Friday, November 13, 2009

Baptized into Eucharist, PART II

A couple of years ago, I was invited to serve on a panel at Seabury-Western Seminary discussing the practice of inviting those not yet baptized to the Eucharist. I was asked to serve as one committed to the traditional discipline of not doing so. This is the second post of a series of reflections prepared for and growing out of serving on that panel.

PART II – Inclusion vs. Renewal & Incorporation

Jesus famously welcomed sinners and outcastes into his movement. But, it is easy for moderns to ignore the particularity of Jesus and his ministry in ways that are misleading. Simplistic modern appeals to his inclusiveness miss some of the contours of what Jesus was about. He was not a generic spirit person teaching universal truths about God to generic people. Nor was his summons simply inclusive without context or expectation.

There is no reason to suppose that Jesus did not accept the particularly Jewish belief that God had chosen and called Israel to bless the nations even as he recalled Israel to that mission and ultimately fulfilled it himself. Nor was his summons to enter the kingdom a generic welcome of any and all regardless of repentance and the embrace of particular commitments (Luke 15:1-10).

Jesus’ movement was a Jewish renewal movement. His mission was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). His words and actions need to be understood in that context. Whatever symbolic fellowship meals he shared were limited to those already members of the covenant people of Israel. They make sense, as several parables indicate, as prophetic enactments of the wedding banquet of Yahweh and Israel. They took place in the context of the story of Yahweh’s courtship of Israel. Jesus welcomed the outcastes of Israel and called all Jews to repent of their neglect of their particular call to be holy and to be the light of the world. From within Israel, he gathered around himself a renewed Israel represented by the call of twelve disciples paralleling the twelve tribes.

Though Jesus showed interest in and compassion toward Gentiles and hinted at their eventual incorporation, he did not gather them into his movement. As one would expect of an observant Jew of his time, there is no indication that he ever ate with Gentiles - outcaste or otherwise. There is no reason to suppose that the multitude that was fed miraculously was anything other than a Jewish multitude. It was the fragments of Israel that Jesus gathered into the baskets of his movement.

It was only after Easter and Pentecost that the Church, as a New Israel, was understood to be open to Gentiles as it became more and more clear that the old divisions had been overcome by the breaking in of the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now Gentiles, as the “wild olive branches,” were welcome to be grafted onto the “cultivated olive tree” of Israel, and become part of the New Israel (Romans 11:17-24). Thus the Church is not a generic faith community, but an extension of a particular people. Gentiles were welcomed, but only by means of repentance and baptism through which they were identified with Christ and incorporated into his body, the Church.

Baptism early on came to be seen as analogous to circumcision by which new members are incorporated into the covenant community (Colossians 2:12-13). Given the parallels between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, baptism would be the logical expectation of those who wished to come near and keep the feast of this people of the new covenant (Exodus 12:48). It is about the formation of a people with normal boundaries and normative practices. To miss this is to make Christianity less Jewish than it is.

Next: PART III – Community vs. Association & PART IV – Fellow Citizens

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