Open Communion, Closed Communion–the debate rages

There’s a lively debate among Episcopal clergy in the Madison area about the words we use in our service bulletins to invite people to communion. I won’t share the particulars of the debate nor why we are currently engaged in it. Here’s what we say at Grace:

We welcome all baptized Christians to take part in the Communion: coming forward to kneel or stand at the altar rail, receiving the bread in an open palm or guiding the chalice to receive the wine. If you would prefer not to receive, you may come forward to the altar rail, crossing your arms on your chest to indicate your desire for a blessing.

We’re not the only ones engaged in this debate. Today appeared two essays that address the issue. One is by Richard Beck, from the Churches of Christ tradition. Beck has written extensively about open communion:

Is communion dangerous?  Should people be warned about their participation?

Yes and yes. But those answers, in light of what we’ve just discussed, do not mitigate against the practice of open communion. In fact, I’d argue that open communion is better positioned here relative to closed communion given the particular warnings we need. More, I’d argue that the fact that communion requires a warning presupposes its openness. Why warn if communion is closed and safe?

So, yes, open communion is dangerous. People do need to be warned, as Paul warned the Corinthians, that if you take this meal of inclusion while shaming, humiliating and excluding others then you’ve brought judgment upon yourself. You’re being a hypocrite as your ritual actions in the Supper are not being supported by your lifestyle. In taking the Lord’s Supper you are professing that you have “equal concern” for others, that you give “greater honor” to the least of these. Thus you bring judgment upon yourself when you shame and humiliate others, when you fail to discern and care for the many parts of body of Christ. Especially the most shameful parts.

The other is by a Lutheran, Russell Saltzman, who wonders why Lutherans can’t take Catholic communion and posits that the reason is women’s ordination.

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