Friday, May 20, 2005

Ornery Baptismal Theology

Well, it seems the new "thang" for mainline Protestants is to encourage an open communion table with no condition that baptism precede communion. This includes Lutherans. Our new book on evangelism encourages it explicity. The Evangelizing Church, ed. by Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder.

What is to be said or done? It seems like this is one of those changes in practice and theology that is slowly creeping up on us and will simply happen. I don't like to be a grump, and prefer not to post grumpy, but I will post the following, a brief comment I made to a Lutheran pastor who also shares my worry about this proposed change in communion practice:

"Baptism is entrance into the church, and the church's sacrament of community and recognition is the supper. By lifting baptism out of this context and making it a free-floating "means of grace", you empty it of its particular meaning. Baptism becomes just like all the other means of grace, all of them mixed together in a melting pot that comes out as a warm goo that supposedly represents and symbolizes God's love for us.

The whole metaphor about an open table for all sinners is a false application of Jesus' practice of table fellowship to the more particular kind of meal that the supper is (and was). It flies in the face not only of Reformation practice, but also in the face of the most evangelical period in church history, when the catechumenate was utilized and very clearly made baptism a condition for entrance to full table fellowship. Evangelism my foot. This is just false doctrine and anti-sacramentarian."

On a more chipper note, I finished the run in 3 hours 8 minutes, and raised at least $1200, so thanks to all of you who pledged to LIRS!


  1. Congrats on the run . . .

    I appreciate your concern about sacramental practice, and my mind is not made up on the issue. If we believe that the table is the Lord's and Jesus is truly present in the meal, can we in good conscience turn people away from seeking the presence of God? I'm not sure that it would be the worst thing in the world for an unbaptized person to receive the sacrament and then, through a process of instruction, prayer and formation, be received into the church through the sacrament of baptism.

    There can be abuses, I know, and this can go down a slippery slope to be sure. But what is worse - safeguarding the sacrament by restricting access, or sharing the gift of God's presence with all people reagrdless of their baptismal status?

  2. Oh, don't get me started. I have heard respected Lutheran scholars propound or speculate about "open communion," by which they mean "open to unbaptized seekers and evey non-believers," and it both scares and sickens me. (Rememer that Bliese is the new president of Luther Seminary!)

    But first: Bravo! on the run. A pastor, a thinker, and a jock -- have you applied for a Rhodes?

    Now as to Baptism (and you'll forgive me if I save some of the meat for my own blog): The decline of the Church into a branch of society (as opposed to a society in its own right/rite) accounts for the cheapening of grace (ala Bonhoeffer's use) and the rendering shallow of the notion of discipleship.

    If we Lutherans had any theology in support of a serious approach to baptism, we wouldn't be where we are going. We have completely misread the notion of "extra ecclesiam non salus est." It has resulted in a kind of ex opere operato in baptism (I'm flying on this Latin stuff), as though the sprinkling is required to save people.

    Salvation is God's work, and he proceeds without our efforts to drag and/or seduce people into the Church. It might be helpful to remind theologians that the point of the Church is not to "grow" -- either for its own aggrandizement or because only churchpeople are "saved." It is to serve a beacon, an announcement, a demonstration that salvation has already come. (Isn't that what Jesus wa about?) Life in the Church, then, is the equivalent of following Jesus -- and that leads to the sermon on the mount and the cross and all the rest of the Jesus story.

    Perhaps we Lutherans (post-Luther) got it wrong all those centuries ago. And we have destroyed baptism by making it so easy. If baptism means nothing, then communion means little more. It's all romance.

    It is romantic to see the Meal as a kind of street-fest meant to attract. It is a ritual meal of the initiated -- once guarded against the pagans. But in our sleep (and thanks to Constatntine) we have been lulled into thinking that there is no longer any pagan threat. And so we welcome the world on its terms.

    If we begin to re-catechize people into the important idea that salvation does not come on our terms, but on God's -- then maybe we can revitalize both Baptism and Communion (and the office of the keys in the process; and marriage; and ... ).

    Again, congrats on the run.

  3. Thanks to both of you for the congrats. Chris, I'd say my sympathies lie with Dwight on this, but I would say there is a sense in which you are correct. It isn't horrible if an unbaptized person, present at the meal, ends up receiving it, and then proceeds to catechesis and baptism. But that would be an exception, and exceptions need neither become nor prove the rule.

  4. Clint, sounds like a Synod Assembly resolution for next year to me.

    "...WHEREAS, the practice of our Lord in the Gospels of sharing inclusive table-fellowship with sinners is not to be interpreted as a rationale for communing the unbaptized, but rather as an indication that God calls sinners to a life of discipleship and as a vision of the inclusion of sinners in the Holy Church, and,

    WHEREAS, the appropriate Biblical passages regarding the Eucharist are Matthew 26 and parallels, in which Christ shares his body and blood with his disciples, and Acts 2, where those who are baptized "join in...the breaking of bread and the prayers," and

    etc., etc. ad infinitum.

  5. I think you're correct. This needs to be introduced by a lot of pastors in a lot of synods memorializing the ELCA to uphold the tradition of the church for the sake of the gospel of which the sacraments are visible words. Shall we draft the thing together? I'm game. I'll have the next two whereas's written in the next week.

    Here's an attempt at one right now:

    WHEREAS, the rite of baptism has always functioned as the entrance/initiation rite into the community we call church, and to encourage reception of the supper at the table of the Lord would be to de facto make the Lord's Supper itself the new rite of Christian initation,

    Be it resolved, that the ELCA will continue to preach, teach and confess that baptism is necessary for reception of the Eucharist.

    Be it further resolved that the ELCA will recognize the evangelical nature of the sacraments so ordered, and will make the continued understanding of the relationship between baptism and fellowship at the Supper an integral part of their "Evangelism Strategy".

  6. I would lobby to become a CWA delegate so that I could vote for the proposed resolution. My chief concern, Fratres, is that the thing MIGHT BE VOTED DOWN, given the climate in the church today.

    I mean, how "welcoming" does that resolution sound?

    I wish I could append a smiley-face, but I'm not really joking!


  7. Clint,

    Working together would be fun. It might be fun to debate a matter of ecclesial importance other than homosexuality for once, too.

    BTW, make sure we get "Use of the Means of Grace" in there, too. It was "adopted for guidance and practice" by the fifth CW Assembly. So the closest thing we have to an authoritative teaching body passes this thing, and in eight years it's too doctrinaire, too dogmatic, too exclusive? I wonder if the people in the Division for Worship sometimes wonder what it all means.

    What exactly does the book The Evangelizing Church say about open communion? You've got my curiosity piqued, although not enough to use my (rapidly dwindling) Continuing Ed. money to buy the thing. It comes with enough plaudits for being true to Lutheran theology; you'd think some of these people would have noticed a little detail like that.

  8. I am so glad that there are other confessional ELCAers out there! I am in full support of your resolution! I am sick of talking about homosexuality, too. I mean less than 10% of the population call themselves gay and an even fewer percent are Lutherans. Of that percent we have what 1 or 2 people per year who want to be rostered?

    I am, however, not sick of talking about sexuality in general. I was hoping to teach chastity to some of the girls at our church and when to Augsburg fortress only to find NOTHING on chastity. So, I am spending the summer writing something. Very frusterated with the church right now. You guys give me hope! Pray for our church!

    This makes me think of 1 Corinthians: "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink [this] cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. "

    Christ makes us worthy. If we don't know Christ, in Baptism, doesn't that make us unworthy?

    Are Lutherans still into sola scriptura? It sure doesn't seem so these days.