CWOB and Jesus

You know that state where a pond is almost frozen and all it takes is a single snowflake to start the thermal reaction that freezes the whole thing over? I’m getting the sense that at least the chatterers of the Episcopal Church (myself among them) are at that point concerning Communion without Baptism. Following discussion here and some off-line conversations with Donald Schell, Donald posted a piece at the Cafe that’s getting some major and sustained attention.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this topic may well be our next biggest theological battlefield. And it will be a big one as our Eucharistic practice has major implications for our liturgical practice and our sacramental theology as a whole.

There’s one particular piece of the puzzle that jumps out at me because of my own weird angle on things… There’s a direct line from the principal arguments for Communion without Baptism that rest on the work of Norm Perrin. For those who aren’t familiar with Norm, he’s a New Testament scholar who stands in a very interesting place historically. The drive-by version is that the First Quest for the Historical Jesus was closed off by the one-two punch of Wrede’s work on the messianic secret and Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus—so, in the first decade of the twentieth century. Then there was a vestigial Second Quest in the mid-twentieth century that’s connected with Bultmann’s Christian encounter with Existentialism and is most specifically exemplified in Bornkamm’s Jesus Christ. Right after that point came Perrin. In one sense he’s a transitional figure between the Second and the Third Quest. I tend to see him more as the father figure of the Third Quest.

I see three significant points on Perrin and CWOB. Point one. Perrin was self-consciously undertaking historical work. I’ve mentioned this before in other discussions but it’s important enough to be worth repeating: a major facet of the case for CWOB is that it attempts to base itself on the practices of the historical Jesus. Thus, this opens two immediate lines of investigation. First, it means that the theology and practice are based in a historical reconstruction. This assumes and presumes that the reconstruction is correct. Second, what is the alternative to the historical Jesus? It’s the canonical Jesus… By using the selective focus of a 20th century reconstruction of what the historical Jesus did, what aspects of the canonical Jesus are being left out or deliberately ignored?

Point Two. The points from Perrin seem to rest on the reconstruction of a particular kind of “Jesus meal”—the meals that Jesus ate with “sinners and tax collectors.” There are, however, at least four kinds of meal material that need to be considered from the Gospels alone: yes, the “meals with tax collectors and sinners”, but then there’s also the Last Supper, the feeding miracles, and the discussions about meals. All four of these need to be engaged. Of course, when we do that then I suspect we cut immediately to one of the big issues with most “historical” Jesus reconstructions—the automatic jettisoning of Johannine material. Returning to the canonical Jesus and discussions of meals means that John 6 is back on the table…

Point Three. As Father John-Julian reminded me a while back, evidence from earliest Christian (including some questionable Christian) literature suggests that the fundamental paradigm for the Eucharist was the feeding miracles—not the meals with outcasts. What happens when we inject this factor into the conversation?

So—I think that the biblical and theological root of the current case for CWOB bears some much closer investigation. What’s worth remembering, though, is that most people—even those taking part in the debate—-fundamentally don’t care about the biblical and theological roots. Instead they fall for the simplistic framing of CWOB being about “inclusion” or “justice”. Which it’s not. This canard reflects a self-perpetuating failure of sacramental catechesis. As a result, any form of reasoned discussion around the issue must be two-pronged. Always attend to the first point first: “inclusion” and “justice” really isn’t the issue here—we’re willing to baptize just about anyone! Only after disposing of that can you move to the real theology…

33 thoughts on “CWOB and Jesus

  1. Paul Goings


    I tend to think that the theological bankruptcy of Fr Schell’s position is more than adequately demonstrated by the fact that neither he, nor any other Episcopal clergy person that I am aware of, are advocates of either “Communion without Ordination” or “Open Ordination” within their communities. So, the inclusivity train stops just short of impacting the franchise, and I find this as troublesome, or even more so, than the biblical, theological, or philosophical difficulties of Communion without Baptism on its own.

  2. avbullock

    “What’s worth remembering, though, is that most people—even those taking part in the debate—-fundamentally don’t care about the biblical and theological roots.”


  3. Paul Goings


    No, I’m referring to lay “celebration” of the Holy Eucharist. My guess is that most proponents of Communion without Baptism have a very low theology of the Eucharist, and yet very few (if any!) of them would be inclined to allow groups of lay people to celebrate the Eucharist without their presence. My (admittedly quite cynical) take on this is that there’s a perceived need to preserve the “franchise” that supersedes any considerations of inclusivity and hospitality that they might mouth when it comes to Communion without Baptism.

  4. John-Julian, OJN


    I’m pretty far left, in general, but not as far as invitational CWOB (circumstantial, I can handle and always have).

