Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: Ted Vial
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries one of the great moral programs of many Protestant churches was to reduce alcoholism. In the wake of the modernism controversies in the early 20th century, many conservative churches set themselves off from the rest of society through strict moral codes, forbidding all alcohol (as well as smoking, card-playing, dancing, movies, etc.). One result of this history is that many Protestant churches began celebrating the Lord's Supper using grape juice instead of wine. Some also pass out small individual cups, rather than drinking out of a common cup. There is some disagreement about whether Jesus and the disciples drank from a common cup at the Last Supper, but the practice of individual cups is more directly a result of 20th-century reforms of hygiene. Some churches use unleavened bread in the ritual, believing the Last Supper was a Jewish Passover seder, which would have required Jesus to be eating unleavened bread. Others follow Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin in arguing that too much concern over what kind of bread to use misses the point of the ritual.
Contemporary ways of celebrating the Lord's Supper also tend to reflect theological debates of the reformers. Some churches continue the practice of having participants come forward and kneel at a rail at the front of the sanctuary to receive the elements (bread and wine). Reformed churches in particular have rejected this practice, arguing that it comes too close to the Catholic belief that the priest acts as intermediary between God and the participant. Instead they distribute the elements to participants who remain in their pews. Traditionally, participation in the Lord's Supper was restricted to believers; whatever the theological nuances, all agreed that its celebration was an act of faith in God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Conservative Protestants retain this practice. Today, however, some liberal Protestants offer communion to any who wish to partake, thus making the rite less a personal and communal experience of faith and more an act of inclusivity and outreach.
1. How do Protestant sacraments differ from Catholic sacraments?
2. How has baptism replaced the significance of circumcision?
3. How did the Lord's Supper divide the Protestant Church? Describe the position of each of the three Protestant reformers.
4. Why is the grape juice used in communion tied to social activism?