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Baptists, Eucharist, and History 2 – The London Confession of 1689

Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Baptists, Eucharist, and History 2 – The London Confession of 1689

Next, let’s look at the developing Baptist beliefs about the Eucharist by reflecting on the London Confession of 1689. This Confession was developed roughly 150 years after the time of the three Reformers discussed in the last post. I’ll briefly look at some of its points. In the first and second points, we clearly see echoes of Zwingli’s memorial view.

for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of Himself in His death

but only a memorial of that one offering up of Himself by Himself upon the cross, once for all

The third and fifth points also contain hints like Zwingli that the elements are not mere bread and wine, that having been set aside for holy use, they should be treated as such. (The fourth point is just a polemic against some Roman Catholic practices.)

bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use

The outward elements in this ordinance, duly set apart to the use ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that truly, although in terms used figuratively, they are sometimes called by the names of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ

However, the fifth point clearly affirms the essentially Zwinglian perspective that the elements signify and represent the body and blood and nothing more.

albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

The sixth point is another polemic, but I find its statement that the idea that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood is “repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason” fairly amusing. That’s true about much of our faith. The Cross was shameful and foolishness. It’s become so much a part of the religious background today that I think it’s hard for people today to see it through the lens of those in the first few centuries. That we would worship a man who was crucified, though, was utterly absurd. Everyone in the ancient world knew that resurrection didn’t happen as well. Yet we kept running around telling people that one man had been. And, of course, many who were not Christian had heard at least something of this strange ritual cannibalism we practiced. We see in that statement in the Confession a hint of the modern arrogance, that we are somehow more intelligent and civilized than our primitive ancestors. If only.

The seventh point is interesting because we see hints of Calvin’s influence intermingled with Zwingli’s in its text. There is something of the idea that the bread and wine become the body and blood spiritual and thus we spiritually feed upon Christ.

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do them also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of His death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses

The final point covers the warnings, which primarily come from 1 Corinthians, not to eat and drink in an unworthy manner and what they considered that to be.

So the developing Baptist perspective in the late 17th century essentially flowed from Zwingli with a seasoning of a hint of Calvin.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 1 – The Reformers

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I decided that in order to explore this topic, I needed to spend a little bit of time to establish and define the history and shape of the modern Baptist view of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. That will provide a reference point for comparison as we then step back into the first millenium. In order to sketch the modern background, in this post I will briefly outline the perspective of the three main early Reformers on the Eucharist. I will not be looking here at Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation. That was really a different path with different goals and a different result from the Protestant Reformation. Anglicans are not exactly Protestant. Nor are they Catholic. By intent, they stand between the two traditions.

When it came to the Eucharist, Martin Luther‘s primary issue had to do with the abuses and odd practices and beliefs that had arisen in late medieval Roman Catholic Church from the specific theory called transubstantiation. The theory of transubstantiation itself had only been developed several hundred years earlier by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. He used Aristotle‘s terminology in his effort to explain the mechanics of the change. In those terms, the substance or essence, the true reality of the bread and wine were changed into the body and blood of our Lord even as the accidents or those parts available to our five senses remained bread and wine.

In hindsight, Luther might have been better served had he simply returned to the prevailing perspective in both the East and the West prior to Thomas Aquinas. However, he was a product of Western scholasticism himself and leaving things unexplained and in tension probably was not something he could have done. So Luther developed his own theory of how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Luther called his theory consubstantiation. I’m not going to delve into that theory here, since I’m primarily exploring the Baptist connection to history.

In stark contrast to Luther, Huldrych Zwingli held that the bread and wine signify the body and blood of Jesus and are a memorial to his sacrifice on the Cross rather than any sort of participation in it. Zwingli and Luther met a number of times, but were never able to come to any sort of agreement or find common ground. According to his own later statements, Zwingli did not believe the elements were mere bread and wine. Nevertheless, his view came very close to that perspective. Clearly, much of modern Protestantism draws their perception and understanding of the Eucharist from Zwingli.

