Thinking Out Loud

June 8, 2018

Proudly Meeting Behind Closed Doors

As soon as the conversation started, I knew this was not someone whose Christianity I would identify with. She and I had never met or spoken before, but she seemed rather angry about something. When pressed, she made it clear she was part of the “Closed Brethren” not the other two versions of Brethren which I’m familiar with in my part of the world, represented by “Bible Chapels” (more open) and “Gospel Halls” (less open).

Technically, the Plymouth Brethren aka Exclusive Brethren are Evangelicals. Given what follows here, it stands as another example of how the Evangelical moniker is battered and bruised.

Wikipedia isn’t always your best go-to on theological matters, but it was handy:

The Exclusive Brethren are a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848.

The Exclusive Brethren are now divided into a number of groups, most of which differ on minor points of doctrine or practice. Perhaps the best-known of these, mainly through media attention, is the Raven-Taylor-Hales group, now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, which maintains the doctrine of uncompromising separation from the world based on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6 and 2 Timothy 2, believing that attendance at the Communion Service, the ‘Lord’s Supper’, governs and strictly limits their relationship with others, even other Brethren groups.

The origins of the exclusivity are often tied to the idea of “fencing off” the communion table, lest anyone partake unworthily. I attended a fairly conservative version (but not, strictly speaking, closed) of this in my hometown. I visited the “Gospel Service” at 11:00 AM, as opposed to the “Breaking of Bread” at 9:30 AM. I was told that I would have been permitted to participate on the basis of my own recognizance. I guess it’s nice to be a local Christian celebrity in a town of 20,000.

Recognition usually comes through a letter. “Do you have a letter?” is the oft-asked question in larger churches of this stripe, when a visitor shows up to break bread. If that’s your tribe, and you’re on holidays, you pack your letter with your swim trunks and camera so that you are guaranteed admission to such a church, which you’ve already determined exists.

When it comes to who gets to participate in The Lord’s Supper, aka Communion (aka Eucharist, but they would probably bristle at that Mainline Protestant term) I can understand this. Too often Evangelicals have gone too far the other way, allowing visitors to partake or small children. We’ve covered that before here and here. It also leads to discussion of communion as an extension of the Passover meal, and the ramifications of terms like “worship evangelism” and “household salvation” and other attempts at inclusivity.

But that’s not the subject of today’s thoughts.

Rather, it was the woman’s entire demeanor — the word once used was comportment — which was telecasting a version of faith that only the best of the best can ever hope to attain. Many times she took to reiterating elements of the conversation with me, as if I wasn’t quite getting what she was saying. It came across as more than just controlling, she was obviously better than a mere mortal such as myself.

That’s when it hit me: This just isn’t like Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, this particular denomination had wandered farther and farther down the path away from the heart of a loving heavenly father and the grace found in Jesus.

It wasn’t that her group is closed, it was that were proudly closed.

All of this seems a million miles away from the whosoever of scripture.

By all means, act in good conscious toward how you see scripture defining participation in The Lord’s Supper, but don’t let the restrictive nature of this practice be the thing which defines you.

And smile more.

 

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