March 24, 2012

Cb4B 2 GC

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bringing "communion without baptism" or "communion before baptism" to the General Convention. You can read about it here.

My observation in response to pitching this as "radical inclusivity" is simple: The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.

It is supremely ironic that a church that spends so much energy (rightly) celebrating the baptismal covenant could then turn its back on its significance in what seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these two sacraments, and their interrelationship.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

35 comments:

Nicholas+ said...

It seems like we've forgotten what a radical idea we fought for in the middle of the last century; that baptism is universal and foundational.

Perhaps we need to revist the historical arguments behind COCU before we move any further to consider CWOB.

Derek Olsen said...

I still object to calling it "Communion before Baptism" because that implies that Baptism is even in the picture and may actually come later. In the way that CWOB is typically presented that's not even a thought...

That aside, I am--of course--in complete agreement with you!

RFSJ said...

Yup! Well put. My great fear is that we don't have enough bishops who will think enough about this to stop it. But what committee will this get referred to anyway? SCLM?

John CLIFFORD said...

Well, I tend to agree with both sides here and, therefore, stick by the standard (which I take to be Anglican in nature): if the hand come forward, fill it, likewise the lips. We have no window on a person's soul, but if s/he feels the can to take communion though unbaptized, it is likely that the Body and Blood will fill some need in him/her. If not, then it is just grape juice and crackers and nothing to fret about. But don't change the rubric! There are times when DADT actually is a good policy.
John Clifford (x F.Harry Stowe)

Rick+ said...

Dear Tobias,

I find myself for the first time in the perilous position of disagreeing with a position you have. I describe it as perilous not because I worry about your response — you are nothing but kind and well-reasoned in your responses, especially to those who disagree — but because I would not pretend to have the depth of thought or experience in theology you have. So, aware of my own shortcomings, here goes.

When I was in formation I was presented with a series of "Coffee Hour Questions" that included: "A woman comes up to you after worship and says, 'I loved your worship, and it was so wonderful taking communion, but I've never been baptized.' What do you say?" I jokingly replied, "I suppose the correct answer is not, 'I would fling my cup of water on her and baptize her on the spot." Surprisingly, my committee appeared not to appreciate my keen sense of humor and waited in silence for my real answer. I replied, "I would probably say, 'I am so glad you enjoyed the worship and that you felt close to God as you took communion. Let's talk about the extra grace you could plug into through baptism."

By practicing an open communion, I don't feel like I have "turned my back on the significance of baptism," but rather have made room for people to access grace as they are ready. I don't see baptism serving a doorkeeper function, but rather as a fundamental grace of Christianity. Like many graces I am offered, there are times when I fully tap into what is offered; other times I am ashamed to admit I have taken the bread and the wine while preoccupied with what I was going to say during the announcements. The fact that I didn't fully tap into the grace offered does not diminish it. Even the grace I receive now seems different than it was many years ago: More deep; more powerful.

In all of our rituals that mark rites of passage, it seems we are simply playing catch-up to what God has already done. We celebrate Easter life at a funeral of someone we love — they already sit at the eternal banquet; We celebrate a marriage — we simply are recognizing love and a relationship God has already created and blessed; We bless our congregations — we are only pointing out and reminding folks of what God has already blessed. Even the Eucharist appears to me to be the same thing: We aren't "making Jesus," we're saying, "Look! Jesus!"

Do I believe someone who is unbaptized has fully tapped into the grace offered in the Eucharist? No, not really. I do recognize that in baptism, I am playing catch-up to God who has already worked a miracle in a human heart. It is a public sign in community that is powerful, and I consider it essential to Christian identity, but I just can't bring myself to say an unbaptized person taking communion would not tap into that grace in some form — I would just say greater grace awaits.

Again, I am speaking only from my own experience. This probably isn't well-developed theology that could withstand scolarly scrutiny, it's just my heart's response.

Fr. Jonathan said...

