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baptism communion

Baptism – communion – which order?

baptism communionThe General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) has just been meeting. It debated whether baptism is normally required before receiving communion. Or should Christ’s table be open to everyone, baptised or not?

I have written about this previously, and if you want to look back at that discussion, read “Baptism – communion – in which order?

I want to add to that linked discussion the idea of Baptism and Communion being integrally connected. I have written here before about that connection – with Baptism-and-communion being one event/celebration/sacramental action (whatever term helps you), and communion being the repeatable part of that.

This connection is not fanciful. It is there in the earliest layers of our tradition. It is continued in the Eastern part of the Christian tradition, and is being rediscovered in some parts of the West. The connection is seen in the biblical records, eg. 1 Corinthians 10:

2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
3 and all ate the same spiritual food,
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ….
6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.

TEC has restated the status quo. This is not about specific pastoral situations. And I want to emphasise (and this should be clear from the earlier post I refer to) I have the greatest respect for those who practise an “open table”. TEC was not prepared to sever the traditional link.

In my own context – I wonder if there needs to be more discussion about an “open font”? Where on community websites (diocesan websites), pamphlets at the door, teaching from the pulpit, regular community practice, etc. is there help/challenge/encouragement to baptism? I still see evidence, despite the formal teaching of my church that baptism is admission to communion, of rites, practices, teaching etc. which places a boundary between the baptised and Christ’s table, let alone the unbaptised and that table.

In TEC the original resolution, proposed by the Diocese of North Carolina, called for study of the relationship between baptism and communion. It went first to the Evangelism legislative committee, then to the House of Deputies, then the to the House of Bishops.

C029 as originally proposed:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention direct the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to appoint a special commission charged with conducting a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion in this Church and to recommend for consideration by the 78th General Convention any amendment to Title I, Canon 17, Section 7, of the Canons of General Convention that it deems appropriate; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $30,000 for the implementation of this Resolution.

C040 as originally proposed:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That Canon 1.17.7: be deleted: [Sec. 7 No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.] and Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7.

C029 was amended into this form and presented to the Deputies:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples. We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.

There was some discussion about the closing sentence, and a substitute was offered referring to “occasional” exercise of pastoral sensitivity. The amendment failed. The Resolution was adopted and sent to the Bishops.

The Bishops then removed the final sentence and it came back to the Deputies, who concurred and adopted it in this form, which affirms the status quo:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.

C040 was discharged as already acted upon.

There was a lot of discussion and testimony on this resolution. Most resolutions only go to each House once, but this went back and forth, as described above.

Thank you to those many of you who have helped me keep track of this discussion.

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24 thoughts on “Baptism – communion – which order?”

  1. I am happy that TEC reaffirmed the historic connection that baptism precede communion.

    Unfortunately, IMO, folks like Father Snell will continue to defy the canons and practice communion without baptism, as he has for years.

  2. It seems to me, Bosco, that the missing link in all of this is: Where does the sacrament of Confirmation fit in?

    I think that most people today realise that the normal gateway to the reception of Holy Communion is the sacrament of Baptism. This begs the question about the continuing necessity for Confirmation before the reception of H.C.

    Ideally, the situation used to be specifically ordered: Baptism, Confirmation, Reception of The Holy Communion. But can the Church actually ‘demand’ a specific order of ‘entitlement’ ?

    My own experience includes evidence of young people attracted to the Church who have actually received Holy Communion BEFORE becoming aware of the (unstated) requirement of either Baptism or Confirmation. Not until these people became familiar with the expected discipline of Baptism (and, at that time – 1960s – Confirmation) did they elect to conform to the tradition.

    In saying this, I am mindful of the fact that, in ‘Acts’ there was an instance of believers who had actually ‘received the Holy Spirit’ before being Baptised into Christ. So maybe God is not bound by the expectations of the Church in every single instance. Otherwise, I’m all for The tradition.

  3. Brian Poidevin

    Granted that this confirms the ancient tradition and is probably the better way to continue I am not at all convinced that the New Testament references are altogether clear. In any case I do not see any convincing case for the Bible as the ultimate guide. If it were there are a large number of horrifying guidances offered. But my main objection is the Word “Unfortunately”. Why in the circunstamces he may face is it unfortunate? defying man-made canons- good heavens! I thank God that some one like Sara Miles came to her belef through communion and as a result being more aware when she finally accepted baptism.

    1. Sara Miles shouts communion without baptism from the rooftops of TEC. I believe that she is in error and leads folks astray, as does her former pastor. And to me, that is unfortunate.

