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On the Sorrow of Open Communion - by Ephraim Radner

On the Sorrow of Open Communion

by Ephraim Radner

The topic of Open Communion (receiving the unbaptized at the Eucharist) is finally emerging as a subject for public discussion in ECUSA. One wonders why it has taken so long. Certainly we have been aware of the burgeoning practice of Open Communion for some time.

At least 10 years ago it was the public posture of the Cathedral in Denver and of several other churches in Colorado (including some well-known evangelical churches). It is certainly the public policy now of cathedrals and parishes around the country.

The House of Bishops as a whole, we learned several years ago, shared the Eucharist, at one of their gatherings, with the well-known Jewish speaker whom they had invited to address them. When I and others brought the matter up, as at least a serious ecumenical concern (let alone a major doctrinal and spiritual one), at ECUSA's Standing Commission for Ecumenical Relation in 2002, it met with general unease and avoidance.

One bishop on the Commission flatly stated that "the horse is out of the barn on this one, there is nothing to do, nobody is interested in theological arguments about this, so why bother?".

The fact that ECUSA canons were being flouted is obviously no longer a problem for most bishops, unless perhaps it affects their budgets and public standing.

Why would one think, in this context, that it should be considered a problem because it subverts ecumenical trust in our church's ability to keep its word and discipline within some moderately measured field of catholic community? The most the Commission was able to do was to recommend to General Convention that the question be "studied".

Of course, now that the "horse is out of the barn", we are getting reactions. Philip Turner, in his essay "ECUSA's God" (anglicancommunioninstitute.org), has written that "'open communion for the non-baptized' is far more than a cloud on the horizon within ECUSA.

It is a change in doctrine and practice that is fast becoming well established, and perhaps should be of even greater concern to the Anglican Communion than the recent changes in moral teaching and practice". More starkly, Alvin Kimel, of the well-known Pontifications blog, has (with reason) stirred up the "flee the Episcopal Church" crowd with ringing declarations that Open Communion represents "baptismal apostasy", and that "to admit the nonbaptized to communion is an act of blasphemy".

The theologian R. R. Reno, who has done the fleeing already, taunts Alan Jones, the Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, for berating the integrity of the Roman Catholic Church, with this rejoinder: "It could not be argued, as Jones suggests, that Catholicism is simply a more splendid ruin than the Episcopal Church.

In the Episcopal Church it is now an accepted practice to invite the unbaptised to receive communion. This is 9.0 on the Richter scale when it comes to sacramental convulsions" (First Things, May, 2005, p. 8).

A recent Anglican Theological Review (Spring and Summer of 2004) exchange between Profs. James Farwell and Kathryn Tanner, now publicized on the internet, moves the discussion into a more reflective realm.

It is this exchange that draws out my own commentary. For more than anything, I am perplexed at the oddity of the context in which this discussion on Open Communion and "restricted communion" has been placed.

Rather than confront the question on the terms of the Church's universal reception of the Eucharist in its practice - that is, trying to understand its divine givenness (we are, after all, Christians who believe in God giving us things) - the matter is argued in terms of putative "principles": the principles of Jesus' ethics; the principles of liturgical "logic"; the principles of mission and pastoral care.

It needs to be said that Farwell - the advocate of the Church's traditional teaching in this exchange -- solidly attempts an exposition of this tradition, and provides a good discussion on a number of fronts. To this degree, he offers a substantive apologetic that deserves both study and commendation.

But he concedes far too much up front, I believe, and in fact skews the character of the tradition by deciding to take as his basis for discussion the "contemporary argument" for Open Communion. This argument, as he describes it, is "ethical" in nature, and is tied to the understanding of Jesus as primarily a proclaimer of God's "radical hospitality" and "unconditional love".

(If the academic style-police can get rid of "gendered" language, perhaps they can also outlaw the use of the phrase "unconditional love" as something even remotely illuminating of a God who sends his Son to die on a Cross in judgment of human sin and in redemption of the human creature).

The premise, from the start, means that he must deal with categories of social and psychological relating whose deployment is, to say the least, intrinsically ambiguous, contested, and the prey of ideological projection in their very enunciation: on what firm basis can we determine "how" people "feel" "included", "drawn in", "sent out" and so on? And why - or how -- should we care? Taken as a whole, the use of these categories obscures the central fact that the Church believes (in various modes of expression) that the Eucharist is something, and that its reality is a given, by God, whose approach is simply not ours to manipulate, on whatever basis.

