The next step in open communion

In an effort to be even more inclusive than they already are, a diocese in the Episcopal Church has dropped baptism as a requirement for someone to receive Holy Communion.  The measure will go before the entire church body this summer.  From a conservative Anglican site:

The latest proposed element to chip away at core Anglican beliefs is the Diocese of East Oregon’s desire to offer Holy Communion to anyone who approaches the altar rail with their hands upraised. Baptism would not be a prerequisite. The Diocese of East Oregon has made it a matter of Communion without Baptism. . . .

Since the earliest of times, it has been the understanding, tradition and practice of the entire Christian Church to see Baptism as the first sacrament to be celebrated in the life of a new Christian. Baptism, therefore, is the foundation upon which the other sacraments and rites, including Holy Communion, are based.

The Episcopal Church already has a generous policy of Open Communion. Any baptized Christian in good standing in their own denomination is welcome to receive Communion at an Episcopal Church. However, there are limitations to that Open Communion rule as outlined in the Disciplinary Rubrics of the Book of Communion Prayer.

Those rubrics include denying Communion to anyone known to live a notoriously evil life, to those who have wronged their neighbors and are a scandal to the congregation, or to those who exhibit hatred and unforgiveness towards another. The priest is solemnly admonished to speak to these persons privately and then report why Communion is being withheld to the bishop within two weeks.

Retired Eau Claire Bishop William Wantland further explained, “although TEC has, by practice, adopted an “open Communion” stance, the Church officially adopted rules that admit to Communion only those who (1) are baptized and admitted to Communion in their own Church, (2) prepared by self examination and are in love and charity toward others, (3) understand the Eucharist to be a reflection of the Heavenly Banquet to come, (4) recognize the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and (5) reception of Communion must not violate the teaching of their own Church.” Not all Christian churches have an Open Communion practice. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, some Baptists, the Amish, a variety of Lutherans comprised of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as other conservative churches reject this broadminded approach to unrestricted reception at the Lord’s Table. Although, it is noted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in intercommunion (concordat) with The Episcopal Church.

Now the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bent on turning long standing theologically sound liturgical practice on its ear. On March 10, reportedly meeting online, Eastern Oregon’s Diocesan Council and Standing Committee took the bold step of re-doing two basic Anglican Sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion — by ratifying a new resolution.

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s ratified Open Table Resolution reads: “Be in resolved, the House of _______ concurring, that The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” The Resolution also calls for the total deletion of TEC’s Canon I.17.7 which succinctly states: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church,” as a minimum eligibility requirement for Communion. The Resolution also calls for “Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7″ following the deletion of the currently numbered canon.

Eastern Oregon’s resolution is slated to be presented this summer at General Convention 2012 as Resolution C040. The newly filed Resolution is slotted for the legislative committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music after which it is kicked over to the House of Bishops for its initial action. . . .

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s explanation for its desire to see a change in the minimum requirements for receiving Holy Communion are that The Episcopal Church has continued to move forward as a more inclusive, open and welcoming religious body and should not to be encumbered by restrictive canons in its drive to be radically hospitable, boldly ecumenical, unconditionally companionate.

“In recent decades the Episcopal Church, with prayerful consideration and deliberation, has consistently moved to being a more inclusive, open and welcoming member of Christ’s Body. Such grace is riveted on the teachings and actions of Jesus and the compassionate embrace he had for all…no matter their creed or race,” the explanation states. “We believe it essential our Liturgy reflect the unconditional hospitality our Lord employed for his mission.”

Those of you who believe in open communion, would you go this far?  Should non-Christians be given the Sacrament?  I know of a group of Episcopalians who took to the streets, giving communion to passersby on the sidewalk.  Thus they considered that they were taking Jesus and the gospel out into the world to those who needed Him.  Is that a good evangelism activity?

The thing is, Episcopalians tend to have a relatively “high” view of baptism and Holy Communion, so this shift is notable.  How about those of you who think baptism and the Lord’s supper don’t really do anything?  You think the sacraments are only symbolic, but you must think they are symbolic of something that gives them meaning.  Would you go as far as these liberal Episcopalians?

