Friday, January 30, 2004
Perhaps the most important challenge that Schmemann levels against common Western approaches to the question is his opposition to individualistic ecclesiology. He writes:—
Our modern theology, which in many ways has ceased to be personal, i.e. centered on the Christian experience of “person,” nevertheless—and maybe as a result of this—has become utterly individualistic. It views everything in the Church—sacraments, rites, and even the Church herself—as primarily, if not exclusively, individual “means of grace,” aimed at the individual, at his individual sanctification.This is a widespread problem. If you look at the treatments of the ‘means of grace’ in many Reformed systematics you will soon be struck by how centered they are upon the individual. The visible church is often treated as the husk in which the true church exists. The true ‘invisible’ Church is not characterized by the outward rites and symbols that characterize the ‘visible’ church. Salvation, properly speaking, truly applies to the heart of man alone, and so at best, the church is an external construct built upon the reality that exists in the hearts of individual believers.
Individualistic theology has been unable to see that salvation, to truly be salvation, must take man out of himself. A salvation that leaves man as a mere ‘individual’ is no salvation at all. Genuine salvation is found in the Church, precisely because the life of the Church allows for the transcending of individualism (see John Zizioulas, Being As Communion). Consequently, to see the Church as the mere handmaid of ‘individual salvation’ is to deny the salvation of individuals altogether. Schmemann goes on to write:—
It has lost the very categories by which to express the Church and her life as that new reality which precisely overcomes and transcends all “individualism,” transforms individuals into persons, and in which men are persons only because and inasmuch as they are united to God and, in Him, to one another and to the whole of life.
The Church as the Family’s Fulfilment
Schmemann observes that the Church is the place where the natural family finds both redemption and fulfilment. The Church is the ‘restoration of life itself as family.’ Many people have failed to be consistent with the principle that God’s grace does not destroy and undermine but heals, restores and recreates nature. Grace brings nature to its true fulfilment. If the Church is the fulfilment of a particular family then the children of that family must be offered to God in Baptism.
The new-born child belongs to the family. It has no “autonomous” existence of any kind; its life is totally shaped and determined—in the present as well as in the immediate yet truly formative, truly decisive future—by this belonging. And the family—if it is a Christian family—belongs to the Church, finds in the Church the source, the content and the transcendent goal of its existence as family. Therefore the child who belongs to the family, and in a most concrete biological sense to the mother, thereby belongs to the Church, is truly her child, already offered, already committed to God.Indeed, as Schmemann observes, the Church depends upon the family for its own fulfilment as Church as within this world the family is the only divinely authorized source of life. However, as Stanley Hauerwas has written: ‘Biology does not make parents in the church. Baptism does.’ The Church ‘reinvents the family’ by the baptismal vows in which the whole Church promises to be parent. In the Church marriage and singleness are equally valid ways of life.
Baptism makes the whole Church a parent and the baptized individual a child. Consequently, the ‘preparation’ for Baptism is an act of the entire Church and not to be limited to merely teaching the individual who is to be baptized. This is certainly a truth that is commonly overlooked.
[The Orthodox Church is] very far from the flat idea that Baptism cannot be received unless it is “understood” and “accepted,” and therefore it is to be given only to “adults.” Maybe the ultimate grace of Baptism is indeed that it makes us children, restores us in that “childhood” without which, in the words of Christ Himself, it is impossible to receive the Kingdom of God. What preparation means therefore is a total act of the Church, the recapitulation by her of all that makes baptismal regeneration possible. For the whole Church is changed, enriched and fulfilled when another child of God is integrated into her life and becomes a member of Christ’s Body.The individualism in the modern church has resulted in many circles on Baptism being treated merely as the outward testimony to the individual’s ‘spiritual journey’. The role that the rite of Baptism plays for the Church is often ignored. If Baptism changes the individual it also changes the Church. The person baptized becomes a child of the Church in that act, and the Church herself becomes the Mother. Indeed, only as she baptizes does the Church truly become the Mother of us all. Baptism makes the Church what she is, just as Baptism redefines the party baptized.
As Rich Lusk observes in a very helpful article every Baptism is, properly understood, infant baptism. He quotes Walter Krebs:—
The adult is now in the position and state of an infant. There is no impenitence, unbelief, or self-righteousness in their little hearts. It is just here where adult and infant salvation come together. The Savior expressly teaches, that unless we turn and become as little children, we can by no means enter into His kingdom of grace. No obstacles in their case being in the way, they are the regular subjects of baptismal grace, wherever there is an assurance of Christian training, in order that pearls may not be cast before swine. It is from the baptismal font that both adult and infant start out together in the same life of grace, both being from that point on babes in Christ, but looking forward to the stature of perfect manhood in Him.By baptizing particular people and refusing to baptize others the Church is herself being formed. The manner in which the Church baptizes declares the type of community that she sees herself to be. As the Church is the redeemed community, by examining the manner in which the Church baptizes we can tease out her view of true community. Baptism has the Church as it goal and fulfilment.
As I look at many churches I observe that few realize how radically both the Church and her children must be conditioned by the practice of Baptism. In many churches Baptism is treated as if it were the action of the individual baptized, rather than the action of the baptizing Church. Indeed, it is often the individual that conditions the action of Baptism and not vice versa. If the individual apostatizes the reality of the Baptism is frequently denied.
