High Church Pentecostal?: On Worship, Communion and the Church

This is clearly not an assembly of the Apostolic Church.
I have been accused of many things in my time, but the most puzzling of all was when someone suggested I was 'a bit high church'. It was after a Good Friday service, to which people had come from many of the nearby assemblies. I wasn't sure how to take it, as the service wasn't being criticised; on the contrary, the reason why the person was speaking to me was to tell me that they'd been blessed and how they'd encountered God in the breaking of bread 'even if it was a bit high church'.

So what was with the 'high church'  bit? I wasn't vested in alb and stole. (I wasn't even wearing a tie!) There were no candles on the altar (for, as a good Apostolic, there wasn't even a hint of an altar, just a simple wooden Communion Table). I wasn't assisted at the Table by deacon and sub-deacon. There was no incense, and no one genuflected. So, by any normal definition of 'high church', it was not a high church service. In fact, it was the epitome of a low church communion.

So why would anyone think a low church communion was high church? And who really cares anyway? Well, I do (of course, otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it!), because I think it tells us something about the place of the Lord's Supper in our worship today.

No to High Church Ritual But Yes to a High Regard for the Lord's Supper

You see, compared to high church Anglicanism, my Apostolic Good Friday Breaking of Bread service was very simple. And yet, to some people it seemed rather complex. How? What did we do? Well we did what we normally do at a Breaking of Bread in the Leeds assembly: we listened to God's Word preached, we responded to God's Word and His mercy toward us in Christ by singing our praises, people prayed (extempore prayers from the congregation, perhaps the very antithesis of high church!), we examined ourselves before coming to the Table, we prayed, the Words of Institution were said, the bread was broken and we partook of the sacrament.

Now, if I were a bit more naive, I'd say, surely that's what everyone does at the Breaking of Bread, irrespective of denomination and tradition. Yet, alas, I'm not quite so naive; for I've been to enough services without some of those basic elements of a Breaking of Bread.

In my first year of university I was shocked when the visiting pastor taking the service at a small Pentecostal church 'took the table' by standing up during the praise and worship time and saying, 'We're just gonna have something to eat and drink together as we worship', at which point we carried on singing and everyone was supposed to go and help themselves from the table at the side. No explanation, no prayer, no Words of Institution, no breaking of the bread; not even a song about the Cross.

While that might be an extreme (although one that seems to be becoming a lot more common lately), leaving out a few of the aspects of the sacrament is probably not quite so unusual. Perhaps a time for self-examination doesn't always fit the mood of our upbeat services. A lot of prayer at the Table takes up a lot of time in the service. And maybe keeping on singing means the praise and worship time doesn't have to be so constrained.

Yet, the Breaking of Bread isn't something that some church leaders somewhere have decided needs a five minute slot in our services; it's a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself. And, in fact, it's the main point of our gathering together as a church in worship (Acts 20:7).

Jesus said 'Do this'. So if we're going to 'do this', we need to remember what the 'this' He did was. So what did He do?

  1. He 'took bread' (1 Cor. 11:23)
  2. He gave thanks (1 Cor. 11:24)
  3. 'He broke it' (1 Cor. 11:24)
  4. 'And said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”' (1 Cor. 11:24)
  5. 'He also took the cup' (1 Cor. 11:25)
  6. And said 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' (1 Cor. 11:25)
Doing 'this' involves more than merely 'having something to eat and drink together while we worship'! It means taking bread and wine, giving thanks, breaking the bread, and speaking Christ's words of institution, as well as eating and drinking. 

The Lord's Table isn't a symbol in the corner that adds to what's going on in the service; the Lord's Table is the focal  point, for in it we see and taste and gospel, as we behold the wondrous Cross and feed upon Christ in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

No to High Church Ritual But Yes to a High Doctrine of the Church

Now, while we may not be high church, we should have a high doctrine of the Church. What's the difference? Well, being high church is about rites and customs, but a high doctrine of the Church (a high ecclesiology) means seeing the importance of the Church in God's eternal purpose.

That means that we don't look at the church as a human organisation; it's not a helpful gathering of Christians for mutual support in the faith, nor is it a convenient way to work together in evangelism. Yes, being the Church does involved building one another up in the faith, and it does involve evangelism, but it doesn't exist because people thought it would useful to come together for those purposes.

Rather, the Church exists because of God's purpose. God has brought the Church into being to bring Him glory in Christ Jesus throughout all ages (Eph. 3:21) and make His manifold wisdom known 'to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places' (Eph. 3:10-11). The Church is not a human organisation, but the Body of Christ. It is the Body which is united to Christ Himself as her Head, and which is 'the fullness of Him who fills all in all' (Eph. 1:23).

And because it's not a human organisation, it's not up to us in our best wisdom to work out how to run. Christ is the Head of the Body, and so Christ builds His Church (Matt. 16:18) and gives gifts of men through whom He expresses His Headship to govern His Body (Eph. 4:11).

And because the Church isn't just an idea men have come up with as a help to Christians, but rather Christ's Body, that means that the Church itself is important. Christ 'loved the Church and gave Himself for her' (Eph. 5:25). He has purchased His Church 'with His own blood' (Acts 20:28). It is the object of Christ's great love for which He died. Christ deeply loves His Church, and we should love it too.

So, while I might reject high church ritual, I want to fully embrace a high doctrine of the Church and a high view of the Lord's Supper. The Church and the Supper are important, and we need to give them their rightful place.