Friday, May 20, 2011

Episcopalians move toward communing the un-baptized

The Episcopal Church’s national office has given a backhanded blessing to the practice of allowing those not baptized to receive Holy Communion—a practice forbidden by canon law.

Supporters of Communion without Baptism (CWOB) have argued that relaxing the church’s Eucharistic discipline will serve as a recruiting tool for those outside the faith. However, traditionalists have rejected the practice as uncanonical and contrary to church teaching.

Last month the Episcopal Church Office of Congregational Vitality posted a video to the national church’s website highlighting the ministry of parish of St Paul & the Redeemer in Chicago. The congregation “exemplifies transformative work,” the Rev. Bob Honeychurch, the Episcopal Church’s officer for congregational vitality, said, adding that the parish “sees its primary point of contact with the wider community through its Sunday morning experience. The worship becomes its witness to the world.”

“What we do is the Episcopal liturgy,” said parish rector the Rev. Peter Lane. “We just do it in creative ways.”

St Paul & the Redeemer welcomes “everybody. Orthodox believer or skeptic, gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, everybody is invited to eat at God’s table” Mr. Lane said.

The video features a parishioner who relates his love of the “diversity” and “inclusion” of the Episcopal Church. At his first visit to the congregation he received Holy Communion, and was led to join the church. When his young son was baptized three years later, he also decided that it was time to become baptized.

A study released in 2005 by the Diocese of Northern California estimated that a majority of dioceses had congregations that practiced Communion without Baptism. (CWOB) Of the church’s 110 dioceses, 48 responded to the Northern California survey: 24 reported they had parishes who practiced CWOB while a further 7 dioceses were reported to “probably allow CWOB.”

A spokesman for the national church told The Church of England Newspaper in response to the query about the video, “The canons of the Episcopal Church expect that baptism precede the receiving of Communion. The Episcopal Church does not, however, inquire of each person coming to receive Communion if he or she has been baptized. If a newcomer is discovered not to have been baptized, then the most appropriate response is to prepare and baptize that person, welcoming her or him into the body of Christ.”

Episcopal Church Canon I.17.7 is unambiguous. It states “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.

“From the earliest centuries, it has been the universal practice of the Christian Church that one must first be baptized before being admitted to Holy Communion,” Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker told CEN.

The issue is one of canon law, Prayer Book rubrics and Scripture, the Anglo-Catholic leader said.

In Romans 6:3-11 “St. Paul explains that the unbaptized remain under the dominion of sin and death and have not been reconciled to God by faith in the saving death of Jesus Christ. Thus they are not eligible to receive the benefits of Holy Communion,” Bishop Iker explained.

“The unbroken tradition and practice of orthodox believers is clear: first baptism, then communion – not the other way around,” he said.


David Garner said...

So our reunion with the Anglicans is not imminent?

Anonymous said...

What's more puzzling is the refusal of "traditional" Anglicans to become Orthodox...

Fr Theodore said...

It has been going on for years, so it is only a matter of time before the rules catch up to the praxis.

Part of the problem is the perception that this is about "rules" versus "relationships." Boundaries are seen as barriers, rather than expressions of identity and commitment. The rallying cry (which I heard over and over before coming home to Orthodoxy) is: "It's the Lord's table, not ours." Since only those parts of Christian Tradition (including the Scriptures) that are "inclusive" are deemed to be from the Lord, there is no need to acknowledge that the Lord set the rules for coming to the Table and that by setting them aside, we are behaving like party crashers.

While still ordained in the Episcopal Church, I used to try and contextualize this issue as being similar in nature to the teaching that marriage should precede sexual intimacy. But that made about as much sense as speaking Esperanto in an organization where sex and commitment had no necessary connection, where a presentation on "chastity," could extol the benefits of casual sex as a means of communion with God, especially if one's companion of convenience was also an Episcopalian (I am not making this up; it was a good friend who gave the presentation, much to my shock at the time).

When "growing" the Church becomes a priority (usually a self-serving one, at that), rather than manifesting the Presence and Power of God as healing for sin-sick souls, some amount of "dumbing down" will be necessary. The astounding thing is that, historically, the Church grows most when it eschews the false gospel of cheap grace. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

You will hear the same Episcopalians pushing this, also make a huge deal about the "baptismal covenant." This covenant gets boiled down to one single petition in one of the baptismal litanies out of the entire service. That petition is a call to 'strive for justice...and respect the dignity of every human being.' It is an extremely secular petition and has led the way for the introduction of many baseless innovations.

But liberals Episcopalians are not known for their consistency. While they aggressively press this "baptismal covenant" they also proclaim that baptism is not necessary!


Cha said...

As Fr. Theodore, said, this is not a new thing. I first saw it in this article in 2002, when the article was new:

Bob Glassmeyer said...

I have a friend who is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and a very Anglo Catholic priest he is. Sometimes I wonder how he goes on. It would not surprise me if he swims either the Tiber or the Bosphorous soon. I wouldn't blame him in the slightest.

Call me an old fuddy duddy, but you don't much hear about being properly disposed to receive Holy Communion anymore.

Anonymous said...

We assume they are actually giving holy communion. Seems to me the canons here would not apply.

Anonymous said...

It was always odd feeling like one of the odd-ducks in an Anglo-Catholic bastion who said the pre-Communion prayers before receiving. Makes sense, though. Once you surrender boundaries, culturally speaking, it becomes nearly impossible to pick them up again.

The young fogey said...

So our reunion with the Anglicans is not imminent?


It has been going on for years, so it is only a matter of time before the rules catch up to the praxis.

Right. Credal orthodoxy on paper but widespread unbelief has been normal for them since the 'Enlightenment'. Given that they claim the power to revise teachings by convention vote, I wouldn't be surprised if they approve this change or others, eventually becoming unitarian de jure as well as de facto.

bob said...

It shouldn't surprise anyone that non-christians invite other non-christians to a non-eucharist. They are simply agreeing with what their mother organization the Church or Rome said about their sacraments a hundred or so years ago: Absolutely null and utterly void. That description can't be improved on.

The young fogey said...

Unless/until they officially dump the content of the creeds, including making belief in it optional, they're still technically a Christian church.

Visibilium said...

Their theology is their praxis, which in the high segment of Anglicanism, is fairly charming.

There's no reason for any of them to become Orthodox unless they're willing to jettison their tradition for ours, and we're woefully unequipped to offer them any suitably-appointed rooms in our mansion.