Back to Work

I’ve been writing a number of things in a number of places recently. I’ve done some pieces for the Living Church, some of which are out, some of which are still in their pipeline. I was invited to write another piece for the Washington Post which may be on their site today or tomorrow. I’ve also been writing some bits for Forward Movement about which more will be said at the right time. And, I’ve been trying to write stuff here.

The upshot is that I haven’t put out anything at the Episcopal Cafe in quite a while, and that’s not a good thing. The Daily Episcopalian has been running some unusual stuff recently from some new voices—or at least people who haven’t written pieces before—particularly around Communion Without Baptism. We had one from our self-proclaimed liturgically-conservative non-theist, one from the site’s village atheist, then one that I can only kindly characterize as theologically confused.

I think that one of the major difficulties that we’re having around the whole CWOB issue is that there are so many Episcopalians out there who simply have an insufficient understanding of basic Eucharistic theology. Case in point—today’s article. In my comment on it, I pull out what I see as the single biggest mistake our church is making when it thinks and talks about the Eucharist and, by extension, CWOB:

What really bothers me here, though, is this: “Because, you see, I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

I absolutely believe this; she’s spot on.

However—what does this have to do with the Eucharist? The author never makes the connection but seems to assume that there is a clear and easy one to be made.

The Eucharist is the food of the covenant community who confess Jesus as Lord. We enter the covenant community by making our own covenant with Christ in the midst of the community: it’s Baptism. The Eucharist assists us in keeping our Baptismal Covenant and helps us to continue to grow into a life of discipleship through it’s nourishment.

This basic Eucharistic theology is found nowhere here. Instead, there seems to be a simple assumption that the Eucharist means that God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you and that if anyone can’t have the Eucharist at any time it’s the church’s way of saying that God doesn’t love them. That’s not what is going on at all.

Granted—some people may perceive it like that, but this perception does not constitute the church’s theology. We do need to do a better job about teaching the basics of Eucharistic theology—so that both our visitors and our members can grasp what it is that the church both intends and does.

I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.

8 thoughts on “Back to Work

  1. mcdoc

    Dear Derek,

    Thanks for your hard work and valuable contributions you are making in these broad venues. I think there has to be a rhetoric core or touchstone, around which a catechesis and apology are structured. It has to be clear and pithy, maybe even almost bumper-sticker sized. Because the CWOB advocates are effectively using such approaches quite effectively. To wit the theologically confused, but anti-fundamentalistic, pro-caritas, anti-draconian, pro-inclusive message of today’s post. I have to admit that I was taken in for a time by it, perhaps because I was being theologically lazy as well as being in a general reformist temper to clast icons and throw out bath water without also checking for precious cargo.

    This is not to say that I have back-pedaled on my inclusive position on moving forward on blessing of same-sex unions and even marriage, having read with great interest the entire Colloquy presented in the Winter 2011 edition of the Anglican Theological Review. I think those issues about Church discipline and moral theology and how they relate to the underpinnings of the kerygma of the Church and the discipleship of Christianity in our liturgical system of spirituality of the BCP, in TEC and Anglicanism as a whole, have been worked through, and I am prayerfully satisfied.

    I have to say that I was stopped in my tracks, and called to re-evaluate my perspective recently when I read your post The Difference. I think that is the missing piece. I think it is powerful, persuasive, clear and easy to grasp and easy to hold on to.

  2. bls

    This is one of those issues that if you think for a minute about it in the abstract it seems like it might be reasonable – like it could make sense. But once you actually look at the facts of the case – and once you become aware that the amount of time and energy being spent on it is so completely out of proportion to its importance to anybody in the world – that you realize that what’s going on is in fact totally batshit crazy.

    Besides that: this is itself, in fact, a completely “in-group” issue and only of interest to people already involved in the church. That, to me, is what’s fascinating about the thesis in that piece, in fact – that it seem to see this in exactly the reverse way.

    People who aren’t Christian aren’t really interested in participating in Christian religious rituals; I personally had no interest in even stepping foot in a church for most of my life. And I think that most people believe – quite reasonably – that religious rituals are about faith, and that taking part in them has some meaning. Particularly when priests say things, and people respond; that’s serious stuff.

    And this, to me, is exactly what’s wrong with CWOB; people probably think that we’re in our right minds and won’t involve them in something that might compromise what they may or may not believe. But of course, we’re not; we’re using the “full-initiates'” version of the rite on people who don’t know anything about what’s going – the version that assumes understanding and assent.

    It’s so utterly creepy, to me….

  3. bls

    This is now officially “an obsession.” And – as I learned long ago in therapy – we create obsessions as distractions. They’re tricks the mind plays on us, so that we can avoid dealing with real issues – and especially dealing with feelings that are surfacing and that we don’t want to look at.

    Therapy. Now there’s an idea….

  4. Pingback: Baptism, Eucharist, & Theological Literacy « A Tribe Called Anglican

  5. Derek Olsen

    I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.

    Ok—I just got this written up and sent off to the Cafe. I’ll let you know when it shows up…

  6. Lee M.

    As usual, BLS is making a lot of sense on this. The frantic insistence on CWOB really does have a rearranging-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic quality to it.

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