      The church is open and inclusive, anyone is welcome to baptism. Baptism is entrance into the body of Christ. Communion is the meal of the elect, those who make up the body of Christ. A Christian is a Christ follower. Christ’s command was to go to the nations and baptize folks. Baptism was the priority. And baptism before communion was important to the ancient church, there isn’t any way to skew it otherwise. A parish that is somehow focused on communion for those who are not baptised, seems to have their priorities skewed.

  4. Brian Poidevin

    Bro. David, you have strong beliefs as i do. It is improbable that we would convince one another.
    re Sara Miles whom i have met at ST. Gregory’s If she is leading folk astray then we are back with a very primitive version of Christianity. Her work is more in accord with what we can grasp of Jesus than the activities of most parishioners, including myself, that I have known And I do not mean this as a putdown of very many good people.
    “I came late to Christianity, and discovered the inconvenient truth that a spiritual life is a physical life…” Sara Miles

    1. I don’t personally know Sara Miles. I am not sitting in judgement of her success or effectiveness as a baptized Christian. I am stating that I believe that in promoting communion without baptism she is in error and that it is unfortunate for others that she is leading folks in this error. Her’s is an emotion based argument. I find no historical or theological basis for her teaching and promotion of this idea regarding baptism and communion.

  5. Brian Poidevin

    Having just written the above it occurred to me that the following was relevant.

    “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” ~ Ephesians 2:14-16.

    I suspect that”He abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” appeals to my sensibility.

  6. Brother David. I admire your staunchness in defending the normal principle of Baptism before Holy Communion. I wonder if, in like manner, your would insist on Confirmation before Holy Communion. This is, indeed, part of the ‘catholic tradition’?

    I still believe that there are legitimate cases where people have actually – perhaps unknowingly – received H.C. prior to being Baptised. If they are then apprised of the benefits of Baptism, and are keen to fulfil the ‘normal obligation’ of this, then, I believe No Harm has been done. They have been discipled – admittedly, by a different route from the ‘normal’, but still through faith.

  7. “The church is open and inclusive, anyone is welcome to baptism.”
    Well, anyone who repents and believes in the Lord, that is. Otherwise I agree with all you’ve written here. I can’t see how anyone who knows the apostolic practice could think otherwise on this question. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a cocktail party.

  8. To answer your question Ron, no I would not be insistent upon confirmation before communion. Conformation as a separate rite is a murkier part of the Church’s history and has no basis in the New Testament writings we have.

    Writing from personal opinion, I think that Confirmation came about as a separate rite as a result of the church’s growth and the advent of priests, apart from bishops and that the practice of infant baptism as the norm.

  9. Yes, Father Ron, ‘no harm is done’ by being flexible enough to practice open communion. In my small town there is a continual open door policy for anyone to walk in, participate and receive God’s blessings. It is hard then for me to understand the pettiness and narrow-minded views I constantly see here in Bosco’s forum discussions. I wasn’t baptized until I was sixteen and like Sara Miles turned away from the church until I was born again in my late forties. My own teenage son has yet to be baptized as he refuses to and yet I pray that communion will be the route by which he returns to his Holy and only Father’s love.

    1. Thanks for your presence and comment here, Brynn, which is very welcome. I don’t think it is helpful to use words like “petty” and “narrow-minded”. That you acknowledge you struggle to understand a person’s view is, of course, fine; but if you look further throughout this site I am sure you will find opinions quite different to your own, and I would not want to have them apply “petty” and “narrow-minded” to your opinions. Let’s discuss different understandings. Blessings.

    2. Brynn, I think that if you actually do some research about open communion, that is not your parish’s policy. Your parish practices communion without baptism or some refer to it as communion before baptism.

      Open communion refers to the welcome or invitation of all baptized Christians to communion. That is a wholely different topic. In my experience most parishes of “main stream” denominations practice open communion. Only the most conservative parishes in any particular denomination, along with very conservative denominations as well, practice what is referred to as fencing the table. By fencing the table, these parishes invite only baptized members of their own denomination to communion.

      These parishes/denominations usually require that a visitor from another parish in their denomination identify themselves to the pastor and state their intentions that they wish to receive communion. The pastor will tell them at that point if they would be welcome to partake.

      It saddens me that your parish has gone so far off the rails. I would be in support of bishops who deposed priests who willfully violate the canons and lead parishes into the practice of communion without baptism.

  10. One further point on the issue of Confirmation:

    With the advent of the ‘Charismatic Movement’ on the later 1960s, it became popular for neophyte Christians to be encouraged into the rite of Confirmation by the Bishop as an opportunity for a specific Baptism in the Holy Spirit – in other words, an opportunity for a person Baptised in infancy to claim their ‘new birthright’ into Christ.

