The CWOB Position

After looking at the comments both here and at the Cafe, I’ve come to the realization that most defenders of CWOB wouldn’t really see that piece as a criticism of the practice. Indeed, some may well be wondering what the one has to do with the other. As far as I’m concerned, that goes to show how different the starting places may be between those who stand for and against CWOB. Annie’s comments below have been helping me get a better sense of where that position is invested. What I will try to do in this post is to sketch a fairly accurate picture of what the supporters of CWOB hold in regard to this specific topic. So, let’s be clear on a few things–I don’t hold this position; my starting place is what I wrote in the Cafe piece–a fairly traditional catholic sacramental mysticism. On the other hand, I also don’t want to caricature this position either–if this is to be a real discussion then building up straw men to tear down completely defeats the purpose. Thus, I’m trying to understand what would motivate a thoughtful Episcopalian to hold CWOB and what theological premises might underlie that–whether consciously or not.

I think that the starting place for the position is (1) a conviction that the church and it’s clergy have no business serving as gate-keepers that keep seekers away from God’s mercy and grace.

Based on this premise, they (2) see an insistence on Baptism as a hindrance keeping a seeker who has been touched by the Spirit in a service from immediately coming forward and partaking in God’s grace through the Sacrament of the Altar.

As they see it, then, (3) an insistence on Baptism is a new form of legalism that keeps people from seeking and finding God.

Update:  The main biblical warrant that they use is (4) the notion of the eschatological banquet, most clearly put forth in the middle verses of Isa 25. From there, (5) they point to the feeding miracles of Jesus regarding them [correctly in my book…] as (a) connected to the eschatological banquet and (b) eucharistic in nature. Because Jesus feeds all who come to him without regard for their status, (6) it is concluded that we should do likewise. Thus, (7) if Jesus is the host of our eucharistic feasts then–like him–we should invite all without regard to the table.

Are these seven premises accurate construals of the position held by CWOB supporters?

55 thoughts on “The CWOB Position

  1. *Christopher

    This seems accuate.

    My understanding isn’t so much clergy as gatekeeper (having been refused Eucharist, I know the dangers of that turn); but they are responsible for administration of the Sacraments as such, and that responsibility includes care to catechesis, etc. It seems to me, sacramental Christians understand that Baptism is the gate through which God bids us enter, turn around our reality and see things again, gives us the grace to do so, and to Whom we respond in so doing. By not first letting God serve us in washing and teaching, we miss a crucial step in God’s hospitality process, no?

    I think this again get’s back to Fr. Dan’s cogent post about putting too much weight on the liturgy with regard to evangelism and catechesis.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    Well, *Christopher, I agree with you. I actually take issue with a number of the points for a number of reasons. Right now, though, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m not constructing an easily refutable argument that mischaracterizes the views of those who hold it. I’d much rather try to refute an accurate statement than a misleading one!

  3. revdrmom

    Thanks for articulating it this way. This is helpful for me to think about.

    If we were to accept all these premises (and I don’t at this point) then how would we regard and teach about baptism? Is baptism ever necessary?

  4. bls

    Well, speaking from one of my two minds, I agree with most of what you’ve written here. About the church as “gatekeeper,” I agree completely; surely this cannot and should not be so, given Christ’s own actions and life!

    I don’t see Baptism as “legalism,” though; I see it as you do, as a mystical and beautiful sacramental action. I simply see it as a “difficult first sacramental action for people in the modern world.” That’s why the notion of a “pseudo-sacrament” is attractive. (Another one such would be asperges, now that I think of it – and I agree with YF that Catholic-minded parishes have such things to offer while the more Protestant-minded ones don’t – but very few parishes do it today.)

    Sacramentality is so important in an age when ideas like Resurrection and Virgin Birth are hard even to approach, let alone understand and profess. And that’s what Baptism requires.

    I think *Christopher mentions another motivation: forcing the liturgy itself to do evangelism.

    And there’s that plain old “inclusion” argument – “radical hospitality” – that many Episcopalians see as the very highest of values, because, again, they believe it’s demonstrated clearly in Christ’s own actions.

  5. bls

    (I’d say CWOBers are more usually on the anti-Nicea (sometimes “early-church”), Protestant-minded side of the argument. So perhaps others actually do see Baptism as church-imposed legalism, and that’s really too bad.

