CWOB: Order is Important

Those who would offer communion to everyone understand the general meaning of a sacrament as described above.  This view is appealing because there is logical consistency in the sacraments.  Namely, that we do not do anything to earn God’s favor but rather receive it passively.  So, just like justification by grace, God offers the gift of God’s grace in the sacrament of Communion. This understanding of the sacraments, although appealing, fails to recognize that each sacrament embodies a different part of the gospel message. Emphasizing or offering communion before baptism has the potential to harm our baptismal spirituality because of our belief that it is the wellspring of life with God.[1] Our spirituality comes from Christ renewing us in baptism.

As we have seen baptism is that rite which makes us members of the Christ’s body. We are now different because of what God has done to us in the waters of baptism.  Yet, we still need to continually have our sins forgiven and our faith strengthened. This is why communion is the sacrament that one receives after they have entered the body of Christ through baptism.  Baptism begins our discipleship because it is that wellspring from which our faith comes and Communion is that which continually forgives our sins and strengthens our faith.  Paul Bradshaw saw the potential loss in Communion without Baptism when he said:

“You cannot argue that baptism is the foundation from which all Christian discipleship springs and at the same time welcome the un-baptized to the Lord’s Table and place no requirement upon them to proceed to commit themselves to the Lord in baptism. The two simply contradict each other. Our difficulties over this matter often arise from the fact that so many people see baptism as a ritual act…and as detached or at least detachable, from the process of becoming a Christian rather than integral to it.”[2]

Our baptismal spirituality is so integral to our spirituality it is evidenced by the beginning portion of our liturgy in the Confession and Forgiveness and Thanksgiving for Baptism.  It is also evident in the architecture of many churches.  Baptismal fonts are sometimes placed at the entryway of the church because it is through this sacrament that we are admitted to receive communion pointing to the primacy of baptism for the beginning of the Christian life of faith, i.e. discipleship.

[1] Dennis L Bushkofsky and Craig A Satterlee, The Christian Life (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 3.

[2] An excerpt from Paul F. Bradshaw, “The Liturgical Movement: Gains and Losses,” lecture delivered at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, CA, November 6, 2008: 9-10.


Filed under Communion Without Baptism, Ministry Reflections

3 responses to “CWOB: Order is Important

  1. Jeremiah Holst

    Hey Josh, thanks for addressing this stuff! It’s definitely something worthy of discussion, given the wide range of practices around the sacraments present within the Lutheran family.

    I find myself agreeing with the points you’re making – Communion only for the baptized does protect the primacy of baptism, and it is indeed true that it’s pretty difficult to argue the foundational nature of baptism if communion is opened to all, regardless of baptismal status. I have to admit, though, that I have a hard time agreeing in an absolute fashion with Bradshaw that “baptism is the foundation from which all Christian discipleship springs.”

    Now, before my fellow Lutherans jump all over me on this one, let me say that I do see baptism as inherently foundational. In baptism, God makes promises, and these are promises we can rely on throughout our lives and beyond, as Luther constantly refrained. I’m just not entirely comfortable with stating, unequivocally, that ALL Christian discipleship springs uniquely from baptism.

    God is pretty mischievous. While God does always keep his promises, he’s also got a track record of working outside of where we humans expect God to be. It seems to me entirely possible, and probable, that while God gives us the gift of baptism and all that goes with it, God isn’t about to let himself be constrained by it. “Good order” is certainly important for us, in our limitations – but the shepherd, the old woman, and the father that Jesus describes in Luke 15 aren’t exactly constrained by good order. God is generous, and will be generous with grace wherever he so desires (parable of the workers from Matthew 20).

    Now, all that said, I’m not sure I’m intending to make a case for a completely and fully open table. Good order is indeed important, and there’s no reason I can think of why someone who feels called to the communion table wouldn’t also be called to the baptismal font. I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with the… absoluteness, if that makes sense. I have a hard time seeing something wrong with inviting the baptized to the meal, and if one who is unbaptized comes forward, trusting that God’s grace is at work.

    I dunno, what do you think? Hope all is well with you!

  2. Jeremiah Holst

    Excellent, I’ll look forward to tomorrow then! Again, really well done stuff here.

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