I know how we confessional Lutherans react to this sort of thing and I don’t want to necessarily stir up a big argument on this day commemorating our Lord’s institution of this on-going feast, in which (we believe) He gives us His body and blood in a tangible and personal way in the church for the remission of our sins.  Our churches get routinely bashed, including on this blog, for only  communing members and those with whom we are in theological agreement.  I’m curious about those who criticize this practice.  Are there any limits you would place on how open you are willing to be?  And if there are some basic requirements you would insist on, what’s so wrong with requiring complete agreement as confessional Lutherans do?

 

He made Himself nothing

What a sermon we had on Palm Sunday to introduce Holy Week!  Pastor Douthwaite preached on Philippians 2:5-8:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He made Himself nothing.

The word used there is the word ekenosen, which means He emptied Himself. Some Bibles translate it that way, and so its important to know what that means, and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the Son of God left His godness behind in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean He left His power and glory in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean that when He was arrested and manhandled by the Roman soldiers, when He stood before Pilate, and when He hung on the cross, He was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it. He could have. Easily. The same Son of God who healed folks of every disease and sickness, who knew the thoughts and hearts of men, who could command all creation by His Word, whose glory shone in His transfiguration, and who had power over death – that is the Jesus of the Passion. The Son of God who willingly didn’t use all that power when it came time to save Himself. He made Himself nothing.

Yet perhaps we could go even farther than that, if that’s possible – He made Himself less than nothing. Taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He was the greatest sinner ever. Whoever you usually think has that title, the most evilest person you can think of, you’re wrong – it’s Jesus. He is the worst idolater, the worst unbeliever, the worst hater, the worst scoundrel, the worst murderer, the worst adulterer, the worst thief, the worst liar, the worst cheat, the worst everything . . . because He’s got all your sins and all my sins and all the sin of all the people out there, on Him.

Unfair? No. He took them. He wanted them. So that they would be on Him and not on you. So that they would be held against Him and not against you. So that He would be forsaken for them and die for them and not you.

He made Himself nothing.

The king becomes a servant. God becomes man. The One subject to none makes Himself subject to all. The author of life dies. The glory of God is hung on a cross.

Why? For you.

That’s what this day, and all this week, is all about. With all that you hear today, all that you hear this week, the thought to put in your mind is this: He did all this for me. For me. Not just for the world. For me. He made Himself nothing, to make you something. To make you a child of God. And that was worth it. For the Father, that was worth sending His Son. For Jesus, that was worth all the pain and agony and death. You were worth it. You may not be anything in anybody’s eyes; maybe not even in your own eyes. But you are in God’s eyes.

Maybe you think you’re nothing and that’s why you spend so much time trying to make yourself something. But there is simply nothing greater you can do or make yourself than what Jesus has made you: a child of God. That gives you more value than anything else in this world. And God has done that. He said it to you when you were baptized: You are now My beloved Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palmarum/Passion Sunday Sermon.

Lutheranism–and the Gospel–in depth

On the surface, Lutherans often seem placid and easy-going, solid folks who don’t make much of a stir.  And yet their theology consists of stormy clashes between Law and Gospel, glory vs. the Cross, the dark struggles of anfechtungen, the ecstasy of grace.   Lutheran spirituality centers on things as ordinary as going to church, going to work, and spending time with one’s family.  And yet, there is an unfathomable depth to what Lutherans see in the Cross, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Two Natures of Christ, and the Word of God.  Underlying the conservatism are teachings that are deeply radical.

Larry, frequent commenter on this blog, alerted me to this book by Steven D. Paulson entitled simply  Lutheran Theology.  It’s part of a series demonstrating the ways different traditions “do” theology.  But this is far from a dry textbook.  As Amazon reviewer Judith Guttman says, “If this book doesn’t knock your socks off, you aren’t paying attention. It is electrifying, exciting — am I talking about a theology book? Yes.”

