Our practice of the Lord's Supper

Friday, April 16, 2010

I haven't linked to any columns I've written in the United Methodist Reporter recently. I'm in the middle of a column series on the means of grace, and I had planned to do one post that pointed to the whole series when I was finished with it.

Then I had to go and write about Holy Communion. It's a topic that gets me in trouble every time I take it up.

The column - which you can find here - is a call for reform of our Eucharistic practice in a number of ways. But a certain part near the end has caught some folks' attention (to, in my opinion, the neglect of the whole). It is my critique of that un-Scriptural, un-historical, un-ecumenical quasi-doctrine that so many Methodists just love: the "Open Table" practice of inviting anyone in earshot to receive the Lord's Supper with a "y'all come!" enthusiasm. The Open Table ethos as many pastors and congregations practice it today presents the Eucharist as a meal where anyone is welcome - Christians, non-Christians, confessed adherents of other religions, unbelievers, agnostics, and atheists.

That such an approach to the sacrament of our Lord's body and blood is an utter novelty in the history of the Christian Church, without any biblical foundation or support in Wesleyan theology or widespread support in the church catholic, does not seem to factor into the consideration of those who consider it to be amongst the fundamental marks of Methodism.

And so it is incumbent upon us to preach and defend the gospel. As the Church's shepherds, pastors and theologians are called to be faithful in their teaching and preaching regardless of the shifting temper of the times. As the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy and all presbyters of the Church,

"Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. The will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:2-5, NIV).

Regardless of how well-meaning its advocates might be, the truth of the so-called Open Table is this: it is, in the true sense of the term, false teaching. The radical version of the Methodist practice of Open Table does violence to the institution of the most holy act of worship we have been given and disregards the salvation of the unbaptized. And there is not one word of the preceding sentence that is an exaggeration.

If this doesn't seem to make sense to you, then read on. To better explain, I'm going to edit and splice in a big chunk of a lengthy comment I left on John Meunier's blog when he posted about my column yesterday:

Whenever I write a column or put up a blog post on this issue, I inevitably take a lot of flack. Sometimes people act as if there is a deep arrogance at work in even engaging the issue of participation in Holy Communion, as if exercising a holy discipline over the sacrament were the equivalent of making a value judgment the intrinsic worth of persons. And sometimes people will act aghast that the Church would ever make a statement suggesting a standard of ministry or discipleship in anyway, because we are all supposed to bow at the altar of "inclusivism" - a concept that apparently means we never say 'no' to anyone, at anytime, for any reason.

Here's what I would offer in response: There are about 2 billion Christians in the world, and probably 1,980,000,000 of them have an understanding of Eucharistic practice that suggests one should be baptized before coming to the Supper of the Lord. Throughout the two millennia of Christian history, practically all Christians have had that understanding. That means there are, at present, a few million Methodists (and, I assume, probably a few million more sacramentally lackadaisical Protestants in other ecclesiastical communions) who do what we do.

Now I would ask this of anyone who happens to be reading this post: What in the world do we have to show as evidence to suggest that our doctrine is right and the ecumenical and historical consensus of the rest of the church catholic is wrong? A misquoted Wesley citation that gets regularly pulled out of context? Incoherent statements about 'prevenient grace' that get applied to the Eucharist in ways that could literally define the term, 'non-sequitur'? Fruits? Does our Eucharistic practice bring glory to God and serve as a means of grace such that those who partake are demonstrably affected in their journey of sanctification? In this last question (which is the type of thing liable to get indignant "of course it does!" replies), I would only say that, if we think we're being faithful to God and to Christ's institution of the sacrament in the shabby way we practice it now, I think we would be amazed at what the Holy Spirit would do with us if we committed ourselves to a greater faithfulness in our practice of it.