Schmemann, in a lengthy endnote, addresses the institution of sponsors. Sponsors have an important role both in adult and infant baptisms. Initially they appear to have originated more in association with the Baptism of adult converts than with the Baptism of infants. Sponsors or godparents are individuals who should be appointed, not by the family, but by the Church to be particularly responsible to ensure that the Baptism achieves fulfilment in the eternal salvation of the person baptized. As Baptism makes the Church the Mother, just as it makes the baptized individual (biologically adult or infant) a child, provision and preparation should be made for the spiritual education, protection and nourishment of the baptized individual. In this regard godparents and sponsors have an important spiritual role to play as the individuals particularly responsible for ensuring that the Church’s responsibility as Mother is fulfilled.
In a particularly challenging passage, Schmemann laments the fact that many have fallen into dangerous errors by focusing upon the ‘validity’ of the sacraments to the exclusion of the ‘fulfilment’ of them. He points out that Stalin was probably validly baptized, but his baptism was never fulfilled. He argues that the spiritual dangers of the widespread tendency to understand the sacraments ‘somewhat “magically”’ has blinded people to the fact that the Church does not separate the ‘validity’ of the sacraments from their ‘fullness’ and ‘perfection’.
…to reduce sacraments to the principle of “validity” only is to make a caricature of Christ’s teaching. For Christ came into this world not that we may perform “valid” sacraments; He gave us valid sacraments so that we may fulfill ourselves as children of light and witnesses of His Kingdom.The Church must recognize that Baptism is the ‘beginning of a process in which the whole community, but especially the pastor, is to have a decisive part.’ As the Mother, the Church bears the responsibility for the healthy growth of the baptized individual in true godliness. I believe that this is a salutary warning to many churches that have abandoned the need for pastoral care for the individuals that are baptized into the Church. Many churches baptize individuals freely and then leave these children exposed on the hillsides of the world to be torn apart by wolves.
Faith and Baptism
Schmemann argues that belief in Christ necessarily involves, not only acknowledging and receiving from Him, but giving ourselves to Him. This involves accepting ‘His faith as our faith, His love as our love, His desire as our desire.’ The first fruit of faith is its desire for death and resurrection and a ‘radical liberation from “this world”.’ Faith is no mere ‘ideology’; it is the desire for death and resurrection with Christ. ‘It is faith that desires Baptism.’
Faith, by being desire, makes the sacrament possible, for without faith it would have been “magic”—a totally extrinsic and arbitrary act destroying man’s freedom. But only God, by responding to faith, fulfills this “possibility,” makes it truly that which faith desires: dying with Christ, rising again with Him.Schmemann recognizes that his reader will be wondering about the place that he gives infant Baptism at this point. However, he shows that that the perceived problem would have ramifications for adult Baptism also.
If what we have just said about faith and desire were understood as implying that the reality and efficacy of Baptism depends on personal faith, is contingent upon the conscious desire of the individual, then the “validity” of each Baptism, be it infant or adult, should be questioned.Schmemann has a powerful response to this objection. He points out that the Orthodox Church has ‘remained alien’ to the Western debate on adult versus infant Baptism precisely because in the Orthodox Church the reduction of faith to ‘“personal faith” alone which made that debate inevitable.’ He argues that the faith that is essential to the sacrament is not our faith but Christ’s faith.
There is a difference—not only in degree but also in essence—between the faith which converts an unbeliever or a non-Christian to Christ, and the faith which constitutes the very life of the Church and of her members and which St. Paul defines as having in us Christ’s mind, i.e. His faith, His love, His desire. Both are gifts of God. But the former is a response to God’s call while the latter is the very reality of that to which the call summons.The faith by which the Church lives is Christ’s perfect faith in her. As Schmemann observes, Christ is not only the “object” of the Church’s faith, He is the “subject” of her entire life.
Once this has been appreciated we know why Baptism cannot rely for its reality upon our personal faith, however mature this faith may be. Our personal faith merely brings us to the Church where we receive the fulfilment of this faith—Christ’s faith. Baptism is the gift of Christ’s faith, the action in which we ‘put on Christ’. In Baptism ‘we receive His life as our life and thus His faith, His love and His desire as the very “content” of our life.’ The Church is the place where faith reaches its fulfilment as true participation in the life of Christ. It is the Church as Christ’s faith and life that makes Baptism what it is.
The new life which Baptism gives is only fulfilled in the Church. ‘…although [Baptism] is bestowed on a person, Baptism has the Church as its reality and fulfillment.’ Consequently, the Church will only baptize ‘those whose belonging to her is explicit and can be ascertained.’ In the case of the adult convert this is seen in personal faith and confession; in the case of the infant it is the ‘promise and confession’ of the members of the Church ‘who have the power to offer their child to God and to be responsible for his growth in the “newness of life.”’
In all of this it is always recognized that it is the Church that baptizes. The Church does not merely 'admit new-born children' to Baptism, she 'requests that they be baptized.' I believe that the significance of this fact is frequently overlooked.
I greatly appreciate Schmemann’s approach to this question. I feel that he highlights things that are commonly ignored. He does us all a great service by attacking the “magical” view of the sacraments. However, by refusing to replace this with a minimalistic view of Baptism, he does not allow the divine grace in Baptism to be denied. Baptism need not be “magical” to be efficacious.
The denial of Baptism to infants is often related to two particular errors. The first of these errors is the belief that Baptism doesn’t do anything. However, if the Church is the life of Christ—the salvation life that transcends individualism—then being made part of this life by Baptism is an event charged with deep significance.
