Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cross Pollination

A while ago, folks in the ELCA sent around an invitation to do some thinking about who is welcome at the Lord's Table.  While it could have been directed to infant communion, an up and coming movement in the ELCA, this invitation rather asks questions about the necessity or wisdom of requiring baptism of those who commune at the Lord's Table (in the ELCA at least).

For most Lutherans this would be a confusing issue.  While certainly there have been and remain broad differences between Lutherans of various stripes about who is welcome to commune, it was generally assumed that baptism was the minimal requirement of entrance to the Lord's Table.  Now it appears that the communion statements of many ELCA congregations have omitted the requirement of baptism and either in print or verbally welcomed any and all present to receive the Sacrament at their altar.

Why would this become an issue now?  Is it an issue of radical hospitality and fear of offending anyone, especially the unbaptized?  Apparently not.  The issue has arisen because of the consequences of the Eucharistic fellowship agreements the ELCA has had with other Christian bodies, especially those who have not confessed clearly or at all the Real Presence of Christ in any way familiar to or reflective of the Lutheran and catholic expression of this essential teaching and doctrine of Scripture.  In particular, it has a source in the relationship between the ELCA and the United Methodist Church.

The author of the original request for such study has outlined his intention in detail here.  It is summarized below in a portion of his own explanation:

"The guiding documents of the ELCA stipulate that Baptism precedes Communion. Those documents were written for a different time in the life of the ELCA. We have since entered into a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church, a body that has no requirements for admission to Communion and welcomes anyone who presents themselves to receive the Sacrament."
The point is that we are told over and over again a Lutheran can be in fellowship with people who do not believe exactly as we do, a Lutheran can use worship formats that have no basis in our Confessions, a Lutheran can sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs written from vantage points vastly different than our Confessions (including here the Creeds) and it does not dilute or diminish the Lutheran distinctives at all.  But how can this be?  How can it be that we practice a communion discipline at odds with our own Confessions, we worship like people of other confessions, and we sing hymns and songs that do not adhere to the Lutheran practice of singing the Gospel and the faith, and NOT be affected by it all??? 

Cross pollination is not always a good thing.  In this case, the Lutheran angst about requiring baptism (at least) of those who commune is occasioned not by a dispute with Lutheran doctrine and practice but a queasiness over how it goes down with ecumenical partners who do not have such a requirement.  In other words, our acceptance of a diversity of confessions that do not parallel or agree with our own is okay but not practicing a different requirement for admission to the Lord's Table.  The inevitable conclusion is that what is always on the table for discussion and review is NOT the stance of others but our own historic and confessional identity -- one that seems ever ready for surrender by those who care more about a supposed conflict with the Methodists rather than conflict and disconnect with our own theological tradition and historic practice (and that of the church catholic we claim to preserve in our Confessions).


Anonymous said...

Methodists use grape juice and crackers and do not even pretend that it is anything more than just that. The Methodist have an exceedingly low view of sacraments.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

David Gray said...

And Cranmer was a Zwinglian.

Anonymous said...

So what's the difference with these other groups when numerous LCMS churches and pastors do the same with allowing anybody to commune, regardless of doctrinal confession. There is a problem with this, as evidenced by statements and practices in LCMS that are contrary to our mutual confession.