I like the way John Meunier poses the questions about the propriety of the Open Table in his post because I think he poses it as a question of doctrine. And indeed, as a doctrinal question, it should be engaged via rigorous theological examination. Charles Rivera, one of his respondents, points to the seriousness with which the Apostle Paul instructs the Church to practice Eucharist in 1 Corinthians. I'd suggest three other Scriptural images in addition: First, in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), Jesus' instruction to the disciples is to go into all the world to make disciples of every nation, and his single teaching to describe the way by which disciples are made is through baptism in the name of the triune God. Second, in the book of Acts, the apostles' response to converts who hear the Word of God and believe is "Repent and be baptized" (Acts 2:37-38). And third, throughout the NT epistles (e.g., Romans 6, Colossians 2, 1 Peter 3), it is clear time and time again that the manner of incorporation into the body of Christ is through the sacrament of baptism.

Moreover, in the early Church, new believers never received Holy Communion until they had been baptized. Actually, they weren't even admitted into the presence of the Eucharistic celebration until after baptism. And despite all the doctrinal differences that arose in later centuries over exactly what happens at Holy Communion, in the matter of what was requisite for participation in the Eucharist the divided Church was in agreement: baptism and repentance of sin.

Now one of John's respondents cited the This Holy Mystery doctrinal statement (passed by our General Conference and currently to be found in the Book of Resolutions), and on the whole, I think that is a fine piece of sacramental theology for our Church. But in the matter of which we are speaking, I can tell you that some on the study committee that developed it were vexed at the larger Church's attitudes over the radically "Open Table" ethos. Prof. Ed Phillips, who chaired that committee, recounts this in his article, "Open Tables and Closed Minds," in the journal Liturgy back in 2005. He writes (on p.28):

"What becomes curious to me is that attempts by some of us on the committee to do careful biblical and historical reflection (both from the perspective of the church catholic and the Wesleyan tradition) was often strongly discounted. Here is a typical response to my own attempt to explain to one individual why a totally open table is neither biblical nor Wesleyan: 
'Of course, we can go round and round about what Paul or the Gospel writers meant, . . . I just think one can make a strong theological case for an open table using prevenient grace (a primary theological contribution by Wesley via Augustine). I also think that . . . an open table appeals to our American sense of inclusive democracy.'
This is a significant key to what contemporary United Methodists in the West find so problematic about a disciplined table: it is undemocratic. It flies in the face of liberal freedom."

I'm well aware that advocates of the Open Table are sincere and well-meaning, and in most cases, they probably think that the Open Table stance is compassionate. The problem is that it isn't compassionate at all. Baptism and Eucharist are the difference between life and death. And when we ignore the clear teaching of the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church so that we can make either into whatever we want it to be, we are doing violence to the gospel entrusted to us. When we practice the Lord's Supper in as non-chalant a way as the Open Table implies, then we deny the saving gifts of God that should be at the heart of our evangelistic ministry. Salvation is not a series of isolated acts from which we can pick and choose at will; it is, rather, a reality into which God beckons us and is made manifest in our lives through our submission to the Holy Spirit in Christ's Holy Church. Baptism is the way we are initiated - no, incorporated - into that blessed reality.

I'm as serious as I can be when I say this: When we find ourselves to be in sin, the realization of that sin is a gift of the Holy Spirit, insofar as it is an invitation to repent and return to Christ in faithfulness. And that is exactly where the people called Methodists find themselves with their practice of the Lord's Supper.

John Meunier's post speaks of "shooing the unwashed from the Lord's table," but that's truly not what the orthodox practice of Eucharist does. Located within a form of ministry that embraces all the means of grace, it rather pursues the lost with an evangelical love, beckoning them to come to the living waters of baptism that they might die and be raised. And through those life-giving waters, it draws them toward the great feast that awaits, so that - once incorporated into the body of Christ and catechized through the preaching and teaching of Christ's holy word - they might then receive the body of Christ and know that it is the bread of heaven given to them for their salvation. We have all been offered the life that is a way of life, and there is a deep & profound logic to that journey.

Anything less than this is a commodification of the sacrament. That's something we could rightly do if we owned it, but we don't. Vicit agnus noster.

