Baptism & Eucharist

It is pretty rare that we dedicate a post to pointing out someone else’s blogging but I thought this series by Fr. Matt Gunter about the necessity of Baptism for Eucharist was exemplary.  O that all our priests could consider theologically in like manner!

PART I – A Sketch of an Argument for the Logic of the Traditional Discipline

PART II – Inclusion vs. Renewal & Incorporation

PART III & IV – Community vs. Association & Fellow Citizens

PART V – Under Judgment

PART VI & VII – Transformation & Whose Table?

PART VIII – Hospitality

PART IX – Conclusion


  1. Thanks for sharing the links to these postings by Fr. Gunter. I look forward to reading them.

    On my blog (writing as an Episcopal priest), I’ve offered a posting in which (among other things) I’ve said the following in opposition to offering Communion without Baptism:

    “Liturgically, this shift from the objective character of Baptism to the subject’s desire to receive Communion requires a new Prayer Book that downplays Baptism and the Baptismal Covenant in favor of liturgies that put the Eucharistic table, the desire to be ‘inclusive,’ and the individual’s ‘spiritual journey’ front and center. This means moving away from a Christ-centered to a human-centered liturgical focus.”

    More here:


  2. Fr. Owen,

    That’s a great point. If such a move were to take place it would be ironic indeed as it is the ‘inclusivity’ of Baptism which is the foundation for those who argue for – for lack of a better phrase – “full inclusion” – no really, is there a better phrase, I’m looking?

    Keep in mind there is a Hymnal revision on the horizon. If TEC were to opt out of Covenanting I suppose it would only be a matter of time until another prayer book revision would move in that direction.


  3. My parish even, unfortunately, has “open communion.” I’m sure the reasons are very different than they are in SoCal though! It is a very “low church” evangelical parish and so what is important to my rector is that one has “Jesus in their heart.” I should like to see the objectivity of Baptism be required.

    What’s more, I just don’t understand being frustrated with “progressives” for doing SS Blessings or whatever else against the Prayer Book when we aren’t even going to follow the rubrics!


  4. I look forward to reading Matt Gunter’s posts about this. I have been considering the whole question of whether baptism is necessary for communion, and I reach a different conclusion (now be aware I haven’t read these posts yet, and hope to do so this week). For me there are 2 primary and compelling reasons to revisit and change the traditional understanding.

    1) If baptism is the once-accomplished sacrament of commitment to the Jesus movement, to walking in the way, to membership in the church (whichever metaphor you prefer) and communion is the often-repeated sacrament of nourishment, then it makes sense to me that one can and properly ought to be nourished into the life-changing commitment. In other words, one needs to be fed in order to make this choice of accepting the compelling movement of the Spirit towards professing the faith of Jesus and walking in his way. Feeding before deciding simply makes sense to me on a human level.

    2) Phyllis Tickles fabulous book The Great Emergence, ends with the note that emerging churches are changing the context in which faith is being lived. Whereas the traditional formulation is one of “believing-behaving-belonging”, the new movement points to “belonging-behaving-believing”. What lies behind this is a helpful theory of “bounded-set” and “centre-set” group behaviour. It has always seemed to me that while Jesus tended to operate from a centre-set approach, the church endorsed the bounded-set approach. That’s certainly ground for discussion.

    Requiring one to be baptized so that one might receive communion is part of the older formulation. I suppose there may have been times when one needed to know “who’s in and who’s out” … but I’m no longer sure that a strong case can be made for that. I tend to operate on the basis of watching people move to the centre, and anything I can do to facilitate that movement is part of the work of the Spirit.


  5. Rev. Woensdregt,

    Greetings from Minnesota, as close to Canada – climatically speaking of course – as one gets in the US. Thanks for commenting.

    I can appreciate the “belonging” before “believing” idea. Indeed, I think that is most certainly a part of the Church’s hospitality. But there is the question of to what extent the Eucharist can even make sense outside of the framework of the Church’s testimony.

    What I find missing from your account is any sense of something that the Church hands on and is a fundamental aspect of it’s life, namely, Tradition. I absolutely believe that the Nicene Creed functions as something that can and should “hedge” in the believing people. We don’t simply assent to universal transhistorical ideas of ‘inclusivity’ or ‘justice’ and we don’t simply re-make the faith every generation; but we are incorporated into something larger than ourselves and to it we are in a way accountable.

    I hope that you enjoy the essays,


  6. Thanks for the comment … and greetings from the west (due north of the Montana-Idaho border).

    I appreciate the comment … and while Tradition is important, I try to be very careful about that, since Tradition is often what is written by the winners of the battles. We have been inundated with commentary in the recent past about those parts of the Tradition which have been hidden away or jettisoned or overlaid with the winners’ accounts of what the Tradition really is.

    So, part of what I’m doing in this is questioning the wisdom and truth of the Tradition. I am fully aware that to open this issue up is in the way I am goes against the Tradition. But my question is this: is all of the received Tradition faithful to the way of Jesus?

    There are many examples when the church has grown to understand that it is not … slavery … the role of women in the church … the admission of children to communion.

    Is this the time, then, to re-open the question of the relationship of Baptism to Communion?

    It’s an interesting journey, one I’ve been thinking about on and off for several years, and which I’m just now starting to pull together resources in order to open up a sustained and theologically informed conversation. Any comments here will be very helpful in opening this area up for me.

    Peace, and God’s richest blessings


  7. Rev. Yme,

    Perhaps, if you have the time or desire, you could help me understand how the Eucharist can have any meaning or value or grace when it is taken without instruction?

    To take it without understanding what it means and where it comes from and what it references seems to me to make the meaning so subjective as to be somewhat fruitless.



