“Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.”
So kneeling ” is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue.” Interesting. What would Ezra say about how one might avoid “profanation and disorder in the holy Communion”?
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them (Nehemiah 8.9-12).
It seems to me that N. T. Wright’s refutation of Purgatory also speaks well to the implicit disbelief in the Gospel (only an implication, not something anyone is really guilty of meaning) involved in this sort of posture at the table:
When the prodigal son put the ring on his finger and the shoes on his feet, was he being arrogant when he allowed his father’s lavish generosity to take its course? Would it not have been far more arrogant, far more clinging to one’s own inverted dignity as a “very humble” penitent, to insist that he should be allowed to wear sackcloth and ashes for a week or two until he’d had time to adjust to the father’s house? No: the complaint about the prodigal’s arrogance, I fear, comes not from the father, but from the older brother. We should beware lest that syndrome destroy our delight in the gospel of the free grace of God. We mustn’t let the upside-down arrogance of those who are too proud to receive free grace prevent us from hearing and receiving the best news in the world.
And, if Jesus has invited us as honored guest to eat and drink with him, how can we justify refusing to sit in the name of humility? “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8.33b, 34a) And it is God who exalts. Who is to humiliate? If God treats us as friends, who are we to act as penitents? If God says for us to sit with him, who are we to kneel? He or she whom God has exalted let no one humble.
Augustine wrote that God has humbled himself and still man is proud. But human perversity is even worse so that God has now elevated man and man still wants to find a way to earn it. What else explains a value system that think God wants his accepted guests to grovel at meals with him?
I’m not sure I agree with Walter Marshall that “the Law” should be blamed, but psychologically he is exactly right:
By nature, you are completely addicted to this legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works. In your heart you still want to make the duties of the law come before the comforts of the gospel…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it…This is the mindset you tend to fall into: You sincerely do want to obey the law of God. Therefore, to make sure you obey the law of God you make all of God’s blessings depend upon how well you keep his law…Some preachers even tell you that you had better not enjoy the blessings of the gospel! They tell you to diligently obey the law first, and that only by doing this will you will be safe and happy before God. Just keep in mind, however, that if you go this route, you will never enjoy your salvation for as long as you live in this world (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, 1692).
Whether or not this method should be described as “legal,” Marshall is completely right that no one wants free pardon. Not until one has been humble enough. Not until one has groveled enough. Not until one has shown how thankful one is for blessings by showing that one is too good to actually enjoy them. Preachers who boast (there is no other word for it though they would never acknowledge what they are doing) in their faithfulness to the Gospel of free grace will not hesitate to promote this perverse values system from the pulpit. It is all cover for the worse sort of pride that refuses to actually receive the benefit. Don’t be fooled by “grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers.” The benefit is to be sit with Jesus. Kneeling is a refusal of that benefit.
God restored us in Christ to 1) have fellowship with him, 2) serve him, 3) be of great joy. None of those things happen by insisting on staying on one’s knees.
One other point:
What difference does it make that “no adoration is intended“? Did Paul accept that reasoning from the Corinthians who thought they could participate in pagan worship feasts without being guilty of idolatry because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods? Just because one can commit idolatry in one’s heart does not mean one can eliminate idolatry in one’s hands or knees by what one thinks in one’s heart. Philanderers might think otherwise, but they are wrong: unfaithfulness is in the act, not the feeling or idea.
I don’t think kneeling for communion is direct enough to count as idolatry. It is not the same as bowing to the bread or wine. But either way intention is hardly relevant.
Finally, I apologize for the rant nature of his post. Christians do disagree about serious issues without ceasing to be Christians on either side of the issue. Nor do I think kneeling is the worse liturgical sin. As one who has served grape juice as communion, God knows I have no possible personal moral high ground to stand on. I am not better than anyone but I am all too happy to be exalted by the grace of God, despite my sins and faults, with everyone who names the name of Christ.