Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is the Lord's Table Open to the Unbaptized?

The question of the degree of openness of the Lord' Table rumbles around in some Anglican churches. Arguably it is a question of greater importance than all the sexuality questions because it connects, or for that matter disconnects actions at the core of the living of our faith, baptism and eucharist. In TEC a commission of theologians has been looking into this question and has published a report.

Here I reproduce a few paragraphs - not necessarily representative or summative of the whole document. Although I disagree with the tentativeness of the conclusions reached, this work strikes me as responsible, thoughtful, and repaying of careful study. Readers of this site know that I am not often appreciative of TEC work in this way, but I am always happy to recognise quality when I find it. (For a contrast in theological quality, by the way, pop over to BabyBlueOnline re the PB and marriage).

Of course I am drawing attention to this document because in ACANZP open table hospitality is practised and I do not agree with that. I especially do not agree with it because it is the result of purely pragmatic and esoteric decisions being made by individual ministers with absolutely no supporting theological work commissioned by our bishops or synods. We need to do some work on this ourselves. One interesting thing about the TEC report is that, despite the manifold signs within TEC that liberal approaches to a variety of issues have strong support, this report is far from a simple endorsement of open table hospitality!

"No one, as far as we can tell, advocates that churches establish checkpoints on the way to the altar. Nobody wants to be the baptism police and nobody denies that clergy must exercise appropriate pastoral discretion in specific cases. Nevertheless, the canon with regard to baptism and communion is quite clear: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

Moreover, clergy enter into a type of covenantal relationship with their bishop regarding the “doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” They also promise obedience to their bishop. It would also appear that both bishops and priests enter into a similar covenantal relationship with the people in their care. In that light, one might well question any deviation from the canons with regard to baptism and eucharist. It is equally important, however, that any change in practice occurs in the light of these covenantal relationships and therefore should be clearly thought out, openly discussed and prayerfully discerned. Regardless of one’s views about whether this canon should be followed, we all agree that it should not be willfully violated in arbitrary, secretive, or idiosyncratic ways, where clergy and parish become a law unto themselves. This is not so much for the sake of the canon as for the sake of the covenantal relationships between bishops, priests, and people.

At the same time, we recognize that the impulse towards open communion arises out of serious pastoral issues faced by clergy in the diverse contexts in which they seek to minister faithfully. Sometimes these pastoral issues are connected to the particular contexts of their ministries. Sometimes they arise in the course of particular liturgical occasions such as weddings or funerals."

The whole document is here.

(Happy to take comments, but am off-line for a day or so. Will publish comments as soon as I am reconnected to the WWW!)


Anonymous said...

Baby Blue, whose post you support writes “So it seems we may have yet another example of the "dumbing down" of the covenant of Christian marriage as being just about what [the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church] vaguely calls "companionship," and not as scripture describes marriage as being akin to the relationship of Christ and the Church (which is a tad more than about a vague companionship). She justifies the reduction as saying, well, that old definition is no longer in the Episcopal Church's Prayer Book, so that's about it. Sorry, Jesus, sorry, St. Paul. Looks like those folks up in arms in the 1970s over the TEC Prayer Book may have been right after all.”

Once again, Peter, you have not checked your facts. But, heck, it’s only a woman in leadership – something you say you support in theory, but clearly really struggle with in practice – so slander away – it’s not like biblical texts on defamation are anything like as clear as those on homosexuality!

The TEC Prayer Book in fact clearly states “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” and nowhere was the Presiding Bishop denying that. She only mentioned that BCP in the 1600s had the second purpose of marriage to be “to avoid fornication” – and that we would and do express the purpose differently now.

It just was not possible for you to write something positive about TEC and leave it at that, was it? It had to be accompanied, as usual, with some unfounded put down.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thank you for alerting me to the important wording on the 1979 prayer book.
Are you saying that the Tennesean misquoted Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori?

Anglican Ecumenical Society / James said...

Anonymous, the problem is that the prayer book isn't generally followed by TEC in its pastoral work - see Dr. Turner's article "An Unworkable Theology" - for the notion of TEC's "working theology" -

BB's article and the posting here had no questioning of "women in leadership" etc..

You would do better to clarify rather than indirectly accuse of "slander" and "defamation" - I'm rather taken aback at how many TEC supporters launch into this type of vocabulary.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks James for sharing that important insight re the use of the BCP!