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The Report and the Resolution Concerning Open Communion as adopted by the Liberal Evangelicals at their Regional Conference May 24th, 1938 at St. George's Church New York City

No place: no publisher, 1938.

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The Report and the Resolution concerning Open Communion as adopted by the Liberal Evangelicals at their Regional Conference, May 24th, 1938, at St. George's Church, New York City.

At a meeting of the New York Chapter of the Liberal Evangelicals on April 26th, 1938 a committee was appointed to consider the eligibility of baptized persons to be admitted to the Holy Communion and to report at the next meeting of the Chapter. The Committee so reported on May 17th, 1938. After discussion thereon, the Chapter accepted the report as embodying the point of view of the New York Chapter and instructed the Committee to present its report to the annual regional meeting of representatives of the Liberal Evangelical Association Chapters for their consideration.

The Committee therefore begs leave to submit the following report concerning what is commonly called Open Communion or the eligibility of baptized persons to be admitted to the Holy Communion.

Open Communion

On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus said: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me." In this prayer the Master indicated that the purpose of His work was to win all men to a belief that He, Jesus, had been sent from God. He also indicated that this work would be carried on by His followers through close fellowship with God and with one another in a common enterprise. Through oneness in such fellowship men would achieve such perfectness of character as would compel other men to know that Jesus was the Sent-One of God.

The purpose of Christian unity, therefore, is not just to be obedient to Christ's will and prayer, nor simply to achieve [3/4] unity, but to win the fruit of unity which is perfectness. We sometimes lose sight of this fact and speak of unity as an end in itself. Christ prayed that we might be "perfected into one", that is completed, rounded out in character through fellowship with one another, each contributing something to the enrichment of the whole fellowship, in order that our wholeness of character might win still others to that fellowship. It is significant that the only other occurrence of the phrase "into one" in the New Testament is in John 11:52 where Caiaphas "prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together 'into one' the children of God that were scattered abroad". Here we have the same idea of "oneness" presented as a means of influencing and winning others.

We are to seek oneness of fellowship that our characters may be perfected, and our characters are to be perfected that the world may first believe and then come to know that Jesus is the Son of God. It follows that our oneness of fellowship must have some outward and visible expression if men are to believe and to know. Mere inward unity of spiritual relationship or disposition of will is not enough. There must be a vital and expressed unity in which all the members openly and definitely share in a common life. If, therefore, we are to be loyal to our Master's purpose we must practice such fellowship as will convince the world that it is the outward expression of an inner life which welcomes and utilizes the unique worth of each particular component part for the enrichment of the whole. The very words of Christ would indicate that visible unity is to be an achievement arising out of genuine fellowship in the common task of winning men for Christ.

Both the organization and the doctrine of the Christian Church arose out of human fellowship under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the first three centuries of the Church. Such form of organization and such doctrine having arisen in this way cannot later bind the future action of its creator, namely the Holy Spirit. As Christ Himself said, the Holy Spirit "moveth where it listeth;" and, as man's capacity to understand God's character and purpose develops, the Holy Spirit can conceivably change the channels of His operation to more adequately express God's character and purpose. [4/5] Our eyes are too often and too firmly fixed upon what has been rather than upon what the Holy Spirit may desire to bring to pass. If we sincerely believe in a living Christ and a still revealing God and a Holy Spirit of purpose, no form or outward expression of inner truth is perpetually sacrosanct. A true historic Church is a fellowship that is making history through the operation of the Holy Spirit and not simply a fabric overgrown with the moss and ivy of antiquity.

Truth is so vast that no one man and no one group of men can possibly comprehend the whole. God mediates His truth, a part at a time, in accordance with man's capacity to receive it. To conserve the whole truth, we must maintain the Christian fellowship of all actual and potential revealers of that truth and encourage each one to bring his bit of truth to the enrichment of the whole.

