Saturday, June 05, 2010

Communion Without Baptism....

Assorted minority positions end up finding a voice here: for the ordination of "actively" homosexual bishops, for the blessing of same-sex unions, for the use of natural law theory on the ecclesial "left" (a topic to be pursued here, I hope, in the near future), and for Communion without Baptism. It's not that I like controversy; I would like to think I am open to being refuted. But, strongly suspecting that actual refutation is neither sufficient nor necessary for moving one off a position, I conduct my discussions of these positions from behind the aegis of epistemic humility. However strong an argument I may think I have, I maintain a second order commitment to the possibility of my being wrong. Whether I, or anyone else, moves off a position as a result of argument might be interesting, but is of secondary importance for the most part. Who knows? Something, somehow, may come from pursuing the controversy over Communion without Baptism (CWOB), even if the whole matter has come to feel rather stale.

OK, so where were we? I wrote this piece on CWOB not that long ago, which still seems right to me. In its defense, I address some critical comments made when I posted it.

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." The argument would only call for being permitted not to use, or have used, Baptism on the occasion of Communion toward the end of saving, which is quite a bit weaker than what Allen is worried about.

Paul Gorings wondered if [A4] was supposed to support the contentious [A3](2); I think so. We should hope that God saves everyone, and that is one way of pushing CWOB: the Church can act on that hope by treating even the unbaptized as if they were full members of the body of Christ--now, even when they actually are not in the mere present. I mention in passing that the Eucharist participates in the Eschaton; that is important because it implies that we may act on the hope that the person unbaptized now is not merely unbaptized now, but is now baptized in virtue of his presently participating in the Eschaton. In the Eucharist, the participant's (present) existence is not bounded by what is merely present. Or: presence is not limited in the Eucharist to what you can sense here and now. But you already knew that?

JOHN 2007 said that anything--e.g. "murder", "adultery"--could be put in for "CWOB" in [A1](1), with the result that if my argument were sound, anything goes. He rightly presumes that would go too far--waaaay too far. But wait. Communion is the kind of thing the Lord does at the Eschaton. Granted, we do not know what heaven or teh New Jerusalem, et al, will be like in concrete terms, but Scripture uses feasting to fill in the blank. The Eucharist is like a bit of the eschatological feast here and now. Murder and adultery are not the kinds of activities that we are invited to engage in at the Eschaton, at least in the New Jerusalem. So there is a bar for what can go in for "CWOB" in [A1](1): if it is not the sort of thing that the Lord permits at the Eschaton, forget it.

JimB refers to the canon: it's cut and dried, especially in Central Florida, I might add. True, but two things: (1)the argument only implies a permission to CWOB, not an obligation. A celebrant might well do no wrong in refusing Communion to the unbaptized. (2)In some cases, disobedience might be called for. Personally, I think alot depends on context here--the individual at the rail in a given congregation, within the history of that congregations worship practice. For instance, CWOB might well be wrong in a congrgation that neglects the importance of Baptism, but permissible in a congregation that stresses the importance of Baptism. It may even be the importance of Baptism is such that CWOB should never be practiced outside canonical disobedience--the stakes being that grave all the time. I.e. "Are you prepared to be disciplined for administering communion to this unbaptixed person? If you are not, then you should not administer it."

To Father Haller, I would insist on the eschatological element in Communion. One need not speak a syllable of predestination if one sees the Sacrament as implying participation in the Eschaton; of course, I am rather robust about that, seeing it as involving a "real presence" of sorts. But I think such realism about the eschatological element has traditional and modern theological support, and need not be regarded as a piece of exotic, foreign metaphysics from who knows where.

I thank everyone for taking time to reply. These were all good comments, in my opinion, and trying to respond has been helpful to me.

Then there is the more lengthy reply of Father Olsen, which has also been very helpful. We have gone back and forth a few times on this topic, and I am not sure how much light may come from hashing it out again--full disclosure. You should also read this piece by Father Olsen, which he refers to in his post; it may be where the meat is.

