What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

This post concludes the series in the previous posts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. It is also intended to be a summary of the whole series for those who don’t want to read it all.

The series started with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s reply to my Open Letter to him, including the words

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.

His words are based on these commended by the Archbishops:

when [Communion] is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

My argument is that this is not correct. Anglicans have held a wide range of views about Communion, as I described in parts 2 and 3 of the series. Certainly one of those views is the one set out in the Thirty-Nine articles, which was held by the founders of the Church of England as a separate entity in the 16th century, and is still held by many Anglicans today. I have sought to argue that Anglicans who take this view of Communion cannot consistently agree that “when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less”, and so that the existence of this view among Anglicans demonstrates that the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford are wrong.

This also implies that their advice on swine flu is theologically flawed and damaging to the Church. I also believe that it is scientifically flawed, because the risk of catching swine flu from the Communion cup is much less than from all the other interaction at a typical church service – but in this series I am concentrating on the theological issues.

Note carefully that I am by no means trying to impose on my fellow Anglicans this view from the Thirty-Nine Articles, which is similar to my own view. I am merely pointing out that it is a genuinely Anglican view which should not be ignored or marginalised in the Church of England today.

So, what is that I find so objectionable about the Bishop of Chelmsford’s advice to his clergy? It is the words “the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion”, whereas the Archbishops, and Bishop N.T. Wright, referred only to “the fullness of the Sacrament”. As we saw in part 2 of this series, there are different ideas about in exactly what sense Christ is present in the sacrament. On my own view, and that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, he is present only spiritually, not in any kind of material form. And on that view of course his presence and activity does not depend on me actually consuming anything. So one might expect me to agree with the various bishops that actually drinking the wine is not necessary for the communicant to receive the full blessing of the sacrament.

Yet I cannot agree with this. It is not because an individual does not receive the wine that that person does not receive the full blessing. Rather, in the way I see it, the individual misses out on the blessing because the congregation in general does not receive the wine. So on my view if people with specific health problems, or concerns about the risk of infection, decline one or both of the elements, that does not affect the blessing they receive. What does affect the blessing is when the wine is not offered to the people as a whole, but to no one, or only to a small group of clergy and their assistants.

Why? Because the communion is not being offered according to Jesus Christ’s ordinance. These are his words of institution, as recorded by Matthew:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”27 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. …”

Matthew 26:26-28 (TNIV)

If the cup is not offered to the assembled people so that all of them can drink from it, if they wish, then the Communion is not being offered as Jesus instituted it. And if the Lord’s ordinance is not followed, then the Communion is nothing but bread and wine, and the Lord’s blessing cannot be presumed on.

Looked at from this perspective, the Archbishops’ advisor’s words are incoherent. He notes, correctly, that

communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution,

but then goes on to recommend a different form of Communion which is clearly not “in faithfulness to Christ’s institution”. Surely the Archbishops don’t intend to commend this advice to disobey Jesus Christ? But that is what these words imply. Did Bishop N.T. Wright really intend to give the same advice? But that is what his very similar words amount to.

It is the Bishops of Rochester and Tonbridge who have offered the correct advice, writing that

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup.

I appeal to all of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to endorse these words of Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle and change their swine flu advice accordingly. They should withdraw their recommendation that the cup should be withheld from lay people. Instead they should advise that, whereas churches may use intinction by the priest if they prefer, and while those who prefer not to take the cup on health grounds should be given a decent option of declining it, the recommended practice in the Church of England remains that of Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine, to offer to the whole congregation the Communion in both kinds.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 4

After writing my first, second and third posts in this series all in one day, I needed a bit of a break for reflection, and to catch up on other matters of life, such as pleasing my wife to be. (Yes, I am aware of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34a!) But now I am ready to come back to what various bishops have written about the Communion, and how it doesn’t matter if the wine is not distributed.

John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, wrote in his letter to his clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

– and then in his reply to my open letter:

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.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has very likely based his advice on this which is found in a document which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have commended:

The clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

The following version of the advice has been issued apparently in the name of the N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, on his diocesan website:

The Bishop’s view is that congregations should now receive communion in one kind – that is bread only, with only the president receiving the wine. Congregations should be reassured that while communion in both kinds is usual within the Church of England in faithfulness to our Lord’s institution, the fullness of the Sacrament is none the less received in one kind and its validity is not in question.

The advice offered by the Diocese of St Albans is taken almost word for word from the document commended by the Archbishops. No doubt similar advice has been issued by most if not all the dioceses of the Church of England.

