Monday, October 27, 2003
I will take three or four of the Calvin passages that Lee quotes or alludes to and study whether Calvin has been misrepresented. The first passage is the following:—
However, Calvin writes on Acts 2:42:—
Dr. John Calvin’s Commentary on Acts clearly comes down against such a sacramentalistic and frequentative misinterpretation of Acts 2:42-46. Explains Calvin: “Some think that ‘breaking of bread’ [at Acts 2:42-46] means the Lord’s Supper; others that it refers to alms; others again that the faithful had their meals together....
Some think that ‘koinoonia’ [here] is the celebration of the Holy Supper.... Some think that in this passage ‘the breaking of bread’ means the Holy Supper.... This seems to me far removed from Luke’s meaning. He indicates to us [by the words ‘breaking bread at home’ (in Acts 2:46)] that they used to eat together [cf. I Cor. 11:20abc & 11:22ab] — and to do so frugally [cf. I Cor. 11:21abc & 11:22cdef].”
As touching prayer and doctrine the sense is plain. Communication or fellowship, and breaking of bread, may be taken diversely. Some think that breaking of bread doth signify the Lord’s Supper; other some do think that it signifieth alms; other some that the faithful did banquet together among themselves. Some do think that koinōnia, doth signify the celebrating of the Holy Supper; but I do rather agree to those others who think that the same is meant by the breaking of bread. For koinōnia, unless it have somewhat added unto it, is never found in this sense; therefore, I do rather refer it unto mutual society and fellowship, unto alms, and unto other duties of brotherly fellowship. And my reason why I would rather have breaking of bread to be understood of the Lord’s Supper in this place is this, because Luke doth reckon up those things wherein the public estate of the Church is contained. Yea, he expresseth in this place four marks whereby the true and natural face of the Church may be judged.Lee’s reading of Calvin is probably taken from Acts 2:46, where Calvin writes concerning ‘the breaking of bread’:—
For whereas some do think that in this place, by breaking of bread is meant the Holy Supper, it seemeth to me that Luke meant no such thing. He signifieth, therefore, unto us, that they used to eat together, and that thriftily.Rev. Grover Gunn, who Lee is criticizing, also distinguishes between two meanings for the ‘breaking of bread’ in Acts 2:42-46. Lee’s quotation from Calvin fails to alert the reader to the fact that between the sentence starting: “Some think that ‘koinoonia’…” and the sentence starting: “Some think that in this passage ‘the breaking of bread’…” there are over three verses worth of commentary. Lee doesn’t even start a new paragraph! Lee’s argument rests heavily on the connection between these two statements. However, as the first quote I gave from Calvin illustrates, Calvin actually agreed with those who claimed that the ‘breaking of bread’ in Acts 2:42 referred to the Lord’s Supper (see also Institutes IV.xvii.43).
Lee goes on to imply that Calvin’s interpretation of Acts 20:7 supports the practice of seasonal communion. Anyone who reads Calvin’s comments on this passage will immediately see that they cannot support this position. Calvin does not argue that there was a particular season on which they chose to celebrate Supper (as Lee seems to imply). Calvin questions whether the Supper was celebrated on the Sabbath or on the following day and suggests that the time of the Supper was chosen so that it might be ‘commodious for them all’. Calvin believes that the day chosen was a solemn and important one. He does not use this passage to argue for weekly communion in his Acts commentary. However, it impossible to argue on the basis of Calvin’s statements that he would oppose the practice of the Lord’s Supper on other occasions. Calvin’s comments may not argue against a seasonal communion position, but they certainly cannot be claimed to support it.
1 Corinthians 11:20f.
I think that Lee is seeing things that aren’t actually in the text. Paul is not arguing that the Supper should take place less frequently. Lee goes on:—
We have seen that the Trojan Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Acts 20:7-11 — between Acts 20:6’s “days of Unleavened Bread” at Easter, and Acts 20:16’s “day of Pentecost” fifty days thereafter. Compare Acts 1:3—2:1, and Acts 12:3-4. We also find precisely the same in I Cor. 11:20f — between I Cor. 5:6-8’s Easter Passover, and I Cor. 16:8’s Pentecost (fifty days later).
