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Baptism on chopping block as sacrament of initiation into The Episcopal Church

Baptism on the chopping block as sacrament of initiation into The Episcopal Church
A jettisoning of the faith, one mis-action at a time


By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
March 28, 2012

Little by little, the foundation of faith in The Episcopal Church is being reduced to ruins and the once grand colonial church of the Reformation is being progressively transformed into a social action agency. The latest proposed element to chip away at core Anglican beliefs is the Diocese of East Oregon's desire to offer Holy Communion to anyone who approaches the altar rail with their hands upraised. Baptism would not be a prerequisite. The Diocese of East Oregon has made it a matter of Communion without Baptism.

Apparently, it was the Delegates from St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Ontario, Oregon who first proposed the Open Table Resolution.

"It would not have happened without a unanimous vote at Convention that this was the direction we wanted to go," reportedly said the Rev. Anna R. Carmichael, rector of St. Mark's, in Hood River, Oregon. It seems she prepared the document that will go to General Convention. "This was the work of many people."

Since the earliest of times, it has been the understanding, tradition and practice of the entire Christian Church to see Baptism as the first sacrament to be celebrated in the life of a new Christian. Baptism, therefore, is the foundation upon which the other sacraments and rites, including Holy Communion, are based.

The Episcopal Church already has a generous policy of Open Communion. Any baptized Christian in good standing in their own denomination is welcome to receive Communion at an Episcopal Church. However, there are limitations to that Open Communion rule as outlined in the Disciplinary Rubrics of the Book of Communion Prayer.

Those rubrics include denying Communion to anyone known to live a notoriously evil life, to those who have wronged their neighbors and are a scandal to the congregation, or to those who exhibit hatred and unforgiveness towards another. The priest is solemnly admonished to speak to these persons privately and then report why Communion is being withheld to the bishop within two weeks.

Retired Eau Claire Bishop William Wantland further explained, "although TEC has, by practice, adopted an "open Communion" stance, the Church officially adopted rules that admit to Communion only those who (1) are baptized and admitted to Communion in their own Church, (2) prepared by self examination and are in love and charity toward others, (3) understand the Eucharist to be a reflection of the Heavenly Banquet to come, (4) recognize the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and (5) reception of Communion must not violate the teaching of their own Church." Not all Christian churches have an Open Communion practice. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, some Baptists, the Amish, a variety of Lutherans comprised of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as other conservative churches reject this broadminded approach to unrestricted reception at the Lord's Table. Although, it is noted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in intercommunion (concordat) with The Episcopal Church.

Now the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bent on turning long standing theologically sound liturgical practice on its ear. On March 10, reportedly meeting online, Eastern Oregon's Diocesan Council and Standing Committee took the bold step of re-doing two basic Anglican Sacraments - Baptism and Holy Communion -- by ratifying a new resolution.

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon's ratified Open Table Resolution reads: "Be in resolved, the House of _______ concurring, that The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion." The Resolution also calls for the total deletion of TEC's Canon I.17.7 which succinctly states: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church," as a minimum eligibility requirement for Communion. The Resolution also calls for "Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7" following the deletion of the currently numbered canon.

Eastern Oregon's resolution is slated to be presented this summer at General Convention 2012 as Resolution C040. The newly filed Resolution is slotted for the legislative committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music after which it is kicked over to the House of Bishops for its initial action.

In the Ordering of priests and bishops, the Book of Common Prayer requires bishops and priests to provide for and rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant, namely Baptism and Holy Communion. The priests are called upon to be by the bishop to be "loyal to the doctrine, disciple and worship of Christ as this Church has received them," whereas the bishop is charged with guarding "the faith, unity and discipline of the Church," while celebrating with the people the "sacraments of our redemption."

The Book of Common Prayer commentary concerning the Service of Holy Baptism states: "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church. The bond which God established in Baptism is indissoluble."

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon's explanation for its desire to see a change in the minimum requirements for receiving Holy Communion are that The Episcopal Church has continued to move forward as a more inclusive, open and welcoming religious body and should not to be encumbered by restrictive canons in its drive to be radically hospitable, boldly ecumenical, unconditionally companionate.

"In recent decades the Episcopal Church, with prayerful consideration and deliberation, has consistently moved to being a more inclusive, open and welcoming member of Christ's Body. Such grace is riveted on the teachings and actions of Jesus and the compassionate embrace he had for all...no matter their creed or race," the explanation states. "We believe it essential our Liturgy reflect the unconditional hospitality our Lord employed for his mission."

