Japanese pastor sues over communion dispute

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Anglican Journal reports that a Japanese pastor has sued the country’s largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ in Japan (UCCJ), over his dismissal for giving communion to congregants who were not baptized.


Rev. Jiro Kitamura hopes to regain his status as a minister after he was dismissed from the church. While the basis for the dismissal was doctrinal, the suit will “focus on the procedural aspect” of the dismissal and “bring justice to a certain political force within the UCCJ.”

“Through this lawsuit, I would like to criticize United Church’s control and prompt it to become a united church as it is meant to be, without discarding various differences, through patient dialogue for unity,” Kitamura told ENInews.

“I hope the disciplinary punishment of dismissal will be withdrawn, and hope to question the authoritative nature of the United Church,” he added.

One can’t help but observe that Rev. Kitamura has good company here in the Episcopal Church (even though baptism is officially required for communion in the church). Open communion (communion without baptism) is the official policy of many denominations including the Presbyterian, UCC, and United Methodist Church.

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Bill Dilworth
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Bill Dilworth

"Open communion (communion without baptism) is the official policy of many denominations including the Presbyterian, UCC, and United Methodist Church."

Not quite. It is the official policy of the UMC. The UCC policy seems to be left up to the individual congregation - hardly surprising for a congregationalist body. And at least the Presbyterian Church (USA) policy seems to be that Baptism is a requirement for admittance to Holy Communion: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/today/sacraments/

I doubt seriously that the several other, more conservative Presbyterian groups practice CWOB.

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BSnyder
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BSnyder

Weiwen Ng: sorry, can't agree with you. The more I think about it, the more I realize that CWOB ("Communion without Baptism," is what I mean here) is a really, really bad idea. And the things I've seen actually happening I think frankly cross the line into being unethical. I don't want to be associated with it, frankly, or with the completely clueless actions (as I've described on this thread) of at least some people as they put it into practice. This is my church, too, and I'm going to insist that it act ethically and with some concern for the people involved.

I'm not sure what objections Evangelicals could possibly have to being baptized, but surely they are aware of its significance. It's big-time Biblical - part of the Great Commission and often a topic in New Testament writings. They already know the ropes, and can avail themselves of the rite any time they wish. Frankly, I can't understand why anybody who considers themselves Christian would have even the slightest issue with baptism (with the exception of the Quakers), so I'm not really very concerned about that.

(BTW, when I returned to the church after 35+ years away, I sat in my seat during Communion for almost two years. I didn't believe in it, so I didn't partake in it, although I had been baptized as an infant. Catholics sometimes come to our services just for worship, and don't go for Communion. It's really not that big a deal.)

I'm concerned about people who may not have the first clue what Christianity is about - and the fact that we don't bother to tell them anything before getting them involved in a religious rite they probably know nothing about (and, God help us, telling them what to say during that rite). It's idiotic - and BTW, there are no standards involved at all. These people may simply be left to swing in the wind after the service, with no support or anybody to talk to about it at all. I mean, one of the justifications given for CWOB right here on this thread is that is that Jesus does "unexpected, rulebreaking" things, and there are "staggering, unbalancing" questions involved. My question is: what happens if all that "unexpected, staggering, unbalancing" stuff happens to somebody who's just come in through the doors and has no background or support with which to process it?

Your answer is, trust Jesus, and let the person work it out with him. But I believe God works through people - and I've been taught (and believe) that it's actually dangerous to try to go it alone in spiritual matters. We have a responsibility to people, IOW, and I don't see it being discharged.

At least the disciples had Jesus to talk with, for three years. There isn't any procedure in place under CWOB to deal with what actually happens to people, or to give them any support, because CWOB is a rogue movement.

I just have no more patience with, or respect for, rogue movements in the church anymore (particularly ones that have pastoral implications) - especially since our church has a democratic process in which to work these things out. The governing body, made up of bishops, priests, and laypeople, meets every three years. And that governing body has decided not to change the canon. That tells me something.

I do have respect, though, for parishes and priests who obey the canons because they promised to, even though they may not like what's happened.

Yes, it really can happen that way. Imagine that....