    Perhaps we should just teach more and better things about Baptism, as you’ve started to do. If people could see it that way, it would be wonderful. Still, I think a lot of people – rationalist, lifelong unchurched people especially – won’t understand the first word of what you’re talking about.

    Words just aren’t enough in some case, IOW.)

  6. Derek the Ænglican

    Well folks, that’s why I started where I did…

    I don’t think you can talk about the sacraments without getting a sense of the whole picture, how Eucharist relates to Baptism, how Baptism relates to our connection to the Body of Christ and life in God.

    I also agree with bls that some on the CWOB side may not hold orthodox beliefs when it comes to christology–in fact, I believe that some unorthodox christology is at the base of the logic of the movement whether they realize it or not. However, I didn’t go in to that here because I think someone who is christologically orthodox could be swayed by this position because it seems to make sense especially if “inclusivity” is a major theological category.

  7. bls

    Oh, I actually didn’t mean that people don’t hold to orthodox Christology when I said “anti-Nicea.”

    I just meant an opposition to the rise of the Catholic Church as the controlling power and arbiter of the faith. The consolidation of the faith under a hierarchy – that’s the “gatekeeper” thing, actually.

  8. bls

    (I mean, lots of Protestants hold to High Christology, no? I’ve come across many of these in my travels in the blogworld.)

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    Yes, many protestants hold a christology high enough to fit comfortably into docetism.

    However, among the liberal set in TEC there are some who fall towards–and sometimes into–Arianism.

  10. *Christopher

    In terms of Baptism and Eucharist, I don’t think either in terms of “inclusivity” or “welcome”, but in terms of “hospitality”, namely God’s service of us. God’s hospitality is gracious and abounding and loving of infinite proportions, and exposes the many ways in which I am not.

    Inclusivity says to me “anything goes”. Well, no. I’m a sinner oftentimes doing so without being fully aware of what I’m doing. Confession of sin is a part of the movement of the Mass itself (and SHOULD not be removed except perhaps during Easter). If I’ve gotten into a fight with C, or been a jerk at work, I may want to examine whether I don’t need to repent before going to Eucharist. Eucharist, is of course the Sacrament par excellence of healing and forgiveness, but examination of conscience certainly isn’t something I want to relent of as if I can just barge on ahead and “take” what I want. In either case named above, I’ve failed to discern the Body in my daily life, and that means something on Sunday… If egregious, I should rather seek counsel and confession, before returning to the Table. After all, this is the foretaste of the Wedding to our LORD; ingesting without examination seems problematic.

    “Welcome” places too much emphasis on ourselves, rather than recognizing we’re in this together, all sinners, all receiving, pointing to the Host.

    Baptism and Eucharist have a desert quality about them in terms of hospitality to my mind, and God’s hospitality generous also shows up where I fall short.

    And the too high and too low tendencies of Christology both lead to a denigration of the Sacrament–both say in their own way that bodies don’t matter. Both are anti-Incarnational.

  11. bls

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, clergy-types here. (What an intro, huh?)

    But I really sometimes think that lifelong committed Christians – clergy especially – do not see what’s really happening in terms of evangelism and how to get people Baptized. The already-committed, and clergy, spend their whole lives around the Church, so all they see is “believers” and people who are already attracted to the message.

    I, OTOH, (and lots of us) work among the church-averse. We see people every day who think the church is daft, and so anything that it has to say must also be daft. They think religion has nothing to offer the modern world, or them – and of course, why should they think otherwise? They’re mostly decent people who have jobs and families and homes and see absolutely no advantage in telling their children the story of Jesus of Nazareth, or in following a faith, which they see as a nice (and sometimes not-so-nice) 2,000-year-old fairy tale. The don’t like the Church because of its history of obscurantism and high-handedness. They just don’t see the point of it all.

    We have to find another means of expression if we’re going to ever be able to offer a religious life to people like this. Now, this is a hard thing, because I agree that Christian faith consists of certain doctrines, and that without these doctrines, it shrivels up into nothing very interesting – certainly nothing very profound. But people just cannot profess these things without some sort of prior conversion – and we ain’t doing a very good job on that front, I’m afraid.

    I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t mean to insult anybody here – and of course this is sort of off-topic anyway – but I just realized we have a real disconnect on this because of our own points-of-view.

  12. bls

    (I do realize that there are many people who do self-define as Christians and are simply looking for a church home. For these, the usual approach is fine.

    But we’re talking about the unbaptized here – people who didn’t grow up in the faith, probably in any faith. They just don’t know what we’re talking about, at all.