Well put. My guess has been that this won't get much legs at Convention since Convention will be busy with other matters, but that's just a guess. What would be your prediction?

bob said...

I guess it's about 40 years too late to suggest that the lady asking about communion get an explanation like this: We baptize before communion for the same reason we have a wedding night *after* the *wedding*. They're called "sacraments". They're applied to "laymen". Laymen are something that gets made after something called "catechism". Come to those classes a few months, you'll learn about those "sacrament" things. It isn't the same thing as coffee hour. Once you understand that it clarifies things. Or maybe it doesn't?
If it isn't satisfactory, suggest the lady spend the night without matrimony; that's just how the actual Church has viewed communion before baptism for 2000 years.

4 May 1535+ said...

I think that Tobias (as usual, IMHO) has put this cogently and succinctly.

As the issue has surfaced from time to time over the last year or so, I have begun to wonder about a corollary question: for those of us who feel that communion of the unbaptized is wrong, is it also the case that absolution of the unbaptized is wrong? I am thinking, of course, of the general absolution we typically include in almost every Eucharist. In my particular pastoral setting, the unbaptized are rarely present for the Great Thanksgiving, but are usually there for the Prayers of the People and the Confession (and the Exchange of the Peace, which I suppose raises questions of its own). I would think, without actually getting out of my armchair and doing some research, that confession and absolution have typically been seen as secondary to, and dependent on, the remission of sins in baptism. Someone who "truly and earnestly repent[s]" and "intends to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways" but is not baptized would surely be expressing, in identifying him- or herself by those words, a desire for baptism, rather than for absolution...

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for all the feedback.

Nicholas, I tend to agree that we've not really embraced the significance of the Baptismal movement of the last century.

Derek, point taken; I just want to avoid "open communion" as totally off. I do prefer how Cb4B looks as opposed to CWOB, and hold it out as seeing the intent as perhaps better than it is.

RFSJ, as worded it will likely come to Canons -- on which I am serving this summer. Ahem.

John, and Rick" that is actually my policy. I would never turn someone away from the altar rail, and want to leave room for grace. But that's the very reason I think express invitations to CWOB is wrong -- it negates any need for grace and just puts everyone in the position of coming forward as it were mechanically. It extends Constantinianism in a sort of colonial way, and I think diminishes the truly grace-filled moments both for the baptized and the seeker.

Fr. Jonathan, I do not think this will fly at GC, not because of other preoccupations, but just because it doesn't have a great weight of deep support. If there's something where "you haven't done the theology" this is the place correctly to lodge that sticker.

Bob, I agree that's not an analogy I'd use these days since so many seem happy to do just that! We need to teach what Baptism and Eucharist _are_ -- and from much I've seen in these discussions there seems to be some less than clear thinking.

4 May, this is an interesting point on a number of levels. For auricular confession (i.e. Penance) the old rule (RC) was that it required that one be baptized (I did leave my armchair and checked!). I don't find such a limitation in our "general confessions" but they represent a kind of Constantinian assumption (as does so much of our liturgy -- and this is another point that needs addressing) that all present are members. In the conciliar period the catechumens were dismissed prior to the prayers; we've lost that sense of liminality in our public worship. Now that there are increasing numbers of non-baptized persons, we're back in an earlier "age" stuck with a liturgy designed for a later one. I've reflected before that this is one of the elements in our current problem.

Brother David said...

That was a rather ominous "Ahem."

However, I agree with you 100% and will be snagging that catchy explanation;
The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.

Although I rather got a kick out of Counterlight's paraphrase of a pope on a post of this same topic over at Friends of Jake when he said, "Feed them all and let God sort them out!"

Jesse said...

I've just finished reading (then-Canon) Edward Norman's lecture to the Ecclesiastical Law Society, given during the 1998 Lambeth Conference -- (I'd be interested to know your thoughts on that critique of "dispersed authority", Tobias.) -- and in it there is a quotation of a criticism originally directed at F. D. Maurice, but which is pretty apt for CWOB/Cb4B too:

"[This] system is a very good one for bringing men in, but it is all door."