John Calvin, the third of the early Reformers, tried to take a middle way between Luther and Zwingli. On the one hand he held that since Jesus is bodily at the right hand of God, there can be no material connection between between bread and body. However, the bread and wine do more than signify. In some sense, they are the body and blood, at least spiritually. So Calvin made it a spiritual meal and a spiritual feeding. His middle way had little effect on the other two. Calvin’s rejection of an actual material connection between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus made his view unacceptable to Luther. And Zwingli would not accept that we even spiritually eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. He insisted that the bread and wine have no connection to the body and blood, not even a spiritual one.

Those three men represent the three streams that shaped pretty much all of Protestant belief about and understanding of the Eucharist.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History – Series Intro

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

This past weekend a discussion with the Internet Monk, which began for me at least on twitter, emerged in two different posts. In the first, the iMonk posted a link to a sermon by David Chanski on the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper and his own thoughts on the sermon. The second post responded to someone who asked what the problems are with the Baptist view of the Lord’s Supper. If you’re interested, you will find some comments by me on both posts. The first problem he listed was a problem he called “the historical problem”. He posed the issue this way:

How do Baptists relate their view of the Lord’s Supper to the ancient church’s far more eucharistic, real presence language? Do we believe the ancient church was wrong until the Baptist reformation? Yes? No? What?

It’s hardly a new issue to me. As a Christian (a clarification I have to make since I have been a lot of other things over the course of my life), I’ve only really been a Baptist sort of Christian. Oh, I’ve experienced many different flavors of Christianity from childhood on and know a pretty decent amount about many of them. But to the extent I’ve been anything in the midst of modern Christian pluralism, I’ve been a Baptist. I’m also the sort of person who enjoys history and who doesn’t just love reading, but for whom reading and breathing come close to being synonymous. And that combination means I encountered this issue sooner rather than later. I was able to set it aside for years to see if a resolution would emerge. I’m often able to do that when faced with tension in a belief. That worked for a decade or so. But it’s been increasingly ineffective over the last four or five years. Since there isn’t much in Christian life, practice, and belief that is and has always been more central than the Eucharist, that’s a problem.

I will point out that this is not uniquely a Baptist problem today. Many “nondenominational” churches (or denominations of one as they tend to be counted) have a perspective that is at least similar to the Baptist view. The Baptist, or more properly Zwinglian (Zwingli originated the memorial, symbolic theology of the Eucharist in the 16th century), view is also similar to the view held by many in the charismatic wing of the modern church. Presbyterian and other Reformed churches have a somewhat similar, though not identical, problem. As I consider the Protestant branch of the church, Lutherans and Anglicans have much less of a historical problem with the Eucharist than many. I honestly don’t remember what Methodists teach, but since they are offshoots of the Anglican Church, they may also have fewer historical issues. I can hardly claim to be familiar with the tens of thousands of distinct sects into which Protestantism has devolved, but I would wager that the majority of the larger Protestant tradition shares at least part of this particular problem with the Baptists.

In this series, I have no plans to resolve the historical problem. I don’t have any answers and I don’t expect a revelation. Instead, I plan to explore the nature of the problem itself. What is the history of belief about the Eucharist? What are the ramifications of that history? I’ll be exploring questions like that.

If it does not matter to you what your predecessors in the faith believed and practiced, if you are unconcerned about those whom Hebrews calls a great cloud of witnesses, then you don’t share this historical problem. If innovation in the faith, even in its most central aspects, is something that doesn’t bother you, then you will probably not find much of interest in this series. This is for those like me for whom such things do matter, and perhaps matter a very great deal.