A presenting challenge when addressing this issue, once it has come up, is that there is no clear Scriptural injunction regarding the relationship between baptism and Eucharist. But what if there were? As Farwell points out, explicit scriptural injunctions are not relevant to many proponents of Open Communion anyway.

(Tanner objects to this charge; but while she herself may not be one of those scholars who sifts through historical reconstructions of the Scripture in order to eliminate the inconvenient, she can hardly claim that this is not a common practice amongst the revisers of the tradition.

As it is, she offers very little by way of Scriptural analysis herself, and completely avoids the Old Testament and the New Testament, outside of the Gospels, altogether.) Still, it is the case that, however early the practice of restricted communion was ordered - and Tanner accepts it to be a practice of "nearly 2000 years" of "documented history" -- there is the need for an "explanation" as to "why" this became the case, since Jesus himself said nothing about it. Hence the appeal to principles of behavior - ethics, evangelism, catechesis, mission, pastoral care - applied to the diversity of cultural locales.

And hence, too, the superficial judgments about the socio-religious psychology of "non-Constantinian" and "Constantinian" churches, as if we can both understand and distinguish, let alone correlate, the motives and inner meanings of Christian leaders and laity with respect to the eucharist according to some explanatory typology of ecclesial-political forms that neatly spans the centuries.

(The famous Annales historians, for all their quantitative erudition and documentary extravagance, could not even do this adequately for matters like attitudes to death and sex; why would we think the new Open Communion apologists and their antagonists can manage this on the matter of eucharistic "feelings" in the course of our current method of scholarship-by-manifesto [in which the present writer is, of course, equally implicated]?) But necessarily tossing evidentially grounded conclusion to the wind, the question "why would the early Christians have adopted a restricted form of communion?" - pagan meals abounded, persecution and the need for secrecy, and so on, maybe just plain self-righteousness -- is answered with a proposed list of principles that are then reapplied in our own "new" social circumstances to provide a personally acceptable outcome.

Because Jesus didn't say, according to the Gospel accounts, "only the baptized can come to communion in the Eucharist", are we therefore consigned to this kind of breathtakingly speculative thinking? Of course not.

A more thorough Scriptural reflection would at least point us towards relatively stable concerns that lie at the center of the Eucharist as Christ's gift, with a character of its own. Farwell points the way by noting the discussion of Paul in 1 Corinthians (texts ignored by Tanner). And these reflections on the Eucharist by the Apostle are clearly dealing with something that has its own power and purpose - the Eucharist judges, sets demands, even makes people sick in some cases. In short, the Eucharist is something prior to our questions about how to manipulate its usefulness for ethical, cultural, missionary and pastoral ends.

The Last Supper - the main Scriptural focus of Farwell's and Tanner's exchange - is, according to Jesus' words, a Passover meal (e.g. Luke 22:15). Granted some of the chronological complications this statement generates, it is nonetheless clear enough. (And if proponents of Open Communion want to reject the claim as a confused textual retrojection, that is their business; however, Scriptural selectivity, as we have found, rarely advances arguments nor does it gain compelling respect in the disputes of the Anglican Church).

As a Passover meal, the Last Supper cannot adequately be explained simply as a species of something called "meal ministry", which Open Communion advocates have invented as a category by which to analyze the ethical import of Jesus' mission as a whole. (If Jesus' "meal ministry" throughout his life, so the argument goes, included sinners, outcasts, maybe even unbelievers, and if the Last Supper is an example of this broad category, then it too must involve the same "hospitality" evidenced in all his meals.)

But the Passover meal is not like other meals, it is carefully organized, secretively arranged, and it is intended for Jesus' twelve disciples, and for none other. "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you".

In this case, the disciples themselves are carefully described. They are those who have "continued with me in my trials" (Lk. 22:28), they have been granted special revelations of the Father, have been "chosen" by Jesus personally, and are now granted, because of this, the special status of "friends" (John 15:14ff). The outcome to this identity is a vocation: to "keep" Jesus' "commands" and to "go and bear fruit", both of which will take flesh in the form of "loving one another".

In multiple and significant respects, then, the guests at the Last Supper are distinguished from the "crowds" to whom Jesus preaches, whom he feeds in their thousands, and with whom he shares meals in the course of his travels. And the character of these distinctions turn out, in fact, to be those that the Church has consistently attributed to her baptized members.

