Category Archives: Communion Without Baptism

CWOB: Reimaging and Revisting

A few years ago I posted a few blogs about Communion with out Baptism (CWOB).  In those posts I took a stance against it. You can read earlier posts in the categories section on the right hand side.

I have been rethinking this position lately. Epistemological humility should be paramount to the pastor/theologian. So, I have decided to reevaluate previously held positions and ask some questions.

Questions I have to answer.

  1. Have the sacraments always been viewed in the same way? We do have two thousand years of history of theological development that has come from the church.
  2. Once Lutheran theology developed it’s understanding of the sacraments, does that mean it can’t be further analyzed and readjusted according to culture, context, and history?  When I think of the atonement and how much we have moved from certain models to the current ones, it makes me think that this could be the case for the sacraments.
  3. Could the church, being led by the Spirit, be moved to re-imagine the connections between the sacraments?
  4. Can all of these questions be answered that is faithful to the witness of the scriptures?

So there…

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CWOB: Jesus and Hospitality

Some make the argument that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. This argument would mean that we should also offer this meal to all whether baptized or not by following the example of Jesus. What this assumes is that every meal that Jesus had including the Passover meal he shared with his disciples was the same thing.  James Farwell writes, “It’s simply not a foregone conclusion that Jesus could not have established or intended a special meal through which his disciples would ritually remember his vision of the kingdom that animated his wider ministry and continues to animate ours.”[1] This meal was instituted for those who where followers of Jesus. It is not truly hospitable to invite everyone to do what Christians do without properly allowing instruction on what God’s grace calls them to, namely their re-birth in baptism.

True Hospitality and Pastoral Care

True hospitality is inviting the guest to continually explore the grace offered in Jesus Christ by inviting them into a life long relationship of discipleship with Jesus through baptism. This instruction is what true hospitality is because it offers inclusion into the community rather than just a welcome to eating with the other. Having everyone come forward without distinction is not hospitable because it does not reveal who we truly are and what this meal truly does. True hospitality entails honesty.

The best practice is to put this into bulletins.  Our churches bulletin says, “ This sacrament is intended for all baptized Christians. If you are not receiving communion please come forward with your arms crossed to receive a blessing.”  This allows our intentions to be clear about for whom this sacrament is intended.  Yet, despite of how seriously I take this as an issue, I equally believe that the Alter is not to be a place of contention.  If someone is not baptized and has their arms extended, I believe that it is my pastoral responsibility to give it to them. We should not require seeing a baptismal certificate before distributing Communion.

There are many ways one could argue for giving communion to the non-baptized and I believe there might be a way to frame it that stays true to the Lutheran understanding of God’s initiatory action on humanity’s behalf. But this would change the what each sacrament does and what order it is to be done in. What ties the sacraments together would be broken and would inevitable lessen the significance of baptism.

[1] James Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: One the Practice of ‘Open Communion,’” in Anglican Theological Review 86:2 (Spring 2004), 221.

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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.


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CWOB: Sacraments are…

This next few blog posts will address a tendency in some ELCA congregations to view the Lord’s Supper as open to everyone, as an act of hospitality, whether baptized or not, and baptism as initiation into the community.

In order to talk about the implications of this tendency we must first look at what a sacrament is and then address the specific nature of each sacrament. In the next post we will then address the relationship between the sacraments and why order is important.  Finally we will discuss the pros and cons of  “hospitality” and its implications to mission, outreach, and discipleship.

1. Sacraments are…

According to the Book of Concord sacraments are, “signs of God’s will toward us, …and so it is right to define the New Testament sacraments as signs of grace.”[1]  These signs of grace are then performed with two necessary conditions.  The first is the elements that are being used and the second is the Word of God.  These two things create a picture showing the “Visible Word” of God.[2]  Yet, they also point to the one true sacrament of God, Jesus, who is the visible Word of God given for our sins.  The importance of recognizing that Jesus is the true sacrament of God is necessary for understanding the two sacraments that He gave to us: baptism and communion.  Gritsch and Jenson write, “About the gospel, the doctrine of justification claims that the gospel does what it says; about each sacrament of Lutheranism makes the same point in a way appropriate to that each sacrament as particular embodiment of some part of the gospel.”  So let us now look at how each sacrament embodies some part of the gospel.

2. Baptism

When we baptize anyone we put water over his or her heads and we say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] Arthur Just writes, “Baptism is the ‘frontier’ sacrament upon which all Christian life is founded.”[4] Baptisms are performed on both infants and adults who are entering into the Body of Christ.

There are a variety of biblical images that provide differing but complementary understandings of what baptism does.  The Johannine tradition shows baptism to be a rebirth.  Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”[5] We must be born again through the water and Spirit.  I appreciate this image because this imagery provides a good look at what baptism is doing.  We are taken from our old lives and given a new one in Christ.

The second biblical image that I appreciate comes from the Pauline tradition.  Paul’s image is of death and resurrection.  Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[6] In the Pauline tradition baptism is something that kills us and then resurrects us into a new life with Christ. Christ has recreated us by making us new creations in baptism.

Although rebirth and resurrection are different metaphors for speaking of the reality of what baptism does there is a common element in that we are removed from the old life and move into communion with God through baptism. Whether operating under the image of being born anew or one of death and resurrection they show that life is radically different after one has been baptized-it’s new life![7]

3. Communion

There are many things that could be said about what the Lord’s Supper does but I will only examine two of them for the sake of space.  Ultimately, I will show how the Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith.

In the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Since Christ is present in the meal and it’s proclamation message is sure, we can believe that it actually is the forgiveness of sins.  We say the words of Christ in the liturgy during the Words of Institution, “…shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”[8]  The Large Catechism says, “[W]e go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why?  Because the words are there, and they impart it to us!”[9] These words have the power to create what they say. We receive forgiveness because we are promised it in the meal.

The Lord’s Supper also strengthens our faith.  Since we are given a meal that was instituted and continues to be instituted by Christ we can be sure that the promises that he gives us are real.  The Apology says, “Thus in the church the Lord’s Supper was instituted that our faith might be strengthened by the remembrance of the promises of Christ-of which this sign reminds us-and that we might publicly confess our faith and proclaim the benefits of Christ…”[10] In both the content and the remembrance of the meal our faith is strengthened because of Christ’s promise.

[1] “Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” Eds. Robert Kolb et al. The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 270:69.

[2] Apology, 220:5

[3] There are variations to this but the words but, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” were commanded by Jesus himself in Matthew 28:19.  See Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition for the variations, 590.

[4] Arthur A. Just. Jr., Heaven On Earth (Saint Louis: Concordia Press, 2008), 150.

[5] John 3:5

[6] Romans 6:3-4

[7] I also think Luther’s flood prayer provides good imagery of God saving through water changing the lives of those whom God has saved.

[8] ELW Leaders Desk Edition, 238.

[9] The Large Catechism, 469:22.

[10] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 142:210.

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