Paulson says that we usually think of religion in terms of a “legal scheme,” a set of moral assumptions involving award and punishment with everybody getting what they deserve.  The Gospel just sets all of that aside.  So does God’s wrath, actually, which condemns completely and without proportion.  (He says that Luther as a monk goes far beyond the New Atheists in his resentment of a God whose wrath against sin seems so unfair.  The atheists react to God’s wrath by denying God’s existence, an act of wish-fulfillment Luther did not indulge in.)  But then God becomes flesh in Christ, who though innocent “becomes” sin and takes the wrath of God into Himself, giving us sinners the promise of salvation, which breaks into our lives through the voice of a preacher.  The “legal scheme” is completely set aside, though we–including many theologians in the history of Lutheranism–keep trying to re-introduce it, though since we cannot fulfill it of ourselves, we need constant recourse to Christ’s promises.  And  the consequent Christian life is also outside the “legal scheme,” having to do not so much with rules and score-keeping but with a free, spontaneous, and grace-filled love of neighbor.

As I read this book on my Kindle for Lent I found myself bookmarking virtually every page, so packed it was with illuminating insights.  Sample it yourself with the Amazon’s “Look inside” feature.  Another Amazon reviewer, David F. Sczepanski, was kind enough to type out some excerpts:

Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and the highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners. Luther said the “sum and substance,” of Paul’s letter to the Romans “is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh.” (1)

This is no ordinary philosophy about life, nor is it ordinary Christian religion. For thousands of years Christians routinely described life using an allegory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. They said life in general, and Christians in particular, were on an exodus out of vice into virtue. They were on a journey away from badness toward goodness. But Luther bluntly said faith is not a transition from vice to virtue, it is “the way from virtue to the grace of Christ.” (2)

`I forgive you’…Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross. The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free. (7)

God is always and ever God whether someone believes in him or not… God who is above time and space now enters the world with a steely determination…the sinner’s justification…so that the stories of God’s arrival to sinners make the great tales of Scripture (Abraham, David, Mary) and our own lives like Augustine’s Confessions. (55)

…the heart is not made for itself; it is made to go outside of itself and cling to that which speaks to the heart. Humans are therefore “hearing” creatures whose heart is always clinging to some word or other. (56

For Luther, fear…must be taught only so that it can be extinguished so that one will flee from this God [of wrath], not to him. We are to fear God who has no words (unpreached), and run from him to the place where he has given himself in words [of promise] — that is to the preacher. Only there do fear and wrath end in Christ incarnate as he gives himself to sinners… What is life like before a preacher arrives? Life is filled with voices that are “passing judgment” (Rom 2:1)…so that life comes under constant judgment. The judge could be outside one’s self like a father telling you to live up to your potential, or a written law that says, “Thou shalt not steal.” The judge can also be inside, called a conscience, holding itself to a standard of judgment. Life without a preacher is life with a knotted collection of voices that either accuse or excuse, but in either case end up used in the service of self-justification. Because judgment stands ever at hand…life becomes a search for an escape. (69)

Each time sins are forgiven it is experienced as a breakthrough, a miracle, a new and unheard of redemption that sets a person free — body and spirit — from an oppressive force. (89)

The crux of the issue in forgiveness is what happens to a sin which was real, actual, and loaded with consequences in many peoples’ lives… (90)

Sin is deep in the flesh; it is material, and it does not go away by wishing it so. It is not an idea that can be thought away, it is not a feeling that can be gotten over through great effort, it is a thing that corrodes life’s goods like debt; sin infects healthy life like a virus and it must be disposed of. (90)

Forgiveness first negates — by violently removing trust put in the wrong place. Then it puts faith in the proper place, which creates something new out of nothing… (90)

via Amazon.com: Lutheran Theology (Doing Theology )) (9780567550002): Steven D. Paulson: Books.

The 50 top persecutors of Christians

Take a look at this list of the top 50 countries that persecute Christians:  World Watch List Countries | World Watch List.

By my count, 37 of them are Islamic.  8 are Communist or recently-Communist that have kept their persecuting habits.  3 are Buddhist.  1 is Hindu.

The worst is North Korea.  The next worse is our client state of Afghanistan.  Then our close personal friend Saudi Arabia.  Then Somalia.  Then Iran.