In this series, I will be discussing excerpts from Christian writings throughout the first millenium. I’m not really fond of trying to “mine” those writings for a topical discussion. I’ve seen a lot of that done pretty badly over the years. Those writings don’t really lend themselves to that sort of approach. With much ancient writing, you have to try to understand the perspective, setting, culture, and situation from which someone was writing and then try to absorb the whole of what they are saying which will then illuminate the parts.  It’s very different from most Western scholastic works where you try to understand each piece in order to grasp the whole. The pieces often build on each other, but usually in a structured and orderly manner. I will always provide a link to the whole work from which I quote. And if you have any question about the way I am reading something, please go read the whole thing. Even better, read as much by that particular author as you can find.

I will caution readers up front that it is impossible to discuss the Eucharist from the writings of the first millenium without also running headlong into the issue of unity and oneness. That’s probably not what a Protestant wants to hear. But the two trains of thought tend to be deeply intertwined in most places. There are many writings over the centuries addressing schismatics (which is not the same thing as heretic) and there were schisms to address. Nevertheless, I don’t think any writer in the first millenium could have ever imagined schism on the scale that we’ve managed. So be warned.

I will generally assume that everyone reading this series has read, in their entirety, preferably multiple times, perhaps even using the techniques of lectio divina certain key portions of the Holy Scriptures. Of course, that includes the accounts of the last supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The other two passages are John 6 and 1 Corinthians 11. There are other scriptures, and I will provide specific references when needed. But the Scriptures above will permeate the discussion and sit in the background at all times.

Since my focus will be specifically on the historical problem with the Baptist perspective, the 1689 London Confession is as good a reference for that perspective as any. I immediately noted when I read it that it never references John 6. I’m not sure how you can develop a theological confession of the Lord’s Supper without ever referencing the Eucharistic chapter of the theological Gospel. But there you go. Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

In the series I recently completed on the Didache, you might want to read post 31, post 25, post 26, and post 27. I don’t plan to revisit the Didache in this series since I just reflected on the entire Teaching.

I had actually planned to write a series of reflections on the latest encyclical, CARITAS IN VERITATE, by Pope Benedict XVI next. But this cropped up and it somehow seemed like the series I should write at this time. I may still slip in some thoughts on the encyclical in additional posts.


Beyond Justification 2 – What does it mean to be human?

Posted: May 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Justification | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The article that spurred this series, Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective, immediately caught my attention in its opening paragraph with the sentence:

Orthodox in general have never quite understood what all the fuss was about to begin with.

That precisely captures my state of confusion ever since my conversion to Christianity. It has seemed like the foremost question that most have had has been something along the lines of: Am I (or insert person of concern) in with God or am I out? The entire thing seems to revolve around the question of what happens to you when you die. Some might think that’s an overstatement or caricature, but the Southern Baptist Convention’s primary “evangelistic” program is predicated entirely on that idea. Hardly anyone on the ‘inside’ even seems to find it bizarre. Given that my pre-conversion belief about the afterlife tended toward a belief in the transmigration of souls (reincarnation), concern about some “christian” idea of heaven and hell had absolutely nothing to do with my ultimate conversion to the Christian faith. So I never understood the huge fuss over any of the various ideas about what Paul meant by the term “righteousness” or “justification” (same Greek word, I gather).

To the Orthodox, the Western Church’s convulsions over the nature of justification, and particularly the relationship between faith and works, are largely incomprehensible because the presuppositions underlying the debates are often alien to the Eastern Christian mind. The Christian East espouses a different theological anthropology from most of Western Christianity – both Catholic and Protestant – especially with respect to two elements of fallen human nature: original guilt and free will. The differences in these two anthropological concepts, in turn, contribute to differing soteriological understandings of, respectively, how Jesus Christ saves us (that is, what salvation means) and how we appropriate the salvation offered in Christ.