    This discussion is going to depend on a very heavy and deep reassessment of an understanding of the nature of the Corpus Mysticum (especially since there has been considerable degeneration of that understanding over the past fifty years). This is highlighted by the subtle growing awarenesses of the mystical ubiquity of God’s presence in all creation — baptized or not (even, human or not!).

    And inevitably, that will lead to some rethinking of both infant baptism and the catechumenate. (i.e., do I – unintentionally baptized in infancy (and possibly with no catechetical work at all) – get a free ticket to Communion whereas one who was by chance NOT baptized in infancy is deprived of Communion?)

    A theologian friend was speaking the other day about the possible restoration of a public-open-invitation-Sunday-morning “agape meal” as over against a secret locked-door (late Saturday night?) Eucharist for the baptized only!!!

    Anyway, this is not going to be a superficial chat — it is going to have to hit on some absolutely primary and primal (even metaphysical) material, and I’ll go the mile with you, if I can help.

  5. Derek Olsen

    Fr John-Julian,

    I think that your distinction between invitational and circumstantial CWOB is a very helpful one. I don’t get greatly exercised concerning accidental circumstantial CWOB. (Of course, I think a proper invitation to the altar prevents this from happening in most cases but…) What I am quite opposed to is invitational CWOB.

    Fr Gunter,

    I remember reading through those as you wrote them and appreciated them. I’ll have to revisit as I consolidate my thinking.


    There is a root clericalism very much alive and well within the movement. The notion that the priest’s authority trumps the canons, the Prayer Book, and our theology, etc…

  6. The young fogey

    Thanks, Paul.

    The notion that the priest’s authority trumps the canons, the Prayer Book, and our theology, etc.…

    If you have a fallible church, what can stop that?

  7. Br. Stephen, O.Cist

    Well said, per usual, Paul.

    Has anyone looked at how dispensing with Baptism before Holy Communion has a certain logic after one has dispensed with the relationship between Confession and Communion? Breaking that tie was certainly the near death of Confession within most of the Roman Catholic Church.

    This making of the sacraments into a la carte stand-alones rather than and integrated system seems to follow the logic of those who support direct ordination to the episcopate.

  8. Paul Goings

    If you have a fallible church, what can stop that?

    Let’s face it, even with an infallible church it’s pretty hard to stop on the local level.

  9. Derek Olsen

    I think your first comment was a little disingenuous in that fallible/infallible is a theological distinction that says nothing about organizational/disciplinary matters.

    (I.e., Roman Catholic clergy don’t follow the bishop’s rules because they believe the church is infallible; they follow them so as not to get in trouble with the boss and get posted to the crappiest mission in the diocese…)

    Your second comment does get more to the point. What’s to stop it is the reasoned discussion of the church (careful, you’re in the midst of it…)

    You could press the point, of course–what’s to stop them from adding Buddha to the Trinity or some such and my answer’d be the same.

    I’m reminded of something my systematic theology prof who has been on many high level Catholic-Lutheran dialogues once quipped: the bull that authorizes the ordination of women will begin “As the Church has always and everywhere taught…”

  10. Paul Goings

    True but I meant what’s to stop CWOB becoming Episcopalianism’s law of the land at its next General Convention?

    Very little, but I’m not sure of the point that you’re trying to make. Creating facts on the ground as a prelude to liceity is not the exclusive province of Anglicans, by any means.

    I do think that if CWOB were to become enshrined in the canons and liturgical formularies of the Episcopal Church it then might be acceptable to some people who are opposed to it now. However, that’s for someone like Derek to answer.

  11. Annie

    Are you saying that if they change the canons and the prayerbook such that CWOB is the norm, Derek will accept it?

  12. Derek Olsen

    Where did I say that, Annie?

    I’m quite opposed to it on theological grounds, rather than canonical grounds. Yes, some people are currently against purely because it is against the canons of the church. If the canons change, then they’ll be fine with it.

    I’m not one of those people.

    Communion without Baptism, especially invited Communion without Baptism, does not make sense to me within the sacramental system of the church as I understand and practice it. If, for whatever reason, it becomes the practice of the Episcopal Church—which I don’t think it will and which I’m actively working to oppose—then I will do whatever is in my power to change it.

    Does that answer your question?

    Br. Stephen,

    You make an excellent point! On the other hand, confession has not been required in the Anglican churches for some 500 years and it will never be required. Making it more prominent and available, though, is a good and worthy goal. I note that one of the requirements for membership in the Society of Catholic Priests is to “make use of the sacrament of reconciliation”. I hope that such clergy will also be commending the practice to their congregations and making it available to them as well—I know my priest is.

