6th ADVISORY to all LCM Congregations Concerning the Extension of the Restricted Movement Order to 14th April 2020
CONCERNING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF VIRTUAL COMMUNION DURING AN ONLINE WORSHIP SERVICE.
Greetings. In the past few days of the MCO, we have been challenged to radically rethink the way Church is done as physical gatherings are not possible. More and more congregations of the LCM have moved their ministries online, with prayer meetings, bible studies and even worship services moving into cyberspace. For the most part, both pastors and members have had to adjust to a new reality and a new way of doing things.
One of the questions that members and pastors have had is the issue of Holy Communion. Do we wait for the MCO to be over and then celebrate it together as a physical church? Do we celebrate a virtual Holy Communion online? These are major and persistent questions that have come up, and the Faith and Order Committee of the LCM have discussed the issue, and made their recommendations to me in my present position as Acting Bishop. I’ve also discussed this personally with our Bishop and he has also indicated his agreement to the recommendation.
The following recommendation was tabled and approved by the EXCO on 4th April 2020:
The Lutheran Church in Malaysia will NOT celebrate virtual Holy Communion (or Holy Communion online) but rather will wait for the term of the MCO to be over before resuming the celebration of Holy Communion together with the physical gathering of the Church.
It must be understood that this decision is NOT a policy decision that Virtual Communion is prohibited. Rather, this decision is in response to the immediate query of whether who should be doing the Virtual Communion now.
A. Reflections on the need for the Sacraments.
That the fact that many you have asked about when you could again receive the Holy Communion and suggested maybe we can do Virtual Communion, is a good thing. Your desire to have Communion tells me that you recognize that the value of the Sacrament of the Table is more than just symbolic, with no reality of the Divine, but is truly a sacrament where the elements of bread and wine is the presence of Christ. To crave for the means of grace is a good thing.
But is important too that we learn the virtue waiting, to observe a period of abstention so that it heightens our sense of need for the Grace of God in the Sacrament of the Table. We live in the modern world where our needs are met instantly and our cravings immediately satiated. We teach our children on a daily basis to wait when they make demands for the need of junk food, screen time of TV, handphone and computer to relief their immediate boredom. We learn the value of things through disciple of abstention. This period of waiting should drive us towards more time in prayer and the reading of the Word rather than in restlessness and complains.
Do remember that we have one other sacrament with us, our baptism. Our baptism is our identity as children of God. Our baptism assures us that no matter where we are, no matter what circumstances we are in and no matter how we feel, we are children of God, loved by God and not even the gates of hell that change that. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1) So, let us not be troubled just because we are not able to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The Lord is with us and still with us even now. In this time of abstention, let us celebrate our Baptism in renewing our relationship with our Lord in prayer and in the mediation of the Word. “Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus” – “Scripture Alone and Christ Alone” should always be the centrality of our faith.
The Faith & Order Committee, under the leadership of the Bishop, shall continue to deliberate the theological and practical application of Virtual Communion with all its implications. If the MCO is further extended, we will speed up the deliberations towards a policy.
B. The Theological Reasons for our call for Caution at this time.
The following is a summary of the reasons behind our recommendation:
1. The Sacrament of the Table is precisely that: A Sacrament. The independent,
Charismatic or Pentecostal Churches which come from the Reformed background, do not see Holy Communion as a Sacrament. For them it is a symbolic act, a mere remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion. In the Lutheran tradition, we hold to Sacramental Theology – the Holy Communion is also called the Sacrament of the Table. For us, this is not mere symbolism. Thus, we are to be a little more careful in how we celebrate it.
2. The Sacrament of the Table is a Feast of the Lord for the people of God. The Holy
Communion is to be celebrated with the PHYSICAL gathering of the people, where the people of God gather around the table and celebrate the feast TOGETHER. This is a celebration of the Church, and while the ordained pastor is the one who celebrates the Holy Communion, he is not invested with special powers to ‘make’ it happen on his own. This is what the Catholic Church subscribes to. We do not. Having the pastor celebrate on his own somewhere and everybody else receiving the elements in their own homes implies that the pastor has powers that he/she actually do not have: only the gathered Church does. An example would be virtual baptism. Would the pastor saying the words in his bathroom in Penang make a valid baptism of a person in Johor Baru, standing in their own tub?
3. We are also careful NOT to set a precedent that might go out of hand after the MCO is over. What is to prevent someone from deciding to give themselves Holy Communion in their own home a couple of months down the road if they do not agree with the pastor or the congregation?
4. Note: Given the fact that the MCO has forced the Church to rethink many of our ways of doing ministry and that technology has changed human connectivity to a great extent, we will bring this subject of Virtual Communion to the discussion in the Ministerium. It is prudent that we respect the necessity of processes. Theological and doctrinal matters need the prayerful wisdom and discernment of the community of the Ordained (who are called, trained and entrusted this responsibility).
5. The Ministerium or the representatives nominated by the Bishop, will undertake the discussion of this subject and the final recommendation shall be tabled to the EXCO. Whatever the position may be at the end of the day, there must be time for dissemination and education of our members concerning the policy position and the theological justification.