Labels: , , ,

22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciated this post. There's nothing that bothers me more about our church and denomination than the way we have trivialized communion. Some churches even stick it in a corner and if you want to have some, go get it--up to you. What a tragedy.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your intentions, and understand (especially a former Catholic) your reasoning, I can't help but disagree with your desire to hold onto a mode of thought that is not evolving with the needs of the PEOPLE of the church.

Religion should serve people as an avenue to God. People shouldn't serve religion.

I'm glad to be part of a congregation that practices an open table, and does so with grape juice in place of wine, and with rice cakes available for those with wheat allergies and gluten intolerance.

That, not dogma, not stigma, gives me hope for the future of our denomination.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Dear friend -

I think the needs of the people are exactly what I'm talking about. Those both inside and outside that covenant community called Church.

- Andrew

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew,

Thank you for writing such a clear and compelling statement on the subject. May God help us be more faithful.

Ken Loyer

6:14 PM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Thanks, Ken. It's good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well!

6:28 PM  
Blogger PamBG said...

I value the Open Table because I grew up in a denomination that practices close communion and I grew up literally being afraid of God and believing that I had already been enthusiastically damned by Him. I believed that "God's love" was a legal construct which I had forfeited as a result of being a sinner.

Why did I believe these things? Because it was emphasized that one had to have Correct Theology at all times. Ignorance of Correct Theology was tantamount to rebellion. It seemed to me that far from being a sacrament for my salvation, that communion was a divine trick to damn me, for certainly I could not have a complete understanding of it.

None of the above is a valid theological argument for or against an open table. It is rather a personal testimony that those who value the open table don't simply do so for the selfish reason of "it goes against modern ideas of individual freedom."

I value the open table because, in Methodism, I found a denomination who believes in a loving God of grace rather than a condemning God of law who is eager to damn as many people as possible.

For me personally, I'm not sure that there is any loving way you could tell me "You may not approach the Lord's Table until I'm satisfied of your baptism and your commitment to Christ."

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DO WE REALLY HAVE AN OPEN TABLE?

If we look closely and actually listen and reflect upon the liturgy that we recite each week, we might "re-frame" the open table conversation.

"Christ our Lord invites to his table, all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another." (UM HYMNAL, page 12 - pardon the informal citation)

I would argue that we ALREADY do not have an open table, but instead that we do not "enforce" (can't think of a better word than enforce right now, I don't think we should have bouncers at the communion rail) the call of the church that is found in the invitation.

I personally do not think that communion should be withheld from anyone, but instead, the seriousness of purpose and meaning of the sacrament ought to be reinforced and made more clear.
This is what I appreciated about the article, Andrew.

In the same way that I struggle to find youth leaders every year, people do not realize the words they are saying when they participate in the baptismal vows of a child. They promised to help raise this child in the faith...

I believe that the words we say need to be realized in meaning and practice. I think this would do a lot of good for the sacraments.

Thanks for another thought-provoking article!

Evan Jones

5:25 PM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Pam - I certainly hear what you're saying, and I think the attitude that you describe having experienced is awful. Please don't misunderstand what I'm talking about, either in the column or this blog post. There is no "condition of holiness" required to approach the table in current Methodist doctrine or in the Wesleyan tradition, and in that sense, Wesley's language about the "converting ordinance" is exactly applicable.

Evan - You make a very astute point. In fact, that's the point that Ed Phillips ends up making in the Liturgy article that I cite in my blog post. He suggests that the strongest preparatory element in the Wesleyan tradition for Eucharist is earnest repentance, and that if we take that seriously, it casts the Open Table in a whole different light. Of course, what Phillips does not say (but what I think he very subtly and knowingly implies) is that, in the Church, we understand response to the Word and repentance as aspects of a nascent faith that lead to baptism. That actually shows up in our current sacramental doctrine for both baptism and Eucharist, where the presbyters of the Church are encouraged to counsel the unbaptized toward baptism if they discover that unbaptized persons are coming forward to receive. That seems to me to be a very appropriate pastoral response.

Thanks for those comments, from the both of you!

10:29 PM  
Blogger Paul Brown said...

This post has been removed by the author.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Paul Brown said...

