Monday, January 31, 2005
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Read the rest here.
In short, this Deity invoked by modern Anglicans is “the God who accepts” rather than the “God who saves and redeems.” That is, in accepting us, this God is saving and redeeming us. Here is a brief summary of the message in my words:
“God is love and God loves all people. This divine love is particularly expressed in the acceptance of people as they exist in their normality, self-worth, dignity, orientation and searching for God. Thus the Gospel is the message that God in Jesus announces that all are welcome, that all are accepted just as they are, and that the Church is a community of celebration of human acceptance of people of all types. In Christian fellowship, the uniqueness, dignity and worth of all persons, just as they are, is affirmed and practiced. And the Eucharist is the family meal, the means whereby unity is created by sharing in a common meal and affirming one another in the “Peace” and the receiving of the same symbolic food. It is open to all, whether or not they have been baptized and whatever be the state of their heart and mind. The mission of the Church concerns human dignity and worth, peace and justice for all, since God is the God who accepts all creatures, whoever and whatever they are. So Baptism is the entry into this community of celebration and represents a commitment to the mission of peace and justice.”
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
I recently heard this story about N.T. Wright: A student asked Dr. Wright after one of his lectures to define the rapture as it fit into his eschatology. He replied: "The rapture is when you look out your window, see people rising up into the air and say to yourself, 'I'll be damned!'"
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
For many, the debate between receptionism and ‘consecrationism’ has to do with the question of when and to whom Christ’s body becomes present. Consecrationists generally hold that Christ becomes present at the moment of the consecration of the bread and the wine. Receptionists are generally seen to believe that Christ only becomes present at the moment of reception and only to faithful receivers. Whilst a number of Calvinists claim that this is the Calvinistic position, I wonder whether certain nuances of the Calvinistic position are lost when such language is employed. I disagree with both receptionism and consecrationism as defined above. I believe that it is unhelpful to look for one moment at which Christ becomes present. Nor do I believe that there even is a moment of ‘consecration’. I fail to find one mentioned in Scripture. Christ’s presence embraces the whole action, as I have already claimed. The whole action is ‘consecratory’ and not merely one moment within it. One of the dangers with receptionism (hereafter understood as limiting the presence of Christ in the bread and wine to the moment of reception by the faithful recipient) is that it has the tendency of individualizing our celebration of the Supper. The presence of Christ becomes little more than a presence to detached individuals, rather than a presence to the congregation as a whole. Also, in both consecrationism and receptionism, there tends to be a focus upon the elements that distracts us from the other manners in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. If the whole action is consecratory, and is not understood in an individualistic manner, even the unbeliever is somehow brought into the presence of God. The unbelieving eat and drink judgment to themselves. Consecrationism often regards the presence of Christ in the bread and wine in a manner that holds true even outside of the context of the Supper, leading to such practices as the laying aside of the bread and parading it in Corpus Christi festivals. In opposition to such practices, I would assert that the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine is the presence of Christ as the gift of food (the firstfruits of the new creation). The presence of Christ in the bread and wine is a presence of Christ to be eaten and drunk of. It is only really appropriate to speak of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ in the context of the action of the Eucharist. In a context where the eating and drinking of the Church is not going to take place, there is no presence of Christ in the elements. Is it appropriate to speak of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ prior to our eating and drinking? Most certainly. However, speaking of them in such a manner is only appropriate as they are given to the Church as food and drink (i.e. as they are already part of the Eucharistic action). The full reality of Christ’s presence is only known as we partake of them. Our reception is the goal and climax of the Eucharistic action. The personal presence of Christ is only meaningful when understood in the context of the whole action. Consequently, our accent should always be upon the time of reception as the time in the light of which the presence of Christ in the rest of the Eucharistic liturgy makes sense. Manducatio Impiorum The question of the manducatio impiorum comes into play here: Do the impious truly feed on the body of Christ in the sacrament? Yes and no. First we should remove a few misconceptions. The position that only the faithful truly receive the substance of the body and blood of Christ does not necessarily teach that there is anything less in the sacrament when it is offered to unbelievers than when it is offered to believers, nor need it teach that believers add a crucial ingredient to the sacrament by their faith. Rather I understand it to teach that faith is the receptive organ by which we receive what is truly and objectively present within the sacrament. I believe that there is a real sense in which unbelievers ‘eat without eating’ and ‘drink without drinking’ at the Supper, just as people can ‘hear’ the Gospel ‘without hearing’. This does not, however, mean that such individuals know nothing of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. In 1 Corinthians 11 we see that the impious were really experiencing something of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. It is the body of Christ that is given to the unbelieving, just as it is the body of Christ that is given to the believing. There is no cause for us to doubt that what we receive is truly the body and blood of Christ. The Role of the Spirit It is the work of the Spirit that makes the Eucharist what it is. It is the work of the Spirit in the Eucharist that makes the bread and wine that we offer the firstfruits of the new creation and the body and blood of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit through the Eucharist that makes the people of God more than just a gathering of individuals, but truly the Body of Christ. We become the dwelling place of Christ by the Spirit. Following our Lord’s great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, He declares:—
We confess that in the Lord’s Supper not only the benefits of Christ, but the very substance itself of the Son of Man, that is, the same true flesh which the Word assumed into perpetual personal union, in which He was born and suffered, rose again and ascended into heaven, and that true blood which He shed for us, are not only signified or set forth symbolically, typically, or in figure, like the memory of something absent, but are truly and really represented, exhibited, and offered for use, in connection with symbols that are by no means naked, but which — so far as God Who promises and offers is concerned — always have the thing itself truly and certainly joined with them, whether proposed to believers or unbelievers.
