(See my previous posts on this book: 1, 2. For my regular 🙂 readers, this review serves some personally important purposes: it helps me to solidify some of my own thinking on the Eucharist, it helps me come to terms with the NI tradition of which I am a part, and it gives me some practice in writing book reviews. Indulge me, please. Your comments are welcome and very much desired.)
To state it completely, Bro. Blackford lists his first purpose in writing as:
…to make the Lord’s Supper more meaningful to the Christian. The author feels that this is a neglected area of study. In a time when the church is criticized because worship services are cold and meaningless, we must not ignore the criticism. Rather, we should make an examination to see if perhaps the criticism is valid, at least to some degree. While the leadership of a congregation may be at fault when the worship service is not as beneficial to the worshiper as one might wish, it must be emphasized that the final solution lies mainly with the individual. He has the responsibility to prepare himself.
There are a number of admirable points here. The fact that Bro. Blackford has devoted an entire volume to the Lord’s Supper (and is the first to do so) is worthy of praise and no minor event in a fellowship that prides itself on weekly Communion. Secondly, he has the presence of mind to notice that the topic is a neglected one and thirdly, he allows that there might be some problems with our current perceptions of the Supper due to that neglect. These realizations are steps in the right direction.
On the other hand, there are some distressing aspects to this statement. First, what is the meaning of Communion around the table of the Lord? Bro. Blackford spends two chapters (out of 14) discussing this question. More on that below. I would like to focus first on a second concern.
Notice the portion of the quote above that I have highlighted. It is certainly true, as Bro. Blackford suggests, that you get out of worship what you put into it and, further, that our hearts need to be prepared for worship. Far be it from me to deny that. What troubles me about his statement is what we might infer from this statement about what worship is and should look like.
Are we, as worshipping Christians, separate individuals who happen to be occupying the same room, each worshipping our own personal God?
Is worship really an almost entirely individual affair? If so, why do we come together on Sunday at all?
Secondly, what is the role of the Father, the Son or (dare I say it) the Spirit in worship?
Is the intent of the worship service that each of us should sit and work ourselves (individually) into a pleasing frenzy of devotion to God separate and apart from what might be going on around us (either up front or among those in the pews around us)?
Perhaps in all of this I protest too much. But particularly when it comes to Communion — which, as the very name implies, we do together, in community — what your brothers and sisters are doing — in song, in encouraging words, in prayer — is of the utmost importance.
The second point to be examined is what Bro. Blackford actually says about the meaning of the Supper. This task is rendered difficult by the rather confusing way in which the book in its entirety is structured.
Blackford, as was said earlier, outlines three purposes in writing: to make the LS more meaningful, to appeal for unity based upon the LS, and to deal with questions and controversies surrounding the LS. This is clear enough. Frustratingly, however, the book is not organized around these three purposes. Chapters 1 and 2 discuss the meaning of the LS, chapter 11 discusses unity, and chapters 6-10 and 12-13 discuss controversies surrounding the LS.
Chapters 3-5 are a bit of a mystery. Chapter 3 purports to be a study of the LS passages in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 but is far too brief (4 pages) to say anything of substance. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the timing and frequency of the LS — favorite CofC issues, to be sure — and perhaps are intended to be included among the controversies, but it is not clear whether that is what Bro. Blackford intended.
So that leaves us with chapters 1 and 2 to talk about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, chapters 1 and 2 are extremely short (2 pages each, with an accompanying set of questions). Chapter 1 focuses on the death of Christ by (I’m not kidding) devoting an entire page to a 2-column list of Biblical references — one column of prophecies of Christ’s death, one of fulfillment. The second chapter is a bit better. Some things are said about the meaning of the LS. Again, however, the chapter suffers greatly by its sheer brevity. Also, much of the chapter is taken up by a novel attempt to logically prove the absolute necessity of unleavened bread and grape juice (not wine) in the observance of the LS.