Calvin On Union With Christ, Somehow By Means of Eucharistic Feeding

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the first question. The second question: Does this indwelling in Christ have anything to do with being handed the sacrament? Certainly Calvin thought so.

We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not believe. Calvin, for example, only believed in an union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union with God defined as creatures indwelling the Creator, even though that is left an open possibility in undefined ecumenical discussion.

But Calvin’s anti-rational streak, which cannot explain and refuses to explain, becomes very mystical when it comes to “sacrament”. (See Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

Does the Bible teach that God effects “union with Christ” by means of water, or with bread and wine? NO. I doubt that we will ever get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is about regeneration.

As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it at all) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and then a time gap between that and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God.

To be in Christ in this way is to be justified. Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people (even ourselves) to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Union with Christ is justification. Instead of a “sacrament” which makes you a participant in Christ, our hope as the justified is that God has counted the death of Christ as our death.

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11 Comments on “Calvin On Union With Christ, Somehow By Means of Eucharistic Feeding”

  1. mark Says:

    letter to me: First, I don’t know why you’re talking about temporal or causal factors in relation to faith, election and imputation. I wasn’t asking about that.

    It is not clear to me whether you are holding to McCormack’s view of Calvin or if you are actually looking at Calvin’s texts. It seems like you are moving back and forth between the two as if they are the same, and that is really confusing. I say this because you said imputation is union. However, it doesn’t seem like Calvin holds that union cum Christo is, itself, imputation. To be sure, for Calvin imputation happens simultaneous with union with Christ, yet the two are unique and distinct.

    Mark: thanks for the clarification of your question. I agree with Mccormack (not about his Barthianism) but about his research into Calvin. His verdict is that Calvin thinks the forensic has priority but that Calvin then becomes ambiguous about that when Calvin is talking about “union”. I may not have read as much Calvin as lots of guys, but that conclusion seems right to me. In other words, no, Calvin does not say that the imputation is the union, but to be consistent, he should have said it. That’s what McCormack thinks should be said, and I agree.

    I suspect that you would agree with me that, at the end of the day, it finally doesn’t matter what Calvin or McCormack say, but what is the best way to be systematic about the biblical data. That being said, I am not indifferent about the “standard” order of individual salvation. I take seriously what John Owen says about a proper “impentration” and I do want to avoid eternal justification and the false idea that faith is merely become away that you are already saved.

    The standard view does assume an order. I suppose the standard view would also say it’s only logical and not temporal order. But if the order is regeneration, then faith, then imputation, the language comes out sounding like justification is based on faith alone, and that faith is the condition of the righteousness being effective. Of course I don’t make this a matter of fellowship, because I see that a person can say that it’s the imputed righteousness which causes the faith and still say that the faith comes before the imputation. I don’t agree with that. Not only does it sound odd (the blessing before the imputation), but also it’s unnecessary if we make the point that faith is the immediate consequence of imputation, ie there is no such thing as justification apart from faith.

    Granted, there are a lot of odd things in salvation! It’s odd that God justifies the OT elect before Christ obtained the righteousness. But it would be way more odd to say that Abraham wasn’t justified until after he was dead for years and years!

    I agree that, for Calvin, union is distinct from justification. So what is union? You can give me Calvin’s answer or your answer. What is “in Christ” if it’s not legal and positional, if it’s distinct from the forensic? Second question, is “in Christ” distinct from “Christ in” us? if not distinct, is “union” the indwelling of Christ?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    here’s Calvin on the Lord’s table: Institutes 4:17:5 For there are some who define the eating of the flesh of Christ, and the drinking of his blood, to be, in one word, nothing more than believing in Christ himself. But Christ seems to me to have intended to teach something more express and MORE SUBLIME in that noble discourse, in which he recommends the eating of his flesh—viz. that we are quickened by the true partaking of HIM, which he designated by the terms eating and drinking, lest any one should suppose that the life which we obtain from him is obtained by simple knowledge.

    For as it is not the sight but the eating of bread that gives nourishment to the body, so the soul must partake of Christ truly and thoroughly, that by his energy it may grow up into spiritual life. According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith.