The meal itself, in its Passover context, is one of sacrifice and covenant -- the formation of a people, through the gift of God's self and the claiming of an allegiance. Jesus' own words, "instituting" the Eucharist, describe this explicitly, and the Old Testament meanings, transferred now into the "newness" of forgiveness, cannot simply be brushed aside. More to the point, the meal is further explained through the dispute that, in Luke, takes place immediately after the meal among the disciples on the topic of "greatness": in the course of responding to the argument, Jesus displays servanthood as the vocational substance of participation in the meal itself, deriving from the divine sacrificial reality presented within it (Lk. 22:24-27).

In Mark, the dispute and Jesus' response is explicitly referred to in terms of "baptism" (10:38ff.), which is offered to the disciples by Jesus, and is accepted by them overtly (however poorly understood). The promise of this accepted vocation - this "baptism" and "drinking of the cup" - is unity in Jesus' "trials" and access to the heavenly banquet and the thrones of "judgment" (Lk. 22:28-30).

Far from explicating the Last Supper in terms of some great banquet in which everyone finds a place (hardly a consistent theme in Jesus' "meal" teaching anyway, cf. Lk. 13:22-30), there is no question here but that this last Passover is tied here by Jesus and the evangelists to an apostolic vocation offered and embraced, an offer that is described in terms of "baptism" itself.

Let us leave aside the question here of whether any of this implies Open Communion or Restricted Communion. On its own terms, of what does it speak? It speaks of a particular call from Christ given to specific individuals, of an avowed acceptance of this call, of a range of demands ("commandments", "fruit", "trials", "continuing", "service", mutual commitments in love, and so on), of a gift from the Father of God's own Son, a life poured out for the sake of forgiveness, and finally, of a judgment ("if you keep my commands", "judging Israel", etc..). All this, and more, is embedded in the Last Supper's "institution" of the Eucharist.

And when Paul speaks of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, all these things are clearly presupposed and reiterated in their own way. In 1 Corinthians 10, for instance, the whole setting of his subsequent discussion is placed within the framework of Israel's call by God as a people, of her commitment to following and being sustained, and of her failure to do so, bringing with it terrible judgments from God as a result.

"These things happened to us as a warning; they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Is it a coincidence that Paul speaks of this entire story of Israel's failures in the wilderness, correlated to the Corinthians' own calling and failures, in terms of "baptism" and "feeding" both - "I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:1-4)? Or is not Paul speaking, typologically but quite explicitly, of the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist itself, and of the demanding vocation implied in them, given within the accepted formation of a people? Certainly, this way of speaking becomes the norm of the New Testament itself (cf. 1 Peter 2:4f, 9f), and stands quite directly behind the ancient liturgical eucharistic acclamation "holy things for holy people!").

Thus, in Paul's following elaboration of the various moral challenges and obstacles to the Corinthians common life, he speaks in terms of their degrading of the Eucharistic meal by behavior that their identity as Christians ought to preclude. The Eucharist, as Paul explains, is the place where Christian faithfulness is played out. Whatever "supernatural" sustenance it also provides, the meal's sustaining power is somehow tied to the committed character of the Christians and church who are its participants.

In a summary way Paul describes this demanded eucharistic faithfulness in a single phrase, "discerning the body": "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (11:28-29). The context of his remarks show clearly that Paul is using a double meaning for the term: the "body" is both the body of Christ given in the meal, as well as the body of Christ that is His Church, made up of rich and poor together.

Hence, "discerning the body" refers to a kind of life. It is a life led in reception of and in conformance to the "body of Jesus [crucified]" (something which Paul lifts up throughout his letters as a central reality of the Christian vocation and gift). It is also a life led in accordance with the mutual love and subjection among Christians that represents the keeping of the "new command" within the "new human being" (cf. Eph. 2) of the Church's corporate life in Christ. The Eucharist "shows up" this kind of life, in the sense of unveiling its integrity among participants in the meal (in much the same way, from the opposite direction, that "heresies" and "factions" unveil the truth among vying Christians, cf. 1 Cor. 11:18f.).

In this way, the Eucharist itself "judges" its participants in and of itself, exposing to view the set of each one's heart and of their mutual relations. The negative effects of judgment ("this is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" [11:30]) are not perhaps the result of the Eucharist becoming to them a poison, as much as they are symptoms that simply demonstrate the fruits of a rejection of the Eucharist's substance: we weaken and die because we refuse to love.

