Friday, December 09, 2005

Defending Open Communion in ECUSA

A recent debate at Pontifications over the permissibility of open communion degenerated into a brawl--a brawl in which I did not participate--over Anglican sacraments, leading to the thread's closure before the debate ran its course. As the topic of open communion is bound to heat up again, I wanted to finish my line of reasoning in favor of open communion here.

I. Opening Arguments
Here I reproduce what I said in favor of open communion in italics,with minor editorial changes, and links to the whole comment.

Were the Apostles baptized in the name of the Trinity with the Holy Spirit..before they participated in the Eucharist at the Last Supper? If they were unbaptized, then open communion is permissible–we would be following the example of Christ and his Apostles.

I did not want to insinuate that Baptism has no role to play in Christian life, or even that it is optional; it is obligatory. Baptism, furthermore, has a real effect on the recipient--it brings about an ontological change.

But communion before baptism is a bit like play acting, like a kid putting on daddy’s tie–it lacks the full meaning, the full being, of the informed act of communion, preceded by baptism.... At some point the kid should grow up and get a tie of his own–just so, the unbaptized partaker in communion is obliged to grow into the full stature of Christ.

Baptism, Duns Scotus would say, effects a real ontological change in the recipient....But Scotus is right; as Westerhoff would put it (tho not with refernce to Duns), we are branded as God’s own livestock: we are to be his sheep.

(C1) replies to the objection that the Apostles were baptized--by John. Even if that were true, it would be insufficient. (C2) replies to another objection, made from the work of the liturgical scholar Dix, who believed the Eucharist performed by Jesus before his crucifixion was not genuine.

Of course, the baptism of John the Baptist isn’t Christian baptism; the Gospels seem quite clear on drawing a distinction between what John the Baptist did and what Jesus ushered in, and the difference in the baptismal ministries of the two is one in kind, even if there remains an analogy between them. Thus, there is a real distinction between the two despite their analogical similarity; John the Baptist’s rite should not be conflated with the sacramental rite of Baptism in the name of the Trinity.

More to the point is Dix saying the Last Supper was not at all a Eucharist, but something less, rather like a dress-rehearsal is not at all a performance of the play, but something less. Applause to IRNS for bringing up the Dix reference.
But note: it could of course be both an instructed Eucharist and a real Eucharist–the two are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, even a dress rehearsal of a play is still a performance of the play–the two are not mutually exclusive.
To make the point you want to make, IRNS, it seems you must say something truly outrageous–namely that the dress rehearsal was not a real performance, and that the intructed Eucharist was not a real one. That is, when Christ said “Do this” his “this” did not refer to what he was doing, that when he said “this is my body” it was not really his body, etc–Christ’s discourse becomes non-cognitive, merely symbolic without a real reference in the world and that seems to be consistent with conclusions most uncatholic, that is, at odds with real presence even in its lightweight “receptionist” classical/Cranmer Anglican form.
Perhaps you or Dix think Christ’s “this” refers not to the action he actually performed as an instance of a type that could be repeated, but to a type apart from anything that he really performed? An abstraction merely conceptual, or an abstraction with a real foundation on the side of the thing? A Platonic Form perhaps? Then what, IRNS? How would Dix explain it? Please elaborate.

This is a reply to ElliotB, who distinguished the Eucharist's requirements before and after the Resurrection. I reply any such change cannot be essential to or even necessary to the rite, but could only be accidental.

People here...might seem to have made a point for a valid Eucharist...requiring Baptism, a point that seems nearly demonstrably false. Whatever distinction you wish to make between before and after the Resurrection, if the Eucharist were ever, before or after, validly celebrated among the unbaptized, then it is simply false to say that celebrating the Eucharist requires Baptism. At most you could only say something like “celebrating the Eucharist after the Resurrection requires Baptism.”
But if the Eucharist were celebrated before the Resurrection without Baptism, and the Eucharist before and after the Resurrection is the same type of rite, how could it have acquired this requirement? In acquiring a new requirement it would no longer remain the same rite–what you celebrate after the Resurrection would not be what Christ instituted. But surely that is absurd. At most, then, the new requirement would have to be accidental to the rite–it could neither be essential nor proper without changing the neture of the rite itself. But then, if it is really merely accidental, the Eucharist remains a valid Eucharist even if celebrated by the unbaptized.

