See also “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism, Part 2” by the author.
Sacramental Realism is a dogma which cannot be established from Scripture; in fact, is baldly in opposition to the New Testament presentation of spiritual efficacy, not through ritual act, nor through priestly mediation, but through receipt of Holy Spirit Baptism, as at Pentecost and continuing thereafter. Sacramentalists point to the wedding at Cana (John 2) and the miraculous multiplication of loaves associated with the Sermon on the Mount (John 6). But significantly there was no bread at Cana, no wine included on the Mount, no ceremonial act taking place at either location, no “institution” of a ritual or sacrament, nor connection with spiritual efficacy; moreover, all of these events took place prior to the Last Supper and to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In fact, Christ’s statements in John 6 strikingly contradict the concept of spiritual efficacy in bread. Crowds continued to follow him for days after the miracle, asking him for more “bread from heaven,” by which they meant manna. Jesus reminded them, “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (6:58). No physical bread, even “from heaven,” is truly spiritual or eternal, and neither God’s presence, nor blessing, nor salvation are inherently associated with it.
The “breaking of bread from house to house” mentioned in Acts cannot be proven to describe any ceremony, but simple “table fellowship” common to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 describes the confusion in Corinth of a fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper, the former having degenerated into self-indulgent feasting on the part of some, devoid of true fellowship, and the latter similarly failing to include the responsibility of the believer to remember and identify himself with Christ’s sacrifice by “examining himself” in that light (see also 2 Cor. 13:5). He writes,
1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? ….
The idea of Sacramentalism is absent in Church history until it began to be developed by Cyprian (early 3rd century) and Athanasius (3rd-4th century), along with Sacerdotalism. The Didache (dated late 1st century) includes a recitation of the Eucharist ceremony of the time, which notably does not include any form of sacrament. Nor does the famous letter by Pliny to Emperor Trajan mention a sacrament, rather a fellowship meal afterward, in another location. Irenaeus and Tertullian spoke in seemingly realistic terms of the Communion elements relative to the body of Christ, but were actually contrasting the reality of Christ’s crucifixion, and his physical body, to the Docetism (denial of a physical Incarnation of Christ) of the Gnostics whom they opposed.
Yet committed Sacramentalists—if there be any other kind—just like Martin Luther, insist on a literal interpretation of “Take, eat, this is my body” at all costs. The passages in question are these:
Mark 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you
1 Corinthians 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.
Note, among other details, that in two of the passages, Jesus specifically describes the purpose of the action to be “in remembrance of me” (in bold above); and further, that only in those same passages is it implied that the ceremony is to be repeated. Since the Last Supper is clearly a reflection of the Passover ceremony, with many parallels, the natural inference of the ceremony itself must be that it is to replace traditional observance of the Passover memorial, which is once a year. Yet there is no restriction of frequency stated, and it is commonly considered that new Christians in their enthusiasm soon began to gladly practice the observance of the Lord’s Supper, often, perhaps even before every meal (as Jews blessed their bread and many of us to this day say “Grace”). In the case of frequent and even casual observance, however, the act could hardly be imagined to have been officiated over by a priest and to have any salvific spiritual efficacy, as sacramentalists imagine.
Still sacramentalists insist on taking the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper literally as Christ’s body and blood, representing the “institution” of a sacrament, and being continually “for the remission of sins”—instead of being the afore-mentioned “remembrance,” and allowing the elements to be used figuratively to point to a greater, eschatological reality, which was yet to be fully realized, in Christ’s actual death on the cross for our sins.
There are many instances of figurative language in the New Testament and in Christ’s sayings. In the famous “I am” sayings, Jesus describes himself figuratively as the voice, the Light of the World, the door, the good shepherd, the road or path, and the vine, as well as the Bread of Life. There is none but arbitrary, dogmatic reasons to take “This is my body” any more literally than these statements.
In conclusion, let us examine an even closer, figurative parallel. Just as Jesus said, “Take, eat,” he elsewhere commanded, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; par. Mark 8:34, 10:21; Luke 9:23). With the exception of a few ascetic fanatics in Church history, few have imagined that Jesus meant us to regard “Take up your cross” literally, as opposed to figuratively, by which it represents a greater reality—which certainly begs the question of the arbitrary insistence of sacramentalists upon taking with supreme literalness this one particular and debatable instance.
Copyright © 2015 Paul A. Hughes
The following is to be added to the original Part 7—Epilogue of my blog series, “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism,” hence included in Chapter 7 of the resulting print version, Neoplatonist Stew: Or, How Sacramentalism, Mysticism, and Theurgy Corrupted Christian Theology. The paperback print version, with other additions, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.
Advocates and defenders of John Wesley (1703–1791) are quick to assert that any elements of Neoplatonism and Mysticism within the order of the Anglican Church were well-known and acknowledged, suitably dealt-with, and adequately mitigated. It is moreover suggested that Wesley, if accused of harboring any such influences, hardly introduced them himself. John Cassian, as mentioned in Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew, had introduced Evagrius to the Western Church, and “had physically brought back with him Basil’s Institutes, a work which would serve as a model for western monastic rules, including Benedict’s.” These ideas significantly influenced Thomas á Kempis and later mystics, including the Jansenists and Port-Royalists, “their Augustinian orientation notwithstanding.”1
By the Seventeenth Century, English intellectuals and divines had rediscovered many works of the Eastern Mystics, and began to publish new editions. The “Cambridge Platonists,” in particular, turned away from Aristotle and Scholasticism and renewed interest in Plato.2 Anglicanism, seeking a “middle way” (via media) of compromise between salvation by faith alone and salvation by works, found especially in the works of John Chrysostom a “forgotten strand of theosis,” as Steve McCormick describes it, in the guise of “divine-human participation.”3 But then, Thomas Cranmer, in the time of Henry VIII, had already incorporated Neoplatonic “participation” into the Book of Common Prayer, namely, his homilies “Of Salvation,” “Of the True, Lively and Christian Faith,” and “Of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith.” Together, these comprise the formal expression of Anglican soteriology.4 In 1738, John Wesley abridged Cranmer’s three homilies into “his first doctrinal manifesto.”5
The son of an Anglican rector (local priest), Wesley was steeped in Anglicanism, which he never abandoned. His father, Samuel, particularly enamored of Chrysostom, urged his son to obtain a copy of Chrysostom’s work, On the Priesthood (De sacerdotia), with the words, “Master it: digest it”; and later, “Master St. Chrysostom, our Articles and the form of Ordination.” “If I were to preach in Greek,” Samuel wrote, “St. Chrysostom should be my master.”6 John was further encouraged to study the Church Fathers, especially those of the first three centuries of the Christian era, by John Clayton, an accomplished Patristics scholar.7
Wesley learned from his father to appreciate the ancient pastoral theologians: Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius and Cyprian (Advice to a Young Clergyman).8
Wesley later recommended the Eastern Fathers, and borrowed heavily from Chrysostom in his own Address to Clergy (1756).9 He wrote, for instance,
Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused, if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, the knowledge of the Fathers? The most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom “all Scripture was given?” It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the Council of Nice[a]. But who would not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? With St. Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, [Augustine]; and above all, that man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?10
In his writings and preaching, Wesley “Frequently cited … Basil, Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Ephraem Syrus, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Origen, Polycarp and (Pseudo-)Macarius.” The latter, Pseudo-Macarius, was to become a significant influence on Wesley’s doctrines: in particular, those of “Prevenient Grace” and “Christian Perfection.” While Wesley at times differs with Macarius in details, clearly “the similarities are much stronger than the differences ….”11
Wesley himself described several of the other early influences on his devotional life as well as his theology:
In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor’s Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. In reading several parts of this book, I was exceedingly affected with that part in particular which relates to purity of intention….
In the year 1726, I met with Kempis’s ‘Christian Pattern.’ The nature and extent of inward religion, the religion of the heart, now appeared to me in a stronger light than ever it had done before. I saw, that giving even all my life to God, (supposing it possible to do this and go no farther,) would profit me nothing, unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart, to him. I saw that ‘simplicity of intention and purity of affection,’ one design in all we speak or do, and one desire, ruling all our tempers, are indeed ‘the wings of the soul,’ without which she can never ascend to the mount of God.
A year or two after, Mr. Law’s ‘Christian Perfection,’ and ‘Serious Call,’ were put into my hands. These convinced me, more than ever, of the absolute impossibility of being half a Christian.12
Over the course of his life, Wesley utilized a great many recent secondary works that applied Eastern principles, and (as we shall see) created others of his own. Kempis he found too pessimistic: “I cannot think, that when God sent us into the world, he had irreversibly decreed, that we should be perpetually miserable in it,”13 yet Wesley largely embraced his concepts of self-abnegation and ascent. William Law had been a mentor to John and his brother Charles.14 Law and Jeremy Taylor were both attempting to construct “patristic primitivist syntheses of the virtuous Christian life, viewing it developmentally.”15 Law had visited the Wesley home on many occasions and had a profound effect on the siblings, such that Charles Wesley suggested much later, “Mr. Law was our John the Baptist.”16 Law was one of the select individuals that John Wesley consulted before committing to his Georgia mission.17
Wesley’s enthusiasm for William Beveridge further exposed him to Chrysostom, the two combining to serve as the apparent origin of his conception of restoring the image of God (ultimately Platonic) by virtue of the “energy of love.”
Wesley found this notion, which is, again, the eastern idea of theosis, of divine-human participation, a characteristic note in the homilies of Chrysostom, and in the liturgy, the homilies, and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Wesley was to take that motif of divine-human participation in the via salutis and weave it throughout his ordo salutis [i.e., integrate a Neoplatonic “way of salvation” into his conception of the “order of salvation”].18
Sailing for Georgia aboard the Simmonds, 1735, Wesley busied himself studying the German language, along with devotional reading and his accustomed Christian disciplines. He had managed to procure a library of over sixty volumes, many of them of recent Anglican authorship, but also including Beveridge’s Pandectae, William Cave’s Primitive Christianity, and a large assortment of Eastern liturgical works.19 It was probably Cave’s book that introduced him to Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria. Thus Wesley absorbed Neoplatonic ideas “about the stages of divine ascent, holiness of heart, progressive perfection, and the affective manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.”20
During a particularly severe storm at sea, he was highly impressed by the calmness displayed by the Moravians on board. He had already studied the mystic work, Theologica Germanica.21 Arriving in Georgia, he was similarly impressed by Rev. Spangenberg, of Savannah, but hedged when the Moravian asked him, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” to which Wesley weakly replied, “I know He is the Saviour of the world,” and “I hope He has died to save me.”22 In spite of his Christian disciplines, Wesley had been all full of doubts all through the voyage. Later still, he wrote in his journal,
It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Christianity. But what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.23
During the subsequent debacle in Georgia, Wesley obtained a Moravian hymnal, and spent three to five hours a day translating and adapting, in all, thirty-three German hymns, according to his own purposes and inclinations. Among these was the Gerhard Tersteegen hymn, rendered in English, “Thou Hidden Love of God, Whose Height,” one of four by Tersteegen that he translated, and the one most often published thereafter in English hymnals.24 One commentator suggests that “this hymn might be seen as one of the clearest reflections of Wesley’s own spiritual yearning….”25 (Yearning appears to be a common indicator of mystic propensities and appeal.) Meanwhile, Wesley also took the opportunity to experiment with new forms of liturgy, which confused and offended his congregation. A local magistrate scolded, “The people … say they are Protestants. But as for you, they cannot tell what religion you are of.”26
The Methodist mission to Georgia was a fiasco. Charles proved a maladroit secretary to General Oglethorpe; John, a tactless pastor, Ingham and Delamotte, ineffectual assistants.27
In 1738, abandoning Georgia under a cloud, Wesley returned to England, where he and Charles almost immediately became involved with the Fetter Lane Moravian group. That May, he had an emotional experience that he counted as his belated conversion, and by September, he was off to visit the German Pietists at Herrnhut.
