The Wesleyan View of Communion
was recently asked to give a ten minute talk on the
Taking all these variables into account, here is what I presented. I would summarize the Wesleyan view of communion in three main points:
1. Communion is a remembrance of what Christ did for us in his atoning death. This is of course the predominant lens through which Wesleyans understand communion, even if it is not the only one. Nevertheless, it is an element Wesleyans share with the church universal.
At some point in the communion services of all Christian churches, there is a point where the minister retells the story of the Last Supper:
“On the night he was betrayed, he took the bread. And when he had given thanks, he broke it an gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take, eat. This is my body that is given for you.’
“Likewise after supper he took the cup. And when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink you all of this, for this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
One Wesleyan friend described communion as a kind of “passion play,” where you watch the story playing itself out in the words of the minister.
In conjunction with this aspect of communion, I might
mention another very strong characteristic of communion in the
2. Communion is a means of God’s grace, a sacrament through which God conveys His presence to the believer.
While Wesleyans often do not emphasize this aspect of communion as much as they should, it is part of the language we use to describe communion, and it is of course solidly rooted in John Wesley himself.
A sacrament is a divinely appointed meeting place whereby a person can experience God’s gracious presence and power in your life. It is a “means of grace.” In our modern world we tend to sterilize language that has an element of the mysterious and the affective. We turn statements like “Blessed are the poor in spirit” into “Happy are the poor in spirit.” We take a statement like “The unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing one” into “The believing spouse has a positive influence on the unbelieving one.”
But to say that communion is a means of grace means that there is something mysterious going on here, that in some strange way we cannot explain, people meet God when they take communion. We mean to say that a person seeking God is more likely to find Him if they take communion. We mean that a person who is having trouble experiencing God’s presence or who is in a dark night of the soul is more likely to feel God’s presence if they take communion than if they do not. Wesley himself thought that since it was ultimately God’s choice as to when he spoke to you, our job was to avail ourselves of the means of grace to make ourselves ready.
This seems an appropriate place to address what
3. Communion is about communion with the body of Christ.
It is easy to forget that one of the principle functions of communion in the early church was to emphasize the unity of Christians with one another. One of my favorite verses in 1 Corinthians expressed this same point to the Corinthians, who were sorely in need of it:
“Though we are many, we are one body, because we all partake of the one bread.”
It is worth reminding ourselves, in the midst of our
individual wafers and cups, that Jesus and his disciples shared a common cup
and a common loaf. Wesleyans in
By the way, I think God is very pragmatic, but this aspect of communion implies that it isn’t really appropriate for the bride and groom alone to take communion at a wedding. Communion should always be open to every Christian or seeker present when it is offered. So if you are going to make communion a part of your wedding, it should be offered to everyone present.
Wesleyan churches are supposed to take communion at least once every three months. Notice the direction this wording is headed—we are welcome to take it far more often than that. John Wesley’s conviction was that you should take communion “as often as you can.” Indeed, he considered it a “sin of infirmity” to miss the opportunity inadvertently when it was available.
The Wesleyan liturgy emphasizes that the person partaking of communion should do so as an act of seeking communion with God. That means a non-Christian can make communion a time of seeking faith. Wesleyans would therefore want children to know that they are doing something more than just “snacking” when they take communion. But it seems to me that a child can recognize enough about communion as a remembrance of Christ’s last meal and an alignment with it to take communion very early indeed.
And here let me make a suggestion for Wesleyans. While a child must eventually make Christianity his or her own, we allow a child to be baptized at least in part because we believe children are on their way to heaven until they consciously do not repent of their sin. I personally think it is appropriate for children in the church to partake of this meal until they recognize their need for repentance—and then they can take it as a sign of repentance, or refuse it. It actually happens this way in many Wesleyan churches.
Wesleyans do not require baptism for communion. All we require is that the person be seeking God, “you who do earnestly repent of your sin.”