Interestingly, however, in their letter to their clergy the controversial Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle, have taken a very different line. They avoid any suggestion that communion in one kind is acceptable and recommend, as a temporary measure, intinction by the priest – mentioned as an alternative by the Archbishops but not at all by the Bishop of Chelmsford. Most significantly, the Rochester bishops are the only ones I have seen to offer any theological background to their advice:

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) … the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

Well done, Bishops Michael and Brian, for writing this, while carefully avoiding contradicting the Archbishops’ advice. Would that the advice that Rowan Williams and John Sentamu commended had been based not only on Catholic theology but also on the Bible and on Anglican tradition as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles!

I am now nearly at the end of my discussion, but I will leave that for part 5, in which I summarise the series and present my conclusions.

A happier missive from the Bishop of Chelmsford

Coincidentally I received today another missive from the Bishop of Chelmsford, nothing to do with Communion, which starts as follows:

JOHN by Divine Permission LORD BISHOP OF CHELMSFORD  To our well-beloved in Christ  PETER RICHARD KIRK  a single person and  LORENZA … a single person a citizen of Italy both residing in the Parish of St Mary Great Baddow in the County of Essex

GRACE AND HEALTH  Whereas you are as it is alleged resolved to proceed to the Holy Estate of Matrimony …

Yes, this document with its greeting in pseudo-biblical language is our marriage licence. As Lorenza is not British, and we want to get married in church here in England, we have to follow this procedure, rather than having our banns read. We considered getting married in Italy, but the paperwork for that would have been much more complicated. This licence is valid for three months, and that means that it is now less then three months until our wedding, on 24th October.

I don’t suppose the Bishop of Chelmsford had a personal hand in issuing this document. If he had, in the light of my open letter to him, I wonder if he would have refused, or at least modified “well-beloved in Christ”! But then I doubt if he could have refused, given the way that the Church of England is tied up by its own laws and those of the state. Anyway, Lorenza and I are very happy that there is now no legal impediment to our marriage.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

This post is a continuation of part 1.

I intend to look specifically at the Bishop of Chelmsford’s statement

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.

But first I would like to examine the different understandings of Communion or the Eucharist which have been held in various parts of the Church, and compare them with the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. I use the term “Communion” (not “Holy Communion”) as that is what it is called in the Book of Common Prayer; in the Articles it is referred to as “the Lord’s Supper”.

There are several different understandings of the Communion, and specifically of whether and how Jesus Christ is really present during it, as conveniently summarised here:

  • Transubstantiation: This is the Roman Catholic view that the substance of the elements (the bread and the wine) is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, while retaining the accidents (physical and chemical properties) of bread and wine. This understanding is specifically rejected in Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine:

    Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

  • Consubstantiation and Sacramental Union: In these two slightly differing understandings, associated especially with the Lutheran church, the elements are considered to remain bread and wine, and the body and blood of Christ are said to be united with the bread and the wine in some objective way, irrespective of the faith of the recipient. This view, which implies that even unbelievers who take the elements receive the body and blood, is repudiated by these parts of Articles 28 and 29 of the Thirty-Nine:

    The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith. …

    The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ …

  • “Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities”: The view so described at Wikipedia, and attributed to “perhaps most Anglicans”, is also condemned by the same parts of Articles 28 and 29, which clearly rule out any objective reality understanding of the Communion.
  • Memorialism: In this view, associated with the Reformer Zwingli and held by most Protestant Christians apart from Anglicans and Lutherans, the Communion is simply a memorial of the death of Jesus, and “Christ is not present in the sacrament, except in the minds and hearts of the communicants.” This view also seems to go against the Thirty-Nine Articles, in this case again Article 28:

    The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

  • Real Spiritual presence, or Pneumatic presence: This view, or spectrum of views, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Communion in a real but spiritual way, for those who receive the elements with faith. This clearly seems to be the concept expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, in particular in the passage just quoted from Article 28. It is also my own view of the Communion. At Wikipedia this view is explained as the Holy Spirit making Christ present. But the Thirty-Nine Articles do not make explicit the agency of the Holy Spirit; instead they use sacramental language, specifically in Articles 25 and 26:

    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

    … the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise …

I note these last words “effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise”, which are significant because they imply that the Communion has to be performed according to “Christ’s institution and promise”. That is one point that I have at issue with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s instructions. I also want to argue that the Bishop is presupposing a view of the Communion which goes against the Thirty-Nine Articles and so, I would claim, is not an authentically Anglican one.

