Communion and Salvation
What does communion have to do with salvation? After all, we might agree that no sacrament alone or in combination with anything else is necessary for salvation. And it would sound funny, at the least, to say communion is alone, or with baptism, sufficient for salvation. What of it, then--a relation between two items, neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the other?
Communion, it may be said, is eating Christ (in some sense whose determination I leave aside for the most part). We should, I think, say Christ is really present in the bread and wine:
The Gifts of God for the People of God.
And right here we come to the crux of the issue of CWOB. Who are the people of God then, for whom the body and blood of Christ are intended? Surely the baptized are among them. One might venture to say that baptism is a sufficient condition for counting as one of the people of God. If it were also a necessary condition, then the case of CWOB would be closed--in my opinion. That is, CWOB would be forbidden. But we have good reason for being extremely hesitant about presuming to restrict the number of the people of God to those who have been baptized.
The most important reason is rooted in the very nature of God; being omnipotent, he does not need baptism as a means of counting one among his people. He may do so by his sheer fiat; if he can create sons of Abraham from stones, why not people of God in these latter days too? In short, I see absolutely no reason to take baptism--clearly a sufficient condition--as also a necessary condition.
If there is some disjunction between the people of God and the baptized, then holding the body and blood of Christ apart from the unbaptized would--pretty clearly--contradict the performance of the ritual. The ritual would be incoherent in practice. Whatever else that might imply, it surely could not be a rite in the service of Truth.
Note well the words accompanying the distribution of bread and wine:
The Bread and the Cup are given to the communicants with these words
The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee,
preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat
this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on
him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.
The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee,
preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in
remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be
or with these words
The Body (Blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in
everlasting life. [Amen.]
or with these words
The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. [Amen.]
The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. [Amen.]
That is, the bread and wine are distributed with a particular intent: that the recipients be saved. The text of the Eucharist itself implies a close connection of some sort between communion and salvation with this hope that distribution will go with salvation; let it be so. It seems to follow that the hope expressed in the Eucharist is that the people of God be saved. There is no implication that the recipients will in fact all be saved, just as there is no such implication about baptism.
The connection postulated in communion between distribution of the body and blood of Christ and salvation is reconciliation with the Father. All of the eucharistic prayers we have imply the problem is our estrangement from the Father, and that the distribution of Christ in our ritual meal is a means of overcoming that estrangement. In effect, the rite enacts what Paul or his students wrote in Ephesians (1:7-10):
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
I cannot help but draw your attention to the phrase "through his blood" which to my ears alludes to--among other things--some such rite as may well be our Eucharist. But note what the Father is said to be doing with the blood of Christ--gathering up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. Perhaps some other time we may reflect on the quantifier "all" and wonder whether that is really what Paul meant.
What is important to see here for the moment is that the blood of Christ is a means the Father employs to reconcile the wayward to himself. But also, there is a time at which this will be finally carried out: in "the fullness of time". The reconciliation effected in passing by means of the Eucharist is to be effected finally in the fullness of time--the two are not exactly identical, but the Eucharist is part of the movement of reconciliation in history here below. It is not sundered from the Eschaton, but points to it--what it is about is finally achieved at the Eschaton.
In that sense we may say the Eucharist should not be sundered from the eschatological reality to which it points. And our practice of it should not so sunder it.
The point of all this with respect to CWOB is if that eschatological reality just might include the reconcilation of all to the Father--and esp. of all human beings--then our practice of the Eucharist here below May express that possibility. For it seems to me something to be hoped for that Leviathan be finally bound, that the power of God be made manifest in glory by turning every ounce of evil to good, that even the Hitlers and Pol Pots be reconciled with God and their victims--with no remainders. The issue, so far as I can see, need be nothing more than what is permitted: congregations should be permitted the practice of CWOB. There are, after all, very good reasons behind it.
To criticize[edited] CWOB, one might turn to I Cor. 11:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For all who eat and drink* without discerning the body,* eat and drink judgement against themselves.
I am not sure where baptism is implied as required for discerning the body or eating Christ in a worthy manner. Baptism surely could not seriously be thought sufficient for that. At best, it would have to be accompanied by something else--like a catechumenate.
But then, why would baptism be thought necessary? Presumably the Eucharist comes after confession, the reading of Scripture, prayer, and preaching. Is it possible that any of these might suffice for satsfying the pauline requirements of worthiness and discernment? If it is even possible, then Baptism cannot be necessary for that satisfaction. To suppose that God cannot effect worthiness and discernment by those means--even without Baptism--seems to me arbitrary in the extreme. Does God even need those means? Might there be some counted worthy and discerning who had never heard the name "Christ" or as much as a verse of Scripture? Might the infant/toddler Mary have satisfied those requirements?
Discernment is the tricky word--but if you place the bar too high, you end with absurdity. It is better to place it (safely) low; keep discernment light on cognitive content and high on personal involvement. It might be that what is essential to proper discernment is "seeing" the love of God in the congregation, an effect of Charity that shows union with the Father in the Spirit through Christ--even to a toddler. And it may be that worthiness counts as "seeing" that love selflessly as good in itself, and desiring it selflessly--something only possible for us in this state via the indwelling of the Spirit. But then I see no reason why a toddler cannot be inspired to selflessy desire the love it discerns in the Spirit moving the congregation to union with the Father.
But if it--even unbaptized--sees and desires in this way, communion is a natural concomitant. In fact, witholding would seem a perversion, something against nature.