Ecclesiology and Sacraments

Mosaic of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom of Constantinople. (Capella Palatina in Palermo)

Some time ago I debated a person on the issue of closed communion. In the discussion, he said: “The use of ecclesiology to defend a closed table seems offensive.” He went on, saying that “we should be more Christ-like,” and have an open table. And then, at the end, he said that the table should be open because, “by virtue of our baptism we are Christians and members of the church.”

That claim is self-contradictory. The first and last sentence contradict each other. First he claims that to use ecclesiology “seems offensive.” Then he goes on using his own ecclesiology (revolving around baptism) as a proof of that.

But if ecclesiology didn’t matter one would give communion to anyone – Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, satanists… The bottom line is that ecclesiology is the real issue, as the person in question ironically admits.

Let’s take a look at the Eucharist. Besides being our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eucharist has always been considered a sign of unity. It isn’t a means to unity – it is the sign of the unity already established. The question, then, is an ecclesiological one. Do we have unity? Some people might say: “Yes, we believe in Christ.” But is that enough? According to Catholics and Orthodox – and in fact quite a large number of traditional protestants (reformed, lutheran, etc.) – this unity isn’t merely about ‘believing in Jesus.’ Or, rather, it is – but ‘believing in Jesus’ is clearly defined, and assumes doctrinal unity. Protestants and Catholics doesn’t have that unity. Therefore they cannot share in the Eucharist – which is a sign of a unity, not just an instrument and a means to get united.

This insistence on doctrinal unity seems to me to be quite biblical. Of the first Christians we learn that they “devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to fellowship; to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) We can of course debate wether the Orthodox or the Catholics do indeed “devote themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.” But that is another issue. The point is that if you aren’t united you shouldn’t share the Eucharist. That wouldn’t be a sign of unity, but merely a game of pretend.

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