Saturday, January 23, 2010

The "extra Calvinisticum" and "real presence"

I've been reading some Reformed theological papers and books recently which speak of the extra Calvinisticum.  This descriptive tag is not ancient, but the doctrinal material connected with it is.  Recently, during the Reformation, that doctrinal material was discussed again in polemics between the Reformed and the Lutherans over the nature of the "real presence" of Christ in the Lord's Supper.

I first learned the meaning of all this from reading Lutheran theology, in its polemic against the Reformed -- a polemic, by the way, that every serious Reformed theologue should read.  The Lutherans were the ones to invent the "new" term extra Calvinisticum.  They use this term to find fault with the Reformed doctrine of the Incarnation.  The claim is that the Second Person of the Trinity is incarnate in the human nature that was born and walked among us, died, and was buried, raised, ascended and now sits on the throne of heaven, BUT that (physically) outside that humanity, the Second Person of the Trinity is not incarnate, but pure God.  This "outside the incarnate human nature" of the deity of the Second Person is called by the confessional Lutherans the 'extra Calvinisticum.'  It's worth further study and contemplation, to assess the validity of this claim.

But, the Reformed have taken up the term extra Calvinisticum in many cases, and use it for their own purposes.  Generally speaking, the few Reformed references that I've read which explicitly refer to this term use the extra, which they believe in in their own way, to mean that the Second Person of the Trinity is not limited in his deity in any way to the 5 foot form of the man Jesus Christ who is sitting on the throne of heaven.

Of course, these two approaches reveal a different definition of the extra.  The Lutherans claim that the (bad) extra limits the incarnation to the physical body of Christ (including his invisible parts: soul), such that the omnipresent Person of the Son isn't a man.  The Reformed claim that the (good) extra doesn't limit the deity to that 5 feet.  Note that these comments made by the few Reformed that I've inventoried for this are making a false claim about Lutheranism, since Lutheranism does not limit the deity of the Son to the human body of Christ.  Just the opposite: They do not limit the humanity of the Second Person to that 5 foot figure on the throne of heaven.

All this bears further study, and goes back to the controversy between the Cyrillian (Alexandrian) Christology and the Antiochian Christology.

Before getting into this too deeply, it's worth pointing out that the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) proposed to describe the coming together of the human and divine natures in such a way that they each remained true to themselves, and yet worked together absolutely harmoniously.  So, it was right to say that there were two natures.  The Incarnate Christ was God.  The Incarnate Christ was a man.  However, it was wrong to say that the Person of the God-Man was a double person.  The right thing to say was that he was a single Person -- in fact, the same Person that he always was eternally -- but that he "took on" human nature, including not only the body of a man but his soul, too, and all other invisible attributes.  In result, the Second Person of the Trinity remained fully God and simultaneously became fully a Man, and yet remained a single Person.

Now back to the subject.

The Antiochian Christology has the desire to preserve the full manhood, as well as the full deity of Christ -- a worthy and serious goal of the ancient church, and one for which we can give thanks to God, that by this our religion has remained Christian.  However, this can be taken to an extreme, so that the two natures in Christ (human and divine) barely touch.  There is even a heretical version of this, called Nestorianism, in which the union of the human and divine natures in Christ is the union of the Second Person of the Trinity and one Mr. Jesus, to graphically explain it.  This violates the unity of the Person.

In the other direction from the Antiochian Christology is the Alexandrian (Cyrillian) Christology.  The emphasis of this approach is on the thoroughness of the coming-together of the natures in the single Person -- the Second Person of the Trinity -- God the Son.  The emphasis here is intended to prevent the God-Man from being considered as being in any sense two persons which don't entirely think the same way.  There is also a heretical extreme for this.  So-called "Eutychianism" sees the unity of the Person devour the distinction between the natures, so that the humanity effectively goes away, and some composite nature appears in its place.

Therefore, we can see that one side is concerned to keep the natures distinct, not mixed, but not separated from each other either, whereas the other side is concerned that the Second Person of the Trinity be seen as truly the Person of the God-Man in all times and places.  It is this ancient controversy, which has caused fights between orthodox churches for up to 1500 years, which in some similar sense, rears its head again in the controversy between the Lutheran and the Reformed over "real presence" of Christ in the Lord's Supper.  For the Lutherans, Christ in his sacrificed body and blood is spiritually ("real"-ly) received during the physical practice of the Sacrament, because the God-Man, being everywhere a man, can make himself spiritually received by faith, in both natures, even at the Table.  For the Reformed, Christ in his sacrificed human nature is not received literally at the Table, but spiritually by faith only.  The activities at the Table are symbolic of what transpires in the spiritual realm.

In my opinion, the ecclesiastical difficulty with this is that our Lutheran and Reformed Confessions force us to take sides on some things not yet well understood in the "catholic" theology.  We each presume ourselves "hyper-catholic" on this issue, and as a consequence introduce schism.