As it regards the mode now in which the thing itself, that is, the true body and blood of the Lord, is connected with the symbols, we say that it is symbolic or sacramental. We call a sacramental mode not such as is merely figurative, but such as truly and certainly represents, under the form of visible things, what God along with the symbols exhibits and offers, namely what we mentioned before, the true body and blood of Christ, which may show that we retain and defend the presence of the very body and blood of Christ in the Supper. So if we have any controversy with truly pious and learned brethren [Lutherans], it is not concerning the thing itself, but only concerning the mode of the presence, which is known to God alone, and by us believed.
Some Zwinglians have used these verses to rob all of Jesus’ earlier statements of any real force. In response to these approaches, we must first appreciate that there is no opposition between life-giving flesh and life-giving words (as C.K. Barrett points out). The opposition in these verses is between human flesh in general and the Spirit. I do not believe that a reference is here intended to Christ’s own flesh. Nor do I take this to be any sidelining of the physical character of the elements. I believe that the fact that we are partaking of physical elements is crucially important in the Supper. I also believe that we feed on Christ’s flesh in the Supper and do not merely enjoy fellowship with Him in His divinity (I find the idea of fellowship with Christ in the Supper apart from His humanity disturbing, to say the least). What Jesus is teaching, I believe, is that the whole discourse will only make full sense when understood in the light of the later events of the ascension and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Apart from this perspective, the whole conversation is opaque, troubling and confusing. Our eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of His blood would be little more than a form of cannibalism, were it not for the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit that secures the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the elements (not, I might add, some new property of Christ’s historical body whereby it becomes ubiquitous). Conclusion Much more could be said. However, I have now outlined some of my key concerns. Despite all that I have said, I have yet to be convinced that the doctrine of transubstantiation itself necessarily entails any of the errors that I have catalogued above. I believe that the Bible teaches that we feed on the substance of Christ in the Eucharist in our partaking of the bread and the wine. I also believe that Christ is really present in the bread and the wine and that they are not merely symbolic. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that most of the forms that the doctrine of transubstantiation has taken should be regarded as serious departures from biblical teaching. If I had more time, I would study Eucharistic sacrifice in some depth and would also explore the OT background to the Supper. I have done this to some degree in other posts in the past. As Leithart and others have point out, the attention given to the question of Christ’s presence in the elements is one that results from a ‘zoom lens’ approach. We will better understand the character of the Eucharist once we use a ‘wide-angle lens’ approach. The Supper is much more than the elements and is formed by a rich weave of different biblical symbolism. One of the final problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation that I will mention is the manner in which it has distracted us from the Supper as a whole by concentrating overmuch upon the elements. Even after you have explored all of the issues raised by the doctrine of transubstantiation, there remains so much to say about the Supper.
Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
Read the rest of Leithart's article, entitled 'Cross and Culture: Sacrifice and the Redemption of Society', here. Biblically speaking, I believe that the Eucharist is sacrificial (in a number of respects) and I think that it is generally only ignorance of what the Bible means by sacrifice that holds us back from admitting this.
...study of the book of Leviticus has become a growth industry in Old Testament studies. This has produced a more nuanced and precise understanding of the nature of sacrifice in the Bible, which is essential background for grasping the significance of the sacrifice of Jesus.
Two points will illustrate how this might affect the theology of the atonement. Old Testament sacrifices were indeed expiations, cleansing sin through the death of a substitute, but that was only one moment of a larger sacrificial sequence. After being killed, the animal was transformed into smoke to ascend to heaven and its flesh was given to the worshiper as food, and that whole ritual comes under the rubric of sacrifice. Biblically, to speak of Jesus’ work as “sacrificial” means not only that He was put to death for our sins; Christ’s “sacrifice” embraces His resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and even Eucharist. To speak of Christ’s sacrifice is to say that He achieved atonement by passing through death into the presence of His Father. Second, sacrifice is a liturgical act, and if the atonement was sacrificial, then it was an act of worship. How does an act of worship by the Incarnate Son atone for sin? Exploring this question may bring us close to Thomas Aquinas, who taught that Christ’s supreme act of reconciling obedience was a supreme and redeeming Eucharist. Jesus’ main explanation of His death occurred at the Last Supper, and that may be more significant than Protestants, at least, have realized.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Although the research was carried out in the States, I would not be surprised if the victim mentality that it draws attention to is even more prevalent in the UK. The article goes on to state:—
The "don't-blame-me" mentality personified by Vicky Pollard - the Little Britain character who refuses to accept responsibility for anything - is becoming more prevalent, according to a new study.