Finally, Aquinas believes Baptism is not needed for salvation; it is necessary only in teh sense it is the most fitting means to salvation for us.

Remember that his great Summa is only for beginners. Here, we need something a little more sophisticated. It’s risky, but take in some Latin from Aquinas’ commentary on the Sentences (Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 1 q. 1 a. 2 qc. 1 co):“Respondeo dicendum, ad primam quaestionem, quod sacramenta non erant necessaria necessitate absoluta, sicut necessarium est Deum esse, cum ex sola divina bonitate instituta sint, sed de necessitate quae est ex suppositione finis;….” The first question to which he refers is “Utrum sacramenta fuerint necessaria post hominis lapsum.” You see that baptism, for Aquinas, is not absolutely necessary, but carries only hypothetical necessity: Given a purpose X, Y is required.

We want to know more about the sense of “required”–turn to the next sentence: “non ita tamen quod sine his Deus hominem sanare non posset, quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit, ut in littera dicitur (sicut cibus necessarius est ad vitam humanam), sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio; sicut equus dicitur necessarius ad iter, quia in equo facilius homo vadit.” That is a very weak sense of necessity or “required” indeed. Note especially “quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit.” The issue here is more one of what is more fitting for man, “sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio.” The necessity of Baptism does not tie God’s hands, but is more of something like “Why drive a Pinto when you can go Mercedes?..."

II. ElliotB's reply in favor of Closed Communion
ElliotB was not persuaded by my comments, (A)-(E), and ventured a spirited reply. I reproduce it, with a link to the complete original, below:

My point is that in Christ’s immediately incarnate presence, the Apostles progressively enjoyed all the privileges and powers of His nascent Church; and this is in a categorically different way than any subsequent Christians can experience. A sacrament is meant to signify and realize its spiritual referent. Baptism realizes ingrafting into Christ for those of us unable to be immediately ingrafted into His ekklesia, as His disciples were, by sheer fact of His BEING PRESENT AMONG THEM. Baptism may be a different rite from the Apostles’ ingrafting, but it is the SAME effect. The reason they are salvifically continuous, although phenomenologically discontinuous is the same reason ideal is, so to speak, “consubstantially distinct” from its actualization. Baptism is a requirement for post-apostolic communion just because union with/in Christ was the requirement for communion for the Apostles themselves. The issue is not the form in which baptismal ingrafting occurred; the issue is whether those receiving met the requirements proper to their own mode of redemption. The requirement of baptism does not make a new rite just because Baptism IS the only way we today can attain the same union necessary for the Apostles. The Eucharist-via-Baptism just is what Christ celebrated – His total self-giving to His faithful – with the Apostles, albeit via Baptism-sine-ablution.
Are you trying to tell me they could receive if they were NOT united, in some real way (as I indicated was the case in John 15), with Christ the paschal lamb? Nonsense.

The Apostles were baptized into Christ by the immediate, non-, or should I say super-sacramental, action of Christ Himself; and only on these grounds could they and did they commune. Now, however, for us who lack the immediate, super-sacramental action Christ, we MUST abide by the pattern laid down in and “over” the Apostles: no communion without Christological union. Recall that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. Hence, we are not ingrafted into Christ on the same level as they were; we are ingrafted, as it were, into their own ingrafted unity with Christ. Jesus sent the Apostles to do for others what He had done for them. Lacking his immediate action, however, Christ had them “resort” to the sacraments to accomplish sacramentally what He did for them immediately. Say what you will about this bifurcation “altering” the Passover feast – it just IS the biblical truth. The Apostles, as foundation stones, are in a league of their own.

