Calvin on: The Sacraments, part 2

In like manner, in baptism we put on Christ, (Galatians 3:27) we are washed by his blood, (Revelation 1:5) our old man is crucified, (Romans 6:6) in order that the righteousness of God may reign in us. In the Holy Supper we are spiritually fed with the flesh and blood of Christ. Whence do they derive so great efficacy but from the promise of Christ, who does and accomplishes by his Holy Spirit what he declares by his word? Let us therefore learn, that all the sacraments which men have contrived are nothing else than absolute mockeries or frivolous amusements, because the signs can have no truth unless they be accompanied by the word of the Lord. Now, since we never sport in this manner with sacred things, without wickedly pouring contempt on God and ruining souls, we ought to be most carefully on our guard against those stratagems of Satan.  John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel  According to John, 20:22.

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Sacerdotalism & Evangelicalism? Or Biblical Christianity…

Van Til,  in his book The Defense of the Faith, notes that B.B. Warfield divides Christians into two groups, sacerdotalists and evangelicals.

The issue between them concerns “the immediacy of the saving operations of God.” The church of Rome, holding the sacerdotal point of view, teaches that “grace is communicated by and through the ministrations of the Church, otherwise not.”  On the other hand, Evangelicalism “seeking to conserve what it conceives to be the only cosistent supernaturalism, sweeps away every intermediary between the soul and its God, and leaves the soul dependent for its salvation on God alone, operating upon it by immediate grace.” Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. P&R: 1955, pg. 69-70.

I ask then, why do the two have to be mutally exclusive? I think it more accurate to state that God has indeed left the human soul dependnet on Him alone,  but through the sacraments which He has given to His Church.  In the sacraments God promises to operate upon the soul of the recipient, for better or for worse, for blessing or for cursing.

New Creation and Baptism

In Genesis 1, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation. It was out of this water that the dry land of the new earth was brought forth on the third day. The waters were separated, and dry land appeared (Gen. 1:9-10). On the sixth day when man was created out of the dust of the ground, which corresponds to the filling of that which was formed on the third day, we see that there was a mist coming up from the ground and watered the whole land from which man was created.Thus man was created from the dust that was covered in water (Gen. 2:6-7).

After the flood, we see a similar picture, with the dove, like the Spirit of God hovering over the flood waters, looking for a place to rest its feet (8:6-9).  Later, during the Exodus, when Israel was brought out of Egypt, a similar picture is given in the crossing of the Red Sea. “And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to the on their right and on their left” (Ex. 14:22). St. Paul looks back to this account in 1 Corinthians 10:2 and says that Israel was ‘baptized in to Moses.’ Deut. 32:11 even pictures God as a fluttering eagle over Israel when He brought them out through the water. This is a striking resemblance to the creation and flood accounts, when the Spirit was hovering over the waters of creation and ‘new creation.’ A similar account is recorded for us in Joshua 3:15-17 when the Israelites went into the land and the water from the Jordan River was overflowing. The Priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant went into the water, and the water ceased to flow, and Israel went over into Canaan on dry land. We might possibly see the Cherubim with their wings spread out over the Ark, which was placed in the hands of the priests who were “in the midst” of the water, as picture of the Spirit of God hovering over the water here also.

Skipping ahead to Jesus, we see the one who is the True Israel going into the water for baptism, when the Spirit of God descends upon Him in the form of a dove. This is an obvious recapitulation of all those Old Testament types, all of which find their fulfillment in Christ. Then on Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came to the Church, there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2), which might be a veiled reference to the sound of hovering fluttering wings of the Holy Spirit, since  Jesus in Acts 1:5 does refer to the coming of the Spirit as a‘baptism.’

Directly connected to these water “baptisms” is the doctrine of the eschaton. Jesus Himself speaks of the “times of restoration” that come by the hand of Elijah (John the Baptist) in Matt. 17:11; He also speaks of the time of the “regeneration” in Matt. 19:28[1]; Peter and John in Acts 3 exhort the people to repent so that the “times of refreshing” and “the time of restoring all things” can come about; Hebrews talks about “the time of reformation” (9:10); Peter in his first epistle says that their salvation is ready to be revealed in this ‘last time’ (1:5). This grace of salvation will be brought to them at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” When this revelation occurs, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13). Peter looks for that day of wrath when the old covenant would be brought to a close. This day of wrath finds comparison with the destruction of the flood of Noah, and the manner in which they were saved from that wrath. The wrath that God indeed did pour out ended the old covenant “heavens and earth” was in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Peter thus concludes that “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the ark which saved them from the destruction of the old world and which brought them into the new] now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

How is it that Baptism saves? In just that way that Peter said. The Ark was the vessel that saved people from God’s wrath which destroyed the old “heavens and earth” and brought them into “a new heavens and earth.”  Paul tells us if anyone be in Christ, “new creation.” The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). The question then is; how does one participate in this new creation? Answer: By being “in Christ.” How does a person come to be, “in Christ”? By Baptism. For Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28).  Paralleling that statement, Paul says at the end of his Galatians epistle, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Paul therefore seems to equate being “in Christ” with “new creation.”  He also says in Titus 3:5 that we are saved “by the washing of regeneration.”

