It was good to hear the keynote speaker — Dr. Louis Weil — at this year’s “Epiphany West” conference come out strongly against so-called “open communion” (communion of the un-baptized). That was especially courageous here in California where the practice is becoming widespread.
Cautioning against “playing God at the altar rail” (meaning that he would never turn anyone away from communion), Dr. Weil nonetheless believes that this practice trivializes baptism and wonders why, after all the years reclaiming its centrality, we would now want to make it virtually optional.
The theme of this conference has been “Baptismal Water: Thicker Than Blood” and we have looked at baptism through a variety of lenses — liturgical, ecumenical, and missional. Dr. Weil, of course, has taught generations of clergy and laity about the important rediscovery of a baptismal ecclesiology, the recovery of the Easter Vigil, and the use of the rich symbols in our liturgical life.
I am in absolute agreement with Louis Weil here. I am familiar with the “open table” of Jesus argument — that he ate with outcasts and sinners and never turned anyone away, etc. However, I am unpersuaded that this is the same thing as the Eucharist and would encourage congregations really to invite the poor into their homes and parish halls for meals rather than believe that they have actually exercized hospitality by inviting the unbaptized to communion.
Certainly, it is an ecumenical nightmare. An Orthodox priest friend of mine wandered into an Episcopal Church inviting “all who are hungry for God” to receive the sacrament and later told me, “If you think Gene Robinson is a problem, that is nothing compared to this from our perspective!”
The point being, we have ecumenical covenants and commitments that we have made over the last forty or fifty years which are predicated on our commitment to certain basic sacramental practices. When these practices involve the most basic sacrament which unites all Christians together, regardless of our other differences, surely we run the risk of being considered unreliable ecumenical partners when we make these changes with virtually no theological conversation among ourselves and certainly none with our ecumenical partners.
And, of course, any priest who formally and publically invites the un-baptized to Holy Communion is in direct violation of canon law and subject to discipline for that.
But, hey, who cares about that, right?