Baptists, Eucharist, and History 23 – St. Cyprian on the Importance of Holding Fast the Tradition

We conclude today our reflections on St. Cyprian’s letter on properly preparing the Cup of our Lord. I want to end by looking one more time at the strength and passion with which St. Cyprian writes we should hold to the truth we have been given.

There is then no reason, dearest brother, for any one to think that the custom of certain persons is to be followed, who have thought in time past that water alone should be offered in the cup of the Lord. For we must inquire whom they themselves have followed. For if in the sacrifice which Christ offered none is to be followed but Christ, assuredly it behoves us to obey and do that which Christ did, and what He commanded to be done, since He Himself says in the Gospel, “If ye do whatsoever I command you, henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” And that Christ alone ought to be heard, the Father also testifies from heaven, saying, “This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” Wherefore, if Christ alone must be heard, we ought not to give heed to what another before us may have thought was to be done, but what Christ, who is before all, first did. Neither is it becoming to follow the practice of man, but the truth of God; since God speaks by Isaiah the prophet, and says, “In vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.” And again the Lord in the Gospel repeals this same saying, and says, “Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Moreover, in another place He establishes it, saying, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” But if we may not break even the least of the Lord’s commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord’s passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.

And this is the testimony of the sort of people who added to or changed the faith taught by the apostles? Color me unconvinced. I’ll close the reflections on this letter with St. Cyprian’s own closing.

Therefore it befits our religion, and our fear, and the place itself, and the office of our priesthood, dearest brother, in mixing and offering the cup of the Lord, to keep the truth of the Lord’s tradition, and, on the warning of the Lord, to correct that which seems with some to have been erroneous; so that when He shall begin to come in His brightness and heavenly majesty, He may find that we keep what He admonished us; that we observe what He taught; that we do what He did. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted August 19, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    This should come as no surprise, but in fact there is no uniform Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper. Despite the statement of the Second London Confession and the SBC’s BF&M 2000, and despite what I admit to be the overwhelming prevalence of (a watered-down) Zwinglianism, a diversity of views has existed.

    For example, Thomas Grantham, the self-taught General Baptist messenger (read: bishop) of the 17th century, a man who read the Church Fathers, argued in his “Christianismus Primitivus” that the Lord’s Supper is a “real offer” of Christ’s flesh and blood “to feed upon by faith.”

    In the contemporary literature, one may consider perusing the relevant essays in “Baptist Sacramentalism,” eds. Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, or the sacramental theology “Promise and Presence” by John Colwell.

  2. Posted August 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I figured out fairly early on that there isn’t much uniform about Baptists at all. I used the SBC version as one example because that’s the largest single grouping of Baptists today that I know about and the group my church is in. I referenced the London Confession because that’s the one that Internet Monk referenced in his post that in part spurred this series.

    On the contemporary side, though, I’m curious if you know of any present-day churches in the US who actually practice anything other than something on the spectrum between watered down Zwinglianism and Calvin’s perspective? I would love to take a look at what they do and how they express it if you do.

    Thanks!

  3. Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s an interesting question. I think that what we may have in current Baptist life is a good number of seminary-educated clergy who are open to or accepting of a richer, sacramental doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. However, translating that personally-held belief in contexts that have been historically “Zwinglian” and somewhat anti-Catholic is difficult at best. I happen to be one of those pastors, and the matter is more complicated in that I am an associate and not the senior minister, so I don’t set the theological and liturgical tone.

    A number of churches have at least enhanced their practice in such a way that they’re saying more about the Eucharist through their deeds than they are with their words. A number of churches have enhanced their intentional liturgical celebration of the Lord’s Supper and its frequency. Just a few examples I know of include First Baptist, Washington, DC; Greenwood Forest, Cary, NC; Christ Church, Rockwall, TX; Northminster, Jackson, MS. I think First Baptist, Dayton, OH, also has a sacramentally-minded pastor setting the theological agenda alongside the liturgical framework.

    Outside of the US, I know that British Baptists, having long been entrenched in the ecumenical movement, are more open to fuller meanings and expressions of the Supper. A worthwhile read would be the seven patterns for the Eucharist given in their recent service book, “Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples.” Moreover, the very unique Baptists of (the country of) Georgia almost certainly express a “high” view of the Eucharist (www.ebcgeorgia.org).

  4. Posted August 19, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I took a look at some of the online information of some of the churches you mentioned. Interesting. They did tend to have at least a somewhat different voice that much of what you hear today. Perhaps there is at least the beginnings of change.

    I was fascinated by the Georgian Baptists reading their news. Definitely different than what I expected to see in Baptists anywhere in the world.

    Thanks for sharing the info.

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