There are more reasons, of course, but these are given so that you understand why the Faith & Order Committee, together with the Bishop asks all members to be patient, and for all congregations to REFRAIN from holding virtual Holy Communion, and together yearn for that day and time when we can come together again to worship God and to receive His blessed Sacrament.
Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay with the LORD.
May the grace and peace of the Lord be with you all.
Rev. Thomas Low (Acting Bishop, LCM)
4th April 2020
致马来西亚信义会各堂会的第六封忠告信有关行动管制令延长至 2020 年 4 月 14 日
我们的会友和教牧所面对的另一个问题是关于圣餐的课题。我们是否应该等到行管令结束之后才一起进行实质的圣餐?又或者采用网上虚拟的方式施行圣餐?期间所出现的一些重要和关键问题,信仰和教制委员会(Faith and Order Committee)曾商讨此事,并且向目前担任代理会督提出了他们的建议。本人也咨询过会督,他也认同了该建议。
马来西亚信义会将不会施行虚拟圣餐(或网上圣餐),我们宁可等到行管令结束之后才继续用实质聚会的方式举行圣餐。此项决定不应被理解为禁止虚拟圣餐的一项章程式决定(a policy decision)。而是,该决定乃为了回应目前出现的即时性问题:现今该由谁去举行虚拟圣餐?
你们或许在问,我们何时才可以重新获领圣餐;有人或许认为进行虚拟圣餐是一件好事。你渴望领圣餐,说明了你认同圣餐的价值不仅仅是象征性的符号、无实质神圣含义的礼仪,而更多的相信在饼和酒的元素中是基督的临在。对恩具(the meansof grace)的渴望乃是一件好事。
可别忘了我们还有另一个圣礼:一直伴随着我们的洗礼。我们的洗礼是我们作为上帝儿女的身分特征。我们的洗礼给了我们确据,无论何时、何地、何处境、我们有何感受,我们都在上帝的爱中,是上帝所爱的儿女,就连地狱之门也无法改变这一点。耶稣说 : “你们心里不要忧愁,你们信上帝,也当信我。” (约 14:1)
因此,让我们不要因一时无法领受圣餐而感到忧愁。主必与我们同在,祂直至现在 仍然与我们同在。在没有圣餐的期间,让我们透过祷告和默想圣道去更新我们在洗 礼中与上帝的关系。“Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus” -“唯独圣经、唯独基督”理应成 为我们信仰的核心。
B. 我们此时提出忠告的神学理由 以下是我们提出建议的理由摘要:
1. 圣餐是一项实实在在的圣礼。那些源自改革宗背景的独立教会、灵恩教会或五旬节 教会,不会把圣餐视为实在的圣礼。对他们来说,圣餐是一项象征性的行动,只是 为了纪念耶稣钉十字架。在信义会的传统,我们持守圣礼神学 —— 圣餐又被称为 餐桌的圣礼(the Sacrament of the Table)。对我们而言,它不只是象征或符号。故 此,我们会比较小心如何施行圣餐。
2. 圣餐是上主与其子民的一项聚餐。圣餐是上帝子民实在的聚会 (PHYSICAL gathering),是上帝子民一起(TOGETHER)围绕在祂桌前的聚餐。这是教会的庆典,当 牧师主持圣餐时,他并非被赋予特殊能力或权柄靠自己“制造”了圣餐。这是天主教 的观点,不是我们的立场。牧师在他自己所到之处,在某个家庭使某些人领受饼和 酒,意味着该牧师并非自己拥有能力或权柄:只有聚集中的教会(gathered Church)拥 有这权柄。虚拟的洗礼就是一个例证。一个牧师是否能够在槟城的某间浴室内说了 一些话,制造出有效的洗礼,为柔佛州里站在自己浴缸内的人施洗?
3. 我们也得小心开启一个不好的先例,导致行管令结束后出现失控的状况。我们有什 么预防措施,如果有人在若干月后因为不同意牧师或堂会的看法,而决定在家里给 自己施圣餐?
4. 注:这次的行管令确实迫使教会重新深思,在面对当前给人类联系方式带来巨大改 变的科技,如何做教会事工的方式。为此,我们会把虚拟圣餐的课题带到牧师团中 讨论。谨慎地遵循和尊敬必要的过程,是精明的作法。神学和教义课题需要祷告中 的智慧,以及按立牧师 (那些被召、受训和受托的人) 的集体明辨。
5. 牧师团或由会督委任的代表们,将负责讨论该课题,而最终议决将提呈给 EXCO。无论最后的立场和结果如何,我们都需要花时间把相关的章程立场和神学辩解向我 们的会友作宣传和教导。
当然,还有更多的理由,但目前我们只提供以上理由给大家,希望大家明白为何信 仰与教制委员会,连同会督,要求全体会友耐心等候,并且制止(REFRAIN) 举行虚拟 的圣餐;让我们仰望在某一天、在某个时间里,我们可以重新集合在一起敬拜上 帝,并领受祂的祝福和圣礼。 待在家中、在平安里、与主同在 Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay with the LORD.
主仆, 刘国灿牧师 (代理会督, 马来西亚信义会)
2020 年 4 月 4 日