My emphases and comments.
Should we invite persons who are not baptized to receive Holy Communion? [all the kewl kids are doing it!] The church is discussing this question today. [in order to be relevant, me thinks!] Anglicans traditionally have believed that the eucharist [editorial warning...this article will never Capitalize the word Eucharist even though it is our central, oldest, and most unifying Sacrament ordained by Jesus Christ] is a family meal, reserved for members of the church through baptism. [...again with these Sacraments not being capitalized, let alone designated as HOLY...I see a pattern (cough, smell an agenda)] Those who are not baptized are not members of the church; therefore, they cannot participate in the family meal.
This exclusive view of the eucharist has a long history. [Damned old traditions again!] St. Paul warns against eating and drinking in an “unworthy manner” (I Cor. 11:27), though he seems to leave the decision whether to partake in the meal to each person’s conscience (I Cor. 11:28). Closed communion is standard practice in some Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic and Orthodox. [and we have no clue as to why--those mean ole bullies! Oh, shoot, my cousin is a Lutheran and they're meanies too, sniff, sniff] However, many Anglican churches throughout the world now practice open communion. There are good reasons, both missional and theological, for doing so. [okay, let's all hold our breath until his discusses the unpleasant (cough, unorthodox) consequences* for doing so...]
The Missional Case
Consider the fact that most Anglican churches now celebrate the eucharist every Sunday at every service. [okay. credit where it's due. this is a great post-conciliar correction.] Yet many people are not baptized. How do we reach them? [Read, "How do we get around that, rather than do anything about it?"] Do we invite them to church for Sunday dinner [pass 'em 'er biscuits, Merle!] and tell them they cannot eat the food? [never mind the wedding garment thingy...no parables about that...so...]
How, in our multicultural and pluralistic society, can our churches be places of hospitality if we exclude table fellowship with the non-baptized? This is not an academic question. [Winning clarification, that!] In Canada, a growing number of the population is not baptized. [No! we shan't do the work of evangelization! that would be exclusivist and bigoted.] Included are people from different religious traditions or people with no religious affiliation at all. Quite likely, some are our grandchildren or great-grandchildren, whose parents neglected or refused to have them baptized. [I knew this paragraph was going down hill]
How can the church effectively minister in a post-Christian world where a significant percentage of the population is not baptized? [chirp...chirp...nope, can't think of a single way] Some Anglican churches are attempting to meet this challenge by becoming open and inclusive faith communities, [OPEN and INCLUSIVE are always good things, right?] ready and willing to support people in their spiritual journeys. [because it's all about the journey] They understand that the Anglican tradition has never been content to adopt a sectarian mentality, to insulate itself from culture or to refuse to connect with an unchurched population. [The word adopt occurs in his narrative...yet no connection to Holy Baptism...how splendidly relevant!]
