Friday, July 26, 2013

Houston, I've Got a Problem

"One of these days, Alice..."

Sursum Corda 
a Little Closer to Heaven?

Buzz Aldrin,
Lunar Pilot and Celebrant
Mesmerized we crowded around the colorless TV in the tiny library of our extra-fundy Christian school to watch the coverage of John Glenn's orbit around the earth. Before Glenn there was Alan Shepard's brief rocket ride, the first small step of the manned-space program.  On July 20, 1969, though it proved unnecessary, the evening church service was changed so no one would miss the lunar landing. We, married  a month before, sat in our apartment before our very little black and white waiting to see a momentous event, a man walking on the moon. (It was a big summer - moon walk, Woodstock, the wedding of the decade.) Astronauts have, to use the title of Tom Wolf's book, "the right stuff." They are heroes to my generation.

Last week my friend Marvin Olasky called our attention to a part of that lunar event of which he (nor I) had not previously been aware. Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong onto the  moon's surface, celebrated Holy Communion by himself in the lunar module. Armstrong did not want to participate. NASA would not allow Aldrin to observe the sacrament with the nation watching for fear of more trouble from Madeline Murray O'Hare . But, according to Marvin and posts I've seen on Facebook, it is a neat story and commendable thing that Aldrin celebrated the Sacrament on the moon. As Aldrin said, the first food and drink consumed on the moon were the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.

"Just you and me, Lord"
I have seen no one ask if any believers would have taken offense had the celebration been broadcast. I know that I would not have then. But I would now. Why? Because. although, Aldrin, an member of the Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston, got permission from a Presbyterian denomination (PCUS at that time I think), the observance was contrary to the historic Reformed understanding of what is necessary for the proper observance of the Lord's Supper. 

There are three defects of that Moon Communion:

(1) The Reformed view is that only those who are ordained to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments may administer the Sacrament. 

The Word is not to be preached nor the Sacraments celebrated by anyone except a minister who has been duly called and ordained to the office by the church. Only the minister, and no other church member or officer, may consecrate the elements and perform the sacramental actions. 

Question 368 of Calvin's Genevan Catechism,  a question having go do with the administration of Communion, assumes it:
But ought pastors, to whom the dispensing of it has been committed, to admit all indiscriminately without selection?
The Second Helvetic Confession teaches it as belonging to the peculiar ministry of pastors:
Moreover, to the end that he might expound the ministry more fully, the apostle adds that ministers of the Church are administrators and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now in may passages, especially in Eph., ch. 3, Paul called the mysteries of God the Gospel of Christ. And the sacraments of Christ are also called mysteries by the ancient writers. Therefore for this purpose are the ministers of the Church called--namely, to preach the Gospel of Christ to the faithful, and to administer the sacraments. 
And the same consecration or blessing still remains among all those who celebrate no other but that very Supper which the Lord instituted, and at which they repeat the words of the Lord's Supper, and in all things look to the one Christ by a true faith, from whose hands they receive, as it were, what they receive through the ministry of the ministers of the Church. 
The Scot's Confession requires it: 
Two things are necessary for the right administration of the sacraments. The first is that they should be ministered by lawful ministers, and we declare that these are men appointed to preach the Word, unto whom God has given the power to preach the gospel, and who are lawfully called by some Kirk. The second is that they should be ministered in the elements and manner which God has appointed. Otherwise they cease to be the sacraments of Christ Jesus.

So, too, the Westminster Confession:
The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants...
 Likewise the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Christ hath appointed the ministers of his Word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants... Buzz Aldrin was an elder of the Webster Presbyterian Church, but he was not set apart by the church to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. The General Assembly of his denomination had no warrant itself to authorize Aldrin's presiding at his own personal Communion service.
2) The Reformed view is that Communion is to be celebrated in the gathered congregation.

That the Lord's Supper should be celebrated in community is to be expected inasmuch as one of its purposes is to testify to and strengthen not only our communion with Christ in heaven but our communion with his his body on earth, the church, the people of God. It reminds of and call us to unity as the people of God for we who are one partake of one loaf and one cup.

The Belgic Confession teaches that the sacrament is a communal meal:
Finally, with humility and reverence we receive the holy sacrament in the gathering of God's people, as we engage together, with thanksgiving, in a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, and as we thus confess our faith and Christian religion.
 The Westminster Confession is explicit and clear;
The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers... to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.
Though I think the Reformed tradition is against it, I am not here addressing the possibility of Communion being observed with those who are permanently or for extended periods of time are physically unable to gather with the congregation, but it is clear that there was no necessity for Buzz Aldrin to receive (in this case give to himself) the Sacrament.

3) The Reformed view is that the Sacraments must never be disconnected from the ministry of the Word.

The Word and Sacraments are conjoined. In the Reformed tradition the celebration of the Supper is never separated from the Word read and preached. The Word is not merely the reading of the Words of Institution, the consecration of the elements, and the invitation to the Table. The Word is read and preached by the minister. The Sacrament comes along after the Word as its sign and seal. The Lord's Supper pictures, confirms, and conveys with the Word the promise of grace. The Sacrament is never celebrated in isolation from the Word. This is not to say how long the reading and preaching of the Word must be. The reading may be short and the sermon brief, but both are necessary to the right observance of the Sacrament.

The Sacraments do not stand alone from the Word but are added to the Word for confirmation, as the Belgic Confession says:
We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us. 
 So, too the Second Helvetic Confession:
From the beginning, God added to the preaching of his Word in his Church sacraments or sacramental signs. For thus does all Holy Scripture clearly testify. The Sacraments are not celebrated in a vacuum. They are always joined to the Word and its ministry. Buzz Aldrin did not preach himself a sermon before he celebrated with himself the Lord's Supper.

I like Buzz Aldrin. He has "the right stuff." He's a graduate of West Point who served as a jet fighter pilot in Korea. He went on to earn a PhD from MIT. He piloted the lunar module and walked on the moon. He has battled personal demons of depression and alcohol misuse. He is a hero worthy of admiration.

But, he had no business celebrating Communion on the moon. The Supper is too holy important as an ordinance of Christ, a means of grace, and communal experience to be celebrated alone in a space ship on the moon. I suppose, however, if we think of heaven spatially, if he used the traditional Reformed Sursum Corda ("We lift up our hearts to the Lord"), he had a shorter distance to lift his.


Curt Day said...

I am glad that your brought up the proper objections to Aldrin celebrating communion by himself.

I am also glad that that was not broadcast, not just because of the error Aldrin committed, but because it would be, to nonChristians, a minor way of alienating others. They could say that their tax dollars are being used to practice and promote a faith that they do not hold.

Dave Sarafolean said...

Not to undercut Olasky or your fine analysis, but D.G. Hart wrote about this nearly a year ago...