The Eucharist is one of the great opportunities to offer a salvation commitment experience for the unbeliever or marginal Church attendee.
This opportunity is accentuated in this season in the church when other such experiences have been on the decline. In many churches, for instance, the use of the altar call is less effective than it once was. The Lord’s Table is a time when people can be called forward and “get moving” and thus a chance to include people into an act of salvation and grace, rather than just an inward assent.
Throughout my ministry when administering the elements I always share the simple gospel and ask that if someone has not crossed that line of faith that they can examine themselves, believe and participate in our open Wesleyan table and make this their first public act of faith in Jesus Christ. I am glad for the doctrinal and practical openness of my denominational tribe so that I can do this (although I’m cognizant that other tribes have a different view of the role of communion in their community of faith.) For my tribe, the Table was not a central feature for decades, and so I am one that has advocated for its resurgence. I should note that it was common for a Wesleyan church to celebrate communion frequently (and the denominations that merged to form it especially the Pilgrim Holiness tradition of which I am an inheritor). Many churches celebrated it quarterly, some did not even do so that frequently. Believe it or not, the same was true of baptism (with some members and ministers not ever being baptized). The sacraments were not a central part of many holiness church practice historically. Our movement may seem more like a sect or small separatist group to you, such as the Amish or Quakers, than a typical denomination, and on this point you would be absolutely right. Our history is the very opposite of mainline denominations.[quote_left]The Eucharist is one of the great opportunities to offer a salvation commitment experience for the unbeliever or marginal Church attendee.[/quote_left]I’ve found that our open Wesleyan table offers this unique opportunity to offer grace with an open hand to the unbeliever. I have seen many come to Christ during those special times of sacrament. This has included some children who asked their parents to let them come forward (often to the great surprise of their parents).
You might wonder what I do, and how I “control” such a setting when, say, an 8 year old child comes forward asking to take communion? Here’s what I always do with someone under the age of 13: When they approach I halt the line and kneel down and ask them if they know why we are doing this, and ask them if they believe in Jesus Christ as their salvation.[quote_right]If they can express that faith they get their first taste of the body and their first drink from the cup of his covenant.[/quote_right]If they cannot express this faith I ask if they want me to explain it further, and then I share the gospel. If after that explanation they can express faith then they join the table, if they can’t yet cross that line of understanding and heart faith then we wait for another time after they get a hug from their pastor. If they can express that faith they get their first taste of the body and their first drink from the cup of his covenant.
You may not like this practice of mine. It might not jive with your views of the Eucharist. However, I think it has served, in my ministry and within my tribe’s communion theology and practice, the best way to make the Table of the Lord a practical means of grace in my congregations. It has moved it from a ritual that is told to sit in the corner of the service order and remain merely symbolic into a vibrant source of not only Christian worship, fellowship and discipleship, but even a means of evangelistic grace, which we all need more of in our churches.
All this reminds me of a newer song:
“Oh, how could it be
That my god would welcome me
into this mystery?
Say ‘eat this bread, take this wine’
Now the simple made divine
for any to receive” (Matt Redman)
And an older one:
O the depth of love divine,
the unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into us conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts,
how the wine transmits his blood,
fills his faithful people’s hearts
with all the life of God!” (Charles Wesley)