John T. Lewis and the Lord’s Supper — A Friendly Rejoinder

Yesterday, I read with interest and appreciation John Mark Hicks’ reflections on John T. Lewis’ pamphlet “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day” (1952).  In a brief span, Hicks uncovers the origins of the Sunday night serving of the Supper and the theological basis of Lewis’ opposition to the practice.  The analysis is superb and clearly shows how portions of Lewis’ thought stem from his study under James A. Harding at the Nashville Bible School.  Moreover, it also (indirectly) sets Lewis’ thought apart from that of many opponents of the “second serving” in contemporary non-institutional circles.

What I want to speak to here is not so much the content of Hicks’ post but the discussion about controversy — the controversy about controversy, if you will 🙂 — that came out in the comment thread.  Hicks himself helpfully shows what was at stake theologically in Lewis’ decision to write.  Some of those who left comments seem to have missed this point, however, choosing instead to pick up on Hicks’ admittedly ambiguous final remark about controversy (Hicks writes, “Lord’s  Supper controversies have been with us for a long time…and will continue to be.  Alas.”), tsk-tsking like New England school marms over the fact that there was debate about this issue.

I was left scratching my head over all of this.  Lewis, as was typical of his style, believed that frank discussion of the issue would clarify what was at stake.  Hicks himself understands (as is clear in the post) what was lost theologically when the Lord’s Day/Lord’s Supper link was broken in 20th century liturgical practice.

Some of the commenters, though, appear to be allergic to theological argumentation of any sort, even as they recognize the problem that Lewis points to.  (Several of them seemed eager to share their own experiences of awkward Sunday evening Lord’s Suppers partaken of by only one or two people while everyone else looked on.  Believe me, I can relate.)

What to make of this?  Should Lewis not have written or said anything, so as to avoid controversy?  And, the larger question(s):  Why not write or preach (or blog) when something that you believe is important is at stake?  Furthermore, what happens to a communion in which all theological argumentation/disputation is ruled out of order because of some negative past experiences?

(Note for my four readers: I’m considering posting scans of all of Lewis’ extant pamphlets — including “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day” — on the “Texts” page of this blog.  Does anyone know of a quick way to do that that wouldn’t involve me retyping the pamphlets into Word?)

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9 responses to “John T. Lewis and the Lord’s Supper — A Friendly Rejoinder

  1. Interesting. I’d much rather read the primary sources than Hicks’ summary of them (for reasons which should be obvious) given my history with the disagreement.

    If you don’t have access to a scanner, you can snail mail me copies and I’ll scan them for you, Chris.

  2. Interesting. Relatedly — and I have no wish to derail the conversation on this point — but the topic reminds me of a book you may appreciate reading at some point if you haven’t already: The Lord’s Supper: Believers Church Perspectives, edited by Dale R. Stoffer (http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Supper-Believers-Church-Perspectives/dp/0836131193/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299177196&sr=8-1).

    Here’s two teaser quotes to potentially pique your interest:
    (1) If “[baptism] requires enough water to cover a [person], [the Lord’s Supper] with greater certainty requires enough food to fill the person and as many as are to partake of it” (Jeschke 1997: 317, fn 45).

    (2) High-church theologians love to talk about “real presence” in the eucharist. Shouldn’t we start talking about a “real supper,” a “real table,” “real eating” (“real food for real people”)? Then maybe we could experience “real communion,” in which members of our congregations have an opportunity to make known to each other their joys and pains. They could offer counsel and support, and build up the body of Christ…. I would like to make the straightforward suggestion that we seriously consider returning to the agape meal, that is, the full meals form of communion (Jeschke 1997: 151).

    • No problem, Carl. Actually, it’s funny you should mention this book (or, at least, a book that makes that particular argument re: the practice of the Lord’s Supper). John Mark Hicks, who wrote the piece that this post is responding to, wrote a book called Come to the Table, in which he makes substantially the same argument as Jeschke (i.e. advocating for a return to a meal format for communion).

      Did I read your bio (at your blog) correctly to mean that you’re working on a dissertation that focuses on communion practice?

  3. I think you have been waiting for a while to say the phrase, “New England school marms”! Good post. I also have a scanner if you want to use it next time you are over here.

  4. Good comments about aversion to controversy in general. I think so many brethren are still traumatized by remnants of the Foy E. Wallace approach to controversy that they want none at all, even that conducted in a respectful way. Or, perhaps it’s just more fallout from Postmodernism.

    On the points from Carl’s quotations, if God doesn’t specify the amount of bread/fruit of the vine, why we should make it an important issue? We’re talking memorial here and not an all you can eat banquet.

  5. david payton glasgow ky so sad people acepped doing despite to lords supper by accomadating i or two pepole outside comuneing with the LORD and church on sunday morning adding supper at night without any scripture at all will not now concider going back to bible conandment to conmune together on lords day where JESUS saidHE WOULD BE IN COMUNION WITH THEM

  6. Pingback: On respectability and accomodation | Anastasis

  7. Pingback: John T. Lewis — Web Resources | Anastasis

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