Much of the argument for communing people regardless of baptism is anecdotal – testimonies of feeling welcomed by the indiscriminate invitation to the Eucharist or stories of folk who received Eucharist before they were baptized and through that experience eventually were baptized. These can be powerful testimonies. But, as AKMA Adam has observed,
Narratives about who received communion before baptism and how it affected their lives may inform, to some extent, the discussion — but they can’t decide the issue. Last January, a climber fell 1000 ft during an attempted ascent of Ben Nevis, tumbling down three cliffs, and survived with only relatively minor injuries. He may have reconciled himself to his enemies during that fall, he may have attained blissful oneness with the universe, he may only have enjoyed the adrenaline rush of confronting death — but none of those makes ‘falling off Ben Nevis’ a good idea as a normative practice, no matter how benign its effects in his case. If someone can show that communion without baptism as a general practice builds up the Body of Christ, that’s one thing; but no matter how much we give thanks for the positive effects of pre-baptismal communion in individual cases (such as Fr Kelvin himself, Sara Miles, or any other person) these remain the marvellous instances of the unpredictable power of the Spirit, rather than decisive warrants for a far-reaching change in the theology of the church.
AKMA's Random Thoughts
As one who opposes changing the traditional discipline of reserving participation in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ to those who have been baptized into the body of Christ, I want to offer some anecdotes of my own.
We have a blurb in our bulletin that invites all baptized Christians to receive Communion, but I do not generally say anything about it. I do always make a point of inviting everyone to join us in sharing food and drinks at our fellowship time immediately following the liturgy. I do not interrogate visitors who come forward to receive. Contrary to common misrepresntation, this is not about trying to protect Jesus from the unworthy or ignorant.
1. We have a member of our congregation who received communion every Sunday for several months before mentioning that he was not baptized. He had been raised in, and had been an officer in, the Salvation Army which does not do sacraments. Upon learning this, we had a conversation in which I explained the rationale for requiring baptism. We then met for several months of baptismal preparation during which time he came forward for a blessing. Once baptized, he received communion again.
2. There are ways to make noncommunicants welcome while still respecting distinctions. Another of our members is married to a man who years ago became a Buddhist while he was in college. In many ways he is more active than many of our baptized members, attending congregational events beyond his regular Sunday attendance. He and his wife linger long at our fellowship time after the liturgy. He is even the chair of our IT committee. I can assure you he feels most welcome. When I asked him what he thought of our limiting Eucharist to the baptized and if it bothered him, his response was, “Why would I take Communion, I am not a Christian.” I suggest that we respect him more and he us by acknowledging that distinction than if we pretended it was irrelevant.
3. I was a guest speaker a year and a half ago at an event at a mosque around the corner from St. Barnabas (What I said at the Mosque). Since the main event took place in their place of worship, they requested/made us take our shoes off before entering. I could have taken offense, I suppose, at this expectation since I believe it is sufficient to remove the sandals of our hearts (though as one who takes bodily action seriously, I do wonder if they are onto something). Would I not be guilty of presumption if I had ignored the request? Would they not have been disrespectful of their own tradition’s understanding of God/Allah had they not insisted? Would they not have been less than respectful of me and my convictions if they had just said that our differences don’t matter and I could go ahead and wear my shoes if I wanted to since we are all just generic people seeking an experience of a generic 'Holy'?
I remain convinced that an indiscrimate invitation to Eucharist is a theological error that is neither respectful nor hospitable. Striving for both hospitality and honesty is harder, but better.