Monday, May 31, 2004

Controversy Over The Cup

We had a class this evening on the practices during the Lord's Supper. Leonid, one of the Christians here, believes strongly that the fruit of the vine should be kept in one cup until it has been blessed and then separated because that is how Jesus did in when celebrating the Passover before His crucifixion.

Jeff noted that I had said I would lead that discussion when we arrived, but I wimped out last night and said he could take it. After the class, he noted that I didn't say a single word -- probably a first for me. But Jeff handled the issue nicely, first stating the facts of what happened, then discussing the significance of those facts for us and finally talking about how to resolve differences among brethren when they cannot agree on such issues that do not matter to God (Romans 14).

It became clear very early in the discussion that Leonid was not about to budge on his viewpoint. Even when he conceded that the content of the cup, rather than the cup itself, is what really matters, he added: "Why don't we just do [it] how it is written? Why do we have all this discussion about significance and symbolism?"

Jeff tried to steer the discussion toward Romans 14 at that point, but the class deteriorated into a sometimes-testy debate among Leonid, Tom and Slava. I've seen more pointed exchanges at Centreville -- usually with me as at least one of the "troublemakers" -- but I was a bit surprised by the controversy. It's the first sign of conflict I've seen while here.

That's not to say conflict is bad, however. As Jeff noted at both the start and end of the class, it's always worthwhile to look at what the Bible teaches on any given topic, even when we think we're certain of the answers. We must be willing to study every aspect of God's word diligently to make sure we understand, and we don't want to continue a practice someone questions just because we've always done it that way. So I admire the willingness of the brethren here to discuss the issue.

When Jeff finally managed to get everyone's attention long enough to direct them to Romans 14, the tenor of the class improved. After summarizing the passage, Jeff asked each person his or her opinion about either continuing the current practice (many cups separated before the prayer) and about Leonid's proposal (separating the fruit of the vine into separate cups after the prayer). Only Leonid and Evdokia had strong feelings about the need to do the latter.

Jeff suggested that for the sake of the conscience of those two Christians, the church at Nizhny consider changing its practice for now as the brethren continue studying the issue to try to reach an agreement.

Evdokia quickly agreed. "Yes, that's the right suggestion," she said. And Stas added, "The suggestion is to study the Bible more."

That's a good suggestion for all of us.


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