There, Paul rebukes the careless Corinthian Christians for their abuse of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He reprimands them for commingling it with the ‘love feast’…
Notice that Calvin is not arguing that the Supper is celebrated too frequently. His argument is against the mixing of the love feasts and the Lord’s Supper. Personally I would not agree with Calvin that celebrating love feasts and the Lord’s Supper alongside each other is wrong per se. Ideally, I believe that we would regularly (if not exclusively) celebrate the Lord’s Supper as the climax of a corporate meal. I believe that this was the practice of the early church and that it has biblical warrant.
In his comments on I Cor. 11:20-22 and 11:33, Calvin observes: “Paul now turns to condemn the abuse which had crept into the Corinthians’ observance of the Lord’s Supper — viz., that they were mixing up ordinary banquets with the Feast that is Holy and Spiritual.... Paul condemns the inclusion of common things which have no relation to the Lord’s Supper.” Now “the ‘love-feasts’” were indeed “very ancient.... The origin...lay in the sacrificial rites common to both Jews and Gentiles.”
However, the Lord’s Supper is different. “Paul does not want this Spiritual Feast to be mixed up with ordinary feasts in any way.... How thoroughly dissatisfied the Apostle was with this custom of theirs, of feasting — even if there had never been that abuse which has just been mentioned.... It seems quite acceptable for the whole Church to eat the Lord’s Supper at one Common Table.
Yet, on the other hand, it is definitely wrong to turn the gathering for worship into other practices that are quite foreign to its nature.... Each person has a home of his own which is intended for him to eat in and drink in. It is therefore improper to do these things, in the gathering for worship.... In the Lord’s Supper..., each person may not celebrate his supper on his own.... This Sacrament should not be mixed up with ordinary feasts.”
Besides all of these comments, let me quote from Calvin’s Institutes IV.xvii.44:—
…it became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper, and almsgiving. That this was the established order among the Corinthians also, we can safely infer from Paul [cf. 1 Cor. 11:20].It is very clear where Calvin stands.
A development in Calvin’s thought?
Lee argues that Calvin’s thought developed on the question of the frequency of communion. Whilst developments in the thought of John Calvin’s Eucharistic thought might have failed to receive the attention that they deserve, Lee’s argument that Calvin changed his position on the frequency of the Lord’s Supper is totally untenable. Lee writes:—
From 1540 onward, Calvin’s mature views tend toward even more care and greater infrequency in manducating at Holy Communion. Thus, in a March 1540 letter to his friend Rev. Dr. Guillaume Farel, Calvin wrote: “On Easter-day..., I gave out the intimation that we were to celebrate the Supper on next Lord’s day [Acts 20:6-11 & I Cor. 5:6-8 & 11:20-32].... I announced at the same time that no one would be admitted to the Table of the Lord by me, who had not beforehand presented himself for examination.”It is clear to anyone who has read Calvin carefully that he was dissatisfied with the infrequency with which many of the churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It is impossible to argue from the practice of the churches in which Calvin ministered to his personal theology regarding the frequency of the Supper. Lee writes again:—
…in his 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances, one finds him declaring: “The Supper was instituted by our Lord for our frequent use.... We have decided and ordered that it should be administered four times a year [Gen. 1:14; 8:20-22; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-26; Lev. 23:14-37; Dt. 16:16] — namely at Christmas [in the Winter]; Easter [in Spring]; Whitsun [or Pentecost, in the Summer]; and on the first Sunday of September in Autumn [or the Fall].”Calvin is not here arguing for seasonal communion as a rule, but as a concession, as can be seen from passages in his earlier writings, for example, this from his articles concerning the organization of the Church and the worship in Geneva in 1537:—
