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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rejecting Exclusion

Inclusiveness is at the core of Disciple theology. A story nicely illustrating this is that of Alexander Campbell and the communion token. Although many traditions celebrate the Lord's Supper with every meeting, the Presbyterian Church, to which Campbell belonged, only did so once a quarter or less. Shortly before the church held its communion service, the minister would examine members of the parish and issue them a communion token, often with his initials on it, to ensure acts and beliefs were acceptable.

In May 1809, Campbell's church in Glasgow prepared for a communion service. The minister and elders visited the various members to determine who among them could receive a communion token. Campbell found it difficult to accept that which appeared to be "man-made judgments fostering divisions among Christians." He believed that no human could sit in judgment of another's spiritual worthiness.

A plate was passed around the table to receive the communicants' tokens. After providing the token, they could partake of the Lord's Supper. When the plate came to Campbell, "he threw his token upon the plate handed round!" He then stood up and walked out of the church.
The ring of that token, as it fell from his hands, like the ring of Martin Luther's hammer on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, announced the renunciation of the old church ties, and marks the moment of which he forever ceased to recognize the claims or authority of a human creed to bind upon men the conditions of their acceptance with God.
Thomas W. Grafton, Life of Alexander Campbell, p. 40-41). [What I've written so far, is just a sample of the well cited piece by Author Al Maxey. His essay, which includes much more detail, including a discussion of U.S. State governments minting communion tokes, can be found at: http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx148.htm]

This story has always meant to me that radical inclusion is in the DNA of Disciples. I don't know if Campbell objected to the particular criteria required to receive a communion token. I suspect he did not. But the notion that we mere mortals should deny someone access to the Table was intolerable for Campbell. It is easy for me to extend this notion of inclusion to embrace those who fall in love with members of their sex. It is easy for me to extend this notion to those who were born with the sex organs of one gender, but are, in their hearts, members of the opposite gender.

1 comment:

Rev. Paul A. Whitlock said...

I agree with you Jim; rejecting exclusion is in the DNA of the Disciples. I would phrase it as "inclusiveness" to put it in the positive frame. I would mention "grace" and "justice" as DNA identifiers, too. I have used the story you cited in pastor's classes for years. I love reading your stuff - keep up the good work!