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
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
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
The Great Exegetical Leap
Many attempts to prove and defend Sacramental Realism from Scripture have been made over the centuries, by exegesis and analogy, which the honest inquirer is free to consult. The fact that such defenses are numerous and readily available speaks conspicuously of the suspect nature of the doctrine, and the lengths deemed necessary to bolster it. I wish here to dispense with exegetical minutiae and proceed to core concepts and questions, which will suffice. So what are the Sacramentalists’ proofs from Scripture, and how do they stack up?
What are the actual phenomena in the New Testament in relation to the sacraments, especially as they reflect on the issue of sacramentalism or sacramental realism? First of all it is quite conspicuous that the New Testament has very little to say concerning the sacraments. The word “sacrament” in a technical sense does not even appear in the New Testament. And there is nothing at all concerning sacramental efficacy as such. (Daniel A. Tappeiner, “Hermeneutics, the Analogy of Faith and New Testament Sacramental Realism,” Evangelical Quarterly 49 (1977):44 f.).
At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” Under normal circumstances, the metaphorical nature of these statements would be a “given,” and only excepted in the case of “special” circumstances, such as a special mode of interpretation to suit special circumstances, or a claim of “special revelation” as to what Jesus “really meant.” Hence Sacramentalists insist that when Jesus said, “This is my body,” He meant his actual body, and in the case of the wine, his actual blood, if only in a spiritual but certainly in a nuanced, qualified, literalized sense.
But no, there is no inherent reason to regard these metaphors any more literally than Jesus’ “I am” statements such as “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Door,” and “I am the Path.” Certainly, each of these metaphors points to a literal object, comparing one thing to another and describing a similarity; but that is a far cry from overidentifying “this is literally that.”
A Tie Unraveling
Sacramentalists point to alleged parallels in the miracle of turning water into wine at Cana, and references to his body as “bread” in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6. They say, for instance, that the turning of water into wine proves a spiritual reality (a notably vague concept) in the substance itself, as acted upon by Jesus. However, in both the Cana episode and that on the Mount in John 6, the miracles were unpremeditated, and occasioned in answer to perceived needs. At Cana, Jesus was persuaded by his mother to rescue the Wedding Master from embarrassment; on the Mount, Jesus was concerned with the people going hungry. There is no reason to presume Jesus’ intent to institute sacramental practices in these episodes.
Not only is Jesus’ self-identification of himself as “the Bread of Life” and “the True Bread” in John 6 not supportive of Sacramental Realism, but conclusively tells against it. In the episode, throngs who were following him in order to witness miracles pursued Jesus to a remote place, where He miraculously fed them by multiplying loaves and fishes. Afterward, the throngs followed him in order to get free bread. Jesus corrected them: they should labor to get eternal food, not perishable (6:27). They demanded that Jesus give them such eternal food, and a sign from God, suggesting that He call down manna to confirm his words. To them, manna was “bread from heaven,” i.e., “spiritual bread.” No, indeed, said Jesus, “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (6:58). In short, 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.
Much less do we see divine presence attached to the wine at Cana. Note that there is, first, no wine on the Mount, and no bread at Cana. At Cana, one sees no reference to wine as blood (as on the Mount), nor to eating flesh, nor to salvation or eternal life. It takes no close examination to conclude that the parallels are scant, didactic content nil, and support for Mystical Presence absent.
Substance versus Spirit
In The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology citation, “Lord’s Supper” (vol. 2, p. 535), the “editor,” (may we assume Colin Brown himself?) speaks of the purported Johannine version of the Last Supper found in John 6:
It is commonly assumed that Jn. 6 is about the Lord’s Supper, even though there is no hint in the text itself to any form of meal, liturgical or otherwise. … Jn. 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper; rather, the Lord’s Supper is about what is described in Jn. 6. It concerns that eating and drinking which is belief in Christ (6:35), which is eternal life (6:54), and which in other words is described as abiding in him (6:56). The discourse in Jn. 6 represents these activities as central to faith and to men’s relationship with Jesus. They are not confined to a sacramental meal. They belong to the very essence of day-to-day relationships. … Jn. is, in effect, saying that the whole of the Christian life should be characterized by this kind of feeding on Christ and that this is what the sacramental meal of the church is really about.
