What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 1

The Bishop of Chelmsford graciously replied to my Open Letter to him, as follows:

Dear Peter

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our normal practice is to receive in both kinds but there may be circumstances when that is not possible or desirable. A number of people, for example, with alcohol related problems, receive the bread only. They need assurance that our Lord meets them fully in the sacrament.

So this is nothing new.

+John

I am grateful for this helpful response. I thank the Bishop for bringing up the issue of those who choose not to receive the wine, including recovering alcoholics. I would indeed want to assure them “that our Lord meets them fully in the sacrament”. However, I do think there is a fundamental distinction to be made between individuals voluntarily declining the wine and a general refusal to offer it to lay people.

I was a little surprised by the Bishop’s words “It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that …” If this is intended to refer to all Anglicans, I don’t think there is any way in which this sentence could be completed truthfully, at least concerning any positive doctrine.

From its very beginnings, in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, there has been a huge diversity of theology in the Church of England. For many centuries that diversity was at least formally held within the constraints not only of the Creeds but also of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. At one time all clergy had to assent to these. Now, as Doug helpfully outlines, concerning the last three of these clergy have to affirm only that they are the “historic formularies” of the Church of England. In practice by the late 20th century the range of belief in the Church had become so wide that a Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, could doubt the Resurrection, and high profile priests like Don Cupitt could deny the existence of a personal God.

So, I would argue, there is just about nothing theological concerning which we can say “It has always been the case that Anglicans hold” it, except perhaps for a few negatives like rejecting the authority of the Pope. That is in fact the fundamental weakness of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion: there really is nothing to hold it together except for tradition and, for the Church of England only, its threatened position as the “Established” Church. Even the self-identity as being distinct from the Roman Catholic Church is under threat at the moment, for example in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury is using the term “the Church Catholic”. So it is perhaps hardly surprising that the Anglican Communion is falling apart and the Church of England is seriously divided.

Nevertheless there has always been a strong core of Anglicans who accept at least the great majority of the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles, including that in Articles 25 to 31 about the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as the Communion or the Eucharist. While an overview of what various Anglicans have believed about Communion should not be restricted to this understanding, it certainly must include this understanding.

But, I would argue, the Bishop of Chelmsford’s summary of what Anglicans have held contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles, as well as biblical teaching, and so ignores the beliefs of those who continue to uphold the “historic formularies” of the Church of England. I introduced my demonstration of this in a previous post. I now want to look more closely at what the Bishop has specifically said about Communion.

But as this post is already quite long I will split it here and continue later, and add links to the following parts here: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5: summary and conclusions.

0 thoughts on “What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 1

  1. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

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  3. Peter, just as an aside, I’d like to add to what your bishop said by noting that there are people who have food allergies, who cannot take one or the other element. My wife, for example, is allergic to grapes, and taking juice or wine as part of communion could prove fatal to her. And there are many more people who are allergic to the wheat products in the bread. The idea that one is getting the whole of Christ in one of the elements is very comforting to them.

  4. Thank you, Gary. I take your point. But that is not the same as denying the cup. Also, what is the person with a wheat allergy to think, now that he or she is denied both elements?

  5. Yes, I think you’re right about that, Peter. It certainly is not the same as denying the cup. There’s a big difference between making it available to all, and the people choosing; and denying the cup.

  6. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

  7. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 4

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  9. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, summary and conclusions

  10. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

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