Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Communion Without Baptism, Again

Perhaps--who knows?--movement to CWOB is driven by sentiment void of argument; I think there are decisive arguments in its favor. Even if there were none, that in itself would not imply the act cannot be supported by argument. And while it would probably be better for any given community to be able to explicitly, cogently argue for what it feels compelled to do, there are some kinds of actions whose performance need not await the support of cogent argument: breathing, eating, loving God and your neighbor. I suspect the "urgency" around CWOB--urgency that may puzzle some observers--has to do with a visceral conviction that the Eucharist's importance is on the order of breathing and eating--life, a certain kind of life, seems impossible without it.

Someone might say, quite correctly it seems to me,

it is by the Font that we are visibly, explicitly, personally made and recognized as members of Christ’s Body,

and that truth concerns what God has ordained; being part of Christ's body requires being baptized with water. But God is also quite free to include whomever he pleases in the Church without using Baptism as a means. To deny this would be to deny that God could have done otherwise than institute the sacrament of Baptism as a condition for membership in the Church; to accept this is to admit God may operate by his absolute power to attain ends by means apart from those he has revealed to us as means. I am not sure God is obliged to divulge all his means to us. It may well be that a feeling for the contingency of the sacramental order--for all its importance in formation--goes with epistemic humility. What is essential? Knowing the Father through Christ in the Spirit; the sacramental order is not essential in the same way.

It may be that the modern Church--or postmodern, or whatever--differs fom the Church in earlier eras on account of what may be called its experience of the contingency of God's ordination. Nothing obstructs the sacramental order from expressing its own contingency, and in so doing making such recognition part of the formation it accomplishes. Whatever else CWOB does, it at least does that.


One may look at CWOB instrumentally: is it working, does it aid in the work of the Church, can we recognize the work of the Spirit in it? Sometimes such questions are put in terms of whether CWOB will bring large numbers of people into the Churh or to Baptism and full, explicit membership here below. Granted, it would be nice if CWOB could do this--or aid in such an effort--and perhaps some advocates of CWOB have argued that way.

In my opinion, there is not much we can do to bring large numbers of believers into the Church, and I don't think CWOB will do the trick. It seems to me CWOB is important in cases of single believers or candidates for belief (so far as we can make such a designation), not large numbers: one at a time rather than as a mass altogether. Personally, I think of relatives and close friends who are unbaptized but for whom CWOB would have evangelical significance, being the sort of practice that might ignite conversion--lile letting a child play on the grand piano or squeak on the violin; the child may never be quite the same. As with children, so with the unbaptized--we should let the children come to Jesus, we should not put obstacles in their way. Often I find it difficult to grasp the significance of large numbers in concrete terms, but I have no trouble grasping the importance of Jesus to this one child here and now.

Sometimes the case for CWOB is put in terms of hospitality--an art I fear we have lost. While I am not sure whether the suppliant relationship was as strong in Jesus' time as in Abraham's, it seems to me that when we speak of CWOB and hospitality, proper respect for tradition would call for hospitality to be understood in terms of the unbaptized approaching the Lord as suppliants. Recall Priam's visit to Achilles at the end of the "Iliad" or the visit of the three strangers to Abraham and Sarah as examples.

Is it impossible to enter the Church as a guest and sit at the table with the rest of the people? It is not as if CWOB renders one a member of the Church; I hope that is not what advocates of CWOB claim. It is rather that there is something wrong with a host who will not take care of the guests, and who will not see that they have what they need. In the case of the unbaptized, we know what they need--Jesus--and we can offer him in the sacrament of the Altar.

It may be that they can understand the Real Presence without being Baptized. Sometimes people say this is not so, and claim that the importance the BCP '79, and other churches in the liturgical movement, place on Baptism is undermined by the practice of CWOB. Well, that need not be so. Regardless, those who argue in that way against CWOB would do well to note, I think, that the very importance of Baptism renders CWOB more intelligible as an option. Baptism of adults requires time; if one can understand what is going on the rite, we require that it be understood by the candidates, and this usually takes weeks if not months. There is no time for that kind of instruction in some cases where Communion of the unbaptized is possible--there may be just this chance for some contact, for some seed to be sown.

Time for the argument? One might add that just as nowadays we invite the fiance to dinner even before the marriage, so we might have the unbaptized at the table before the betrothal, before the actual Baptism. I am not sure this was done in Jesus' time, or in the days of the early Church, but wouldn't you agree it makes sense now?

Anyway, the argument:

[A1] (1) If CWOB is forbidden, God is not omnipotent.
(2) God is omnipotent.
Thus, (3) CWOB is permitted.

