HOW DO YOU MARRY SOMEONE?

The last few posts have been a little too wordy.  This one will be swift and to the point.

Sunday I talked about weddings and referred to the troubling fact that in the three years of seminary, at supposedly one of the premier seminaries in the world, I was never taught how to do a wedding.  Never.  I have wracked my brain since Sunday and tried to come up with all I was ever taught about weddings and it boils down to a couple of photocopied pages that spell out the importance of premarital counseling (without ever telling you what you should say in that counseling) and the injunction that every pastor has the right to determine whom they marry.

That’s it.  Everything else we were told, “you’ll figure it out.”  Here is a partial list of the things I was never taught in seminary but I have found to be vital in the pastoral ministry.

1.  How to conduct a business meeting.  I was given a copy of Robert’s Rules and told to not pay much attention to it.  I was, however, taught how to do a church budget in various detail.  I was just never told how to pass it!

2.  Lord’s Supper/Communion.  Nothing.  Ever.  Not once.  The theology of it we discussed at length.  How to do it, never.

3.  Baptism.  You would think that the preacher boys would all get in a baptistery tank of a local church and spend an afternoon practicing on each other.  Nooooooooo.  As I said Sunday, I almost killed the first person I ever baptized in church.

4.  Funerals.  Just like with weddings, we were never told how to lead or conduct one.  We were, however, told all about the grief cycle, depression, and the importance of the church’s long term ministry to those who suffer loss but as for the nuts-n-bolts of a funeral service, dealing with the funeral home, cemeteries, honor guards, Masonic lodge, florists etc… there was absolutely zilch.

5.  How to run a meeting.  As a pastor I run a lot of meetings:  Staff, deacons, teaching elders, ministry teams and so forth but I was never taught how to run one.

6.  One more–hospital visits.  I was told to do them, and I was told they were important but never was I instructed on how to actually do one.  I say this seriously, because hospitals are cramped, smelly, and odd environments that require some level expertise to navigate.  It would have been nice to have maybe, a fake hospital room in the seminary building somewhere with an actor or another student playing the roll of patient to go visit.

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I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING NOW

Some things just can’t be learned by reading a book.

Do not get me wrong.  I learned a great deal in seminary about the Lord, Scripture, the languages, doctrine, ethics and so much more but there were huge holes.  As I said earlier, it has been a long time since I was in seminary (mid 90’s) and I hope  much has changed for the better.  I doubt it though, because the trend is toward distance learning and online courses which do not help with practical aspects of the work.  I wonder if one of the reasons why church has been in such crisis for the past 3 decades or so might not be in some part related to the lack of practical education at the seminary level.  I wonder.

THOUGHTS ON COMMUNION–WARNING–THEOLOGY AHEAD

I thought I had been sucked into a deep black hole that transported me magically away into a previous time.  What year had I been whisked away to?  Was it 1920?  Maybe 1950?  Perhaps it was 1979, for that might be the year that sealed this moment.

Our Church’s Communion Table
We Observe Monthly

My temporary time travel was brought about by a denominational printing called SBC Life.  It is produced by the Executive Committee of my denomination–The Southern Baptist Convention, or as we now are now known, Great Commission Baptists.  This particular edition spent most of its glossy and stylized pages on the upcoming convention meeting in New Orleans.  That is not what time warped me.  What got me was the “Doctrinal” article on the Lord’s Supper.

The argument of the article was for “closed” or as one of the viewpoints urged, “close” communion.  Closed communion is a particularly rigid church practice that had its height during the Landmark movement in the early part of the last century.  A church that practices closed communion prohibits anyone who is not a member of that particular church from observing the Lord’s Supper.  In extreme cases, people are asked to leave if they are not members.  The enforcement of this doctrinal stance can lead to uncomfortable confrontations with people who don’t understand why they are being confronted.  Close communion is an addendum to closed communion that allows people from “like faith and orders” to partake.  “Like faith and order” is code word for “other Southern Baptists.”

The opposite stance of closed communion is “open” communion which is what our church practices and what I personally believe is right.  In open communion anyone who is a Christ-follower, regardless of church membership or baptism status is invited to partake.  More to the point, no one is challenged if they decide to observe the meal.  Open communion does not mean that we believe anyone–believer or non-believer–can or should take it.  Almost all (almost?) Christ-followers believe that only Christ-followers should take it.  Churches that practice open communion leave that up to the individual and do not fret about such things as when, where, and how a person’s baptism took place.