I will continue this in part 3part 4, part 5: summary and conclusions.

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.

Bishop John, we are not assured, give us back the cup!

An open letter to Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who will retire on 31 August but for now is still in charge of his diocese:

Dear Bishop John,

As an active and theologically educated lay Anglican, I am concerned by the advice you have issued recommending “temporary suspension of the chalice”. I have serious theological issues with this advice, which appears to be in direct contradiction to Jesus’ Words of Institution and to apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 11:25-29), as well as to Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer which both prescribe communion in both kinds.

You write to your clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

But you give no guidance to your clergy about how they should assure us congregation members of this. Personally I do not see how I could be assured, because communion in one kind clearly goes against Jesus’ commands and so his presence in it cannot be expected. I would be very interested to see any proper theological advice on this issue which you could issue to clergy and lay people like myself. I and I am sure many others are not prepared to accept such teaching simply on your personal authority, especially when it seems to contradict biblical teaching and the historic doctrine of the Church of England.

I understand that you have taken this step according to advice from the Archbishops. Indeed (from the dated copy of your letter forwarded to me by one of your clergy; the online version is undated) you seem to have passed on this advice on the same day, 22nd July, that it was issued, suggesting that little reflection was given to its implications. I have responded at some length to the Archbishops’ advice in an article which I have posted on my blog at http://www.qaya.org/blog/?p=1196.

I note one change you have made to the Archbishops’ advice: you have omitted their recommendation of intinction by the presiding minister. But this omission makes things worse. I do not appreciate intinction, which is not a biblical practice, nor one envisaged by the founders of the Church of England, but it does somewhat mitigate the theological wrong of withdrawing the communion cup.

I accept that this step has been taken in the light of swine flu. However, the proper medical advice is that this flu is no more dangerous than the regular flu which does the rounds every winter, and which has not prompted withdrawal of the communion cup from the laity; also that the risk of catching swine flu from a shared cup is less than the risk from all of the other interaction that takes place at any public gathering. I note also that in the summary of Department of Health advice linked to by the Archbishops priority is given to advice that

churches need to ensure that bins for the disposal of tissues are available at all public gatherings, that surfaces are frequently cleaned and that hand-washing facilities, including disposable towels, are well maintained.  Churches should also consider supplying tissues at services and other meetings as well as providing hand-washing gel.

But I see no record that you have passed this advice on to your clergy. Surely you should have ensured that these non-controversial steps are being taken in your churches before passing on, without proper reflection, advice from the Archbishops which has serious theological implications.

I’m afraid to say that the Archbishops’ advice and yours show all the signs of being prompted by panic as stirred up by the media. The proper reaction from church leaders to such panic should not be ill thought out measures with seriously bad side effects, but carefully considered advice about what would really minimise the risk of infection at church services and other meetings.

I regret that I am unable to consider myself a communicant member of the Church of England in the Diocese of Chelmsford, or any other diocese making similar changes to historic practices, until I see an acceptable theological justification for withdrawal of the communion cup, or until the administration of the Communion is restored according to the Lord’s command and the historic formularies of the Church of England.

Peter Kirk
Lay member of Meadgate Church in the parish of Great Baddow

Which bishops want women to join them?

Ruth Gledhill digresses from her Lambeth Diary to give the low-down on which bishops at last week’s General Synod voted for and against the motion on women bishops. This includes some minor surprises. I won’t repeat all the details, but I will give the votes of those bishops in the Church of England who I have been mentioning on this blog.

On “the Bishop of Winchester’s motion, including the reaffirmation of the Lambeth 1998 resolution that both sides in the argument on women priests and bishops are ‘loyal Anglicans’”, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, otherwise so far apart, were together among the 14 bishops who voted in favour. Among the 31 against this motion were Archbishop John Sentamu of York and bishops John Gladwin of Chelmsford, NT Wright of Durham and Pete Broadbent of Willesden. Ruth writes mischievously that

those who hold traditional views on ministry, men and women who believe implicitly in the Catholic faith contained in creeds and scripture, are now apparently not regarded as loyal Anglicans by two-thirds of the diocesan bishops of the Church of England present and voting at the Synod

– including Sentamu, Gladwin and Wright, also Broadbent who is not in fact “diocesan” but was included in this reckoning. So will Pete Broadbent, despite staying away from the Lambeth Conference, now be rejected by the conservatives? It will be interesting to see.