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bro D., only to indicate I'll have a particular voice at that particular table, and may need to say a word on the subject... Clearing the mind before clearing the throat is always good advice! As to C'light's observation, I'd say, Wash them all and let God sort it out" since the commandment was to baptize all; there is no general commandment to share the eucharist with all -- this is the family meal, for those who are members of the family. It is "our Passover" not just everybody's.

Jesse, I recall that address 9albeit dimly) and will have to return to it. The "all door" quote is apposite. The traditional sequence has open doors but then something deeper with which to engage.

Anonymous said...

John 2007 writes,

Appreciative of Tobias' writing here I would add 2 things. (1) It is my read of things that baptism is too loosely tethered to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ in the everyday teaching and conversation around among clergy and lay in the last three dioceses, at least, that I have been in, and in the blogosphere and (2) the greater dominance or presence non-cognitive views of religion or Christianity gain, the more CWOB will be advocated for; and please note, I am not talking about the increase of emphasis on non-cognitive dimensions of our faith, but on views of our faith which are increasingly non-cogniitve and, again and again, consider (whether they realize this or not) God to be plastic, malleable, and biblical revelation to be surpassed or subsumed under general contentless "experience."


One that will happen, has happened, is that we will lose, and have lost, the ability to promote baptism, especially adult baptism, in a way that takes almost a whole priestly career to do well given the current cultural and demographic landscape.

I have no doubt that God can be efficacious no matter what our practices are in all spheres of life. Of course. God can raise up stones. . . But, for priests, CWOB is such a weak, wimpy way out.

Anonymous said...

PS for those who want "a meal for all" have a real meal, a potluck supper for the whole community on a regular basis. That would model more the openness of Jesus having table fellowship with all that is appealed to. Communion is a commeration of something that always calls for faith and acceptance, which is just what baptism is meant to initiate. (John 2007)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

John, I think we are largely on the same page here, though I'm not sure what you mean by "non-cognitive views of religion." Last time this discussion came up I emphasized that one element of baptismal theology that tends to be set aside is the "unity in the death of Christ." I always relate the chrismational signing with the cross to the signing with ashes on Ash Wednesday; the seal with which we are marked is both sign of Christ's death and his victory over death -- and baptism is "into" that event and reality.

I'm also quite in agreement concerning the Eucharist. I do not buy the purported connection with the feeding miracles or even the open fellowship with sinners: the depiction of the institution of the Eucharist in the synoptics, and its elaboration (and abuses) in the Corinthian community, indicate that it is not, and ought not to be, reduced to a simple fellowship meal.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

I left a comment at the Cafe:

This conversation has branched off into some particular byways that some may find helpful. But it seems to me that conflating the Eucharist with the other table-fellowship meals Jesus shared is fundamentally misreading the text. And I say that not just because the church came to that understanding as it crafted the gospels. Looking to the Corinthian correspondence, it's clear that Paul needs to distinguish ordinary meals from the extraordinary thing that is the Eucharist, in which Christ "our Passover" is present and consumed. The "our" is important -- this is not a universal event, but a family meal. All are invited to this meal, but that invitation takes the form of baptism. Baptism is not an obstacle, but a step in the process which culminates in communion.

I'm nor particularly fond of analogies, but will hazard one. None of us are native-born to the realm of God, though each of us has the capacity to become "naturalized." The process of naturalization involves baptism. And once baptized, we become citizens with rights and responsibilities. Far from "empire" this is God's democracy, to which any and all are invited, and are called to respond to the invitation.

I think [some who advocate CWOB] have it backwards: it is not "protection" of the eucharist that robs it of its importance (not that I agree that protection is the issue) it is the assumption that Jesus and/or the early church did not know what it was doing when calling for all nations to be baptized, and then to celebrate the feast. Transforming the sacred celebration of the body of which one has become a member through baptism into just another fellowship meal or opportunity not to make people feel excluded (not that they are) seems to me to be what robs both the baptized and the seeker of the value the eucharist holds.