To continue in that vein, faith, spirituality, and worship of Christ has nothing at all to do with the substance of the bread and wine. The elements can be entirely absent. Worship of any kind, even if one “speak[s] with the tongues of men and angels,” “bestow[s] all [his] goods to feed the poor,” and “gives [his] body to be burned,” is empty as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1-3) in itself; nor can “the blood of bulls and goats … take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Likewise, simply partaking of the bread and wine, as such, without “discerning the Lord’s body” (recognizing what the emblems stand for, symbolically, 1 Cor 11:29) and “examining oneself” (accounting whether one is “worthy” and is “in the faith,” 11:27, 2 Cor 13:5) is worthless towards eternal life: rather, brings “judgment.”
One wonders how sacramental concepts of ritual and substance toward salvation and worship could possibly be resolved with the “Spirit and Truth” worship Christ foretold to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Such worship is not to be found in temple worship, with a temporal priesthood and sacrifices, but in spiritual worship with a true heart toward God and interaction with the Holy Spirit, for “God is spirit.” Those who worship “in Spirit and Truth” require neither substance nor sacrifice. Those who worship otherwise, risk worshipping “you know not what” (4:22).
But for the most part, lacking unambiguous exegetical support, Sacramentalists take a “great leap” past exegesis to unwarranted assertions. In his popular study, The Body, John A. T. Robinson makes such a leap. He first expends most of 46 pages in an exegetical synthesis designed to establish his concept of the Church as equivalent to the Body of Christ (which, as he describes, one enters through Baptismal Regeneration, see pp. 44, 46 f., 72, 75, 79-82). Abruptly, as if to draw a conclusion, he introduces the unfounded statement, “The Christian, because he is in the Church and united with Him in the sacraments, is part of Christ’s body so literally that all that happened in and through that body in the flesh can be repeated in and through him now” (p. 47), which he afterward neglects to substantiate, exegetically. Proceeding, Robinson insists upon literalizing the Body, as well as the sacraments, to an extreme. Christians, he says, are “in literal fact the risen organism of Christ’s person in all its concrete reality” (p. 51). Further, “to say that the Church is the body of Christ is no more of a metaphor than to say that the flesh of the incarnate Jesus or the bread of the Eucharist is the body of Christ” (Ibid.). “In so far as the Christian community feeds on his body and blood, it becomes the very life and personality of the risen Christ” (p. 57). Robinson admits, “There is a jump here, from ‘feeding on’ to ‘becoming’, which is not explained [by Paul]. And it is a jump not taken by any of the other New Testament writers ….” The explanation, he suggests, is to be found in “the revelation of the resurrection body of Christ [on the Damascus Road], not as an individual, but as the Christian community” (p. 58).
The ultimate result of this newly-actualized “solidarity” with Christ — according to Paul’s existential realization — and “the new corporeity,” as Robinson also calls it, is the Parousia, which Robinson then redefines. The Parousia is not the “Second Coming” of Christ, but a future time in which the Church, and he hopes the world, as well (suggesting Universalism), will achieve ultimate unity and maturity. Thus we become Christ-like, and this world is thereby changed. Such a metaphysical view is friendly to, and presupposes, the Social Gospel, even to the extreme of supporting Liberation Theology such as that of Gustavo Gutiérrez.
Going to Extremes
The theology of Gutiérrez is based largely on socio-political concerns, not on exegesis. That being the case, the Dominican priest from Peru, currently a professor at Notre Dame, is willing to use any hermeneutic which supports class struggle, while ignoring inconvenient interpretations. He is criticized politically for his Marxist and revolutionary leanings, and by Bible scholars for his “relativizing of the Word of God on behalf of political hermeneutics,” the “low view of biblical authority” he shares with his cohorts, and his personal view “that a radical revision of what the church has been and what it now is has become necessary” (Emilio A. Nuñez, “The Church in the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez: Description and Hermeneutical Analysis,” p. 174, in D.A. Carson, ed., Biblical Interpretation and the Church: The Problem of Contextualization [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984].), as well as Universalism and redefinitions of Christian concepts and terminology. Gutiérrez considers the Church to ideally represent a “sacrament of universal salvation,” facilitating means by which anyone, Christian or not, but in particular the poor, can experience God’s grace, enter into Christ, and become the temple of God (Nuñez, 176 f.). As Emilio Nuñez summarizes,
The church has to be involved in the effort towards world unity because the kingdom of God is already here, and is active in the movements designed to unify mankind. It does not matter if the church loses its own identity in the ecumenical process. After all, in the ecclesiological perspective of liberation theology the church is not an end in itself; it finds its meaning in its capacity to signify the reality of the kingdom of God, which has already begun in history (Nuñez, 179; see also Russell P. Shedd, “Social Justice: Underlying Hermeneutical Issues,” in the same volume).