What are the implications of all this? On one level, it is very simple: "Take heed". "Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Watch out! Take care! Take care how you eat, what you do, how you approach, how you live! For the calling is great, the gift is powerful, the judgment is strong. The import of this conclusion is not meant to turn the Eucharist into the Ark that killed Uzzah as some kind of impersonal outbreak of destructive holiness (cf. 2 Samuel 6). As Hebrews writes, "you have not come to... a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and tempest ... [so that] they could not endure the order that was given, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned'". The place to which we come is a place where terror has no initiating role, but where awesome joy and delight and worship blossom. But that is only because it is place opened up to the willing, for the sake of approaching God himself. And to approach is to receive who God is. "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant" (12:18ff.).

This is a place where holiness is offered and taken hold of, and where its reality reflects the purity and transcendent light of God. So the writer continues with a warning all the same: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven... Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire" (12:25-29). We "take care" because life with God - embodied in the Eucharist itself in its multiple realities -- is a privilege that demands the transformation of our whole selves, the beginning of which constitutes the willingness to be given over to Him.

Much of the history of Catholic and Protestant devotion before the Eucharist is based on this recognition of its character as tied to the very being of God, holy and true. It includes the careful practice of "confession" beforehand, and rightly even extends to the appropriate need, at times, for "separation" from communion, and even "ex-communication".

Doubtless, this is a whole tradition - however ancient and embedded - that the advocates of Open Communion reject as deeply distorting of the essentially benign nature of Eucharistic fellowship. But then on what basis would they understand the character of "confession" at all in the eucharistic context? The issue is not, as Tanner repeatedly says, whether a baptized communicant is somehow "better" than an unbaptized person (or unbaptized communicant, if that is what is going on).

This worry over false distinctions in moral goodness is a red herring in this debate, and it feeds off the seeming ressentiment of those who assume that any standards articulated and submitted to represent a judgment upon themselves and can be therefore attributed only to the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of others.

The Church has never claimed (in its doctrinal definitions around this matter anyway) that baptized Christians are "better" than the unbaptized; and Jesus certainly did not single out his 12 disciples on the basis of their moral preparedness. The claim made is simply this: that the baptized have made a choice to be held accountable to something greater than their own sense and construal of God, that is, to the calling from God given in Christ Jesus, to "follow" him "to the end". The choice, however, itself carries with it enormous responsibilities and dangers.

Judgment begins with household of God (1 Peter 4:17f.), and those who assume the commandments and calling of God will be judged by them (cf. Romans 2). Accountability to one's accepted "Lord" means that one is judged by one's fruits, in an explicit way, the fruits, that is, of the Lord's own calling (Matthew 7:17-23). To call Jesus "Lord" means, in the very utterance of this allegiance, that He may well turn to us and say "depart from me, you evildoer" because our lives and hearts deny our claim (i.e. we are liars).

This dynamic of "exclusion" - assumed primarily by the baptized in their very claim to follow Jesus -- is built into the Eucharist at its foundation. It springs from the very character of the meal as the sharing of God's own self, the receipt of which is grace, the rejection of which is helpless autonomy, the lying about which is indeed blasphemy.

"Caring" for Eucharistic life takes its place within this dynamic as a transcendent vocation that responds to the givenness of God in Christ. To examine what such care and "heeding" is about is very different from asking the question of "what eucharistic strategy would work" for mission, evangelism, and welcome among this or that group.

This last kind of question is oriented to functionalist and mechanistic concerns to which a variety of answers can obviously be given, based on how one cares to analyze and evaluate the social and psychological parameters of a given community. Tanner's paper is precisely located in this way of thinking. And while it places its questions within a framework of ethical principal - how might baptism before eucharist or eucharist before baptism display this ethical principal of radical hospitality? - it inevitably lapses into theory (and rather personalized theory at that) bound to an abstraction.

But if the question of how the Eucharist could be used to further the purported ethical mission of the Church is misplaced, what would "caring for the Eucharist" mean? Based on the Scriptural character of the Eucharist as outlined above, it would seem that Farwell's passing references to Augustine should be taken as crucial.

