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by Phil Johnsonne of the questions prompted by the quarantine is about "virtual communion." After all, in lieu of regular worship services, we are listening online every Sunday while our pastor preaches from the pulpit of the church. So why not have a kind of virtual communion service, where we all take the elements simultaneously in the privacy of our homes?Five times in Paul's instructions regarding the Lord's Table, he uses the phrase "when you come together as a church" or its equivalent (1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). In verse 34 he expressly contrasts "eat[ing] at home" with the act of eating the bread and drinking the cup as a church body "when you come together." Clearly, the communion ordinance is supposed to be shared by the gathered assembly of the church collectively, not taken by individuals in solitude. It is not a private sacrament.We might sometimes serve communion with a small group of 5-10 church members gathering at the bedside of someone who is homebound or permanently confined to a nursing home or long-term health-care facilities. But there's a significant difference in a case like that—because you have a subset of the church in genuine communion together, contrasted with isolated people in quarantine who serve themselves (which destroys the symbolism of the Supper).I agree that extraordinary times do sometimes call for extraordinary measures, and I understand the desire to be flexible in a time of emergency, so although I don't approve and wouldn't participate, I wouldn't necessarily inveigh publicly against a church that offered a "virtual communion service." There may be some well-meaning church leaders who sincerely believe some kind of makeshift online Eucharistic ceremony (sans any actual communion among the saints) is better than none at all. They are wrong about that. But if done anyway, such dramatic revision to the sacrament needs (at the very least) to be carefully and thoroughly explained, along with clear instructions telling participants that this is a temporary measure only, a one-time exception to the normal practice, and it should not change how the church normally observes the Lord's Table or regards its significance.In practice, however, "virtual communion" services do confuse peopleor worse. Saddleback Church, for example, has embraced the idea of "virtual communion." In an email message to church members during Passion Week, Rick Warren wrote, "Last weekend, thousands of our members participated in this tradition at home in our first online Communion in the history of this church. Many people just used what they had: cheese crackers, pancake bits, and various juices. It's hilarious seeing on social media all the things our members used!"They have literally made a mockery of the Lord's Tablethe very kind of thing the apostle was rebuking the Corinthians for in 1 Corinthians 11.So the best course of actionand what Grace Community Church's elders will be doingis to wait to serve communion until the church can legitimately assemble. Better to forego the ordinance altogether during the quarantine rather than risk confusing people about the meaning of the Lord's Table and how it is normally to be administered.
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