Researchers say that young people increasingly believe that their fate is out of their hands and that parents, schools, government or bad luck are to blame for their misfortunes.
Matt Lucas's depiction of the feckless Vicky, with her "yeah but, no but" catchphrase, appears to encapsulate the trend perfectly.
The growth of the victim mentality has been accompanied by a rise in cynicism, self-centred behaviour and alienation, according to psychologists who analysed thousands of personality tests dating back to 1960.
They believe that the shift in attitudes has had major consequences for society and may be leading to depression, higher crime rates and lower academic standards.
Dr Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University who led the study, said: "From 1960 to 2002, college students increasingly believed that their lives were controlled by outside forces rather than their own efforts." The same "substantial" increase can also be seen in children aged nine to 14, she said.
The impact of self-centred behaviour and the victim mentality can be seen across every part of society - from the reluctance to give up seats on public transport to voter apathy. It can be seen when people in debt blame banks for lending them too much money or when fat people blame fast-food advertising or hormones for obesity.
The shift of attitude also explains society's fascination with therapy and the belief that the root of anyone's problems may well lie in childhood.
The slavery brought about by the victim mentality is something that I learned from Rousas Rushdoony a few years back (Rushdoony may be a dirty word in many circles, but I challenge anyone who actually read him to say that they learned nothing profitable from him). The mentality of slavery involves an abdiction of responsibility that will eventually lead to statism. Man is always subject to powers greater than himself and he knows this. The rebellious man, who will not bow to God, will eventually find himself subject to other higher powers. Either man will see himself merely as determined by the impersonal forces of nature, or as the slave of the state. The Christian faith frees us from the slave mentality of the culture of blame. As Christians we can courageously take responsibility and take control of our situations under God. The inevitability of man's passivity in the face of some higher power needs to be taken seriously. For those who deny that man is subject to the Triune God, the alternative is to make man the slave of impersonal forces (e.g. psychological, economic, biological). As man seeks to usurp God's rule, his relationship to nature will change. He will increasingly find himself subject to nature, rather than the ruler over nature. The blame culture always undermines the order of authority that God has set up, as anyone who has studied Genesis 3 in depth will readily appreciate. If man is merely the product of natural forces, rather than the creation of God, man will end up being depersonalized. However, as we live under the rule of the Triune God we can be freed from the paralysis caused by the culture of blame and victimhood. When we appreciate the bad things that happen to us as coming from the hand of a personal God, we can respond in ways that are not open to the atheist. The weakness that the Christian feels in the face of events need not result in the impotency of victimhood. Rather, the response can be one of increased faith; we are forced to entrust ourselves even more to God's control. As we subject ourselves to God by faith we can act courageously in the world and advance in our rule over creation. If we are the servants of a God who works all things together for our good we are freed from the victim mentality. If every event in the universe comes to us from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no room to indulge this way of thinking. This does not mean that we are never shaped by forces beyond our control or harmed by the activity of others. Rather, it means that our reaction to these truths is very different from that of the non-Christian, who tends to go to one of two related extremes, either seeking to assert man's omnipotency or thinking in terms of utter impotency. Christians can be totally honest about their weakness, without feeling doomed to be dominated by it.
Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at Kent University who has studied changing attitudes to blame and risk, said the shift could be seen in Britain.
It was reflected in the medicalisation of human behaviour and the growth of the therapy culture, he said.
"If you want to look after your elderly parents, it's called compulsive helping. If you enjoy close passionate relationships, it's called relationship addiction. If you are in a close relationship, it's called co-dependence."
The changes were also reflected in day-to-day interactions, he said. "Nobody will stand up on my commuter train from London to Kent if an old person gets on. If you are under the age of 50, you just look at your shoelaces."
Monday, January 17, 2005
Leithart goes on to claim that ‘the New is meaningful only by virtue of its difference from the Old.’ The Eucharist can be properly understood only as a conjugation of the rites of the OT. A number of defenders of transubstantiation have been decidedly reluctant to adopt such an approach. There is an implicit Marcionism in the manner in which they relate the sacraments of the NT to those of the OT. If we are going to understand what the Eucharist really means, it will be against the backdrop of the OT rites and narrative (on which subject I recommend Leithart's Blessed Are the Hungry). The doctrine of transubstantiation, with its focus on the change that occurs in the sacramental elements, has produced a sharp discontinuity between the Eucharist and its OT precursors, where no such change is spoken of. I do not believe that relating the Eucharist so closely to OT sacraments needs to be seen as an emptying or even as an ‘immanentization’ of the sacrament. OT sacraments were a real participation in the redemption that was yet to come in Christ. Their full reality was not yet. In a like manner the Eucharist is a real participation in an eschatological redemption that is, nevertheless, still ‘not yet’.