    If these folks were a small minority of people in the U.S., then CWOB wouldn’t be a very important issue anyway, and you could easily argue against it on that account. But by all accounts, this group is a growing segment of the population – they are at this point a substantial majority in Europe, I believe – and none of the religion-talk makes the slightest bit of sense to them.

    I’m just saying.)

  13. Caelius Spinator

    “However, among the liberal set in TEC there are some who fall towards–and sometimes into–Arianism.”

    And some will you tell you so cheerfully with a look you only can take to mean, “Chalcedon is tacky.”

    Derek– I listened to a sermon or two (they’re podcasts now) in order to figure out the local argument. One odd point is a denial of the Atonement. Jesus is not a means to God’s love, [exegeting the Prodigal Son] “God forgives us without anybody else having to pay a penalty, including Jesus. The heart of God is simply on its own mechanis, moved to forgive us. And for some people in the Christian religion, that news is simply too good to be true, but I tell you it’s true.” He exegetes the Good Samaritan similarly.

    But I don’t think that’s the argument in much of the church.

  14. Derek the Ænglican

    bls, I think that’s a cogent point that’s often true. I try not to get sucked into that trap and one of the factors in my favor is that I’m not gainfully employed in my field of education… What I find, though, (perhaps a function of region?) is that most of the people I work with are fairly religious as it is.

    Speaking as somebody from the Gen X/Y goth ‘n’ gamer world, though, I think many of my contemporaries are looking for a more mystical path that neither capitulates to nor is in direct conflict with a postmodern scientific worldview. And most of them don’t think that’s available in Christianity! After all, one of the reasons that I checked out Buddhism in my earlier years is because it had something the church of my upbringing didn’t. Fortunately my college chapel had it, being mysteriously high-church despite being in the middle of Minnesota. Thus, I started asking if the contemplative/mystical things I liked in certain forms of Buddhism could be found in Christianity–and that’s when I discovered the Rhinelanders. The rest,as they say, is history…

    In other words, for people like me I think religious banalities are more likely to turn them off then doctrines that seem strange.

  15. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks for doing that, Caelius. Some of the material available on the web has the same sort of slant to it–probably because it’s produced by the same parish?

    I agree that it probably doesn’t represent the thought in the broader church–but people in the broader church are forming their opinions of the issue based on similar materials.

  16. *Christopher


    I think this speaks to our style, our catechesis, our connection with what another generation labelled piety, we call spirituality or mysticism, what I would prefer to call formation. I think a lot of folks in X/Y are looking for practice and a serious sense of commitment as such; that’s one reason why I find CWOB a problem ultimately, especially given there isn’t a tendency for followup, opportunity for commitment, etc. It was Benedictine monasticism and iconography that kept me Christian. Things like chant, beauty, and vows.

    I straddle two worlds, the very Christian and the very Not
    Christian–meaning averse to Christianity. It forces me to move from articulation of dogma in propositional terms, to terms of beauty and prayer and relationship. That this connection is not made by many in Church is a huge part of the problem.

    In Europe, we have a strange situation. Most folks are still baptized (of course, this depends on the country), they just no longer go to Church much. This is changing. A majority of infants born in England this year will not be baptized…that’s a radical shift.

    What are these materials, Caelius and Derek? Do I go to Ileos?

  17. bls

    Yes, it’s regional. On the coasts and in the big cities (except in the South), secularism is the dominant mode. In certain of these areas, you have many technoids and scientists for whom secularism is really the only option they’d ever choose as things stand right now.

    You’re absolutely right that the contemplative and mystical practices of the Church are the right road to go down – and that’s what we’ve all been saying for a number of years, too! And there you have the “pseudo-sacramentalism” again. That actually is happening more and more these days, so perhaps we’re doing what we can do in this regard already.

  18. bls

    *C, I believe you’re right about the beauty and prayer and relationship. The key, I’m thinking, is ultimately to link the beauty/prayer/relationship with the propositional.

    So maybe we’re doing all we can in this regard; it will take time to work out a way of doing/speaking that will make sense to unchurched people going forward.

  19. Derek the Ænglican

    The key, I’m thinking, is ultimately to link the beauty/prayer/relationship with the propositional.

    Absolutely! That is the key–and that’s a big part of what I’m trying to do.

