this article, long-standing member Canon Walter Goundry raises the issue
of the relationship between Baptism and Holy Communion and provokes
scrutiny of the usefulness of Confirmation as currently practiced in the
Church of England
suspect that we shall never come to a common mind about infant baptism
in the scriptures, nor indeed a common theology, for that latter depends
on other things, our attitude to Fall and Creation. However the debate
is important, for without it we shall not understand each other or
decide what is acceptable for a Church that claims universality. The BI
Update is the best instrument I know, having been a member almost from
the beginning. I would suggest that all members should take extra copies
and, if not available, reproduce them themselves and give them to all
clergy and, where possible, leave them in public places.
The question I ask is how
necessary is common agreement and interpretation from the New Testament
and church history? Indeed, is it possible? A liturgical scholar with
regard to the Eucharist writes that it is impossible to say what exactly
happened in the beginning or that anything was universal. The question
then is: when things settled down, what shaped theology and practice and
this then opens up the situation for us. What effect did culture then
have on theology and practice? What effect did later events have? I
remember Canon Couratin saying that the oil of baptism is the oil of
bathing for those who could have a bath in the first century.
Can we then just lift baptism from
the NT and the early church and use it as a blueprint now? Our culture
and knowledge is not theirs. Of course, there will be some guidelines in
the past but one fact is always true for them and for now and that is
the task of evangelism. In our world, with change in theology, with a
rediscovery of some old truths, what is a good way to bring people to
Christ? I am often astonished that St Paul could write that he became
all things to all men in order to save some. He didn’t, of course.
Many years ago when parish priest
of a very lively and busy church, after much discussion and meetings
with the bishop, and the local URC and the Baptists, the PCC decided not
to baptise babies of non-attending families. In fact we had always taken
great care over baptisms – classes etc, parish Eucharist, fixed
Sunday. Parents had to get confirmed and come to church. The result was
poor. The congregation was bored, irritated by the response.
There was, as many will
appreciate, much flak – letters to the bishop, articles/letters in the
local press. The bishop, who much preferred a very open policy,
nevertheless supported us. My successor who came from working in a
country of strange beliefs moderated this policy. In what ways and why I
do not know. He is now a bishop in the same mission field. I wonder what
he does with those who believe in black magic? His successor has
moderated the system further so that baptisms are more frequent. Will
the congregation vote with their feet on these frequent occasions?
It is easy to say that I wish I
knew then what I know now. Practice would have been different.
Retirement is a marvellous time for reading and learning. There would
have been some modification with regard to baptism/thanksgiving and
No infant baptism, thanksgiving for everyone. A
thanksgiving for birth is something that all people experience. Such a
common practice would therefore both remind us of and strengthen our
sense of community. It would get rid of the idea of a judgmental church
in this issue – first and second class parents. It would also be a
restoration of natural theology, of the goodness of God in nature and
its wonder. This is already taking place. K Barth’s influence is
waning. Christian scientists, stimulated by Darwin, yet not accepting
that God is dead, have shown us how fantastic we are. Dr J le Fanu in
“Why Us?” opened my eyes. G K Chesterton said that to be ordinary
was extraordinary. Some theologians are questioning the gap between the
natural and supernatural.
acceptance of thanksgiving is the first step of evangelism. We have to
be born to be reborn – creation before re-creation. The Church, like
He took a risk that in that
meeting there might be a “disclosure moment”. There certainly
won’t be without meeting Jesus. We stand in his place. We can’t
expect people to become Christian or behave like Christians before they
have met Christ. Gospel has to come before Law. Jesus is the Gospel as
well as the proclaimer of it. Timothy Ratcliffe, “Why go to
church?”, points out the dangers of identifying ourselves by our
differences. Unnecessary differences can be removed without harm to the
When people came to
Jesus, met Jesus, what did they see? Perhaps just a man or special man,
a legion of suggestions. Some saw more. This should be our attitude.
Baptism can then become the response of faith, the nailing of one’s
colours to the mast, a commissioning for service, a finding of one’s
gift for the Body, a public acceptance of responsibility. However we
administer it, total immersion, chrismation, bishop or parish priest.
This would solve the problem of those baptised as infants wishing to be
re-baptised. It could well be that this practice will mean that sin is
out for the time being. Again Gospel before Law.
the moment the commonly accepted view is that we should be baptised and
confirmed or otherwise in good standing to receive communion. I would
abolish such a rule and admit all present at the Eucharist to receive
and it seems to me possible to justify such a step from the New
Testament. There are of course other possible views. Not all evidence is
one way but in the present Church crisis, which best will serve God?
An examination of all the
occasions in the gospels when Jesus shared food with others, when he
blessed and broke food, the references to the Kingdom and wedding
celebrations, the feeding of the 5,000 the issue of who to invite. St
Paul after the shipwreck suggests to me a more open Church.
Such a policy, as with baptism/thanksgiving, is a
restoration of the natural order. The creatures, elements of bread and
wine the symbols of the goodness of God in the natural order, a
celebration of creation, the marvels of nature which allow us to produce
them, a thanksgiving for it and a reinstatement of it. We need more of
the joy, celebration and wonder of celebration in the Eucharist. We need
more of the psalm “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Such a
view should save us from the exploitation of others and the earth.
Secondly it would be a reminder
that we are ‘all in this together’, a reminder of our common
humanity, of our common need to eat and drink. Of course, to some it
will be just bread and wine, ordinary stuff – a response that Jesus
met as a person. For all of us it is a reminder that the Eucharist is a
community meal and that the Church and world is a community.
We still debate the question about
evangelism and the Eucharist. I don’t and can’t see how it isn’t.
The Eucharist is the only divinely ordained service. If it doesn’t
fulfil all the needs and responsibilities of the Church for itself and
for the world, either Jesus has let us down or we have failed to use it
aright. The Eucharist is the Gospel in miniature. If it isn’t fairly
obviously so, then we have missed the point.
I find it odd that we who hold the
highest doctrine of the Eucharist, seeing there Christ himself, wish to
and wine, body and blood differently to Jesus’ treatment of himself.
It is not that the divine presence is not there, or wasn’t in Jesus,
but that he had no difficulty in meeting anybody and everybody. It was
the religious that he had most problems with. Our God is a relational
God first and foremost. A holy trinity which comes to meet us in Jesus
with the opportunity to see more and move on. Our God in Jesus is a God
who reveals and exposes himself, is a God of invitation.
I am amazed when I hear clergy say
that Jesus in the sacrament is nearer to us than if we walked beside
him. This is a totally false division but it dictates how we behave. It
is the one Jesus, the one Christ, who in our eyes may start as one
person, but in his time become another to us. So then in the Eucharist
we need to take the risk in meeting, as Jesus did and pray for a moving
on, a moving on to baptism.
It also seems churlish to have
people at the Eucharist and not allow them to share bread with us. To
some it will be bread and wine and remain so, some Christians believe
that in any case, but in the context of the service and community that
is not without significance. To others in the course of time, it will be
As Anglicans we stress Word and
Sacrament. If people can receive the Word, why not equally the
all that we do or say, we are giving a picture of what God is like. Too
often it seems to be Father nasty, Jesus nice. Not an encouraging image