible.  Significant questions arise regarding the authenticity of the elements and whether “Hoc Est Corpus Meum” has the same effect when transmitted over the internet.  Similar concerns arise with a Sacramental Union view.
            If seen in the light of the memorial view, on-line communion does seem somewhat more viable from a purely functional standpoint.  If the concern is to observe communion simply for the sake of observing it (“check the block”) this does not seem so unconceivable.  Sadly it seems that many view the Lord’s Supper in this manner and with the rapid expansion on other on-line church services, this seems only natural.
            Bread and wine are necessary.  It’s really quite simple, Christ told us to do this.  I won’t attempt to dictate that a church must use wine or some substitute.  That is for each church to decide as best supports that churches pursuit of the three purposes.  However, contrary to what you may hear from SBC pulpits, the bible speaks of wine.  Many in our church want to wish this away and will even employ some “creative hermeneutics” to do so.  No, the Bible is not talking about grape juice.
            Social media benefits us by means of mass communication and connection with friends and loved ones separated by time and distance.  Like many recent innovations the unintended consequences are only realized over time and often with undesirable results.  Few of us could imagine out lives without FaceBook and Twitter.  Unfortunately, few of us recall our lives before them either.  

    Ryan Thiessen
    October 21, 2013

  25. Keji Lu says:

    Are bread and wine necessary? I think they are necessary in some way, unleavened bread is a symbolic feature with the Lord’s body and it is holy no sin, if people use regular bread it will loose the meaning of un-sin, people are eating their own sins. Therefore, unleavened bread is necessary. Baptist do not drink wines, so instead of wine, we use grape juice. Wine is made from grape juice, in Israel it is hard to keep the grape juice, so people made them into wine, Jesus uses wine as His blood. Wine(grape juice) is necessary because Jesus made parable for believers that “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 NIV).” Goldfish and apple juice can’t be use in The Lord’s Table because they have NO BIBLICAL MEANING.

  26. Ben says:

    Social media is a great way to stay connected with friends in different corners of the world. However, the constantly connected are usually connected and invested through their computer/phone/tablet screen, and seldom connect personally.

    With “friends” at one’s fingertips, who needs friends by one’s side? I can’t number the times that I’ve been out to eat with my wife or friends, to see people all around us on their phones checking facebook, uploading to instagram, and (my personal peeve) hashtaging twitter like it is going out of style while their family/friends sit right across the table doing the exact same thing! Where is the interaction? Where is the love for family/friends? This disillusionment has caused today’s society to be alone in public.

    Why is social media so popular? It’s because I can be whoever I want, put my best foot forward, and hide my personal deficiencies if I choose to do so. People who know me only through social media don’t know me. They know my face and a few of my preferences. When people care enough to know me as a person that is when they are considered to be a “friend.”

  27. Ben says:

    Social media is a great way to stay connected with friends in different corners of the world. However, the constantly connected are usually connected and invested through their computer/phone/tablet screen, and seldom connect personally.
    With “friends” at one’s fingertips, who needs friends by one’s side? I can’t number the times that I’ve been out to eat with my wife or friends, to see people all around us on their phones checking facebook, uploading to instagram, and (my personal peeve) hashtaging twitter like it is going out of style while their family/friends sit right across the table doing the exact same thing! Where is the interaction? Where is the love for family/friends? This disillusionment has caused today’s society to be alone in public.
    Why is social media so popular? It’s because I can be whoever I want, put my best foot forward, and hide my personal deficiencies if I choose to do so. People who know me only through social media don’t know me. They know my face and a few of my preferences. When people care enough to know me as a person that is when they are considered to be a “friend.”

  28. Vaden says:

    To those saying that Goldfish have no meaning…I would like to point you to all the fish references in the bible.. lol JK no but seriously I know that he uses the bread and the wine and like I said before how are we to take into effect that if someone can’t afford wine and bread and all they have is a cracker which is what most Baptist take and an alternate juice to wine like that of grape juice. if we tell them its wrong then we need to take the widow’s mite story out and say well what she brought to the table was not enough. I know that a lot of you are probably like well that’s why you go to a local church but you have to wake up and see we are in 2013. Sadly many live their whole lives online so we now have churches on there and there will be Lord’s Supper’s online….just a mite for your thoughts….

