Holy Communion for all

Do you think that we ought to have open communion in our churches? (Invite the unbaptised.)

James Farwell and Kathryn Tanner argue about whether we should or not. Farwell is brave, he knows the position that he maintains needs defending.

Is restricting this meal to the baptised a fair reflection of Jesus' open table fellowship?

Does the meal seek to do more than this so that the above line of defence is a weak argument for open-table fellowship?

Farwell asks whether we might consider the two sacraments in relationship with one another: the eucharistic meal is the foundation for the further table-fellowship baptised followers of Jesus are empowered to go into the world and involve themselves in as they minister to people created in God's image and discover with others more about life and God.

In this way then those partaking in the meal are those who share Jesus' vision and understand the commissioning it communicates and their own participation in his life as they fulfil that commission.

Farwell points our attention to Augustine could this, reductio ad absurdum, mean we are symbolically consuming ourselves. (I wonder how that might sit alongside something like transubstantiation - it's all beginning to get rather messy, isn't it? Charges of cannibalism (h/t in class to Ben Griffiths!) were levied at the early church by those who didn't, wouldn't or couldn't enter into the meaning of the meal.)

Farwell also asks that we be conscious of the changes that might have to be made to baptism, if open table fellowship is practised. He supports the idea that the Eucharist nourishes what has been assented to, received and birthed at baptism.

In some ways, I can relate to this. We feed what is alive not what is dead. Or continuing on this vein more accurately, do we feed what is not yet born in order to bring it to life? Having said that, this is not an active feeding of any yet-to-be born baby, it just happens as part of the life in which that child has been received and is growing. The unbaptised are nourished through the Word and worship in the church, do we wait until the birth of their faith-life as it is symbolised through baptism before we mark the nourishment of that life with the giving of the Eucharist? I only have questions at this point.

Farwell ties the Eucharist so closely to baptism that he makes a very persuasive case for preserving the meal to the baptised. This metanoia, turning to God, at baptism, is in itself remembered through the Eucharist too in so much as we are called to recall the life that we were called into at baptism (I know there's a lot of 'calling' going on in that sentence), a life in Christ, discipled - 'the table presumes the content of baptism.'

This thinking leads him to believe -

If we separate baptism from the Eucharist and do not require it, the real turning to Christ is foregone, argues Farwell. He does not reference the confession and absolution which precedes the Eucharist. He believes that we minimise the free gift of God that is also a call upon the whole of our lives and beings.

Is the sharing in his suffering prominent enough in a defence of open table fellowship based on gift and hospitality? If we invite people to come and partake of Christ's suffering, does that not need the former rite of baptism to ground that and make sense of it somehow? (Theologically, of course, language here of invitation which culminates in ideas of guest and host is problematic when Christ's is the invitation, he is the host and the host and we are all guests but more than that still, because we are participators).

Tomorrow I will think about reasons FOR open table Eucharist. Do share your thoughts. I would benefit, as might many others.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Independent Sacramental Ministries tend to practice open Eucharists. It might be practical, but it is also a theological principle of inclusion.

Robert said...

We Methodists keep an open table - I did once come across a minister who wanted to restrict it to 'those who normally take communion in their own churches', but that was unusual - and it goes back to Wesley's view that communion was a 'converting ordinance'. Of course, in those days, you could probably take it for granted that people were baptised, even if they'd sometimes become cut off from the church.

We have no problems giving communion to the unbaptised in my church; about half of the people at my wedding were Muslims (as is my wife), and we gave it to them. They ate the bread, but refused the wine, despite being assured it was non-alcoholic. I think it comes down to two things; the theology of baptism, and hospitality.

If baptism is considered to be efficacious ex opere operato, so that original sin is really washed away on the Augustinian model, then I agree communion should be restricted to the baptised. I wouldn't accept that myself. In my view, it's a symbol of God's prevenient grace (another Wesleyan idea) which goes before us and stops us falling irredeemably into sin. It's this grace (put into an artificial box, but that's OK as long as we recognise it as a limited manmade category) which leads us to turn to God for salvation. Such grace is not dependent on baptism, contact with Christianity, or any limits at all; it goes before all such things, and is given to all. If God's grace is truly universal, then we can't restrict it to those who have some meaningful contact with the church; if someone born (presumably by God's will) into a devout Muslim family in a Saudi village is damned because they never came into contact with a Christian, then that's effectively predestination by the back door.

This is where hospitality comes in. If God's grace is offered to all, then we can't refuse to offer food to those who come to God's house. If we say to the stranger 'You can sit by the fire, but we're not going to feed you because you're not one of the family', then what sort of hospitality is that? If God has brought them, and we refuse them, then we're not preaching much of a Gospel!

Rach said...

Thank you Adrian - what do you make of Farwell's idea that somehow it is not inclusion at its best?

Robert, some really persuasive points here. I will look at Tanner's defence of open table and her reply to Farwell at some point, it will be interesting to see if she has any similar points to make.
Thanks for your thoughtful contribution.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well the whole business of making the Eucharist internal - that's why I stopped taking it, because it was seen as the preserve of the insiders and indicated acceptance of the boundaries of belief and practice - is in any case held in the 'trade unionism' of keeping it to a priest to do. On that basis Churches can offer it to all.

I would partake with those ISMs compatible with my views and at the communion service held at the Unitarian General Assemby, though it is put on by the Unitarian Christian Association or its people.

Robert said...

I've long thought that the thing of ordained presidency was a horrific distortion, especially when we go up and kneel at the altar rail. It takes something which should be about the church community and its solidarity with God, and transforms it into an act of submission to a hierarchy. It's all on a par with the way ecclesiology gets distorted so it ends up with more to say about structure and hierarchy than about community. The worst aspect is the way communion is used as a divisive ordinance, to exclude those from other denominations, when it should be a sign of unity.

The Methodist Church long ago admitted that there's no theological reason for ordained presidency, we've always had lay presidency when there was a shortage of ministers, and my circuit has now become the first to appoint lay ministers. No doubt others will follow. There's neither reason nor excuse for it.

If I remember correctly (I have the report somewhere, but I'm not sure where) the Methodist Church says that ordained presidency should be maintained where possible in order to maintain order, or words to that effect. I don't think that stands up, but minsters dominate the committees which write these reports, Conference always votes the way it's told, and nobody really comes back on them.

Rach said...

I am used to lay administration of the elements but not lay presidency with the eucharist liturgy being spoken by an ordained minister. I will spend time as a deacon before I am priested a year later to do this.

Re - the kneeling - it's Christ to whom we are kneeling and so this does not worry me - we have to get the teaching right regarding hierarchy which is indeed not honouring a God who shows no favouritism. I am glad that there is an Anglican/Methodist Covenant because I think we have a lot to learn from one another.

Thanks Robert

Robert said...

I know that's the original symbolism, but we're not into the 'representing Christ' thing in Methodism - rather, ministers traditionally claim to 'represent the church'. Either way it's a horrible conceit. Ministers aren't the son of God, and the 'representing the church' thing is traditionally used to justify their acting without reference to us, in our name. I've known that lead to real problems, and we were the people who had to deal with the fallout. Not the minister!

A stranger walking in certainly won't see us kneeling before Christ!


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