Friday, July 6, 2012

Communion without Baptism

(Following is a post I made on the Episcopal News Service article about the General Convention debates about Communion without Baptism. The article can be found by clicking here)

I find it interesting that the article is written to lean toward those who favor abolishing baptism as a precursor to admission to the communion table. Which side starts and ends the article?

Question: when will we also abolish baptism and confirmation as requirements to holding church office? What, then, is the role of baptism, and does it confer any spiritual grace or actually incorporate someone indivisibly into the Body of Christ?

At what point will we recognize that God can be worshiped and adored outside the context of the Holy Eucharist? I'm glad that we as a church have returned to the ancient practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist each week and sharing the Body and Blood with even infants who have been baptized, but now have we neglected our rich heritage of Morning and Evening Prayer (which, oddly enough, have never required baptism) because "worship won't happen without bread and wine and a priest"? Those who have not been baptized are also called to prayer and devotion to God - hence why Paul has that whole conversation in Acts about the altar to the "Unknown God". Those who have not been baptized are still loved deeply by God and God graces and blesses those whom God so chooses. God is Love, and God sends blessings and love to all the corners of the world. Those who are not baptized can still pray, even if they do not really know who they're talking to. How many people are there who aren't really sure who God is but pray anyway? God hears their prayers.  Baptism and the Eucharist, however, are special sacraments that God has entrusted to the Church for nourishing those whom God has called into the Church. If God calls someone into the Church, then they are incorporated into the Mystical Body by means of Baptism. The Holy Eucharist, then, is the sacred feast of the Church where Christ is mystically present - it is God's gift to the Church to observe with love and reverence.

Honestly, I fear that this entire debate about "welcoming" is a way to avoid having real conversations about real issues. When the debate is kindly framed "welcoming / open table" and "exclusivist  / gatekeeping / baptism before Eucharist" we have already tried to paint people into a corner.

Do I oppose communion without baptism? Yes, because I hold Baptism in the highest regard as the means by which we proclaim the reality of what we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist. Why would someone partake of the Body and Blood when they haven't decided that they actually believe in the Good News which the sacred meal proclaims? And why would they believe in the Good News and not be baptized?

The issue, for me, is not that people "don't understand" the Body and Blood. I confess I really don't, either, though I do trust that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament. The issue is that "being welcoming" is taking precedence over really wrestling with the mysteries, with what we live and proclaim (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again - now what is it that we are baptized into, again?). People are not excluded from God's grace because they are baptized or not (God is free to bless those whom God chooses), but this is not just "some" wafer and wine we're eating. It's participating in a real, holy mystery which is part of deep spiritual preparation and finds its deepest roots when the soil is well-nurtured.

(And if those who favor ending the requirement want to say that I'm unwelcoming and excluding others, I'd like to remind them that they and I are already bound together by the vows we have made in baptism. If they want to doubt my love for others who have not been baptized, if they want to say I'm being "exclusionary", then I'd like to ask them this: if you'll treat someone who is bound to you in baptism with dislike, then how will you treat who are not bound to you in baptism? Can one member of the Body say to another, "I have no need of you"?)

1 comment:

mary said...

I took a look at the article, and the series of comments. I understand that this is an issue of deep concern to you, and because I am a) not episcopalian, and b) not in a good place to really articulate the unthematic convictions I have around the invitation to communion, I won't comment on content here.

I look forward to having this conversation with you multiple times over the next few years while we're both in seminary, though.