Bill Dilworth said...

For what it's worth, I have never heard of an Episcopal priest policing the Communion rail for proof of baptism. I've seen it in Orthodox and Lutheran congregations (the Orthodox Archbishop of Tokyo grilled me about my chrismation and jurisdiction right there at the chalice). The closest I've seen in the Episcopal Church was my childhood rector telling kids to take gum out of their mouth or Raybans off their face before going on to communicate them.

Our approach is something like the policy of many RC bishops and bishops' conferences - that you don't turn people away from Communion. I'd be interested to know if anyone is aware of Episcopal priests having challenged people at the rail in regards to their baptismal status, but I suspect not.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks Bill. The fact is the Episcopal Church, unlike the Orthodox, RC, and Missouri Synod Lutherans, have what is actually known as "open communion" in ecumenical circles. I wonder if that is not part of the confusion. In the old days you had to be confirmed to receive, not just baptized!

I actually run into that dilemma at the rail due to my parish having a large number of members from other parts of the WWAC, where confirmation before communion is still the rule. So I have parents come to the rail with young children, for a blessing, but resist their receiving communion. I've tried to do teaching on this but I'm usually met with a bemused, "surely you jest" response. Some other parents have welcomed this "innovation" but this means I will have at the rail young children receiving while even older ones don't. And occasionally I have to ask. But I will not turn someone away, under any circumstances, and I've told parents that if their child reaches out I will commune them, and if they don't want them to receive communion they need to do some instruction themselves!

Short story: Old Habits Die Hard. And this is one of those things where the Anglican Communion has failed to maintain uniformity of practice...

MarkBrunson said...

I still am left with the basic issue here; it is one I believe to be the common sense issue:

Why would you wish to take communion if you do not believe in it enough to be baptized?

For fellowship? The problem is, you're not part of that fellowship. You weren't willing to undertake a none-too-strenuous act of public membership.

For the thrills? You've just gotten a piece of flatbread and a sip of (usually second-rate) wine. Wow.

For the experience? See above. If you're hungry, I'll see to it you get a meal. That's part of what our committment at baptism requires.

It's not an objection on mystical or magical or even really theological grounds just . . . why would you want to?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Mark, I do not think there is a great clamoring hoard of folks wanting communion without baptism. From following the discussion at the Cafe, it seems to me there are a number of liberal clergy who think that this is a good idea in order to make people feel more welcome, whether they actually want it or not. The crying over decline, and this push to offer communion instead of baptism, seems to be part of an inferiority mode, a need to be accepted and affirmed in the role of priest. I think you are right in that this has little to do with theology and a great deal to do with human needs -- but mostly on the part of [some of] the clergy.

PMG said...

I myself once took communion without being baptized. It's not something I now agree with; I quite agree with Tobias's post and many of the comments here. But it might be useful for me to illustrate how and why it can happen:

I had, after a long period of discernment on my own, realized I wanted to be baptized and formally join the church, at age 30. Being rather shy and not having grown up in a religious family or having any religious friends, I didn't quite know how to go about doing it. Luckily, a very pleasant progressive Episcopal church near me advertised for a "Newcomers Class," that took place before the Sunday morning service, and so I mustered myself up and went. It was on the whole a wonderful experience, and now several years later I am, I hope to think, quite active and observant. (Although, not in the same congregation.)

But that first sunday, after I had gone to the class and introduced myself and my story, the very kindly priest (an interim, incidentally) came up to me right before the service that followed. He explained how communion worked, logistically, and said that his particular congregation practiced open communion and that I was welcome to receive. Having been longing to join the church for quite some time, I gratefully took the opportunity to receive, and found it very powerful.