    According to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith. The difference is little in words, but not little in reality. For, although the apostle teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians . 3:17), no one will interpret that dwelling to be faith All see that it explains the admirable effect of faith, because to faith it is owing that believers have Christ dwelling in them.

    In this way, the Lord was pleased, by calling himself the bread of life, not only to teach that our salvation is treasured up in the faith of his death and resurrection, but also, by virtue of true communication with him, his life passes into us and becomes ours, just as bread when taken for food gives nourishment to the body.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    McCormack, p103—Calvin’s motive in organizing book three (first union with Christ, then regeneration, and only then justification) was to take the ground out from beneath Catholic polemic against the Protestant doctrine of justification on the ground that it constituted a ‘legal fiction’. But was his treatment of regeneration prior to justification also not necessitated by his definition of ‘union with Christ’?

    Calvin (3:2:10)–”Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with Him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.”

    McCormack—”The problem with such statements is that one of the ‘gifts’ he speaks of–regeneration–is very difficult to distinguish conceptually from that ‘union’ which is supposed to give rise to both justification AND REGENERATION….His break with Medieval Catholic views was not as clean and complete as he himself obviously thought. For where regeneration is made— if only logically–to be the root of justification, then the work of God in us is once again made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce McCormack—“The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically. (To be sure, it would be difficult to understand, on this view, why the Holy Spirit would be needed as the bond joining us to Christ…)

    “The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–’You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

    “The term ‘ingrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of inclusion in the covenant of grace, which results in a share in all the gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal….

  5. markmcculley Says:

    p110, “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, professor Bruce McCormack, Princeton Theological Seminary

    “I do not participate in the historical humanity of Christ (a thought which would require an unity on the level of ‘substance’. Rather, I participate in the kind of humanity which Jesus embodies. That is why I John 3:2 says that when we see Him as He is, we shall be LIKE him. The individual Christ’s humanity and my own was thought by the early church to be transcended in terms of a Platonic realism which holds that universals are more real than particulars (substance and accidents)…

    “Nowadays, we are suffering from ‘creeping perichoresis’, that is, the overly expansive use of terms which have their homes in purely spiritual relations between humans who do NOT participate in a common ‘substance’ and who therefore remain distinct individuals. This surely has to be the relation of the human believer to the human Jesus as well.

    “What has prevented us from seeing this is, I think, the degree of residual Catholic content in the Reformation understanding of eucharistic feeding. It is in the context of his treatment of eucharistic feeding that Calvin borrows rhetoric from the early church that brings him into conflict with his own doctrine of justification.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin–“The first thing to be explained is how Christ is present with unbelievers, to be the spiritual food of their souls, and in short the life and salvation of the world. As. Hesshusius adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?” Theological Treatises trans. J. K. S. Reid (1954) p. 285.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.etsjets.org/…/50-2/JETS_50-2_311-328_Wenger.pdf

    Calvin– “We must come to this remedy: that believers should be
    convinced that their only ground of hope for the inheritance of a Heavenly Kingdom lies in the fact that, being engrafted in the body of Christ, they are freely accounted righteous. For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack.”

    Wenger—This explanation is especially informative because Calvin utilized the language of union (engrafting) with Christ, but only as a means of further describing the proper distinction between justification and sanctification, rather than a blurring of categories or of their order.

    Bruce McCormack—-“The work of the Holy Spirit does not complete a work of Jesus Christ which was incomplete without it. The work of the Holy Spirit does not make effective a work of Jesus Christ which is ineffective without it.”, p 229, “The Actuality of God, Engaging the Doctrine of God“

    In “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, p 110, McCormack argues for the priority of the legal over the “organic”

    “I do not participate in the historical humanity of Christ ( a thought which would require an unity on the level of ‘substance’. Rather, I participate in the kind of humanity which Jesus embodies… Nowadays, we are suffering from ‘creeping perichoresis’, that is, the overly expansive use of terms which have their homes in purely spiritual relations between humans who do NOT participate in a common ‘substance’ and who therefore remain distinct individuals. This surely has to be the relation of the human believer to the human Jesus as well.

    “What has prevented us from seeing this is, I think, the degree of residual Catholic content in the Reformation understanding of eucharistic feeding. It is in the context of his treatment of eucharistic feeding that Calvin borrows rhetoric from the early church that brings him into conflict with his own doctrine of justification.

