Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More "Table and Font"

Shrimp again.

The promised study materials for "Table and Font: Who Is Welcome?" appeared on www.elca.org/worship last Friday. The general announcement of that to the ELCA's rostered leaders seems a tad, uh, understated: an e-mail from "ELCA Presiding Bishop" with the subject "An invitation to study The Use of Means of Grace." Since that was adopted by the ELCA in 1997, one might initially imagine there could not possibly be anything of controversy here. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton begins:
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! I'm writing about an important conversation that I need you help to facilitate across our church. The question we have been invited to consider is: Who is welcome and invited to receive Holy Communion in ELCA congregations?

The recommended practice in our church is that people who are baptized are invited to receive Holy Communion. Though this is the practice set out in the ELCA's statement, "The Use of the Means of Grace", there is wide variety of practice in this church.

Now the ELCA Church Council is calling all ELCA members into a conversation about "The Use of the Means of Grace", particularly on this matter of invitation to Holy Communion.Your leadership in engaging your congregation, synod or faith community and colleagues in this conversation will be critical to our church as we seek to be faithful and grounded, yet hospitable and mission-minded in administering Holy Communion.
We note the bold print is Bishop Eaton's emphasis, not ours. We also observe that the ELCA's "recommended practice" since 1997 considerably broadened who was formally welcome to ELCA altar rails previously. Particularly, 1) UMG eliminated age requirements that, in the Western Church, pre-date the Reformation by several hundred years and 2) invited baptized persons who do not believe the Body and Blood of Christ are in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine.

Being a sea creature, Shrimp is so accustomed to the smell of fish that we rarely even notice it. Nevertheless, they still always smell fishy.

Shrimp out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Petition: Speaking the Truth about "Radical Hospitality"

Shrimp here. Yes, it has been a long time. Yet perhaps we can still make a difference.

The ELCA is embarking on another "conversation." The Summer 2014 issue of Seeds for the Parish (not yet on-line, but now appearing the snailboxes of congregations and their leaders) includes Table and font: Who is welcome? An invitation to join the conversation by Scott Weidler, "program director for Worship and Music, of the ELCA churchwide organization."

The innocuously phrased article opens, "For many centuries, Christians have considered Holy Baptism as the sacrament of initiation or entrance into the church, while Holy Communion is the sacrament that nourishes and sustains Christians week by week. This remains the recommended practice in the ELCA," followed by a quote from the The Use of the Means of Grace (this link is to a pdf file of UMG).
For many congregations of this church and among our ecumenical partners, the invitation to receive Holy Communion is for everyone, not just for those who have been baptized. For some, it is a simple matter of hospitality. If this is Christ's table, than all are welcome — period. For others, the initiatory nature of baptism into the body of Christ is critical. Becoming a baptized and communing Christian involves serious commitment and even risk. The invitation, therefore, must be gracious yet clear: Holy Communion is for the baptized; the call to Holy Baptism is for all. Still other find some middle ground in this important conversation.
The ELCA's conversation on this matter, formally introduced earlier in Table and font: Who is welcome? (another pdf which can be found within the "resources" section at www.elca.org/Worship) begins this fall, with resources to be available "by mid-August 2014."

Those resources have yet to appear as of our posting, but one response appeared a week ago at iPetitions, one to which ELCA members (clergy and lay) are encouraged add their names. We've been told the source is Prof. Paul Hinlicky and Pastor Sarah Wilson of Lutheran Forum, and you can find Dr. Hinlicky's initial defense of the petition on the Forum website.

Here's the petition:
Speaking the Truth about "Radical Hospitality"

To the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA: We bring before you our concerns regarding “radical hospitality,” which we understand to propose the invitation of the unbaptized to the Lord’s Supper as a matter of principle. We are informed that such “radical hospitality” is already practiced in some ELCA congregations and is being advocated in others by certain leaders and teachers.

1. “Radical hospitality” disregards in principle the stringent warning against unworthy reception in the Scripture, as in I Corinthians 11:27–28.

2. It further disregards in principle the repeated emphasis of the Lutheran Confessions that the sacrament of the altar is for those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ in faith and public profession—a faith and confession whose first act is holy Baptism into the Lord’s death and resurrection. See especially The Large Catechism on “The Sacrament of the Altar” and The Formula of Concord 7, “Concerning the Holy Supper.”

3. It discards the age-old rule of faith by which the church has always understood Baptism as the entry into the cross-carrying Christian life, for which holy Communion is the nourishment.

4. As such, it also discards the ELCA’s own teaching in “The Use of the Means of Grace” (1997) as expressed in Principle 37 and Applications 37E and 37G.

5. The proposal of “radical hospitality” misleads by falsely suggesting that identifying the addressee of the promise of holy Communion as the baptized is an act of anti-gospel exclusion.

6. “Radical hospitality” fails to recognize Baptism itself as the truly radical act of inclusion. All people in every nation are called by the gospel to join themselves to Christ, who “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), by baptism into a community in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” (Galatians 3:28).

7. Under the cover of inclusivity, “radical hospitality” in fact deceives the unbaptized, encouraging them to participate in the sacrament without recognizing the entailed commitment to the cross of Jesus Christ and without discerning His body, both in the blessed bread and wine and in the holy community of those who take and eat it.

8. Baptism, repentance, and faith are not legalistic preconditions for grace, but the form grace takes as the Holy Spirit draws persons into a lifegiving new relationship with God.

9. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we call upon the ELCA to remember in principle and in power the opening words of the Ninety-Five Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he meant for the entire life of the Christian to be one of repentance.”

10. We exhort pastors and laity of the ELCA to self-examination as to whether our own lives reflect the way of the cross, the life of repentance, and the joy of faith, which are our proper witnesses to the unbaptized and in themselves an invitation to Baptism.

11. And we ask the Conference of Bishops to reiterate clearly the teaching of the whole church, the Lutheran Confessions, and the ELCA: holy communion is intended for the baptized, just as baptism is intended for the world.
You may sign it here.

Shrimp out.

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