When St. Paul referred to discerning the Lord's body, he meant the ability to distinguish between an ordinary meal and the Lord's Supper. In the following chapter (I Corinthians 12) he gives his experience of Christ's body and points out that there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. St. Paul's experience of Christ's body, the Church, was not that of a collection of uniform units, but a composite organism made up of other organisms with varying forms through which they expressed their common purpose and life. The essential expression of that body was fellowship for the accomplishment of Christ's purpose and St. Paul emphasized that fact over and over again even while he pointed out that there were diversities of operations. To be true to the body of Christ, we, too, must emphasize and maintain the fellowship of all believers. As Christians our task is to open doors, not to close them. We are not to be misers wrapping our talents in a napkin but missionaries using our precious gifts for the winning of the world to fellowship with Christ.

When we come to a technical and historical consideration of this subject of Open Communion, we need to be clear in our use of words. The term intercommunion is used with several different meanings which should be clearly distinguished. It may mean joint celebration; it may mean [5/6] passage of church members from one denomination to another without other formality than that of a letter of transfer; or it may mean open communion, that is, free admission to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper of communicant members of other Christian bodies who come as guests and without renouncing membership in the churches of which they are already members. In England, where the Church of England is established by law, this is termed "occasional conformity."

Open communion is not determined by canon law. No canon of this Church deals with it even by implication. It is determined solely by custom, as in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, where open communion as above defined was authorized by Bishop Greer many years ago. This custom, which is general but not universal, depends in turn upon a liberal and historical interpretation of a rubric in the Book of Common Prayer. That rubric reads as follows: "And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed."

On the face of it this rubric appears to prohibit open communion, and there are some who, believing that it does and yet conscientiously unable to be bound by it, avoid the difficulty by declaring it to have become obsolete by general disregard, as have many of the countless unrepealed civil laws still on our statute-books in civil life. They compare it with Canon 49, which limits the choice of anthems to those in words of Scripture or of the Book of Common Prayer; or with the rubric in the Baptismal Office which until the recent revision forbad deferring Baptism longer than the first or second Sunday next after an infant's birth; or, more particularly, to the rubric of the Communion Office which makes mandatory eating and drinking any of the consecrated Bread and Wine remaining after Communion, immediately after the Blessing. Not any of these important laws has been generally enforced within the memory of those now living.

This, however, is not the right way of approach. Understood in the light of its history the rubric under discussion does not prohibit open communion, or have any direct bearing upon the question. That should be quite evident from [6/7] the place in which it is found in the Prayer Book. It does not appear in connection with the Order for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, which contains the all-important general rubrics governing admission to the Lord's Table. It appears at the close of the Order for Confirmation and in that connection only. To transfer it from that proper place to a place with those general rubrics which exclude from the Lord's Table those known to be "open and notorious evil livers," or those betwixt whom "malice and hatred" is perceived to reign, has been likened to the anticlimax constructed by DeQuincy in the case of the wicked man who began his career of crime with murder and finally brought it to a horrid culmination by absenting himself from church on Sunday afternoons. Dean Hodges, who drew this comparison, added that the excommunications are occupied with grave matters of morals whose connection with the Lord's Supper is both obvious and essential, and that Confirmation holds no such relation to the sacrament.

We now turn to the history of the rubric, which appears in the following forms in English Prayer Books:--

1549. And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed.

1552. And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he can say the Catechism, and be confirmed.

1662. And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed.

This rubric is of great antiquity. Its history may be traced back to the Constitutions of Archbishop Peckham in 1281. [Statuimus quod nullus ad sacramentum corporis et sanguinis Domini admittatur extra articulum mortis, nisi fuerit confirmatus, vet nisi a receptione confirmationis rationabiliter fuerit impeditus.--Constit. iv., Abp. Peckham, a/d/ 1281.] As at that time the churches of the Reformed Faith were not yet in existence, obviously it has no reference to them. "properly speaking, this rubric has no bearing on the practice of what was known in England as 'occasional conformity'; it defines admission to the full and permanent privileges of the status of a communicant in the Church."

--The American Prayer Book, by Parsons and Jones, p. 246. Neil and Willoughby agree with Parsons and Jones:

"The rubric, even in its unqualified form of 1552, certainly did not contemplate the exclusion of Members of Churches not subject to the ecclesiastical ordinances of the Church of England, and the well-known advice of Cosin, counselling Communion with the Reformed Churches of the Continent, illustrates the way in which strangers to the Church of England would be welcomed by the Caroline divines."

