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The Conference recommends that, in order to meet special pastoral needs of God’s people, under the direction of the bishop Christians duly baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity and qualified to receive Holy Communion in their own Churches may be welcomed at the Lord's Table in the Anglican Communion.17 The section report of the 1968 Lambeth Conference which gives rise to Resolution 45 is The Renewal of the Church in Unity. In its discussion on ‘Intercommunion in a Divided Church’ the report defines five levels of eucharistic sharing. First, there is ‘full communion’, which involves mutual recognition of ministers and members. Second, ‘open communion’ is the practice whereby a Church welcomes all baptised and communicant members of other Churches to receive holy communion. Third, ‘free communion’ is the practice whereby all are invited to share in holy communion regardless of their standing within their own churches, or even whether they have been baptised at all.
Fourth, ‘reciprocal communion’ is the occasional and reciprocal practice of eucharistic sharing between churches which are working towards full communion; this practice arises from the relationships between Churches. Lastly, ‘admission to communion’ designates the practice of controlled eucharistic hospitality where a Church defines its own domestic discipline and the conditions under which members of other Churches may be welcomed to holy communion.18 The members of the subcommittee on Intercommunion in a Divided Church advocated positions four and five, that is, ‘reciprocal communion’ and ‘admission to communion’. While the report insists that in both instances the goal of full communion must be kept in view, eucharistic sharing was also
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seen as a means to that unity, especially in instances of reciprocal intercommunion.
The theological basis for this shift in the discipline of eucharistic hospitality in both the 1968 Lambeth Conference resolutions is the perception of a degree of Christian unity based on a common baptismal unity. As Thomas Ryan, a well-known North American Roman Catholic ecumenist and sometime member of the Anglican - Roman Catholic
Dialogue of Canada, has commented:
The Anglican attitude to eucharistic sharing has changed as the Anglican attitude to baptism has changed. As baptism has been recognised as the universal sign of Christian belonging, Anglican attitudes to eucharistic sharing have softened and changed. This is a development of only the last few decades. The Anglican intuition now is to view baptism and Eucharist as inseparable; to affirm and even rejoice in the common baptism shared with others and then to deny that common life at the Lord's table is seen as depriving baptism of its meaning theologically.19 An interesting question here is to what extent by 1968 the bishops of the Anglican Communion had been influenced by the profound ecclesiological changes which had taken place in the Roman Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council. Both the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, and the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, promulgated together on 21 November 1964, employ an underlying baptismal ecclesiology, which proposed a real, but imperfect, communion of all baptised Christians with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that the case can be made for the 1968 Lambeth Conference as an instance of ‘reception’ of Lumen Gentium, and I have made it elsewhere,20 but this belongs to another discussion. We will return to the Council documents below.
The Admission of the Non-baptised to Communion What the ecumenical questions and the internal liturgical and pastoral Anglican questions have in common is an elemental assumption that we are never not talking about the communion of baptised persons. In recent years, however, a new set of questions has arisen around the admission to holy communion of the non-baptised: people who are not baptised. As Anglicans, it is tempting to see this as an Anglican issue. In fact, many Christian traditions, usually Western Protestant, communicate the non-baptised as a matter of policy. Within an Anglican context, it is equally tempting to treat this issue as an initiative emerging exclusively within the Episcopal Church, which I suspect has wrestled with the issue a great deal more openly and in greater depth than other parts of the Anglican Communion. Yet the admission to communion of the non-baptised happens also in parishes of the
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Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England, and without doubt in many other provinces of the Anglican Communion.
It is important to clarify what the issue is actually about. In many places within the Anglican Communion, the communion of the non-baptised probably happens more than we could possibly ever know (or admit), particularly in larger communities where there are many visitors at celebrations of the eucharist. At such celebrations, few would argue for an inquiry of every stranger as to whether she or he is baptised. The explicit situation which needs to be addressed is when the non-baptised are expressly invited to receive holy communion through verbal invitation by the presiding bishop or priest, instructions in bulletins, and the like. In these instances, the admission of the non-baptised becomes articulated policy, even when the canons of particular dioceses and provinces do not support the practice. For instance, although considerable debate on the communion of the non-baptised has taken place within the Episcopal Church, the canon on this question has not changed and remains unequivocal: ‘No unbaptised person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.’21 It is difficult to assess how widespread the practice is within the Anglican Communion. Even within the Episcopal Church, there are vastly different accounts. Professor James Farwell observed in 2004 that while ‘the actual practice of offering communion to the unbaptised does not appear to be widespread, its profile is high enough to have warranted a resolution before the 74th General Convention asking for the appointment of a task force to consider the ecumenical and theological ramifications of this growing practice.’22 The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations of the Episcopal Church, which dealt with the question, however, noted within its report to the 2003 General Convention that ‘It has become increasingly common for Episcopal clergy to invite all persons, whether baptised or not, to receive Holy Communion.’23 The same is likely true in other provinces.24 Although the unauthorised practice of the communion of the nonbaptised is clearly at odds with official policy, it remains a major issue which poses serious questions to significant parts of the Church’s life and mission, including ecumenism.
