Sunday, March 25, 2012

Radical Hospitality: Failure To Discern The Body

Fr. Dale Matson

“For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (I Corinthians 11:29, NIV)

The contemporary church continues on the path of its downward incremental slide into apostasy. In particular, there is a new TEC convention proposal from the diocese of Eastern Oregon that would allow communion for the unbaptized.

One crucial benchmark for this humanistic trajectory toward eventual universalism was pointed out by the late Peter Toon in 2006, regarding the 1979 BCP language changes for Holy Baptism.

With the 1979 BCP, Baptism was now in three parts with a “covenant” as the central part. In this covenant, the candidate promises to “strive for justice and peace” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.” (p.305). Accepting Christ as savior and renouncing Satan are a part of the examination questions in the preceding section but not a part of the “contract.” It is interesting to note that the mission of TEC was further redirected from evangelism to justice and inclusion issues, in part because of this human centered (not God centered) “covenant”. The baptismal covenant is often linked to mission in TEC, thus the Millennium Development Goals have become a major focus of mission.

Because of the centrality of the “covenant” in the 1979 BCP those who insist on radical inclusivity have been able to argue for unlimited inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments. In this case, inclusion means more than tolerance. It means participation. Baptism was once the entry point for participating in the life of the church but it was preceded by a period of instruction for adult catechumens. In the early church catechumens like Perpetua and her companions (Feast day March 7) understood that they would be giving up their life figuratively with their confession of Christ and in many cases literally as martyrs even before the opportunity for baptism. The baptismal font is frequently placed just inside the red doors of an Episcopal church. This symbolized that we entered the church via the blood of Christ and were initiated into His mystical body through the sacrament of baptism.

Those who call for radical hospitality may see it as an attitude and act of non-discrimination. I would see it as a failure to discern the body. The following rationale is offered for communion of the unbaptized. We believe appropriate preparation and readiness to receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ is experienced within the unfolding of the Divine Liturgy, providing whatever an individual needs for examination, repentance and forgiveness amid the call to be in love and charity with all people. (Catechism, p. 860)

It is a stretch of even the 1979 catechism to understand a single liturgy as suitable preparation for receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Catechumens in the early church were allowed to participate in the liturgy of the Word and heard the Gospel message. However, they were dismissed before communion until they were properly prepared for baptism and communion.  Where is the discernment in this current proposal? This is not hospitality, inclusion or justice. It is an injustice to the sacrament of Baptism and violence to the sacrament of Communion. It is also providing an opportunity for self-harm of the unbaptized communion recipient.

“…not discerning the Lord’s body.” has more than one meaning here. St. Paul is stating in context that that those who ignore the needs of brothers and sisters in the body of Christ as they participate in His body and blood bring harm upon themselves and their brothers and sisters. Failing to discern that Christ is truly present in the gathering and in the elements is a failure to discern the body also.

Altar and pulpit fellowship is rather narrowly defined by some denominations. For example, Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans do not celebrate the Eucharist together. The opposite approach of unlimited inclusion is an even bigger issue. We believe it essential our Liturgy reflect the unconditional hospitality our Lord employed for his mission (DEO). When are Christians no longer a peculiar people, the elect, the called out ones? Now the call is for all the sacraments for all the baptized. Eventually it may become all the sacraments for anyone who asks. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13, ESV)  


The Underground Pewster said...

Since the 1979 BCP, we have also seen a diminution in the importance of Confirmation for those of us baptised as infants.

It is a disservice to the individual for them to not be fully informed of what they are getting into.

Dale Matson said...

The Sacraments are interventions with great efficacy. Why not informed consent? You sign before a surgical intervention.