The representatives of this tradition who influenced Wesley began with the Dominican mysticism of Johann Tauler (1300-1361), and proceeded to the distinctive Reformed spirituality of Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).”28
Always seeking his own “assurance of faith,” Wesley asked one Arvid Gradin to provide, in writing, his definition of the concept. Gradin’s reply concluded with, “a deliverance from every fleshly desire, and a cessation of all, even inward sins”—it would seem, as it did to Wesley, a confirmation of his own developing view of Perfection.29 “Spiritually bankrupt, without peace and joy or the assurance of salvation, he embraced the Moravian approach to ‘faith alone’ and ‘full salvation.'”30 On the negative side, Wesley found Herrnhut to be in the midst of controversy with the brethren at Halle. The Hallensians regarded the necessity of an extended “penitential struggle” (Bußkampf) leading eventually to a “breakthrough” (Durchbruch) to gain assurance of saving faith, whereas the Herrnhuters had gravitated toward a quick and easy, “affective” acceptance.31 Wesley soon became disenchanted with their polemics and with Count von Zinzendorf, thereafter distancing himself from the Moravians.32 “The English writers,” he wrote, “such as Bishop Beveridge, Bishop Taylor, and Mr. Nelson, a little relieved me from these well-meaning, wrong-headed Germans.”33 Yet he continued to value many of the German Pietist hymns, especially those of Tersteegen.34
Through Wesley, it has been said, Tersteegen’s spirituality has reached millions of English-speaking people. John Nuelson, a German Methodist, granted that Wesley’s dissemination of German hymns had strongly influenced the Methodists’ doctrine of Perfection. With Tersteegen’s ideas came the influence of French Quietists, English Philadelphians, and Berleburg Bible Pietists, along with all the Patristic, mystical, and ascetic works that Tersteegen had translated and edited. He spoke in terms of a Seelengrund (a term garnered from Eckhart and Tauler), an “inward soul” capable of longing for God. This inward soul may possess an “inward inclination” (Grundneigung) able to respond to the “wooing” of Christ’s Prevenient Grace (as Wesley would perceive it), such that it “makes room” (Raum gebe) for God’s presence. From that Seelengrund, Christ purposes “to expand His gracious influence to encompass the cognitive, volitional, affective, and relational aspects of one’s existence,”35 in other words, spiritual formation. Yet Tersteegen, in spite of other Plotinian affinities, discouraged seekers from introspection, that being idolatry; rather to “turn your inward eye from yourself,” fixing one’s gaze on Christ.36 He considered the imputation of righteousness to be instantaneous, but the transformation to Christ-likeness to be progressive (contra Wesley), the goal being to renew in believers the image of Christ (so also Wesley).37
Besides Tersteegen, Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria were particular favorites of Wesley, from whom he sought devotional material and theological fodder, mining for ideas and modes of expression. Besides his aforementioned contribution to Prevenient Grace, Macarius further contributed to Wesley’s soteriology (as had Tersteegen)—one point of difference being “that Wesley understood perfection primarily as an identifiable, instantaneously-achieved state, while Macarius emphasized the tenacious entrenchment of sin in even the most mature Christian and the constant need to seek God through prayer.”38 “This great gift of God,” Wesley wrote, “the salvation of our souls, is no other than the image of God fresh stamped on our hearts. It is a ‘renewal of believers in the spirit of their minds, after the likeness of Him that created them.'”39 Certainly Wesley’s views on grace appear to be more closely derived from Macarius and Eastern theology in general than from, as one might expect, Arminius.40 Wesley, one will note, believed that the Fifty Spiritual Homilies were the work of “Macarius of Egypt,” a fourth-century Desert Father, rather than a pseudonymous writer now widely purported to have been a fifth-century Syrian monk, strongly influenced by Gregory of Nyssa.41
Wesley’s exposure to Ephraim of Syria, whom he called “the man of the broken heart,” goes back to his Holy Club days at Oxford. Ephraim taught self-abnegation, contemplation, theosis, and an ante-Nicene view of man yearning to return to an “angelic” original state. Michael Christensen and Randy Maddox suggest that Ephraim’s “luminous eye” figure “is similar to if not the source of Wesley’s doctrine of ‘spiritual senses'” (a concept to which Tersteegen probably also contributed, see above). “Spiritual senses,” to Wesley, include the faculty of perceiving assurance, both of salvation and Perfection.42
Wesley, it is noted, mitigated the theosis of Macarius and Ephraim, emphasizing a divine work of grace through love that he posited in the negation of the power of sin and perfection of human intent. When Wesley edited the Homilies of Macarius for his Christian Library series, he excised references to theosis as well as asceticism.43
In regard to Perfection, Wesley expressed concern to his brother Charles that the latter, by aiming at theosis, was setting the bar of holiness too high to be realistically attainable.44 Wesley, says McCormick, had gradually come to understand soteriology in the anthropological terms of a “Biblical eudaemonism,” by which man seeks holiness because in holiness man is most happy.45 Albert Outler suggests that Wesley repositioned the “ladder” of Perfection, after his own scheme, toward becoming “like” God, but short of becoming a god.46 This effectively “domesticated” or even “democratized” the (Plotinian) ascent that Eastern Mystics had taught, making “perfection” an “attainable goal.”47 In Wesley’s defense, David Bundy insists that he “took much of the [Anglican] synthesis [of Eastern theology] out of the academy, church and cloister and brought it to the people” and “adapted that synthesis in structures of discipline and accountability for laity; and who modeled what he preached.”48 It was “Methodists in America,” Outler asserts, who “contributed to a very considerable confusion by interpreting ‘perfection’ in terms of ‘the second blessing’ or ‘entire sanctification as a state of grace distinct from justification, attainable instantaneously by faith.'”49
Wesley’s writings reflect many more Eastern Mystic influences besides these three. It is widely recognized (not without considerable dispute, in regard to extent as well as provenance), that Wesley based his tract, The Character of a Methodist, and also a published poem, “On Clemens Alexandrinus’s Description of a Perfect Christian” on Clement’s picture of the “Perfect Gnostic” (from Stromateis, Book 7, see also Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew). Bundy suggests that Wesley might have been exposed to Clement’s ideas secondarily through publishing a certain book by Anthony Horneck, and that the poem might rather be attributable to John Gambold.50 But in a letter to Lloyd’s Evening Post, Wesley himself stated, “Five or six and thirty years ago, I much admired the character of a perfect Christian drawn up by Clemens Alexandrinus. Five or six and twenty years ago, a thought came to my mind, of drawing such a character myself, only in a more scriptural manner, and mostly in the very words of Scripture ….”51 Similarly, Wesley “plagiarized” (Bundy’s word) John Williams’ book, A Catechism Truly Representing the Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, with an Answer Thereto, in his work of similar title; and Beveridge’s Sunodikon, sive Pandectae Canonum 55. Apostolorum et Conciliorum Ecclesia Graeca Receptorum “provided grist” for Wesley’s “mill.”52 In fact, the extent of Wesley’s interest in affective Eastern spirituality is demonstrable from many of the books he chose to “extract and abridge” in his fifty-volume A Christian Library collection, first published in 1750.53
Disenchanted with the German Mystics, wary of asceticism and apathy, doubtful of the possibility of theosis, he nevertheless mined them for useful ideas yet shied away from unqualified endorsement. In time, Wesley even broke with his past mentor William Law.54 Around 1734, Law had become an admirer of self-taught Theosophist and Mystic Jakob Böhme, who laid claim to a series of visions. In his evolving circumspection, Wesley seems to follow once again the example of Tersteegen, who turned away, even within his own circles, from potential antinomianism and the “excessive ecstasy that he perceived could degenerate into idolatrous self-edification or even demonic torment.”55 Wesley, however, “nonetheless remained in dialogue with these early mentors, edited and ‘corrected’ them, and recommended them throughout his life.”56
The results of this “programmatic”57 selectivity appears to reveal a considered determination not to publish, for the most part, primary works by Eastern Mystics. Primary works are largely absent within the corpus, for which were substituted secondary works of modern provenance. “Wesley preferred to edit and present the works of the [Anglican] and continental interpreters of the ancient texts rather than to edit and present the ancient texts themselves!” admits Bundy.58 Further, Wesley “reconstructed” mystical works, says Christensen, by replacing implications of theosis in Eastern theology with his own formulation and conception of Perfection, or effectively hiding it.59 For example, when he published twenty-two of Macarius’ Spiritual Homilies in A Christian Library, “Wesley consistently omitted references to ascetic life and to the notion of theosis….”60 As Frank Baker describes his modus operandi, Wesley’s editing “mainly involved choice, striking his pen through passages in printed works, changing the words and phrases, and supplying written links from time to time.”
After considerable hesitation he resolved to leave his human sources uncited, ‘that nothing might divert the mind of the reader’ from the brief notes themselves. He omitted without comment statements with which he did not agree. All his quotations and allusions, however, rephrased as they were in simpler language, honestly sought to represent the essence of his sources.61
The extent of Wesley’s editing and revisionism of such works (for less it cannot justly be called) is clearly demonstrated in the following passage from Macarius that diametrically contradicts Wesley’s doctrine of attainable Perfection:
So this man confesses that he is not perfect or altogether free from sin. He says that the middle wall of partition has been broken through and shattered, and yet, at some point not wholly broken, nor at all times. There are moments when grace kindles up and comforts and refreshes more fully; there are moments when it retreats and clouds over, according as grace itself manages for the man’s advantage. But who is there that has come to the perfect measure at particular seasons, and has tasted and had direct experience of that world? A perfect Christian man, one completely free, I have not yet seen. Although one and another is at rest in grace, and enters into mysteries and revelations and into much sweetness of grace, still sin is yet present within. By reason of the exceeding grace and of the light that is in them, men consider themselves free and perfect; but inexperience deceives them. They are under the influence of grace, but I have never yet seen a man that is free. I myself at times have in part come to that measure, and I have learned to know that it does not constitute a perfect man.62
The “extracted” version of this homily, published by Wesley in A Christian Library, bears little resemblance to the independent translation above, and does not contain this particular passage at all, as such.63 “Wesley, in appropriating the idea of theosis and constructing his doctrine of Christian perfection, found that the Church Fathers required editing.”64
The logical conclusion of these factors is that Wesley effectively obscured, perhaps to himself as well, elements of Neoplatonic Mysticism that contributed to his doctrines of Prevenient Grace and Perfection, in some cases by failing to recognize them for what they were, and in other cases by carefully editing out overt references to the most objectionable concepts. This consequence has unfortunately served, due to Wesley’s abiding popularity and influence, to introduce and establish erroneous views of Sanctification and related issues within a large segment of Christianity, including, via the Holiness Movement, some Perfectionist and Legalistic strains of Pentecostalism.
