The Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is forwarding an Open Table resolution to General Convention that would change the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all to Holy Communion, "regardless of age, denomination or baptism.”
Adopted unanimously by delegates to the 2010 Diocesan Convention, the resolution recently was ratified by Diocesan Council for submission to General Convention. It would delete from the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church Canon 1.17.7, which says "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this church."
However, the explanation attached to the resolution says that “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.”
I have written previously about why Communion Without Baptism is a very bad idea ("Communing the Unbaptized: Some Preliminary Thoughts" and "More Unpersuasive Reasons for Communion Without Baptism"), so I won't rehash all of that here.
I do, however, want to note what some others in the Anglican blogosphere are saying.
Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under highlights the way in which adopting CWOB would entail redefining Tradition and the definition of Anglicanism in ways which would affect relations with other churches (including other Anglican churches). He writes:
Now "communion without baptism" is practised thereabouts and hereabouts in the Anglican world, but, as far as I am aware, no formal Anglican canon anywhere endorses or legalises this practice. Were the GC [General Convention of the Episcopal Church]to agree to the resolution it would be a change or innovation to millennia old Christian practice, received and continued by the Reformed Church of England. It would also be a change which could reasonably be considered as affecting the definition of Anglicanism because it involves our understanding of sacramental ministry. One related concern would be whether it impinged on our ongoing ecumenical conversations.
In short: here is a change which looks like an internal matter for a member church but can reasonably be raised as an external matter for all member churches to consider. In terms of the Covenant and Section 4, it is a matter for consideration by the process set out there.
Now that the Anglican Covenant is dead in the water, those who seek to revise what it means to be the Church have no need to worry about the process set out in the fourth section of that document (assuming that they would have needed to worry if the Covenant was adopted anyway). Regardless, the drive for CWOB is a manifestation of commitment to an "autonomous ecclesiology" rather than "communion ecclesiology."
Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction offers perhaps the most succinct reason for rejecting CWOB:
My observation in response to pitching this as "radical inclusivity" is simple: The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.
It is supremely ironic that a church that spends so much energy (rightly) celebrating the baptismal covenant could then turn its back on its significance in what seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these two sacraments, and their interrelationship.
Tobias has consistently defended the traditional understanding of Baptism as the means by which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, and thus the precondition for receiving communion. It would be interesting to know how many others on the "progressive" side of things share his view. Perhaps, in the future, "progressives" will be pitted against each other on this matter.
C. Wingate at Tune: Kings Lynn offers an even more pointed response to the resolution from the Diocese of Eastern Oregon:
... abandoning baptism as the standard of membership represents a failure of our religious nerve so profound as to tip the balance against our institutional continuance. What's the point of a church that by implication admits that being a part of it is of no real consequence?
Communion Without Baptism is anathema; this is not negotiable.
Writing on Stand Firm, Greg Griffith summarizes the concerns of many who oppose CWOB:
In the Episcopal Church, as in all organizations overtaken by secular leftists, the trend in matters like these always moves from descriptive to prescriptive: What begins as “living into” some “facts on the ground,” sooner or later becomes That Which Must Be Done Or Else. Matt Kennedy explains how resolutions like this one make their way from germinated seed to full-fledged spawn, but it’s important to add that the way these folks work is that what today is described as something you may do, tomorrow becomes something you must do. So today it may be scandalous to know that the Episcopal Church may give its official approval to CWOB, but tomorrow the scandal becomes those who refuse to do so.
I'm not sure I can agree that the Episcopal Church has been "overtaken by secular leftists" (there's little doubt in my mind, however, that many who drive the train of General Convention and serve as clergy are theological leftists). But I am concerned by the way that CWOB keeps popping up, and also by the way that many see it as worthy of our embrace (check out some of the comments here).
I hope that Tobias Haller is right: " ... I wouldn't think it likely that the proposal for CWOB will be adopted at our General Convention. Support for it is thin but vocal."
Might thin and vocal support today become strong and vocal support tomorrow? Time will tell ...