--The Tutorial Prayer Book, by Neil and Willoughby, p. 437.

That Baptism and not Confirmation is the pre-condition to reception of the Holy Communion is evident from the fact that Baptism and not Confirmation is the rite by which we are made members of Christ. An unbaptized person is not a member of the Church. A baptized person is, whether or not he has been confirmed.,

This distinction is clearly brought out in the writings of our Reformation Fathers. Bishop John Cosin (Bishop of Durham 1660) wrote--"Confirmation is by the Church of Rome, that now is corrupted with many errors and novelties in religion, held to be a Sacrament. But we who by the grace of God are numbered among the Reformed Churches, . . . . we hold it to be none. And yet we hold it to be a sacred and a solemn action of religion." .--Anglicanism, by More and Cross, p. 443.

Joseph Hall (Bishop of Exeter 1627) wrote: "It is an injurious Excess of respect that is given to Confirmation by them who. have advanced it into the rank of Sacraments, forcing upon it that honour which it never originally affected and which it utterly, with due modesty, refused to undergo."--ibid. p. 446.

Coming to modern times, in a plea for the recognition of non-episcopal churches, H. Hensley Henson, then Canon of Westminister and now Bishop of Durham, wrote as follows:--"It was not until the Oxford Movement had become the dominant influence within the National Church that the necessity of Episcopal Confirmation as a preliminary to Communion was generally maintained. The question [8/9] was raised in an acute form when Dean Stanley invited the Revisers of the New Testament to receive the Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey on 22nd June 1870; but it is doubtful whether any serious objection would have been taken to his action if the communicants on that occasion had not included an avowed and aggressive Unitarian. A formidable agitation, marked by much extravagant and uncharitable language, broke out. The late Canon Carter transmitted to Archbishop Tait a Memorial signed by 1529 clergymen, in which they expressly referred to the Rubric attached to the Confirmation Service as designed to guard against the admission of Non-conformists to Holy Communion. The Archbishop, in acknowledging this Memorial, expressed his dissent from this view

"As at present advised, I believe this Rubric to apply solely to our own people, and not to those members of foreign or dissenting bodies who occasionally conform. All who have studied the history of our Church, and especially the reign of Queen Anne, when this question was earnestly debated, must know how it has been contended that the Church of England places no bar against occasional conformity."

Canon Henson then went on to submit that "this view is historically sound, and that its authoritative declaration and application in practice are urgently required in the religious interest of the nation." He declared that "the Rubric in the Prayer Book ought not to be regarded as asserting a principle of universal application, namely, the necessity of Episcopal Confirmation as the preliminary to the reception of the Holy Communion, but as the domestic rule of the Church of England, to which its members must conform as the condition of being admitted to the full privileges of members."--Cross-Bench Views of Church Questions by H. Hensley Henson, pp. 345-347.

A recent confirmation of this view was given during the Oxford Conference on Church, Community and State. On the second Sunday of the conference a celebration of Holy Communion according to the Anglican rite took place, at which service, delegates who were baptized and communicant members of other Christian churches were also invited to receive communion. This welcome had the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of the Bishop of the [9/10] Diocese of Oxford. This was in accordance with the Resolution adopted on January 18th, 1933, by the Upper House of the Canterbury Convocation, the relevant part of which reads as follows:--

"On special occasions, if and when they arise, when groups of members of the Church of England and of other Christian denominations are joined together in efforts definitely intended to promote the visible unity of the Church of Christ, the bishop if requested may approve of the admission of baptized communicant members of other denominations to Holy Communion according to the Anglican rite."

So much for the interpretation of the rubric by tradition and precedent in the Church of England: as ours is an autonomous Church, what of its interpretation here?