Perhaps more later, as thought develops.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Schism in Reformation

(In order to understand this post, you need to know that the theological category called Ecclesiology includes not only church government, but all the spiritual doctrines concerning the efficacy of Word and Sacraments).

Please pardon the rambling nature of this post.  I just wanted to say this as an expression of concern.

The Reformation began with Luther and Lutheranism, then, simultaneously to slightly later, the Reformed and Anabaptist movements began.

The Reformed movement became Puritanism and the "Second Reformation," the latter term often used among the Dutch.

The Baptists arose, influenced somewhat from Anabaptism, but mainly from Continental Arminianism (General Baptists) or from English Calvinism (Particular Baptists).

Then came the Great Awakenings and Evangelical Revival.

It seems to me that all these stages form a sort of sequence, such that those from later stages, more or less in the sequence that I've enumerated them here, regard themselves as more thoroughly and Biblically reformed than the stages that have gone before.  Of course, there are still those whose convictions place them in "older" stages, but they can't help being influenced by the later stages either.

As I write this blog entry to my friends who are Calvinistic Baptist, Calvinistic Bible Church, and "Evangelical" Presbyterian in habit and conviction, I would like to suggest the following points to help sort things out:

1)  The modern publishing movement for Puritan and Calvinistic literature (and the kind of Lutheran literature read by us) still tends to play down the ecclesiological questions that loomed large in those older generations.  This is in harmony with the spirit of our evangelical and revivalistic age which plays down ecclesiology.

An example of the consequence of this is the ecclesiological history of Dallas Theological Seminary.  That DTS was, and in some ways still recognizably is, a Presbyterian institution would be surprising and shocking to many of its graduates and those influenced by them.  Lewis Sperry Chafer was a Congregational and Presbyterian minister.  He intended to found the seminary along with Griffith Thomas, an Anglican.  Rev. Thomas died before the seminary was in operation.  However, I presume that the seminary was founded to prepare ministers of the word of all denominations in Dispensationalism and the "literal hermeneutic," and thus the heavy -- and wonderful -- emphasis on the original languages of Scripture.  One consequence of this, whether intentional or not, was to downplay ecclesiological distinctives, possibly in order to teach students from all denominations the new ways.  This was also in harmony with the spirit of the evangelicalism of that age.  But, the consequence of downplaying ecclesiology was the conversion of the seminary, sacramentally, into a "baptist" institution -- a consequence probably not envisioned by her founders, and a consequence certainly not in harmony with their original Presbyterianism and Anglicanism.  During the year that I studied there, I remember that I was amazed that the student insurance company was Presbyterian Ministers Fund, and also that one of my fellow students was a Lutheran.  How incongruous, I thought, even way back in '67-8.  The consequence was that DTS created its own "denomination," which was probably NOT the purpose of her founders.

2.  The decline of ecclesiology under the evangelical and revivalistic spirit of the late 19th and 20th centuries was actually the replacement of older ecclesiologies with a new one that might be described as "zwinglian," because of its deemphasis on church membership, corporate worship and especially the sacraments as means of grace (and a parallel development of parachurch ministries as specialized ministries of grace).  As a result, the older Reformation ecclesiologies are not understood by most "evangelicals" today, and many Reformational doctrines, particularly on the sacraments, are regarded nowadays as remnants of Roman Catholicism.  It probably comes as a shock to many that the word "evangelical" originally referred to Lutheranism -- baptismal regeneration and all!  Some Reformed sentiments at the Westminster Assembly weren't far behind, though the final doctrinal statement from that Assembly made the efficacy of baptism come to apply not necessarily at the moment of administration, but potentially later in life (for those who turn out to have been unconverted at the time of administration.)

In any case, this shows the cleavage between the today's doctrinal stance and that of the Reformation.  We only imagine that we are in harmony with the Reformers on ecclesiology.  Generally speaking, in our day we are not.  The illusion of harmony is maintained by omitting ecclesiology from the world of discourse.  The consequence of this is a "zwinglian" ecclesiology that has no conception of the ecclesiology of Lutheran and Reformed origins.  Among those who are self-consciously "reformed" in our day, people think that Reformed Theology is "evangelicalism" plus the Five Points of Calvinism.

3.  One consequence of the "evangelical" and revivalistic spirit today is the replacement of the doctrine of the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone with the experience of conversion.  This is something the Reformers would never do.  They had their experiences, but they never made the replacement I speak of.  Experiences are subjective, personal, and often unreliable.  My conversion experience, though real, is for me.  My doctrine -- provided it is the doctrine of Scripture -- is for you.  The result nowadays is that sudden outward conversion is regarded as the norm, rather than quiet inward conversion sitting in the pew under the steady Gospel ministry of Word and Sacrament.