  20. David Bennett

    Derek and others,
    Out of curiosity (since I haven’t personally researched the issue), is there any Patristic or Medieval support for receiving communion without baptism (except perhaps in rare circumstances) or is this a modern development?

  21. John-Julian, OJN

    Goodness, there is so much here, I’m not sure what to comment on first.

    A few years ago, ++Desmond Tutu visited our monastery. He arrived in the evening, and I took him to visit the chapel. It was dark: the crucifix was dimly lighted, the sanctuary light and the votive candles at the icons and statutes burned. The choir stalls were only rows of dark forms. “Oooooo,” said the archbishop. “It is SO numinous! Oh, could I possibly be an Oblate of this Order?” And the next day he gave a breath-taking address on vicarious intercession — centering on the immeasurable value to the Church of monastic spirituality.

    Now, obviously ++Desmond was baptized, and he knew we were a semi-enclosed contemplative order, but it was the impact of that silent beauty which drew him to ask something as demanding as Oblateship (and ours is more demanding than any other I know).

    In general, I see two kinds of evangelism: the Benedictine and the Franciscan. The Benedictine basically says: “Here, we will live as gently holy lives as possible; and if you see us doing that, you may be drawn to it and want it for yourself.” The Franciscan approach is to go “out there” – preach, teach, encourage, and promote. Obviously, these are vast over-simplifications, but the distinction speaks to the issue of “liturgical evangelism”.

    And one other dynamic of that is what I can only call “enclosedness” — a depth of Christian living which is gently and non-judgmentally very clearly “separate” (i.e., “Benedictine”).

    This certainly existed in the early Church. And participation and inclusion in that came at a very high price, indeed – such a thing as CWOB was utterly unthinkable and virtually impossible – it would have been like trying to be blood-related to a family without being born into it.

    The problem faced in a typical parish situation today is that there is in fact no “enclosedness”. The parish community is absolutely wide open, and its members virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the culture – and the price for inclusion is so low as to be insignificant. There just are no mysteries to draw the soul…..There is no specificity and no attraction to being an “insider”.

    What to do? Well, in most social matters I’m a flaming liberal, but at parish level, I think a gentle word: “All who are communicants in their own churches are welcome to join us.” and then NO discrimination of any kind at the altar rail.

    But concomitant to that is the necessity for “full inclusion” (i.e., Baptism and Communion) to LOOK and FEEL overwhelmingly (mystically and emotionally) attractive to a sensitive seeker. That puts the execution of liturgy very near the center of things (my prejudices don’t show do they?) – both in the quality of the liturgy itself AND in the quality of the Assembly in its own understanding of and approach to liturgy (to my mind, a “monastic” understanding and approach).

    Finally, it means that Baptism must be elevated in liturgical glory beyond almost anything else on earth. Every Baptism needs to be sheerly splendid — a wholly heart-turning magnificence — an absolute and real initiation, with every bit of mystery, dread, awe, and wonder available — processions, chants, banners, and flames galore. (And the same should go for reaffirmations….) A real giving of Something that can be found nowhere else.

    Well, I could go on and on….forgive the length of this slightly off-theme bit.

  22. revdrmom

    bls I take your point about clergy types mostly being around people who are already believers…except that are some of us who had spells when we weren’t…very analagous to when I was in grad school and a prof, and we knew that most students weren’t like us “school geeks”.

    So how do we reach those who are averse to religion and/or to committment? I am not sure that cwob is the answer based on what I know now, but I am open to hearing more. I remain concerned about how we think and teach about baptism.

    I really agree with what John-Julian says above. Do you think that sort of approach would work among those you describe?

  23. *Christopher

    Enclosedness, I like that. Enclosedness involves setting an “atmosphere” of prayer and awe and silence (and I don’t simply mean auditory silence) if you will.

    Certain things, like a regular rythmn and schedule of prayer are a huge part of this in my experience, be it my great grandmother’s morning hour of silent bible reading and prayer or the contemplative prayer at the Benedictine community I’m involved in, or the Office at Mt. Angel. All of these places have been such in my own life.