The motives for the communion of the non-baptised are mixed. In evangelical traditions, the motives are conversion and encouragement for any or all who seek or love Jesus. Within more liberal traditions, communion of the non-baptised is encouraged on the understanding that the eucharist must be grounded in the radical meal hospitality of Jesus. Here, the non-baptised may well include members of other faith traditions, who clearly do not seek or love Jesus, as well as seekers who attend Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist. There are two dimensions to this question: the admission of non-baptised seekers to
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holy communion, and the admission of members of other faith traditions to communion. While these are vastly different questions, sacramentally and ecclesiologically they are the same. What the various approaches share is a sincere concern not to be perceived as inhospitable to visitors.
While the proponents of admitting the non-baptised to holy communion may be too quickly dismissed as having missed the point,25 there is a significant level of theological reflection on the question, by both its proponents and its opponents. Of particular merit is a series of articles published in The Anglican Theological Review in 2004-2005 by Professor James Farwell of the General Theological Seminary, and Professor Kathryn Tanner of the University of Chicago. The three pieces are worth reading together.26 Kathryn Tanner begins with an appeal to New Testament evidence, particularly Jesus’ own radically inclusive meal hospitality, which she asserts became increasingly restrictive even within the New Testament itself, and certainly beyond. The inclusive sense of mission evidenced in Jesus’ meal hospitality is significantly diminished once the Lord’s Supper is restricted to the disciples of Jesus alone. Such a viewpoint reads the Lord’s Supper within the context of the feeding of the multitudes and other meal narratives in the Gospels. As Tanner states, ‘The Lord’s Supper in this way takes on the quality of unconditional fellowship found unambiguously in Jesus’ prior meals with sinners and outcasts, and it is this unconditionality that advocates of open communion purport to take to its logical conclusion in present church practice of the eucharist.’27 The communion of the non-baptised is related to mission and pastoral care. The celebration of the eucharist poses questions that would never have occurred in the older Sunday pattern of matins and evensong, or non-eucharistic celebrations of baptism, marriage, or funerals. Given that Anglican churches are more likely to celebrate the eucharist as the main Sunday celebration, to exclude the non-baptised is to, in effect, exclude them from the Church. Within American culture, Tanner observes: ‘The U.S. context, with its well-justified disparagement on the political front of anything less than full citizenship as ‘second class,’ is bound to foment this sense of exclusion on the part of the unbaptised adults not permitted to the communion rail.’28 Rather than simply being understood as not being inhospitable and avoiding harm, there are positive ways in which the communion of the non-baptised is promoted in terms of Christian formation and initiation.
On the grounds that so many of the new rites of baptism assume adult candidates as normative, including a deliberate and informed decision, that full participation at the eucharist becomes a weighty element of
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that formation: ‘You need the gift of a new shape of life (the eucharist) before you can commit yourself to living it (by being baptised).’29 In other words, ‘Open communion is essentially turning the eucharist into some sort of preparation for or element within an initiation rite – it is viewed as helping to make people members of the church, of the Body of Christ.’30 Such a view could only be proposed within a Western church, which from the medieval period has inherited a disintegrated rite of initiation which does not see baptism and the eucharist together as consecutively constitutive of Christian identity.
James Farwell argues against the communion of the non-baptised through an exploration of relevant biblical, historical, theological, and pastoral evidence. While employing the term ‘open communion’, Farwell expresses misgivings about its use given its previous ecumenical usage.31 Farwell challenges the notion central to supporters of open communion that there is one meal tradition reflected in the ministry of Jesus. Rather, Farwell proposes that there are two: a wider, more ‘open’ meal tradition reflected in the feeding miracles, and a second, more ‘focussed’ one with Jesus’ disciples. Accordingly, the hospitality expressed in the wider meal traditions in the life of the church, such as public meals, meals for the poor and the homeless, community celebrations and the like, is not in conflict with the ancient linkage between baptism and the eucharist. Farwell goes on to point out how the communion of the non-baptised threatens the ‘soteriology’ of the sacraments by an overemphasis on divine gift, as opposed to a more
balanced approach which emphasises faith and commitment:
To offer eucharist without baptism sets aside the call to redemption and human flourishing as a life lived, and replaces it with a welcome that should at any rate have already been offered through the public efforts of outreach, evangelism, and acts of hospitality.32 Farwell suggests that there is a mutually interpreting connection between baptism and the eucharist as ‘proclamation of divine gift without reservation and call to response without reserve’33 which makes little sense when the historic sequence between the two is confused by open communion. Moreover, there is an inherent risk of being inhospitable by communicating the non-baptised, because the church no longer offers them a life: a life in Christ, ‘both a gift given to us and a call laid upon us’.34 This has consequences for pastoral practice, mission, and evangelism.
Neither Tanner nor Farwell deals with the interreligious aspects of open communion, and its consequences for interreligious dialogue. If Anglicans, with other Churches, posit officially that receiving holy communion is integral to Christian faith and ecclesial identity, those who unofficially offer holy communion to faithful members of other
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religious traditions will be causing more harm than good. If proponents of the admission of the non-baptised to communion believe that some degree of Christian identity is shaped by eucharistic communion, is there a kind of indiscriminate sort of Christian imperialism going on in terms of eucharistic practice that once characterised baptismal practice of another imperialist phase in Christian history? Canadian Jewish leader, Rabbi Reuven Bulka comments on ‘open communion’
from an interreligious perspective:
Unless I am mistaken, communion is more than full participation. It is full embrace of the faith. If that is the case, then it would hardly make sense for a member of a distinct faith community to wade into another faith, unless it was for the purpose of conversion.
Otherwise, the interchangeability is an insult to the integrity of the faith in question.