Just about all of the Muslim states are somewhere on the list.  I can’t think of a single Muslim nation that doesn’t persecute Christians to some extent.  That includes Turkey, which comes in at #31.

No predominantly Christian society persecutes Christians of different persuasions, with the possible exception of Belarus, where the Orthodox Church is the only one permitted, though I chalk this one up to former Communist habits.

In some of the countries, such as India (#32), the persecution is not legally sanctioned but happens from mobs and cultural practices.

Can you draw any other conclusions from this list?

HT:   Doug Bandow, one of my writers in my old editing days at WORLD, who offers some good discussion of the list at the American Spectator.

Cultural engagement requires the Sacrament

Peter Leithhart, a Reformed pastor and theologian, says that what evangelicals need if they are going to respond effectively to our time is to recover Holy Communion:

Evangelicals will be incapable of responding to the specific challenges of our time with any steadiness or effect until the Eucharist becomes the criterion of all Christian cultural thinking and the source from which all genuinely Christian cultural engagement springs.

The church is called to keep our Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection, as the focal point of worship, witness, service, and mission. How do we protect ourselves from darting off after each fresh fad? Jesus didn’t think Christ-centered preaching would be enough. He left his church not only a gospel to preach, but rites of water, bread, and wine to practice. It’s difficult to forget Christ and his cross when we proclaim his death in the breaking of bread at the climax of every week’s worship. When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross. . . .

Sharing the Supper forges us into a corporate body that participates in Christ through the Spirit. By the Spirit, we become what we receive: “We are one body because we partake of one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In practice, Evangelicals don’t partake, and so we aren’t a body. When we do partake, we don’t partake together. We aren’t a body with many members so much as an aggregation of individuals. There’s little point in asking what “message” the “church” needs to proclaim unless we can speak of a church with something resembling a message.

In addition to the ecclesial, the political consequences of our Eucharistic neglect are almost beyond calculation. The great French Catholic Henri de Lubac traced in intricate detail how the sacredness of the table slowly migrated first to consecrate the institutional church and then to sanctify the state. Evangelicals are intensely protective of the “sanctity” of the flag, but many would be puzzled at the classic Eucharistic announcement, “Holy things for holy people.” Lacking a rightly ordered Supper, modern Christians wrap nationalism in a veil of sanctity, with sometimes-horrific results. In the U.S., Christians are frequently urged to give political support to this or that variation of Americanism. There is no genuinely Christian alternative because the church has no defined public shape with the resilience to withstand the political forces that press in on us.

As it is in politics, so is it in economics. Because we don’t take our bearings from the table, the growing debate among Evangelicals about how to constitute a just economy lists awkwardly from hedonism to asceticism and back. The Supper ritualizes a Christian vision of production and distribution as it catches up our economics into the economy of God. By the Spirit, bread and wine, products of human labor, become vehicles for communion with Christ.

As the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann pointed out long ago, the Supper discloses the purpose and destiny of all creation. Not only this bread, but all bread, all products of human work, can be means of fellowship with God and one another. Further, we receive these products of human labor, with thanks; as a gift of God. Thus the table discloses the mystery of the creature’s participation in the Creator’s creativity, and this participation produces goods that are ours only as gifts received, goods to be shared and enjoyed in communion.

The Supper closes the gap between joy in creation and pious devotion to God. At the table, delight in the taste of bread and the tang of wine is delight in God, though this double delight is not unique to this meal. Every meal and every moment, every encounter and every project burst with the promise of communion with God. This world, Schmemann said, is the matter of God’s kingdom.

Evangelicals move away to Constantinople or Rome at an alarming rate, often because they lose hope of finding even a glimmer of liturgical piety in Evangelical churches. They’re hungry, and they believe they have found where the banquet is happening. Luther and Calvin would be aghast, for in their eyes the Reformation was an effort to restore priestly food to all of God’s priests as well as an effort to recover the gospel of grace.

All the cultural and political challenges that Evangelicals face come back to the Supper. It’s important to do it right, but it’s more important to do it and to do it together. Until we do, most of our cultural chatter will continue to glance harmlessly off our targets. Until we do, Evangelicals will flop and flounder with every cultural wind and wave.

via Do This | First Things.