    And that raises a huge concern for me. I have never been in an Episcopal parish in which this is the sense I get, and it’s not for lack of beauty or warmth or fellowship, but something contemplative is missing. I have *got* this in Roman Catholic parishes; I loved it that at St. Thomas More Newman, I could go to Mass everyday and had a code to the sanctuary and stopped by often to meditate before the Sacrament, for example. I have in Episcopal monasteries, like Incarnation in Berkeley. I love my own parish, but the closest I’ve gotten to this sense is on Wednesday Eucharist. There’s more space for receiving and resting in God in that service. Perhaps the only other time is when we gather in a circle about the Table to receive and then bow to one another…

    Some of this, I think, speaks to our sense (or lack thereof) of formation, in that at best, the Office would minimally open and close the day in a parish irrespective of large attendance or not (the priest need not always be the leader). Wouldn’t I love it if I could stop by St. Mark’s in Berkeley or Trinity in Richmond (my parish is too far for everyday) and join in the Office, maybe closed with Reserved Sacrament? Or perhaps lead at my own parish once a week?

    I’ve never been to an Episcopal parish, for example, that prays the Office regularly. Ever. It’s a part of my practice (though sometimes better than others) but rarely do I get to be in the rhythm with others outside our household.

    Perhaps in our “management” orientation, we’ve lost track of the primary focus for our priests, prayer and Sacraments? Not that we don’t have many good priests, but that this rythmn is missing.

  24. Caelius Spinator

    Following Father John-Julian’s comment:

    Adult baptism by immersion! Something I’ve been involved in once.

  25. John-Julian, OJN

    Christopher and Caelius, right on!

    Let me add just one more story:

    When (in 1988) I left my last full-time rectorate, I asked the vestry if there was anything I had introduced that they hoped to continue. The Senior Warden said immediately: “Daily Offices and Daily Mass!” I was surprised: “How is it that you say that when you have never come to daily services?” She (who was a nurse) said, “Because of my nursing schedule, I can never make it, but what matters to me is that I know YOU are there….. every day….and that makes a difference!”

  26. Derek the Ænglican

    The closest experience that I’ve had to what Fr. John-Julian describes is participating in the community at Smokey Mary’s. When I was living in NYC apart from the family I went there most every night for EP and Mass. Then, when I was doing my communte from Philly to NYC I made it a point to get there two or three days a wekk for Np and mass. The liturgical continuity and the community there was wonderful! If I *ever* am in a position to do so, I ill whole hearedly avocate for public MP/EP when people can come and daily masses because of the way that noursihed me when I needed it…

    My first inclination is to say no and point to Tertullian, On Baptism; Ambrose, On the Mysteries; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, and perhaps Irenaeus–but it’s always something I’ve assumed rater than researched.

  27. The young fogey

    I didn’t see until very late yesterday that this conversation had moved over here!

    I agree that it wasn’t clear that Derek’s article was to do with CWOB which was why I left my comment under Helen/Gallycat’s original article in Episcopal Café instead.

    bls, the asperges are a good example of how to include everybody quasi-sacramentally and thanks.

  28. bls

    Derek, I don’t understand what some CWOB advocates mean when they talk about salvation in connection with Communion. D.C. and the Scotist are doing this, and I don’t get the connection; are they saying that Communion itself is salvific?

    The only thing I can figure is that people are saying that Communion is equal in some basic way to Baptism. But this doesn’t make sense to me, since in Baptism we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.” No such thing happens in Communion; there’s no ongoing relationship implied.

    That, to me, is an important difference. Actually, they are convincing me of your argument, I’m sure without meaning to! ;-)

    But maybe I’ve misunderstood….

  29. bls

    Actually, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that Fr. John-Julian is right when he says: “I think a gentle word: “All who are communicants in their own churches are welcome to join us.” and then NO discrimination of any kind at the altar rail.”

    That makes perfect sense – and actually, that’s the present rubric anyway (although the priests do bless those who don’t want Communion). That’s what I think we should follow for now in any case.

    But I’d still like to offer the blessed bread to all! Wouldn’t that be a wonderful sort of thing to do?

  30. bls

    I really agree with what John-Julian says above. Do you think that sort of approach would work among those you describe?

    I meant to answer this, too, revdrmom.

    If you mean his approach to CWOB, then that’s answered in the previous post. If you mean his statement about “the necessity for “full inclusion” (i.e., Baptism and Communion) to LOOK and FEEL overwhelmingly (mystically and emotionally) attractive to a sensitive seeker” – well: oh, yes!

    Vy way of brief explanation: I’m a semi-regular at St. Mary the Virgin in New York on that account.

    I’ll say no more….;-)

  31. Derek the Ænglican

    bls, that’s one of the chief problems of CWOB, though–it lacks a coherent view of what the sacraments are and their connection to salvation. Note what the Scotist is trying to do: he begins with the premise of universal salvation and moves from there. But where does he find this in Christian theology?

