Friday, August 10, 2012

The Huron Statement: Baptism before Communion is the Rule for Good Reasons

I was pleased to recently discover that earlier this summer The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission released "The Huron Statement: Font to Table."  Faithful to Scripture and Tradition, it is a well-written, theologically grounded, and pastorally sensitive defense of retaining the rule of Baptism before Eucharist.  Here are some excerpts:

Communion before baptism may sound appealing because it seems to rescue us from having to deal with deeper challenges that have been creeping up on the church for a long time. Challenges such as our retreat from the public sphere that leaves us no method for communicating the gospel except waiting for people to show up on Sunday. Or our deteriorating sense of membership that expects next to nothing of the baptized anyway. Or our centuries-old practice of normalizing emergency baptism (baptism as security against ending up in hell) which obscures the purpose of baptism as free response to the gospel, and makes adult baptism an embarrassing anomaly. ...

If I identify with Christ but refuse to recognize the responsibility I share for his death (“I would never have cried ‘crucify’ if I had been there”), I simply repeat the deluded self- righteousness which condemned him in the first place; and I join the company of those who blame the Jews — or the Romans — for killing Christ. Thus, when we promote inclusivity by suppressing the offense of the cross we betray him all over again. It is precisely the offense of the cross that confronts us in both Baptism and Eucharist: we submit to being “crucified with Christ” as we descend into the water; we “proclaim his death until he comes” as we eat his body and drink his blood. As my eyes are opened by the revealing spectacle of the cross, I see that my whole world is judged by it, and my very being comes to a dead-end. Thereafter, the only future open to me is the new being offered to me by the risen Lord who holds out bloodied hands in forgiveness and peace. In Christian tradition, baptism is the definitive way to accept that offer.  
It is therefore not enough to ask whether the eucharist owes more to the inclusive meal practices of Jesus than to the Last Supper. We need to go deeper and ask whether we are drawn to the eucharist primarily because we (unlike the first disciples) have such a natural affinity for Jesus' progressive social outlook, or whether we (like the first disciples) have found ourselves transformed by the spectacle of his rejection and the mystery of his vindication. 
There is, then, an unavoidable self-definition by the community, which some will see as exclusivity, in the celebration of the sacraments, but this is the self-exclusion of those who refuse to come to terms with the cross of Christ and choose to avoid this crisis. Our administration of the sacraments must include guiding people through the crisis, not tempting them to avoid it. ...

Restoring a sacramental order founded on baptism does not mean we should turn anyone away at the Lord’s Table. The issue is whether we wish to undermine the ‘grammar’ of our sacramental language by explicitly contradicting the relation of baptism and communion. Inviting the unbaptized to share in communion does that. Baptism is the defining moment in one’s life, incorporation into a new sacramental identity and vocation for the sake of the world, from which there is no turning back; sharing in communion is the sacramental living out of this priestly vocation as we reenact the truth decisively acknowledged in our baptism. What is at stake in this ‘grammar’ is the meaning not only of the sacraments, but of discipleship, too: baptism is turning to Christ; communion is cleaving to Christ. By undermining this sacramental ‘syntax’ which serves as our corporate memory, we open the door to mindless revision of meaning, to commodification and fragmentation of the sacramental order. And we risk pandering to a culture of spiritual tourism.  ...
So baptism before communion is the rule in Christian tradition for good theological and pastoral reasons; there will always be justifiable pastoral exceptions, but these must  not be allowed to erode or replace it.  Unbaptized worshippers will, on occasion, receive communion with us for reasons we may or may not be able to anticipate.  This in itself does not undermine the church's sacramental ‘grammar,’ nor does it spiritually endanger the unbaptized.  Rather, it is the explicit invitation to the unbaptized to share in communion that undermines the meaning of the sacraments.

Read it all.

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