But again, just to emphasize: I hadn't actually quite thought it through theologically (indeed, I didn't yet have the tools to do so), and now I wish I hadn't. The priest was a very good and kindly man, and I might not be a Christian today were it not for him, but I disagree with him proactively inviting me to take communion without having been baptized, or at the very least the more educated about the issues--in retrospect would have been more meaningful to wait the two months until the bishop's visit when I was, ultimately, baptized. But I think you can see the good pastoral intentions at work: here I was a naive proto-Christian, and the last thing the priest wanted was for me to begin my time in Church with what might be thought of (by a non-church person) as rule-bound fussiness. He probably thought that an extremely secular person such as myself would be turned off by that. And, in a way, it worked: as I say, two years later, I'm still here, and more involved then ever, and maybe it was a good gamble on his part. However, again, just to be clear, ultimately I think it was a mistake, and certainly not a good general policy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

PMG, thanks for that account. I would have handled the situation differently, and hope I would have made you feel just as welcome by inviting you to receive a blessing, with perhaps a word or two about the importance of baptism. I think that can be explained without rule-based fussiness. I think many clergy are over-sensitive to be seen as "putting people off" when what is important is making disciples -- and discipleship, by its very nature, involves discipline -- and I think people actually generally do want some kind of structure in their lives, and are not looking for an "anything-goes" church, but one that will support them.

MarkBrunson said...

he crying over decline, and this push to offer communion instead of baptism, seems to be part of an inferiority mode, a need to be accepted and affirmed in the role of priest.

So, it's another gimmick.

I am growing extremely tired of the books and seminars and articles on "grow your own church!" and the techniques - drawn from a business model - that are advocated. Hey! Power Point hymns! Hey! Open house! On and on . . . the hymns are in the books, large print available, if needed, and the Church is always an open house.

If we just did what Jesus asked - that is what the "young people" so desperately sought want.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Yes, Mark, I think that's it. The "thoelogy" underlying the move isn't very sound. This is one area where I think it is true that "they haven't done the theology."

I'll be posting another comment on the subject in light of Hooker's reflections on the issue.

Erika Baker said...

Mark,
another personal account, albeit slightly different.
Our church had started a program of teaching baptised children a basic Christianity course so they could have Communion before Confirmation.
My own daughter had been ill for most of the course and hadn't really participated at all.
Nevertheless, on the day they all first received she stood up too, to the surprise of all of us including her own, and took Communion.
To date she has no idea what prompted her - but 5 days later she was diagnosed with leukaemia and began 3 very difficult years of treatment.

Substitute "Baptism" for "Confirmation" and you have the same principle.
I'm so glad no-one asked her difficult questions that would only have made her sit down again embarrassed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks Erika. Of course, the confirmation requirement is a peculiarity of English history, going back to Archbishop Peckham.

That being said, I don't think the principle of baptism as entry to the church is about creating barriers or erecting obstacles, but helping people find the door...

Erika Baker said...

Tobias,
the German Lutheran church I grew up in also has Confirmation before Communion and I seem to remember that my RC friends back home also had to have their version of Confirmation, although that happened when they were about 7 whereas Confirmation happened at 14.

I agree that baptism is not about creating obstacles, but I was trying to answer Mark's question who would possibly want to receive before they were entitled to, whatever door the church places before entitlement.

It's good to have entry points like that but it's also good not to make windows into men's souls and to be flexible.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika, I'm not familiar with the Lutheran practice. For RCs there is "First Communion" usually about 7, and then "Confirmation" about 12 or so -- or so it used to be. I went through both.

But Anglicans, since Peckham in the 13th c., had this odd rule about Confirmation. In the US, due to the absence, and then shortage, of bishops, had as the rule, "Confirmed or ready and desirous to be confirmed" as the standard for communion reception. We did away with it in the process of revising our BCP, with its renewed emphasis on baptism as full and sufficient in and of itself.

I agree about not making windows. No one should be "carded" at the altar rail. But at the same time a general invitation to commune should not be issued.

Alex Scott said...

I'll back that up. I was raised Catholic, and when I was 7, I took some introductory classes, had my first confession, and then my first communion. Confirmation is something different.

