Trends in Canadian Anglicanism
By George van Popta
For 2,000 years, the church has taught that baptism precedes communion. We take this seriously. Before a person is allowed to make a public profession of faith, and so be admitted to communion, we ensure that he has been baptized, even requiring, if he comes from another church background, a copy of his baptismal certificate or other letter of proof.
The Anglican Church in Canada (ACC) is considering doing away with the requirement of baptism. Why?
The ACC is a church in crisis. It is losing 13,000 members a year and has declined in membership from the 1.3 million of only a few decades ago to the present 500,000. Recently, I spoke with an Anglican gentleman who said that when most people think of the average Anglican, they think of someone like him, a 65-year old white male. According to him, that face of the Anglican Church in the UK and in North America, including the ACC, will disappear along with him. Said he, in fact, the average Anglican in the worldwide communion is a young black woman living in Africa.
One solution that is being proposed to rebuild the ACC is to remove the requirement of baptism to partake in communion. The challenge is to be a church in a post-Christian society where many have not been baptized, come from different religious traditions, or from no religion at all. The question is being asked in ACC circles how the church can be an open, welcoming, and inclusive place in a pluralistic and multi-cultural society, supporting people in their spiritual journey, and not invite all who are in attendance to participate in communion.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that the Rev. Gary Nicolosi, pastor at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ontario, and an official church consultant on how to build church membership, said that not allowing guests to communion is like inviting someone for Sunday dinner and not feeding them a meal. According to Rev. Nicolosi, the idea that baptism precedes communion is not directly spelled out in the New Testament.(1)
Is this correct? Does the New Testament not require those partaking in communion first to have been baptized? In fact, it does. John Murray had some good things to say about this in his articles about fencing the table.(2)
When Jesus preached the gospel, he made no distinction between men but called all to himself. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’” (John 7:37).(3) The Lord said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
Whoever hears the preaching of the gospel is called to faith in Christ. As we confess in the Canons of Dort, “But as many as are called by the gospel are earnestly called, for God earnestly and most sincerely reveals in his Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He also earnestly promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.”(4)
However, when the Lord instituted the holy supper, he sat down with his disciples. While the preaching of the gospel is for all who hear it, the Lord’s supper is for the disciples of Christ. Who are the disciples? More than the Twelve. Disciples are all those who have acknowledged Christ as Lord and who follow him in obedience. They have confessed that they have redemption by the blood of Christ.
Prof. Murray points out that it is instructive to note the order of events on the first Christian Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit came forth, the people who witnessed the amazing things happening asked Peter and the others what they were to do. Peter replied “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…. Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Act 2:38, 40). As the narrative continues, we read, “So those who received his word were baptized…. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41, 42).
“The breaking of bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper. Those who repented, believed the gospel message, were baptized, continued to submit to the apostolic teaching, Christian fellowship, and communal prayer, were the ones who partook of the bread and wine. It is not for all indiscriminately but is for the support and edification of those who are disciples of Christ. By baptism one is incorporated into Christ; the Lord’s Supper is meant to strengthen those who already belong to the body of Christ.(5)
What is the answer for the ACC? The answer for the ACC is the same as the answer for every church: preach the gospel! In the Canons of Dort we confess, “The promise of the gospel is that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise ought to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe.”(6)
When I mentioned the Synod of Dort and its Canons to my Anglican conversation partner, he said, “We were at that synod.” Indeed, the Anglicans were. If the ACC were to hold to the things the fathers believed, confessed, and practised, the present crisis in the ACC could, under the grace of God, be averted.
- “Anglicans consider communion for all,” by Charles Lewis, March 13th, 2011.
- John Murray, “Fencing the Table” (1, 2 & 3), Collected Writings, vol. 3, Edinburgh: The Banner of Trust Trust, © 1982, pp. 275-79.
- Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version.
- Chapter 3, Article 8.
- Murry, “Fencing the Table (2),” op. cit., p. 277.
- Chapter 2, Article 5.
This article appeared in a recent issue of Clarion.