  13. Paul Goings

    Are you saying that if they change the canons and the prayerbook such that CWOB is the norm, Derek will accept it?

    Just so it’s clear, I was not saying that; only that he might be better equipped to speak to the question of whether some would under certain circumstances.

    Regarding Br Stephen’s analogy, I think it works well. Confession was (and is!) required within the Roman communion. And yet the radical de-emphasizing of it as preparatory to the Eucharist brought about its profound neglect. I believe that he’s saying that the same could happen with respect to Baptism being preparatory to the Eucharist within Anglicanism. And I suggest that he’s right.

    On a tangent, I also believe that Confession will never achieve its proper (if ultimately optional!) place within Anglicanism, as long as it is only generally available by appointment.

  14. The young fogey

    Derek, you seem to agree with me that CWOB is not a matter of discipline/liceity but doctrine but your ecclesiology as an Anglican has no safeguard against it. Classic Anglicanism and traditional Anglo-Catholicism appeal(ed) to precedent – be it the arbitrary first five centuries of the church like Andrewes or the consensus of RC and Eastern teachings like non-papalist ACs – rather like Catholicism but, as we’ve seen, in fact in Anglicanism all of these matters, even, to use your example, adding Buddha to the Trinity, are possibly up for a vote, or national churches’ synods/conventions claim more authority than Popes or ecumenical councils ever did. All the polite discussions Anglicans like (and such discussions like blogging ecumenism can be good) don’t change that. (Catholicism reduced to a menu choice is not Catholicism. Rather like Unitarians who personally hold Christian beliefs: they are still in a non-Christian religion.)

    Take, only for example, and I defend all faiths’ right to govern themselves, the hot-button item of gay marriage, almost certain to become your doctrine at your next GC (now that most of your relative conservatives who opposed it have left). Liberals are being patronising and conservatives correct about there being any room for two views on that in one church. (We’re not talking about Franciscan vs Jesuit spirituality or Sarum vs Tridentine uses here but essentials.) If it becomes your church’s teaching for the moment, then even if you don’t do it (and then how can you justify holding out but staying?) you are in communion with those who do and thus have signed onto it. Logically much like I understand Episcopal ordinands now have to accept WO (I defend your right to enforce your doctrine), you’d have to accept CWOB.

    ISTM if CWOB is promulgated you’d be in the same position as old-school ACs after WO (which I know you believe is discipline not doctrine but as you know they saw it as doctrine). You’d have to look for another church or start one: an ACNA, credally orthodox and socially liberal, with WO and gay marriage but no CWOB?!

    I also believe that Confession will never achieve its proper (if ultimately optional!) place within Anglicanism, as long as it is only generally available by appointment.

    As of course you know, Paul, the magisterium requires sacramental confession only of mortal sins. To clarify, are you saying here that optional confession of such sins is logical in Anglican theology and thus proper there, which I agree with, or that Anglicanism so understood is right in itself vs the magisterium?

    [edited to add your corrections]

  15. Derek Olsen


    Yes, I do see CWOB as a matter of doctrine not discipline.

    In the practical realm of things, I think you make entirely too much of the *idea* of the infallible church. Compare once again the pre- and post-conciliar Roman Catholic Church. Explain to me why despite the great gulf fixed between them, on the street level, American Catholicism looks like another form of mainline protestantism. Would the answer not lie with the Council of Bishops and how they have chosen to implement some and functionally ignore other parts of the church’s theoretically infallible teaching?

  16. C. Wingate

    The only real safeguard against the practice is that the arguments for CWOB are not persuasive, and that the arguments against it are persuasive. One cannot of course persuade everybody, but after all it’s not really a strike against Newtonian mechanics that you cannot persuade everyone of it either. Nonetheless there is no infallibility needed to defend Newtonian mechanics from unbelievers.

    I think you could attack Episcopal Church process on this issue if it gets through GC or some other strong test of ratification. One could certainly criticize ECUSA discipline for all the winking at it that is already going on, but that’s not really the same issue. What I see already in this discussion is that, at least in ECUSA, there’s a very strong core theology of baptism and communion that encompasses people in a lot of the various theological camps, liberal or not. I’m guessing at this point that the issue isn’t going to be whether there is going to be a general and explicit rejection of CWOB in ECUSA, but what political and disciplinary realization of this rejection comes to pass. For instance, I think it would be difficult for a bishop-elect to gain sufficient consents if they endorsed CWOB; on the other hand I’m not that confident that a presentment could be pushed through against a sitting bishop who authorized CWOB in his diocese.