My basic line in the sand is this: If you say Baptism was not required for Eucharistic Communion, I wonder what it IS, in your eyes, required for. I mean, if the Apostles were allowed to the table without baptism AND SUBSEQUENTLY NEVER WERE BAPTIZED, I see no way for you to say they were ingrafted into Christ. However, if you do say they were ingrafted without the formal, ritualized action of baptism, then you just concede my point: they had the effects and status of baptism even without Baptism; so they approached and received the Eucharist in a categorically distinct way.

Besides, I also see no place in the Gospels where Jesus manually ordains the Apostles with the sacrament of Orders nor, consequently, with that of Penance. The Apostles had infused supra-sacramentally what we can only receive sacramentally. Would you presume to say the post-Ascension requirement of ordained ministers “alters” the pre-Ascension rite of commissioning which Christ enacted on the Apostles?

Finally, I think you are putting way too much weight on this one node of sacramental revelation and simply ignoring the bulk of the NT kerygma that teaches closed communion.
1) Colossians 2 equates baptism with circumcision; insofar as the latter was the bedrock requirement of being-among the People of God, so too is baptism requisite. No circumcision, no access to the altar; no baptism, no access to the Altar.
2) Romans 6 equates baptism with our death into Christ; Paul, in turn, hinges our rebirth into His life with that death. No baptism, no resurrection. Since, then, the Eucharist is the consummate reception of that “indestructible life” (Heb 6?), thus Baptism is required for that reception of Life.
3) John 6 makes it painfully clear not all could receive the Bread from Heaven – only those united to Christ by faith, which is but the formal core of the sacrament of Baptism. No faith, no Bread from Heaven; no Sacrament of Faith (baptism), no Bread from Heaven.
4) Consider 1 Cor 5, 6 and 11: 5:9....

Do you mean to tell me receiving the Lord without first receiving full remission of sins by Baptism is not to be yoked unequally? is not to eat with the wicked? is not to blend the harlot-world with the Bride of Christ? is not to eat and drink in “an unworthy manner”? The baptismal “threshold” is axiomatic to the NT witness.Your musings about the first Passover, while complex and intriguing, ultimately have no traction in either Scripture, Tradition or sacramental logic.

What does his point come to? He conceded that Baptism is not strictly necessary for receiving the Eucharist. Still, he holds that open communion is immoral and should be forbidden. Why? Receiving communion morally requires a type of unity with Christ, and Baptism is the only means left to us of attaining that unity. For instance, receiving communion requires full remission of sins, and this is only available to us through Baptism.

According to ElliotB, the immediately present incarnate Christ conveyed powers to his Apostles that subsequent Christians must go without. For by Christ's mere presence among them, they were "ingrafted" or unified with Christ. Baptism also effects the same type of unity. Thus, even without Baptism, being in Christ's presence alone sufficed for the Apostles; we, without Christ's direct presence, must make do with Baptism. He has an interesting argument going here: one to which I should like to respond.

III. A Response to ElliotB in Favor of Open Communion
The mere presence of Christ is not simply efficacious, as ElliotB suggests. Christ was present with many without their being unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense: the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate come to mind--but also Judas. It is false, on the Gospel narratives, to say the presence of Christ conveys powers. Nor was everyone present at the first Eucharist unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense, though here I am less sure: the example of Judas again. Tweaking and massaging the text might get around these concerns, but surely the appeal to Christ's mere presence as ingrafting and unifying goes too far--something more than his mere presence is needed, it seems.

But is unity or being ingrafted to Christ a genuine necessary condition of receiving communion? Whether we are unified to Christ by Christ's mere presence, as ElliotB suggests, or by Baptism, the unity in the sense of being worthy and without unrepented sin,is sure to be short lived. We will sin again, after Baptism, and may sin even in the presence of Christ. He cites I Cor. rightly--we are not permitted to receive communion in a state of sin. But Baptism alone is insufficient to satisfy that condition; hence the liturgy includes the confession and absolution of sins. Here is the crux: is that confession and absolution efficacious alone, such that the condition of I Cor. is satisfied? I say "Yes"--Baptism in addition perfects that confession and absolution, but is not necessary for it. For that reason, it is possible for the unbaptized to receive communion without fault.