The second of these errors is a view of Baptism that views it merely as a sign to the individual baptized. By drawing our attention to the parental responsibility of the Church in the spiritual care and nourishment of the individual baptized—infant or adult—Schmemann shows us that Baptism has far more than merely individual import.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Rev. Michael J. Pahls, The Eucharist: A Theopraxis of Resistance to McDonaldization of Culture
The Meaning of the Sacraments
There is much to be said for this manner of treating the sacraments. There are a number of dangerous errors that Western theology has adopted. One of these is found in bare memorialism. Western theology often can view the sacraments merely as pointers to theological truths and realities that lie elsewhere, as mere nominal 'illustrations'. The sacraments are the divine flannel-graphs that point beyond themselves to ethereal theological facts. They are appendages to the preached Word. There are a few key implications of this belief. The first implication is that the meaning is not in the doing, but lies elsewhere. The second implication is that if the sacraments are mysteries then they cannot adequately point beyond themselves.
I am reminded of John Robbin’s statements:—
…for the food adds nothing to the message; the only purpose of the food is to remind us of the message; and one cannot even understand the eating and drinking without the message. It is this longing for ritual rather than message, for eating rather than hearing, that is the danger.The meal reminds us of the message and cannot add anything to it, for the meal is not the reality, it is just a signpost that points us to the signpost of the message that points us to the reality. The meaning lies elsewhere.
For such people as Robbins the Supper is intended primarily to confirm ideas in, and convey ideas to, our minds (needless to say, this results in a very individualistic mode of partaking). Nothing happens in the Supper. If the Supper is seen as a mystery then its whole purpose is undermined. The Supper can only be a mystery if in some way it embodies, effects or is the reality that it symbolizes. Clearly such a concept is out of the question for Robbins. The Supper, if it is to have meaning, must inform our minds. The efficacy of the Supper is wholly contingent on our understanding.
However, in celebrating the Eucharist, the Church, not a mere collection of individuals, memorializes the death of Jesus Christ. It memorializes the death of Christ by doing the action, not by thinking about or even fully understanding the action. The meaning of the action, is found in ‘doing’ the Eucharist. It is certainly important to think about and try to understand what we are doing. However, the ‘meaning’ and efficacy of what we are doing is not found here. The reality and efficacy of the Eucharist is not contingent upon our individual faith, knowledge or understanding.
None of us will ever fully understand the meaning of Baptism or the Eucharist, but in celebrating them as Jesus instructed us they will be effective and fulfill their aim. The most important thing is doing them right. As we ‘do the sacraments right,’ we will begin to understand them right. Unfortunately in many circles the doing has been eclipsed by the thinking. Having thought that the Eucharist means something particular, the mode in which it is celebrated has been reconfigured. In evangelical churches this takes the form of introspectic individualism.
Nevertheless, whether we understand why or not, it is imperative that we do the sacraments right. Only if we do so will the sacraments ‘work’. Flannel-graphs are to be looked at; sacraments are to be done. Let us never confuse the two.
This leads on to another point. I am convinced that part of our problem is that we start in the wrong place. We begin with an abstract and general definition of a ‘sacrament’ and then subdivide that into two particular sacraments (in Protestant tradition). As Schmemann writes in For the Life of the World:—
The medieval De Sacramentis, however, tends from its very inception to isolate the “sacrament” from its liturgical context, to find and to define in terms as precise as possible its essence, i.e., that which distinguishes it from the “non-sacrament.” Sacrament in a way begins to be opposed to liturgy. It has, of course, its ritual expression, its “signum,” which belongs to its essence, but this sign is viewed now as ontologically different from all other signs, symbols and rites of the Church. And because of this difference, the precise sacramental sign alone is considered, to the exclusion of all other “liturgy,” the proper object of theological attention. One can, for example, read and reread the elaborate treatment given in St. Thomas’ Summa to sacraments without still knowing much about their liturgical celebration.This approach to the sacraments blinds us to the particular role that the sacraments play in relation to each other. If all the sacraments merely confer some sort of generic ‘grace’, then why do we need to listen to the Word when we could simply have our shot of grace by celebrating the Eucharist?
Of course, for many evangelicals and Reformed people, the sacraments (i.e. Baptism and the Supper) are there to draw our attention to the Word. However in this respect some of the sacraments may prove to be positively unhelpful. All the ceremony of baptism and the Lord’s Supper could easily distract our attention from the Word, which they are intended to draw our attention to. Why not just have the Word by itself? In fact it takes so much instruction to disabuse people of the confused ideas that gravitate to the Supper and Baptism that we might well be better off without them!
I feel that Schmemann is on target in his critique. Western theology has led us to believe that the sacraments are only rightly practiced when we have cultivated the ability of being able to look beyond the 'form' of the sacrament to the 'reality' it harbours or points to. This constant desire to peek beneath the surface, to separate that which is ‘accidental’ from that which is ‘essential’, causes us to miss the fact that the most important things are occurring on the surface.
By seeking to understand the sacrament by studying the liturgical practice of the sacrament, I believe that Schmemann’s approach helps us to recognize that the meaning of the sacramental lies in the doing of the sacrament and challenges us to reject any approach that seeks to rob the sacraments of their mystery. The sacraments certainly bring us knowledge. However, it is a knowledge of God as we have communion with Him and not a mere knowledge about Him.