Even beyond this conclusion, problems associated with Wesley’s exegesis must still be addressed, for which purpose three brief examples will suffice. Wesley uses the term, “the energy of love,” to describe the “divine initiative” of God’s Prevenient Grace, the “divine-human participation” by which man may attain Perfection.65 Wesley engages Galatians 5:6, in particular, as a prooftext for this “energy” terminology. However, any first-year Greek student knows that while energein is indeed the etymological source for the English word, “energy,” the Greek word literally means “work.” Therefore, Theodore Runyon is mistaken in supposing Wesley’s rendition to be “a literal translation” of the text,66 which actually reads, “faith working through love.” Contextually, righteousness rather comes by the instrumentality of faith (Gal 2:16, 3:6, 5:5, et al.), because of love; hence it is faith, not love, that does the work (and arguably faith is cognitive and volitional; not affective, as in the case of many definitions of love). Wesley’s appropriation of the phrase, “energy of love,” as well as the concept, can be traced back, again, to Chrysostom.67
Second, being challenged regarding the statement by James (3:2) that “we all stumble in many things,” Wesley claims that “we” is just a “figure of speech,” that James “could not possibly include himself,” but rather refers “Not [to] apostles, nor true believers,” but to others who will “receive the greater condemnation.”68 These claims are devoid of textual justification; rather, are obvious rationalizations and impositions on the text due to preconceptions (“analogy of faith,” doctrinal construct) that are clearly contradicted by the passage.
Third, in prooftexting from John’s first epistle, by which he argues that a person who has achieved Perfection cannot sin (or does not sin),69 Wesley falls prey to errors common to “armchair” interpreters of that book, in particular: failing to account for the idiosyncrasies and alleged Hebraisms (too complex to detail here) inherent to it, but certainly including John’s propensity for black-and-white dualisms and pointed use of the perfect participle. Most interpreters agree that John is describing those who make a regular practice of sin, or whose activities are by virtue of their unregenerated nature always characterized by sin, in contrast to the Regenerated. Worse, Wesley makes in this same context a claim upon Kingdom promises (Zech 12:8), saying, “The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth.” Thus he reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of eschatology, since the “fullness of the Kingdom” (including not only future glory but Perfection) will not come about till the Eschaton, the End. Elsewhere, among other examples, Wesley likewise fails to interpret Psalm 103:8, on the ultimate redemption of Israel, and 1 John 3:8, regarding Christ’s complete work in overcoming sin and death, eschatologically.70
In fact, a studied perusal of Wesley’s signature work, A Plain Account on Christian Perfection, on the whole reveals its proofs to amount to an exercise in unenlightened prooftexting—all done, one hopes, in ingenuous simplicity, by reason of the inadequate hermeneutical theory and tools of the day. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that as a result of his long-term quest for personal, affective assurance, Wesley produced a compromise, “designer” religion that, however it might have shaded his exegesis, served his purposes more than it offended his strict British sensibilities.
1 David Bundy, “Christian Virtue: John Wesley and the Alexandrian Tradition,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):142.
2 Mark Goldie, ‘Cambridge Platonists (act. 1630s–1680s),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2013 (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/theme/94274, accessed March 27, 2014). The Cambridge Platonists might have had fairly direct influence on John Wesley through his father, whose friend was John Norris, see Bundy, p. 142.
3 K. Steve McCormick, “Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):49-50.
4 Ibid., p. 66, see also 67.
5 Ibid., p. 67.
6 Ibid., p. 50.
7 Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (NY: Oxford University Press, 1964; paperback, 1980), p. 9, and Michael J. Christensen, “Theosis and Sanctification: John Wesley’s Reformulation of a Patristic Doctrine,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):75.
8 Christensen, p. 75.
9 McCormick, p. 50, Christensen, p. 74.
10 John Wesley, The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley (NY: J. & J. Harper, 1828), p. 70, also quoted from another source in McCormick, pp. 50-51.
11 Randy L. Maddox, “John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergences, and Differences,” Asbury Theological Journal 45/2 (1990):30, 31, 35; see also Outler, pp. 9-10, and Christensen, p. 74.
12 Henry Moore, The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., vol. I (London: Printed for John Kershaw, 1824), p. 161. Regarding “purity of intention,” Runyon writes, “If the intention is right, this is what really counts [to Wesley]. ‘Intention’ was a theme important to him from his 1725 self-dedication onward,” Theodore Runyon, “The New Creation: A Wesleyan Distinctive,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):12.
13 Moore., p. 124.
14 Christensen, p. 75.
15 Bundy, p. 141.
16 Moore, p. 107.
17 Ibid., p. 234, see also 190.
18 Ibid., p. 54.
19 Outler, p. 12, Christensen, p. 75.
20 Christensen, pp. 76, 85.
21 Moore, p. 190, Bundy, p. 142.
22 From Chapter 6 of John Telford, The Life of John Wesley (http://Wesley.nnu-edu/?id=88, accessed April 2, 2014). This passage is apparently taken from a printing other than that of 1900, in which this and some other passages do not appear.
23 Ibid., see also McCormick, p. 48.
24 J. Steven O’Malley, “Pietistic Influence on John Wesley: Wesley and Gerhard Tersteegen” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):49, 65, 66.
25 O’Malley, p. 57 f.
26 Outler, pp. 12-13, see also Bundy, p. 141.
27 Ibid., p. 11.
28 O’Malley, p. 49.
29 John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in Wesley and Fletcher, Entire Sanctification Attainable in This Life (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1898), p. 11.
30 Christensen, p. 76.
31 O’Malley, p. 51.
32 Tersteegen had previously questioned von Zinzendorf’s self-interest and possible antinomianism, O’Malley, p. 57.
33 Moore, p. 343.
34 O’Malley, p. 53, see also 57.
35 Ibid., pp. 49, 57-61.
36 Ibid., p. 69, incl. note 77, referring to L. G. Harvey, ed., Tersteegen, Recluse in Demand: Life and Letters, vol. I (Hampton, TN: Harvey & Tait, n.d.), pp. 125, 129.
37 Ibid., p. 65; see also Bundy, p. 153, and Christensen, p. 71, note 1.
38 Maddox, p. 31; on Tersteegen, see also O’Malley, p. 65.
39 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 25.
40 So Maddox, pp. 31, 35.
41 See Christensen, p. 85; Outler, p. 9, note 26; and a somewhat contrary view in Bundy, p. 139.
42 Christensen, pp. 81, 85, incl. note 19.
43 See Christensen, pp. 76; 85, note 22; and p. 87. For more on the awakening of spiritual senses, in the views of both Macarius and Wesley, see Runyon, p. 14.
44 Letter from John to Charles Wesley, June 27, 1766, cited in Christensen, p. 90.
45 McCormick, p. 53. “God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee’? He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy…,” Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 13, see also p. 8.
46 Outler, p. 31.
47 Christensen, p. 88, see also p. 80.
48 Bundy, p. 155.
49 Outler, p. 30.
50 Maddox, p. 30; Christensen, pp. 76, 78; Bundy, pp. 139 ff., 149.
51 Bundy, pp.139, 143, 151.
52 Bundy, p. 141.
53 “A Christian Library by John Wesley,” Wesley Center Online (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/a-christian-library/, accessed April 3, 2014).
54 Christensen, p. 75, Runyon, p. 13, Moore, p. 518.
55 O’Malley, p. 56 f.
56 Christensen, p. 76.
57 Christensen’s term, pp. 74, 80.
58 Bundy, p. 143, see also 142.
59 Christensen, p. 80.
60 Ted Campbell in Christensen, p. 81, note 22.
61 Frank Baker, “John Wesley, Biblical Commentator,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 71 (1989):111 f.
62 Pseudo-Macarius Homily 8:5, in A. J. Mason, Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, Translations of Christian Literature, Series I, gen. ed. W. J. Sparrow-Simpson and W. K. Lowther Clarke (London: SPCK, 1921), pp. 67 f.
63 See A Christian Library, Wesley Center Online (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/a-christian-library/a-christian-library-volume-1/volume-1-the-homilies-of-macarius/, accessed April 3, 2014).
64 Christensen, p. 88.
65 McCormick, p. 54.
66 Runyon, p. 15.
67 McCormick, p. 102, note 153; McCormick, quoted in Troy W. Martin, “John Wesley’s Exegetical Orientation: East Or West?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):136, note 114; see also Runyon, p. 15, note 30.
68 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 21.
69 See Ibid., p. 19 f.
70 Ibid., p. 41.
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes
Reading this work by Karl Barth has been in many ways enlightening. One hears so much about him, both good and bad (depending upon the source), but it is hardly fair to form an opinion only on the basis of secondary evaluations. One must read Barth to give a fair estimation of Barth.
Barth first shows himself to be a true dogmatist. Using the points of the Apostles Creed as its outline, he presents to the reader an overview of Christianity as he understands it. His theology is pre-critical: he is not concerned with historico-critical data or exegesis. Rather, he begins with the Creed as it stands. It is a “given.” As far as he is concerned, it is the orthodox Church’s interpretation of Christianity which stands — it must only be rejuvenated. To Barth, it is not only unnecessary but impossible to “prove” that the Gospel is true. It is to be accepted by faith alone.
In fact, the paradox of Christianity is a recurring theme in the book. Barth is quick to allay the doubts of those who remained puzzled by what seems impossible, unnatural, or contradictory. That is to be expected, and nothing to worry about, he says. He does not attempt to explain away such things, or make them acceptable to reason, as would the typical apologist. Jesus Christ — wholly God, yet wholly man? The crucifixion — humiliating, yet exalting? The Holy Spirit — divine and yet indwelling imperfect humanity? Barth is right in this: such things defy reasonable explanation. Such things are, to the intellect, “a stumbling block, and the rock of offense.” But to the one who, like Barth, accepts by faith the paradox of Christianity, such things are “the power of God unto salvation.”
