Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kevin Thew Forrester and the question of "open communion"

Stand Firm is running a thread in which they are asking:
(1) Do you accept or oppose The Episcopal Church offering communion to all who wish it, including the unbaptized?

(2) If no, because such communion is in violation of the canons of the Church, do you then accept or oppose the revision of the canons such that parishes may offer communion to all who wish it, including the unbaptized, legally and canonically?

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I am opposed on both counts. But what I want to point out is the connection between this question of "open communion" (which in current Episcopal Church usage means the giving of Communion to the unbaptized) and the theology of Kevin Thew Forrester which has been discussed in numerous blogs and articles.

The connection has to do with the concern noted by Bishop Breidenthal when he explained his "no" vote to his diocese:
According to Thew Forrester, Jesus revealed in his own person the way that any of us can be at one with God, if only we can overcome the blindness that prevents us from recognizing our essential unity with God. The problem here is that the death of Jesus as an atonement for our sins is completely absent, and purposely so. As I read Thew Forrester, nothing stands between us and God but our own ignorance of our closeness to God. When our eyes are opened, atonement (not for our sins, but understood as a realization of our essential unity with God) is achieved.

Or, to quote Thew Forrester directly:
Zen offers a method, you might say, to see what Jesus saw in his own baptism: that we are indeed beloved by God. There is no need to cling to anything in the desperate hope that it is what will make us acceptable before God. All of creation is always already accepted by God as it is.

This notion also underlies the idea of "open communion:" All people are already accepted by God. There is no being "outside" or "inside" of the people of God. There are only the barriers of exclusion that we put there--either through our exclusion of others or through our own self-exclusion by not realizing our essential unity with God. Therefore the purpose of open communion is to be radically inclusive and, by inviting all people to God's table, to help them realize their acceptance and unity with God.

It is, of course, true that we are beloved by God (John 3:16). But Scripture also reminds us that, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Our condition before and after we came to Christ is described this way:
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—-if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)

What is absent from Thew Forrester's theology is an understanding of the lostness and sinfulness of humanity as a result of the Fall, and the necessity of the Atonement and conversion. When reception of the Holy Eucharist is offered to those who have not repented of their sins and put on Christ in Baptism, the very supper that represents what God has done for us in Christ to bring us to Himself is instead presented in a way that denies our separation from God apart from Christ. In such a way, the Communion is made to deny the necessity of the very Atonement it is supposed to represent.

I know that there are some who offer the Holy Eucharist to everyone in attendance because they have been taught that inclusion is always good, or because they simply feel it is bad manners not to invite guests to the table. But they need to realize that there are far more serious issues at stake. The universalism that is all too common in the Episcopal Church and that is explicit in the theology of Kevin Thew Forrester is implicit in the practice of open communion.
 

1 comment:

Clarke said...

Thank you Dean Munday, for explicitly tying those points together. It boggles the mind that anyone looking with open eyes at this world and its history can fail to see evil and sin for what they are, and that we need Christ as our Mediator and Advocate...