From what I understand, the Orthodox Church communicates children as soon as they can chew. You do have to be chrismated, but that usually comes with Baptism or reception.

Me, I've always liked the fact that TEC communicates children.

MarkBrunson said...

Agreed, Confirmation is different than Baptism. Very much so. I've always championed Communion before Confirmation.

While I agree that it was good, as well, that things happened as they did, it is an anecdotal case.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you for the information on the Catholic church.

To my mind, that muddies the waters even more. Bob said earlier in this thread that people should be taught the catechism before they receive Communion. Leaving aside the troublesome implication that academic knowledge is the key to God, which would exclude the large number of communicants with learning difficulties and people with dementia, Alex Scott now confirms that a period of instruction precedes the first Holy Communion in Catholicism. That's what I must have remembered from my childhood friends.

But if instruction is the “door”, then baptised children should not simply receive Communion unless they had undergone a period of instruction.
If personal commitment is the “door”, then only confirmed people should receive Communion, whether baptised or not.
Baptism on its own appears, then, to be insufficient in any case.
And Baptism as a moment of becoming part of a family is a difficult concept too, when we baptise babies who are then not brought up in the Christian faith and have no contact with church, yet we worry about communicating people who really want to take communion yet who might not have been baptised.

I can’t shake off this feeling that all we’re trying to do is erect boundary circles around our faith and depending on our personal theology, the diameter is narrower or wider. But the idea of circles remains.

Alex Scott said...

I think the key is preparation. The Catholic Church has a very particular Eucharistic theology that relies very much on your conduct and conscience. If you've committed a mortal sin and haven't confessed it, you are expected not to receive communion.

Whereas TEC doesn't have that restriction. The important thing is knowing what you're doing, and from what I understand, we (like the Orthodox, I think) understand a child being raised in the faith to be on the same level as an adult who's been specifically instructed.

bls said...

But there are boundaries to the faith - fortunately!

If not, anybody could start a "Christian" church and teach anything they wanted to - and might come up with something that looks absolutely nothing like what, say, Anglicanism teaches. They might come up with something positively damaging - and they could offer people Communion on any basis whatsoever.

We know what the Episcopal Church teaches - and we have judged for ourselves that it's a good thing (even though it might be a hard thing, sometimes - and even though it might in fact be a deadly thing, considering that people die for their faith even today). Our parents - and who cares more for babies than their parents? - also know this, and promise to instruct their children at Baptism (as do their Godparents). The caretakers of those with learning disabilities and dementia know this, too.

But somebody walking through the door for the first time doesn't know. We're telling them to just "trust us" - but why should they? We could just be hucksters attempting to get them to sign on some dotted line.

And at Baptism, the whole congregation - a community that a stranger is simply not being provided with - promises to support the newly baptized in their faith life. And the faith life is not always easy.

Philip took hours with the Ethiopian Eunuch, answering questions and explaining things. Offering Communion to any and all skips this very important step - and offers nothing at all to people in the way of support.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika and Alex, there was a time when Anglicans, like RCs put a great deal of store on the "understanding of the Sacrament" aspect -- hence RC delay in first communion until "the age or reason" (i.e., 7) or the Anglican delay until Confirmation. A recovery of the truly sacramental nature of baptism as an objective incorporation into the body of Christ, and not simply a subjective personal experience, led to our return in TEC to a more Eastern Orthodox understanding, in which all who are baptized may receive. To pick up the "door" image -- it is a door whether you know you've gone through it or not.

I continue to commune infants with a drop of wine on my pinky finger on the day of their baptism. I don't normally commune infants at the rail, but if a child reaches out, I will not turn them away. I do believe in the "instruction" happening, but that is to deepen the experience and form disciples, not to "reify" the sacrament, which "passes our understanding..."

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, bls. There is a liminal, a definitional, aspect to baptism. It is the crossing of a boundary -- and the welcome is very real. It is not a boundary to keep people out, but designed specifically to bring them in. The tragedy is that people think climbing through the windows is needed, when the door stands open!