In short, to follow Aquinas, who--pace ElliotB--is certainly by now part of the Christian tradition, Baptism is fitting for us without being necessary (see my point E above). Such thinking is most definitely traditional.It may be that receiving communion without Baptism will prove inefficient and even potentially harmful for the one receiving--still, Baptism normally accompanies the Eucharist without being obligatory.

Why might a parish actually adopt open communion? It seems to be a risky accomodation to modern pagans, agnostics, and others. Yet, the church cannot take a desire to participate for granted, especially in the young. Open communion is a type of hospitality to such people, a way to draw them into liturgical action, spurring a desire for more. Liturgy can be a means through which sinners are drawn to repentence; liturgy is a means through which the Spirit can move to change lives. A church like ECUSA lives through its liturgy; liturgy is our special means of communicating our relationship with God, and that communication should go out to the unbaptized, even. I suppose ideally a parish could accomplish such liturgical evangelization by means of, say, Morning and Evening Prayer--but for most ECUSA parishes, the Eucharist not
the Offices is the living, beating heart of worship.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger ruidh said...

I don't think there's anyhting wrong with asking people to make a committment to the Church before admitting them to Communion. There's nothing wrong with appropriate boundaries.

The Apostles certainly made a commottment to Christ before he introduced them to the Eucharist. The form the committment takes today is baptism.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Nowadays you go on a date or two before getting engaged. When one goes up for communion without having been baptized, you are on a date with Jesus. He is taking you to dinner. You will be married to him, so to speak, in the world to come, but first things first.

Baptism is like the formal engagement to be married--one commits oneself with the grace of the Spirit, just as you said. But how to get there, to that point of trust and turning away from the world toward Christ? If open communion will help, it should be used; if not, then not. Christ is not above liturgical seduction.

At 1:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I simply don't understand the hullaballoo about this: why some Anglicans would be so INSISTENT that persons must be baptized in order to receive Christ's Body and Blood.

I don't think anyone is rationalizing away the importance of Baptism: how essential it is, it's necessity to truly belong to Christ's Body, the Church.

But I see Christ coming to us, to feed us, where we are, at any given moment. CHRIST KNOWS when, where and how much we may need Him, at any given moment---whether or not we've passed through the waters of baptism yet.

For some human being, made in the Image of God, at some moment---receiving the Body and Blood of Christ may be the ONLY thing keeping them going. The only thing. (Even IF they "receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord's Body", per The Exhortation. Those warnings are for self-satisfied "pillars"! ;-/)

If there be such a thing as a "baptism of desire", how much more sacred is the baptism of desperation???

I TREMBLE to think that the Church would play gate-keeper (sole proprietor? "no room at the inn"?) at such a holy moment! God forbid! :-0

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Annie said...

Bypassing part of long, boring rant:

In Romans we see Paul's discussion that Abraham's faith was considered righteousness before he was circumsized. Now, despite this teaching, we are going to take this one step further and claim that an outward rite precipitates faith?

The church acknowledges that baptism is effectively done through faith when baptism itself is impossible or denied--does it not? On this, I am trusting in heresay.

Finally, God can do anything. Splitting hairs is ridiculous and is proof of lack of faith. It isn't what we decide anyway.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I think your last point, referring to divine omnipotence or the absolute power of God, is decisive here. Note how Aquinas recognizes that Baptism is not strictly necessary; who will be so bold or utterly foolish as to deny Aquinas' orthodoxy? Yet all you have to do to find the relevant bevy of foolery is hop over to Pontifications, or Titusonenine: where open communion comes up, ECUSA's right suddenly redefines orthodoxy to suit its silly prejudices, and, I might add, to satisfy an obscene lust for schism.