Augustine, as Farwell notes, most strikingly derived a eucharistic theology from the Pauline exhortation to "discern the body" in terms of the coincidence of ecclesial life and divine flesh offered: "It is to what you are that you reply Amen [in the eucharistic prayer], and by so replying you express your assent... be what you can see, and receive what you are" (Sermon 272). Caring for the Eucharist, in this light, means caring for the character of our common life as the Church in Christ, growing in caritas and in the formation of a people embodying the sacrificial being of the Mediator, which He offers us as a gift.

Caring for the Eucharist does not mean "protecting" the sacrament from "outsiders"; it means building, sustaining, and committing oneself to a body of mutually subjected followers of Jesus bound to Him. The Tradition's long and rich understanding of the Eucharist in terms of the "gift" given and received and given over again by the members of Christ's body derives from this basic insight. It stands as the foundation of the "sacrificial" character perceived as essential to the Eucharist itself.

Now we can perhaps better answer the main question: what is the place of Baptism in all this? Farwell is surely right in insisting that there is a clearly apprehended "logic of participation" at work in the Scriptural accounts of the Eucharist. Clear enough so as adequately to fill any need for a Scriptural injunction.

It is a logic, furthermore, that is quite coherent with the kind of parsing Farwell does of the 4th c. Triduum, as taken over into the BCP. But it is a logic that is more fundamentally based on the character of the Eucharist itself than on its subsequent liturgical elaboration. It proceeds from the simple question put by the Lord to each would-be follower: do you love me and do you love my body?

Tanner seems to think that a "logic" derived from this kind of question posed to an individual is fraught with ambiguity, and therefore is incapable of founding a clear ordering of something like baptism and Eucharist. She wonders whether baptized Christians "really" are "informed" more than others about their faith (so as to answer such a question from Christ), or whether therefore they really have the interior dispositions in a way better set to receive the Eucharist than the non-baptized, or whether this or that approach would in fact make people feel differently and respond to things differently. As a set of questions with actually demonstrable answers, these are impossibly raised.

There is no way to know what people are "really thinking" (and certainly no one, of either the Open Communion or the Restricted Communion groups have offered any kind of analysis that goes beyond the superficially anecdotal and psychologically jeujune. These are perhaps useful categories for the homilist and the occasional counselor. But they have little to offer as the basis for Church teaching.

The Eucharist's practice in the Church is not founded on the uncovering, let alone imputing, by others of hidden motives. "God searches the hearts" (1 Chron. 28:9); Prov. 11:15). God alone. Rather, the Eucharist's practice is founded upon the willingness - the integrity of which God will judge - of persons to give themselves over to the Body of Christ, within the dynamic of sacrifice by which the Body lives. It is a willingness expressed as a simple "yes" or "no" (cf. Matthew 5:37), whose "fruits" are visible (cf. Matt. 21:28ff.)..

Thus, in Acts 2, the Church is formed around the apostles according to a given logic: preaching (2:14ff), repenting (2:38), baptizing (2:41), teaching, fellowship, and Eucharist (2:42). And this logic is merely the expression of how the Body itself is "faithful" to the sacrifice of Christ, something that could be alternately described in terms of the "caring" of the Body in a literal and material way (2:44ff.). Similarly, where Paul speaks directly about the "care" of the Body in terms of the members' mutual concern and suffering for one another, he does so on the basis of a single baptism in the "one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12ff.).

Although the Eucharist is not mentioned here, he has just been talking about it in the chapter before. Likewise, in Ephesians 4, the character of the Body's "health", through membership and mutual upbuilding in love and accountability, is described on the basis of a common "faith and baptism" (4:5). This is reinforced in terms of the baptismal imagery of "new natures", which are explicated in terms of the kind of life the Dody itself demands, and whose "discernment" (to use the language of 1 Cor. 11), entails exactly the forms of living outlined above.

How do the advocates of Open Communion respond to this consistent Scriptural ordering of the Christian life? Although Tanner, as noted, insists that it is theoretically just as possible for individuals to come to value the Body - to be built up in it - subsequent to Eucharistic participation (i.e. by having the baptismal commitments and formation follow sharing in the Eucharist or along with it), this possibility simply ignores the fact that the Eucharist is an embodiment of that commitment, and judges an individual on the basis of such a life.