Thanks for this post and for initiating this much needed conversation within our denomination, Andrew (I noticed today that the Wesley Report has also picked up the discussion).

Unfortunately, the doctrine of "ya'll come" has become the defining feature for many United Methodists - to the neglect of any significant theological connections between the font and the table.

I wonder, however, if the concept of an "open table" has to be abandoned altogether. Could we re-frame it to emphasize our understanding that the table is the Lord's, and not the United Methodist Church's, and thus "open" to baptized Christians of all denominations? Such a doctrine is still distinctive within Christianity as a whole, but is more theologically defensible (in my opinion).

3:04 PM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Paul - That is exactly the sense in which the table should be open in Methodist practice. I hope I didn't imply otherwise, either in my column or in this blog post. Here's the way I would frame it:

"Holy Communion is open to all baptized Christians who earnestly repent of their sins and seek to live a new life in conformity to the command of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

That combines the two qualifications for participation in the Eucharist in historic Christianity - baptism (meaning incorporation into the body of Christ) and repentance (meaning the conviction of sin, reception of forgiveness through grace, and willingness to walk in newness of life). And it does not place any kind of sectarian hedge around the table, which Wesleyans have never accepted and which would be completely at odds with our ecumenical commitments.

Peace,
Andrew

3:22 PM  
Blogger jjtogs said...

Andrew,

As I posted on Shane's blog, I'm not understanding how your position is different than the UMC's position on Holy Communion. I see that you agreed with Evan when he pointed this out, but you didn't really state how than your position is distinct from the current UMC position, which can be found here: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2247711/k.C611/Communion_Overview.htm, and states that all "Christians, regardless of denomination," are welcome to receive communion, which would imply baptism, wouldn't it?

In Christ,

Joe Tognetti

3:58 PM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

I've not been back to Shane's blog in a day or so, but I'll check to see what I left out.

My position is not materially different than the official doctrine of our Church. I may be a bit different pastorally, because I'm willing to explain during my church's announcements time that all who are baptized, repent of their sins, and intend to walk in newness of life with Christ are invited to the table. But that doesn't go against our doctrine, and I think our official doctrinal understanding is largely sound.

(I also, by the way, explain that Christ desires all to become a part of his Church through the sacrament of Holy Baptism and regularly invite those who feel led to accept Baptism to see me so that we can counsel about it. I also explain very specifically that communicants do not have to be a member of our congregation or any Methodist congregation in order to be received at the Lord's table. The table is, in that sense, open).

What I'm arguing against, then, is not our official doctrine. Rather, it is the abuse of our doctrine whereby we act as if the sacrament is a free-floating act of worship not connected to the larger body of Christ and not part of the whole of the Christian life. I believe it is cruel to invite nonbelievers, adherents of other religions, and atheists or agnostics to the table without explaining to them what is going on or what coming forward implies.

The mind boggling aspect of all of this is that so many pastors and laity make question-begging statements like, "It's not our table, so we shouldn't be saying what it means and who should come." The only real response to that is, "Really?" Because it's only Methodists of the past few decades who've seen it that way. It isn't the way Scripture sees it, nor the historic tradition of the church catholic, nor the ecumenical consensus in the present.

We should care enough about those who attend our services who are still yet outside the body of Christ to invite them in. We should, frankly, care more about their salvation. To do that means that we treat the Eucharist as it is intended to be: a meal of communion and fellowship whereby the body of Christ receives Christ's own body - and are thereby sustained as they move along the way of salvation. If those in our hearing are not doing that - moving along the way of salvation - then we should care enough to urge them to respond to God's grace, repent, and receive the holy sacrament of Baptism.

Hope that makes sense. As I said either here or elsewhere as I've tried to engage these various lines of conversation, I think this is actually more about our understanding of Baptism than it is our understanding of the Lord's Supper. When we have a vacuous or at least highly deficient understanding of Baptism, our Eucharistic theology inevitably will become shaky as well.

Sincerely,
Andrew

8:21 PM  
Anonymous larry said...

Some random thoughts . . .