What Barth does is to begin with the Creed, the foundational truths of orthodox Christianity, and go on from there. It is his intention not to reinforce them, but to revitalize them and, perhaps, to set them as a reminder to those who have been slack. Vitality is, of course, a necessary part of true Christianity. It is the action involved in moving from a head-knowledge of the Scripture and of Christian doctrine toward the fulfillment of the Christian life. It is the visible sign of true Christianity (although mere activity must not be confused with real vitality).
But Barth only begins with the points of the Creed. From that simple and acceptable basis he expands, often tangentially, to what many would see as unbiblical philosophies. A case in point: orthodox Christianity accepts the idea of a real Hell, a real Judgment, and the necessity of rebirth (baptism to some) in order to attain eternal life. Barth accepts their terminology, but does not adhere to orthodox interpretation. Although not explicitly stated, Barth exhibits leanings toward Universalism. To fit the pattern, he redefines such terms as Hell, Eternity, and Judgment: Hell is an existing state of separation from God due to an individual’s rebellion, not a place of internal punishment. Eternity is used figuratively (?) by the Bible, representing a state of timelessness which exists until the Second Coming. And although Barth does have some conception of judgment (“By this we shall be judged, about this the Judge shall one day put the question, Did you live by grace …? Have you been a faithful servant …?” p. 152), yet in this book one cannot find a definition of “judgment” other than Christ revealing himself, and proving that he is, indeed, Lord of all. There is no punishment aspect mentioned. Furthermore, Barth makes no mention of a continued separation between believers and non-believers after Christ returns. As far as can be seen, Barth expects all men to be united at that time.
So how does Barth deal with the “eternal fire” passages in the Bible? According to him, they are metaphorical — the biblical writers were expressing the horror and discomfiture of the unbeliever’s separation from Christ (in the present world) in metaphorical terms. The literal view of Hell and a divine wrath are, to him, a product of a faulty hermeneutic. The picture of the Wrath of God, Barth claims, is a construct of artists, such as Michelangelo, who sought sensational themes for their paintings.
Barth is not without his merits. He demonstrates a high view of God. He prefers the designation of God as “the Father” to more generic term such as “the Almighty.” In fact, he reacted strongly against that term, and noted that Hitler referred to God in that fashion. Barth considers God as more, much more, than some obscure power. Father better describes God in terms of his character and his relationship to man — power is merely one of his attributes, as is Creator, and should not be separated out as a general designation. The fatherhood aspect of God is demonstrated by his grace — and to Barth, all God does is a product of his grace.
Along with Father, another favorite designation of God is “God in the Highest” Barth emphasizes that God is far above man, farther than man’s imagination extends. He is not a product of man’s need to worship an ideal “higher self.” God is GOD, and is only known by man because he has revealed himself. God is “a timeless Being, surpassing the world, alien and supreme … the living, acting, working Subject who makes himself known” (p. 38).
Likewise, Barth demonstrates a high Christology. However, he makes an unwarranted connection between Christ and Israel. Barth believes, in a nutshell, that Israel as a nation was called out, not just to be a holy nation, but to evangelize the world. Since Israel failed, Jesus Christ was sent to “fulfill” Israel. It is true that Israel was separated out from the world in order that God might reveal himself to man, and might be glorified. But was evangelization of the world God’s immediate motive? Certainly, the ordinances handed down by Moses served to set them at odds with the rest of the world. In fact, they were ordered to have no fellowship with non-believers. This speaks against the theory of an evangelical mission.
Actually, there is a great non-parallel between the missions of Israel and of Christ: Jesus Christ was sent in order to die for man’s sin, that whoever would believe in his vicarious sacrifice could attain eternal life. Israel never suffered for any sins other than its own, and God never said, “Believe in Israel.” Israel was not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
Barth’s otherwise high Christology suffers from lack of emphasis on Christ’s redeeming work. His emphasis is upon Christ’s revelation at his Second Coming. The Christian’s fate is to be that Christ truly exists and that He will, indeed, appear one day. Then their faith shall be proven valid.
A secondary emphasis is upon Christ’s suffering — suffering as a man on the earth, and suffering at the end on the cross. But this suffering, in Barth’s eyes, is not so much to pay the debt for man’s sins, as to put man in touch with his sins, to make him realize the suffering he deserves. Man must conceptualize, mentally, his guilt. In his realization of his guilt man is saved.
Barth never commits himself to a clear statement of Universalism, but a strong implication runs throughout this book. He notes that Christ died for all men, and that is true. He goes so far as to acknowledge that some men will reject Christ — but he never implies that they will be lost. Evidently, he expects all men to be restored when Christ returns.
All in all, Barth reads like any evangelical writer. He displays a love for God and for Christ that should warm the heart of any true Christian. Certainly there are problems: he leans too heavily on his own speculation and does not use Scripture often or carefully. For instance, his misuse of Philippians 2:6, “God thinks it not robbery to be divine, that is, He does not hold on to the booty like a robber, but God parts with Himself” (p. 116). While the thought may be perfectly good and correct, the usage is faulty.
Yet the Christian reader can feel a certain kinship with Barth, as one should feel a certain kinship with a Christian of another denomination, or even a Jew who truly loves God. Certain of Barth’s ideas are, perhaps, erroneous — but Barth is not a heretic. There is no reason the Christian should not read his works, if one is a mature and discerning believer, and maybe even quote Barth in a sermon.
At the very least, Barth is food for thought — and there are plenty of people whose minds could use a little nourishment.
Originally a book report presented to Dr. Gary McGee, The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, for THE/HIS 636 Contemporary Theology, August 31, 1985. Dr. McGee deemed the report “Excellent,” and assigned the grade “A.”
© 2014 Paul A. Hughes
The NT teaches Divine Healing, not Divine Health. The concept of Divine Health misconstrues the eschatological nature of Atonement and Final Redemption. Christ’s Atonement began at the Cross, but is not to be fully realized till the Judgment.
Eschatology = “Last Things” = The Final Culmination
We are “redeemed” in an eschatological sense when we accept Christ, yet do not fully realize the redemption of our souls, nor our bodies, until the End, when our bodies are “changed into his likeness.”
Only in the culmination of our redemption do we attain to immortality — inherit Eternal Life — and become no longer subject to disease, physical death, and the “corruption” of the grave. Likewise, only in the culmination do we transcend the carnal sin nature by which we are tempted. As James wrote, we ought not seek to become authoritative teachers, because “in many ways we all stumble” (3:2, NASB).
Till Final Redemption, those eschatologically redeemed are granted the “earnest of our [future] inheritance,” the indwelling Holy Spirit. A product of that earnest is the possibility of receiving “gifts of grace” (charismata). These represent a glimpse into an eschatological window, looking toward future redemption, via miraculous intervention and signs. Charismata, including Divine Healing and other miracles, not only represent provision for the Church Body but testimonies of the promise of future redemption, designed for our edification.
The Pentecostal charism we call Divine Healing is referred to by Paul in terms of “gifts of healings” (plural) because each healing is an individual, immediate gift of grace (not a state of being, a right, a blanket guarantee, nor Final Redemption).
All such gifts are, in addition to being granted by grace, also “distributed variously as [the Holy Spirit] decides” (1 Cor 12:11). This is true not only from the standpoint of the person exercised by the gift, but from that of the recipient of the gift (such as the one being healed).
The fact of the Spirit’s sovereignty in healing and other gifts flies in the face of common notions such as “claiming” one’s healing and “realizing who we are in Christ” in order to receive a guarantee of healing.
© 2013 Paul A. Hughes
A Convenient Sacramental Hermeneutic
Of course, not every Sacramentalist goes to such lengths as to frame analogies using quantum physics (see Part 4). There are other, more common and longstanding methods of theological argumentation which are more accessible, indeed more automatic, to the proponent. Hopefully, one may presume that the choice of such a non-exegetical or extra-exegetical method is pursued in all earnestness, if not unconsciously.
The Analogy of Faith
Having set aside the historicity and rationality of Biblical revelation in favor of a liturgical and experiential faith, the stage is then set for a sacramental hermeneutic: a way of interpreting which is convenient to and favorable for Sacramentalism. Most interpreters who despair of clear exegetical grounds for interpretation and application gravitate naturally toward “the analogy of faith.” We encounter this method whenever we hear the phrase, “the general tenor of Scripture,” or some similar expression, in comparatively evaluating a text (see Tappeiner, p. 51). (I have used it myself.)
Our first step is to obtain an adequate definition of the analogy of faith. Daniel Tappeiner writes, “The analogy of faith is simply an awareness, founded upon observation, of the fundamental unity of the biblical record and the harmony of its parts” (Tappeiner, p. 44). H. Wayne Johnson agrees that “the analogy of faith is the harmonious relationship between the teachings of Scripture brought to bear on the exegesis of particular passages,” but arguably goes a step beyond in saying, “It is the body of affirmations or doctrines that are considered to be clearly taught in Scripture and that as a result help inform our interpretation of other passages in the Scriptures” (Johnson, p. 70).
Properly used, the analogy of faith is predicated “upon the historical-exegetical aspect of the hermeneutical task,” never a “substitute” for those objective sources. Its use may be justified only in the absence of clear didactic teaching, to help enlighten “obscure, incidental and figurative passages” (Tappeiner, p. 44).
While using the analogy of faith to “inform” interpretation is not inherently suspect, the engagement of “affirmations or doctrines” certainly leaves room for the intrusion of dogma, if not domination by it. Moreover, application of external dogma, tradition, and even superstition, which often stem from interpretive misunderstandings and extra-biblical sourcing, is specious and likely damaging to the process.
Both Johnson and Tappeiner adduce examples of this analogy of faith principle as used by John Calvin to support his theses and to critique theological opponents, for better or for worse. Calvin, for instance, saw variously throughout Scripture the efficacy of sola fide, faith alone, toward salvation, and judged the idea of Sacramental Realism to be in contradiction to that principle.
Regardless of one’s level of agreement with Calvin on any respective point, negative examples abound throughout church history. Johnson (p. 71) notes that Augustine, while a staunch proponent of Biblical exegesis, alternated between literal and figurative interpretation according to his perception of the rule of faith (see Augustine De Doctrina Christiana 3.2.). Further, Augustine wrote,
If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,” says Christ, “and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us (Augustine De Doctrina Christiana 3.16.24, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace [NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892] as downloaded from http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/ddc3.html),
which, by the way, equivocates what modern Sacramentalists purport to be Augustine’s position on Real Presence, suggesting a symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper.
One of the earliest Christian sources, Tertullian, when faced with an unwieldy exegetical argument with heretics, “responded to them not by condemning or exposing erroneous exegesis but by affirming that all of their exegesis was irrelevant because its results contradicted the orthodox analogy of faith” (Johnson, p. 72).
Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150–c. 215), known for allegorizing (figurative interpretation), criticizes his gnostic opponents for “picking out ambiguous phrases” from Scripture, which “they turn … to their own opinions, plucking a few scattered utterances, without considering what is intended by them, but perverting the bare letter as it stands. For in almost all the passages they employ, you will find how they attend to the words alone, while they change the meaning, neither understanding them as they are spoken, nor even using in their natural sense such extracts as they adduce.” He sets forth the interpretive standard of “confirming each thing that is proved according to the Scriptures from similar passages of the Scriptures themselves” (i.e., a systematic study), but adds, “considering what is perfectly fitting and appropriate to the Lord and the Almighty God.” In the latter stipulation, Clement accords with Augustine toward making qualitative interpretive value judgments, whether to take a text literally or allegorize it. He goes on to chide his adversaries for “being ignorant of the mysteries of the knowledge of the Church, and incapable of apprehending the grandeur of the truth,” having absented themselves from the advantages of official Church dogma and catechism; rather, being “too sluggish to penetrate to the bottom of the matter,” they presently “laid aside the Scriptures after a superficial reading” (Clement Stromata 16.96, 97 [referred to in Johnson, p. 71 notes], in Fenton John Anthony Hort and Joseph B. Mayor, Clement of Alexandria: Miscellanies Book VII: the Greek Text with Introduction, Translation, Notes, Dissertations and Indices [London: Macmillan and Co., 1902], pp. 169, 171, 173).
Origen (c. A.D. 184–c. 253), also of the Alexandrian allegorical school, announced his standard practice to be reliance on “the testimony of Holy Scripture,” since it stems from divine inspiration (Origen De Principiis 4.1, in Frederick Crombie, trans., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885], revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04124.htm). Yet he regards the truth of Scripture as not intended for the casual reader of the literal text to comprehend, but the enlightened. Toward this purpose, “divine wisdom took care that certain stumbling-blocks, or interruptions, to the historical meaning should take place, by the introduction into the midst (of the narrative) of certain impossibilities and incongruities; that in this way the very interruption of the narrative might, as by the interposition of a bolt, present an obstacle to the reader, whereby he might refuse to acknowledge the way which conducts to the ordinary meaning; and being thus excluded and debarred from it, we might be recalled to the beginning of another way, in order that, by entering upon a narrow path, and passing to a loftier and more sublime road, he might lay open the immense breadth of divine wisdom” (4.15).
To Origen, it does not matter whether specific events literally took place, because
… where the historical narrative could not be made appropriate to the spiritual coherence of the occurrences, He inserted sometimes certain things which either did not take place or could not take place; sometimes also what might happen, but what did not: and He does this at one time in a few words, which, taken in their “bodily” meaning, seem incapable of containing truth, and at another by the insertion of many. And this we find frequently to be the case in the legislative portions, where there are many things manifestly useful among the “bodily” precepts, but a very great number also in which no principle of utility is at all discernible, and sometimes even things which are judged to be impossibilities (4.15).
Rather, the astute reader “will observe that in those narratives which appear to be literally recorded, there are inserted and interwoven things which cannot be admitted historically, but which may be accepted in a spiritual signification” (4.16). Yet his readers should not “entertain the suspicion that we do not believe any history in Scripture to be real, because we suspect certain events related in it not to have taken place; or that no precepts of the law are to be taken literally, because we consider certain of them, in which either the nature or possibility of the case so requires, incapable of being observed; or that we do not believe those predictions which were written of the Saviour to have been fulfilled in a manner palpable to the senses; or that His commandments are not to be literally obeyed” (4.19). What is important is that the Scripture be “allegorically understood…. For, with respect to holy Scripture, our opinion is that the whole of it has a ‘spiritual,’ but not the whole a ‘bodily’ meaning, because the bodily meaning is in many places proved to be impossible” (4.20). In sum, “Now all this … was done by the Holy Spirit in order that, seeing those events which lie on the surface can be neither true nor useful, we may be led to the investigation of that truth which is more deeply concealed, and to the ascertaining of a meaning worthy of God in those Scriptures which we believe to be inspired by Him” (4.15).
The above examples demonstrate an historic drift, over time, away from the literal meaning of Scripture, and a resort to more convenient, and as Origen suggested, “useful” hermeneutics. Apparently Scripture, under fire from critics and competitors, tended to be increasingly misapprehended, being distant from historical memory and detached in perceived relevance from contemporary life, becoming in many cases offensive to contemporary moral and social sensibilities. Such pressures, and temptations, urged interpreters and defenders of the official apostolic Church away from reliance and trust in the literal meaning and toward alternate approaches. What began with maintaining doctrine, institutions, and practices handed down through Apostolic Succession became an entrenchment of dogma, liturgy, and ritual, through all of which the interpretation of Scripture would ever-after be filtered. In other words, scriptural agreement would no longer be the measure of the analogy of faith, but the traditions and historical interpretations of the Church.
Historically, the rule of faith was first identified as the faith confessed by the apostolic Church and considered simultaneously to be the compendium of true Biblical teaching. Later this rule became an ecclesiastical tool with which to control exegesis and guarantee harmonization with Catholic orthodoxy (Johnson, p. 69 f.).
For [Sacramentalists] the analogy of faith is already explicitly founded on the sacramental principle and nothing remains to be said. It should be noted that the analogy of faith in this instance is both the sacramentalist tradition and the “realistic” language of the New Testament. Tradition stands in the place of the historical aspect of the hermeneutical task (Tappeiner, p. 46).
Modern Misuse of the Analogy of Faith
Closer to our time, the Reformation brought a new emphasis on scriptural authority, and presumably a return to Scripture itself as the rule of faith. Yet the Reformer Calvin has already been mentioned as a major figure who adapted and even overruled exegetically-derived conclusions in favor of a systematic view, when deemed appropriate.
Martin Luther has been credited for sola scriptura, but his record is not so unequivocal. He derogated the love of philosophy among medieval scholastic theologians, especially the influence of Aristotle. “This defunct pagan [Aristotle] has attained supremacy [in the universities]; [he has] impeded, and almost suppressed, the Scripture of the living God. When I think of this lamentable state of affairs, I cannot avoid believing that the Evil One introduced the study of Aristotle” (Daniel P. Fuller, “Biblical Theology and the Analogy of Faith,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 14:2 [Apr-June 1997]:66). Luther also rejected the medieval theory of four levels of Bible interpretation, for “if anyone at all were to have power to depart from the pure, simple words and to make inferences and figures of speech wherever he wished. … [then] no one could reach any certain conclusions about any article of faith” (p. 65).
Yet Gerhard Ebeling declares that “Luther was no biblicist” (Ibid.). Luther favored the Gospel of John, Paul’s epistles, 1 John, and 1 Peter above all other books, through which his rule of faith was filtered. Thus we recognize what he meant by Scripture “interpret[ing] itself by passages and places which belong together, and can only be understood by a rule of faith” (Ibid.). Because Luther’s analogy of faith therefore represented his “subjective preference,” writes Daniel Fuller, “the analogy of faith principle does not undergird but undermines the sola scriptura principle” (p. 66). In his emphasis not only on sola fide but Christ-centered interpretation, Luther declared, “If adversaries urge Scripture against Christ, we will urge Christ against Scripture” (Ibid.). Luther’s exegetical limitations and inflexibility are revealed in his failure to resolve James’s emphasis on good works subsequent to salvation, versus Paul’s on salvation apart from works.
Luther and Calvin both illustrate the potential for abuse of Scripture when the basis of one’s analogy of faith is thought “so important that it dictates exegetical method.” In such cases, “The choice guarantees that the results of exegesis are in harmony with the analogy of faith. Stated inversely, if the results of a certain exegetical methodology are in conflict with the analogy of faith that methodology must be considered invalid and consequently changed” (Johnson, p. 70).
The analogy of faith can be used not only to dictate exegesis but also to replace it entirely. All exegetical discussions regarding context, semantics, syntax, textual issues, etc., are in the case deemed to be irrelevant [compare to Tertullian, above]. The analogy of faith alone is substituted to provide sufficient evidence for a certain interpretation of a passage (Ibid., p. 72).
Daniel Tappeiner describes three particular applications of the analogy of faith by, first, a renowned Roman Catholic scholar, and second, in a Catholic commentary. Rudolf Schnackenburg, in the first case, writes in his book, Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul (NY: Herder and Herder , p. 134) that “the Pauline baptismal texts only allow of being interpreted in a realistic sense”; and furthermore, that Protestants widely agree (Tappeiner, p. 46). Besides the dubious second claim, Paul’s passage which is considered most “realistic” (see Tappeiner, 45 f.), that found in Romans 6, far from being clearly sacramental, rather makes the image of water baptism as death and burial analogous — not identical — to the process of the believer “reckoning” himself dead to sin (6:11). Because Christ is dead, buried, and raised to newness of life, Paul is saying, we are likewise dead and raised with him: ergo, we should choose to act like we are dead to sin in our daily living. As F. F. Bruce summed up Paul’s concept, “Be what you are!” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984], pp. 142, 357).
Next, regarding “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” in Titus 3:5, Schnackenburg is equally sure that “Without doubt it serves solely to characterize the saving event that takes place at ‘regeneration,’ for the primitive Church knew only baptism” (ignoring the “living water” of the Holy Spirit) “as a decisive means of deliverance” (Tappeiner, p. 49).
Third, R. J. Foster, also commenting on the Titus passage, recognizes the efficacy of the Holy Spirit toward renewal, yet couches salvation squarely in terms of Baptismal Regeneration (in Bernard Orchard et al., editors, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture [NY: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953], p. 925, quoted Ibid.).
Tappeiner notes in these examples a strikingly “different understanding of the analogy of faith at work, one founded upon the acceptance of the Sacramental Principle”; and marvels, not once but twice, over the resounding lack of recognition or apparent cognizance or consideration of any alternative interpretive possibilities. On the contrary, the conclusive reality of the sacramental construct is “understood” (Ibid.).
This functional or willful blindness to undesirable possibilities is borne out in other defenses of Sacramental Realism. In his history of the Eucharist, Darwell Stone, an Anglican, compares the “I am” metaphors, including “I am the way” and “I am the true vine,” with Jesus’ “This is my body” statement, and argues:
In considering the argument based on these expressions it is important to notice three facts. First, as a matter of interpretation, the explanation that the bread and wine are means, and only means, by which the faithful communicants may spiritually receive Christ is not satisfactory. The alternatives are really two,—”This is in fact My body,” or “This represents My body,”—not three,—”This is in fact My body,” “This represents My body,” “This is a means by the reception of which My body may be spiritually received”. Secondly, neither the phrases which are used to support a metaphorical interpretation nor the circumstances in which these phrases were spoken were parallel to the words and circumstances at the institution of the Eucharist. Thirdly, a view by which the phrases are regarded as simply metaphorical attaches to them an altogether inadequate meaning. Each phrase denotes an actual fact about our Lord. It is not by way of metaphor but in spiritual reality that He feeds Christians, and gives them light, and admits them into the Church, and tends them, and affords them access to the Father, and unites them to Himself. In like manner, it is not by way of metaphor but in spiritual reality that the bread and the wine of the Eucharist are His body and His blood (Darwell Stone, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, vol. I [London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909], pp. 19 f.).
