There are a couple inconsistencies in the 2019 Prayer Book that I would like to address, gently, carefully, and with respect. Both involve doctrine and practice that were changed in the 20th century and are accepted by some otherwise-conservative Anglicans today without even batting an eye, yet grumpily condemned by the more traditionalist brethren. And the 2019 Prayer Book, perhaps predictably, has ended up awkwardly with a foot in each camp, so to speak. Is this a feature or a bug?

The issue that I’m going to address here is paedocommunion, the practice of serving Holy Communion to infants and small children, requiring only that they first be baptized. From what I have seen, this practice has been found among some of the more strictly traditional Anglican provinces, not just the ACNA, but there are still people in our midst who are hesitant or outright opposed to this practice. Historically, the Prayer Book tradition has required that one be Confirmed, or at least “desirous to be confirmed” in order to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That loophole exception proved useful in the early years of the Episcopal Church in the USA when bishops were scarce, but that temporary situation soon went away and regular discipline was eventually resumed, as far as I know. Other Protestant (as well as Roman) traditions were all on the same page: receiving Communion requires a confession of faith, repentance of sin, and the desire to commune with Christ. Basically, if you just read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 at face value, you get the rule that all of Western Christianity observed for over a thousand years.

But there are rumblings concerning the varied practices in the Early Church, and there is the ongoing witness of Eastern Orthodox practice wherein a child is baptized and “confirmed” (properly, chrismated) all at once, and then go on to receive Communion before what Westerners would call the Age of Reason. But we’re not confirming our infants, like they are, so what changed in Western Christian thought that has led so many Anglicans (and certain other traditions) to make such a radical change in practice?

The answer is largely found in the doctrine of Holy Baptism. It is no secret that the 1979 Prayer Book contains a severe shift in baptismal theology compared to the Prayer Book tradition previously. It became less about cleansing from sin and the beginning of the new life in Christ and more about joining the family of God and belonging to the mission of the Church. The Preface to the 2019 Prayer Book, on page 4, even calls this out:

Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.

The poster child for this was “The Baptismal Covenant”, which took some traditional elements of the examination of the candidates and set them in a context that shifts the emphasis from Baptism being a gracious gift of God toward Baptism being a commitment that we make as individuals.

All that being said, the question now arises: what does the 2019 Prayer Book do about all this? The Preface expresses clear concerns about the previous baptismal liturgy, and the 2019 Baptism service does a good job of bringing back several elements of historic prayers. There is still a thread of emphasis on “welcome to the family of God”, but that’s fine because it is (first of all) correct, and (secondly) not a theme original to 1979 but already cropping up in 1962 and 1928 alongside the historic liturgical forms. One might quibble over the quality of the balance between “welcome to the family” and “this child is now regenerate”, but it can safely be said that our baptismal liturgy is once again within the bounds of Anglican orthodoxy.

And yet, nearly the entire ACNA communes its not-yet-Confirmed members. And so do some of the Continuing churches who never even adopted the 1979 Prayer Book in the first place. So when you look at the 2019 Prayer Book and observe the utter lack of direction over whether not-yet-Confirmed children may receive Holy Communion or not, one has to conclude that this is a feature and not a bug as such. It is an inconsistency, yes, because we’ve called out the baptismal errors of the Episcopalians since the 70’s and yet we often retain their practice of communing our children on the basis of their Baptism alone. But it’s an inconsistency that we share with others, and therefore one that we cannot simply “solve” in our new Prayer Book alone.

If you or members of your congregation are uncertain about the practice of paedocommunion, I highly recommend you avoid it. If there are scruples or doubts about doing something, then it would be done in fear and not in faith, and therefore should not be done (Romans 14:23).

If this is a subject you’ve never thought about before, then please go read 1 Corinthians 11 and the Exhortation to Holy Communion in our Prayer Book. I have a doctrinal walk-through of it here for you, and an historical summary of it here.

Whatever you decide on this, make sure that you are able to do so in the confidence of the Holy Scriptures and the directions of your Church.

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