On the final motion, which I reported here, it seems that Archbishop Sentamu and bishops Gladwin and Broadbent were among 28 voting in favour, whereas 12 bishops including Nazir-Ali and Wright voted against, and Archbishop Williams abstained, alone – although at least four bishops seem to have absented themselves as 45 voted on several of the amendments. Well, at least I can agree with my own diocesan bishop on something. But there is surely something symbolically significant in the one who is supposed to be leading the Church of England choosing to abstain.

Chelmsford parishes to break away?

I have been catching up on news about GAFCON, especially through John Richardson’s Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog and the Church Times Blog run by another Essex Anglican, Dave Walker. The latest news is a denial that GAFCON will cause schism in the Anglican Communion.

But there is one important news report, by Ruth Gledhill in the Times, whose significance for Essex Anglicans neither of these bloggers seems to have noticed; John ignores it completely, while Dave links to it by title without mention of the relevant part. Here is that relevant part of what Ruth writes, concerning an international conservative Anglican Fellowship which may be set up in the aftermath of GAFCON:

Members of the fellowship could attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop and seek oversight from a more conservative archbishop, either from their own country or abroad.

The success of the fellowship in averting schism will depend on the response of the local leadership.

It is understood that hundreds of parishes in England could be interested in joining such a fellowship, if it did not mean schism from the Church of England.

The dioceses most affected by parishes looking for more conservative leadership are understood to include Chelmsford, St Albans and Southwark.

Graham Kings reports this on the Fulcrum GAFCON forum, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:12am”, but has little to add himself.

So we are talking about hundreds of parishes in England, and Chelmsford as one of the most affected dioceses. That means, I suppose, dozens of parishes in Essex and east London expected to join such a Fellowship and possibly “attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop”. If this happens, it will indeed be big news. But if so, why is it being announced in hints by Ruth Gledhill, and why is John Richardson, who as spokesman for Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream is certain to be close to the heart of this, making no mention of this story?

But then perhaps John was alluding to intentions of this kind when, on his personal blog The Ugley Vicar, he quoted with apparent approval the following words of Nigel Atkinson:

What will we have then achieved? We will have formed ourselves into a coherent ecclesial body. We will have our bishops, our clergy, our parishes, our people and our money welded together.

This was outwardly in a different context, that of women bishops. But could there be a plan to bring the two aspects together, to set up, formally within the Anglican Communion, “a coherent ecclesial body” with its own bishops, clergy and parishes, united not only by opposition to women bishops but also by a broader opposition to liberal trends in the Church of England?

The problem with that plan is, where would it leave the large number of us Anglicans who support ordination of women but reject what really is creeping liberalism?

A ray of hope for the Anglican Communion?

For the first time for a long time I have seen some news offering a ray of hope for the Anglican Communion and the Church of England. According to the Daily Telegraph as reported by Anglican Mainstream,

The Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to target individual bishops whose pro-gay policies threaten to derail his efforts to avert schism … by withdrawing their invitations to next year’s Lambeth Conference.

It seems to me that this is almost the only path which Archbishop Rowan Williams can take which has any real chance of holding the Anglican Communion together. Postponing the Lambeth Conference would help, but only by postponing the inevitable unless combined with some other strong action. But by excluding from the Conference bishops who deliberately flout the church’s agreed policies on homosexuality, he just may be able to avoid the threatened mass boycott by more conservative bishops, which would imply a schism right through the heart of Anglicanism.

The problem now for Dr Williams is exactly who to take off the Lambeth invitation list. Continue reading

Reflecting Culture, not Changing Attitude

Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream quotes from an interesting press release from Changing Attitude, a pressure group which is “working for gay and lesbian affirmation within the Anglican Communion”, and of which the Bishop of Chelmsford is a patron. The press release, written by Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, is interesting for its argument that full acceptance of homosexuality in the life of the church is analogous to the abolition of slavery.

Now in my post yesterday A further implication of Christianity being cross-cultural I noted (quoting an older post) that

slavery is accepted in the Bible because it was accepted by all in the cultural context, but this does not imply that it is normative for Christians.

In other words, it is right for Christians to support the abolition of slavery because the acceptance of slavery in the Bible was a culturally relative matter. This argument is in practice accepted by almost all Christians today, although it was highly controversial in the 19th century. Many evangelicals, including myself, apply the same argument to biblical passages which appear to teach that church leaders must be male, but this remains a controversial issue.

But does the same argument apply to homosexuality, as Mac-Iyalla seems to claim? Where should the line be drawn between what is culturally relative and what are the fundamental and unchangeable principles of the Christian faith?

Continue reading