It is not just the Presiding Bishop of TEC who is compromising the Gospel message in what she says. Now, as reported with approval by Anglican vicar David Keen, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are offering official advice to the Bishops of the Church of England which directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, as well as Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine Articles:
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
1 Corinthians 11:25-29 (TNIV), emphasis added
30. Of both Kinds.
The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
(I presume that “men” here is intended in the older gender generic sense.) But today I read:
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today written to Bishops in the Church of England recommending the suspension of the sharing of the chalice at communion.
On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to go against the teaching of Jesus and Paul and disobey the clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? Doug Chaplin has recently suggested that these articles might be consigned to the scrapheap. But if so, this needs to be done by an official decision of the church authorities and after wide consultation, not through unilateral advice from the Archbishops. And I trust no one is suggesting that the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles is similarly destined for the scrapheap.
Note that this is a theologically important issue because the mediaeval western church, and the Roman Catholic Church until recently, withheld the communion cup from lay people. The Reformers insisted on communion in both kinds because this was clearly taught by Jesus and Paul, as quoted above, and was the practice of the worldwide church up to the 13th century.
So the Archbishops, through the advice they have issued, are attempting to reverse one of the key advances made in the English Church at the Reformation, ironically one which the Roman Catholic Church has also made since Vatican II. By changing this practice, they are also, by the fundamental Anglican principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (explained by Doug Chaplin as “”The rule of praying is the rule of believing”, or, more colloquially, “If you want to know what we believe, look at how we pray””), changing the doctrine of the Church of England.
The Archbishops have recommended as an alternative “personal intinction by the presiding minister”. This is also an ancient alternative, having been used in the mediaeval western church before being condemned by a Council. It is not explicitly condemned in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but does seem to go against their teaching, and that of Jesus and Paul, about drinking from a cup. It also clearly goes against the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, also one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England: in the rubrics (instructions) for The Communion in the BCP there are separate words for two separate distributions of the bread and the wine to the people:
And, when he delivereth the Bread to any one, he shall say …
And the Minister that delivereth the Cup to anyone shall say…
The Archbishops justify intinction as “a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa”. But since when does the practice of other Anglican churches take precedence over the Book of Common Prayer?
At this point at last I need to mention the excuse which is being used for this attempt to change the practice of the Church of England: a slightly variant form of a fairly mild disease which is currently doing the rounds in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Yes, you’ve guessed it: swine flu. For the vast majority of those who get it, it means a few days of a nasty headache, not pleasant (see this personal story in The Times) but really only a minor inconvenience. Yes, a few people, almost all with other health complications, will die from swine flu. But it seems no more deadly, or severe in any other way, than the regular flu which has always been “pandemic” and which kills tens of thousands in the UK most winters.
If swine flu is a reason to withhold the communion cup, then why hasn’t the same action been taken long before, in response to regular flu, and all kinds of other infectious diseases? It has long been recognised that shared communion cups are a potential health hazard. So, if action is justified, why has it been taken only now?
If Church of England members are not prepared to take a possibly slightly increased risk of a few days’ headache so that they can obey Jesus’ teaching, then what is the chance of them remaining faithful when real persecution for their faith comes?
So, let me return to a question which I didn’t answer: On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to disobey the teaching of Jesus and clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? They refer to “advice from the Department of Health not to share “common vessels” for food or drink”. But surely this has always been good health advice! So what’s new?
I can’t help thinking that the Archbishops are overreacting to panic stirred up by the media, and in doing so are putting at risk the doctrine and practice of the Church they head. Instead they should be taking a lead in reassuring the public that swine flu is not a big deal and will not be allowed to disrupt the work, let alone the doctrine, of the Church.
I call upon the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, and their equivalents in any other denominations who might follow their lead, to withdraw the advice they have just issued and uphold the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that the Communion is to be given to all as bread and in a cup. Instead they might like to advise that those who prefer this because they consider themselves at particular risk from swine flu should voluntarily abstain from the cup. They might also consider suggesting use of separate cups, as used in many non-Anglican Protestant churches, which avoid the health risks. But they must uphold the priority of the “historic formularies” of the Church and, above them, of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.
Meanwhile perhaps the Archbishops ought to put a bit more emphasis on this part of the government’s health advice:
To help to prevent the spread of the virus, 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.
What am I supposed to think if I go into a church which is withholding the cup but has not even provided visible “bins for the disposal of tissues”? Perhaps someone’s priorities have got mixed up.