Browsing around on the Truth Magazine website a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a copy of Dick Blackford’s The Lord’s Supper: A Study Guide for all Christians. With interest and anticipation, I shelled out the $5.99 asking price and awaited its arrival by mail. This should be, by all rights, a major publishing event: it is, to my knowledge, the first work on the Lord’s Supper published among non-institutional Churches of Christ — ever.
Communion has been a major topic of interest for me in recent years. My wife and I attended a congo where the same passage (from 1 Corinthians 11) was read without comment each Sunday before the Lord’s Supper. Not only was there no comment given, there was no indication that anyone officiating had any more clue about the significance of the Supper than that we were to do it every Sunday. Is there anything wrong with 1 Corinthians 11? Absolutely not. The problem, again, at that congo (and in so many other CofC congos) was that we focused exclusively on when and how often to take the Lord’s Supper (every first day of the week!!) and never stopped to focus on the meaning of the Supper. Those Sundays kindled my interest in the history and theology of the Lord’s Supper. I’ve read widely both inside the Stone-Campbell Movement (which required quite a bit of digging) and outside of it (authors such as N.T. Wright, William Willimon and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.)
So, I had some hopes that Blackford’s book (Bowling Green, Kentucky: Guardian of Truth Foundation, 2005) would give something of a theology of Communion from a conservative Church of Christ perspective. But, it pains me to say, Bro. Blackford seems to have other goals in mind.
Let’s start off with some basic information: The Lord’s Supper is not so much a book as a workbook. It is a paperback, 75 pages in length, and is divided into 14 lessons (presumably to make it usable by adult Sunday School classes) with questions that follow each lesson — plus an appendix of recipes for Communion bread and a bibliography.
The lessons are titled as follows:
1. Introduction — The Death of Christ
2. The Lord’s Supper Instituted
3. A Study of 1 Corinthians 10.16-21; 11.17-34
4. The Significance of the First Day of the Week
5. The Frequency of Partaking
6. Denominational Ideas about the Elements
7. Denominational Views — Who Shall Partake?
8. False Benefits of the Lord’s Supper
9. One Cup — One Bread
10. Sunday Night Communion
11. Unity and the Lord’s Supper
12. Should the Communion be taken with a common meal?
13. Miscellaneous Questions About the Lord’s Supper
The material is heavily polemical in emphasis. Notice the distribution of material. Bro. Blackford, after a few thoughts on the death of Christ (these are some of the shortest chapters in the book), spends two lessons on the frequency of participating in Communion. The final eight lessons — with one exception — are entirely negative theology, attempting to demolish the views of others. This is what made the book so disappointing to me. There is great potential in a work like this one; Bro. Blackford could have articulated a constructive and lasting understanding of Communion for NI churches. Regrettably, he seems much more concerned with what we don’t believe than with what we do (or should) believe. An opportunity to fill one of the largest voids in our theology is thus dashed by a preoccupation with tearing down others rather than building up the knowledge and understanding of his own brothers and sisters.
In my next post, I’ll look at some of the individual chapters. Until then…