  8. I don’t mean to cut off the Rev. Yme’s response, adhunt, but it seems to me that making the Eucharist’s efficacy – its capacity to have “any meaning or value or grace” – dependent upon it being taken with an understanding of “what it means and where it comes from” – that is precisely to make the sacrament’s efficacy completely subjective (i.e., dependent on the subject’s understanding, or lack thereof).

    Accordingly, it would make no sense for infants and small children to receive the Eucharist. Or for them to be baptized, either.

    My point is that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not dependent on anybody’s ability to understand the meaning or value or grace of the sacrament. It’s about what God does, not what we do (or fail to do).

    I’ll even go so far as to say that I don’t think anybody (no matter what they may claim or how well-versed in sacramental theology they may be) really and fully understands what happens in the Eucharist. To think that the risen Christ really and truly becomes present in ordinary bread and wine sometime during (or at the completion of) the Eucharistic Prayer – that transcends our finite capacity for comprehension!

    I like the way John Donne puts it:

    “He was the Word that spake it,
    He took the bread and brake it.
    And what that Word did make it,
    I do believe and take it.”

    So I think the grounds for defending the traditional view that Baptism is the gateway to the Eucharist (and the other sacraments) lies elsewhere.


  9. Fr. Owen,

    You’re absolutely right. I think I am not able to communicate my drift clearly; the efficacy does not depend on “comprehension.” What I’m trying to get at, though obviously not very clearly, is that taking the Eucharist without it’s being framed according to the pattern in Scripture and Tradition deprives it of its own reference and makes it a meal around transhistorical principles and not Christ.

    Is there not a place for Catachesis?


  10. Okay, I see your point more clearly now, adhunt. And I agree with you about the need for the sacrament to be framed according to the pattern in Scripture and Tradition. That’s one of the many reasons why I opposed communion without baptism. And I also agree that catechesis is vitally important for formation. If more Episcopalians, for example, actually knew the theology of the Prayer Book and understood it’s normative character, some of the goofy stuff that occasionally goes on might not happen.


  11. Hello adhunt

    I’m enjoying the conversation … so let me add a few clarifiers

    1) re “tone” … I understand the limitations of this medium, and as far as I can tell we’re engaging in an open and respectful dialogue about this … so no offense taken and I didn’t misread your comments as being overly aggressive;

    2) your comment about catechesis is entirely apropos … however catechesis can take place whether baptism is required for communion or not. In my mind, that’s not so much a question about the appropriateness of taking communion without having been baptized or not; it’s more about the process of how we do it, once we’ve agreed about the theology of it.

    3) what Bryan Owen said about efficacy

    4) I don’t see a pattern in scripture that leads one to posit the necessity of being baptized before being able ti participate in table fellowship, In fact, I see precisely the opposite in Jesus’ practice of table fellowship in the gospels (and particularly in Luke) that rable fellowship was one of the ways in which Jesus welcomed outcasts into the community of people with whom he cared to hang around

    5) I love Will Willimon’s comment about communing very young children. In one of his many books (does the man have an unpublished opinion?), he notes that in the ordinary family, one learns table manners by sitting at the table with the family. In the same way, in the Christian community, one learns Jesus’ “table manners” by sitting at table with the community.

    6) Jesus’ words are “*do* this” … not “understand this” or “figure this out”. I think we need to recapture that sense of doing … of praxis leading to reflection and learning

    7) I go back to one of my original comments about being nourished in order to be able to make the life-changing decision to follow Jesus in the way … that Communion can properly come before baptism as a nourishing and nurturing for the sacrament of lifelong inclusion in the community of Christ.

    Enough for now … I’m at a friend’s place for a few days taking some much needed time off. I am, however, following this discussion with eager anticipation, and would love to continue it



    1. Rev. Woensdregt,

      re #2) Rather than go into this I’ll wait until such time as you are able to finish Fr. Gunter’s posts. Because he addresses this in a more sufficient manner than I would be able to. If after you’ve finished them you still desire to chat about this or that aspect then I’d be more than happy to do so!

      re #3) Agreed

      re #4) See #2 above

      re #5) The good Bishop has given us an apt story. I would note especially that it is the family that is gathered. To what extent can it be said that those who have not been baptized are in the “Christian Family?”

      re #6) I don’t disagree at all but to say that “figuring it out” is part of speculative theology and of just being reasonable animals

      re #7) see #2 above

      Enjoy your vacation.



  12. Tony,

    Thanks for the linkage. One clarification on a point you made upstream: the rule for communing only the baptized is a canonical rather than a rubrical rule. I think it should be a rubric in the Prayer Book, but it is not. It is, however, a canon, which means it is among the rules that supposedly govern our common life. It is disheartening to know how commonly the rule of our common life is abrogated in favor of individual theological preference. But, then, as I indicate in one of the essays, I suspect that is part of what is at the root of “open” communion.


    I do hope you will read the essays. I would cherish comment from one who is inclined to see it otherwise.

    As for the proirty of belonging, that is precisely at the heart of what I’ve written. But, both baptism and Eucharist are about belonging. And belonging is more than associating.

    The husband of one of our members is a Buddhist. He is a regular attender of our worship, is involved in outr Foyer Groups (small dinner gatheris to build community), and is an integral member of out I.T. team. In many ways he is more involved than many of our actual members. But, he does not receive Communion (or say the Creed). When I asked him how he felt about that, he replied, “Why would I do that? I’m not a Christian.” I submit, it is possible to be “radically” hospitable while still maintaining healthy communal boundaries and identity.

    Merry Christmas,



  13. Bryan,

    I also would very much like to hear what you think of what I’ve written.


    I’d be curious to know your clegy’s reaction.

    Merry Christmas,



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