    Lancelot Andrewes summed up the major sources of Anglican theology thus: 1 canon, 2 testaments, 3 creeds, four councils, five centuries and the fathers who wrote therein. I challenge the Scotist–or any one else for that matter–to demonstrate a universal salvation as a starting point in any of these. I truly don’t belive it can be done… That’s not to say that God doesn’t will the salvation of all–but will seems to be the problem: God gives us *free* will to either accept or reject his gift of grace.

  32. bls

    But why are they talking about salvation at all? What does it have to with Communion per se?

    I just don’t get what they’re saying, or why….

  33. Annie

    Jumping in late and hastily since there are so many comments.

    *Christopher voices what I consider to be a fear without foundation when he said, “And the too high and too low tendencies of Christology both lead to a denigration of the Sacrament–both say in their own way that bodies don’t matter.” I would like very much for any sort of proof of this.

    Getting onto Derek’s points, I think they are very good. More importantly, if Christ, in person, came to share the communion with us, would we chance missing that opportunity? That is said tongue in cheek as we are to see Christ in everyone we meet. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, did he tell us to check their baptismal records before we fed the poor? And who are the hungry and unfed? I challenge Christopher and say to Derek that I think that our teaching and believing that it IS the Lord’s table and that everyone there has been welcomed to share in the Eucharistic feast is far more mystical and precious than one where we have guarded the table and screened the guests arbitrarily(!) based on some highly suspect connection between sacraments.

    Another bit of scripture jerked out of context but worth thinking about: Some have entertained angels unaware.

    I’m going to remind you that I place a high priority on good Christian education. My confirmation classes were pass/fail harsh. And yet, I was the one complaining early in debacle that is occuring in the church that most of the participants in the communion had not made peace with their brothers (and sisters) before going to the Lord’s table as he told us to do AND many were actively judging (sinning) while partaking. I believe that Christ leads us into understanding, guiding us deeper into the mystery. Again, at age 12 I did not have the powerful understanding of the sacraments that I do now, by the grace of God.


  34. Annie

    One other thought: What was it that Jesus taught most often against? Was he for those who made a show of their religion? Was he all about rules and particulars? What did he say about the disciples not washing their hands?

    And when it comes to regular table fellowship–what makes you feel most eager to return to visit a host’s home? Is it their openess, their welcoming and their warm reception? Or is it, if you will, the decor, the pomp, the elegance and the knowledge that the riff-raff have been denied entrance?

  35. Derek the Ænglican

    But, Annie, did not Christ command us to share the good news to all by baptizing all nations and teaching them to obey all that he had commanded? If he has commanded us to baptize, why do we make excuses for not being about his work?

    The way to the table leads through the bath. Would you invite a fellow guest to someone else’s banquet and deliberately leave them ignorant of usual etiquette and decorum? Do you think baptism so burdensome?

  36. Annie

    No, of course not!

    But who says the guest can’t decide to stay and bathe later!

    Are we saying, “No, go and bathe and then come and join us at the table.”?

    What is the mystery? Baptism is beautiful! How much more so when it is joyfully entered into? Can the Lord not work in us before we are baptised? He must! Or according to our theology baptism would not occur. By the same token he meets us in the Holy Sacraments of the altar the same way. These are freely given to us even though we are not worthy. We know we are not worthy but that he has made us clean by his blood. Do we have to understand this first? If somebody helps you, but you only see their help much later, after the fact, doesn’t it increase your gratitude for what they have done for you?


  37. Derek the Ænglican

    We know we are not worthy but that he has made us clean by his blood. Do we have to understand this first?

    No, we don’t have to understand it–we have but to experience it…

  38. bls

    Well, I finally realized what the central issue of this whole thing is! I wrote about it this a.m.

    It finally dawned on me that the reason we do Baptism before Communion is because Christ did it that way, and this is at heart an Imitation-of-Christ liturgical action, exactly like the Church Year. It’s totally straight-forward and simple, actually.

  39. Derek the Ænglican

    I’ll cross-post here a bit of the comment I left at your place, bls…

    “It occurred to me this morning–spurred by David’s question–that none of the Fathers would have advocated Communion Without Baptism because they saw the sacraments following the typology of the Exodus. Passage through the Red Sea is the type of Baptism–salvation for the elect. The feeding in the wilderness with the Bread from Heaven–manna–was the type of the Eucharist.

