Sunday, May 06, 2012

Playing the Holy Spirit Card

Ever since the arrival of our new priest, the Sunday bulletin no longer prints the rubric, "All baptised Christians are welcome to recieve Communion" (or something to that effect). Our new priest now verbally instructs those in attendance that "All are welcome" to come up for Communion. Knowing that the Episcopal left is leaning toward Communion of the unbaptised or Communion without Baptism (CWOB), and that many of them believe this to be the next great move of the Holy Spirit, one that is sure to bring boatloads of people streaming into the Church, and that a resolution to the Episcopal General Convention will be proposed this year in favor of CWOB, I have been waiting to hear some hints from our new priest about how we should view the matter.

While not directly taking on the challenge of CWOB today, our priest laid the groundwork for what I foresee to be a future assault on the issue. The reading from Acts 8:26-40 was about Philip's conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, a story which makes no mention whatsoever about CWOB, but might have been used to prep us for the subject. We heard all about Philip being guided by an angel, by the Holy Spirit into a new thing, inclusion, radical departures from the norm, all of which might be appropriate when talking about Jesus' call for us to repent, to be healed, and to be baptized, but then our priest included the story of a certain Sara Miles, an Episcopal priest who our priest considers to be a Theologian, and I started getting worried. The story itself was about a rather unusual baptism Sara Miles performed in San Francisco, but the name "Sara Miles" rang a bell. I afraid it was my CWOB alarm bell.

Last year there was a posting on about the CWOB controversy. That is where I first saw the name "Sara Miles." You see, our priest's "theologian" claimed that an initial CWOB led her, an atheist, to later be baptized. So why drag her into the sermon? Maybe to get us to blindly accept her as a reference. Maybe not, but at least I know what our priest is reading. Here is a sample:

"My first communion (at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco) was an entirely unexpected experience of the risen Christ in bread and wine: it knocked me upside down and drew me inexorably toward baptism. While my own conversion might not represent the way things are supposed to happen, it's the way they did happen.

"I hesitate to draw broad conclusions about what that experience means for others, and I agree that individual experience is not the point here. But as someone who's been baptized now for ten years, and continues to share communion with unbaptized people, I'd like to offer some observations.

"I completely agree that the secular rhetoric of "inclusion" or "welcome" is inadequate to explain what's happening sacramentally during communion. Offering communion in order to be friendly, polite, or socially broadminded toward the unbaptized quickly reduces a mystery of God to being about our niceness.

"The pastoral reason for offering communion to everyone without exception strikes me as being far more about the spiritual health of the baptized partakers––we who say repeatedly that we're not worthy to receive the meal, and yet frequently pretend that we're somehow prepared for it. I think it's good for Christians to eat bread and wine alongside people who incarnate the truth that nobody gets communion because she deserves it––or, for that matter, understands it. It's good for Christians to see that we can't control who is going to hear the good shepherd's voice, or when. It's good for Christian churches to feel themselves hungry and in need of something they cannot manage.

"It's one thing to pride myself that, from a privileged position of correct belief, I'm generously sharing communion with unbaptized outsiders to make them feel "welcome." It's a very different thing to have to witness God's extravagant love for the unprepared, the unworthy, the laborers who show up at the 11th learn that God might be using foreigners, the unclean, the Gentiles and even the wicked to save me and my tribe, and to show us something about the wideness of his grace.

"Grace is not sequential. It frequently shows up at the wrong time, to the wrong people. It doesn't follow the logic of the world. I'm not sure how we will discern the movement of the Spirit in our present struggles over communion before baptism. But I'm pretty sure it's a mistake to imagine the Spirit tidily walks everyone through a ladder-like curriculum of spiritual development before she decides to blow."
Never mind that she has been breaking the rules of the Church for ten years and has not been disciplined, but consider what may become of the highly touted 1979 BCP Baptismal Covenant.

But before that consider a little history.
In Jesus' day, He himself was baptised, preached repentance and forgiveness, baptised others as did his followers, Jesus healed, forgave sins, and gave up His body and blood for us.

The apostolic order as illustrated by Philip and the eunuch was inquiry, instruction, acceptance, repentance, baptism, and new life as a member of the Body of Christ.
The pre-1979 BCP  Episcopal order of business was Baptism (usually as an infant), instruction and acceptance followed by Confirmation as teenager, and then Communion.

Post 1979 the order was Baptism, Communion, and maybe Confirmation later.

The new proposed order is inquiry, Communion, and hoping the Spirit will "take". I guess baptism will be optional.

The argument our priest used for Philip's breaking of the norm and his baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch was the action of the Holy Spirit.

I am afraid that the argument for CWOB will be similar. I call it "playing the Holy Spirit card."

The problem I have with playing the Holy Spirit card for novelties such as CWOB is that once the card is played, anyone who has a different opinion is automatically cast as being opposed to the Holy Spirit, non-inclusive, and un-welcoming. Most passive Episcopalians would rather let those led by a new spirit go ahead and row their own boat as long as nobody drowns in the process. The problem is that by letting the misled row the boat, a whole lot more people may get lost than initially imagined.

Imagine what happens if an opponent of the new thing stands up and claims that they are the ones being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Mexican standoff right? That would certainly seem like the time to stop rowing and do the necessary theological work.

Well, that did not happen with the debate over homosexual behavior in the priesthood, same sex blessings, and it is not going to happen here.

Sound, theologically based arguments can never prevail in today's Episcopal church against the religious left's ace in the hole.



  1. Obviously, the Holy Spirit does not contradict God's Word, and using Him as crutch is philosophically lazy.

    As to Communion, we Baptists inform people that it is for people who have received Christ following repentance and acknowledgement that He is the Risen Lord and one's individual savior. Baptism is accomplished in obedience (and is necessary for formal membership in our congregation) but not mandatory for communion.

    Of course, we view it (communion) as symbolic and without the mystical overtones, which is different than Catholics and Anglicans, I believe.


  2. We Anglicans have flipped the equation so that now God's Word cannot contradict what we believe is the movement of Holy Spirit. The Bible has been thrown under the bus.

    Our Baptismal theology has gradually been watered down over the years so that "anything goes" in TEc despite what is written as required of priests to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Church.

  3. Anonymous9:26 PM

    For most, they don't even know they are playing a "Holy Spirit card", because the minimalist definition is Holy Spirit=progressive change.
    Ignorance of the Word is no excuse, however. And every one of these instances must be challenged, in the same way a child must be taught to say please and thank you, especially when they have failed to say please or thank you.

    UP, it may be time to write a contemporary book on the correct use of the phrase "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us"...

  4. Rob+,

    Good idea. Just don't expect to get that book published through the Episcopal Church Publishing Co.!

  5. Anonymous9:19 PM

    I think that our parish church is offering Communion universally.

    It's been some years since I've heard any announcement for 'baptised Christians only'.

    This is about HOLY Communion -- the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ -- not snacks and a soft drink.

    What are these people thinking?


  6. I did a search for "playing the holy spirit card" and found this article, the only one I found on the subject. I find this practice very disturbing and was looking for approaches on how to address it. Not just on biblical or theological matters but others as well. I have seen utter folly, chaos, and confusion being practiced and executed in the name of the spirit leading people to do so.

    1. If you can figure out a way to trump the Holy Spirit card let us know. My proposal is to pull the "I'll see your Holy Spirit and raise you one."