Before I go any deeper into the issue, let me affirm I believe any church has the right to set its own faith and practices.  I affirm autonomy and believe that a local congregation has the right to be wrong if they desire.  What I am bothered by is that no voice was given in the doctrinal article for open communion.  None.  I actually enjoyed the article and the different perspectives, and especially the shout out to m friend Cecil Sims (may he rest in peace) but there was no balance.

I perceive the reason for no balance is that the leadership of my denomination is still pushing a fundamentalists style agenda that consistently leaves me wanting.  So, I will provide my own balance.  There are many reasons to practice open communion, but some of the ones that are important to me are:

1.  Hospitality is a very important concept in the New Testament.  The most inhospitable thing in the world is to exclude someone from what is gong on.

2.  The Lord’s Supper is an act of proclamation of the gospel, and partaking of it is a way people can affirm their belief in it.

3.  Unity matters to the Lord and refusing to eat with other Christ-followers is divisive and arrogant.

4.  I never want to reject someone whom Christ accepts.

One of the reasons often given for practicing closed communion is the admonition in the Scriptures for a person to examine himself or herself before eating.  This admonition is coupled by Paul with a warning that if the meal is taken lightly, the person drinks and eats condemnation.  People argue that by allowing a non-Christ follower to partake then they are unworthy and therefore heaping condemnation upon themselves.  There are two problems with this argument.  The first is hermeneutics.  That often cited admonition is from 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 and it is indeed a sober admonition.  The problem is it is written to believers who know exactly what the Lord’s Supper means and therefore should reverence it.  The context is about believers who had taken a low view of the meal, not outsiders who had partaken of it and not known what was going on.  The second problem is logical.  If I believe that a non-Christ follower is already in a situation that apart from Christ they are in eternal jeopardy, then what more jeopardy could come to them?

The Lord’s Supper is not the Ark of the Covenant wherein if the wrong people touch it they die.  The arguments for closed communion are based more upon belief in magic–the right thing said by the right people at the right time in the right conditions–than belief in Christ.

PASTOR GREENBEAN GOES TO CHURCH

Pastor Greenbean has been away for the past week.  He spent the last week in an undisclosed location—deep in the heart of Texas—to work on a forthcoming book.  (SPOILER ALERT:  It is awesome).  Even though I was gone, I still went to church.  I have found that worshiping in other faith communities and other traditions beside my own are helpful to me, so when I am away that is what I do. 

 

The church I went to was a relatively small Episcopal Church.  Before I had ever gotten into the door a kind man told me, “Good morning” and then after entering the door no fewer than three people told me, “Good morning,” or “Welcome.”  It was both nice but also a little startling.

 

The over-welcoming motif continued as immediately after that a person, who I am sure is well-meaning, insisted that I sign the guest registry.  I really do not like signing guest registries.  Ever.  Yet this man positioned himself between me, the registry and several other people standing around talking in such a way that I had no escape.  So I signed the book, thinking it was large enough to serve as the Lamb’s Book of Life.  I know they were trying to be nice; but they were trying just a little too hard. 

 

I found my seat in the worship center.  The service began right on time with the opening anthem and then proceeded through the usual pageantry of an Episcopal service.  Episcopal worship is so dignified and proper it automatically makes you sit up.  After some praying and kneeling the priest gave his homily which was interesting, but brief and in no way tied to Gospel reading he used a launching point it.  But everything he said was true, so that is good. 

 

Following the sermon there was a collection which amazed me because it seemed like everyone was putting money in.  Episcopalians must be faithful stewards.  The hard part of their collection was that they had a special offering they were ingathering today and they collected it at the same time as the regular giving, but they used a separate basket for that.  The effect was one had to negotiate the two baskets and apparently figure out which one to put your check(s) into.  That is way too many logarithms for me.

 

My favorite part was the Communion time.  Those who know me are aware that for me, the Lord’s Supper is one of the endearing and intensely meaningful parts of personal worship and consecration.  During that time at the altar, kneeling, several thoughts and emotions came over me.  First, I thought how different it was to be on the receiving end of worship ministry.  It is a humbling and unique place for me.  Second, I missed my church family back home.  Next week we are scheduled to have communion together and I was thinking of them.  But also, I was stirred in my spirit that through Christ Jesus, these Episcopalians who in many ways have different emphasis and doctrines than I affirm are still my brothers and sisters.  We are one.  When the acolyte bent over to give me the drink from the common cup, these were all swirling around inside my soul.  She must have seen it on my face because she smiled at me.  I think I needed that.