Though this passage has been debated, I believe that the proper rendering of the text should be understood as: we are saved by the washing [baptism] that brings about the new birth (i.e., new creation). ‘Regeneration’ literally means “New Birth” and so we are born anew through the waters of baptism, not by any internal “regeneration” as classic reformed theology has understood the term, but in the external objective sense. Baptism brings us into the regeneration, the eschatological kingdom of God on earth. Connecting this Jesus Himself said that a man cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit. It is not just the spirit, but it is also the water, that is, the waters of baptism.

Thus, from a biblical theological perspective, Christ Himself is the New Creation, and it is baptism which then brings us into this new creation, i.e. Christ. All of those Old Testament types find their significance in baptism, which was the means whereby a person came into the “New Creation.” It is the not only the same in the New Covenant, but it is here where the fulfillment is.


[1] See R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 287-288.

Eucharistic Meditations

14Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?   1 Corinthians 10:14-22   ESV

The Lord’s Supper is an occasion to reflect upon the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus Christ made on behalf of His people. When we partake of the bread and wine, we are given assurance of our salvation, and of God’s goodness towards us. But more often than not, we do not think of the Lord’s Supper as a reason to pursue purity and holiness. Let me explain.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we thank God that He has forgiven us of our sins in Christ, and we commune with Him in our hearts by faith and thanksgiving, and are renewed to live a life worthy of the cross, a life that is holy. But when we come to the Lord’s table we tend to view it as the place where we can come to get cleansed from sin, and renew the terms of the covenant, and then on that basis, we seek to live a holy life. The Lord’s table in a sense becomes the jump off point, or the starting line, the re-starting line from where we take off and begin running the race again. This is good and true, because we always need to be rejuvenated and invigorated, and re-energized to keep running the race, and to keep fighting the good fight of faith. But I think that this passage of Scripture in   1 Corinthians 10 puts a slightly different slant on it.

Paul seems to indicate the opposite view; That the Lord’s Supper is not the starting, or re-starting line, but a finishing line. For Paul, the Lord’s Table is the goal and the reason why we ought to pursue righteousness, and holiness, and brotherly love, and to flee from sin and idolatry, because when we partake of the bread and the wine, we are participants in the body of Christ and in the Blood of Christ. For Paul then, when we eat, we are eating in the presence of Christ himself, which should then spur us on to holiness, so that we do not defile our communion with Christ at His table.

Now the really interesting thing about Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 10 concerning the Lord’s presence, is that he doesn’t even make an argument for it to try and prove his point, but He assumes it. It is a presupposition for Paul, one that serves as the basis of his argument for the Corinthians to not eat the food which is at the tables of the pagan gods, and to not drink of their cups. Why? Because, when they partake of the table of the pagan gods and partake of their cup, they become participants with demons!  What do I mean by “participants”? The NASB translation says, “sharers in demons.” The King James version says, “I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons.” Ah, we can understand the term fellowship. Sometimes after Church, we have meals together, and we talk with one another, and what not. And we call that, “fellowship.” Well Paul is saying to the Corinthians, when you eat at the feasts of pagan tables, in which their foods were sacrificed to idols, you are fellowshipping with demons.

And so, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are fellowshipping with Christ, who is indeed there among us. So Paul exhorts the Corinthians to not eat of those tables because demons are there, and Christ is indeed at His table. And, As Paul says, you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. When we do that, we provoke the Lord to jealousy.

But, that is not all. There is indeed something deeper that transpires when we partake of the Bread and wine at the Lord’s Table.

We are not only eating in the presence of Christ who is spiritually and mystically there among us, but we are partaking of Christ Himself and are being united to Him, and He to us. There is a mystical union that takes place between the person and the Lord Jesus. And the only way we can understand this is by way of the Incarnation.

Jesus Christ, through His life and especially His death and resurrection, which was performed in His human nature, in His human body, accomplished all that was necessary for the salvation of mankind. And since Christ worked out our salvation through His human body and human nature, the only way that we humans can receive the benefits of His saving work, is if we come into some kind of communion and union with the human nature, and indeed with the human body of Christ, in which all the work of our salvation was performed and accomplished.