4.  There is a revival of the old ways.  It began in the 20th century, but not among "fundamentalists," even though this revival may be practiced perfectly compatibly with the high doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone which is held to by all fundamentalists and real evangelicals.  As the ecclesiological revival feels its way along, it takes more and more "flak" from other evangelicals.  Nothing has been stranger in this experiment than to be disfellowshipped by old evangelical friends over this movement back to Reformational (and early church) origins.  Whereas in the old days there was a necessary schism carried out over the doctrine of justification, and whereas there was a questionable schism carried out between the Lutherans and Calvinists over nature of the "real presence" in the Lord's Supper, it now appears that the fundamental active schism outside Romanism is over the "high" vs. the "low" ecclesiology.  The fight between the Lutherans and the Reformed has never been resolved, and the "Reformed" have reformed themselves so far away from Reformational ecclesiology that it is not recognizable to them any more.

5.  My guess is that the cleavage between the "zwinglians" and those of that more traditional ecclesiology being revived from Scripture will continue, and possibly in some ways harden, if attitudes do not change.  Perhaps we will just accumulate a new set of Christian friends, and life will go on.  I do not know what the future holds.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dead to the Law

Paul refers to dying to the law at least twice -- in Galatians and in Romans:

Galatians 2:17-21   17 "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  18 "For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  19 "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  21 "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."

Romans 7:1-6  ¶ Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?  2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.  3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.  4 ¶ Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.  6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

In both cases, it's clear from the rest of Paul's letters that he by no means disapproves of the righteousness described in the law, but makes it our goal:

Romans 8:3-4   3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,  4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

So what does Paul mean by this existential statement, that we are "dead" to the law?

Since Paul calls our old relationship to the Law (outside of Christ) a form of marriage, we have to conclude that the intimate relationship between Law and ourselves is a basic principle of either the original creation, or something we fell into by the Fall.  Since the law is holy, just and good, it seems to me to make more sense to describe the marriage to the Law as concreated with Adam.  Adam was to understand God's law, by creation, and live by it.  The intimate relationship between Adam and God's Law would produce the offspring of righteousness.  Adam would "do this and live" (the basic principle of the Law), and he would "do this" not to acquire merit, but to grow and mature in God's goodness.

However, when the Fall took place, the curse ensued.  Under this curse, the righteous requirement of the Law brought forth more rebellion, not as a fruit of the Law's goodness, but as a fruit and proof of man's badness and hate for the truth.  From this we had to be delivered.

Thus, our death to the Law.  This means more than forgiveness, though it includes that.  It means more than being disconnected from the Law as a covenant which is bringing death to sinners.  It means death to the aeon of the Law -- the original creation.  It means resurrection.

This is the origin of Paul's contrast between the Letter and the Spirit (Rom 7).  The "Letter" refers to the relationship to Law of the first creation.  Life by the Spirit is a new relationship of living which is not related to the Law of God in the same manner as in the original creation.

Having died to the Law of the original creation, we are born anew by the Spirit, and live in a truly new, resurrected way, under grace.  We are dead to the Law, but by the whole Word of God the righteousness of the Law is written on our hearts through Christ by the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What St. Paul said about Nullifying the Grace of God

Galatians 2:19-21   19 "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  21 "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."

It cannot be the case that the temporary epoch of the Law, given at Sinai, is referred to here by Paul.  Of course, it is a truism in Paul that "The Law" is most often a reference to the Law of Moses which came on Sinai.  However, it's hard to believe that Paul simply refers to the temporary, Israelite-bound economy of that Law from Sinai, when he states that it took the crucifixion of Christ to deliver him from it.  Furthermore, in the crucifixion of Christ, he sees the activity of the Law itself.  Christ gave himself unto the death of the cross, for Paul, in order to deliver Paul from the law.  Thus we conclude the the Law given from Sinai is representative of a bigger Law -- a Law so big that it required -- and got -- the crucifixion of the Son of God.

The administration of the Law under the Old Covenant truly is a temporary administration.  But, it is only temporary because Christ died.  "The Law" is not just a temporary administration of food laws, Jewish customs, and rituals of worship.  The deliverance that Christ brings is bigger than deliverance from "Jewish boundary markers."

It didn't take the death of Christ simply to free the Jews to have a ham sandwich (HT: Lee Meckley).

Sacraments and Faith

Participation in a sacrament is analogous to participating in the gospel.  The gospel brings union with Christ the Savior, through faith, a spiritually receptive capacity which is the gift of God and given through the Holy Spirit.  Baptism brings union with Christ, through faith.  The Eucharist brings union with Christ, through faith.

But faith is not faith in faith.  Faith is not a looking inward, so that I may analyze my heart state, and thereby be able to discern the presence of faith.  Faith is looking outward at Christ, at the objective truth of God's grace, and receiving it.