Though Augustine refuses to elaborate the reasons for the change in rites, he offers a brief but immensely provocative metaphor as explanation. Just as verbal signs — the letters of a written verb and the sounds of a spoken verb — vary according to the time the verb indicates, so the rites of the church develop to show a shift in “tense,” from anticipation to fulfilment….
By this combination of metaphors, Augustine underscores his repeated insistence that sacramental “substance,” or, continuing the analogy, the “verbal root,” remains the same in both Testaments. Christ is the Verbum spoken, offered, and received in the word and sacraments of both Old and New. Moreover, just as a conjugation is not a transition from language to not-language but a transformation from one linguistic form to another, so also the transition from Old to New remains within the economy of linguistic and cultural signs. The New is a radically fresh and surprising variation on the themes of the preceding movement but it is not a wholly new musical departure.
Presence and AbsenceFar too many doctrines of the Lord’s Supper presuppose a sharp distinction between presence and absence. They presume that either Christ is either present or absent; it is impossible to have both at the same time. The doctrine of transubstantiation often leads to a form of ‘fetishized’ presence, where the manner in which Christ’s presence exceeds and transcends the elements is not adequately treated. In particular, the doctrine of the ascension entails a real absence of Christ. The presence of Christ that we speak of in the Supper must be one that permits the words ‘until He comes’ to retain their force. Far too many forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation simply dissolve this eschatological tension in an unbiblical manner. There is a fuzzy boundary between presence and absence. Nothing is ever simply present or absent. Even the temporal ‘present’ itself is never fully present. In some sense, the meaning of certain events that happened today is something that will be continuous deferred in various ways. It is like a piece of music, the meaning of one movement in a symphony cannot be fully appreciated apart from all previous movements that it modifies and that modify it and all subsequent movements that it modifies and that modify it. No note finds its meaning within itself; rather, its meaning is found by virtue of its place within a sequence of notes. Nor can its meaning be fully appreciated apart from the context in which the symphony is composed, first performed and apart from all subsequent performances. It is like a life story: the way that you recount the early period of a person’s life story is always coloured by what happens next. Problematizing simplistic binary oppositions between presence and absence is very important when dealing with many popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Getting our Redemptive Historical Bearings When understanding the presence of Christ in the Supper we must start by taking our bearings in redemptive history. Forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation have generally been developed with scant regard for the redemptive/covenant historical situation in which we find ourselves. The Church exists between the Ascension and the Second Coming of our Lord. It is the presence of Christ that constitutes the Church as the Church. However, the time between the Ascension and the Second Coming is a time of genuine absence. This lends a genuine ambiguity to the existence of the Church. As Douglas Farrow has observed, the Church has often been wont to transfer the ambiguity of its own existence onto Christ. There is a tendency to normalize the Church’s own situation and problematize the situation of Christ. The reality of this passing world is made normative and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist must be explicable within the categories provided by this world. Transubstantiation all too easily presumes the validity of the categories of this world to explain what takes place in the Supper. Christ must be brought down to earth again every time the Eucharist is celebrated. This ‘bringing down to earth’ of Christ need not involve any idea of a local presence of Christ (denied by Aquinas and others). All that it needs to involve is Christ’s being subjected to the brokenness of our time and world order once more. The doctrine of transubstantiation often does not take enough account of the fact that the presence of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ can no longer be accounted for by the categories provided by our cosmologies. One of the great insights in John Calvin’s Eucharistic theology (although the eschatological dimension of the Supper is generally muted in Calvin) is that it is our reality that is out of joint and needs to be reorientated to Christ, rather than vice versa. In the Eucharist it is not Christ who is brought down to us, but we who are raised up by the Holy Spirit to enjoy the presence of Christ in the heavenlies. Christ is at a distance from us because of the disjointedness of our reality. Both the time and the place in which Christ exists are removed from our own. However, the Holy Spirit is able to bring together things that are separated. Rather than Christ being brought down again into the structures of our broken world, in the Eucharist, by the work of the Holy Spirit we are given a foretaste of the world reorientated to His reality. The presence of Christ in the Supper is the presence of the eschaton and all that that entails. It is from the celebration of the Eucharist that the Church derives its identity as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). The presence of Christ in the Supper is not a presence that excludes absence or removes any ambiguity to the Church’s existence. The revelation of the Church’s true existence awaits the future coming of Christ (Colossians 3:3-4; 1 John 3:2). However, in the interim each celebration of the Eucharist is a mini-Parousia. The doctrine of transubstantiation risks denting the Church’s hope for the future. If Christ is fully present every time that the Church celebrates the Eucharist, for what greater presence are we eagerly waiting? Whilst I realize that those who hold the doctrine of transubstantiation seldom deny the doctrine of the Second Coming, I believe that the doctrine of transubstantiation has the tendency of obscuring it. Presence in the Elements The doctrine of transubstantiation has focused on the presence of Christ in the elements. All too often a form of ‘fetishized’ presence is taught. The substance of Christ is fully present in the form of mute bread. The presence of Christ in the bread is so emphasized (the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to utraquism merely reinforces this) that justice is not truly done to the fact that the presence of Christ embraces the whole ceremony. Such an exclusive emphasis on the presence of Christ in the bread leads to a number of problems. Perhaps the chief of these problems is the elevation of the Church’s position relative to Christ. The Church is seen to be the