    Again–same pattern, the washing that creates identity first, then the divine nourishment that sustains…”

  40. bls

    It’s liturgical, that’s all – it’s a formation thing.

    It has nothing to do with gate-keeping or rejection or denying of blessing; it’s done that way because this is indeed the pattern, following Scripture and the very actions of Our Lord.

  41. bls

    (I mean, logically, there would be nothing wrong with doing it the other way: first a meal, then Baptism. But then, we’d never have anything to sustain us, because Baptism is a one-time action, in which we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.” The meal is sustenance and a reminder of that one-time action that can’t be repeated.

    Baptism-before-Communion was never intended to keep the riff-raff out. It was just a simple imitation of the story itself, and a recognition of the day-to-day action of the meal, as against the once-forever Baptism, which had to come first.)

  42. Derek the Ænglican

    Hmmm… I’m actually going to argue that there is a logical issue with doing it the other way. I just sent a follow-up piece off to Jim. I don’t know when it’ll get posted (may not be until next week or later?) but I’d rather not go into it specifically because I think it works better in the context of my fuller discussion.

  43. bls

    I meant, there would appear to be nothing wrong with this if you take the whole thing by itself, out-of-context. It would be OK to have a sacred meal before being baptized – but then, too, what would we have going forward, in that case? We can’t get Baptized over and over again.

    And again, the story itself explicitly runs the other way! So there are two good reasons not to do it that way.

    Anyway, we agree on this. I’m just blathering on; pay no attention, please.

  44. John-Julian, OJN

    I remember a wise professor in seminary suggesting that receiving Holy Communion is much more analogous to making love with someone than merely eating a meal together. The bond is much deeper and much greater. And he was absolutely right. The Church still asks for vows before coitus.

    And the Eucharist is not merely the Last Supper redux, as some Protestant friends would have it with their “Lord’s Supper”.

    By the way, NO one received Holy Communion with ANYONE else until after the Resurrection (otherwise, they WERE cannibals, as the pagan Romans suggested) and Jesus never celebrated Mass (except perhaps mystically on the cross). Maundy Thursday was merely Liturgics 101 – and, aha, even that began with a washing, didn’t it?

    I really do think that we need to keep systematic theology and pastoral theology clearly distinct here. ST need not supersede PT in every conceivable circumstance — nor should PT be allowed just to sell ST down the river. Via media really does have something to commend it.

  45. *Christopher

    Annie. Too high Christologies tend to docetism, that God couldn’t possibly take on a nasty mutable body. Too low Christologies tend to say the same thing in a reverse sense, that God didn’t take on a body, but was only a human being, that Jesus was simply some great man, prophet, teacher, or some odd admixture demigod (Arianism and Adoptionism). The Sacrament is highly affirmational that flesh matters, and that God works through flesh, is mediated by flesh, comes to us now through, with, and under matter. As one of my favorite theologies, William Temple, once wrote, “Christianity is the most material of religions.”

    Now of course we have to understand things in historical context. The Quakers don’t have sacraments in part because of a state Church reality in which sacraments were largely beholden to the English state, that should keep us Anglicans a bit humble. And yet, Quakers in my experience are highly sacramental in their understanding of their bodies as locus of God’s working out of salvation.

    Fr. John-Julian makes my central point, which I wanted to get up but haven’t yet coherently in a post. Maundy Thursday is in keeping with the practices of traditional desert hospitality, only here, God serves us, washes us, feeds us. Washing was the opening of desert hospitality and a real commitment to a way of life that is at odds with the world-eat-world mentality, that you serve the lost one, the wandering one, provide him or her with bath and meal, is the recognition of turnabout to a vision different from “red in tooth and claw” and of dependence on another for continued existence and survival, here the Wholly Other. Baptism is our initiation into “seeing things God’s way”, is our commiting to this way of hospitality in a world that tells us its “all about getting ours”. And the commitment made to this way is a struggle, after all, who among us wouldn’t simply want to get ours? In that sense, vows (married, union, religious), are grounded within this fundamental Christian commitment at Baptism. That commitment is nurtured by ongoing feeding, in this case upon the body and blood of our Lord, the new humanity, the divinized humanity, which is the grace and food for the struggle, pilgrimage, journey to live out God’s way of hospitality in the daily.

    I think again thought bls has hit on part of the issue, that we cannot isolate Sacraments from overall flow, what she’s been calling the liturgical.