  29. Ryan Thiessen says:

            Of course the argument can made for the efficacy of on-line services for those who are otherwise unable to attend a physical service.  The “unintended” consequences of this become quickly obvious.  The tendency away from personal, face-to-face communications is having the same deleterious on the church as it is on society as a whole.  Just as the notion of public discourse now seems a distant memory, so too go the benefits of personal, tactile contact amonst the body of believers.  I am concerned as to where this trend will take us in the next generation or two. 
            Sarah reminds us of a practice dating back to the patristic period where priests / pastors would take communion to those who were otherwise incapable of physically participating on Sunday.  While this does not provide the benefits communing with the larger body of believers, it nonetheless provides a scaled-down version, in that the practice is observed with at least one other believer (“Where two or more are gathered…”).  That practice is of course provided only so long long as the congregant is physically unable to attend.
            I recently observed (ironically on Facebook) a sign posted in a coffee shop that said “We have no Wi-Fi here, you will have to talk to each other”.  This would seem a true and sad commentary on our society in this age.  I am personally torn between the efforts of churches to reach a wider audience versus the tendency to drive people to individual worship practices.  While I applaud the former (in regards to the intention), the latter’s unintended consequences are not likely to be possitive.
            Ultimately the practice of on-line communion (or worship services in general) would fail to satisfy the three purposes of the church.  While God can be glorified by the individual worshipper, this is lessened when we are not supporting each other in our trials and difficulties.  Certainly on-line services can bring the lost to Christ, but without the body of believers to instruct and demonstrate what that really means smacks of the seeds that fail to take root.  Most notably the edification of the body of believers simply cannot take place where there is no body.  All this is to say that, in a nation where worship is not constrained and worshippers are without fear of reprisal, we must cautiously and judicially employ the use of on-line services, to avoid a culture where this becomes the default practice.
            Ben’s point is spot-on regarding people gathered together, communicating with everyone they know except those sitting right next to them.  Even when they do communicate with those in their party, this too is via electronic means.  We do this with our own families, missing out on those moments in life that come only once; moments that Facebook and Twitter can never fully capture and never adequately recall.  How can we listen to the issues and concerns or our brothers and sisters in Christ when our attention is on people hundreds of miles and many years removed from our lives.  Are we becoming electronic hermits?  

    Ryan Thiessen
    October 21, 2013

  30. Vaden says:

    And if you want to know how I feel personally about this I agree with Ryan his first 4 paragraphs of his comment right above mine. But if approaching this and taking myself out of the equation I still stand by what I have said..

  31. Laura Baskin says:

    Many of you have already expressed my thoughts, but I will just state where I stand on this issue.

    Like Megan said, at the rate we are going with technology, this is not really much of a foreign idea today. Whether we like it or not, technology is growing at a ghastly rate. As others have mentioned, technology has a very paradoxical nature. At the same time that it has enabled us to further grow in our relationships with others, it has also created a barrier in community as well. Just as is with so many other things, technology can be a great tool if used in the proper way. (And some of you, like Ben, have mentioned this above, I believe.) For instance, now through the use of Facebook, I am able to see what is going on in so many of my friends’ lives ALL AROUND THE WORLD! What an incredible thing! Back in the day, one used to have to wait a long time to see what was going on just a city down the road from him. But now technology has bridged those sort of communication gaps. On the other hand, it has hindered relationships. Many people, especially teenagers and now young children, are so captivated by technology that they refuse to interact with other people and are too lazy to get out of their homes. We are, unfortunately, continuing to become a more individualistic society.

    I always come back to balance. It is a very key component to a healthy, Christian lifestyle. Leyi took the words right out of my mouth. There are people, who are disabled or very sick and cannot come to meet the physical body in person. In their case, online church services are such a blessing! However, as others stated, this should not result in an excuse for people to park it on their bootays at home. Community is most definitely not the same online as it is in person. A missionary family can have Skype convos with their family and friends all day long, but still very much miss the closeness of being in person with one another. People need touch. That’s one reason why we go to nursing homes–so the people can feel another human being!