On John Meunier's blog I think (or maybe Wesley Report) someone commented with the basic question in practice of inviting a four year old child to receive the Eucharist but barring the four year old who is not baptized. While I don't mean to underestimate the abilities of four year olds, why do you believe baptism is a NECESSARY precursor to communion? I know your Biblical arguments from other responses but theologlically, why? I believe most adults have a an understanding of the invitation to the table to be a serious one which involves true repentance, regardless of baptism. Many four year olds, while baptized, certainly don't meet the other criteria of coming in repentance. As a father of a toddler, I can attest that my child knows the difference between right and wrong, and I believe my daughter could be capable of understanding something of the idea of repentance. However, that is not likely what she will be thinking about when she has communion.

You have indicated that this really is much more about baptism than communion, I believe you are right - in the sense that I think the UMC does not have a very cohesive view of the relationship between the sacraments, and sloppy theology about baptism opens the door to this question you have raised. While the communion question is only somewhat tangential in my reasons why I wish the UMC did not baptize infants (I think the NT is pretty clear on that point as well), I have chosen to live with it. Having it both ways, however, that is embracing infant baptism but then restricting the table to the baptized believers, ultimately creates a tension that is a tough nut to crack.

Obviously the Roman Catholic church observes infant baptism but one must wait until a certain age to receive communion and go through additional instruction; perhaps some other protestants who practice infant baptism do the same. I think if we adopt the route you are suggesting, it would be a tough sell to allow children to continue to commune. Some would certainly see that as a great loss in the life of the church, but perhaps that is an acceptable consequence to you.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Larry,

Thanks for those thoughts. My reply is too long for one comment, so I'll divide it in half and submit two in succession.

In part, this passage from the blog post above addresses your questions:

"Located within a form of ministry that embraces all the means of grace, it rather pursues the lost with an evangelical love, beckoning them to come to the living waters of baptism that they might die and be raised. And through those life-giving waters, it draws them toward the great feast that awaits, so that - once incorporated into the body of Christ and catechized through the preaching and teaching of Christ's holy word - they might then receive the body of Christ and know that it is the bread of heaven given to them for their salvation. We have all been offered the life that is a way of life, and there is a deep & profound logic to that journey."

Neither Baptism nor Holy Communion have "magical" power. They are means of grace for our salvation, which means that they are, properly speaking, located within the context of the Christian life. My focus on Baptism is because it is the objective beginning of that life, connected as a visible anchor to the subjective experience of new birth. So I'm not speaking of Baptism as if it is some charmed ticket we must get punched in order to make ourselves acceptable to the Lord. I'm rather trying to make the point that we should care enough about those in our congregations to care for their salvation; I simply don't think you can detach the Eucharist from the via salutis that it is intended to sustain us on. It should be grounded in a Christian's journey, and if we find that there are non-Christians in our midst who are hungering for Christ, we should joyfully receive them into the body of Christ through Baptism.

By the way, there have been some comments in this wide-ranging discussion across various blogs and a Facebook posting to suggest I am talking about a "closed table" or "closed Communion." Just to be clear, that's not at all what I mean. I do not think Methodists have ever (or should ever) restrict the sacrament to members of a particular denomination or local church. I just think we should be serious about making disciples of Jesus Christ, and that does not happen apart from Baptism and the way of life implied by those who have been "grafted in" to Israel by virtue of that Baptism.

(continued in next comment)

9:26 AM  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

(continued from last comment)

You do raise a good point about small children and the appropriateness of their reception of the Lord's Supper. This, again, I would say, is an area where we've not done near enough work in regards to our theology of baptism. And while I support and believe in infant baptism, I admit that, at times, I am tempted to think it would be more consistent to hold to a believer's baptism doctrine. In my own reflection, here's what I have come to think and come to practice in my own congregation (I do appreciate this conversation, and I'd be interested in your thoughts):

Baptism is a sacrament that recognizes the washing away of sin by God's grace and points to the reality of the universal atonement of Christ's reconciling death. It is also our sacrament of incorporation into Christ's death and resurrection, meaning that it is baptism that makes a Christian (even if the Holy Spirit has given saving faith prior to that). It identifies us as members of Christ's holy Church and knits us together with all other Christians such that our lives and our commitments are fundamentally defined by that identification (in an analogous way to circumcision for Jews, a point make by the Apostle Paul in Colossians).