  17. The young fogey

    So do you agree with me that if a GC promulgates CWOB you’d have to leave?

    In the practical realm of things, I think you make entirely too much of the *idea* of the infallible church.

    But you agreed earlier that it’s THE issue separating you from us, separating Protestants from Catholics, even when you have the same beliefs about the creeds and the sacraments. So it seems pretty important.

    As for one of my pet subjects (before vs after Vatican II and the mainline protestantisation of American RCs), this reminds me how the Anglo-Catholic movement (it didn’t think it was a movement but thought it was the true teaching of Anglicanism, right, Fr John-Julian?) described the ‘Reformation’: a bunch of big mistakes in practice and heresy on the ground that in spite of everything didn’t cut off or change the Church of England’s doctrine, which they claimed was still Catholicism.

    But in Rome’s case the John Paul II fans and good reform-of-the-reformers are right: this way of looking at V2 is entirely correct.

    V2 may stink (it turned out to be the wrong thing to do but I have no problem actually with the conservative reading of it: I’m for religious liberty) but it didn’t define – nor change, which is impossible in Catholicism – any doctrines.

    It only dealt with discipline – such as how to talk officially with non-RCs, the political matter of religious liberty and saying the altar should be freestanding (so the priest can walk all around it to cense it) and parts of the services should be in the vernacular, and from those modest changes all hell broke loose as many Americans for example thought it meant adopting the Anglican approach to doctrine: let’s put everything up for a vote. And those people were wrong.

    RC bishops going against Rome’s teaching is not the same as an Anglican national church’s synod/convention defining new/changed doctrine.

    [You’re a scholar and a gentleman. This copy editor thanks you for making the corrections.]

  18. Paul Goings

    To clarify…

    The (auricular) confession of mortal sin is obligatory. That there are those within Anglicanism that argue that it is not is of no concern. They would be wrong. Just as the oriental schismatics are with regard to various defined doctrines, their claim to “infallibility” notwithstanding. In fact, however, I would assert that the corpus of Anglican theology (including the canons and liturgical formularies) does teach that auricular confession of mortal sins is obligatory. There is room for debate as to which sins are mortal, but this has ever been true among moral theologians.

    I think that you need to go into more detail about what you believe would be the effect of gay marriage becoming doctrine in parts of Anglicanism. The fundamental question is whether a certain species of human acts are, or are not, sinful. An important question, to be sure, but not altogether different from questions that the Church has struggled with, and continues to struggle with in some cases. The best example being, in my opinion, what is usually termed “imperfect sodomy” by moral theologians. So, in this case, do the two camps within the Roman communion actually constitute two separate churches, in your opinion? And, if not, why not?

  19. Hoosierpalian


    Perhaps at some point we could persuade Derek to host a thread on confession. I make use of the sacrament of reconciliation exclusively by appointment with a single confessor, but I can definitely see why some would prefer to make their confessions anonymously at a weekly (monthly, quarterly) time set aside at the parish church for the purpose. I’d love to see a discussion of the pros and cons of confession by appointment.

  20. Derek Olsen

    That’s a good idea; hold the confession thoughts for a second, y’all, and I’ll throw up something for those.

    (Hoosierpalian—is all well? Haven’t seen you around…)

  21. The young fogey

    Thanks, Paul. That’s what I thought you meant.

    The reason Rome gives the oriental schismatics the benefit of the doubt is they’ve never defined doctrine that goes against Rome’s even though there’s lots of opinion among them that goes against it, like on the only real dividing issue between the two sides, the scope of the Pope. I see you’re taking the same classic Anglo-Catholic tack as this regarding Anglicanism and auricular confession: the widespread Anglican denial and indifference is not doctrine. I understand.

    Regarding Orthodox church infallibility, there’s not a lot of defined doctrine in Orthodoxy – the Trinity, Jesus is true God and true man so Mary is the Mother of God, and you may make and venerate icons, and that’s it! Then of course Orthodoxy runs on lots and lots of customs (such as all those liturgical books), which arguably is a sort of natural, grassroots, ordinary magisterium. (As Arturo Vasquez would agree, also normal in most of Western Catholicism’s history.) Nobody really challenged the Real Presence or prayer for the dead for example so those were never defined and people just believe and do them.

    Tangent: The Anglican Communion’s decentralised polity arguably imitated Orthodoxy’s but the results are very different. As Tobias Haller reminded me recently, sure, there are factions in Orthodoxy that hate each other like in Anglicanism. But the Orthodox factions agree on the essentials as well as the headline-grabbing issues about sex and the sexes, and even have more or less the same liturgical practices. It’s not Protestant. And a patriarch or synod can’t change doctrine and remain Orthodox.

