(Christian Century) Charles Hefling on the Communion of the Unbaptized–Who is communion for?

“This is the Lord’s Table. It is not Grace Church’s table. All are welcome to receive communion.”

It is not unusual to hear or read these or similar words””with the local parish or its denomination named””at a service of worship in which the Eucharist will be celebrated. Such an announcement reflects the practice commonly called “open communion.” To say that a church has an open communion policy has generally meant that persons who are not formally members of that church are nevertheless allowed or encouraged to share in the eucharistic meal.

Open communion in that sense is not universal, of course, and never has been. Some denominations as a matter of principle allow only their own members to commune and in practice take pains to ensure that the restriction is observed. But among churches of the Reformation, open communion has long been a custom widely accepted and fairly uncontroversial. Hence the invitation.

Lately, however, what is or might be meant by open communion has shifted….

It is imperative that we keep our terms clear and I have noted before it is curcial that we NOT call the increasingly common practice of TEC of inviting anyone no matter what their situation to communion open communion but instead communion of the unbaptized. With that said, read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Anthropology, Baptism, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Eucharist, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Sacramental Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

2 comments on “(Christian Century) Charles Hefling on the Communion of the Unbaptized–Who is communion for?

  1. driver8 says:

    Accordingly, on the sort of reasoning Wesley followed, the one indispensable prerequisite for receiving communion is a desire to accept whatever blessing God is pleased to give through it. Such a desire may be only the first faint beginning of conversion. Nevertheless, the church has no business withholding an appointed means of forming and focusing it. On the contrary, the communion table ought to be open to all who find themselves drawn to it

    One often hears John Wesley’s words quoted in this context. The classic article on their meaning is: “John C. Bowmer, “Catchwords of ‘The Conversation’ – I. ‘A Converting Ordinance and the Open Table’,” Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society 34.5 (March 1964): 109-113″, pdf available here.

    In brief:

    Wesley…was not dealing with the admission of
    “outsiders” to the Lord’s Supper (which is generally the point of
    contention today) but with “insiders” refusing to attend – two very
    different things! Wesley’s premise (to put it in logical terms)
    certainly was “The Lord’s Supper is a converting ordinance”, but
    his conclusion was not “Therefore anyone may come”, but “Therefore
    members ought not to stay away, even if they had not received
    the full assurance of faith”.

    Rather lovely conclusion:

    We would therefore conclude that the “Open Table”, in the sense in which it is defined above, is a peculiar development of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Methodism. In essence, it is neither Anglican fish, nor Presbyterian fowl, nor good old Methodist red herring. We suspect that it belongs to a Methodism which had become unsure of itself and its doctrines, in which former disciplines were breaking down, and where there was developing an anxiety to get people in “with no strings attached”.

    There are, of course, those who will still maintain that, whatever happened in the past, Methodism today should practise the “Open Table”, and they will defend their position in their own way. All we would point out is that, according to our judgement, Wesley’s Sermon XII and his belief in the “converting ordinance” should not be quoted (as so often it is) as part of their supporting evidence.

  2. driver8 says:

    Apologies for the mucked up URL and formatting.