Communion After Baptism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Many parishes in the Episcopal Church, my own included, allow unbaptized people to receive communion during celebrations of the Eucharist. This practice, commonly known as " Communion without Baptism" (or CWOB for short), is controversial, one reason being that it is forbidden by Episcopal canon law--a law which, however, allows any baptized person regardless of denominational affiliation to receive communion at Episcopal services. This practice is quite lenient compared to the eucharistic discipline of some other bodies. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches restrict communion to their own members only, while the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod notoriously refuses communion even to non-LCMS Lutherans.

Be that as it may, the Episcopal Church canon is too restrictive for many of its members, who see "radical hospitality" as a higher value. Weighing in on the notion that Baptism before communion is not only appropriate but perhaps even crucial is Episcopal priest Matt Gunter. His essay in The living Church should be read in its entirety, because it touches on other important topics besides those excerpted below.


Do we believe that the divine-human drama centers primarily on the individual, or rather on a community? Are we essentially individuals who associate with other individuals, for one reason or another, or are we persons shaped in community, in which case belonging is essential.

...In an American, post-Enlightenment context, shaped by the ideology of individualism, the difference between real community and an association of individuals can be hard to appreciate. Inviting someone to the Eucharist irrespective of "where they are on their spiritual journey" puts the emphasis on the individual rather than on our being members of one another with responsibility for, and accountability to, the whole. The Church cannot counter the ideology of individualism by reinforcing that ideology in its central communal practice.

...In the sacraments the body of Christ "happens". In Baptism a new member of the body is "made" by incorporation. In the Eucharist the body "happens" in several ways. It is the feast by which we remember the life, death, and resurrection of the one whose historical body was broken for us. It is the feast in which the bread and the wine become for us the body and blood of Christ. And it is the feast by which the body of Christ, the Church, is re-membered and its members fed. "In these holy mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another"(American BCP, p 316). Thus, in the well-known Augustinian exhortation: "Behold what you are. Become what you see: the Body of Christ, beloved of God"...And Augustine adds that when we consume the body of Christ in the bread and wine, we do not so much transform that food into our bodies as we are transformed by it into his body.

Participation in the Eucharist is therefore not simply about experiencing God's consolation. It is that, but it is much more. It is part of our conversion process on the way to what the Eastern Christian tradition calls theosis: our being made capable of being "partakers of the divine nature"(2 Peter 2:4), capable of bearing the absolute love, goodness, beauty, and joy of God. We expect to be transfigured, or as Dante would have it, transhumanized into glory.

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at Saturday, July 31, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment