Friday, June 29, 2007

A Correction in my case for CWOB

Looking over what I have written in favor of CWOB and various objections made to it, it seems I should confess as openly as possible that I have had to rather reluctantly back off some stronger formulations of my case in order to present something defensible.

First, in the post On Open Communion, steps 4 and 6 hold that the hope for universal salvation is obligatory. Likewise in the post Dear Caelius premises A3(1) and (2) speak of an obligation to hope for universal salvation. There may be such an obligation--but maybe not. Nothing in my argument shows something so strong as an obligation, so far as I can see. I have rather to settle for a less exciting point: hope in universal salvation is merely permissible. One might just as well not hope for universal salvation--that is, so far as we know, permissible as well.

Mere permission is sufficient, however, for my argument to go through, though to a somewhat weaker conclusion. That is, if a congregation is permitted to hope for universal salvation, then it is permitted to act on that hope, and it is permitted to offer CWOB. that part of my argument I am happy to maintain.

However, it follows too--less happily in my opinion--that a congregation that declined to hope for universal salvation would be quite within its rights to decline CWOB as well. And so some of what I have said loses its "fire" or urgency, e.g. that closed communion should be eradicated--a conclusion which requires the stronger obligation be shown. My apologies to Caelius (and anyone else) wronged by my error about being able to show an obligation to accept CWOB.

Second, it seems I am very close to "overplaying my hand" on baptism. In Communion and Salvation I said that being baptized is sufficient for counting as part of the people of God for whom the Body and Blood of Christ are intended, but in Dear Caelius I said that baptism would be insufficient to confer permission to partake of the Eucharist if it so happened that being baptized, the candidate for reception were damned. That is a much more interesting tension than the one about obligation and permission above. For it seems that the Dear Caelius position is forced on me by conceiving the Eucharist primarily in eschatological terms. If being baptized is in fact sufficient for reception, but the damned--among whom may number the baptized--are to be forbidden, there seem to be only a few ways out of contradiction:

(A) it happens that none of the baptized actually are damned; how? Perhaps because all the baptized are saved. Why? Either baptism is, in fact, sufficient for salvation, or perhaps universalism is true;

or (B) while the damned are forbidden from eating at the table, there is no way for us to tell who--if anyone--is damned here below. That is finally only up to God, and there are no signs from which we can read the outcome here below. Either the problem is merely epistemic--the outcome is somehow now already settled, but we cannot know it here below--or the problem is more than merely epistemic--the outcome is now somehow in play. But whether the problem is merely epistemic or not, we would be permitted to regard baptism as sufficient due to our incapacity to tell--and our hope for salvation.

Thus, while regarding the Eucharist as primarily eschatological produces tensions, the tensions do not imply contradiction, so far as I can tell. Given a choice between (A) and (B), I think (B) is better. (A) seems to rest on items we cannot know here below: that universalism is actually true or that all the baptized are actually saved. (B) seems compatible, on the other hand, with epistemic humility.

But nowhere in any of this does universalism need be taken as true--it need only be taken as a possibility. Even if it turns out to actually be false, and some are damned, it would still have been true that universalism was possible. It would remain an unactualized possibility.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

Being an ecclesiologist, I have a quick question about the reasoning behind two statements. You write:

"...if a congregation is permitted to hope for universal salvation, then it is permitted to act on that hope, and it is permitted to offer CWOB."


"...a congregation that declined to hope for universal salvation would be quite within its rights to decline CWOB as well."

My question is: by what authority does a congregation derive a "right" to determine Eucharistic discipline, either for or against open communion, that would not be (at least in intent) binding upon the church catholic?

Your reasoning seems to take for granted that something like "local option" is the normative state of ecclesial practice. But more hierarchical churches, such as Rome, the Orthodox, and to a lesser extent, Anglicanism, reserve to themselves the authority to determine the appropriate eucharistic discipline for the entire church, which they hold to be the only correct one for the church catholic.

Your premise, then, is more Congregationalist than Anglican, and I don't see the underlying ecclesiology that leads necessarily to your conclusions. It may very well be that different Christians have the permission to hold differing opinions on this question, but does this necessarily authorize differing practices within community?

At 8:18 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

OK; that is a good point.

Typing "rights" about a church felt bad a few days ago--and it still does. The only thing that can mean is that the church is permitted to so act. I don't suppose rights/ moral permissions/ etc come anywhere else than from God.

On ecclesiology, I believe--with Zizioulas--that the church is catholic wherever there are bishops and the Eucharist. That is all that is needed; agreement over open communion or hieratic determination (within a province or global communion) of discipline on the issue can't be "on the same plane".

Sure, one could make a case for the church's ability to enforce discipline forbiddng open communion even when it is permitted in itself. But that sort of discipline could never be more than contingent--something that could be revised.

It seems a church could leave the matter a local option, and say in effect: we will not forbid or obligate open communion at a provincial level. Each diocese (and perhaps each congregation) will be responsible for deciding how to carry out communion with mission and sanctification foremost in mind. In some places, successful mission might tend to open communion, and in other places, closed.


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