Faith, Tradition, and Reason
Eucharistic Theology and Baptism Before Communion Part 3
The Priest who Refused to Tell me What to Believe
Soon after my arrival at the Episcopal Church where I found Jesus, I asked the priest a theological question and his answer pissed me off. He began with “well, the Episcopal Church is a big tent and has a range of differing beliefs and it’s more useful to figure out your own beliefs on that.” I was upset because I wanted him to give me a belief I could hold on to, but with this particular question it was the right answer. I sulked about his response as I drove home, but ultimately it’s a response I’m thankful for because he refused to dictate what he thought I should believe.
One of the first things I learned in the Episcopal Church (from the same priest) was that beliefs were based on the “three-legged stool” of faith, tradition, and reason. Baptism before communion is reflected in all three of these legs, not just one. In the Gospel narratives, baptism came before the Eucharist, even in the case of Jesus himself. Church tradition has always taken the position of baptism before communion, and reason also tells us that baptism comes first. The General Convention declined to talk about revising the requirement that one be baptized before partaking in communion.
The Story According to the Gospels
I n the Biblical order of events, Jesus was baptised before he instituted the Eucharist, which was a gift he gave his disciples on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and the Passion of Jesus takes place. There is nowhere in any of the four Gospels where Jesus went out and invited others into the meal, even though people were around, because it was a meal for his followers. It was for those who had already made a commitment to follow him.
As far as Judas goes, he outwardly followed Jesus, I think he may have even desired to follow Jesus, and so he was included because he had technically made that commitment also. The Bible says that Satan entered into Judas, and Judas must have been okay with that. There’s always that one guy…Judas is the exception, the other eleven men were committed followers. They were all in even though they messed it up at times.
The Tradition of the Early Church
W hen the Church was still in it’s infancy, when someone converted to Christianity, they had to undergo a period of instruction in the faith. These converts were called catechumens, and they had to finish the entire process before being baptized. Catechumens were not even allowed to be in the entire service, they were required to leave the service before celebration of the Eucharst. All this to say that there is a precedent for baptism before communion. Therefore, even tradition shows that the intention was always for baptism to precede communion.
The Rosary is One of my Favorite Things
T he rosary is a very important part of my spirituality, it has changed my life and my relationship with Jesus and Mary. Even in the rosary mysteries, which are prayed in order of events, the baptism of Jesus comes before the Eucharist. The call to repentance comes before the Eucharist also. Jesus did not go outside and invite all to come, he and his disciples received communion. It was an exclusive meal.
This is where reason comes into the equation. The fact that baptism before communion is so ingrained into the history of Christianity, woven into our very fabric, over and over, means that it’s important. It’s a consistent belief throughout the centuries of Christian history and that’s not something that should be taken lightly.
Not Your Normal Kind of “Come to Jesus” Moment
F or people like me, the circumstances are difficult and complicated. If I had understood at the time I first took communion that I had not been baptized appropriately (the confusion was in the fact that I had been baptized, several times, but only in the name of Jesus, not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), I would have respected the theological beliefs of the Church and abstained until after baptism. I did what I did because of a misunderstaning about what baptism is.
I had a desire for baptism, and did my best to live my life according to the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church. I take the vows every single day, which was something I started doing about a year and a half before baptism. God met me where I was at because that is what God does, which is how the questioning of baptism came up. From the experience I had when I was I was finally baptized, I know that it was the time I was finally baptized and could have peace of mind.
The way that I found Jesus is a way I hope that other people never have to do, because it was incredibly difficult, gut-wrenching, and there’s so much grief to work through over it. Meeting Jesus via prostitution, desecration of the sacrament, and worshiping at the altar of Baal and other false gods is never something to imitate and do. I came to Jesus because of the Eucharist. I was in a position where I had to come to Jesus any way that I could, and it was something that God honored, even though it was not the way things should be done. Nothing about my story is normal, and so that’s where the difference lies.
I f a position of something has a supporting narrative that isn’t truth, it’s a position I need to be careful about advocating for. The idea that requiring baptism before receiving the Eucharist is exclusionary is not accurate. Baptism is available to anyone who wishes to be baptized, and baptism is our initiation into the life of the Church. It’s our invitation to Jesus, to enter into his kingdom, and in so doing, recieve him in the sacrament of his body and blood after receiving the sacrament of baptism.