Eucharist and Baptism

Currently, there is a conversation going on in the Episcopal Church concerning the relationship of Eucharist and Baptism:  specifically, whether or not Baptism must precede participation in Eucharist.  I think there are legitimate arguments for both sides.  Based on other blog posts I have read recently, I think the level of contention and rhetoric is too high to have fruitful conversation right now.  I am going to explain my own views on the subject and why I am in favor of everyone participating in Eucharist for all, regardless of someone’s Baptismal status.  I am open to and welcoming of discussion of this topic, but I am not open to contentious debate.  Regardless of our stance on this subject, we are all members of the Body of Christ and we can have civil disagreements.  In other words, we ain’t[1] Washington D.C, and we aren’t going to behave like that either.

I will not attempt to nail down the metaphysical specifics of what takes place in the Eucharist.  I think this is both a slippery slope and serves little to no purpose.  As Webber says in his book Welcome to the Episcopal Church, “The Trinity and Incarnation remain mysteries; we can offer possible explanations and suggest ways of thinking about them that may be helpful, but the ultimate nature of God remains beyond human reason.”[2]  In much the same way, I believe that what exactly happens in the Eucharist and Baptism, and especially the relationship between the two, is a mystery.  We do not have a cheat sheet to confirm our beliefs about the Eucharist, or any theology for that matter.[3]  That being said, I believe that when we are partaking of the Eucharist, we reaffirm our place in the metaphysical Body of Christ by participating in what was the physical body of Jesus that was the sacrifice for our salvation.  Christ triumphed over death to bring us life everlasting and we reaffirm our belief in that every time we consume the Eucharist.  We are sitting at Christ’s table prepared for us.

But, you ask, isn’t the heart of this debate who falls into the “us?”  The central question of this debate is when does a person join the Christian community or the Body of Christ?  The Nicene Creed says that Baptism is for the remission of sins, but it is also to be an outward sign of an inward conversion.  Baptism is a necessary and vital part of the Christian life, but Baptism is not necessarily a precursor to joining the Christian community and participating in the Eucharist.  Baptism is a transformative experience, but so is the Eucharist.  I am an unabashed MacDonald Universalist[4], so I believe the Body of Christ is everyone who will believe in the salvation offered by Jesus the Christ.

I understand the arguments offered that Baptism is a person’s entrance into the Body of Christ.[5]  I understand them.  I can logically and rationally grasp the arguments, but I cannot agree with them.  I cannot say to someone that they are not welcome at Jesus’ table.[6]  Christ welcomed all to his table, and he ate with people regardless of their spiritual status.[7]  In fact, in the prototypical Eucharist, the Last Supper, one of the people who partook was Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus to the religious authorities who ultimately crucified him.  Jesus shared his table with all of these people, and I doubt he asked them if they visited the mikveh[8] that day.

As I said before, I am a proponent of MacDonald’s Universalism and this ties into how I view the Eucharist.  Participating in the Eucharist is a reaffirmation or a re-dedication to the salvation process offered by Christ’s sacrifice.  By consuming Christ’s body, we are saying yes to the “pruning” that entails.[9]  Participating in the Eucharist means both assenting to the salvation process and an acknowledgment of our need for that process.  The Eucharist is a declaration of a need for continued formation and refocusing on Christ and the Triune God; a declaration for us to continue distancing ourselves from sin and a desire for triumph over death.

However, let me be clear.  I firmly believe in an ethic of the Table.  I am arguing for everyone to have the option of participating in the Eucharist.  For my view of an open table to work, one has to be educated about what participating in the Eucharist means.  I know there are plenty of churches that do not do this, and I would imagine that there are many church members, to say nothing of visitors, who are not clear on what the Eucharist is or does.  For someone to assent to a salvation process, one has to understand first that to which one is assenting.  Having any sort of table, open or otherwise, demands education about that table.

Having a table ethic also demands that no one should be coerced into joining the Eucharist simply because it is open.  Coercion and faith or religion should be like oil and water.  The two simply do not mix.  Coercion corrupts and twists what is good in faith and belief.  If one is press ganged into joining the Eucharist, then it takes away the power and beauty of participating in Christ’s table for everyone involved.

[1] Despite my level of education, I refuse to give up the word “ain’t.”  Ain’t is a terrific word to use for special emphasis.  If you don’t like it, I kindly suggest you take your boojee behind to another blog.  J

[2] Webber, Christopher L. Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship. Morehouse Pub Co, 1999.  Pg 66.

[3] Well, we do, but it’s known as the afterlife and people aren’t all that communicative once they have experienced it.

[4] Universalism, in Christianity, is the belief that salvation is for everyone and, to a certain extent, everyone will be saved.   I will write a post later on universalism and MacDonald Universalism in particular.

[5] In point of fact, I took Eucharist before Baptism the first 14 years of my life because I was born in the Southern Baptist church and my family moved to the United Methodist Church.

[6] I realize that this is a sensitive point to those who argue for the necessity of Baptism before Eucharist.  However, telling someone they can only receive a blessing until they are Baptized rather than allowing them to participate in the Eucharist is still exclusion.  It would still sting to not receive Christ.

[7] Mark 2:15-17, Matthew 9:10-13, and Luke 5:29-32

[8] The mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath and the precursor to Baptism.  The mikveh were depressions built into building so they would collect the little rainfall that falls in arid Israel.  The baths are meant to wash away the spiritual impurities that collect over the course of time.  Ironically enough, the water is actually quite dirty.

[9] John 15:1-2


One comment on “Eucharist and Baptism

  1. Matt Watts says:

    great blog…

    looking forward to your thoughts on Universalism…

    don’t forget about the word “y’all” as well! it’s a must!!!!!

    loved mentally picturing Jesus check his disciples at the door about the Mikveh like a bouncer at a club… weird image…

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