EXTENDING holy communion to those who have not been baptised should be considered by the Church of England, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has suggested.
“If we believe that the poor carpenter welcomes all to sit and eat, why may we not extend the invitation, and extend a serving of the meal at his table, to the unbaptised?” he asks in an appendix to his new book, The Table (DLT). “It seems to me that the matter should be shared and aired.”
Entitled “The undefended table: a provocation”, the appendix notes divergence between canon law and practice. In the C of E, those admitted to communion are: those who have been confirmed or those ready to be confirmed; baptised members of other Churches “which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church”; “other baptised persons authorised to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod”; and “any baptised person in immediate danger of death”.
Yet, Bishop Bayes notes, there are churches that use wording that goes beyond the canons, such as “Everyone is welcome” or “All who love the Lord Jesus”. He notes that the Methodist Church does not attach conditions to the invitation, drawing on John Wesley’s belief that the eucharist could be a “converting ordinance”.
Raising the question is “theologically contentious”, he says. “For many, an undefended table would constitute one more step in the direction of a theologically vacuous religion, uncaring of the need for repentance and conversion of life.” The Church would need to “explore what our sacramental practice says about our theology of salvation”.
But the “missional context” has changed, he argues. “In a post-Christendom Europe, where the language of the faith is increasingly absent from the common cultural store, where becoming a Christian is commonly misunderstood by people as a process of intellectual and philosophical assent and nothing more, I remain provoked by the example of the undefended table.”
He is “not so far provoked as to want to embrace it unilaterally”, he writes. “But it seems to me time that this question should be addressed in England.”
Last year, he took part in a discussion at Liverpool Parish Church, with leaders of the Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches, on the place of the eucharist in the life of the Church (News, 14 September 2018).
Click here to read an interview with the Bishop in our features section