Faith is receiving the Words of the Gospel.  Faith is receiving Baptism as union with Christ.  Faith is receiving the Bread and Cup as the Body and Blood of Christ.  We know we are Christians because we receive the Words of the Gospel (not because we look inward and see that we have faith).  We know we are Christians because we have received the "washing of regeneration."  We know we are Christians because we have received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

If the sacraments and the Word of the Gospel are only validated by some inward "faith" that we have to look inward to be sure about, then our assurance of salvation, our assurance of Baptism, our assurance of participation in the Eucharist in a meaningful manner is all contingent on how well we are doing in our faith.  Poor faith means poor participation.  Perhaps we don't benefit spiritually.

But, if the sacraments and the Word of the Gospel are external objective realities that we can receive, then we can know we are Christians when we look outside ourselves and receive these things.

This is why it is so vital that we see that the Word of the Gospel is objective and objectively powerful to save, and receive that.  This is why Baptism is objectively powerful to save, and we receive that.  This is why the Eucharist, and its sharing in Christ, is so objectively true and powerful to save, and we receive that.

This is why we must not only believe (receive) the Gospel, but also believe (receive) the sacraments as objective manifestations of the grace of God.

I, a believer in Christ, have received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, because I ate in faith, and tasted the bread and the wine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Anti-Lutheran Polemic of Westminster

WCF 29:7  Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament,(1) do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then,

not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine;

yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance,  

as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.(2)

(1) 1 Cor. 11:28
(2) 1 Cor. 10:16

This paragraph is based on the confessional Lutheran description of the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist as being "in, with and under" the bread and wine.  The Westminster Assembly is saying that this means a corporal or carnal presence.  Most Reformed folks, then and now, say that this Lutheran description "in, with and under" means consubstantiation, or a physical union of the bread and Christ's body, or the wine and Christ's blood.

However, expert testimony from both Lutheran and Reformed sources indicates that this is clearly not correct, and in fact can only be construed as common though false imputation of the Reformed, who ought to know better.  The historic and continuing purpose of the Lutheran description of the presence of Christ's body as being "in, with and under" the bread is to teach against transubstantiation and consubstantiation.  In other words, confessional Lutheranism does not teach that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, nor that the bread and wine become partly the body and blood of Christ, and yet they continue to teach that the body and blood of Christ are present "in, with and under" the bread and wine.

Furthermore, the Lutheran notion of the presence of the body and blood is described by them as spiritual, not carnal.

Since the Reformed also use the word "spiritual" to describe the Reformed notion of "real presence," the meanings of the two uses of the word "spiritual" must be distinguished.

The confessional Lutherans believe that by means of the divine power of the Person of the Incarnate Son, he makes himself spiritually present in the Eucharist as the whole Christ in both his natures (since they cannot be separated), even though the body and blood are not present carnally in the Eucharist.  In fact, his body remains seated all the while on the throne of heaven.  In this view, the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present, not carnally present, in connection with the use of the bread and wine, whether the recipient receives them savingly by faith or not.

The high (Calvinian) confessional Reformed generally seem to mean that Christ is present to believers only, in both his natures, by the mediation of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and that the Lord's presence with them does not occur directly in connection with the handling of the bread and cup as instruments.  In other words, there is (only) a parallelism between the handling of the bread and cup by the believer and the work of the Holy Spirit to communicate to the believer the fruits of his union with Christ.  This seems to be the clear teaching of the article from the WCF quoted above.  This is also the implication of the Heidelberg Catechism.

These are different conceptions and uses of the word "spiritual."

As you study this subject (for 5 years or more) you'll begin to see

1) Why the Calvinists say that our argument with the Lutherans is a technicality about the mode of the presence (though, at the same time, the Calvinists will still zealously object to the special Lutheran "presence" "in, with and under" the bread and wine.)  And,

2)  Why the Lutherans try to say that we don't have a "real presence" at all.

Actually, we all have the "real presence," even the Zwinglians.  The only questions have to do with whether it is admitted and how it is described.

The answer depends on discerning the proper way to interpret passages like these:

1 Cor 10:16-17   16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

1 Corinthians 11:23-29  23 ¶ For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;  24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."  26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.  27 ¶ Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

"Bread Worship"

The mystical union between our human natures and Christ's human nature is a real union transcending the apparent distance between us.  So, in the Supper, he can be objectively present for us, as we receive him by faith.  But, if he is there, what kind of respect do we show the bread and cup?

Calvin and Melanchthon shared an opposition to what Melanchthon privately called "bread-worship" in letters between them.  One of the reasons for the Reformed opposition to too much "real presence" down on earth at the Eucharist was that it was the basis for the "overly-respectful" treatment of the bread and cup in high Lutheran worship, which, in turn, was too reminiscent to them of the worship that was paid to the bread and cup in Romanism.