At the outset, one notes that Stone attempts to dispense with the issue of metaphor in a single paragraph of a two-volume compendious work, which suggests dismissiveness. The question of exact verbal construction he frames is irrelevant: in all cases, Jesus compares an entity with an object, the meaning of which must be gathered from the context. The claim of a “special case” — that being the institution of the sacraments — is inconclusive and represents circular reasoning, besides (since it is only a “special case” if one assumes the sacraments were being instituted). Stone’s characterizations of alternate views as “not satisfactory” and “inadequate” are proleptic and here unsubstantiated. That Jesus’ “This is” statement represents “an actual fact” tends rather to substantiate it as a metaphor, since a metaphor is always a comparative which points to an object, which is unarguably the case in the “I am” statements. In sum, Stone’s argument, while no doubt entirely sensible to him, is no argument at all.
Similarly, Catholic Rev. R. Keleher considers himself to be in possession of conclusive proof of the sacramental interpretation of John 6. He writes, “These words quoted from the 6th chapter of John are most clearly to be referred to the Eucharist, in which case they prove the Real Presence to a demonstration; from the tenor of the words themselves, they are to be referred to the Eucharist, as likewise from the consent of tradition ….” (R. Keleher, A Dissertation on the Eucharist, wherein Are Proved from Scripture and Tradition, the Real Presence, and the Sacrifice of the Mass [London: Advertiser Steam Presses, 1872], p. 7) which, as we have seen, makes appeal to the Catholic analogy of faith, based on dogma and “subjective preference,” as well as tradition. He continues,
He would not thus speak of being eaten by faith, or of beliving (sic.) in his incarnation, which bread, not He, but his Father, hath already given, as may be learned from verse 32, and which the Apostles did already eat, and all who believed in him. That this new bread is the Eucharist, is evident from the words flesh and blood, eating and drinking, so often repeated. Words more appropriate, more clear, could not be used to demonstrate the Eucharist, which consists in eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus Christ. If the Divine Redeemer at a time subsequent, did not institute a Sacrament, under the species of bread and wine, we would endeavor, somehow, applying it to his death, to eat his flesh and drink his blood, by faith; but when after the lapse of some time he instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist in which we so manifestly, so truly eat and drink, it would not seem wise forsaking the interpretation which is clear, intelligible and easy, to adopt that which is obscure, metaphorical and difficult to be conceived in the mind (Ibid., pp. 7-8).
Here Keleher appears to segue from the John 6 passage directly into the Last Supper, expecting Jesus’ statements regarding the Bread of Life to usher theologically (though obviously not in literary terms) into the bread and cup of the Last Supper. Otherwise, his statement that “the Apostles did already eat” the sacrament of bread would be problematic, if not nonsensical. One notes that he seeks no explanation and has no curiosity regarding the absence of wine in John 6, compared to its unexplained (in that case) introduction into the Last Supper. Keleher makes an apparently unique supposition that had Jesus not instituted the sacraments, believers might have designed their own ceremony. He closes the immediate argument with a rather typical suggestion, as in the case of Father Keefe in Part 4, to trust the experts and not worry about such perplexing theological questions.
No doubt many more articles of contention remain on this contentious subject, but the above examples suffice to frame the nature of the sacramental case, and demonstrate the inherent weakness and bias of the sacramental hermeneutic.
Still to Come
The foregoing has in many ways been a prolegomenon for what is now to follow. Next, we shall examine the origins of the sacramental philosophy (which indeed it is), and reveal how this extra-biblical philosophy has encroached upon and influenced Christian doctrine and practice.
© 2013 Paul A. Hughes
Sacramentalism Weighed in the Balance
An Absence of Substance until Fulfillment
It is correct, in the prophetic framework of Scripture, to state that all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant prefigure the New Covenant in such a way as to set a paradigm. It is even correct to say, in principle, that the Old Testament, Old-Covenant prefigurement represents the shadow of the later spiritual reality and “substance” of the New Covenant (as also the Davidic Kingdom that of the Kingdom of God, and the Davidic kingship that of Messiah, Son of David). But it would not be correct to assume that this framework and prefigurement presupposes a substantial, objective fulfillment of all the elements of the New Covenant before the final culmination, especially during this intervening time known as the Church Age. The commission of the Twelve and the Seventy to go out two by two and “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils” (Mt 10:8) was not yet the reality of the Pentecostal outpouring to follow. In turn, Pentecost did not fulfill the wonders, signs, “blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun … turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” (Acts 2:19 f.) of the End-Time. The Kingdom of God which is “drawing nigh,” as John first preached, is still in-process of drawing nigh.
We still “see through a glass, darkly,” “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” but one day “face to face … then shall I know even as also I am known,” when we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Cor 13:12, 2 Cor 3:18). We have not “already attained” nor yet “apprehended” our “completion” in the Lord (Php 3:12-16). Thus one cannot expect concrete reality — literal, ultimate fulfillment — of prophecy before its culmination, certainly not vested in manmade, physical, temporal emblems, or in the ritual act of partaking them. There is no theological purpose or sense, neither precedent nor parallel, to Christ introducing to the Church a sacramental use of elements in substitution for his Crucifixion either before or after the event itself took place.
The ‘Presence’ Canard and Idolatry
Were Christ present in the bread and wine, one wonders how Christ could have manifested “Real Presence” at the Last Supper, when theologically He was simultaneously “fully human,” i.e., fully present in his Incarnation. A few historic teachers actually profess the dubious contrivance that Jesus handled his own body, and even ate it:
After having spoken thus [at the Last Supper], the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his body as food and his blood as drink, and he went with his disciples to the place where he was to be arrested. But he ate of his own body and drank of his own blood, while he was pondering on the dead. With his own hands the Lord presented his own body to be eaten, and before he was crucified he gave his blood as drink (Aphraahat the Persian Sage, Treatises 12:6 [A.D. 340]) in “The Fathers of the Church, according to Topic,” most selections from “Fathers Know Best” at catholic.com [edited by Br. Sean, a choir monk, 2008], p. 77).
Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’ [Matt. 26:26]. For he carried that body in his hands (Augustine, Explanations of the Psalms 33:1:10 [A.D. 405]). (Ibid., p. 78).
Such materialism and literalism tend to produce superstition and ultimately idolatry. When people began to venerate the brazen serpent Moses mounted on a pole (which Jesus identified prophetically with himself, Jn 3:14), Hezekiah had it destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). The sanctuaries at Beth-el, Mizpeh, Shiloh, and Gilgal had to be destroyed, even the Tabernacle itself, due to idolatrous worship. The people were not to put their trust in the Temple, or the Ark of the Covenant, or in God’s purported responsibility to defend Jerusalem, but in the invisible God himself. Gideon made himself a trophy (“ephod”) which became a “snare” to him and his family (Jdg 8:27). There were to be no objects of veneration, no idols, for “God is Spirit.”
The Lord’s Supper is not designed as a “concretization” of a spiritual reality, but a “remembrance” (anamnesis, “memorial”), for which Passover was the paradigm (see Ex 12:14 ff.). While the Passover ultimately looked forward to the Atonement, prophetically, like all the other blood sacrifices — the observance itself is a reenactment. Participants reenact Israel’s past deliverance from bondage and covering for sin, being sealed with the earnest of blood, anticipating incorporation into future or continued covenant promise. None of the Passover elements are sacramental, in the sense of spiritual presence or efficacy, but have memorial and prophetic significance. Likewise, while the Last Supper looked forward to the Crucifixion, and ultimately the Atonement, the commandment inherent to the Supper’s “Do this” is to remember thereafter one’s deliverance from bondage to sin, sealing by blood sacrifice, with the earnest of the Holy Spirit, anticipating future redemption and incorporation into the Kingdom of promise.
Objective versus Subjective Reality
It was first noted in Part 1 that, exegetically speaking, the case for Sacramental Realism is an argument from silence, reading into the account of the Last Supper, and Christ’s intent by it, a materialistic and sacramental view of the Communion emblems, as opposed to a memorial observance; and an alternate spirituality, as opposed to Biblical Holy Spirit Baptism. Sacramentalists are prone to gloss quickly over exegetical details and make unfounded assertions of reality. In a previous installment, three such cases were reviewed, demonstrating the reliance of Sacramentalists, as well, upon claims of personal experience and what amounts to subjective “special revelation.” (Later, we shall review further claims from early Church history and theology.) Such claims tend to divorce Sacramentalism and other forms of Mysticism from Scripture and any other objective viewpoint. Ironically, it is claims of spiritual realism which thus threaten to undermine objective reality and revelation. Dr. Ervin’s construct, we recall, presented a false choice between spirituality and objective truth.
The actual intent of Jesus was to present a prophetic reality, initially to be fulfilled in the Crucifixion, with an added future (i.e., post-Resurrection) memorial function. The object of this fulfilled “Passover” was to portray initiation of the New Covenant, not through efficacy of the symbolic emblems, but in the real sacrifice of Christ that they represent. The Church, moving forward in the prophetic calendar, being marked for future redemption, would then obtain marvelous provision through the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the prophetic fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost. Thenceforward, the Church has been called to reenact Christ’s one-time sacrifice in joyful yet thoughtful recognition, i.e., the Lord’s Supper.
Both Mysticism and “prophetic reality” are called spiritual, in their respective senses, but prophetic reality is not subjective. Mysticism relies on subjective feelings, metaphysical senses, and existential experiences; or rather, claims thereto which cannot be demonstrated, examined, or verified. In stark contrast, prophecy, if genuine, always has an object: a future event scheduled to take place, a promise to be fulfilled, a fate sealed, a fact confirmed, a declaration of truth from the Lord by his Holy Spirit. There is no divide, no dichotomy between prophetic, spiritual reality and proposition truth, from Scripture or via prophetic utterance. God speaks his Word, and it is objective Truth.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit beginning at Pentecost proves that the spiritual things of God represent propositional, objective truth. God speaks to Joel that He “will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” That promise is objective, propositional truth to the prophet: it need not be whiffed, distilled, and reconstituted to be heard. It rings clear as a bell, so that the prophet hears it, comprehends it, remembers it, can write it down on a scroll for all to see. Others can read it centuries later, and know its propositional truth. In God’s time, its literal fulfillment takes place: at the third hour of the morning, in the Upper Room, people hear the sound of rushing wind, they see tongues of fire light on each one, some participate, others hear various participants speak in diverse languages. People go and tell others what they have seen and heard, someone writes down what happened, and millennia later, other people read what was written.