    Therefore, let us embrace balance. If one is unable to participate do to his/her health, aid him/her! If not, encourage others to get up and come join the congregation in person.

  32. Laura Baskin says:

    In addressing the goldfish/apple juice comments, I agree with others like Matt and Jess that using what you have (when you cannot afford/have access to anything else) is biblical. This is clearly represented in passages like Leviticus 5:11: “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, he may bring two quarts of fine flour as an offering for his sin…” (HCSB)

    Now, if you can have the good stuff, go for it! For example think about technology: it’s the next best thing to seeing someone in person. However, if you can see the person, forget the technology! And take Christmastime, for instance. One year I had to decorate a fichus tree with lights and put presents under it, because we didn’t have a Christmas tree (fake or real!) Did it work? Yes. But would I have liked to have had the real thing? You better believe it.

    When arguing over such things as should we have wine or grape juice, we have to remember that some lines are not clearly drawn. If wine or grape juice are in question, what about the fact that many churches serve communion in the pews instead of gathered around together after a meal? Moreover, if you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, what about the particulars of the wine you serve? Maybe we should only drink wine that comes from the same family of trees that Jesus drank wine from. Lines. Lines. Lines. Where should the line be drawn?

    All in all, let’s go back to the edification of the church. If your church is serving grape juice instead of wine, then maybe that is edifying to your church. If your people struggle with alcohol abuse, this can be a very positive alternative for your congregation. keep the perspective of the whole Bible in mind. One should rather keep a man from getting drunk than from making sure he has the exact same beverage Jesus had. If we don’t believe in transubstantiation, then there should not be a problem… Lastly, let’s not forget people with allergies. What if someone is allergic to grapes? Would you rather that person not participate at all? I should hope you would want him/her to participate. Bring it back to edification of the church (within the biblical mindset!).

  33. John Gray says:

    Ben, I agree with your stance. I think it is sad that so many neglect the value of face to face relationships. In the Church this is a must. I believe to properly edify the body we must be in relationships with one another. It would be strange to consider someone a true friend that you have never met personally, so how can we build true relationships with the Body just from being online.

    Daniel, I agree it is sad the way so many church services have become a activity based program. They teach health and wealth, and they always want to fulfill everyone’s preference. Should it shock us that they now are misusing the Lord’s Supper (there is a warning against taking the Lord’s Supper in a unworthy manner)? I would say it is one more step in the tragedy of the Americanized Church. We must stick to scripture, and be led by the Holy Spirit. May we follow Scripture in all the elements of the Church service, not just the ones that fit our preference.

  34. Jessica Wan says:

    I like how Laura poses the question “where should the line be drawn?” which made me think of our last discussion and how we are people of such extremes. As I continue to ponder, I wonder… should there even be a line? I would argue for there not to be a line since it is not our works that saves us but faith in Christ. In other words, if someone does use gold fish crackers and apple juice for communion, that person should not be sentence to hell because the elements are not “correct.” Rather, if the person’s heart is not in the right place with God, then the person is subject to judgment as Paul explains in I Corinthians 11:28-29: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” Thus, communion should be taken with the right heart and mind regardless of what elements are used to represent to blood and body of Christ.

  35. AeilPark says:

    I agree with Sze Wing Ho’s opinion. I understand we can share and discuss Christian information with Christian people online but we cannot worship God online because worship is the communication with God and Christian people. Obviously God teaches us “everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts” in Acts Chapter3 verse 46. Worship is the drawing near to God but if we worship God without fellowship with Christian people it will be hard to draw near to God. because a healthy life of faith comes from fellowship with believers. also God will be with them when they worship together.(Matthew18:20) there is significance of the Lord supper, when we gether together in the church.