But, rather than denying "real presence" on earth during the Eucharist, would it not be more reasonable to observe that the mystical union that we have with Christ, so that Christ is in each of us, does not oblige us to worship each other even though Christ is present there?  The Corinthian church would hardly have needed the exhortation to "discern the Lord's body" when taking the bread if those elements were being "worshiped."  Clearly they were not.

The bread and cup are instruments of Christ's real presence, but are not Christ in themselves, and thus are not worshiped in any fashion.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How is Christ Present in the Eucharist?

There is a historic, nearly 500 year old schism between the Magisterial Reformationalists -- the confessional Lutherans and the (non-Zwinglian) confessional Reformed -- over the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist:

1)  The Reformed say that we two agree that Christ is present in his body and blood, but we seriously disagree on how he is present -- that is, on the 'mode' of his presence.

2)  The Lutherans say that we two really don't agree that Christ is actually present in his body and blood.  The Reformed are self-deceived in their own words.

The test question put by the Lutherans is this:  Do non-believers who come to the Lord's Table receive the body and blood of Christ?  Of course they don't mean, do the non-believers receive it savingly.  They don't.  But, the Lutherans believe that the answer to this question is "yes," because the body and blood are objectively present -- and received unto judgment by non-believers.  The Lutherans also believe that our Reformed theological and philosophical principles require us to say "no" to the test question.  The body and blood of Christ are not and cannot be present in the Eucharist to non-believers, since Christ in his human nature is not omnipresent, and the body and blood are in heaven.

Calvin is especially singled out by the Lutherans because his doctrine of the Lord's Supper is so "Lutheran" to begin with.  His view of the "real presence" is therefore regarded as particularly dangerous by the confessional Lutherans, because he could deceive Lutherans into subtly beginning to accept Reformed views not only of "real presence" but of other things just as vital.

But, the mystical union between me and Christ in our common human nature is a fact.  Christ's humanity and mine are joined intimately, and not just by some principle of "spiritual action at a distance."  Christ is in me, my hope of glory.  Christ said to Saul on the Damascus Road: "Why do you persecute me."

If Christ as a man is in me, and I am in him as a man, then there is no problem with Christ in his sacrificed body and blood being with me in the Eucharist.  This is what the mystical union is all about.

And, just as the offer of Christ in the gospel is just as real to a non-believer as it is to me -- though it may be rejected by a non-believer; so, the offer Christ in his body and blood in the Supper is just as real, whether the recipient is a believer or not.  But, only believers receive the offer savingly.

Union with Christ

In Adam we all die.  In Christ we all live.  As we have had both a real and a covenant union with Adam, so we must have a real and covenant union with Christ.  We ought not to think that our relationship to Christ is any less strong, sturdy and real than was our relationship to Adam.  And, the reality is also physical, because we rise from the dead "like him, for we shall see him as he is."

The "mystical union" between Christ and his church is likened to the union between man and wife.  Just as Adam bore Eve through his sleep in the Garden, so Christ bore his church in his own sleep in a Garden.  And, having borne us through death, in his own body, he is now our husband, triumphant in resurrection.  We are in him, and he is in us, forever.

It is to this union that Baptism and the Lord's Supper speak, each in its own way.  We are one with Christ in cleansing, and we are one with Christ in spiritual sustenance.

Consider the Lord's Table:

NKJ 1 Cor 10:16-17  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

The reality of our union with Christ and with each other, as experienced and refreshed in the Eucharist, cannot be overstated.  It communicates a true and real union with Him through his sacrificed body and shed blood, a union which looks forward to that communion meal which is the marriage supper of the Lamb.

So we are refreshed not only by words and actions which strengthen our faith, but by words and actions through which Christ the Savior actually comes to us to feed and strengthen our union with him through his sacrificed body and blood.

We are warned not to eat and drink in an unworthy manner, not discerning the Lord's body. But this warning is not given to turn the Eucharist into a disciplinary act.  Just the opposite.  This warning is given as a principle to the unruly:  Come to your senses and do not miss the joy of feeding on Christ!

Glory be to God!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Covenant of Works and the Catholic Orthodoxy


If there is no Adamic Covenant in some sense separate from the Covenant of Grace, then the sin that leads to death is apostasy from the Covenant of Grace.  Adam apostatized from the Covenant of Grace, rather than breaking some Adamic Covenant.

And, since we know that not every sin done in the Covenant of Grace leads to death, because of the retroactive benefit of Christ-to-come, we have to introduce the distinction between mortal and venial sin.  Then, we may ask, "Could Adam have committed a venial sin?"  But we all agree that it is not Scriptural to say that he could have.  All Adam's sins would have been mortal.

Again, following the Adamic analogy of supposed apostasy from the Covenant of Grace, would it be the case that your apostasy would doom your offspring to eternal death, just as it did in the case of Adam?  We know that this is wrong, too.

Therefore, we conclude that if the Covenant of Grace subsumes into itself all the events, activities, sins and judgments that are traditionally considered part of the Adamic Covenant, then theological conclusions seem to be reached that are just wrong.