(The only thing subjective is whether anyone involved was drunk. In other words, God’s Word is objective, prophetic events are objective, historical events are objective, only our perception of those things is subjective. Too many people today live subjectively, by and large; meanwhile, they relativistically doubt objective truth, yet claim to do exactly the opposite.)
To this day, people have the opportunity to receive the propositional truth of the Gospel: to repent, believe in the Lord, call on his name, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38 f.). “You shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). “… on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost: for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:45 f.). The initial evidence of speaking in tongues, the charismatic “manifestations” of the indwelling Spirit, the “fruit of the Spirit” which are the outward result of spiritual discipline — all objective, visible, capable of being witnessed, examined by others, judged, withheld by the recipient or “quenched” at will (1 Cor 14:29 f., 1 Th 5:19).
Scripture is full of propositional truths that we are expected to believe, obey, and act upon. Acting on what we have received, and objectively believe, is both the exercise and a demonstration of our faith — the exercise of which spawns experience and bears fruit.
Naysayers to Objectivity
It will be objected by partisans that this concern for objective, propositional truth stems from a Modernist conceit that an interpreter can be neutral and that objective truth can be known. Kenneth Archer writes,
Modernity has always defined objectivity over and against subjectivity and viewed subjectivity as potentially flawed. ‘The assumption is that if the biblical text is approached from the stance of human experience, then the interpretation is more subjective; but if approached on the basis of logic and reason, the interpretation is more objective’. The Modernists desire to pretend to be a neutral interpreter by setting aside one’s experience and/or presuppositions is a false illusion. (Kenneth J. Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic for the Twenty-First Century: Spirit, Scripture and Community [London: T&T Clark International, 2004], p. 72.)
The retort to this presumptive and prejudicial accusation need not resort to a logico-philosophical defense “in kind.” Simply, each propositional statement of Scripture — let us specify “the Promise of the Father” — is clearly defined, promised, targeted, scheduled, expected, anticipated; and in time received, experienced, evidenced, witnessed, noted, reported, duly recorded, described in writing by definite persons in a definite place and time; its record saved, copied, distributed, protected, handed down, and widely read for two millennia. The modern reader, then, is confronted with the record of the proposition and concomitant, confirming events, which he is equipped neither to prove nor disprove at this point. As a self-contained system, the propositional truth of Scripture is objective, insofar as its original meaning and intent can be understood; only the interpretation and application that the reader chooses to make of it can rightly be called subjective.
The objective nature of propositional truth versus subjectivity is well illustrated by Stanley Harvey, Pentecostal pastor in Sydney, Australia. Comparing ice cream to insulin, Harvey demonstrates that one’s choice of ice cream flavors is entirely subjective: there is neither an absolute moral component to flavor preferences, nor harm, nor affront. It reasonably matters to no one else which flavor one chooses. Insulin, on the other hand, is a crucial drug, designed for a specific malady and treatment, with specific dosage, which literally cannot be compromised without dire risk. The properties and proper use of insulin is absolute, and no one’s opinion or preference will change them. As Harvey summarizes, “Objective truth is truth for everyone, everywhere because it is based on the object independent of the perception of the observer” (Stanley Harvey, “Insulin or Chocolate Ice Cream,” posted 8/9/11 at http://blog.pentecostalsofsydney.com/2011/09/08/insulin-or-chocolate-ice-cream/.)
Therefore, Archer’s error is to discount Scripture’s objective truth within its inherent closed continuum of cause and effect, or rather proposition and realization/confirmation (or in some cases type and antitype). He confuses objective truth with mundane (subjective) issues of interpretation and the presumption of (subjective) philosophical-worldview bias. Any risk of subjective misinterpretation of the inherently objective material (e.g., Scripture) will stem not from the effort to reconstruct original, intentional meaning from the methodical assembly of “knowns,” such as the text itself, word etymology, grammar, syntax, and especially real-world usage; but from destructive methodologies and assumptions based on some external, biased, prejudicial, and even dishonest agenda. In other words, we have the tools today to interpret and exegete well enough, but must guard against the temptation to reinterpret and eisegete.
The sacramental worldview, and the sacramental agenda which follows after it, not being ultimately based on Scripture but on claims of existential experience, tends to fall into the temptation of such a destructive interpretation of Scripture, or at least a willingness to relax, and other times force, interpretations and applications of Scripture according to its experiential agenda, as it has in the case of the Lord’s Supper and its emblems.
A Philosophical ‘Line in the Sand’
Experts generally characterize the objective-subjective debate in terms of Platonic philosophy versus Aristotelian and Enlightenment rationalism (more on philosophical origins in this study’s final installment.) We have already seen the dubious spiritual/propositional dichotomy framed by Howard Ervin.
Father Donald Keefe, a Jesuit, approaches the sacramental question in terms of (theoretical) quantum physics (“Faith, Science and Sacramental Realism,” in Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology [Spring 99 – Volume 30 #2] ). In particular, he draws a comparison with Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.” According to that theory, it is not possible to calculate both the exact position and the momentum of a quantum particle at the same moment, the assumption being that the very act of close examination will disrupt the system and affect the result. This principle (I read) can also be applied, theoretically, to time, energy, and other relational systems.
Albert Einstein famously rejected the “chaos” represented by this school of quantum thought in favor of a scientific determinism (which Keefe calls “a rationality self-enclosed within its own logic”), saying, “God does not play dice” (Keefe, p. 4). Keefe declares that determinism is damaging to free scientific thought, tending to “suppress the possibility of experimental method.” Therefore, “One must then reject the foregoing rationalist dilemma — in which much of the contemporary discussion is locked — according to which one is forced to choose between reality conceived as a jungle, or as a cage” (Ibid.). The cage, of course, would represent (restrictive) objective reality; the jungle, utter subjectivity. To Keefe, any school of thought restricted to rationality and absolutes, i.e., “the salvific calculus of those who know” — meanwhile dismissing “mutability and multiplicity” — represents an “elitist establishment” which he compares to the Communist Party (pp. 6, 7).
Keefe sees a parallel “rationalist dilemma” in the schools of Protestant exegetical thought; while, to the Catholic, the historicity and objectivity of Biblical revelation is “a false problem, one that does not, nor can, arise within the Catholic faith in the Lord of history, for within Catholicism that Lordship is exercised sacramentally, finally Eucharistically” (p. 8). He concludes,
This celebratory Christian knowledge, this historical faith, this optimism, is more than piety, more than personal faith, more than an idiosyncratic dogma arbitrarily imposed, for it asserts that the objective truth of the world and of humanity is free, because it is given us in Christ. The Catholic faith in Christ is then the free, public response to and the appropriation, at once personal and communal, of the free revelation of the factual, the objective order of reality, to which we have access only by a freedom which is equivalent to worship; the covenantal worship of the Lord of the covenant, the Lord of the history which the covenant in his Blood redeems and orders to our salvation. Only by the praxis of that free commitment do we have access to objectivity. To affirm this is to turn the conventional wisdom on its head, and yet that affirmation alone can underwrite the historical optimism of experimental science (Ibid.).
In other words, as the discerning reader who recognizes double-talk about “freedom” and “objective reality,” in particular, will see: “Trust us, we are ‘name brand’ Christianity, we own the franchise. Base your faith in ritual, in community, in Church history, in dogma, in richness of symbolism, in your emotions. Rest in our arms, we will take care of you. Look no further, take our word for it, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, don’t let the facts confuse you or worry your pretty little head, we know what we’re doing.”
There you have it, fertile ground for a sacramental religion. The Catholic Church, in the name of intellectual freedom, thus becomes, via the adherent’s despairing surrender to irrationality, “the establishment,” i.e., to use Keefe’s words, “those who know.”
© 2013 Paul A. Hughes
The Intent of the Lord’s Supper
The Pentecostal Proposition
Historical, classical Pentecostalism is not at all sacramental; doctrine which can be called sacramental hardly enters into it. From the beginning Jesus began to make objective promises concerning his provision of the Paraclete. In John, chapters 14-16, Jesus promises that those who believe in him, love him, and keep his commandments (14:12, 15, 21, 23); who know the Spirit, and in whom the Spirit will come to dwell (14:17); who abide in the Vine, and whom the Lord calls friends (15:4-8, 15), can expect the following objective results:
- They will be enabled to do “greater works than these” (John 14:12)
- The Spirit will “abide with you forever” (14:16)
- The Spirit will dwell “with you, and shall be in you” (14:17)
- The Spirit will “teach you all things” (14:26)
- The Spirit will “bring all things to your remembrance” (14:26)
- The Spirit will “testify of me [Christ]” (15:26)
- The Spirit will “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (16:8)
- The Spirit will “guide you into all truth” (16:13)
- The Spirit will “not speak of himself, but whatever He shall hear, He shall speak” (16:13)
- The Spirit will “show you things to come” (16:13)
- The Spirit will “glorify [Christ]” (16:14)
- The Spirit will “receive from [Christ], and show it unto you” (16:14, 15)
See lists and comparisons of charismatic gifts in the author’s Christ in Us: the Exalted Christ and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2007), pp. 156-172. See also discussion of the Paraclete promises and gifts in chapters 3 and 10 of the author’s Christ within You: the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Gods Trombone, 2011).
Before Christ ascended, He reminded the Disciples of “the Promise of the Father,” commanding them to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem” till they are “endued with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). In a more extensive parallel, Acts 1:4-8, Jesus declared this Promise to constitute a “baptism” greater than that in water for repentance (i.e., John’s), but rather one of empowerment: the “Holy Spirit and fire” prophesied by John (Mt 3:11, Lk 3:16). In “endued” (“clothed”) there is no hint of sacramental realism, but initiation into spiritual enablement. Note that we have no “sacrament” of clothing, nor one involving fire (either of which would tend toward formalism and idolatry). There is no “substance” in Holy Spirit Baptism, but raw spiritual power: “enduement” as an analogy describing its instrumentality, and “fire” as a metaphor describing its nature and effect in naturalistic terms.
At no time leading up to Pentecost did Jesus instruct the Disciples to partake of a sacrament in order that they might become “one” with him and experience his Real Presence, nor that by taking a sacrament the “Promise of the Father” would come. At no time during the roughly fifty days before Pentecost is there a record that the Church took a sacrament, not even in the Upper Room. (Their activity, according to Acts 1:14, was prayer and supplication.) Indeed, the idea of experiencing Christ’s presence and power via sacrament is in direct contradiction to the principles of the Paraclete promises: such would represent an “alternative spirituality.”
The “Institution” of the Lord’s Supper
The Last Supper was in no way an institution of a “means of grace,” an alternative means to the indwelling, empowering, and outworking Spirit vested in Spirit Baptism (as if spirituality were “multiple choice”).
The Synoptic Gospels and First Corinthians 11 agree that Jesus took the bread, broke it, and identified it with the words, “This is my body.” Only in Luke’s and Paul’s accounts did He command the Disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Then He took the cup and identified it with his blood of the New Covenant. Only in Paul’s version did Jesus further command, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me,” followed by Paul’s explanation, “for … you proclaim the death of the Lord till He comes” (1 Cor 11:25 f.).