    Regarding your last paragraph, it reminds me of the question we’ve gone over of which sin is worse, one against nature or breaking a vow in a sacrament, namely, a sin you see a lot of among anti-homosexualist conservative Anglicans and Continuing anglicans (not a typo) including clergy, divorce and remarriage, a form of adultery. (Not quite the same, but I admit I don’t understand it, as Orthodox church divorce and remarriage among the laity; the clergy may not remarry.) I think the answer is the same here: the two camps would not be separate churches because, if you’re talking about what I think you are, they agree with each other that a mortal sin is a mortal sin, ‘better or ‘worse’ being interesting academically in a Dante’s Inferno way but hell is hell regardless. Both camps agree it’s a sin, yes?

  22. Tobias Haller

    YF is displaying a character trait that is wholly admirable, but which not all people share. That is a wish to be part of an entity in which he feels he can be in complete agreement with all that entity promulgates.

    I, on the other hand, while I am firm in my opinion against CWOB (and have waxed verbose on the theme) would not run for the woods were GC by some unlikely pass come to adopt it. And the reason for this lies in the basis of what I regard as essential to discipline, and that is the vow. (I take a somewhat Benedictine view of things). Obedience does not necessitate consent, as YF appears to think. Particularly in Anglicanism, with its rather elegant epistemic humility and willingness to acknowledge errors in the past. There’s also that whole business of window-making as per men’s souls.

    In short, I can accept — indeed I do accept — being part of an entity with which I may have disagreement from time to time. I have vowed not to run screaming from the ecclesiastical room should something I ardently oppose take place in the decision-making halls of power.

    Others may not, will not, feel the same.

    Now all that being said, I think it very unlikely that CWOB as a mandatory practice is in our future. As observed upstream, this is an issue on which those who favor it appear to me to come from a fairly narrow constituency, while the opposition ranges across “party” lines. It takes a great deal of “oomph” to get anything through GC, and yes, the shibboleth of “inclusion” can be a powerful card in this particular game, but I don’t see it trumping the full house on the other side.

  23. Paul Goings

    The problem with your formulation is that, if the Orthodox have never defined doctrine that is contrary to what Rome teaches, then neither has Anglicanism. Or, at least an argument can be made along those lines. It depends on what you are willing to say constitutes a definition of doctrine. Are we referring to the Articles here? If so, then ECUSA is in the clear, and, to the best of my knowledge, claims nothing as doctrine beyond two of the three creeds. Thus, if you want to use this as your baseline then you’re already conceding a lot of ground.

    You do note that if a particular jurisdiction of Orthodoxy were to, for example, adopt an innovative standard of sexual morality (and they have already, from the Roman perspective!) then the other jurisdictions would not recognize them as Orthodox. When then raises the question of what such positions represent, if they’re not (according to you) doctrinal, and yet transgressing them would carry an ecclesiological death sentence. Or, consider the public veneration of a saint canonized by Rome after the Photian schism. What would the response of other Orthodox jurisdictions be like? In this case we have an infallible pronouncement from Rome’s point of view, which, if rejected by Orthodoxy, would seem to be a formal repudiation of defined doctrine.

    You may well be correct, but it seems that a considerable amount of smoke and mirrors are necessary to make your point, and that particular topics don’t bear up under close inspection. Mr Vasquez would argue that this is the historical position of the Church–I know catholicism when I see it–and I would agree with him to a certain extent.

    My last point is actually different from what you appear to be referring to. Let’s just say that there are certain sexual acts (which occur in both homo- and heterosexual contexts) and which have been, and are, the subject of considerable debate among moral theologians. So some would take the position that certain acts are sinful, and others that the same acts are not. Given that, for General Convention to say that sodomitical congress, in the commonly understood sense, is not necessarily sinful, is not necessarily the paradigm shift that you suggest that it is. This, of course, is the mistake of the “Orthodox Anglicans,” and represents, as far as I can tell, their only defined doctrine!

    But we are getting a long way from CWOB…

  24. The young fogey

    I saw that and didn’t blog it because it wouldn’t be fair. It was between the offending minister and her bishop and he handled it fine. Those things happen. Around here the Episcopalians did the right thing: legend has it a blueblood left a parish in a huff because it wouldn’t bury her horse on church grounds.

  25. Derek Olsen

    YF, I think you’ve hit on the news item there: the bishop seems to have the incident in hand with assurances that it won’t be repeated. Go bishop!

    Naturally this kind of thing would *never* happen in an American Catholic Church. We all know they’d *never* give communion on the tongue… ;-)

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