On CWOB: Against Ephraim Radner
Having picked up this latest dust-up over CWOB, T19 helpfully linked to a number of earlier pieces opposing the practice; the one that caught my eye was an old and well-written work from Radner, which still exists online.
Much of it is, frankly, quite good; I'd like to quote some parts with brief commentary:
[A] Hence, “discerning the body” [in I. Cor 11] refers to a kind of life. It is a life led in reception of and in conformance to the “body of Jesus [crucified]” (something which Paul lifts up throughout his letters as a central reality of the Christian vocation and gift). It is also a life led in accordance with the mutual love and subjection among Christians that represents the keeping of the “new command” within the “new human being” (cf. Eph. 2) of the Church’s corporate life in Christ. The Eucharist “shows up” this kind of life....
[B] What are the implications of all this? On one level, it is very simple: “Take heed”....Watch out! Take care! Take care how you eat, what you do, how you approach, how you live! For the calling is great, the gift is powerful, the judgment is strong. The import of this conclusion is not meant to turn the Eucharist into the Ark that killed Uzzah as some kind of impersonal outbreak of destructive holiness (cf. 2 Samuel 6)....The place to which we come is a place where terror has no initiating role, but where awesome joy and delight and worship blossom. But that is only because it is place opened up to the willing, for the sake of approaching God himself.
I very strongly agree with the comments in [A] and [B]--and similar comments beautifully made throughout Radner's piece on the nature of the Eucharist.
But why do such considerations imply the necessity of Baptism?
Opponents of CWOB too often take shots at straw men. Notice how Radner throughout the article refers to advocates of open communion as if they formed a homogeneous mass in thought and practice. Not true, not true at all. His characterization of CWOB manifestly fails to get traction with the reality of CWOB.
For instance, comments like [A] and [B] could just as well be pulled out of Radner's article and pasted into a pro-CWOB article. In themselves, they seem neutral. They might feel like they carry great weight inasmuch as opponents of CWOB are worried about cheap grace or deflating the practice of the Eucharist--but (1) CWOB can be practiced without deflation or cheapening, with respect for and consistent with such considerations as those voiced in [A] and [B] by Radner, and (2) C with B can be cheap and deflated in spite of the restriction to the baptized.
It is easy to hear, if you are listening for it, odd tones out of place in Radner's exegesis:
The Church has never claimed (in its doctrinal definitions around this matter anyway) that baptized Christians are “better” than the unbaptized; and Jesus certainly did not single out his 12 disciples on the basis of their moral preparedness. The claim made is simply this: that the baptized have made a choice to be held accountable to something greater than their own sense and construal of God, that is, to the calling from God given in Christ Jesus, to “follow” him “to the end”. The choice, however, itself carries with it enormous responsibilities and dangers.
That is, as it stands, obviously false. There is a long tradition of infant baptism in the church, from which it follows that most--nay, the overwhelming majority--of the baptized made no such choice at their baptism. Radner is off in la-la land here, fetishizing human autonomy in a way foreign to a long tradition of Christian thinking. Grace simply does not need your choice to operate and bring you close to God. Your choice is not really of any ultimate significance.
Let me say that again: whether you are saved or damned is not ultimately determined by any choice you make. And likewise for whether you are close to God or far from God, sanctified and holy or polluted and unclean.
Yes, someone will quote "Choose this day..." but be careful not to read too much Kant (or modern secularity) into the OT.
The point of choosing God is not an occurrent act from which everything else follows. That is not saving faith, but the old error of works righteousness. It's also pretty foolish; we are ever at risk of getting lost in translation. The point is not "daring to think for yourself" or "daring to choose for oneself" as if human autonomy were of ultimate import. It is important, to be sure, but not that important. Rather, the point of choosing God is living a certain kind of life and becoming a certain kind of person in a certain kind of community. Life/character/community: Radner knows this at some level; he writes in [A] that discerning the body refers to a kind of life. Why can't he stick with this valuation of living a type of life, giving it its due seriousness?
And note this well: you are already formed in a life in a community with a certain character before you are even capable of making a choice for yourself. And lo--that community might be Christian, practicing the Eucharist and offering your baptized self the body and blood of Christ, which you rightly take. And no choice need be made in the matter.
The smell of Kantian-influenced secularity is all over Radner's reading of Scripture. I cannot wash it off--it sticks like a sweet, cloying syrup. Sweet and sticky because we would like to flatter ourselves that our works make a final difference to whatever it is God will do with us, or whether we rightly partake of Christ's body and blood. True, Radner seems in at least one spot to know better--but occurrent choices get priority in his argument again and again.
Another, second, odd tone out of place in Radner's piece, vitiating his use of Scripture: he fails to distinguish between the case where (A1) Baptism ought to precede participation in the Eucharist from the case where (A2) Baptism would best precede the Eucharist, but its priority falls short of being obligatory. It's just too bad, but sometimes in the sad valley, what would have been best is lost in the fog of the merely counterfactual--and how then to go on?
In short, he seems--I speculate--to have been misled into a rather coarse exegesis by his attatchment to taking shots at straw men. He quotes the Gospel narratives around the institution of the Eucharist, I Cor. 10-11, et al inferring (A1) but never bothering to eliminate (A2) as a reading. Or: he never bothers to actually get dirty building an explicit case for an obligation from Scripture. For a proponent of CWOB could well passionately advocate (A2)--ceteris paribus we would be better off being baptized before being in Communion--while acknowledging that sometimes other things just aren't equal.
A final discordant note: so far as I can see, his tone is overwhelmingly occurrent. I have a very hard time detecting any eschatological dimension in Radner's conception of the Eucharist here. As the strongest theological case for CWOB (that I can see) leans heavily on seeing the Eucharist in eschatological terms, Radner's instincts at least are dead-on; he's "better off" seeing the Eucharist as a gathering of the Body of Christ here below, period. Go back and look at his descriptions in [A] and [B]: one would (falsely) infer the Eucharist is all about things done in the here below and this life.