Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
During my two decades as a Friend within the Evangelical sphere on influence, I have noticed two things when it comes to elemental (bread & wine, or juice) communion. First, every book or article written by a Friend on the subject of the sacraments begins by lamenting the lack of understanding, by Quakers, of their own view of the ordinances. Second, and I think this is mostly found within Evangelical Friends, is that elemental communion and non-elemental communion are, theologically and historically, roughly equal, but that Quakers prefer non-elemental communion.
I want to talk about the second thing that I've noticed, that it was simply a matter of preference when it came to not using bread and wine. For some time, I thought that George Fox objected to a general lack of spiritual significance in communion as it was practiced by churches in England in the 17th-century. Because Fox thought, I believed, that religious ordinances had become cultural and no longer conveyed deep spiritual truth, he decided that Friends should bypass elements like bread, wine and baptismal water and go straight to the truths behind them. I am not sure if I was taught things like this, or simply absorbed them in church; but these things were what I came to believe to form the Quaker objection to outward elements.
This changed radically when I began to read George Fox's writings. What I came to discover was that Fox objected to elemental communion, as based on a ritualization of the Lord's Supper. The basis for his objection was thoroughly biblical. For Fox, I Corinthians 11:26 was a key verse; in this verse, Paul, in addressing a problematic eating and drinking ritual that had developed at Corinth, cites that the Lord Jesus revealed to him that "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." To Fox, the Lord had undeniably "come" and was present to His followers. As another biblical citation, Fox looked to I John 5:20, which stated, "and we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in His Son, Jesus Christ." If indeed Christ has come, as Fox believed, then any "time limit" for proclaiming Christ's death has expired. Now was not the time to focus on Christ's death, but to "seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." (Colossians 3:1) And it is this heavenly, ascended Christ that revealed to John, the Beloved Disciple, another meal that proclaimed Christ's presence and nearness: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Revelations 3:20) In this passage, Christ is proclaiming His potential intimacy with people, who merely have to lower their personal barriers in order for Christ to be present within them. Fox looked upon this meal, sequentially the last supper presented in the Bible, as the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb", in which individuals become united with their Lord, the Lamb of God.
There are those, though, who have not participated in this Marriage Supper. To them, Fox quotes 2 Corinthians 13:5: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (KJV) It is vitally important to know Christ's presence within. Only the meal described in Revelations 3:20 brings Christ within the individual; an elemental communion meal/ceremony only proclaims Christ's death without Christ "having come." Fox frequently noted that Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed the Lord, participated in the supper prepared by Jesus. Yet, it availed Judas nothing. From Fox's point of view, earthly elements, even ones prepared by Christ, are completely ineffectual in translating an individual into eternal life. Only the heavenly bread which comes down from above, the Living Bread, Jesus Christ, can give someone this grace. And it is in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that provides us with that Bread.