“My Priest” has assigned me to read On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius and Of Water and Spirit by Fr. Alexander Schmemman. I have also decided to revisit Baptist doctrine in light of Orthodoxy. Sooner or later, I may reach the tipping point where I either remain where I am or convert. As of right now, I am remaining a Baptist pastor (I am still a novice in studying Orthodoxy and I have an ill wife to provide for. Thus, I will not make any hasty decisions about something as important as this).
My First Orthodox Cross (© John Gresham)
There are times when we Baptist are clear as mud. Take for example, communion. I have found three opposing doctrines about how we are to approach this ordinance (sacrament). In the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith of 1707 (Revival Literature 2007), I found these words:
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly, by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, by spiritually receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of His death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, by spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, ans the elements themselves are to their outward senses. (Of the Lord’s Supper, pg. 68)
Strangely enough, the well-regarded A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice (American Baptist Churches, Judson Press 1991) throws the 1701 confession out of the window:
It is not a sacred mystery in which some divine power is imparted by the very eating and drinking. No attempt should be made to create an atmosphere of deep solemnity, which would invest this occasion with som dignity different from that of other worship services. There should be quiet reverence in any meeting where a congregation gathers to worship the Lord, but no extra solemnity should characterize the Lord’s Supper. (pg. 167)
Can the spiritual receiving of and feeding of Christ not be a sacred mystery? And how is it that this day of worship not to be taken differently than other days as we only observe Communion Sunday once a month (or less)? The National Baptist (in which I am a member of) used to include the Articles of Faith in our New National Baptist Hymnal where we find these words:
And to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination. (article 14)
In other words; yes, it is a solemn event for us. But, we still aren’t taking in anything special as it is just a commemoration. We are somewhere between the manual and the 1707 confession. With other Baptist bodies with their own doctrines and (thanks congregational rule combined with to “Soul Liberty” and Sola Scriptura) independent churches with the Baptist label, I am sure that my feeble review just scratches the surface of how many different explanations we have about Communion and how it should be practiced.
Maybe I am wrong. But, I really don’t see the benefit of our denomination having a wide variety of interpretations of this significant practice of the Christian faith. We frown up when our seminary trained pastors leave the Baptist Church and form their own independent ministries. Yet, it was our Lord and Savior who told his opponents that a house divided against its self cannot stand. It is my prayer that, at least, officials of the major Baptist conventions will get together and hammer out a more universal doctrine on Communion that we can set as the standard. But, I fear that herding cats in a thunderstorm may be an easier and more likely task.