One wants to derive CWOB from Nicene principles, so as to say it is the sort of thing the universal Church should have always permitted, and to provide a sure foundation: in this case, God's omnipotence. But what does omnipotence have to do with CWOB? The connection can be spelled out in a couple steps.

[A2] (1) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
(2) If CWOB is forbidden, then God cannot save all human beings.
(3) If God is omnipotent, then God can save all human beings.
Thus, (4) God is not omnipotent.

[A2] is meant to disturb, especially at step (2). Why hold [A2](2)?

[A3] (1) If God can save all humans beings, we are obligated to hope that God does save all human beings.
(2) If we are obligated to hope that God does save all human beings, then CWOB is permitted.
(3) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
Thus, (4) God cannot save all human beings.

I.e. the fact God, in his omnipotence, could save all grounds the practice of CWOB, since on that basis we are permitted to hope all--even the currently unbaptized--will be saved, and to act on that hope:

[A4](1)If the church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved, then it is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.
(2)The church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved.
Thus, (3) the church is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.

You do not need to be a universalist to make this argument; von Balthazar too thinks we are permitted to hope all might be saved, and that is not to say all will be saved. You do, I think, need to see the Eucharist as actually practiced already containing an eschatalogical element, i.e. manifesting the End here and now.

Anyway, the idea that there is no argument for CWOB is just an empty canard. There is mine--and any of the points made before this section could easily be made into formal arguments.

Let us hope critics of CWOB will be moved.


At 8:23 AM, Blogger rick allen said...

I think the problem is that you infer, from a permitted hope that all may be saved, that we must therefore abandon all efforts directed toward the end of saving.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Paul Goings said...

I think that you need to make a much better case for [A3](2). Is that what [A4] is supposed to do?

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JOHN 2007 writes

I read

"Anyway, the argument:

[A1] (1) If CWOB is forbidden, God is not omnipotent.
(2) God is omnipotent.
Thus, (3) CWOB is permitted."

And thought: "Wait. He's serious."

But, look, we know from Scripture that God can, if God wants, raise up stones to praise him. But Scripture lets us know (broadly, not in a fundy way) what God wants us to do. (I mean, your 1st premise could be deployed against anything, you realize.) So I think we follow best the good theology of baptism as initiation--and take the time to learn and practice the (disappearing) art of catechesis--and eucharist as thanksgiving of the communion/converted.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger JimB said...

I do not doubt that God can handle the details if we commune someone who is not baptized. However, the canon is pretty clear for us Episcopal sorts. All baptized persons are welcome to receive and all others may come forward to receive a blessing. That is pretty much the end of the conversation pending any change in the canons at the next GC.

My own view is that the canon fits the rule "Primum non nocere." That I think is a good premise for theology as well as medicine and cooking. An unbaptized person can remedy that status in a heartbeat and having done so approach the communion table as we understand it appropriately. When I was administering communion I never saw a celebrant ask someone if they were baptized so I suppose someone may have come without being 'appropriate' but that is God's problem, not mine or the celebrant's.


At 5:10 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

My sense is you make too much of the issue of salvation here. Even the more restrictive, in any case, would say that it is precisely baptism that allows for salvation, and communion not; and in that order; but also with the recognition (vide Martin of Tours) that the work of salvation precedes as well as follows baptism. That is: God (whether omnipotent or not) can and does save apart from or prior to baptism.

In this way of thinking, if we see communion not as the means to salvation but the sign of its celebration, my opinion we open the door to CWOB, as we acknowledge some may be saved by God prior to or without baptism (predestined for life and all that...) and so they may proleptically enjoy the banquet.

Discussions such as this may slowly move towards change. I still prefer the traditional sequence, and would oppose normalization of CWOB on the grounds that the baptized are by that fact officially numbered among "the faithful" -- but perhaps ease the restriction for the movement of the spirit in the heart of the not-yet-baptized sensing the call from on high, and within.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger C. Wingate said...

You said: But God is also quite free to include whomever he pleases in the Church without using Baptism as a means.

The issue isn't whether God is free to do so, but whether we are free to do so. Consider this parallel structure: "But God is also quite free to include any man He pleases in Israel without using circumcision as a means." (I've bolded the alterations.) The statement is surely true, and yet one must also say that Israel may not do so, because Torah specifically prescribes circumcision to Israel as the sign of the covenant. We of course are not under Torah, but as it is the same God, I must conclude that God's omnipotence is not limited when He sets forth definite requirements as to how we are to be united to Him.


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