Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Article 29: Of the Wicked

I think today's article is certainly one of the oddest Articles of Religion, at least in terms of the wording:

XXIX. Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper
The Wicked. and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

This is largely an addendum to the last Article, which seemed to suggest that faith is the means through which the Body and Blood of Christ is received and eaten. Logically, therefore, if one does not have a lively faith, particularly if one is 'Wicked,' then the one is not really partaking in any sense the Sacrament. In other words, if you are "Wicked," then you cannot hope to sneak in and illicitly receive the Sacrament and have it in any wise be beneficial to you. 

The problem with this is that this article basically denies that the elements themselves are consecrated in any real sense. If Christ has in any real or meaningful way been brought into union with the elements of bread and wine, whether that be Transubstantiation, Real Presence, or the Lutheran "sacramental union," in some sense all who partake of them must be partakers of Christ. To say that they are "in no wise...partakers of Christ" completely denies this. 

I think this Article actually has some bearing on current issues in the Episcopal Church. It has apparently become trendy in some dioceses to give Communion to the Unbaptized. This is often referred to as "Open Communion," but that is largely a misnomer because heretofore "Open Communion" has mean Communion open to any baptized Christian, regardless of denomination. I do not understand this concept for the life of me, and it is still technically against the Canons of the Episcopal Church. I am told there are at least two resolutions in favor of Communion for the Unbaptized to be debated at General Convention this summer (One to outright change the canons, the other to recommend a study and report back (and then presumably to change the canons)). But apparently in our quest to be "radically inclusive," Baptism is no longer a prerequisite for Communion in some places. I have even heard a Bishop say from the pulpit "There is no substantive difference between offering someone Communion during the service and offering them a cup of coffee at coffee hour after church." Of course, being a church that had a monstrance on the side altar while he was preaching this, his words went over like a lead balloon (he even got hisses from the audience), but that is another story...

Personally, I would be all in favor of the Episcopal Church clarifying its theology on Communion. The canons and traditional teachings in the Prayerbook I think are sufficient, but there is a lot of open hypocrisy on the issue. I know bishops who, with a wink and nod, allow Communion of the Unbaptized to go on. I think the theology behind such a move is absolutely atrocious, but I think we do either need to accept it or denounce it officially.

My objections to it are manifold. Namely, I cannot reconcile it to the plain meaning of Scripture. How much clearer could Paul possibly be on the subject? I understand you can theologically blow off that Scripture and rationalize it in a number of ways, but in terms of inclusivity and hospitality, how are we possibly being inclusive or hospitable if what we are doing even as a remote possibility allows our unbaptized guests to "eat and drink judgement against themselves?" I mean, I can be the friendliest and most hospitable host in the world, but I'm not going to let my guests mess around with the rat poision I have under my sink just because they think it might be more fun to use in their coffee than creamer.

But, let us return to the Article at hand. I bring this up about the Communion of the Unbaptized because if Anglicans are being true to their historical theology in this article (and granted I don't agree with this article's Eucharistic theology), then allowing Communion of the Unbaptized is a meaningless act "to their condemnation." Again, how is that being radically inclusive?

Something to think about for those going to General Convention. 


Tasiyagnunpa Livermont said...

This is horrifying! I had no idea open communion was being misconstrued in such a way! How hideous!

Granted I appreciate the likes of neo-anabaptist Shane Claiborne and crew who use 'Communion' as a protection for feeding the homeless despite public laws against feeding the homeless at their city parks, but they do it tongue in cheek, I believe.

How can the Episcopal Church possibly sanction such insanity? Its as bad as the churches who refuse communion to other Christians based on denominational membership. Its the opposite side of the same coin.

75% of the reason I sought confirmation in the Episcopal Church was because though I was welcome to take communion as a baptised Christian, I so thoroughly appreciated the service of the mass and the posture of the church to all Christians that I wanted to be part of such a thing. UGH.

You're right--the Bible could NOT be plainer on the subject. The Book of Common Prayer could not be plainer! Why else do we spend so much time confessing our sins?

However, I must say I'm afraid that such a thing would be inevitable in a church still practicing infant baptism as preferable to adult baptism. Its lost its meaning in the realm of adult responsibility. Perhaps if they'd passed that back in the 70s we wouldn't be in this debacle.

The Underground Pewster said...

Well said (regarding "Open Communion").

As far as the Article is concerned I refer to Bicknell's Theological Introduction to the 39 Articles:

"This article does not in any way deny the 'real presence', it only rules out any carnal view of it. To give an illustration: when our Lord was on earth He possessed healing power quite independently of the faith of men; but only those who possessed faith could get into touch with it. Many touched His garments, but only the woman who had faith was healed (Mk 5:30). The healing power was there: the touch of faith did not create it, but faith as it were, opened the channel to appropriate the blessing. So in the Eucharist, Christ in all His saving power is present. The wicked are only capable of receiving the visible and material signs of His presence. But those who approach with faith can receive the inward grace and become partakers of Christ by feeding on His Body and Blood." (Bicknell 3rd ed. p. 400)

The Archer of the Forest said...

There's at least one problem with that. Jesus heals Demoniacs, and they didn't want to be healed at the time. Therefore, that train of thought goes off the rails.

The Underground Pewster said...

Hopefully you won't be faced with demoniacs at the communion rail, but the article probably is concerned with the unrepentant wicked and not those incapable of repentance as the result of either demonic possession or mental incompetence.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Well, I have seen Satan worshipers come up and try to steal a Communion host for their own deviant Black Mass purposes, which is why I always make sure I see the person actually consume it. So, I think it in fact might be a problem in some places. At the very lease, there are those "Wicked" that would see actual power in the consecrated elements.

Tasiyagnunpa Livermont said...

Regarding demoniacs, my charismatic churching always laid out elaborate groundwork for how the examples in the Bible truly did want healing--at the very least their human will kept them from doing as the pigs did.

This coming from a group that is heavily faith based on everything.

Then again, I've also seen what Harold Eberle calls Christian witchcraft in such practice.

I'm not a theologian, though, so I don't know how scholarly any of that is.

Stealing communion? That is just freakish.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Luckily, I have never seen this problem in South Dakota. That was mainly when I was a Seminarian in urban Chicago that my Priest/supervisor had to warn me about. I didn't believe him at first, but I saw it happen a few times. It was, indeed, creepy.

Usually the way it works in the Episcopal church for potential demon possession and all that is that the Bishop has to be informed. Usually the Bishop will send in an investigatory team to identify the problem and report back. If the team, after interviewing everyone involved, thinks that an exorcism might be warranted, they inform the Bishop. The Bishop then usually has a Diocesan exorcist, whose identity is usually kept confidential to avoid cranks and practical jokers preying on that particular priest, get involved. At least, that was the practice in Nebraska. I've never actually queried the Bishop of South Dakota on his policies on such issues.

Any priest, however, can do a House blessing, particularly if there is an odd spiritual feel to a place. I have done this a number of times. There is a rite for it in the Book of Occasional services. I even had to bless a construction site one time when I was in Lincoln because bizarre accidents kept happening and it was spooking the workers.

And there is a fine line to be walked in the discernment of such things. I don't know if I would go so far as to label it "Christian witchcraft" but it can certainly become oogie boogie superstition if there isn't community discernment on the issue. I know Christians that are convinced there is a demon under every doily, and I do not believe that is correct, but I also do not dismiss the idea that there is evil in the world apart from man, and that evil can be manifested in certain instances.