The Diocese is basing its new baptismless Eucharistic theology upon what it feels is the grace of God in action.

"We believe such an open invitation for all to fully participate in the Eucharist is in keeping with our catechism's teaching on grace: "Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills," citing the 1979 Prayer Book's Catechism's statement on sacramental grace.

"We believe appropriate preparation and readiness to receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ is experienced within the unfolding of the Divine Liturgy, providing whatever an individual needs for examination, repentance and forgiveness amid the call to be in love and charity with all people," the Diocese's explanation continues citing the Catechism's teaching on the Holy Eucharist.

"We know from our strivings within ecumenism and mission that the communion Christ intended for all is perilous and difficult, and that boldness in offering radical hospitality is our calling rather than canonically driven caution," the explanation concludes.

To be Anglican is to look toward the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion for structure as well as the other Anglican formularies of the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal coupled with the Scripture for solid guidelines in unity, faith and order thus providing definable parameters to follow. The principle of Communion without Baptism is outside of these defined and understood parameters of classic Anglican piety, faith and practice.

Since 1801 the Thirty-Nine Articles have been a part of the treasure of The Episcopal Church. These historic statements of doctrine, which date back to the days of Elizabeth I and are a reworking of Thomas Cranmer's Forty-Two Articles, have a have a lot to say about Baptism and Holy Communion.

Article XXV states: "Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him."

The Outline of the Faith in the Prayer Book Catechism further explains that the two great Sacraments of the Gospel are given by Christ to his Church of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist and that they can only be received worthily through the examination of life, the repentance of sin and by being in love and charity with all people. If not Article XXV cautions: "but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith."

Article XXVII on Baptism says that "Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church ..." and that the "Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ." The Catechism further explains, "Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God."

Article XXVIII has much to say about the Lord's Supper. "The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death ... The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith."

However the Articles of Religion are clear in trying to protect the notorious sinner and scandal mongers, as described in the Disciplinary Rubrics, from self-damnation by strictly warning them in Article XXIX: "The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing."

Article XXXIV also has strong words about the purposeful changing of the traditions and ceremonies of the church fearing that it would offend the common order, injure properly placed authority, and wound of conscience of those weak in faith: "Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren."

The Article also goes on to explain that a national church can make changes in rites and ceremonies which are manmade in nature but these changes must be done in such a way that they are ultimately edifying.

In fleshing out Article XXXIV, the third point of the 1886 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral states: "That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own ..." The Diocese of Eastern Oregon is not the only Episcopal diocese in the books to proffer a Resolution on Baptism and Holy Communion for the upcoming General Convention.

Across the continent, the Diocese of North Carolina has filed Resolution C029 entitled "Access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion." The North Carolina diocese is calling for restraint and to complete a study to more closely ascertain the pastoral and theological underpinnings of the relationship between Baptism and Holy Communion and before Canon I.17.7 is tampered with.

In part, Resolution C029 states: "Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention direct the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to appoint a special commission charged with conducting a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion in this Church and to recommend for consideration by the 78th General Convention any amendment to Title I, Canon 17, Section 7, of the Canons of General Convention that it deems appropriate ..."

The North Carolina resolution is requesting $30,000 so that the unfinished work of Resolution A089 in 2003 and D084 in 2006 can be completed with the results being presented to the 78th General Convention in 2015 at Salt Lake City, Utah

"...and be it further Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $30,000 for the implementation of this Resolution," Resolution C029 concludes.

The North Carolina resolution has been sent to the Constitution & Canons legislative committee. It is to be acted on first by the House of Bishops.

"It is becoming increasingly common across the Church to invite any person who seeks a deeper understanding of God through Christ to partake of Holy Communion, notwithstanding the explicit provisions of Canon I.17.7," writes the North Carolina delegation in explaining its rationale behind Resolution C029. "The House of Deputies of the 74th General Convention (2003) called for such a study by adopting Resolution 2003-A089. That resolution was referred by the House of Bishops to its Committee on Theology and was not enacted. Subsequently, Resolution 2006-D084 of the 75th General Convention called on the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, in consultation with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, to provide to the 76th General Convention [2009] a pastoral and theological understanding of the relationship between Holy Baptism and Eucharistic practice. This resolution repeats these calls."

Should Eastern Oregon's C040 sneak past the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies unscathed, its passage could be as spiritually traumatic, faith-shattering and Communion-breaking as the ordination of women and gays to the priesthood and the episcopate, and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the Presiding Bishop were.

Can The Episcopal Church survive continued dumbing down of its faith and order?

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