There is not some 'discontinuity' within the sacrament where the 'reality' exists, clothed in the husk of the 'symbols'. Nor are the 'symbols' bare illustrations. Both of these approaches flow from a very deficient view of the relation between 'symbol' and 'reality'. The symbol expresses, communicates, reveals and manifests the reality without losing its own integrity. The reality is known by participating in the symbols, not by trying to peel them away.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Wright speaks of heaven in terms of God's royal presence. When we celebrate the Eucharist we are brought to heaven as we taste of God's future in the present. This is only possible because Jesus as God's personal and eschatological presence has become our past. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist the unique past event of Jesus' death catches up with us and becomes present to us, whilst at the same time representing God's future coming into our history.
At the same time, however, John Calvin in Geneva was working out a theory not too unlike some thinking in the great Churches of the East. What is really taking place is happening in the heavenly realm. We do not bring Jesus Christ down to our table; by the Spirit, we are taken up into heaven, where Jesus Christ reigns in majesty. The real miracle of the Communion, on this view, is not that anything happens to the bread [here I am thinking of some particularly pithy quotes from Richard Hooker; Wright may well be thinking of them too!], but that we are taken into the very heart of heaven, where Christ is at God's right hand.
I find this helpful, but I prefer to think of it in terms of time rather than space. As I have said already, Jesus Christ is the one who comes to us from God's future....
Alexander Schmemann speaks of Easter as a 'sacrament of time'. When we celebrate Easter we are not so much 'commemorating an event' as we are partaking in the 'fulfillment of time itself.' In an important sense 'each Sunday is the day of resurrection and each Eucharist a Pentecost.' Easter should not be seen as a 'holy' day among 'profane' days, for Easter is the fulfillment of time itself. The whole of time is transformed by Easter.
The mystery of natural time, the bondage to winter and release in spring, was fulfilled in the mystery of time as history—the bondage to Egypt and the release into the Promised Land. And the mystery of historical time was transformed into the mystery of eschatological time, of its understanding as passover—the "passage" into the ultimate joy of salvation and redemption, as movement toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom. And when Christ "our Passover" (1 Cor 5:7), performed His passage to the Father, He assumed and fulfilled all these meanings—the whole movement of time in all its dimensions; and on the "last and great day of Pentecost" He inaugurated the new time, the new "eon" of the Spirit.People who continually focus upon thinking of 'heaven' and eternal rest and abandon the 'old natural time' make life 'rush and relaxation' and do not allow for true rest in the presence of God in history, as heaven and earth are sharply separated. Schmemann argues, I believe rightly, that heaven came down to earth at Easter and Pentecost and through the Eucharist we participate in the fulfillment of time in the middle of time itself.
...on the one hand, Sunday remained one of the days ... the first of the week, fully belonging to this world. Yet on the other hand, on that day, through the eucharistic ascension, the Day of the Lord was revealed and manifested in all its glory and transforming power as the end of this world, as the beginning of the world to come.... By remaining one of the ordinary days, and yet by revealing itself through the Eucharist as the eighth and first day, it gave all days their true meaning. It made the time of this world a time of the end, and it made it also the time of the beginning.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Pentecostal Ordination: The Newness of Christian Baptism
Friday, January 23, 2004
Thursday, January 15, 2004
One of the chief problems in addressing such a subject is found in the fact that paedobaptists and Baptists are by no means homogeneous groupings. The practice of infant baptism occurs in varied ecclesiastical contexts, which charge the rite with differing meanings. It is dangerous to seek to iron out these real differences and presume that we are all talking about the same thing. Consequently, this argument will focus on Murray’s understanding of the basis for paedobaptism.
Murray’s Defence of Paedobaptism
The Nature of the Church
At the very heart of baptism, for Murray, is union with Christ.
Baptism is an ordinance instituted by Christ and is the sign and seal of union with him. This is just saying that it is the sign and seal of membership in that body of which Christ is the Head.If baptism is the sign and seal of membership in the church it is important that we understand what the church is. The church, according to Murray, is
…circumscribed by the facts of regeneration and faith, facts which in themselves are spiritual and invisible. For this reason no man or organisation of man is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate and who are not, who are true believers and who are not.Despite this fact, we ought not to think of the church as something wholly invisible. The church is only wholly visible to God, but it is not by this token wholly invisible to men.
Union with Christ and the faith through which that union is effected, though in themselves invisible and spiritual facts, are nevertheless realities which find expression in what is observable.The visibility of the church is a necessary expression of more fundamental invisible realities. Within the very nature of the constituting principle of the church (union with Christ) ‘visible association and organisation’ are implied. The invisible aspect of the church does not exist in abstraction from the visible aspect.
The visible association and organisation of the church are effected by the ‘efficacious and continuous working of the Head of the church through his Word and Spirit, and human agency and responsibility which are exercised in pursuance of Christ’s institution bear the seal of his authorisation and command.’ The government of the visible church is administered by men. As men are fallible, individuals who ‘do not really belong to the church of Christ’ may nonetheless be admitted to the visible church. However, we should be careful to ‘distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world on the other.’ Murray cautions against trying to relieve this tension by revising our definition of the church.
The Meaning of Baptism
Baptism, as the sign of membership in the body of Christ, should never be reduced to a sign of a mere ‘external’ relationship, despite the fact that some unbelievers receive it. The fact that some receive the sign and seal of what they do not in reality possess should be explained by appreciating the ‘discrepancy’ between the secret working of God’s saving grace and the ‘divinely instituted method of administering the covenant in the world.’ Some who receive the sign may only be in an ‘external covenant relationship’, but baptism should never be reduced to merely a sign of such an ‘external’ relationship.