    I’m going to argue that a meal with others is incredibly intimate–it is a “getting to know you” moment. Alexander Schmemann argues as much in speaking of our fall first through eating and our being raised through eating as well. Eating is. (And at the biological level, sex itself likely evolved through eating, just food for thought). But I concur with Fr. John-Julian, being communed is closer to making love. What if we saw all eating thusly through that lens? Many a gay man has written a poem on Communion in just those terms.

    The Lord’s Supper in this instance isn’t then simply about reenactment of the Last Supper, but here, God serves us now, this is our supping on the Lord, on the Resurrection.

  46. *Christopher

    Another thought in further thinking about this. Jesus tells the Sons of Thunder, taking this cup will not be a light thing–they end up martyred, after all. To offer that kind of taking up to someone who has no idea what they’re taking up, without prerequisate teaching and commitment in being baptized, seems a bit unkind in that outlook. It’s not that we’re saying God withhold’s his grace from any, but we make a commitment to a way of life that may cost us everything.

    Again, normative practice due to theology (systematics) and the pastoral situation are going to collide here, but I think we want to aim for making disciples and that requires a commitment.

  47. Annie


    Too high Christologies tend to docetism, that God couldn’t possibly take on a nasty mutable body.

    Or gnosticism! There is far too much risk of it in our church, too.

    Too low Christologies tend to say the same thing in a reverse sense, that God didn’t take on a body, but was only a human being, that Jesus was simply some great man, prophet, teacher, or some odd admixture demigod (Arianism and Adoptionism).

    I think this is getting too far fetched. I was thinking of bowing to Christ and Christ as servant the other day and it began to seem to me that the only way Christ would want us to bow is in pure adoration–all love! Where did he walk, who did he speak to? Was he too good for anyone? Didn’t he come more to assure the poor and downtrodden, the oppressed, the needy of justice? I think the wonder of it is that we have a God that is not too good to stoop to help a vagrant out of a gutter. Not an ordinary man! But someone so loving, so generous, so kind that he would lay down his life to help us all. I’m sorry, but thinking that he wasn’t about clean linen isn’t forgetting who he was.

    It’s not that we’re saying God withhold’s his grace from any, but we make a commitment to a way of life that may cost us everything.

    I hang out with too many Lutherans! It isn’t what we do. But beyond that–when? Before baptism? Before our first communion? Before confirmation? I’m afraid this statement doesn’t fit at all with my understanding of our relationship with God. Again, I will say that I had been baptised and confirmed before I ever took my first communion, but the impact of that communion–though amazing–was not the same as what it is now.

    I’m not sure if I like your lover analogy, either. I think it is a bit too groupy . . .


  48. Annie

    Oops! What can I say, Derek, but that the cat jumping up to try to steal my bacon was distracting.

  49. *Christopher

    Annie, my lover analogy isn’t mine. It’s been that of many a mystic in the Christian tradition.

    I don’t think it’s too far-feteched, it seems to me that one of the trends at the moment in TEC is exactly this type of low Christology, which ultimately leads to thinking Jesus doesn’t matter in the economy of grace when taken to its final end–God will save anyway… Well, yes. Through Jesus Christ whose love cost everything. There seems to be know sense of turning about in CWOB, though I acknowledge I know some who have become Christian because of it. But only in tandem with catechesis as follow up, and then Baptism. In my community, what has struck me, is that those who first came and CWOB’ed and then decided to become Christian, stopped receiving at that point until they were properly catechized and baptized.

    You’re right, God first serves us, as I mentioned, we cannot save ourselves, but our response to God matters–our response of course being so only because of the Spirit’s already at work. And the “our” is often others on our behalf.

  50. The young fogey

    I remember a wise professor in seminary suggesting that receiving Holy Communion is much more analogous to making love with someone than merely eating a meal together.

    In a similar conversation in an Episcopal blog nine months ago I said the same thing!

  51. Annie

    Thank you, Christopher. I’m afraid I haven’t met that kind of liberal.

    As far as the mystics you refer to, I can’t recall any. You don’t mean the tendency we have to think of and refer to the Holy Spirit as our beloved, do you? I personally just feel that there is no earthly comparison as all descriptions fall short.


  52. The young fogey

    In my community, what has struck me, is that those who first came and CWOB’ed and then decided to become Christian, stopped receiving at that point until they were properly catechized and baptized.

    Sounds like grace at work.

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