Leaving the contested biblical arguments aside regarding infant baptism, from a theological standpoint I think infant baptism is appropriate primarily because faith is not an act of the will. It is a gift received, and any response we make is always undergirded and enabled by grace. Therefore, it is Jesus Christ's faith in God the father and the Church's faith in Jesus Christ that "stands in" for the infant who is received into Christ via baptism in the triune Name. And it is also thereby a recognition of the promise that Christ has given, to send his Holy Spirit to the Church. We can know, then, that the child who God claims in baptism will at the time of God's choosing be given new birth in the Spirit just as she is given new birth by water.

What, then, of the call for repentance prior to receiving the Eucharist? That's a difficult issue, but my own view is that children who demonstrably yearn for the Supper should be given it. It is incumbent upon pastors, parents, and all members of the congregation to teach the children what this act of worship means and what it call for on our part (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4ff). If the faith of a child is still undeveloped enough that "repentance" as a concept is foreign, and yet that child shows a real desire to receive, then there are two things to be said: First, the child, having been washed but not yet having "sinned away" the forgiveness signified in baptism, relies on the repentance of the congregation at her baptism (a crucially important aspect of the baptismal liturgy). And second, the ongoing repentance and confession of the congregation at each Eucharistic celebration "stands in" for her own acts of contrition just as they did at her baptism.

You ask about the distinction between baptized and unbaptized children of the same age. From what I'm describing, it follows that the distinction - and it is a significant one - is that the congregation has made a commitment to the baptized child that it has not made to the unbaptized one. The church is responsible for any who have been incorporated into Christ and has, literally, promised to raise such persons in the ways that lead to life. Thus, the baptized are walking the way of salvation through and with the community of redemption that the upbaptized are not. And that, in my view, is why the glorious gift of baptism is something we should preach, teach, and celebrate fully rather than seeing it as some perfunctory and ultimately unnecessary ritual.

I've written this on the fly this morning, but I think it is a fair representation of my understanding. Any response or thoughts you want to offer would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Andrew

9:27 AM  
Blogger PamBG said...

It rather raises an interesting question about "sacraments" - whether they are our response to God's work or God's gift of grace to us.

The Eastern Churches/denominations which claim to be closest to the historic practices of the early church not only baptize infants, but they commune them as well. One might very well argue that this practice really does create lots of nominal Christians.

Part of the problem as I see it is that we are dealing with modern ideas of the individual self and the concurrent evangelical/modern view that being a Christian requires a "personal commitment". I think that we even have biblical precedent that prior to the development of the concept of individual identity, people were quite content with the notion that if the pater familias declared that the entire household was to be baptized, that is what happened.

So we struggle with that history. I know that in the poor community in the UK in which I was stationed, people wanted their babies "done" (baptised) but you were quite sure that they were not going to keep their promises to bring the child to church and raise him or her as a Christian. And you'd think "What am I doing here?".

On the other hand, I personally know someone who did have an all-singing-all-dancing supernaturally-zapped conversion experience coming to the Lord's Table. Whatever you do, you really don't want to mention putting fences around the table with him unless you want a 3-hour conversation. :-)

9:47 AM  
Anonymous larry said...

I want to inquire on one point to make sure I understand - when you speak of the congregational act of repentance in the baptismal liturgy, are you referring to the question "Do you, as Christ's body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and commitment to Christ?" Or is there another portion of the liturgy with a clearer statement of repentance that I am overlooking? If this is the portion you are referring to, I would say it is a relatively weak way of involving the congregation in repentance (although better than nothing). I can accept your second point related to the repentance of the congregation "standing in" for the child in the liturgy of communion because I think that is far clearer, unless I am missing something big in the baptism liturgy.

I genuinely appreciate your fully developed responses on these questions - I hope to hope to have a lengthier response today or tomorrow.