It would be well to require that the Communion of the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be held every Sunday at least as a rule…. In fact, it was not instituted by Jesus for making a commemoration two or three times a year, but for a frequent exercise of our faith and charity, of which the congregation of Christians should make use as often as they be assembled, as we find written in Acts ch. 2, that the disciples of our Lord continued in the breaking of bread, which is the ordinance of the Supper. Such also was the practice of the ancient Church, until the abomination of the mass was introduced… But because the frailty of the people is still so great, there is danger that this sacred and so excellent mystery be misunderstood if it be celebrated so often. In view of this, it seemed good to us, while hoping that the people who are still so infirm will be the more strengthened, that use be made of this sacred Supper once a month in one of three places where now preaching takes place…Calvin’s demand for monthly communion was refused by the Council of Ministers, in favour of continuing the quarterly practice. In 1541, Calvin reasserts his demand for more regular communion. Lee is working from the version of the document that resulted from its passage through the Councils. However, the original draft reads:—
I think that this amounts to more than four celebrations of the Lord’s Supper per year. Even if it did not, it must still be recognized that Calvin was not able to implement all of the reforms he might have wished to implement. Furthermore, even if he had been, it would not necessarily have been expedient. Lee continues:—
Since the Supper was instituted for us by our Lord to be frequently used, and also was so observed in the ancient Church until the devil turned everything upside down, erecting the mass in its place, it is a fault in need of correction, to celebrate it so seldom.
Hence it will be proper that it be always administered in the city once a month, in such a way that every three months it takes place in each parish. Besides, it should take place three times a year generally, that is to say at Easter, Pentecost and Christmas, in such a way that it be not repeated in the parish in the month when it should take place by turn.
Within this very letter Calvin makes clear that he has not changed any of the practices as they first existed in Geneva:—
…in 1555, Calvin wrote to the Ministers of Berne. It is true that Calvin there then goes on to advocate “a more frequent use” of Holy Communion. But once again, he did this in over-reaction to the Romish practice at that time — when her adherents usually partook of her idolatrous Mass “but once or twice a year.”
Yet even then in 1555, Calvin’s consistent conclusion is again clear: “We celebrate the Lord’s Supper four times a year.” This once again very clearly underscores the principle of quarterly or ‘Seasonal Communion’ — as indeed first presupposed at: Gen. 1:14; 4:3-4; 8:20-22; Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16; Lk. 2:41; John 5:1; 10:22f (cf. I Macc. 4:52f); Acts 14:15-18; 15:18-21; 18:21; 20:6-16; I Cor. 5:6-8; 11:20-33; 16:8; etc.
Respecting ceremonies, because they are things indifferent, the churches have a certain latitude of diversity. And when one has well weighed the matter, it may be sometimes considered useful not to have too rigid a uniformity respecting them, in order to show that faith and christianity do not consist in that. Nevertheless those who have informed you that, from curiosity or other motives, I have introduced a new mode, have not made a correct statement. My brother Master William Farel is present here, who can moreover bear witness, that before my arrival at Geneva, the manner of celebrating the Lord’s supper, baptism, marriage, and the festivals, was such as it is at present, without my having changed any thing. So that it is impossible on these points to attribute to me any thing that has originated with me.Calvin goes on to write:—
In one thing we differ, but the difference is not an innovation. We celebrate the Lord’s supper four times a year, and you thrice. Now would to God, messeigneurs, that both you and we had a more frequent use of it. For we see in the Acts of the Apostles by Saint Luke that in the primitive church they communicated much oftener. And that custom continued in the ancient church during a long space of time, till the abomination of the mass was devised by Satan, and was the cause why people communicated but once or twice a year. Wherefore we must confess that it is a defect in us not to follow the example of the Apostles.I would be interested to know where Lee thinks that Calvin might have got his ideas concerning frequent communion in Acts from, if not from Acts 2:42-46 or Acts 20:7. Calvin is clearly dissatisfied with the existing practice at Geneva and elsewhere and wishes for reformation of the practice. However, he was limited by a number of different factors.