  11. As we discussed when the future Duchess of Cambridge was confirmed, it can be helpful to use good old Dean Hook’s distinction between Baptism as a dominical sacrament and Confirmation as an “apostolic ordinance” that it is within the Church’s power to alter or abolish. And J.D.C. Fisher’s “Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West; A Study in the Disintegration of the Primitive Rite of Initiation” is helpful here. For my part, I would be happier if we simply allowed presbyters to confirm all newly baptized persons, as our Catholic and Orthodox brethren do, while at the same time emphasizing that the bishop is the ordinary minister of baptism.

    On the subject of Baptism of Non-Christians (I mean, how else does one become a Christian if not through baptism? — I know there are Anabaptists out there who have answers to that question!), has everyone read the excellent (nay, devastating) article on the subject by James Farwell in AnglicanTheological Review? Freely available here: http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/static/pdf/articles/86.2_farwell.pdf

    1. Thanks, Jesse. Just one addition – RC priests don’t confirm all newly baptised persons; I think they only do that for adults at the Easter Vigil as part of RCIA. Happy to be corrected. Blessings.

      1. I had in mind primarily our Eastern-rite Catholic brethren! The Latin Rite seems just as confused on this question as our own Communion (though the frequent deputation of Latin Rite presbyters to confirm on behalf of their bishops shows that the point has already been conceded in principle).

  12. Brian Poidevin

    i leave any further comment to the inspirational George Mac Donald and John Adams, 2nd president of the United States. But then as a non-cleric perhaps he does not count. Or are both statements too improper?

    “Those Christians who are very strict in their observances, think a good deal more of the Sabbath than of man, a great deal more of the Bible than of the truth, and ten times more of their creed than of the will of God. Of course, if they heard anyone utter such words as I have just written, they would say he was and atheist. ”

    – George MacDonald

    But touch a solemn truth in collision with the dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes.”

    -John Adams

  13. “It is hard then for me to understand the pettiness and narrow-minded views I constantly see here in Bosco’s forum discussions.”

    I don’t have a problem with views (my own included) being described thus if the writer explains WHY (in his view) they are petty or narrow-minded. ‘My’ view (which isn’t mine but pretty much the universal practive of the Church Catholic) is that baptism is initiation by repentance from sin and faith into Christ our atoning sin-bearer and the eucharist is the continuation of that relationship, ‘feeding on Christ’. Why on earth would someone who hadn’t taken the first step want to take the second? Perhpas only if he or she didn’t understand what the eucharist actually is, or worship leaders misrepresnted it.

  14. Since joining the Eastern Orthodox my understanding of Baptism has increased. And I hasten to add that for the Orthodox, the 3 sacraments (of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist) are one unit really. The first two are conferred one after the other (unless someone has previously been baptized elsewhere) just prior to a Liturgy, where the newly Baptized individual comes FIRST to communion – during the Liturgy.

    Not only that but there is a clear UNION between Baptism and Theophany (the celebration of Christ’s Baptism and revelation of the Trinity – which, as a feast, is actually MORE important in the East than Christmas). The link between our Baptism and Christ’s is made PRESENT in a liturgical way on the Feast of Theophany. For after the blessing of the water (during the Liturgy), the Liturgical Cross (the one used to give blessings, which is kissed and venerated following every Liturgy) is dipped 3 times (in the Baptismal Font) and then held aloft by the priest. In exactly the same way that an Orthodox baby is baptized – dipped 3 times in the water and then held aloft by the priest.

    It seems to me that if a person is fired with a strong desire for baptism, they – as an adult – can bear the “fasting” from the sacrament until they receive Baptism. Our priest, I am sure, would – for such a person – speed up the instructional process, which consists of individual meetings with him on each of the dogmas of the creed. Something which I found to be very moving actually, even as someone with a lot of religious and spiritual education.

    Are we – in our Fast Food Society – all too ready to separate mysteries which are so intertwined?

    Peace be with you, Bosco. And thanks for all you do. Here. And everywhere else you minister.

  15. By tradition and wide practice, the sequence is baptism first and then communion, but what to say of the unbaptized Sara Miles’ conversion upon receiving communion? And Sara’s conversion has borne obvious and abundant good fruit. If what happened to Sara happened to you, would you not be inclined to advocate for open communion?

    Bosco says:

    “In my own context – I wonder if there needs to be more discussion about an “open font”?”

    I answer with a resounding “Yes!” Baptism should be widely and frequently available.

    I ask the priests and lay ministers here, what would you do if a person you knew was not baptized approached to receive communion?

    June Butler

    1. And the other way around, June, which has been my experience: a regular who never comes up for communion. I visited during the week and baptised this person the next Sunday. I’m not going into details, obviously, but no one had ever offered baptism in this manner… Blessings.

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