    “The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). …The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–‘You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

    “The term ‘ingrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of a share in gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.. Since the gift of the Holy Spirit is itself a consequence of adoption (Romans 8:15) and not the condition of adoption, a legal metaphor is used to describe the objective side of the act in which God turns toward the individual in his grace without respect for the subjective consequences of that turning IN US.

    McCormack—”The problem with such statements is that one of the ‘gifts’ he speaks of–regeneration–is very difficult to distinguish conceptually from that ‘union’ which is supposed to give rise to BOTH justification AND REGENERATION….Calvin’s break with Medieval Catholic views was not as clean and complete as he himself obviously thought. For where regeneration is made— if only logically–to be the root of justification, then the work of God in us is once again made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.”

    • markmcculley Says:

      God’s sovereignty—something happened to me, not my doing

      God’s atonement—something happened for me, but not in me, outside of me, at a distance from me—at another time and in another place

      God’s justification of the elect—Christ’s humanity is not always dying, but the value of His one time death is imputed by God to the elect

      our life does not come from God’s life imparted or infused into us

      our life comes from Christ’s death credited to us

      our life does not come from sacramental medicine or sacramental union

      https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/sacramental-union-and-communion-with-christ

      Bruce McCormack—-“The work of the Holy Spirit does not complete a work of Jesus Christ which was incomplete without it. The work of the Holy Spirit does not make effective a work of Jesus Christ which is ineffective without it.”, p 229, “The Actuality of God, Engaging the Doctrine of God“

      In “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, p 110, McCormack argues for the priority of the legal over the “organic”

      “I do not participate in the historical humanity of Christ ( a thought which would require an unity on the level of ‘substance’. Rather, I participate in the kind of humanity which Jesus embodies… Nowadays, we are suffering from ‘creeping perichoresis’, that is, the overly expansive use of terms which have their homes in purely spiritual relations between humans who do NOT participate in a common ‘substance’ and who therefore remain distinct individuals. This surely has to be the relation of the human believer to the human Jesus as well.

      “What has prevented us from seeing this is, I think, the degree of residual Catholic content in the Reformation understanding of eucharistic feeding. It is in the context of his treatment of eucharistic feeding that Calvin borrows rhetoric from the early church that brings him into conflict with his own doctrine of justification.

      “The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). …The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–‘You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

      “The term ‘engrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of a share in gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.. Since the gift of the Holy Spirit is itself a consequence of adoption (Romans 8:15) and not the condition of adoption, a legal metaphor is used to describe the objective side of the act in which God turns toward the individual in his grace without respect for the subjective consequences of that turning IN US.

      McCormack—”The problem with such statements is that one of the ‘gifts’ he speaks of–regeneration–is very difficult to distinguish conceptually from that ‘union’ which is supposed to give rise to BOTH justification AND REGENERATION….Calvin’s break with Medieval Catholic views was not as clean and complete as he himself obviously thought. For where regeneration is made— if only logically–to be the root of justification, then the work of God in us is once again made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.”

  8. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.lutheranquarterly.com/uploads/7/4/0/1/7401289/steinmetz_memoriam.pdf

    is the human spirit of Jesus “present in the sacrament” like his human spirit was present in heaven when He was dead?

    David Murray;;;Jesus was in heaven for these few days, His human soul still united to His divine nature, rightly being worshipped there for His saving work of suffering and dying for sinners. Yes, that worship is theologically sound and totally appropriate. But was Jesus not also on a cold slab of rock in a Middle Eastern cave? Yes, He was. While His human soul was separated from His body, His divine nature was separated from neither and never will be. His divine nature was as united to His lifeless body on earth as it was to His glorified soul in heaven. That means I can worship Him equally in the grave as in glory

    Belgic Confession, Article 19— “So then what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and his deity never ceased to be in him, just as it was in him when he was a little child, though for a while it did not show itself as such.”

    http://www.christwardcollective.org/christward/was-jesus-still-god-in-the-tomb#.V0YEFZErKM-

    1. Calvin teaches that Jesus was ‘spiritually dead” before He died physically but not “spiritually dead” after his death but alive in heaven as soon as He died and before His physical resurrection.