As a sign and seal, baptism should never be identified with that which it signifies and seals, nor does ‘bring into existence that which is signified or sealed.’ It presupposes the existence of the spiritual reality it signs and seals and, where this ‘is absent the sign or seal has no efficacy.’
The efficacy of baptism is as follows. As a sign baptism portrays the reality of the grace of union with Christ to our senses. As a seal baptism is an ‘additional certification’ given to us to assure us of the reality of God’s grace. Baptism’s import is the same in the case of both infants and adults. It is the ‘testimony to and seal upon’ the reality and security of God’s covenant grace. It serves as the pledge that God deals mercifully with those who fear Him and their children, from generation to generation.
It should always be remembered that we can take no comfort in God’s covenant promise apart from covenant faithfulness. Baptism, by presenting us with the covenant promise, spurs us to covenant faithfulness. Baptism is no pledge to us of the grace it signifies in the absence of such faithfulness.
Children in the Covenant
Murray seeks to argue for infant baptism by means of the ‘unity of the covenant of grace’. The New Testament economy is the ‘unfolding and fulfilment’ of the Abrahamic covenant. In the OT order, infants were circumcised as part of the covenant people. Circumcision, Murray argues, was not simply ‘the sign of an external relationship or of merely racial and national identity.’ The covenant ‘embraces external blessings but it does so only insofar as the internal blessing results in external manifestation.’ Murray seeks to demonstrate the ‘basic identity of meaning’ of baptism and circumcision.
The New Covenant, as the ‘unfolding’ of the Abrahamic covenant, cannot be understood to prevent infants from receiving the sign of the covenant. This would represent a narrowing of the scope of grace, rather than an extension. The NT contains no revocation of the principle by which infants are included in the covenant. As baptism and circumcision carry fundamentally the same meaning, the infants of believers should receive it.
Infants are baptized on the ground of God’s commandment that the infant seed of believers should receive the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, not on the grounds of presumptive election or regeneration. Baptized infants are to be ‘received as the children of God and treated accordingly.’ However, this is not the ground on which they are baptized.
The support for infant baptism, Murray maintains, is not limited to the absence of any abolition of the principle whereby the infant children of believers received the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. He sees the principle of ‘representation’ clearly taught within the NT in such places as 1 Corinthians 7:14 and Acts 2:38-39. The practice of household baptism also serves as an illustration of the representative principle. In Ephesians and Colossians, children are addressed as members of the church.
For Murray, these arguments provide the necessary evidence for the divine institution of the practice of infant baptism.
An Analysis of Murray’s Argument
Points of Appreciation
Murray’s understanding of baptism is firmly rooted in his understanding of the church. Furthermore, his understanding of baptism draws no distinction between the import of baptism for the adult or for the infant. This grants his position a consistency that many other arguments on this issue lack.
Murray also seeks to ground his argument in the whole Bible. His covenant theology provides the backbone for his defence of infant baptism. Rather than falling into the trap of limiting the discussion to the NT, as many Baptist arguments do, Murray places the practice of infant baptism against the backdrop of the entire history of the covenant of grace. When perceived this way, infant baptism no longer appears unnatural. It is upon the ground of the unity of the covenant of grace that Murray’s argument is at its strongest.
Murray brings forward important NT texts to prove his case and provides strong answers to the chief objections raised by anti-paedobaptists. He maintains that infant baptism should not be based on the infant’s understanding of its meaning, upon the infant’s intelligent repentance and faith, nor upon presumptive regeneration or election. By these statements Murray seeks to protect the fact that baptism rests for its meaning and security, not on man, but on God. Even when given to someone who lacks the grace signified baptism never loses its God-given meaning. For Murray, baptism derives its import wholly from God and not from man.
The importance of this previous point cannot be undermined; it represents what is probably the most important distinction between Murray’s position and that of many anti-paedobaptists. By making the import of baptism rest to some degree upon the faith, understanding, election or regeneration of the party baptized, many anti-paedobaptists undermine the priority of God’s grace. For someone with Murray’s understanding, baptism can provide a ground for faith as it presents us with God’s grace and covenant promise. It does not throw us back upon ourselves.
Despite the fact that I hold to the validity of paedobaptism and agree with much of Murray’s defence of it, I still have a number of areas of disagreement. If paedobaptism is to make sense, it must provide a distinctive theology of the meaning of baptism. I believe that Murray’s understanding of baptism, and consequently his defence of paedobaptism, is compromised in a number of respects.
In his understanding of baptism and the church Murray frequently employs distinctions and dichotomies that are at best unhelpful, and at worst positively misleading.
Murray frequently distinguishes between the ‘external’ privileges or relationship of the covenant and the ‘internal’ or ‘spiritual’ blessings and relationship of the covenant. This distinction plays a central role at many points of his argument. He seeks to argue that the blessings sealed by circumcision are no less than the spiritual blessings at the heart of the covenant. The problem with this is that the promises attached to circumcision are very ‘physical’ and ‘external’. They are the promises of a physical land and physical seed.
Murray argues from Romans 4:11 and elsewhere that circumcision was the sign and seal of justification by faith. This is certainly the case. However, the righteous status that Abraham received was not some ethereal blessing but the concrete covenant promises of a land and a seed. I believe that N.T. Wright is right to argue that a primary meaning of ‘righteousness’ for Paul was ‘covenant membership’. God declared Abraham righteous by treating him as a friend in covenant. To argue that these physical blessings were somehow ‘un-spiritual’ is to fall into the trap of reading the Bible like most Baptists.