And since it is impossible that we become participants in the benefits of Christ’s saving work without actually becoming participants with His person as well, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are engaging in the only way that this union can be attained, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And by doing this we are united to Christ Himself, and thus all His saving benefits of the New Covenant are ours.

And what happens when we eat of His flesh and drink His blood? What is the main benefit of the New Covenant? We are given eternal life. The Church is the Body of Christ is she not? And Christ is her head. But like a human body, what is the one thing that Body needs to survive? Blood. The Life of the body is in the blood, as Leviticus 17:11 says. So, Christ’s body, when it was broken, poured forth blood which is for the life of the body. So when we break the bread and drink the wine, we as the one body, because there is one bread, are kept alive spiritually, and are kept in communion with each other and with our Head when we drink the blood of Christ and eat His flesh.

And so, the Eucharist then, should not just be a starting line, but should be for us a finishing line, a goal to look forward to, our ambition to be pleasing unto Him, the aim of our daily lives,  in order to keep us pure, because it is at the Lord’s Table, in the Eucharist, we are actually receiving Christ Himself and His saving benefits via His flesh and blood.

Some Questions Concerning Infant Baptism

When a child is brought up in a Christian home, and attends church every week, reads the Bible, goes to Sunday school, memorizes Scriptue, has learned Biblical Doctrine, etc, and is not yet baptized because the parents of the child feel that the child does not yet “intellectually understand” what baptism means, or understand what it means to be a Christian, is this helping or hindering that child from coming to Christ?

Is this unbaptized child who has been brought up in the church to be considered a christian?

Is this unbaptized child who has been brought up in the church a memeber of the church?

If the child has to attain a certain intellectual level of understanding before being baptized, is this intellectual attainment a form of works?

Is it unbiblical and/or unethical to raise a child in a Christian home, under christian rules, expecting that child to follow and obey those rules, and for that child to go under the proper Christian disicipline due to disobedience, and yet to consider that child to not be a christian and to not be in covenant with God because of their lack of baptism? Is that wrong?

If we are all equal in Christ, then isn’t the unbaptized child considered an unequal due to their lack of baptism, since he is not ye a “christian”? Does this make this child some sort of second class citizen?

Did Jesus tell the children He blessed that they had to wait until they were a certain age or were able to attain to some intellectual understanding before they could come to Him?

What were the requirements that needed to be met that Jesus laid down for the children before the kingdom of God could be belong those little children?

Just a few questions.

Oh, one more question….

If the New Covenant is made ONLY with true believers, then how is it that in Hebrews 10:26-30 ,that a person could “receive the knowledge of the truth”, and by their deliberate sinning, “profane the blood of the Covenant by which he was Sanctified“, and subsequently in verse 30 have the author say that this person who will be judged is to be considered  “HIS (God’s) PEOPLE”?????

This person received the truth, was in covenant with God, was sancitified by the blood of the (new) covenant, was considered to be God’s people, and yet can still “spurn the son of God, and profane the blood of the Covenant by which he was sanctified, and could outrage the Spirit of Grace”? This person will subsequently be judged by a fury of fire that will consume God’s adversaries (which this person is). If the New Covenant is only made with those who are regenerate then how could Hebrews 10:26-30 make any sense?????

Calvin on: the Sacraments – part 1

John Calvin

John Calvin

1. “Akin to the preaching of the gospel, we have another help to our faith in the sacraments, in regard to which, it greatly concerns us that some sure doctrine should be delivered, informing us both of the end for which they were instituted, and of their present use.

First, we must attend to what a sacrament is. It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men.

We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him.

You may make your choice of these definitions, which in meaning differ not from that of Augustine, which defines a sacrament to be a visible sign of a sacred thing, or a visible form of an invisible grace, but does not contain a better or surer explanation. As its brevity makes it somewhat obscure, and thereby misleads the more illiterate, I wished to remove all doubt, and make the definition fuller by stating it at greater length.”

3. “From the definition which we have given, we perceive that there never is a sacrament without an antecedent promise, the sacrament being added as a kind of appendix, with the view of confirming and sealing the promise, and giving a better attestation, or rather, in a manner, confirming it. In this way God provides first for our ignorance and sluggishness, and, secondly, for our infirmity; and yet, properly speaking, it does not so much confirm his word as establish us in the faith of it.”*

*That is, the sacrament cannot make the promise of God objectively more certain, but it can make our faith in God’s promise subjectively more certain. God’s Word is always absolute, strong, unchangeable, and “settled in heaven”; but our faith, throughout this life is always relative, weak, changeable, and frequently in need of confirmation and assurance. Thus we properly distinguish between the objective certainty of God’s Word, and the subjective certainty of our faith.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 4, Chapter 14, Sections 1 & 3