Open communion increasingly is seen [just allow us to show you...yawn] as a way to build a bridge [bridge? I'll leave the Latin word for that alone] between the church and the unchurched. [because, of course, there really is no other way] If people are “spiritual but not religious” as several sociological studies indicate, then the desire for transcendence experienced in sacramental worship may well draw them to church. [unless the un-capitalized 'church' has quit being The Church. In which case they might just fly home to experience private sensations without other individuals interfering with the reception]
There is a pattern here:[oh, you see one too, do you?] experience, community, and faith—in that order. [and ALWAYS in that order...money quote if there ever was one] In this organic process, experience is foundational to faith. I term this “experiential evangelism”—offering people an experience of God that draws them into the Christian community and leads to faith in Jesus. There is precedent for this model. Solomon Stoddard, the father-in-law of Jonathan Edwards [notable Anglican worthy...not] and himself one of the great New England Puritan pastors, referred to Holy Communion [kudos on the dignified attribution] as a “converting ordinance” in which the experience of receiving communion served to transform the heart of the recipient. [which is just what Edwards meant, you see]
We now live in a post-modern world that places heart over head, feeling over thought, intuition over logic and image over words. [Oh thank heaven we've all grown up and cast off those nasty nannies--head, thought, logic, and words] “We have a generation that is less interested in cerebral arguments, linear thinking, theological systems,” observes Leith Anderson, author of Dying for Change. Instead, they are “more interested in encountering the supernatural,” he says. It is by an experience with the supernatural that people enter into community. It is through community that people come to faith. [contra Anselm it's the new way to come to church]
To be sure, this is a significant shift in the way Anglicans usually have thought of Christian formation. The traditional model holds that believing leads to belonging—you believe the faith of the church in order to belong to the church. In this model, the church made confirmation a prerequisite to communion. However, an emerging model reverses the order, and holds that belonging leads to believing. Insofar as people belong to a Christian community, they come to believe in the faith of that community. [each and every time this is true!...funny there is no footnote or quote from a trusted authority that has performed actual research into this] In this model, communion leading to baptism may complement the still normative practice of baptism leading to communion. [sure, it just may. let's all wait and see]
This new model of Christian formation is consistent with church growth methodology. “The old paradigm taught that if you have the right teaching, you will experience God,” writes Leith Anderson. “The new paradigm says that if you experience God, you will have the right teaching.” [I promise I'm not making this up!]
Open communion played a major part in the rapid growth of my parish in Southern California. I saw the same scenario repeated many times—non-Christians receiving Holy Communion and experiencing God in a powerful way, leading to a desire to be baptized. Therefore, I ask: might we not see the experience of receiving communion as a way of drawing people to faith in Jesus?
The Theological Case
There is, however, another consideration. Who is the host of the Lord’s Supper? God is. God welcomes us. Even before we ask for food, God spreads a table before us. God’s all-embracing hospitality is a hallmark of the meal we call eucharist. [hey, he's capitalizing God, if no one noticed]
One of the most powerful witnesses of God’s inclusive love is the welcoming table, so prevalent among southern black churches in the United States. At these fellowship dinners, held on church grounds, a large meal is prepared for anyone who might come: rich and poor, black and white, stranger and church member. [taking nothing away from these events which I love, that is not a Eucharist] In the days of the segregationist south, when legal measures were ruthlessly enforced to prevent different races from eating together or even sharing a water fountain, the welcoming table was a powerful witness to God’s inclusive love. [?]
Might not the Lord’s Table in Anglican churches be understood as a welcoming table? Is it possible for us to see the altar as a symbol of inclusion rather than exclusion? Anglican biblical scholar John Koenig and reformed theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw have argued separately that the most pervasive image in the Bible is the banquet table, with God serving as a generous host. Salvation is feasting in the kingdom of God, where people will come from north and south, east and west to sit at table together. In Isaiah 25:6−9, for example, the banquet is a symbol of salvation, with the invitation extended to “all peoples” and “all nations”—not just Israel.
This table fellowship is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus welcomed all kinds of people to his table: rich people, poor people, good people, sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, you name them, and they came to eat and drink with Jesus (Mt. 9:9−10; Luke 14:12−23;19:5). [how many of them were at the first Eucharist? how unjust and exclusivist of our dear Lord!] United Methodist Bishop William Willimon has said that Jesus’ open invitation “manifested the radically inclusive [not just inclusive, but radically inclusive] nature of his kingdom, a kingdom that cuts across the barriers we erect between insiders and outsiders, the saved and the damned, the elect and the outcast—barriers often most rigidly enforced at the table.”
Jesus welcomed all sorts of people to his table. [He was invited to their tables in the book I read] Might we also welcome people with the same openness and acceptance as he did? [oh, why not?, nothing is sacred anymore!] After all, it is the Lord’s Table, not ours. Who are we to exclude the very people that Jesus includes in his ministry? [while we're at it let's teach the unbelievers to serve this Holy Group-Meal and clean up afterward]
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.
*edited from reasons.