Baptists, like many other moderns, tend to draw a sharp distinction between the inward and outward life. The inward is privileged as somehow being the realm of true ‘meaning’ and ‘reality’. However, although the relationship between a man and a woman is conducted purely in the ‘external’ realm of signs, symbols, language and the physical, it does not follow that this relationship does not reach to the very core of their being. Likewise with the very ‘physical’ and ‘external’ covenant made with Abraham.
It is impossible to draw any hard distinction between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’. As Fergus Kerr observes:
It is established practices, customary reactions and interactions, and so on, that constitute the element in which one’s consciousness is created and sustained: my sense of myself, not to mention the content of my mind and memory, depend essentially on my being with others, my being in touch with others, of my physical and psychological kind.Our relationships are not external things grafted on to our ‘real’ being. We find our true being in communion.
Once this has been recognized, any distinction between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ covenant membership becomes untenable. Even unfaithful covenant members are really covenant members. To the degree that the visible / invisible distinction relies on this previous distinction, it too must be abandoned.
A further problem with Murray’s argument lies in the fact that he buys into the underlying individualism of the Baptists. This compromises his argument as he is unable to demonstrate the fact that every individual is formed within a community. Throughout, justification, regeneration, sanctification and the other principal benefits of salvation are conceived of as purely private realities. Whilst they do have public implications, the realities are internal; that which is external is merely a manifestation of these ‘realities’. If baptism is God’s sign and seal of personal regeneration and justification, ‘where that reality is absent the sign and seal has no efficacy.’ However, if the regeneration and justification signed and sealed by baptism are public facts then much of Murray’s argument falls.
If baptism is the ‘solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church’ and justification and regeneration are public facts then the whole debate is reframed. Baptism solemnly admits us to the saved community. The church is a human community that would not exist apart from its shared practices (of which baptism is one). Baptism makes us part of the community of the church, whether we prove to be faithful in it or not. Baptism ‘ex opere operato’ makes us priests and brings us into a new type of relationship with both God and the world.
Whether we are faithful or not baptism makes us new people. The baptized individual who apostatizes is not the same in the eyes of God as the impenitent and unbaptized individual. Salvation is not some sort of substance; it is a new relationship with God and a life lived as God intended. Baptism brings us into a type of relationship with God and the church that is impossible without it. Whilst individuals can ‘go to heaven when they die’ without being baptized, truly becoming part of the saved community is impossible apart from baptism.
Murray’s individualism also surfaces in his arguments against paedocommunion. His argument against child participation rests upon the assumption that commemoration is something that we must do individually. His claim that communion is ‘the recognition that he [Christ] as our resurrected and living Saviour is present with us’ is also tenuous. If Christ is truly present with us in the Lord’s Supper, why is intellectual recognition of that fact so necessary? The infant can know the loving presence of its mother without being able to intellectual appreciate the nature of their relationship: Can’t communion be known without being intellectually understood?
Family and Church
Murray’s argument, in my opinion, also fails to adequately probe the complex relationship between the family and the church. I do not believe that we can simply import the way that families functioned within the Old Covenant directly into the New Covenant. In the New Covenant marriage and the family have to be taken up into the church in a manner that they did not have to be in the Old Covenant. Marriage and the family find their consummation within the church.
Whilst I agree with Murray that the infants of believers should be baptized into the church, I believe that a more nuanced account of the family’s relationship to the church is necessary. The true Family has now come and earthly families are passing away. Foreigners, eunuchs and others formerly excluded are now being admitted to the Kingdom and being granted the full rights of sons (cf. Isaiah 56). The church is no longer to be divided into separate tribes, as we all find our fullness in the one Seed. The church radically relativizes the commitments we bear to our families (cf. Luke 14:26). For these reasons I feel that Murray goes too far in the direction of simply importing an Old Covenant principle into the New Covenant.
Neglect of Eschatology and Typology
Whilst Murray’s approach to baptism is vastly superior to the approaches taken by most Baptist theologians, he does neglect to adequately deal with the differences between baptism and circumcision. Baptism is not just a ‘sign and seal of the covenant of grace’; it is a sign and seal of the New Covenant. Whilst continuity and unity does exist, Murray fails to adequately account for the development that exists. Redemptive history is downplayed as the emphasis is upon individual experience.
Alongside this problem Murray fails to go into any considerable depth in treating the typology that underlies baptism. He draws the connection between circumcision and baptism, but any treatment of the relationship between baptism and the Red Sea crossing, creation, levitical washings, priestly ordinations, childbirth and many other such things is decidedly limited. Although such typology may have some place within his discussion of the mode of baptism, they have little place in his discussion of the meaning of baptism.
Symbol and Reality
Underlying much of Murray’s treatment of baptism is a sharp division between symbol and reality. This is closely related to the internal / external dichotomy mentioned above. However, when we recognize that our lives are lived out in the realm of language, symbols and signs we will be more cautious about separating symbol and reality. Baptism has to do with the covenant, grace and salvation. ‘Covenant’, ‘grace’ and ‘salvation’ all have to do with a relationship, not a bare state of ‘being’ apart from relationship. All human relationships must exist within the realm of language, signs and symbols (e.g. hugs, kisses, flowers, poetry, etc.) if they are to be relationships. Such symbols are the sine qua non of the relationships in which they exist. We do not have to look beyond them to find the ‘reality’ of a relationship — they are the relationship. Likewise with baptism. Baptism accomplishes the grace it symbolizes, just as the symbolism of a marriage ceremony accomplishes the marriage of a man and a woman.