In his Diocesan Convention address of 1914 Bishop Lawrence referred to the subject as follows: "I am also asked whether persons other than those who are communicants of this Church may receive communion at our altars. My answer is 'yes, certainly.'" English scholars such as Bishop Creighton, Archbishops Benson and Temple affirm that the rubric at the end of the confirmation service, "there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed or be ready and desirous to be confirmed", should be interpreted historically and as a directory only as regards those of our own church. The question has been answered in this country by the general practice throughout the whole history of our Church of administering Holy Communion to those who are not members of this Church who may approach the altar. The general custom in this Diocese from the earliest days of its history has been the administration of the Holy Communion to those who respond to the invitation, believing that they respond in good faith.

"Speaking for myself, I am grateful when any disciple of the Master, in penitence and charity, determining to lead a new life, received comfort and spiritual strength at the altar where I minister. It is the Lord's table."

Bishop William C. Doane of Albany, generally regarded as a high churchman, held similar views with reference to the application of the rubric and expressed them in a Convention address in which he called attention to the fact that while Baptism and the Supper of the Lord are regarded [10/11] as sacraments "generally necessary to salvation," Confirmation, which is not, cannot be regarded as a pre-condition to the reception of a sacrament which is. This view is borne out by Article XXV of the Articles of Religion.

Bishop Tuttle, for many years the venerable Presiding Bishop of this Church, held that the Confirmation rubric should be interpreted historically and as a directory only as regards those of our own church. He quoted in this connection a dictum of Bishop Horatio Potter that "we clergymen who are set officially to open the doors of the kingdom of heaven should be exceedingly careful how we allowed ourselves to shut the doors against human souls."

In his Rocky Mountains missionary life he often held services in hamlets where he was the only minister the people saw from year's end to year's end. In celebrating the Holy Communion under such circumstances he did not hesitate to announce that "All Christians by whatever name they name themselves, who will come in repentance and faith and hope and love will be cordially welcomed in uniting with us in partaking of the Lord's Supper at the Lord's Holy Table."

In "Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate" Bishop Whipple took the same view of the reference of the rubric.

It should be evident from the foregoing that the rubric under discussion is a domestic disciplinary rule, intended solely for use within the Anglican Communion, and having no reference whatsoever to the occasional reception of the Holy Communion by baptized members of other Christian bodies who come as guests to what is not and never can be "our Table," but the Table of the Lord. The admission of these guests is to be regarded as fully warranted historically, as in accord with the liberality of the Anglican tradition, as approved by the overwhelming majority of our own people, and as avoiding a legalism which would reduce the catholicity of this Church.

We associate ourselves in hearty agreement with the action of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Church of England in inviting representatives of all the Christian Churches assembled last summer in the Oecumenical Conference at Oxford to come together to the [11/12] Communion, and we hold that thereby they expressed the historic tradition and the true genius of our Church.

We rejoice further that the Bishop of Washington followed this action of the Anglican bishops by a recent similar invitation to representatives of the Christian Unity Conference assembled at the Washington Cathedral.

We regard with deep satisfaction the progress toward Christian reunion signalized by the organization this month at Utrecht, Holland, of the World Council of the Churches, and within our own Church we pledge ourselves to advance to the full extent of our ability that spirit of 'generous understanding and mutual Christian confidence toward other communions by which increasing solidarity of all Christians of liberal and evangelical purpose may be achieved.

The Committee moves the adoption of the following resolution as embodying the historic teaching and practice of this branch of Christ's Church.

Resolved that, in our judgment,

The rubric at the close of the Confirmation Office is a disciplinary rule, intended solely to apply to members of the Anglican Communion, and having no reference whatsoever to the occasional reception of the Holy Communion by baptized members of other Christian bodies who come as fellow Christians to what is not "our Table" but the Table of the Lord.

The admission of these fellow Christians is to be regarded as fully warranted historically, as in accord with the liberality of the Anglican tradition, as approved by the overwhelming majority of our people, and as avoiding a legalism which would reduce the catholicity of this Church. Moreover it is in accordance with the spirit of what our Lord said when His disciples sought to exclude from fellowship those who, though they followed Him, were following "not with us."

Respectfully submitted,

W. Russell Bowie
John Gass .
Howard C. Robbins
George A. Trowbridge
Guy E. Shipler
Theodore R. Ludlow, Chairman

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