Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Jesus' Table Fellowship, Baptism, and the Eucharist

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Jesus' Table Fellowship, Baptism, and the Eucharist

Article excerpt

From its beginning, the church has practiced two central rites: baptism and the eucharist. While the external forms of these two rites have changed significantly over the course of history, these rites have nonetheless remained fundamental to the church's identity and practice. Between these two rites is an indissoluble bond through which baptism prepares for the eucharist and the eucharist contextualizes baptism. This indissoluble bond also exists in relation to the church. On the one hand, the church has formed baptism and the eucharist through its ritual practice, theology, and canon law. On the other hand, baptism and the eucharist have also formed the church as the center of its life.

The practice of communion without baptism has become more prevalent within the Episcopal Church. A recent study suggests that almost 25 percent of bishops in the Episcopal Church reported that parishes within their diocese permit communion without baptism.1 While the canons of the Episcopal Church allow only baptized Christians to receive communion and a resolution at the 2006 General Convention affirmed this position, a significant number of Episcopal parishes nevertheless continue this practice.2

Proponents of communion without baptism use scripture extensively in their argument for a change in the traditional Ordo, which maintains an indissoluble bond between baptism and the eucharist.3 They claim that the narratives of Jesus' table fellowship support the practice of communion without baptism. For example, Kathryn Tanner rightfully emphasizes the radical hospitality which Jesus exhibited during his ministry to those persons deemed sinners and religiously impure by the Jewish authorities of that time.4 She and other proponents of communion without baptism interpret these narratives as a justification that the sacramental grace of the eucharist should be made available to all people and not to baptized Christians only. Just as Christ opened his table to all people, they argue, so also should the church open the eucharistie table to all people.5

In this essay, I will critique the use of scriptural references to Jesus' table fellowship in support of communion without baptism by considering their canonical context. First, I will explain how the canonical context of those scriptural passages actually argues in favor of the traditional Ordo rather than for a change to it. Then, I will provide an example of how canonical context intensifies the radical hospitality called for by proponents of communion without baptism by means of the traditional Ordo rather than a change to it.

The Canonical Context Explained

If considered solely as literal narratives of the historical Jesus, then the feeding stories of Jesus might give an account that could support the practice of communion without baptism. However, when considered within a canonical perspective, these narratives actually speak to and within eucharistie communities of baptized believers.6 Thus instead of advocating communion without baptism, these narratives, when considered within their canonical context, actually reinvigorate the indissoluble bond between baptism and the eucharist, which forms the church.

In order to understand the context of these narratives, I will begin with the canonical shaping of the New Testament. While the Gospel narratives are placed at the beginning of the New Testament, they are not actually its oldest books. Biblical scholars generally agree that the letters written by Paul are the earliest extant Christian writings, with 1 Thessalonians being the first.7 While Paul does not write about baptism or the eucharist in 1 Thessalonians, he does write about baptism in Galatians, his next letter in our present day canon, written around 55 c.E.8 In Galatians 3, Paul speaks about the relationship between the Law and faith, attempting to persuade the church at Galatia that faith in Christ will fulfill all the requirements of the Law. Then he concludes: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. …

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