    2. Like Calvin, I affirm the hypostatic union between Christ’s humanity and divinity. But I do not explain it like Calvin. Was Christ”s deity separated from His human spirit when He “died spiritually”? Was Christ’s deity always present with His human body, both when the body was alive during His spiritual death and also with the dead corpse when Christ finished “dying spiritually” and “lived in heaven” in the days before his physical resurrection?

    3. What happens to the “Calvinist extra” (deity not united to humanity) if Christ’s deity is present in two places, not only with His dead body but also with his “human spirit in heaven”? Why object to Lutheran ideas about the ubiquity of the humanity (by communication of attributes with the deity) once you have agreed to humanity present with deity in two places?

    http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=89

    Calvin rejects the claim that Christ literally descended to the realm of the dead to preach to the saints. Such an idea, he says, “is nothing but a story” containing “childish” elements with no basis in the biblical narrative. According to Calvin, Peter’s claim that Christ “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) should not be interpreted literally.

    mark: But this does NOT mean that Calvin ever thinks of Jesus as at the same time both spiritually dead and physically dead. The dead human corpse of Jesus may still be united to His divinity, but it also means nothing to Calvin without the spiritual death. And this spiritual death, for Calvin and many others, is not after His physical death but only before His physical death.

    Calvin— “If Christ had died only a bodily death ,it would have been ineffectual. No—it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment.” 2.16.10.

    Calvin—“In ADDITION TO his physical suffering, Christ endured an “invisible and incomprehensible judgment” and paid “a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible moments of a condemned and forsaken man.” 2.16.10. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/christdecended.html

    Glenn Peoples—many reject the view that Jesus atoned for sin by suffering in hell after death . The problem, however, is that they still assume that the punishment for sin is suffering the wrath of God in the form of torment, and so the solution, whatever it is, is assumed to be that Jesus suffers that torment somewhere, either on the cross or in hell – and since it wasn’t in hell it was on the cross.

    http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2014/whats-new/anything-blood-jesus-traditionalists-downplay-death-christ/

    • markmcculley Says:

      Nevertheless, wherever Christ’s divine nature is present, that divine nature is now indissolubly united to Christ’s humanity. It is no longer a disincarnate disembodied humanity.

      Wherever Christ is present, both natures are present.

      The whole Christ can be present even where Christ is not wholly present.

      The risen flesh of Christ has not taken on divine attributes.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    John Calvin—“The integrity of the sacrament lies here, that the flesh and blood of Christ are not less truly given to the unworthy than to the elect believers of God; and yet it is true, that just as the rain falling on the hard rock runs away because it cannot penetrate, so the wicked by their hardness repel the grace of God, and prevent it from reaching them.”

    Rubio wrote that Christ Fellowship deepened his relationship with Jesus, but that he missed Roman Catholicism. “I craved, literally, the Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the sacramental point of contact between the Catholic and the liturgy of heaven,” he wrote. “I wondered why there couldn’t be a church that offered both a powerful, contemporary gospel message and the actual body and blood of Jesus.” Starting in late 2004, he began to delve deeper into his Roman Catholic roots, reading the whole catechism, and concluding that “every sacrament, every symbol and tradition of the Catholic faith is intended to convey, above everything else, the revelation that God yearns, too, for a relationship with you.

    http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/13/five-faith-facts-marco-rubio-catholic-always-catholic/

    “You get a better grip of the same thing in the Sacrament than you got by the hearing of the Word. That same thing which you possess by the hearing of the Word, you now possess more fully. God has more room in your soul, through your receiving of the Sacrament, than He could otherwise have by your hearing of the Word only. What then, you ask, is the new thing we get? We get Christ better than we did before. We get the thing which we had more fully, that is, with a surer apprehension than we had before. We get a better grip of Christ now, for by the Sacrament my faith is nourished, the bounds of my soul are enlarged, and so where I had but a little of Christ before, as it were, between my finger and my thumb, now I get Him in my whole hand, and indeed the more my faith grows, the better grip I get of Christ Jesus. Thus the Sacrament is very necessary, if only for the reason that we get Christ better, and get a firmer grasp of Him by the Sacrament, than we could have before.”
    Robert Bruce


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