More questions than answers arise from these “words of institution” (so called by Sacramentalists) as well as the surrounding events. The most obvious question is that upon which hinges Sacramentalism versus the symbolic memorial view: does Jesus use the bread and wine metaphorically or literally? In short, does the bread and wine literally “become” the body and blood of Jesus, by anyone’s definition, and why should anyone think so? Moreover, did Jesus intend for the Church to ever after partake of the emblems with the expectation of activating divine grace or qualifying for grace through the act of doing so?
The Lord’s Supper as Passover
As suggested earlier, Jesus’ statements would normally be taken figuratively, but Sacramentalists claim this to be a special instance for a special purpose, namely, the institution of substantial “sacraments of grace” as part of the New Covenant. Due to this and related concerns, many Sacramentalists resist the identification of the Last Supper as a Passover meal.
The most telling points made against the passover origin of the Eucharist are the two facts that the Lord’s Supper was held frequently, it was not a yearly feast; and that it exhibited distinctions between rich and poor, impossible at a paschal meal where master and servant sat down together. The textual evidence in favour of the paschal theory is, at first, overwhelming. (James Thomson Shotwell, “A Study in the History of the Eucharist,” submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Ph.D at Columbia University (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1905), p. 32.)
Indeed, Paul’s version suggests that the Lord’s Supper was being “held frequently,” at least in Corinth, but is lone witness to any class distinctions, unless one wants to throw into the mix the washing of the Disciples’ feet, John 13. John not only does not associate the foot washing directly with the Lord’s Supper, but does not mention the bread and wine at all. In John’s version, taken in isolation, were there any sacramental practice intended to be “instituted,” one would presume it to be “foot washing” instead of partaking bread and wine. Moreover, the foot washing appears to be by way of demonstration, in order to convey a principle, in response to the Disciples’ personal dispute over “who will be greatest” — which is not, in a demonstrative sense, unlike the purpose of the Communion emblems themselves.
In the Last Supper accounts, there is no mention of lamb, bitter herbs, or other standard elements of Passover. If nothing more than customary “table fellowship,” however, it was enhanced by a “novel element,” namely, the explanations of the bread and wine. If, on the other hand, it was a Passover observance, Jesus would seem to have substituted those explanations for the traditional Passover explanations of “the lamb, the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs” (B. Klappert, citation “Lord’s Supper” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2, Colin Brown, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 521 f.).
The Timing of the Lord’s Supper
Advocates also quibble over the timing of the Supper in relation to Passover tradition. Yet these objections are superficial and — excuse the pun — unsubstantial. Clearly, the Last Supper is a purposeful reflection of Passover. It is without doubt prophetically significant that the Supper and Christ’s Crucifixion both coincide with Passover week instead of being associated with the Day of Atonement, which was a fast centered on repentance and substitutionary propitiation for sin. Passover, in contrast, is a feast of celebration, recognizing the blood which marks (“seals”) those who have accepted the Covenant by faith and obey its ordinances. One may postulate, further, that the ultimate prophetic fulfillment of the Day of Atonement is yet to come, when the “Lamb for sinners slain,” acting as our Great High Priest, having carried his own shed blood into the Most Holy Place, then presents his Church before the Father, “glorious” and “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27). Meanwhile, those “sealed” for the Kingdom undergo an initiatory baptism in their own Jordan, journey through their own Wilderness of faith, looking toward their own Promised Land (“rest,” Dt 12:10, Heb 3-4 et al.), all the time receiving provision from the Rock, the Cloud, and the Bread from Heaven (1 Cor 10:1-4, Jn 6:31 f.). Moreover, a “week of weeks” (“sabbath of sabbaths”) after Passover comes the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), also known as the Feast of Firstfruits, reflected and prophetically fulfilled in the outpouring of Holy Spirit: that Baptism “with fire” providing power to witness and to overcome, as well as all the Paraclete promises. Spirit Baptism represents the “Firstfruits of our Inheritance,” being a foretaste of the Kingdom yet to come in its fullness.
The demonstrably prophetic timing of the Last Supper, as well as of the Crucifixion and Pentecost, all militate strongly against the sacramental view. That view vests spiritual efficacy in objects and/or ritual acts, beyond their clearly prophetic symbolism. Moses’ Law specified sacrifices for sin, but those sacrifices “can never take away sins” (Heb 10:4-11, see also Ps 40:6, 50:13). They were not sacraments, possessing in themselves some spiritual efficacy, but pointing symbolically and prophetically to the spiritual future reality of Christ’s atoning flesh and blood.
The Lord’s Supper as Fellowship and Worship
Then Sacramentalists like to identify every subsequent instance of the “breaking of bread,” such as the appearance of the risen Jesus to the men traveling to Emmaus (Lk 24:30) and the fellowship “from house to house” following Pentecost (Acts 2:46) as a sacramental celebration. They even adduce the example of Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine” (Gen 14:18), as a prophetic type. Such assumptions are tantamount to the sacramental claims already discussed, regarding the bread in John 6 and the wedding at Cana. There was no wine in John 6, no bread at Cana; overidentification of every episode of “breaking bread” as Holy Communion is unwarranted; and no such episode other than Paul mentioned in First Corinthians can be assumed to be anything more than customary “table fellowship.” Table fellowship was a common element of Hebrew hospitality:
Joining in table-fellowship meant sharing in Yahweh’s blessing. …. The head of the household took the bread and spoke over it the benediction on behalf of all those present (Ber. 6:1). Then he broke the bread that had been blessed and gave each at the table a piece. In this way every participant in the meal received a share of the benediction. A benediction followed after the meal. The head of the household took a cup of wine, the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16), and pronounced the prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of all present (Ber. 7:3; 46a ff.; 50a). Then everyone drank from the cup of blessing, in order to receive a part of the benediction pronounced over the wine (Klappert, p. 521 f.).
As to the question whether the Lord’s Supper was in fact “held frequently” in the primitive Church, or intended according to Christ’s meager instructions to become a regular part of worship rather than an annual observance (perhaps a Christian replacement for Passover or an “enhanced” Passover) — the traditional view and practice cannot be confirmed, however early might be its origin. “The disciples met ‘to break bread, with thanksgiving,’ but nowhere is it stated that they met to repeat the ceremony of Christ’s last supper,” wrote James Thomson Shotwell. “The common phrase ‘the breaking of bread,’ (η κλασις του αρτου) seems sometimes to have a technical sense, underlying such sentences as that of Paul, ‘The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?’; but it does not imply that distinct institution, separate from the meal, consisting of the consecration of bread and wine, which is later known as the Eucharist” (Shotwell, p. 26). Indeed, after the Resurrection,
Such a [fellowship] meal would be a real “Lord’s Supper” as much as any specific repetition of the ceremony which Christ performed at the last supper. And when the apostles had become conscious of the presence of Christ with them after they had come back to Jerusalem, every meal would be like that at Emmaus. Whenever they met to break bread, he would be with them; there would be no need of any memorial when the person commemorated was present.
Such, as well as we can make out, was the character of the meetings of the early disciples. There could be no regularity nor system, no set rules nor rites to perform. They varied widely in both character and in form as the Spirit came and went. There is no evidence that they repeated Christ’s actions in a set ceremony, but might we not surmise that the words of Christ were repeated as part of the formula of blessing? (Shotwell, p. 27).
Percy Gardner wrote, as well, “It was exceedingly natural that in this way every common meal should become a banquet of communion with the risen Lord” (Percy Gardner, Exploratio Evangelica: A Brief Examination of the Basis and Origin of Christian Belief [NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899], p. 455).
Sacramental Realism Not in Evidence
Shotwell further notes that the Didache, dated to the late First or early Second Century, describes in chapters 9 and 10 the rules for the Lord’s Day thanksgiving ceremony, yet contains no hint of Sacramental Realism:
The Lord’s Supper, the “breaking of bread” which is here described, is apparently not a mere rite but a real meal. The expression “after being filled” shows distinctly that this is the case. There is no express repetition of Christ’s last supper, and no reference to its prophetic import. But the simple meal itself is transformed into something that bears a close resemblance to it. If it were not for that one phrase, it might have been possible to interpret the rest of the description as implying a repetition of the Last Supper. For the cup and the bread after all suggest, if they do not expressly symbolize, the blood and body of Christ. Yet as it stands there is no memorial of Christ’s death.
The main thing, however, in the eyes of our author is the thanksgiving. His whole concern is to teach that proper thanks be given at the breaking of bread. This idea so overshadows all others that he calls the whole ceremony a “Thanksgiving” or “Eucharist.” This is the first time we come upon the word used in this wide sense, and it is a strange fact that the first historian of the Eucharist does not describe the Last Supper, our Eucharist, at all! (Shotwell, p. 30).
Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan (10.96-97, A.D. 111-113) likewise makes no mention of a sacramental rite, only a meal following a dawn service, at a secondary location. A later installment of this study will feature a review of additional early testimony for or against the sacramental argument.
A Shift from Passover to Communion
The known evidence suggests that the Lord’s Supper developed from a Passover observance to a regular practice early on. Certainly some development is reflected in the tradition taught by Paul to the Corinthians. Since “The Synoptic narratives agree that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover meal” (Klappert, p. 527), it would appear that the expanding Gentile church soon left behind the Passover trappings. That celebration, a vestige of Moses’ Law, likely seemed irrelevant and incomprehensible to them. It is hardly sensible, after all, that a Christ-centered observance, and in particular a purported sacramental rite, would regress toward the Passover theme presented in the Gospels.
Since the Lord’s Supper, celebrated daily or weekly from the beginning, had no reference to the Passover as an annual feast, an original connection of the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper is more likely than a development in the opposite direction (Klappert, pp. 527 f.).
Although the rash claim of Klappert and his sources that the Lord’s Supper was “celebrated daily or weekly from the beginning” is unsupported, it would seem to be true that
The historically probable information given by the Synoptics, which describes Jesus’ Last Supper as a Passover meal, diverges from the rite of the primitive church, for there is not the slightest evidence that the Lord’s Supper was ever celebrated as a Passover, only once a year (…). Rather, the original Passover motifs were removed in the light of the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In primitive Christian usage, therefore, there is no ground for a subsequent interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as a Passover meal (…) (p. 531).
Thus it has been postulated that early worshippers, in their enthusiasm, combined the fellowship meal theme of the Lord’s Supper with the “Love Feast” of the primitive church, adding also the apocalyptic motif of the Lord’s “once for all” sacrifice for sin, into one observance. “The regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the primitive church arose from all these [themes] taken together” (Klappert, p. 524), yet the observance cannot be shown to have developed a sacramental component or emphasis until a later timeframe.
© 2013 Paul A. Hughes