In conclusion, I believe that Murray’s argument for paedobaptism is severely flawed. He fails to reject many of the principles that underlie the Baptist arguments against paedobaptism and leaves himself open to charges of inconsistency in a number of places, not least in his failure to advocate paedocommunion. However, although Murray’s argument is flawed, it is an improvement upon the Baptist position and can be built upon as we seek to develop a more consistent defence.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
I had little time in which to prepare the first talk, so much of it is merely a summary of arguments James Torrance puts forward in Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. Having read this book recently and found it to be a very helpful treatment of certain areas of the biblical doctrine of worship, I felt that it was helpful to take it as the basis for the first study.
At the very outset of a series of studies on worship it is important that we understand why worship is such an important issue. Many people answer this question by drawing our attention to the fact that God has commanded worship. However, I feel that such an answer may fail to adequately account for the great significance of worship.
Worship finds its significance in a number of areas. Man was created to be a worshipping being — to find his true life in worship. Man is at his most human in worship. At its very heart sin is a failure of worship. We see this in Romans 1. As N.T. Wright observes—
The underlying logic seems to be as follows. Those who worship the true God are, as Paul says elsewhere, renewed according to the divine image (Col. 3:10). When this worship is exchanged for the worship of other gods, the result will be that this humanness, this image-bearing quality, is correspondingly distorted.If all of this is true, worship can never be an issue of marginal concern. Worship must lie at the very heart of our salvation. Salvation involves a restoration of man as a worshipping being. Man must once again find his true being in worship.
Worship is the most important thing that we engage in. However, many people think that the concerns of worship and liturgy are merely incidental to the real issue of importance, constructing a good systematic theology. Rather than developing our theology out of our experience of worship, our worship becomes the appendix to our theology.
However, in the worship of many churches there is little sense of a dialogue between heaven and earth — worship is mundane and dull. The thing that matters most is the impartation of doctrinal truth in the sermon. Our ‘worship’ is understood as the things that we do around the sermon. These can become little more than ‘fillers’. In the course of this initial study on worship I would like to identify some of the causes of some of the problems that can afflict our churches in this area.
Our study of worship must begin with God Himself. We worship God for His own self and not as a means to some other end. The worship of God is what gives meaning to all else. The worship of God flows from the worth of God; our worship is an expression of our recognition of God’s worth.
We must worship the Triune God. God, in His essential being, is Trinitarian. The Trinity lies at the very heart of the Christian faith and the Trinity must always be central to Christian worship. It is a sign of the desperate condition of the evangelical church that, when we talk about God, people do not immediately think of the Trinity. For many people the Trinity is not the heart of the Christian life and faith; it is little more than a mere doctrine. If we are to recover true worship we must recover the centrality of the Trinity.
As Protestants, our distinctions over against Roman Catholics do not lie in our belief in the Trinity. I believe that the Trinity has gradually been sidelined in our understanding as we have focused more and more upon the beliefs that distinguish us from the other branches of the Christian church, particularly Roman Catholics. I am convinced that the confession of the Trinity, rather than the confession of justification by faith alone, lies at the very centre of the Christian faith. To the degree that we sideline the Trinity, we compromise our faith at its very core.
If in our worship we fail to start with the doctrine of the Trinity and all that it entails, we will end up starting with ourselves. Worship will become human-centred, focused upon what we do. We may have God’s help and Jesus’ example, but ultimately worship will be centred upon our actions. As we have failed to start with the Trinity in our worship we have gradually adopted a Unitarian form of worship. A Unitarian approach causes worship to focus almost exclusively on our response, our faith and our decisions. This form of worship throws us back upon ourselves.
A Trinitarian approach to worship views worship primarily as a gift from God, rather than as something we do or initiate.
As we have downplayed the Trinity certain other things have been downplayed. For example, if the Trinity does not play a central role within our faith the Incarnation will be little more than the means by which Christ was to get to the cross. The Person of Christ will not function as it should within our theology, becoming little more than a means to a supposedly more important end (e.g. propitiatory atonement). However, in the light of the Trinity it is an event of inexhaustible significance in itself: the Second Person of the Trinity has assumed human nature. By His obedience unto death Jesus Christ raises up humanity to renewed fellowship with God. Our doctrine of worship must start with the Incarnation and the Trinity.
At the centre of the biblical understanding of salvation lies union with Christ. Worship is the gift of participating, through the Spirit, in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. Every aspect of our worship must be understood as a participation in His worship. Our worship can never start with who we are in ourselves; it must start with who we are in Christ.
There are three key unions that must inform our understanding of salvation. First there is the union between the Father, the Son and the Spirit in the Trinity. Second there is the union between Christ’s divine and human natures in the Incarnation. Third there is the union that is established between Christ and those ‘in Him’ by the Spirit. As a result of the second and the third unions, we are raised up to participate in the first union.
Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate, the One who lives in full communion with the Father and the Spirit. The relationships within the Trinity are characterized by mutual love, self-giving, testifying and glorifying. Any reader of John’s gospel will be struck by the fact that the Father and the Spirit are involved at virtually every key juncture in Christ’s ministry. The ministry of Christ can never be properly understood unless we see in it the ministry of each Person of the Trinity. In Christ we share in His relationships with the other Persons of the Trinity. John 15-17 is one of the fullest expositions of the import of this truth. We are loved with the love with which God the Father loves His Son (17:26).