Father Olsen notes "Frankly I’m not clear how this is different from his earlier attempt"--and he is right. It does not differ that much in the formal part, because I am convinced the formal part has not been refuted. I may be at fault in that conviction, and would deeply appreciate someone--even Father Olsen himself--pointing out the flaw.

Granted, he does say

The fundamental flaw remains the same. The Scotist has found himself a practice that he thinks has some merit. So he goes and tries to find a theology that will support it. Is this really the way we proceed?

But, as several of his commenters noted at his site, that is exactly how the Church has proceeded in the past in a number of cases. Practice has quite often come before theology. That cannot be the "fundamental flaw". Indeed, if nothing better can be found, it seems to me the case against CWOB is in very deep trouble indeed.

Anyhow, Churchmouse at his post provides some reasoning against CWOB that I would like to respond to. Churchmouse says

"How can someone believe they are receiving the Presence of Christ Jesus without understanding who He is..." The bar there is too high to do the work intended. Children confirmed cannot in many cases distinguish Nestorianism from Chalcedonian christology, for instance. But if that sort of thing is not meant, then the seemingly required sense can be conveyed in seconds.

"There is a reason young people and converts are baptised and generally catechised...if you don’t understand what Christianity is about, why receive the Sacrament?" Understanding what Christianity is about does not require Baptism or being catechized. The bar there is pretty low, nota. And the odd intellectualism & individuallism.

"Holy Communion is not an all-inclusive meal. We are there not for ourselves but to receive the Sacrament of Our Lord...." The first sentence is dead on; someone opposing my argument would have to say something like what that first sentence says, I think: not all are included in Holy Communion. Now, I would point out that given the eschatological element of the Eucharist, that implies not all will be included among the saved, that some are damned, definitely. That may be true, but I would insist that we are not obligated to believe that, and may act on a contrary hope. Anyhow, Churchmouse hit the main issue here.

"Why are so many of us so willing to overturn hundreds of years of Church teaching to accommodate a few people who come as guests or enquirers?" This, I believe, is a bad point all around. Those few might be precious to the Lord, so much so that he would overturn all sorts of things, even tradition, to recover those errant sheep. It may suit the Lord to let the scales fall from our eyes only now, so that we see in earnest the need to repent an odious element of our practice.

I am not trying to be hard on Churchmouse here; the comments Churchmouse left are important and deserve note at least because--I suspect--many who oppose CWOB do so for some such reasons. Nevertheless, those reasons do not seem decisive.

The meat of Father Olsen's case may rest with his Daily Episcopalian piece on salvation, which has much interest apart from the controversy around CWOB. Go have a look.

I suspect there is something in that piece which he might want to work up at greater length, but I am almost sure that I will get it wrong if I try to work it out into an explicit argument. One major point I agree with wholeheartedly: "Being a Christian is about participating in new life, in divine life, in sharing the very life of God" and not about getting somewhere in the sky after one dies. He says we receive that life in Baptism: "a life hid with Christ in God." This looks like a conditional:

if one lives the new, divine life, then one has been Baptized,

in which case if one has not been baptized, if follows one lacks the essential life of God.

That does get right to the heart of the matter, I think. For Father Olsen, there are two kinds of life (I am guessing here to some extent): biological life, which is subject to decay and death, and divine life, in which we come to participate as Christians. That may be absolutely correct, for all I know, and it is just the sort of premise that he could work into a case against CWOB.

However, I disagree with the premise, though it comes with a pedigree. There are a number of ways in which to mark the disagreement--I am thinking of theologians who deny a secular as opposed to sacred sphere, or who deny the reality of a natural as opposed to supernatural realm. I think one could work up a response on that basis.

But I would like to take a slightly different approach, following the argument I gave in my earlier post. On that argument, the Church is permitted to hope all are saved--that is, that in the end at least all will live the divine life. Inasmuch as the Eucharist has an eschatological element, that implies in the Eucharist the Church is permitted to view the unbaptized as living the divine life, in virtue of the possibility that they may live it at the end. Why? They are not bounded in the rite by how they are in the merely here-and-now. Receiving Christ in his Real Presence, they participate in the Eschaton just as those already baptized. In effect, at least here if anywhere the sacred/secular, natural/supernatural distinctions break down or are shown to be spurious.