chief active agent, rather than Christ. Christ’s agency in giving Himself to the Church is not as prominent as the agency of the Church, which gives us this Christ in the depersonalized form of bread. Of course, this form of the doctrine of transubstantiation is not to be confused with the form held by Aquinas and many other modern theologians. Nevertheless, it has had a significant number of adherents in the pews of Roman Catholic churches over the years. As I have already hinted, the presence of Christ in the Supper must not be limited to the bread and the wine, but must be extended to embrace the whole ceremony. We must start with a very clear perception of the Christ of the gospels who has ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. The incarnate Christ did not cease to be; Jesus Christ is still a man for us and our salvation. In the Supper He permits us to feed on Himself in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. The presence of Christ in the bread and the wine is not a presence that is to be gazed upon, nor is it a presence that can be abstracted from the action itself (as Catherine Pickstock observes). His presence in the bread and the wine is a presence in the form of gift. Consequently, to fetishize the presence of Christ in the elements apart from receiving the elements in our mouths subverts the whole purpose of the Supper. The presence of Christ in the elements cannot be properly understood outside of the context provided by Christ’s giving of Himself in the bread and the wine and our receiving of them. We must always remind ourselves that the Eucharist is an action and not the elements alone. It is not the bread and wine in abstraction that are the place of the presence of Christ, but the bread and wine as given by Christ and eaten and drunk by us. As the bread and the wine are situated in this movement they are quite truly the body and blood of Christ. One of the problems with some forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation is that, through their treatment of the transubstantiated bread as some ‘new thing’, they have tempted people to treat the elements primarily as things to be gazed at, rather than as food to be eaten. Once the elements are treated in such a manner, they can actually become darkened to our sight. The appearance of bread ends up hiding the body of Christ, rather than really revealing it. However, if we affirm that the presence of Christ in the elements is the presence of Christ as the gift of food, the bread actually serves to reveal the body of Christ in this sense and does not obscure it. Presence versus mere ‘There-ness’ As Leonard Vander Zee and others have observed, there is a difference between being ‘present’ and being ‘there’. A table or a chair is not present in a room; it is merely there. In a like manner, merely being in the proximity of someone’s body is not the same thing as enjoying their presence. As I have already claimed, there is no sharp division between presence and absence. Personal presence is known as we relate to other people. In the name of ‘real presence’, many (but not all) Roman Catholics are actually encouraging us to adopt an attenuated form of presence that falls far short of the sort of presence that I believe that we need to be arguing for. The body of Christ may be there, but His personal presence is not really stressed. The danger is that the ‘mute substance’ (as Farrow terms it) of Christ in the transubstantiated bread becomes malleable in the Church’s hands. The Church can all too easily project its own persona onto Christ when it is no longer confronted by Christ as active in the Eucharist. I wonder whether, if we paid more attention to personal modes of presence, some of the Protestant reservations about Eucharist sacrifice might begin to be dissolved. Whilst the doctrine of transubstantiation often carries the danger of depersonalizing the presence of Christ, I believe that Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist more fully captures the personalism of the event. (to be continued)
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Symbol and RealityDefenders of the doctrine of transubstantiation often presuppose a clear distinction between symbol and reality. Evangelicals are generally no less guilty on this point than are Roman Catholics. Both presume that if something is symbolic it cannot truly be real and, if it is real, it cannot truly be symbolic. Setting symbols outside of the realm of reality and reality outside of the realm of symbols is something that consistently takes place in both Roman Catholic and evangelical circles. One party says that the bread and wine are truly and really the body and blood of Jesus Christ; the other party says, no, they are just symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. The doctrine of transubstantiation has been criticized by many on this point. One of the best criticisms of transubstantiation’s treatment of symbol and reality that I have come across is found in Alexander Schmemann’s book, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics assert the ‘real’ presence over against those who argue for a more ‘symbolic’ understanding of the Supper. They think that somehow we need to get behind the matrix of symbols in which we find ourselves in order to encounter the ‘reality’. The symbol cannot communicate reality. In the doctrine of transubstantiation a discontinuity between the symbol and the reality is affirmed. At some point in the celebration of the Eucharist the symbol is annihilated and replaced with the reality. Symbol and reality are not seen to indwell each other and constitute each other, rather the realm of reality lies ‘outside’ or ‘behind’ the realm of symbols. Somehow we must escape from symbols in order to encounter the reality. At this point it is important to appreciate that there are a number of forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation that avoid certain of the criticisms that I am making here. Catherine Pickstock’s form of the doctrine in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy is a case in point. What we need to appreciate is that reality dwells in the realm of symbols and symbols dwell in the realm of reality. Symbols and reality depend upon each other for existence. Take, for example, relationships. Is a man’s relationship to his fiancé real? The man writes love letters to his fiancé, he gives her flowers, he recites poetry to her, he shares meals with her, etc. One day they might get married. They will be married in a ceremony that is formed of many complex signs and symbols — spoken language, exchanged rings, lighted candles, movement up and down the aisle, etc. Does the ‘reality’ of their relationship somehow lurk ‘behind’ the countless symbols that are used? No. The symbols are the things that create, constitute and serve to maintain the relationship. Without the symbols the relationship has no reality whatsoever. Somehow, through the wedding celebration, God joins a man and a woman together so that they become ‘one flesh’. Is this a magical intrusion of reality into a lifeless realm of symbols? How does a wedding ‘work’? Does the ring have some mystical powers? No, but something does really happen through the wedding celebration that cannot be adequately accounted for if symbols and reality are separated as many have supposed. Our relationships are all formed by exchanged signs and symbols. By the complex weave of signs and symbols within the wedding ceremony a new relationship is really constructed and not ‘merely symbolized’. In the Lord’s Supper we must think in terms of much the same thing. Something ‘really’ happens when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, even though the Supper itself is symbolic through and through. Relationships do not exist apart from symbols and this includes our relationship with God. Within the context of modernity, many people strive for the immediacy of presence. Somehow words and bodies are seen to get in the way of the immediate spiritual communion that we want with God and with each other. To have a relationship with God that is mediated by signs and symbols does not seem right. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are seen by many to merely be signs and symbols that point to a relationship that exists elsewhere, usually in the inner soul of the individual, where neither language nor corporate rituals and ceremonies have any role in mediating that relationship. Signs, Symbols and Creation In Scripture, however, signs and symbols are not seen to get in the way of immediate relationship, because there is no relationship apart from signs and symbols. Just as the reality of my friendship with someone is inseparable from such things as shaking hands with them so our relationship with God is inseparable from such things as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper does not merely teach us about our relationship with God; it actually serves to constitute and sustain our relationship with Him. Many evangelicals have thought that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are somehow superfluous to requirements and we can happily live the Christian life without them. However, just as hugs and kisses are not made redundant by words, as they do and convey far more than bare words could, so the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are not made redundant by the preached Word. They are necessary if we are to truly enjoy a full relationship with God. The preached Word brings us into and sustains our relationship with Christ on some levels that the sacraments do not. The sacraments also bring us into and sustain our relationship with Christ on a level that the Word alone cannot. They are not just didactic signs of a relationship with Christ that exists independently of them. What I am arguing for here is a mediating position between those who say ‘reality, not symbol’ of our feeding on Christ in the Supper and those who say ‘symbol, not reality’. The reality and the symbols are inseparable. Doctrines of ‘the sacraments’ have all too easily sustained a nature/grace dichotomy. Theologians have often argued over the number of sacraments. Roman Catholics argue for seven; Protestants generally argue for two. However, these debates often fail to give due attention to the fact that all of creation was designed to be sacramental and is still, in some sense, sacramental. Sacraments are all too often conceived of as some different order of reality from the rest of creation. Such understandings of the sacraments ensure that grace is always kept in an extrinsic relationship with creation. In opposition to this, I argue that grace is truly continuous with nature. The sacraments are not to be severed from the network of signs and symbols that we inhabit. Although I do speak about ‘the sacraments’, I see the sacraments as revelatory of the sacramental character of creation as a whole and not closed off from the rest of creation. To summarize: the problem with many forms of transubstantiation is that they do not pay enough attention to the intrinsic relationship between symbol and reality. Through the symbol we participate in the reality. Both evangelicals and Roman Catholics are not very good on this point. Evangelicals see the relationship between the symbol and the reality as purely extrinsic; the symbol points to a reality outside of itself. The symbol is reduced to merely a means of knowledge about God and salvation, rather than a means of knowledge of God and salvation (i.e. by permitting us to participate in the reality that is symbolized). Roman Catholics all too often agree with evangelicals here; they have also thought in terms of an extrinsic relationship between the symbol and the reality. The Form and Essence of the Sacraments When the symbol bears only an extrinsic relationship to reality, Eucharistic theology will founder on the resulting dichotomy. Either reality will be prioritized at the expense of symbol, or symbol at the expense of reality. In many forms of transubstantiation the reality of Christ’s body and blood must annihilate the symbol in order to replace it with the reality. Quite apart from anything else, this serves to relegate the rich symbolism of the celebration the Supper to a role in which it is merely ornamental or didactic. The severing of ‘form’ and ‘essence’ in the Sacrament is something that needs to be criticized. Once the form/essence dichotomy has been presupposed, the liturgical form can be tinkered with far more readily. The sacrament and its liturgical form becomes — at best — a ‘means of grace’, rather than being gracious itself. The language of ‘means of grace’ suggests that some form of generic grace exists outside of and apart from such ‘means of grace’, which merely serve as channels to bring this grace to us. It is best avoided for this reason. The relationship between the liturgical form and the essence of the sacrament (i.e. the grace that the sacrament symbolizes) is variously understood. For many Roman Catholics the symbolic liturgical form somehow causes the reality. For evangelicals the liturgical form illustrates or represents the reality. In this most Roman Catholics and evangelicals are agreed: symbol and reality do not mix. The symbolic liturgical form is not itself gracious, but serves to bring us into a form of contact with the reality that it symbolizes; it is at best the vehicle for grace and not to be confused with the grace itself. When the liturgical form is understood in such a manner, certain aspects of it can be dispensed with and the (extrinsic) relationship (either of causality or representation) that the liturgical form is intended to sustain with the reality can still be preserved intact. The liturgical form has been subjected to violence from those who hold to such positions. For example, if all that the sacrament is supposed to be is picture or represent the body and blood of Christ, the dominically instituted element of alcoholic wine, for example, can be substituted by some other reddish liquid. The wine is merely there to be a picture of Christ’s blood and its alcoholic character is supposedly unnecessary. Others, who hold the position of transubstantiation, might view the liturgical form merely as ensuring the validity