You are currently browsing the daily archive for August 19, 2010.

On July 30, 2010, Churchmouse Campanologist carried a post, ‘Methodist minister to start Communion by Twitter’.

In it I explained why a Communion — or Supper — service could not be performed validly in a remote context.  Thankfully, the Methodist Church of Great Britain agreed and the Revd Tim Ross conducted a prayer service instead.

My thanks to the libertarian-minded blogger Dick Puddlecote (possible language alert) for forwarding me the article from the Guardian, ‘Tweeting God’.  The journalist who wrote it, Karen Burke, works as a media officer for the Methodist Church in Britain.  She explains (emphases mine throughout):

Take, for instance, the Eucharist as a corporate celebration involving the fourfold action of taking, blessing, breaking and giving the elements as well as the oversight of an act of worship. Communion via Twitter would disperse these acts and possibly lead to multiple simultaneous acts of celebration rather than one universal act. It could even privatise Communion, departing radically from Church doctrine. The argument against this is that the Spirit is everywhere present: Grace unites the body of dispersed participants rendering physical distance immaterial.

In a discussion of consecration and the possibility of greater lay involvement in distributing the Supper a decade ago, the Methodist Church of Great Britain’s Faith and Order Statements say (pp. 148-149):

The entire drama is the consecration and guarantees the validity. But the more the president’s part in the service is reduced and the weaker the representative symbolism becomes, the more people will be inclined to look for particular elements within the service that will guarantee its identity. That is why some people insist that, while others may lead parts of the prayer, the president must say the Words of Institution. We have observed that the isolation of these words from the rest of the Great Prayer is theologically undesirable. But such an isolation is actively encouraged by any reduction of the President’s part of the the Great Prayer. It is worthy of note that the Faith and Order Committee regularly receives comments and requests for advice, not only from those who favour more lay participation at this point, but in much greater numbers from people who are anxious about the involvement of lay people in the distribution of the bread and wine and the saying, by these lay people, of the words that accompany the distribution. These latter practices can be justified; but what is already a significant anxiety will undoubtedly be made worse if people other than the president lead parts of the Great Prayer.

Rev’d Ross, in his blogpost, ‘Remote Communion — A Storm in the Communion Cup?’ moves into the realm of error:

The chief allegation came from one corner of the Methodist Church who claimed it was “not a valid communion”. The main objection relates to what I would call “Remote Communion”. This is where those receiving bread and wine do so at the same time as but are not located in the same place as the celebrant – they take their own bread and wine after the (broadcast) communion prayer. This, it was said, made the act of communion disembodied …

If Christ is with all believers everywhere, there is no particular reason why all the elements and participants in a communion must be in the same room. To say God’s blessing is restricted to the physical space in which the presiding minister is present places limitations on the working of God’s grace and power. It also suggests the power of God to bless His people in Communion can ONLY work through an intermediary – which I believe is contrary to the teaching of the Bible

I had to have a nice cup of tea and a sit-down after reading that last sentence.  Oh, my.  Where does it say in the New Testament we can all consecrate our own Sacrament?  If you know, please write in. 

Granted, neither the New Testament authors, nor the Doctors of the early Church nor the Reformers could have foreseen the possibility of Twitter Communion.  However, Christian denominations all agree on the importance of church membership, corporate worship in one place as well as an ordained minister consecrating the elements.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is debasing Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ and ‘the sacrifice and one oblation’ that Jesus made of Himself.

Yes, television has broadcast church services for shut-ins for decades, however, no responsible adult watching those would even think of grabbing a piece of bread and a thimbleful of wine and participate when those being filmed were receiving consecrated bread and wine.

Back to Revd Ross.  He apparently didn’t even okay his Twitter Communion with church authorities, as he explains:

Whilst I have not been absolutely forbidden to perform the Communion on Twitter, British Methodist Church authorities have strongly urged me to cancel it … Holding a Twitter Communion before an official conversation has taken place could delay or even jeopardise the tentative steps the Church is taking in this direction.  

It was never my intention to be controversial much less confrontational. The whole point of Twitter Communion was to offer the Christians around the world the opportunity to step beyond their differences, to meet in fellowship and love and to celebrate the common-union we all share through Christ’s body and blood.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, Revd Ross appears to be the sort of clergyman who is an attention-seeker wishing to make a name for himself.  Instead of Twitter Communion, he tweeted a brief service for Christian unity, in which he took it upon himself to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer.

‘What’s so wrong with that?’ you may ask.  ‘After all, many denominations have modern versions of the Lord’s Prayer.’  Yes, including those where God is a woman and the words have been watered down so as to be nearly meaningless and difficult to commit to memory.

For almost 2,000 years, Christians faithfully prayed the words Christ Himself gave us in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). He did so in response to the apostles’ request, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. This is the most important prayer any Christian can recite

But to make it acceptable to all and sundry, Revd Ross distorted Christ’s words and composed this alternative prayer for the Twitter service:

Bringer and Nurturer of life, whose sacred name we hold precious.
May your supremacy, your desires, your plans and purposes burst from heaven into every corner of creation.
Feed our hearts, minds and bodies as we entrust ourselves into your care.
Forgive us when our self-centredness brings hurt to others and to you.
Help us to be just as gracious and just as loving with those you hurt us.
Guide us from following the seductive allure of all that draws us away from you,
And let evil’s influence over us be rendered impotent.
For yours is the sovereign rule;
Yours is the majestic, glorious power,
Throughout all time and into eternity.

In the end, Karen Burke gave us a play-by-play on how the tweeting went, which was pretty much as I had predicted:

One of the technical drawbacks of Twitter is that the feed does not update on the screen automatically. I sat poised with my mouse before the monitor contemplating how regularly I should click it in order to keep up to date with the prayers. I settled on roughly every ten seconds …

I decided to investigate whether it was possible to see how many people were taking part in the online prayers by scrolling through Tim’s list of followers. Anyone participating should have “Amen” featuring as their latest tweet in their public feed along with the time when that tweet was sent. Tim has more than 700 followers so I resolved on clicking through the first few pages only. I didn’t come across any active participants. I was thinking whether or not this mattered when it dawned on me that the seconds were ticking away and I may have been missing more prayer tweets …

It was 10.10pm BST and the last prayer tweet was eight minutes ago: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the holy spirit [sic] bind us all together in one Church and faith.” I wasn’t certain if this was the final tweet so I decided to keep refreshing the page until 10.30pm just to be sure. As I switched off the computer, I wondered whether the Twitter hashtag could have functioned as a unifying aid for the participants. There is clearly a lot of virtual ground to be explored.

Then, Ms Burke ended her article with an interesting sentence which set off warning bells:

Technology has opened up all sorts of fresh expressions of faith and spiritual engagement online.

Could that be the ‘fresh expressions’ I wrote about last year? Where ‘church can be wherever and whatever you want it to be’ especially if it’s outside of a churchBe very careful with this type of programme.  It’s taken the emergent church types in our mainline congregations by storm and moves worship into the realm of error by distorting Scripture and disregarding established articles of faith. One of its hallmarks is that the initiatives are never announced as being ‘fresh expressions’.  They are a stealthy way of undermining true, liturgical, biblical worship. This seems to be what Revd Ross is doing.  Best to avoid the whole thing.

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