  36. Brian Matthewson says:

    Concerning the matter of making substitutions for the elements of communion. Using analogies to describe God or his attributes can be risky business if not carefully thought out for they can have unintended, false implications. For example, some have tried to use the analogy of water’s ability to assume three different forms (ice/solid, water/liquid, steam/gas) to explain the Trinity. However, this analogy, taken to its logical conclusion, actually describes a heretical view of the Trinity known as modalism. I say all this to draw attention to the need to consider the possible unintended implications our substitutions say about Christ’s sacrifice. What might the use of fish crackers, which are highly processed and shaped by human ingenuity, imply regarding what we believe about the nature and importance of Christ’s sacrifice or the ordinance itself?
    This being said, God does use analogies in Scripture to describe his character and these God given analogies are good. In this case he chose bread and wine (flowing from fruit of the vine) to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice. In fact, the Bible is rich with bread and wine related imagery. In relation to the Lord’s Supper it is no insignificant reminder to actually see the loaf of bread torn and broken or to see the red grape juice/wine being poured out of its vessel into the cup. Because God has specifically revealed this analogy it is in our best interest for our practices to remain as as close to God’s analogy as possible. (God does understand if our circumstances do not permit us to use these exact elements – after all, he did make allowances in the law for people to offer different sacrifices based on their socioeconomic status. Plain crackers seem to be a suitable substitute in such circumstances.)
    With this in mind I would say that a legitimate critique could be made against using those tiny breadlets (which don’t really even taste like bread) for communion. They are presented as individual, disconnected pieces set in a tray, as such, in addition to the intended symbolism they also, unintentionally, represent American individualism and pragmatism. The inferiority of this practice is clearly seen when compared to using a single loaf (leavened or unleavened). When using a single loaf each person breaks off and eats a small piece from the common loaf. Practicing communion this way displays an excellent example of our common unity under the headship of Christ and our unity as the body of Christ.

  37. Sze Wing Ho says:

    The above discussion raised a very important issue about worship: cultural contextualization in the Lord’s Table. Due to many reasons, the Communion in today’s church maybe quite different from the one in early Christian worship. The most obvious difference is the “bread” and “wine” that used in the Lord’s Table. Although I don’t think it is appropriate to use Goldfish and apple juice for Communion, it seems to me that it is more acceptable than offering Communion online.
    In my opinion, the food and the drink are substances that representing the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. Even though most of the churches are not using unleavened bread and wine for Communion, the food didn’t alter the nature of the Communion. Since communion is a fellowship between God and His people in a corporate worship, offering Communion online change the nature of the liturgy. The online social media cannot replace the physical interaction between godly people.

  38. Megan says:

    In regard to this discussion and the regulative principle of worship, I think I would have to forbid online communion, simply because it is not partaking in communion in the way that it was intended. The purpose of communion was clearly to remember in fellowship as a community of believers what Jesus did at the cross. Having everything online really makes this fellowship practically impossible.

    As far as the goldfish and apple juice discussion, I find it rather odd that the United Methodist Church was so concerned about the actual elements of communion when the very central meaning of The Table is being distorted by being taken online. The items being consumed seems to be a much lesser issue than the context of the meal.

  39. Bradley Anderson says:

    I really like the point Ben brings up about it being a heart problem when people are too lazy to leave their house and go to corporate worship. People want what is convenient and unfortunately technology offers that convenience. It can be so easy to take the easy way out of things or expect things to be convenient or easy for us. I think Sarah hit the nail on the head with one of her comments.
    “I think online ministry is a great tool and supplemental resource, but I think it needs to have the goal of driving people toward an actual physical community of believers.” Shouldn’t any type of outreach/ministry (online or in person) seek to bring together into a community of believers? I think so.

  40. Brian Matthewson says:

    In reflecting upon this article it is interesting to observe how it reveals about communion and community. For instance, the article uses the term “sacrament” to refer to communion, that it somehow imparts grace to the communicant. Perhaps the purpose behind sanctioning online communion is to make sure that no one is denied access to the grace of Christ. Pragmatically, this solution is also much easier to enact than other possibilities. Of course, This online option would not even be on the table if the writer didn’t feel that experiencing online community can be “just as significant” as experiencing an actual community, a sentiment that is encouraged by the expansive web of social media. Now, although the writer claims the validity of online communities it does not change what true community is nor the need for true community. While it is true that online communities can be meaningful they are ultimately impersonal and inferior to being a part of and interacting with an actual community (as many have already attested to). Just as the soul is incomplete without its body and the body is incomplete without its soul so to is an online community incomplete without an actual referent. While the internet can provide instant forms of communication, communication alone is not enough. If it were enough why would Paul feel the need to express his longing to be physically present with his fellow believers and friends (2 Tim 1:4; Philip 4:1).