Therefore, we conclude that Adam, as head of the original creation, must have been related to God in a way that is originally NOT exactly like the Covenant of Grace.

The Adamic Covenant is the Covenant of -- something else.


It is traditional in any orthodox theology to view the original Adamic relationship with God as intolerant of any kind of sin at all, and therefore as being a relationship with God different from the relationship we have through the grace of Christ.  This is also true for Reformed Theology, as an orthodox theology of origins.

Any supposed promises made to Adam, or any fruition of his relationship to God which comes about through his perseverance in his sinless deportment is speculation and not -- to my knowledge -- any part of the catholic church doctrine.  However, the later Reformed Theology does have a developed doctrine of this original relationship, which goes beyond the real, historic dogma of the universal church.  This developed covenantal relationship is called the Covenant of Works.

Sometimes arguments are made that Reformed Theology originally had no Covenant of Works.  While it is true that the original Reformed Theology had no developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works, it did hold to the catholic orthodoxy on the Adamic relationship, namely, that the original Adamic relationship is not the Covenant of Grace.

The developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works slowly evolved during the 16th century (and later), though there are hints that lead to this in the Institutes (1559).  However, most of the Reformed Standards of doctrine currently in use do not appear to mention the Covenant of Works.  This is true of the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, etc., even though the Heidelberg Catechism was produced in the German Reformed region where the doctrine of the Covenant of Works seems to have originally developed.  It is commonly said that this doctrine is first brought out in doctrinal standards by Westminster.  However, in my opinion, the Westminster Standards do not give a clear statement of the developed doctrine.  You can find an excellent discussion of the developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works in Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics


It appears to me to be the case that there is reduced coverage in the presentation of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works in the Westminster Standards:

1)  I think that most evangelical Presbyterians just take the Covenant of Works in the standards as being a reference to the fact that Adam was under a covenant which made no provision within itself for any remedy for sin.  In other words, the Covenant of Works is just an expression of the idea that a life free from sin on Adam's part would not lead to the Fall.  When he sinned, he inevitably fell.

2)  However, the actual doctrine of the developed Covenant of Works is that Adam did not have eternal life, but was promised eternal life (in the future) based on his perseverance in a sinless life and proper covenantal achievement for a period of time.  The most highly developed form of this doctrine (see Bavinck) regards the promised eternal life as being received through the same transition to new humanity that we are promised in Christ at the resurrection, but that this transition is accomplished without the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity or any Atonement.  I would suggest that few in evangelical Presbyterianism are aware of the doctrine in this form.

I don't know for sure, but do suspect that the Westminster Assembly was divided on this, and that this might have resulted in the reduced exposition of the Covenant of Works within the Standards.  (There may be enough documentation in books to check this, but I don't know it as I write).

If it is true that there is an intentionally reduced exposition of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works, then it may have been the purpose of the Assembly to craft a confession and catechisms that minimized the commitment required by those who do not believe in the developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works.  This would allow those who simply held to the catholic orthodoxy to sign off on the Standards.

I suspect that this is what is actually happening in most cases in evangelical (Princetonian and Southern) Presbyterianism today, since one never hears the true, developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works exposited.

I have other papers on this subject here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Westminster and Free Will

The Westminster Standards teach "Free Will."

What is meant is that Adam sinned by the exercise of his Free Will.  Likewise, men act in accordance with their nature, in exercising their wills freely, whether they are good or evil.  Evil men cannot rise to will the good, because they don't want to.  Those made good by grace can freely will the good, because they want to, but only in part, as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  In the resurrection we will be truly and entirely free to will only the good.

Thus, there are two senses of freedom when "Free Will" is spoken of.  The first sense is the ability of the uncoerced will to act in accordance with its own nature, whether good or evil.  The second sense, seeing that true freedom is only freedom to do the good, is that true freedom was only had by Adam before he sinned, and is only had by us in part, when empowered by the Spirit, and will be had by us perfectly in the resurrection.

True freedom (to freely do the good) and false freedom (to freely fall short) both take place within the sovereign ordinance of God.  So, every instance of true freedom acting to do the good is an act freely done which is ordained by God.  Do not miss this.  The acts, which to a free man are truly free, are from God's perspective ordained.  True freedom and divine sovereignty are simultaneous.

WCF 5:2 "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently."

God immutably decrees the events which come to pass truly freely. The language of the Confession agrees that man is free to act in accordance with his nature, and that our good works are freely done, by the power of the Spirit.  Men are free, but God is most free.  Note the use of the term "most free" when reading the Confession.

From above, God governs through his providence, determining all things that come to pass.  From below, we are truly free to act in accordance with our nature.  And, if freed by Christ, we are truly free to do the good.