In conclusion, I would argue that Lee has badly misrepresented Calvin. He has failed to distinguish between what Calvin thought expedient for the church in the initial stage after the Reformation and what Calvin thought the church should aim for. He has failed to recognize that Calvin faced strong opposition to more frequent celebrations of the Eucharist in Geneva. He has failed to read many passages in their entirety and has given us quotations wrenched from explicating contexts. He has also failed to take into account clear statements such as this, from the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Insitutes:—
Now, to get rid of this great pile of ceremonies, the Supper could have been administered most becomingly if it were set before the church very often, and at least once a week (IV.xvii.43).May we strive to follow Calvin’s counsel.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Nevin’s view of the Lord’s Supper is one of the great antidotes to the rationalism that has infected so many people’s understanding of the sacrament. In Nevin’s theology the theanthropic life of Christ is made present in the sacraments. He strongly opposed sacramental ‘occasionalism’ which maintains that the bestowal of the grace and the sign are merely ‘synchronized’ as the two realities involved are unable to truly interact.
To protect the Reformed doctrine, Nevin drew attention to the Incarnation. In the Incarnation we see human and divine natures joined together in one common life—the theanthropic life of Christ. For Nevin ‘life’ was commensurate with ‘personality’. Nevin does not collapse the human and divine natures of Christ together into one, but emphasizes the organic union of the two. The unity of Christ’s person does not result in a confusion of His natures. However, Christ’s theanthropic life is mediated to us through participation in His humanity. Christ’s glorified humanity is “the door through which our humanity passes into union with His divinity.” Charles Hodge denied that we became participators of Christ’s human body, nature or life (he also denied that the Reformed church had ever held this).
In the sacraments something analogous to the Incarnation takes place. The grace of God comes to us in a sacramental union with the elements. The integrity of the common elements is not destroyed, but the elements are sanctified. Whilst we distinguish between the sign and the thing signified, we do not separate them.
In the memorialist understanding, the signs point only to the subjective memory of Christ’s work (the ‘nominal essence’, which is hopefully connected to the ‘real essence’—the grace revealed historically in Christ), rather than forming a true sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified and bringing us into contact with the ‘real essence’ of Christ Himself. The purpose of the sacrament is merely to evoke a deeper devotion and affection towards Christ. The primary reference of the sacrament is the participating individual’s idea of the objective historical work of Christ. Any benefit that may be received from the sacrament depends wholly upon the state of mind of the recipient. Any efficacy that the sacrament may possess is thereby made to rely upon the rationality of the recipient. The rationalism of the sacrament soon falls into mere subjectivism.
Nevin opposed this for a number of reasons, not least because he saw that it was built upon a Nestorian severing of Christ’s natures. Whilst Hodge and others emphasized the separation between ‘humanity and divinity, body and soul, matter and life, form and substance’, Nevin maintained the reality of organic union. The dualism inherent in the theology and philosophy of such as Hodge is revealed in such separations as ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ church. Nevin contended that if the sacrament was merely subjective the church would never be more than a human society as a true organic union between that which is natural and that which is spiritual and gracious has been ruled out as impossible. The best that can be hoped for is a mere external union. The union that Nevin maintained is no mere external synchronization (occasionalism), but is a genuine (internal) union. Grace and nature are married in the sacrament and grace is thereby mediated through the natural elements.
Those who agree with Nevin’s position may well wonder how we should participate in the Supper in the light of this. DiPuccio goes on to describe the content of an article “Christian Life Deeper than Conscious Experience” written by one of Nevin’s colleagues (and a former student), Thomas G. Apple.
Contemporary American pietism (that is, revivalism), according to Apple, shifts the ground of certainty from the idea of objective faith as held by the Reformers (that is, connecting the testimony of the Spirit to the word and sacrament), to feeling and subjective experience. Much of this problem stems from Locke’s philosophy which holds that all knowledge comes only by experience. It denies the distinction between essential nature or life on the one hand, and experience on the other. By teaching that the soul is a tabula rasa, Locke set aside the idea of an objective human nature which lies at the foundation of personal life. Hence, the only reality is individual experience.This paragraph is pregnant with important applications. Apart from its import for the issue of assurance, it also can explain the way in which the Lord’s Supper has ceased to be ‘communion’. DiPuccio continues,
Apple uses the examples of infant baptism and the Incarnation to illustrate his point. In both cases God works in the depths of the soul, apart from the consciousness of the infant.