Thus we see that a mystical and existential view of God, revelation, salvation, and the Church, once divorced from objective use of Scripture, is ethereal, unaccountable, and adaptable not only to Christianity, so called, but to a wide variety of “Christianities” it may serve to justify — even non-Christian and anti-Christian ones. Moreover, the Sacramental view, which at base is Metaphysics, promises direct communion with God: to transcend any number of mundane details of daily life, and petty concerns such as sound doctrine and exegesis, in favor of direct, personal, existential experiences of “oneness” with God and ultimate Truth. Having once “released one’s burdens,” one is free to ascend, in gnostic fashion, to a higher plane where one has received the greater knowledge, the “knowledge of good and evil” of Adam, to become “like God” (i.e., apotheosis), and rule in one’s own right over lesser, unenlightened human beings.
A Pentecostal (False) Dichotomy
It is now painfully necessary to oppose a fellow Pentecostal, Dr. Howard M. Ervin, late professor at Oral Roberts University, who performed such a yeoman’s service in challenging, point-by-point, the Conversion-Initiation thesis of James D. G. Dunn (see Howard M. Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit [Hendrickson, 1984]). Unfortunately, in countering the deprecation of Pentecostal theology, namely, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as “empowerment for mission” beyond and subsequent to regeneration, Dr. Ervin also chose to frame a false dichotomy between a proper view of spirituality and reliance on propositional truth, that is to say, between Sacramentalism and a materialistic worldview.
In Ervin’s economy, two theological worldviews exist: one that is rationalistic, dispensational, metaphysically dualistic, and “procrustean” (his word), which considers itself objective and relies on propositional truth; and another that is experiential, existential, metaphysically “open,” and “numinous” (his word), which is amenable to spiritual perception. This perception includes experiencing Christ sacramentally and mystically through the Lord’s Supper, as well as Spirit Baptism and charismata. Ervin describes having observed “previously nonsacramental Pentecostals/Charismatics [who] have been, in varying degrees, attracted to a sacramental theology as a result of their Pentecostal experience.” These Non-Sacramentalists, he suggests, were then “reorient[ed] away from a rationalistic (Platonic!) symbolism” and “an implicit dichotomy between Spirit and matter,” toward an openness to existential, metaphysical, “experiential encounter[s]” (p. 82).
Ervin’s dichotomy is so strict that it would not seem unfair to summarize his construction in terms of a clear choice between believing the propositional truth of Scripture and letting go altogether of scriptural authority in order to be spiritual. He states unequivocally, “Sacramentalism and antisacramentalism are essentially two antithetical statements about the nature of reality” (Ibid.). He asserts that “sacramental reality” requires that in the Incarnation, “matter itself became a modality of divine presence and redemptive activity in the created order” (introducing the dubious phraseology that “Spirit assumed material form,” Ibid. — not exactly the same as “come in the flesh” or “born of a woman.”). Further, “in a paradigm of a Spirit/matter continuum, water, wine, and bread may indeed become sacramental modalities of the divine presence” (p. 83). In contrast, characterizing the Non-Sacramentalist, “The objective presence and activity of God in His supernatural charisms is either explained away as a dispensational once-and-for-all, or projected into the suprahistorical consciousness of the community, or denied altogether” (Ibid.).
Certain facts (to be discussed later) demonstrate this to be a false dichotomy, and a false choice. Moreover, the choices within Ervin’s construct represent extremes, whereas a capacious middle ground exists. The Pentecostal Movement did not begin with experience subsequently justified, but with searching the Scriptures to discover how God’s Spirit and Christ’s Church are meant to work. Others such as John Wesley sought a route to fulfill New Testament expectations, with varying degrees of success; but those who gathered in Topeka, Kansas, January 1, 1901, and many since, having believed the report and received the promise, thereby discovered the ratifying experience.
© 2013 Paul A. Hughes