The Confession is not teaching determinism.  It is not teaching that there is no free will.  On the contrary, it is teaching that there is free will.  But, there is also divine sovereignty. The point here is that divine sovereignty and human freedom both are true.  The sovereignty of God is a mystery, because by his sovereignty he makes us truly free, in our own sphere, while remaining sovereign over all the actions of truly free men.

This mystery cannot be resolved.  Though it is an irresolvable mystery, it is also truth in which we can rest.  Any human attempt to resolve this mystery will lead to a distortion.  It will lead to a determinism which denies Scriptural freedom and responsibility in the Christian life, or to a determinism that denies God's free and well-meant offer of the gospel.

The mystery is manifest in Christ's own deportment.  Christ mourns over his rejection by Jerusalem, but then later sovereignly prays for "his own," and not for the world.

In the myriad sides of his own behavior, he shows himself the sovereign comforter in whom we can rest.

He infallibly calls many who hate him into his fellowship -- but not all.   Yet, he receives all those who desire him, and weeps over those who reject him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


It's clear in the history of the West that the distinction between Church and State has always been with us -- and that it has been good for both Church and State, and for the people.  Abject submission of either Pope or Emperor to the other was often connected with despotism.

Jesus distinguished Caesar and God.

High priest and King were never the same in Israel.

Christ, who bears in One Person all the offices of leadership, reigns from Heaven (not on earth).

It's hard, then, to conceive of the union of Church and State as being our Scriptural destiny in a new Christendom.  There is no Scriptural precedent, nor is there any historical precedent -- East or West.

The Canon of the New Testament

A well-known teacher of the Restoration of the Law wrote that when the Kingdom comes, we'll know how to punish all those face-slappers who bother us now, and we won't have to keep turning the other cheek.

What he meant by this was that the New Testament ethic is temporary -- that there will come a time in the progress of the Kingdom when the personal ethic taught by Jesus in the New Testament will be superseded by one that is more "just."

This can't be right.

First, the courage that it takes to teach this way is boldly disrespectful to the authority of Christ.

Secondly, the doctrine of the canon of Scripture is reversed.  He intends the Mosaic case law to take precedence over the teaching of the New Testament.  Redemptive history runs backward.  The Old Creation is being restored, rather than the New Creation inaugurated.

This is all wrong because he has rejected the New Testament as the canonical guide for the interpretation of all Scripture.

The whole "look and feel" of the Christian religion is at stake here: our daily experience (often tribulation, and not glory), our future expectation (the return of the Lord), our ethic (forgiveness, servanthood), our preaching (the gospel), our life (mutual love, distinct from the world).

How vital a difference this makes to the whole spirit of Christianity !

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Taming the Law

It's clear that no one obeys the Law of the Lord fully, much as we wish to do so in our spiritual nature.  This is true in either Testament.  Furthermore, Paul and James make it plain that to break one law is to be guilty of breaking them all.  The Law, the great Moral Law of God, teaches perfection, and as the Law of the Covenant of Works it demands perfection under penalty of death.  For life to run its course and for there to be time for repentance, the full rigor of the Moral Law as a demanding covenant must be tamed by divine mercy.  And, it is.

What may not be clear to everyone, however, is that the demanding nature of the Law of God as covenant does not ever dovetail neatly with divine mercy and grace except on the Cross of Christ.  There is a chasm of death between life under the Law and true Life according to the Spirit of Christ (Rom 7).  The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace do not comport.

This is why there will never, ever, be a neat, comfortable dovetailing of Law and Gospel this side of the Resurrection.  So, yes, the Law in this age is tamed for two reasons:  1)  Lest sinners die immediately, without time for repentance, and 2)  Lest it persecute the believers, as a rigorous covenant of works.  But, in the end the Law cannot be tamed -- only fulfilled.

Remember the Cross.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

God's Story -- The Simplicity of the Gospel

I'm amazed when I read how Paul "declares the gospel"
(1 Cor 15).

I'm struck by the directness of focus on the historic events of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, and on the factually objective reports of eyewitnesses, which Paul is able to recount in detailed chronological order.

I'm also struck on the other hand by Paul's lack of detailed focus on analyzing or attempting to control the psychological state of his hearers.  Nothing directs his hearers' attention inwardly to themselves.  The focus of the gospel presentation -- the focus of faith -- is Christ.  The (factual) story of the gospel recounts and depicts Christ's saving acts, and portrays Christ himself clothed in the gospel as the object of worship.  This is a story to be received with gratitude and held onto with perseverance.

All this suggests a hierarchy of values for doctrinal knowledge: No matter the fineness of doctrinal detail into which we may delve, all that depth of knowledge must support the telling  of God's Story of redemption in a manner full of that awe which is at the core of divine worship.

Christian fellowship which emphasizes doctrinal knowledge and a highly intellectual sense of introspection can invert this hierarchy of values.  God's Story, in its stark simplicity, is taken for granted, and the technical details of the depths of doctrinal or experiential knowledge become the central focus.  The consequence:  Divine worship decays.  The vision of Christ's glory dims because God's Story is too simple.  The awe is lost.