If we remove our eyes from Christ we will ultimately focus upon ourselves in worship. We will seek to raise ourselves up to communion, rather than being raised by Him.
A High Priest
In the Scriptures we see that the High Priest had the task of representing the people in the presence of God and removing the obstacles that stood in the way of fellowship with God. If our worship does not start with the priesthood of Christ it will start with our own priesthood. We will seek to enter into God’s presence on the basis of our own work.
The NT teaches us that Jesus is our High Priest. He represents us before God, brings us into His presence and leads us in our worship. Man is unable to worship God as he ought, but in the Man Christ Jesus we have one who worships for us perfectly. Jesus lived, died and rose again as the perfect Worshipper so that through Him the true worshippers might come (John 4:23). Just as Christ is the true vine, the true light and the true bread from heaven, so He is the One who prepares the true worshippers. Through and in Him we are equipped to worship God in Spirit and in truth. We must participate in His perfect worship.
Many evangelicals pay great attention to the importance of God’s movement towards mankind in Christ. However, we are then thrown back upon our own faith and worship for the proper response. We are the ones who must give the appropriate worship, the appropriate faith and all these other things.
The biblical solution to this problem is found in recognizing the movement of mankind towards God in Christ. In Christ we do not merely see the movement of God towards man; we also see the perfect movement of man towards God. Salvation is all about participating in this perfect response. In passing it may be commented that this is one of the great gains of the subjective genitive reading of pistis Iesou Christou: our attention is drawn to the perfect nature of the Godward movement of man in Jesus Christ. Christ is the true Man of faith; Christ is the true worshipper. As we have lost sight of these truths we have become obsessed with our own faith and our own experience. It should not surprise us that assurance has been lost as a result.
If our worship centres upon Christ’s worship rather than our own autonomous worship we will focus upon participating in Christ’s worship rather than relying upon our own worship to please God apart from Christ. It should be noticed that what I am teaching here is nothing less than the biblical truth of justification by faith alone, a truth that we need to rediscover in our worship.
The entirety of our worship must be centred upon Christ:—
The preached Word is not merely the words of men. In the preached Word Christ Himself addresses the Church (Romans 10:14; Ephesians 2:17; Luke 10:16). By this means we are deepened in our relationship with Christ. Not only does preaching deepen our relationship with Christ, however. In the preached Word we are permitted to participate in Christ’s testifying relationship to the Father. Each of the Persons of the Trinity testifies to the other Persons. By union with Christ in our preaching we join Him in bearing testimony to the Father and Spirit.
In our singing we must remember that Christ is the One who leads us. Christ stands in the midst of the congregation singing praise to God (Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12). As Peter Leithart observes with regard to 2 Chronicles 7:6, King David (even though dead for two decades) is seen as worshipping through the ministration of the Levites. Leithart draws the biblical connection between David and Christ: just as the Levites’ praise was the king’s song to his Father in David’s case, so it is with Christ. As we praise God, God’s anointed Messiah is offering His praise through us.
In the sacrament of baptism a similar thing can be observed. Baptism is not about my faith; it is about Christ’s faithfulness at the cross. In baptism we are united with Christ in His death, so that we may be united with Him in His resurrection.
Again, the Lord’s Supper is not about feeding on my subjective experience; it is about feeding on Christ. In the Lord’s Supper we offer ourselves to God in Christ and receive communion with Christ in return.
In prayer we pray through Christ in the Spirit. Christ is the perfect Man of prayer (e.g. Hebrews 5:7). We become men and women of prayer in Him. Through Christ our prayers are acceptable to God as we pray in the Spirit (e.g. Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 7:25).
The Importance of the Church
The church is not to be reduced to a group of people with a common experience; the church is the royal priesthood that shares in the priesthood of Christ. If we lose sight of our participation in the worship of Christ our worship will become mundane and legalistic. However, if we understand our worship as a gracious gift by which we are permitted to participate in the life of the Trinity our worship will be empowered by liberating power.
Our view of God will generally be reflected in our view of man and vice versa. In our worship we are at our most human. Mankind was created in the image of God. Our worship must therefore be a reflection of who God is. Many evangelicals have placed the individual’s quiet time as the most important act of worship. Underlying this view is a failure to recognize that God is being as communion. The counterpart of an individualistic approach to worship is Unitarianism.
Man was never designed to find fulfilment as an individual. A merely individual salvation is not really a salvation at all. God intended man to find his true being in communion with God and others. The Church is not a mere ‘Christian club’. True worship and salvation can only normally exist within the context of the Church. Man can only become truly human again within the worshipping community. In the Bible the formation of the Church is the central purpose of God’s salvation.
It is my fear that we have gradually lost sight of the Trinity and centrality of Christ in our worship. As this has occurred the joy of our worship has been lost. Worship has been a tedious ‘work’, rather than a gift of grace. Only by recovering the centrality of the Trinity can we begin to recapture something of the glorious nature of true worship.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Moreover, if the res of the Eucharist is the totus Christus, and if the goal of the sacraments is to unify the church in Christ, then contemplating the meal (assuming that contemplation is what one is supposed to do with food) does not bring some other underlying thing to mind: What is sensibly apparent in the Eucharist is what is brought to mind, and this, in turn, is what is accomplished — the unity of the body.An excellent book, expect some sort of review soon.