Monday, March 26, 2012

Communion Without Baptism? Some Resources

The Episcopal Cafe reports that the Diocese of Eastern Oregon will present a resolution to the next General Convention to change the Constitution and Canons and the Prayer Book to " invite all to Holy Communion, 'regardless of age, denomination or baptism.'

Though this is widely (too widely) practiced in clear disobedience to the Canons governing our common life, I think it extremely doubtful that those Canons will be changed.

I have written before that I think this is a very bad idea. Though not as 'sexy' as some other church controversies, this would be a fundamental theological error. It springs from a shallow, tendentious reading of the gospels, is grounded in a sentimental, anemic theoloy of the church and its sacraments, and smacks of co-dependent niceness. Though promoted in the name of 'radical hospitality' it is neither all that radical nor all that hospitable.

This is not about who is or isn't 'worthy' to receive Communion. Nor is it mainly about whether or not someone understands the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. It is about belonging and the responsibilities and accountabilities that go with belonging - belonging to Jesus and belonging to the body of Christ, the Church.

Here are some links to a fairly wide range of folk who have offered good arguments against this:

Tobias Haller, In a Godward Direction

Derek Olsen, Haligweorc

Robert Hendrickson, The Curate's Desk

Bryan Owen, Creedal Christian

My own attempt to articulate the argument against


Here are four others who have weighed in:

AKMA Adam, AKMA's Random Thoughts

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, All Things Necessary

Tom Ferguson, Crusty Old Dean

Christopher Evans, Contemplative Vernacular

Follow-up Post:
Against Communion Without Baptism: Some Anecdotes


Mike said...

Matt, I love your description of what CWOB springs from. I think we tend to emphasize and confuse hospitality, outreach, evangelism, and inclusivity while glossing over theology and tradition. I also am concerned that CWOB diminishes the need for formation. I want to be careful, however, not to set understanding as a litmus test. Do any of us really understand the sacramental mysteries? And what would that say about young children who receive communion? If baptism is a new birth then communion is the new food that nourishes that new life.


Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Mike.

You are absolutley right to ask whether any of us really understand the sacramental mysteries - though that alone might be cause for us to be more, rather than less, cautious about just giving it to anyone regardless of preparation.

But, as I understand it, one is not prepared to receive because one understands Eucharistic theology or is somehow 'worthy'. The single preparation for Eucharist is baptism. As I say in the post, it is about belonging. If you are baptized into the body of Christ it does not matter if you are an infant or 100 years old or if you are as brilliant as Rowan Williams or if you are profoundly mentally disabled or have advanced alzheimer's - you belong.

Now, to be sure, any community will do well to teach the meaning of membership/citizenship in its body to its members with all its habits, beliefs, expectations, responsibilities, etc. And membership alone does not mean one might not eat and drink judgment upon oneself. So formation is still critical.

FWIW, here is a link to a baptism sermon from a while back that gets at my sense of the centrality of belonging (the sermon begins on page 5):


C. Wingate said...

As I wrote some time back, I think there is a certain degree of deliberate theological offensiveness going on in this too: one gets points in certain circles for freaking the traditionalists. After all, it's hard for hospitality to be "radical" if it's not annoying someone.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Charles. You might be right about offensiveness playing a part. But, though my post her is a bit polemical, I do think we should acknowlegdge that the impulse to invite everyone
"regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey" is sincerely motivated. I just think it is sincerely wrong and founded on a host of wrong premises.

C. Wingate said...

The offensiveness doesn't make it insincere; it is more of a theological enabling to disregard the tradition of the church as a teaching influence.

At any rate, here is my response this time around, which is one of absolute and implacable opposition.

Robert said...

But if it is not personal choice rooted in some degree of understanding that constitutes the belonging which inheres in Baptism, then what does? Why not accept the possibility that we all belong even before Baptism?

Matt Gunter said...


Thanks for reading and commenting.

The short answer to your question, 'Why not accept the possibility that we all belong even before Baptism?' is that there is nothing in scripture that allows for such a claim. And the language of the rite of baptism is explicitly countrary to it.

That does not mean that God is absent from an unbaptized person. But, that is not the point.

I should perhaps be more clear. It is not that understanding is not important. But what happens in baptism does not primarily depend upon the understanding. In baptism a new Christian is born - however imperfectly the new Christian, or for that matter, the sponsors or even the one baptizing understands what is happening.

Once baptized, however, a host of promises and obligations are assumed. Those promises and obligations are reinforced in Communion. Coming to understanding and live those promises and obligations is no small matter.