Indeed, proper fear of God as God, namely as God Almighty, seems to clean out alot of detritus polluting the thinking of ECUSA's right. Philip Turner, now a seminary dean (!!!), wrote a piece (ECUSA's God) advocating the necessity of substitutionary atonement, and lamenting its eclipse in ECUSA's "working theology." But is the death of Christ truly necessary for the Father's forgiveness? No, of course not--otherwise, God would not be God, an omnipotent God, God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

And these guys have the temerity to represent themselves as advocating orthodoxy.

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the necessity of substitutionary atonement"

Ack! Can somebody PLEASE rid us of these Puritans already???

I kid. ;-/

I could never argue that S.A. is false---just substantially incomplete . . . like saying that the Triune God is Infinitely Just, without that the Triune God is Infinitely Merciful as well.

At 2:09 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

ButI am almost certain the real nub of debate comes down to SA; for our neo-puritan brothers and sisters, GC2003 is just a manifestation of a deeper issue. Recall the infamous "Collect for Purity" in the 1928 BCP--it was moved aside in Rite II of the 1979 BCP. For our neo-puritans, that must have been an utter disaster.

The infinite justice/infinite mercy point is a tough one all round--I definitely do not blame them for holding fast to SA. Who can do clearly better? I am alarmed rather at their confidence that SA is part of Faith's core, so that disagreement throws one's Christian orthodoxy into question.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Caelius said...

What do you mean about the Collect for Purity? I don't see the implication of SA or any other controversial theology in it.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Maybe I have the name of the passage wrong--I'll confess. What I have in mind is in Rite I of the 1979 BCP:

"[A] We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful
Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold
and great mercies. [B] We are not worthy so much as to gather
up the crumbs under thy Table. [C] But thou art the same Lord
whose property is always to have mercy. [D] Grant us therefore,
gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him,
and he in us. Amen." I have added the bracketed letters.

[A] seems to introduce a rather Protestant notion of imputed righteousness: not infused as Anglo-catholics might have it, but imputed from Christ's own righteousness. [B] elaborates viscerally on the need for imputed righteousness--Isaiah 64:6 comes to mind. I take it these textual points are relatively uncontroversial.

Yet we are recalled to God's mercy in [C], expressed by God's acting so that we might be permitted to participate in the eucharistic rite referred to in [D]. We are indeeed morally fit to receive communion, but only on account of God's gracious, merciful action. For he has given his only Son, Jesus, as a propitiary substitute for us.

These doctrines are tied together historically in Christian theology: imputed righteousness
and propitiary sacrifice. Given the explicit reference to the former, I infer the latter. This is confirmed from by Fraction Anthem: "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the feast. [Alleluia.]"
The feast of the Fraction Anthem is the rite referred to above.

So there you have it--SA in the middle of Rite I, and by extension, the eucharistic liturgy of the 1928 BCP.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Caelius said...

You mean the Prayer of Humble Access.

I might note that both the Tridentine and the Novus Ordo have something analogous, "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word and I shall be healed." I think many of the objections to the removal of the PHA from Rite II don't come from imputed vs. infused righteousness, which is rather academic, but that righteousness is an issue.

At 12:34 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Yes--the Prayer of Humble Access; that's it, thank you.

Surely the PHA is not discussed in such explicit terms (i.e. "We simply must preserve the doctrine of imputed righteousness in this parish! I ahall see the rector presently!!) from the pews.

Still, even if they do not have the jargon, I would bet the content at issue remains here.

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And again, I just Don't Get the controversy.

I like the Prayer for Humble Access: I always have (having grown up in TEC of the latter '28 years---not to mention all the trial liturgies!).

. . . yet I virtually never attend a Rite I Eucharist, and I really don't miss the PHA in Rite II.

Can't we all just get along? Salvation does not hang on an individual prayer, or "getting our atonement theologies right"!

Grace Alone, folks! All the rest is commentary . . .

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Annie said...

We don't seem to have grounds for debate here ...

"And these guys have the temerity to represent themselves as advocating orthodoxy."

Amusing thought! If only they'd remember some other orthodox teachings.



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