If this is true, then we must ultimately reject the organic unity of the race as well as the Christian belief that a nature deeper than the individual is fallen. Having done this, we are also forced to repudiate the objective constitution of Christianity itself along with the objective side of the Christian life (that is, the redemption of human nature rather than merely the individual)….
In contrast to this, [Apple] proposes an intuitive psychology which elevates being above human intelligence and experience. The subconscious life is considered the significant, maybe even predominant, portion of our overall life. Since God-consciousness is an intuition of the real presence of the infinite in the human soul (an idea derived from Schleiermacher), the mystery of the new birth penetrates deeper than conscious experience. In this respect it is analogous to natural birth. “Nature is deeper than knowledge. From nature proceeds conscious knowledge and conscious acts.” The fall corrupted the whole of human nature out of which comes evil thoughts and deeds. Hence regeneration, if it is to be redemptive, must be as deep as the effects of the fall.
So, our relationship to the spiritual world holds, for the most part, in the subconscious or unconscious sphere of our life. As Apple tells us, “there are springs of life that are nourished down in the inner depths of the spirit, of which we have no conscious knowledge except in the effect or results in experience.” When we feed upon the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament, the grace conferred is not necessarily connected with a sensation or feeling. One should not mistake spiritual nourishment for religious excitement
[As an aside, the example of the Incarnation is interesting in this respect. N.T. Wright has contended that Christ did not know that He was God in a detached, objective way, but that He knew His identity by means of personal vocation. This has troubled many as they believe that this undermines the reality of the Incarnation. I have become increasingly convinced, however, of the general truth of Wright’s position as the only way to adequately defend the Incarnation. Christ’s knowledge of who He was should not be conceived of as coterminous with His nature. Christ’s objective being formed the foundation of His human experience. Christ was not a blank slate.]
Many have tried to define faith purely in terms of assent to theological propositions. Such men as John Robbins contend that no unbeliever could give genuine assent to the Westminster Confession. Nevin and Apple stand opposed to any such position. What is needed is a “direct contact on the part of the spirit with the realities themselves with which religion is concerned.” Our primary focus should not be upon the subjective apprehension of the realities of the Christian faith, but upon the realities themselves. Faith is not to be defined purely in terms of rational or experiential categories. True faith will always express itself in thought and experience, but its root is far deeper and is not limited to these realms.
Again, the analogy to nature is relevant. Before the child comes to know “the name or meaning of parent,” Apple tells us, “the loving beams of a mother’s eyes, the sunshine of her countenance, the tender tones of her voice, have power to evoke a life of love.” Can it be, he asks, any less with our Heavenly Father?
Apple concludes by suggesting that the “certitude of the believer” according to Reformed theology, “is not exactly a certitude of knowledge, but of faith.” As with justification by faith, the “matter of certitude” is not the subjective state of the believer, but the “objective fact” of his or her salvation wrought by Jesus Christ. The Christian life, therefore, is not dependent on our conscious experience.
At the 2003 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference Dr. Joseph Pipa attacked the idea that the sacraments could be efficacious apart from faith (from the context of the claim he clearly meant 'conscious faith'). His position falls under Nevin’s critique. The benefits of partaking in the Lord’s Supper are not rooted in the conscious realm of the human soul. To claim that that they are is ultimately to undermine the Incarnation itself.
When we partake in the Lord’s Supper our whole being is brought into contact with the realities. The ‘organ’ by which we participate is faith. The realities are by no means dependent upon faith. However, without faith they will profit us nothing. Without faith we are like men without mouths at a banquet. However, we can participate in the realities without consciousness of faith. The realities run deeper than the realm of consciousness. As the Christian life is not limited to the conscious realm, the consciousness that we have of our participation in the realities should not be confused with our actual participation in the realities.