One could reply in a number of ways, adopting an anti-realism about the eschatological element or denying the unbaptized could possibly receive Christ in his Real Presence. But those moves each bear a cost. Exactly here, it seems to me, we as a Church are in a very dangerous place, we are standing on Holy ground. Adopting an even worse reply as a way of denying CWOB seems to me so dangerous that it might be better to let the whole thing drop. But then there are those whom I know and cannot forget, and life, even divine life, would not be the same if they could not be brought across the Jordan, even if they were not (yet!) part of the household.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger bls said...

Hi Scotist - it's good to see you posting again.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you here again, and for the same reason as last time. That is: I'm not quite sure that "participation in the Eschaton" should be the standard for how we view Communion.

For one thing, I think Salvation has something to do with the here and now, and should not be made equivalent with "life after death." This is actually pretty important to me, I've discovered; it has something to do with the fact that I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic, I'm sure. Salvation is an everyday fact of life for us, not at all confined to what happens to us after we die - and I don't think it's what the early Christians meant, either. It's clear in the Gospels and Epistles that "Salvation" meant "new life" - that people felt different and in fact were different as a result of their encounter with Grace.

So that's one thing. Another is this: it seems clear to me that "repentance" is actually pretty key in the way Grace works; that's found throughout the Scriptures, not only in the Epistles or in the Church. "A broken and contrite heart God will not despise." "Rend your hearts and not your garments." It seems clear to me that God favors David because of his love - and especially because of his repentance when he understands his sinfulness. Jesus forgives sins (something the Pharisees find blasphemous) as he heals.

In the Church, it was once impossible to receive the Sacrament ("Grace") without making an explicit confession ahead of it. (Even now in our own church, the (much weaker, IMO) general confession comes immediately prior to Communion - not by accident, I think.)

CWOB not only makes Baptism (another - the first - sign of "Grace") unnecessary and superfluous - it does the same thing to repentance. And let's not forget that Baptism and repentance are also intimately bound up together; "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." For me personally, "repentance" was absolutely the entry into faith; I simply couldn't get there until that happened. (This is also why I vigorously oppose the "anti-kneeling" position among some in the current crop of "liturgical experts.")

So there is a whole coherent theology around Baptism and Communion that makes very much sense. (It used to be, in fact, that Confirmation was also required before receiving Communion, and I agree that there is no real warrant for this.) This is not to say (and we often qualify the argument this way) that we should "police the altar rails"; we don't and haven't, that I'm aware of. It's to say that Grace involves more than a simple desire to participate in a particular religious rite - and that it has something to do with the here and now, and not only what happens after we die.

I don't personally believe that "everybody will be saved," myself. I think God might want to save everybody - but that is not at all equivalent to the idea that "everybody will be saved." God is not a fascist, and does not save people who don't wish to be saved. It matters very much how we respond - and that we respond.

Well, thanks again, Scotist. (BTW, Derek is a layperson; his wife's the priest in the family.)

At 11:06 AM, Blogger bls said...

(Sorry, I left out the first verses of the Romans 6 quote above - the key section about sin! Here's the whole thing this time:

"1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. "

I should add that by "repentance," I don't (necessarily) mean that we need to beat ourselves up about how "bad" we are; what's necessary is to recognize that the way we do things keeps us outside a full and healthy relationship with God and other people.

As they say in A.A. (where the First Step involves "admitting that our lives had become unmanageable"), "our way doesn't work."

At 9:25 AM, Blogger bls said...

(On the other hand, I must admit that Grace can and often does precede repentance. Thinking of it that way would support your argument - and I think that's a fairly well-developed line of thought anyway, via Calvin.

I've always, I have to say, been of two minds about this issue. It's all very interesting, and makes you think about a lot of things - always a positive, I think.

Still, I don't agree with your points about Eschaton; I don't think that's at all at issue, myself.)

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

One quick note: I'm a "Father" only in a procreative sense (I've got two little girls), but am not ordained.

I look forward to reading through this and may resort to a post in reply rather than testing the limits of your com-box...

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

Scotist, I have a response up which addresses your previous post more completely.


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