This is God's work, not ours, that is done in the Eucharist. Baptism precedes the Eucharist because it articulates the sacrificial willingness upon which the Eucharist is founded as a divinely establishing, and judging, fact. And furthermore, pace Tanner's assertion that most Open Communion advocates are in fact quite interested in beefing up the "formational" side of their (eucharistically inclusive) congregations, what we are in fact seeing around the country is that "open baptism" (i.e. baptism "without classes" and "with no strings attached") has rapidly emerged among communities where Open Communion is practiced.

And this is justified, not at all on the basis of "discerning the Body", but of the dynamics of "welcome". Nothing is more fatal to the theoretical and functionalist claims of the Open Communion advocates, on their own terms, than this development.

In fact, though, the sequential ordering of baptism and Eucharist is reaffirmed precisely in those contexts where "concern for the Body" is most explicit, that is, in ecumenical contexts. One of the most ecumenically "inclusive" documents on the Eucharist is, of course, that of the 1982 "Lima Statement" of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, on "Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry".

It covers many of the elements noted above, including a significant section on the Eucharist as "sacrifice" (Section B), which places the Eucharist within the framework of the consciously apprehended "communion of saints" in the work of the Church itself.

In this regard and significantly, the Lima Statement emphasizes over and over the character of the Eucharist as the act "of the Church", first understood as the "People of God" in continuity with Israel (I.1), next as the "sacrificing" community of the Church, and finally, in a complete section devoted to this (D), as "the communion of the faithful" which, in a real sense is the Eucharist. In this section, the priority and requirement of Baptism before Eucharistic communion is explicitly articulated ("from the beginning Baptism was seen as the sacrament through which believers are incorporated into the Body of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit" [19 Commentary]).

Far from somehow segregating Church from "mission" as Tanner fears - a paragraph is devoted to the connection between Eucharist and the Christian work of promoting justice in the world (20) - the Eucharist of "believers" is seen as the guarantee of that mission largely through its instrumentality of the "yes" of Christian discipline to the call of God into the world's service.

But - and this is critical for Lima - the integrity of this service is given fundamentally in the life of Eucharistic "body" of the Church(es): those who cannot commit and express their commitments to mutual subjection and care not only obscure the "catholicity" of the Eucharist, they "weaken" the very witness that marks the center of their identities (19, 26). And what is one of the primary means by which such mutual care is expressed? It is "ordering one's own life according to those ways that take seriously the interests and concerns of sister churches" (19). This is, in part, what the Orthodox theologian Petros Vassiliadis has called "costly eucharistic vision" (cf. his Eucharist and Witness, [WCC, 1998]).

This brings us back to an initial point in this discussion: ecumenical concern as it is tied to the celebration of the Eucharist and its place within the life of the Church's baptized members.

Tanner can write that "'table to font' means a significant revision of the 'font to table' order that has been part of the documented history of the church for nearly two thousand years", and one might add, that remains the foundational shape of almost all churches' discipline (leaving aside the much contested American Methodist claim to Open Communion as a "ordinance of conversion", which appears hardly to have been what John Wesley meant when he popularized that phrase).

The "documented history" in this case represents the received character of the Church "catholic", and, in itself, constitutes the outline of a set of "interests and concerns" tied to the central shape of the Christian life. Advocates of Open Communion can, of course, reject this "history", according to a varied application of functionalist theories. That is their choice.

But in so doing - and now we are actually talking about real bishops and priests of ECUSA -- they are rejecting the character of the church they claim to represent. On what basis do they remake the Church in the image of their own speculations about possible worlds of logic, in the very face of and in opposition to the "interests and concerns of their sister churches"? The insistence on implementing these speculations is, quite simply, a contradiction of the Eucharist as received and lived by the churches of Christ.

It is hard to avoid seeing a parallel here with other actions of unilateral change that our leadership has embraced of late, with the apparent support of some members of the theological guild. Whatever prompts these actions (and we will avoid assigning motivation here), they seem of a piece, in that they are associated with many of the same people in the church. And they are rending the Body of Christ.

This is an observation of simple fact, and one with profound Eucharistic implications and intimations of coming judgment. Whether words like "blasphemy" or "apostasy" are in order or not to describe this seismic disturbance, I cannot say. What I can say, given the Eucharistic meaning of this rending, certainly "unworthy" in every respect, is that it is a cause for tears, and for a prayer that at least, in the end, "what cannot be shaken may remain" (Hebrew 12:27).

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim is a trained theologian and a priest in the Diocese of Colorado.

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