  41. Jae Won Baek says:

    Laura, yes, we need to keep balance very carefully. Overall, I agree with opinions about on-line above. Ultimately, on-line system has limit to make true relationship. However today people’s life is connected with on-line greatly. Even, are we using on-line now to discuss about worship issue? So Internet is not a core part but just a tool. The best answer is always the Word of God, Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, once again, as can as possible, let’s follow the model of Lord’s Supper as what Jesus did, except very limited cases like mentioned above. For reminding spirit of communion, as Jessica memtioned, I Corinthians 11:28-29 is very essential point. Heart of worship ‘with congregation’, not just individually is what Jesus has done for us.

  42. ai-chin says:

    Oppss,,,,I totally forgot that I have not posted my second comment. Reading through the comments, I agree with those of you who agree with the elements that we use in communion is not important. The most important is the meaning behind it. God cares for both action and heart. Will God not love you because you are not using wine and bread in the Lord’s supper?

  43. Danielle Davidson says:

    I’m in the same boat as Ai-chin!

    I want to make a comment about Laura’s post. She said:

    All in all, let’s go back to the edification of the church. If your church is serving grape juice instead of wine, then maybe that is edifying to your church. If your people struggle with alcohol abuse, this can be a very positive alternative for your congregation. keep the perspective of the whole Bible in mind. One should rather keep a man from getting drunk than from making sure he has the exact same beverage Jesus had. If we don’t believe in transubstantiation, then there should not be a problem… Lastly, let’s not forget people with allergies. What if someone is allergic to grapes? Would you rather that person not participate at all? I should hope you would want him/her to participate. Bring it back to edification of the church (within the biblical mindset!).

    This is a really good argument which I have always been in favor. But I have recently come to a different conclusion. I am just curious, don’t you think Jesus knew that all audiences would see in scripture his use of wine. Wouldn’t jesus be concerned about leading others astray by drinking wine at communion? I think that by saying we can’t do something Jesus did because of something we think he didn’t take into consideration is wrong. Jesus had everything perfect. He is perfect. He understood that drinking wine isn’t a sin. It is some who manipulate scripture that make something good, bad. Or others who make good things bad regardless of scripture. I would say I’m in favor for following Jesus in every way not just the ways I prefer.

  44. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Great discussion. I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of alcohol, but a couple follow-up comments:

    1. While it is certain the the wine Jesus used at the Last Supper was alcoholic, the alcoholic content of that wine was no where near the levels of even mind alcoholic beverages today. They simply did not have the technology to reach the levels of potency. Someone had to drink A LOT of wine to get drunk in Jesus’ day, which is why Proverbs 23:30 describes a drunkard as someone who “tarries long over wine.” So we must keep this difference in mind when talking about alcoholic beverages today. It is much easier today for someone to get drunk with far less than it was in Jesus’ time. Because their water was unsafe to drink, they used alcohol to purify the water. We, of course, do not have that problem today.

    2. It is interesting to note that Thomas Welch actually invented grace juice (that is, fruit of the vine without the alcoholic content) since alcohol levels were getting so high and he wanted to provide something to use at Communion that would not cause people to get drunk!

    3. It is always important when discussing issues of contextualization, especially with symbols, to ask what exactly the symbol is intended to represent before deciding what contextualization is within bounds. So, wine at the Table is intended to portray the shed blood of Christ. Whether or not it is alcoholic has nothing to do with the symbol. Whether it is red, however, does. So I would suggest that whatever beverage is used at the Table, it should be red. Further, the bread is intended to symbolize the broken body of Christ. So, in my opinion, the typical little crackers many churches use today are not enough of a correspondence to be legitimate contextualization, and gold fish certainly don’t cut it. Bread that can be broken best symbolizes what is intended. However, whether that bread is leavened or unleavened does not affect the symbolism.

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