Things must turn the other way.  Yes, some believers are called to plumb the depths, but the depths they plumb must support the Story in the mind of the church.  The study of the depths must be framed by the Story, for the Story is the core of our worship, forever and ever.

This has implications for the corporate worship of the church, for the preaching of the Word, and for the administration of the sacraments.

May God the Spirit pervade our churches, bringing pure worship, full of awe, through faith in God's Story of redemption, told from Genesis to Revelation.

The Mother of Jesus -- Theologian

It is interesting to see that in John's Gospel, the mother of Jesus is never mentioned by her name.  The motive is unknown to me.  He names the other Mary's in Jesus life.  John, of course, never names himself in his own Gospel.  Most believe that he avoided his own name in order to avoid drawing attention to himself.  Instead he refers to himself as "the disciple that Jesus loved."  Having said that, it might be even more important the he not mention his own name. Perhaps some of the same motives went into his policy of not mentioning Mary's name, the mother of Jesus.

In any case, this woman was a perceptive theologian. 

Remember that God waited for Moses to call for His Presence to accompany Israel -- even to the point of hearing Moses point out that the "Egyptians will say that You could not bring us out if you don't finish the job."  (Deut 9:25-28-29)  So, God the Son waited for his mother to make clear to him that it was time to begin his ministry of signs, as they are recorded in this Gospel.  See the text:

John 2:1-11 NKJ:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." 4 Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." 

6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!" 

11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Think how Jesus' mother understood that this wedding scene was a fitting spot for Jesus to introduce his ministry.  Think about how she understood the possibilities of this providential moment when the poorer wine, the water of Judaism, had run out, and the wine of the New Covenant was present and ready to be offered.  Think of what was taught later by Jesus and the apostles, concerning the Church as the Bride of Christ, and the coming Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Think how much the mother of Jesus must have understood this at the wedding in Cana.  There seems to be no other motivation for her silent insistence that "now is the time."

As vs 11 indicates, it was the time.

This seer and theologian of the New Covenant saw rightly.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Incarnation and the Presence of God

It is an exceedingly fruitful study to look up the Scripture describing the "Presence of God" at various points in salvation history.  God in his Presence may work miracles of deliverance as he "visits" his saints.  Even his nearness in a continual sense is coveted by the believers.  Moses thought it not worth while to move forward toward the Land, if the Lord were not "with them," no matter the degree of providential support the Lord could give them from a distance.  Moses wanted him right there with him.

The greatest manifestation of The Presence is in the Incarnation.  God the Son took upon himself, into union with his divine person, the full human nature that he had created in his image.  Things can never be the same again, for God or Man.

In the God-Man, God is seen by Man (John 14:6-11), and the perfect Man, in our nature, IS personally The Second Person of the Trinity -- and we are in him!

The parting of the ways in the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, the doctrine of eschatology, the doctrine of the Covenant of Works, the doctrine of our nature and calling in the Gospel Age, the fruition of our eternal destiny, and the nature of worship in this age and in the age to come all hinge on the estimation we have of the nature of the union between God and Man in the Incarnation.  (See this article, and other articles in this blog).

If this union is a permanent change which brings to pass under the Covenant of Grace a new creation, transcending the original, then one path is taken.  If the Incarnation simply brings the natures together to "fix" the problem of sin, so that implicitly the original creation is restored and the "fixed" Covenant of Works reinstituted, then the other path is taken.

Once this distinction is clearly seen, the difference in theology and worship between the two positions is shocking, no matter which side of the divide one stands on.  This distinction must be at the root of some historic schisms.

My own position is that Christ and the new creation transcend the original creation, much more than simply restoring it.  The God-Man is worthy of all worship in his Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Session at the Right Hand of God.  And, he is worthy of this worship not only for what he does but for what he is -- even for us -- infinitely more than Adam ever was or could be.  

And, we share his destiny.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Is Wine a Crime?

It's a common sight to see that folks coming out of American evangelicalism or "fundamentalism" into a more Reformational or "catholic" manifestation of Christian culture let it be visible that they use alcohol.  (And, by they way, in many cases, they always did, even if they were in "fundamentalism," but they just didn't let it be known.)

I think it's useful and spiritually healthy that proper use of alcoholic beverages in great moderation be acceptable in our Christian culture, and be considered a normal, valuable and God-given part of the enjoyment of life.

But, there's the rub.  So often, the visible use which I see nowadays in the company of other believers is often giddy.  It's as if children, freed from the non-alcoholic restrictions of "fundamentalist" childhood, are now throwing off the shackles and youthfully celebrating their liberty, rather than showing the quiet demeanor of maturity, with gratitude to God.

It's only the latter attitude which shows true deliverance from "legalism" about this subject.