of the sacrament, while remaining non-essential to the sacrament. Of course, as the liturgical form does little more than ensure the validity of the sacrament, anything beyond a minimal conformity to the dominically instituted liturgical form plays little more than a purely aesthetic or didactic role and can safely be dispensed with. In opposition to both of these positions the mutual interpenetration of form and essence, symbol and reality, in the sacrament must be stressed. The Importance of the Eucharistic Liturgy If the Eucharistic liturgy merely serves as the ornamentation and condition of validity of the miracle of transubstantiation that lies at the heart of the celebration, the result is a great discontinuity in the celebration. The miracle of transubstantiation is an invasion from outside, rather than a revelation from within the ceremony (a nature/grace dichotomy is clearly also at work here). Eucharistic theology all too easily becomes geared to isolating the various elements (or conditions of validity) within the liturgy that serve to cause the miracle of transubstantiation. In opposition to this approach, I believe that the Eucharist should be seen as one event with a number of interdependent elements. Those who view the Eucharist as a series of independent actions that serves to cause the miracle of transubstantiation risk turning the Supper into some form of religious fix that is received by mechanistically following some prescribed ritual. By atomizing worship, separating it into lots of discrete actions, we will end up facing unhelpful questions. We will begin to wonder what ‘extra’ thing each element of worship gives us. If the celebration of the Eucharist is seen as self-contained and independent of the other elements of the church’s corporate worship, people will begin to wonder what it is that the Eucharist gives us that the preaching of the Word or corporate prayer does not give us. However, if the Eucharist is perceived to be an integral part of a complete service of covenant renewal, such questions will not bother us in the same way. The Word, Baptism and the Eucharist all serve to save us. However, they were not designed to save us in abstraction from each other. They are all interdependent. Many evangelicals have the idea that Baptism and the Supper are somehow surplus to requirements and that the preached Word is all that we need. They are quite wrong. However, those who believe that Baptism or the Eucharist somehow give us some saving blessing that comes independently of the preached Word (as some ‘added extra’, for example) are equally wrong. The preached Word, Baptism and the Eucharist all work together. If our corporate worship has the Word, but does not conclude with a celebration of the Eucharist, the Word has not achieved its purpose. If we celebrate the Eucharist apart from the proclamation of the Word the Eucharist will not achieve its purpose either. They are quite interdependent. Many popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation cut loose the celebration of the Eucharist from its moorings within the corporate service of covenant renewal as a whole and see it as an independent unit that functions by itself. They also atomize the liturgy of the Eucharist itself and fail to see its coherence and unity and the interdependence of each element upon each other element and also upon the Eucharistic liturgy as a whole. As a result they end up with an understanding of the Eucharist in which the Eucharist can, independently of the Word, confer a ‘Eucharistic grace’ in a mechanistic manner. The Elements in the Eucharistic Celebration One of the key issues here is the manner in which the elements of bread and wine are regarded. Most Catholics that I have come across understand the elements to be the body and blood of Christ in a manner that holds true even when they are abstracted from the context of the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist. Somehow the bread and the wine have once and for all ceased to be what they once were and have become a different thing entirely. This is a key area of disagreement. I truly believe that it is the body and blood of Christ that we receive in our eating and drinking, but I could never regard the bread and the wine as the body and blood of Christ outside of the context of the Supper. Within the context provided by this world, the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. This does not mean that nothing really takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist. The context in which we partake of the bread and the wine is not the context provided this world; rather, we partake within a context established by the Holy Spirit. Within the context provided by the Church’s Eucharistic celebration the bread really is the body of Christ and the wine really is the blood of Christ. This is not a matter of playing with language. The manner in which the elements are the body and blood of Christ cannot be explained by the categories provided by this world. The bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ only as we exist within the environment of the new world order created by the Holy Spirit. In the celebration of the Supper we feed on the body and drink of the blood of the man Christ Jesus. How exactly this happens is mysterious and defies easy explanation. By claiming that it is the work of the Spirit that makes the Supper what it is, I am not trying to water down the reality of our participation, as if our participation was merely something ‘spiritual’ (as opposed to ‘material’). The work of the Spirit in the Supper is not limited to the region of our minds and emotions. The Spirit’s work in the Supper does no, I believe, result in ‘leaving behind’ our physical bodies, or the physical elements of bread and wine. Rather the physicality of our bodies and the elements are interpenetrated by the Spirit, who translates them into a place of communion — a foretaste of the renewed creation. The Supper cannot be reduced to the sursum corda. A change really does take place in the celebration of the Supper. This change is not limited to the elements, but includes every part of the celebration, including those who participate. The Spirit translates both us and the elements into the new creation environment of Christ Himself. In this change the bread never ceases to be bread, the wine never ceases to be wine and we never cease to be created human beings. However, in this change the bread, the wine and the celebrating community become something far greater as they become the place of Christ’s peculiar presence. Christ is received in the sacrament through the work of the Holy Spirit. What we receive is not merely the Holy Spirit in our hearts, nor is it merely the benefits of Christ’s work. What we receive in the Supper is Christ Himself. The Christ that we receive is the incarnate Christ, and not a disincarnate Christ. We eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. (To be continued)
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
I sincerely hope that Barb does not end up getting plagued by militant Robbins followers as a result of this e-mail.