11:05 AM  
Blogger jjtogs said...

Andrew,

Thanks for the clarification regarding what specifically you're trying to reform. I definitely agree. Growing up Catholic, it was disheartening that one can only receive communion in a Catholic Church if one had been baptized Catholic and gone through their classes, but it is often equally disheartening when I don't hear Methodist pastors emphasize that one should be baptized before receiving communion, because communion is a "means of grace" for those who already believe, whereas baptism is the entrance into the community of believers. Again, thanks for the clarification.

In Christ,

Joe

3:37 PM  
OpenID johntbryant said...

Andrew,

I think you're dead wrong to claim to that there are no Scriptural or theological warrants for "Open Table." I'll offer the disclaimer that I haven't heard these elsewhere, they're just me, but hopefully that doesn't make them less valid.

I'll say first, history is certainly an important place to look for church practice but the lack of historical practice does not and can not alone end the conversation. Neither can numbers of churches that hold particular practices. Otherwise the Methodist church and others would have no argument for the ordination of women. Neither would have the abolitionists in the 19th century.

Concerning Scripture, take a look at Acts 27:34-36. Paul encourages those on the ship to take food saying, "this is your salvation" (v34). The Greek here is "soteria," the same used when speaking of our salvation in Christ. Paul then blesses the bread in a way that sounds like Jesus in the Upper Room and those on board the ship eat. Clearly not all on board are baptized as most are not even Christian. Is this Eucharist? Luke doesn't say explicitly but the references support such a reading, especially since Luke often makes allusions to events and expects his readers to think back over what he has written previously to fill what is not said directly.

Throughout Acts Luke challenges the idea that the sacraments have to happen in a prescribed manner. Sometimes individuals receive the Holy Spirit before baptism, others after. Luke makes it very clear that one cannot contain God or the Holy Spirit within the sacraments; God acts as God wills.

Looking at the practice theologically, I think we too often forget that God operates precisely in the same manner. We are invited long before we do anything. J Louis Martyn introduces the idea of the apocalypse of the God in his reading of the New Testament. According to Martyn, God's gospel messages breaks into the world through the Incarnation, life, and death of Christ. He writes, "See that in the literal crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth God invades without a single if. Not if you repent. Not if you learn. Not even if you believe. The absence of the little world if, the uncontingent, prevenient, invading nature of God's grace shows God to be the powerful and victorious Advocate who is intent on the liberation of the entire race of human beings. ... It is also the power that Paul saw in the cross, the even in which the name Immanuel was enacted: 'God with us.'"

If God acts to offer us salvation before we merit (or even ask for) it, then I (along with Paul and Luke) find offering the Eucharist to the unbaptized theologically valid.

Grace and Peace,

John

8:32 PM  
Blogger Anna Adams said...

Dear Andrew,

I'm in the middle of a paper on Eucharistic Theology Eastern, Roman, and Methodist, and I just came across your post. Thank you so much for this, it's incredibly well thought out and insightful.

I agree completely: there is a fairly important difference between "being nice" and caring for the souls of those we are in relationships with who may or may not be Christian. While I do not want to imply that we in any way "deserve" or "earn" our place at the Lord's Table, we DO affirm that our participation in the prayers of the church opens us to transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit. Without catachesis or any expectations of living a holy life after participation in the God's life through the Eucharist, we shortchange God, cheapen God's power, and do violence to the means of grace God provided for participation in his life.

There's simply so much at stake beyond "inclusiveness" at the Lord's Supper. Thanks for this!

11:43 AM  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for this great continuation of this conversation. I'll be sure to post a link.

I think this whole conversation is tied up in that bigger question (that was used as a book title recently) are we "Mainline or Methodist"?
Are we going to let "inclusion" (what you have called the inability to say "no" to anyone for any reason) or "discipleship" be our guiding principle?
Many of our official documents speak of both, and I believe we need to understand "inclusion" in a particular way: and at best I would hope that we are a community of disciples that is eager include ANYBODY - anybody who commits to the life of discipleship under Christ that characterizes our community.

11:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home