The article above starts in the right place. The Latin and later Western Church’s obsession with justification does seem to flow from its idea of inherited guilt, which was probably drawn from its early neo-platonic influences along with a mistranslation of the Greek text into Latin. I suppose if you believe you were born ‘guilty’ and powerless to do anything at all about it, you might be concerned with exactly how you get to be ‘not guilty’. Even though I did not realize for more than a decade that my belief was the normative Eastern Christian belief, I never for one moment accepted the idea that guilt could somehow be inherited unless one also accepted the idea of reincarnation. If reincarnation were true then I could accept that a soul’s accumulated karma stays with it. But that is not the Christian story. Our soul in Christian parlance consists of our body and our spirit together and intertwined. There is no such thing as the eternality of the soul. We are created beings and did not exist before we were created. Our being is tied to these bodies. We have no natural existence separated from our body. And within that framework, only a capricious God would create a human being guilty.

I’m not entirely sure why it was that pretty much from the time of my conversion onward, I developed something more akin to what the article calls “the Eastern Christian mind” rather than the Western one. Other than my patristic readings, all things Christian which I encountered directly were distinctly Western. I do, for instance, deeply appreciate the way St. John Chrysostom describes baptism, but his teaching conflicts with almost all things Western..

Although many men think that the only gift [baptism] confers is the remission of sins, we have counted its honors to the number of ten. It is on this account that we baptize even infants, although they are sinless, that they may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places of the Spirit.

Of course, modern Baptists (and really virtually all evangelicals) don’t believe that baptism actually confers anything whatsoever. I am probably foolish and even a fool in many ways, but that always seemed like a particularly foolish belief to me. Zwingli strongly influences much of the branch of Christianity that tends to call itself evangelical today even if they don’t even realize that’s who they follow. But I always understood that the things we do with our bodies and in the physical or material realm matter spiritually even when I wasn’t Christian. If anything, Christianity has deepened and strengthened that understanding. Zwingli believed what he did at least in part because he did not believe the material creation could house things of spiritual value. In his eyes the bread and wine could be nothing more. Water was just water. This belief approaches in some ways a denial of the Incarnation. It is certainly a denial that God is everywhere present and filling all things and that he can and does particularly infuse the material creation at times for our spiritual benefit and healing.

In addition to and connected with the idea of inherited guilt, the West simultaneously developed the idea that we had lost the ability to freely choose God. Even in the Roman Catholic understanding, Lutheran understanding, or Arminian Reformed understanding, which allow for and even require some activity of our will, our will is only able to choose God because of this odd thing often called prevenient grace. Those who lean more toward Calvin on the Reformed side tend to deny the existence of any will on our part at all. Whatever free will humans may have been created with was obliterated in the Fall. I know that Protestants don’t tend to actually study the ecumenical councils of the first millenium, but such statements are actually a denial of the sixth council. Since that has long been one of the councils that has meant the most to me, I appreciate the way the article brings that out. I will also point out that I’ve always understood grace as it’s described on the Christian text as describing the action of God. To say that we receive grace is to say that we receive God.

Thus, Orthodoxy understands human sin primarily not as deliberate and willful opposition to God, but rather as an inability to know ourselves and God clearly. It is as though God were calling out to us and coming after us in a storm, but we thought we heard his voice in another direction and kept moving away from him, either directly or obliquely. It is illuminating that the Greek word for sin, hamartia, means “to miss the mark”. Despite our orientation toward God, we “miss the mark” because, not only does the clouded spiritual vision of our fallen condition make it difficult for us to see God clearly, but we fail to understand even ourselves truly; thus, we constantly do things which make us feel only incompletely and unsatisfactorily good or happy because we don’t recognize that God is himself the fulfillment of our innate desire and natural movement.

That is not to say that people cannot come to set their will in direct opposition to God. They can and sometimes do. But that is not the primary manifestation of sin. That certainly better captures both my personal experience in my lengthy journey to Christianity and what I perceive with many of the people around me.

So we are guilty only for what we have personally done and it is an integral part of the image we bear that we have the will to choose what we do and what we worship. Our will has been damaged and is too often subject to our passions just as the image we bear is tarnished. But it is that damaged will which Christ assumed in order to redeem it in the same way that he assumed our mortal nature in order to free us from death. It seems to me that if you get these wrong, you badly miss the mark about what it means to be human.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my reflections on this article.