Well, thanks for talking it out with me, and for letting me rant a little! I agree with you it's been a productive discussion

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Weiwen Ng
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Weiwen Ng

BSnyder - first, this has been a very productive thread overall. Second, about disclosure and knowledge, you do raise an excellent point, which did force me to rethink things.

My response to that contention is that I think we should remember that the Episcopal Church is a particular manifestation of the catholic church, but it is not the only valid one. I think that we should have as much interoperability between churches as possible. To inter-operate with Evangelicals who may not have been baptized, we should do open Communion (in the lay sense).

Additionally, I would argue that your position underestimates the interaction between individuals and Christ. The Episcopal Church is a mediator of that interaction. But it's not the only one. For that matter, I do not think the universal church is the sole mediator between individuals and Christ. You raise a good point that we do not want to deceive folks who are new to our Church. However, I think that's best handled by the service. Invite all who are willing to come forward, and let them sort it out with Jesus. If they've decided to step forward ... then trust them and trust God. I do not think we should presume that they do not have the understanding necessary. The disciples, after all (who we don't know were Baptized, don't forget!) had no damn clue what they were getting into. God led them into a full understanding. I also don't think we should presume our understanding of Communion, of Jesus, or of God is so airtight.

As to rules, I agree that they are what we live by, and that they should be obeyed unless there is clear and good reason not to. And that if there's sufficient reason, they should be changed. I would find it perfectly acceptable if we decided that whether or not to restrict Communion to the baptized should be left to the priest's discretion, in consultation with the congregation. If so many congregations and priests have discerned that this canon should not be followed, though, that tells you something. Anyway, if we survived the same sex marriage and ordaining LGBT clergy thing, I'm sure we can resolve this one.

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BSnyder
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BSnyder

(P.S.: The story of Philip and the Ethiopian is, really, very beautiful.

"What is to prevent me from being baptized?" the man asked, excitedly. And the answer was then, and is now: nothing at all.

It's one of a number of New Testament stories that seem to lay out the relationship between the Scriptures, instruction, one-on-one discussion, a journey, and the Sacraments. In each one - the Road to Emmaus is another example - an individual takes time - it's implied quite a long time, in fact - to "open the Scriptures" to the subject of the story, and "their hearts burn." The Sacrament - the Baptism of the Ethiopian, the breaking of bread at Emmaus - follows immediately afterwards.

I find it very interesting, in fact, that in these cases - conversion stories, that is - individual attention during a journey together seems to be a key element....)

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BSnyder
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BSnyder

Weiwen Ng: My main point here is, again, that it's not about what anybody else does. You are right that everybody has their own relationship with God, and makes their own decisions. Neither of those things, though, is our business or under our control.

This is about us, and our religious services, and what we ask other people - either explicitly or implicitly - to do. It's about, in the long run, being able to trust the church not to pull a fast one on people unfamiliar with its faith - and it's about being careful not to violate peoples' boundaries.

IOW, we're not policing other people; we're policing ourselves.

And in my opinion, a quick announcement about "Body and Blood" before Communion is not in any way a substitute for instruction or education in the faith - instruction which is explicitly given prior to Baptism. I'm very tired, as I said above, of mystification.

We're not Jesus, and we're not disciples. We need to operate according to ethical standards; we don't get to break the rules whenever we feel like it, just because we don't happen like them. The rules are in place for a reason. They constrain us. And in any case, we have a procedure already in place to change the canons, if we want to do that. Is it really too much to ask that we follow our own rules? This isn't any sort of emergency that necessitates disobedience in order to save lives; it's people doing whatever they feel like, because they want to - and I think it's really that simple. IOW, it's the usual thing human beings do.

BTW, all this is not even having the professed desired effect. There hasn't been any uptick in membership (including Baptism, as far as I'm aware); the church in fact is smaller now than ever before - even after years of CWOB mania.

I used to sort of lean towards your position, actually, at least from time to time - but since then I've seen the "instructed Eucharists" I mentioned above - documents that apparently give no thought at all to the people they profess to be "including." They literally tell people in one breath to come to the altar for Communion "no matter what" - and then in the next, instruct them to verbally agree with whatever's said by the priest there! It's creepy, really. It's all very, very careless and unthinking - and so I'm firmly in the opposition camp now.

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