Monday, November 22, 2010

Protestant Crucifix

A few years ago I came across a term that I had never heard before. A 17th century Protestant writer, Daniel Brevint, described the communion table as a 'Protestant Crucifix'. It made me think a lot about the words we use when we describe what we do at the Eucharistic Table. The writer sought to provoke the reader to think of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.

In response to this theme of sacrifice and the altar as the Protestant Crucifix, Charles Wesley penned the following hymn:

Would the Saviour of mankind
Without His people die?
No, to Him we all are join'd
As more than standers by.
Freely as the Victim came
To the altar of His cross,
We attend the slaughter'd Lamb,
And suffer for His cause.

Him even now by faith we see;
Before our eyes He stands!
On the suffering Deity
We lay our trembling hands,
Law our sins upon His head,
Wait on the dread Sacrifice,
Feel the lovely Victim bleed,
And die while Jesus dies!

Sinners, see, He dies for all,
And feel His mortal wound,
Prostrate on your faces fall,
And kiss the hallow'd ground;
Hallow'd by the streaming blood,
Blood whose virtue all may know,
Sharers with the dying God,
And crucified below.

Sprinkled with the blood we lie,
And bless its cleansing power;
Crying in the Spirit's cry,
Our Saviour we adore!
Jesu, Lord, whose cross we bear,
Let Thy death our sins destroy,
Make us who Thy sorrows share
Partakers of Thy joy.

Charles Wesley, Hymns on the Lord's Supper, 1745

As I reflect on the idea of the 'Protestant Crucifix' and the graphic language used in this hymn, I am challenged to think about the gruesome reality of Christ's death as we participate in the Eucharist. It puts 'thanksgiving' in a new light when we are reminded of how real death is.

In another place, Brevint compels his readers to imagine Jesus dying on the communion table, blood spilling over the sides and onto our prostrate bodies, cleansing us and renewing us. I think although it seems a bit 'R' rated, it is helpful to be reminded of Christ sacrificing His life for the life of world.

Have we lost the meaning of the Eucharist as sacrifice? Has the term 'sacrifice of praise' glossed over the reality of what happens in sacrifice, namely bloody horrible death? I wonder what the typical 'Wesleyan/Methodist' would think if they heard these words said or sung at a Sunday morning Holy Communion? What do you think of the term, 'Protestant Crucifix'?



BThomas said...

Thank you for this post. I have heard the term "Protestant Crucifix" but always credited it to Rattenbury, but Brevint predates him by about 200 years, I don't know how I missed that. I would like to get a copy of the work you are referencing here, do you remember it's title?

As to your question "I wonder what the typical 'Wesleyan/Methodist' would think if they heard these words said or sung at a Sunday morning Holy Communion?"

I can't speak for the typical Wesleyan/Methodist but in my own experience as a Foursqaure and now Nazarene pastor I think our congregations have already voted on that one, and our lack of theology has informed our practice. For example, you would never find a crucifix in a protestant church, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a communion table either. If you do find one it is often relegated to the side or the back of the sanctuary to hold plastic flowers and unclaimed bulletins, and forgotten Bibles and dusty hymnals.

I think if I introduced this concept of a "Prostestant crucifix" on an average Sunday morning it would lead to an uncomfortable confusion, that would manifest itself in a reactionary fear.

Yet, I know that we need to begin/reclaim a “A new emphasis on Eucharistic worship which would issue not in a dead ritualism but in a living evangelism and a commanding sense of constraining love (Rattenbury, "Worship and Sacraments.)

So here is my question, has our "memorialist" only approach been part of what has pushed the table from its prominent place at the center of our sanctuaries. Is it because of this approach that so many churches have tried to "dial it down" with the use of grapes and fish crackers,or family communion nights separate from the table all together?

As much as I love the language and the imagery associated with the idea of a "protestant crucifix" is this where we begin as we try to reclaim/recover a Eucharistic theology in the local church? (I know this is not what Joseph was proposing, it's just what his post has lead me to ponder.) Where do we start?

Joseph, thanks for this post, you've got me thinking,


Joseph said...

Thank you for the kind words Brian. And you are right, 'protestant crucifix' can (and should?) be attributed to Rattenbury (see The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley, pg 22). The reason I mentioned Brevint is because I think the term is more complementary to his work than Rattenbury's. Brevint is most influential to the Wesley's and it trickles down to Rattenbury.

Brevint's work was abridged and published by the Wesley's. Rattenbury re-publishes it in his book. I was able to read a first edition of Brevint a few years ago and it profoundly impacted my theology and understanding of the sacraments. It's called, 'The Christian Sacrament and Sacrifice', first published in 1673. It was republished about 100yrs ago, but that one is almost as rare as the original.

I like Rattenbury, and I appreciate his works in the mid-20th century. It seems a resurgence in his area of study is happening again in Wesleyan circles. Keep it coming, I say!

Re: your question. I don't think going into a service on Sunday and proclaiming the neglected communion table is now the Protestant Crucifix is the best idea :-)

I do, however, believe that educating our congregations through preaching, teaching, and study and practice could someday lead us to a point where we could understand the deep meaning and true reality portrayed by that term.


Scott M. Collins said...

Good stuff here. I've saved this to read during our next Holy Communion. I push a heavy and humble Thanksgiving feel to our HC time and I intentionally over do Real Presence language so as to knock people a bit off their memorialist rocker. Maybe someday someone will strike up a discussion about it :-)