Well, the major 2005 Neolegalist Conference is over.
Held each year in Monroe, Louisiana, under the sponsorship of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America), the annual conference has featured such stalwart schismatics and heretics as Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, and Steve Wilkins (a minister in good standing in the PCA, but the PCA is not in good standing).
This year the schismatics at the AAPC outdid themselves by featuring Westminster Seminary's own Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (a Teaching Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), co-architect (with Norman Shepherd) of the Shepherd version of the heresy of justification by faith and works, and N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Apostate Anglican Church. According to more than one report, 500 people attended the conference. Many of them were sober.
Barb Harvey, who candidly describes herself as "one confused chick," is a member in good standing of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (a church not in good standing), and she has done us all a favor by publishing her impressions of the conference. You can find them at this address:
Here are a couple highlights from her blog:
"The conference was wonderful in every respect."
"The lectures delivered by Drs. Gaffin and Wright covered familiar terrain and in my estimation, often revealed a commonality in theology albeit occasionally achieved by differing hermeneutics. Perhaps most striking was the shared affirmation of the already/not yet of justification and of justification/acquittal according to works."
Despite the fact that "Enoch's, the premier watering hole in Monroe was closed for the week" (note to Steve Wilkins for next year's conference: Make sure Enoch's is open 24/7), the resourceful speakers and attendees found another place to get well-oiled, which undoubtedly facilitated their profound theological discussions.
(Didn't St. Paul really say, "Take a little wine for your frequent theological infirmities"? I think I read that in Bishop Wright. And, of course, if a little is good, and your theological infirmities are frequent and severe enough, two-fisted drinking is completely in order. It helps makes those paradoxes seem positively logical. Besides, there is a long ecclesiastical tradition of two-fisted drinking.)
While you're on Ms. Harvey's site, please notice also the vast presence of these heretics on the web. The tip of the iceberg can be seen in the sites and links the confused Ms. Harvey so thoughtfully provides for her readers.
Now that you have a better idea who the enemies of the Gospel are, and how wide their influence, perhaps you can better appreciate the work The Trinity Foundation is doing...
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Monday, January 10, 2005
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Friday, January 07, 2005
What do others think? What does 'looking at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them' really mean? Suggestions welcome.
The archbishop's article in The Sunday Telegraph was an absolute disgrace.
It was so badly written that I found it almost impossible to hack through his forest of abstract nouns to make out what he was trying to say. I accept that Dr Williams is a good and thoughtful man. But it is no use his being good and thoughtful, if he is unable to communicate his thoughts clearly to the tens of millions of souls in the Anglican Communion who look to him for guidance.
What on earth does he mean, for example, when he writes: "Religious people have learnt to look at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them"?
On a syntactical level, I have a problem with the pronoun "them" at the end of that sentence. Does it refer to "other human faces" or to "religious people"? Either way, the sentence reads like complete nonsense to me. In what sense can anybody be said to draw silence out of a face or a person?
No doubt the sentence meant something to Dr Williams himself when he wrote it. No doubt he, and perhaps a few others, knew what he meant when he wrote that believers had learnt "to be open to a calling from outside their own resources". Speaking for myself, however, I cannot get any sort of mental grasp on the concept of a calling being either inside or outside a resource.
I would not go as far as to say that Dr Williams deserved the headline attached to his article in the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph: "Archbishop of Canterbury - this has made me question God's existence." But I do feel a stab of sympathy for the poor sub-editor, scratching around to write a headline on an article so obscure that its meaning was almost impenetrable. What should he have written instead? "Archbishop of Canterbury - God draws amazement and silence out of faces"?
If I have misrepresented Dr Williams, then I blame him. He should remember that he is no longer at theological college, and try to communicate in language that the layman can understand.