Friday, May 27, 2005

Baptism, Eucharist, and Hospitality

Dwight in a recent comment has raised a good point. Upholding baptism as the entrance rite of the church does not appear, at first glance, to be welcoming. And this because the concept of a welcoming church has changed over the years. I can't say I have loads of anthropological insights to back this up, but it seems the Christian understanding of welcoming included the transition from one community to another. This being the case, the baptismal rite as the entrance rite and transition from one community to another constituted a rather lengthy process of initiation culminating in full entrance into the church, communion, etc.

A crass analogy: When you went into Mr. Roger's house with him on his show, you weren't just there. You first had to take off your shoes, change your sweater, sing a song, and only then were you finally there. What is more, to enter into the little imaginary world where the train went, you had to first do all this and then imagine your way in along with Mr. Rogers.

Today, we track all our dirt on our shoes inside the house, leave our coats on while we're in, never imagine anything of much together, leave without a trace, and fail to offer a glass of water to the visitor while they're there.

So we've got issues of hospitality abounding in this discussion, but like false understandings of hospitality. Not hospitality as peace tolerant co-habitation, but in the view of the church, hospitality as that radical gospel act that changes both the host and the guest.

This is why, among other things, to maintain the unique hospitality practice of the Christian community, the Eucharist cannot be a meal for just anyone. We have plenty of meals that can be like that. Every time I eat at Culver's I have a meal like that, or invite my neighbors over for coffee. The Eucharist is a special meal of mutual recognition where those who are already baptized, who have the shoes and the new sweater and even a new mind, sit down at the meal of their Lord, who says, come, all is ready.

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!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Syttende Mai Run

You can now pledge on-line for my 20 miles for LIRS fund-raising run from Madison to downtown Stoughton. The staff at LIRS have been wonderful in getting behind this run and the fund-raising effort. Thanks to them and all others who work with, serve, and advocate for refugees and immigrants!