Will you continue?

The posts that I’ve made on this blog which have attracted by far the most comment in recent months have been those connected with whether baptism must necessarily happen to a person before the Eucharist.

I think we’ve established that a lot of people care very much about this question. It is my view that baptism should normally precede the Eucharist. It is the view of some people that baptism must essentially precede receiving the Eucharist. I’m quite untroubled by this. Some people are quite troubled by assertions in this area.

The US-based Episcopal Church is due to have a conversation about this at its General Convention very soon. General Convention only takes place every three years for them, unlike General Synod over here which happens each year. That means they do a lot of stuff when they do meet. My guess is that the communion-baptism question is likely to be one of those things that we will hear quite a lot about. I’d be surprised if they changed their polity on this, but I expect quite a loud attempt to try to shift it. Unlike in Scotland, their canons explicitly ban anyone from receiving communion before being baptised.

Now, I’ve said most of what I want to say about this before (here and here). I just want to add one thing to that at this juncture.

It is that there those who want change in this area can draw quite a lot of comfort from most modern baptism rites, including those in both Scotland and the USA.

The “Baptismal Covenant” – so beloved of American Episcopalians and so glossed over by Scottish Episcopalians is pretty much the same in both countries on this issue, I think.

In it, we find the following question which is addressed to baptismal candidates and either answered by them directly or on their behalf by parents/godparents:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?



Fencing the Table

Now, Christians – wise up. I want some answers. I’d like to return to this question about what it is that entitles someone to receive communion.

We had quite a chat about it when I asked whether one sacrament needed to come before another one.

Lots of people seem to think this really matters a very great deal indeed.

Consider, if you will, the following invitations and exclusions from the table of the Lord. All these are real and are quoted either from service sheets printed by congregations or noted from the spoken invitation to communion given by the person presiding. The first two are quite interesting because they each have a comment in both English and French and it is noteworthy that there is not a direct translation in either case.

  • Le pain consacré et distibué au course de la messe a une haute signification pour les catholiques: c’est le Corps de Jésus-Christ leur Seigneur et Dieu. Si vous ne partagez pas notre foi en sa présence, nous vous demandons de ne pas vous joindre à la procession de communion.
    The bread distributed during mass has a high significance for Christians: it is the body of Christ, their Lord and God. If you do not share our faith in the living presence of Christ in the eucharistic bread, we ask you not to join your neighbours at communion time.
  • L’hospitalité eucharistique est offerte à toute personne, quelle que soit sa confession ecclésiale.
    All are welcome to share in the banquet of the Lord’s Supper. Please come to the altar at the direction of the ushers. It is customary to kneel at the rail (as you are able). Receive the bread (wafer) in the palm of your outstretched hands with the right over the left. Receive the wine, which follows, by drinking from the cup as it is extended to you. Ladies, please blot your lipstick.
  • Everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Saviour is welcome to receive the bread and wine in this church.
  • All baptised Christians of trinitarian churches are welcome to receive communion in this church.
  • Those who are in good standing in their own churches are welcome to join us in receiving the bread and wine at God’s table.
  • This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love him, and who want to love him more. So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a very long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
    Come, not because it is I who invite you: it is our Lord.
    It is his will that those who want him should meet him here.
  • Everyone is welcome to receive the bread and wine at communion in this church. If you do not wish to receive the bread and wine, please come forward with everyone else for a blessing, holding a service sheet in your hands.

Now, my brothers and sisters. What do we think about all this?

Isn’t it interesting how many churches believe that not everyone should be able to receive communion. And yet, isn’t it interesting how wide the discrepancies are in the terms of the deal, even in the seven churches quoted above. Some say that you are unworthy if you’ve not been baptised. Some that you are unworthy if you don’t believe the right thing about a point of doctrine, some that you are unworthy because you’ve not been initiated properly yet, some that you are not worthy if you are “not in good standing” with someone or other because of something or other.

Is it not incredibly interesting that 2000 years on from the first Last Supper, God’s people really have not managed to agree what the terms of the invitation are?

Now, what do you think?