As a Lutheran, I appreciate this call to recover a spirituality centered in the Sacrament.  (And, I would add, evangelicals looking for this in Rome or Constantinople would do well to first see it closer to home in Wittenberg, where they would find that they wouldn’t have to cease being evangelicals in order to be sacramental.)  I know some Calvinists are being accused in their circle of crypto-Lutheranism.  But is this particular view of the Sacrament, however “high” it seems and for all of its presence talk, all that Lutheran?  Amidst all of the talk of identifying the church and engaging the culture and reforming the economy, where is the “given for you for the remission of all of your sins”?  Or could these other benefits become ancillary effects?

Has Lutheranism caused secularism?

A Danish scholar looks at the influence of Protestantism–specifically, Lutheranism–on modern Scandinavian culture.  Some of her conclusions:

Lutheran Protestants are free from religiosity

For centuries, Lutheran Protestant Christianity in Northern Europe and the US taught our ancestors that there was nothing they could do to make God think better of them. Neither good deeds nor giving money to the church was seen as having importance in the eyes of God.

“For Protestants, life can be good just as it is. Life does not have to be lived in any particular ’religious’ way in order to have a good relationship with God,” says [Matias] Dalsgaard.

Protestants are free from obligations to God. They don’t have to live according to strict rules. Instead they have been charged with a rather nebulous task.

“Protestants are commanded to live an ordinary life together with other people. It is a tough task because Protestants are not told specifically how to do this,” says Dalsgaard.

‘Protestant’ countries have a culture of freedom

Throughout history, Protestant Christians have tried to manage their freedom in the best possible way. Over time, this has permeated the culture in countries that subscribe to the Protestant tradition, even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background.

In Denmark, Sweden, the UK and Germany, this freedom meant that around 500 years ago, citizens started to become what is termed ‘modern’. It occurred after the Reformation in Northern Europe in the first half of the 16th century.

In this context, ‘modern’ has nothing to do with fashion, but means that people feel more free to make their own decisions without causing others to react negatively to those decisions.

“One could go as far as to say that the Protestant tradition squeezes out religion, because it rejects the idea that something holy exists here on Earth,” says the researcher.

Kierkegaard furnishes a good example

The author has analysed a large number of the most significant Christian texts. But the most important writer referred to in his book is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

“Kierkegaard is perhaps the sharpest existential analyst in the Lutheran Protestant tradition. He is the one who best presents the existential challenges, conflicts and opportunities. That is why I use him as a starting point,” he says.

You shall not know yourself

Kierkegaard describes the situation in which modern people find themselves today. In his book ‘Either/Or’, Kierkegaard introduces a person whom he calls ’the aesthete’. This is a man who cannot find a way to ‘choose himself’.

Kierkegaard criticises the aesthete for not choosing himself. Instead, he avoids himself by constantly acting out multiple roles.

But although you should ’choose yourself’, there is no prescription for what to choose, because you cannot find a core that is yourself.

“The Delphic Oracle – which existed in Ancient Greece – said ‘know thyself’. But Kierkegaard says ‘choose yourself’ – it is action-oriented. You should actively be the one you are, where you are – and not think so much about who you are. This is a task given to us by God,” says Dalsgaard.

via Protestantism has left us utterly confused | ScienceNordic.

This scholar, of course, misses the distinction between orthodox Lutheranism and the liberal, culturally-conforming state church.  Kierkegaard’s emphasis on “choosing” would not seem to go well with Luther’s “bondage of the will.” And, of course, there is nothing about Christ, much less the Law (which destroys all complacency–I thought guilt and gloominess were part of the Scandinavian legacy!) and the Gospel.  Or the Cross.  The notion that one can have the influence of Christianity without Christianity–  “even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background”–is  ludicrous on the face of it.

And yet, aren’t there some valid observations here?  Lutherans, even orthodox ones, do seem to have less “religiosity.”  And there is quite a bit of the doctrine of vocation here:  “live an ordinary life with other people”; “you should actively be the one you are, where you are–and not think so much about who you are.”


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