Sacramental Union and Communion with Christ?

Those who would defend Constantine and slavery must also always defend the rituals of Christendom. I refer to the “federal vision” deconstruction of any difference between water and union with Christ.
They also reject any difference between ritual Lord’s Supper and union with Christ.

Some of these traditionalists will defend almost anything old (slavery, the confederacy), just so long as it is anti-“liberal”.
Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in salvation by works, the more consistent federal visionists (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. They will get baptized right away. They will have their entire families baptized right away. They will not wait.

But they will do this “take-over” in the name of conservatism. As inductive theologians, they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence. And thus they dream of a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

Federal vision folks are trying to sell us a narrative in which the visibility of the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

If we are going to escape the ideology of ritual Christendom , we need to talk about the sacramental errors of John Calvin, Martin Luther and all who define the Lord’s Supper as something God does instead of as the human obedience of Christians.

The fight about sacramentalism is a fight about politics, because it’s a fight about judging saved and lost. Sacramentalists want to hand out grace without judging saved and lost. They want to include you in their “the church” and then tell you it’s God’s will and not your decision.

Sacramentalists don’t trust liberals because they see that suspicion of the nation-state might also mean skepticism about their big broad “the church”. The majority culture always opposes any attempt of the “sects” to judge who is saved. Forget trying to know who is brother or sister, and come to the sacrament!

Ecclesiastical antinomians want to say that “sacrament” is a secondary issue and not a gospel issue. But when you refuse the political responsibility of judging saved and lost in terms of knowing and believing the gospel, then you have opened the way for assuming that everyone handed out the sacrament (or listening to the “minister’s” sermon) is a Christian.

Do we see everyone with whom we talk as already Christians who simply need to know more (of what we know)? Or do we evangelize because we know that not all Christ’s sheep are not justified yet?

Do we think of church as one universal church which includes saints now living in heaven (to whom we pray or not, is not the only issue) or do we think of local fellowship around a table which is closed to those who do not yet obey the gospel?

For many folks, being more romantic about ritual Christendom means also being more open to “deification”. The “federal vision” way down this path usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up making justification by Christ’s death merely one result of “union with Christ”.

Just as the word “sacrament” is left undefined or given multiple definitions, so also the idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined or given various (unbiblical) definitions in ecumenical discussions.

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. 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 union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union of human creatures indwelling God 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. My opinion is that we baptists will never get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is only 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 things) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

II Corinthians 5—If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

The “new creation” is not first of all about regeneration but about a legal change of identity It’s not gradual; it’s an either or. The new creation is not brought about by a “sacramental feeding on Christ” but by God’s imputation of what God did in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Christ is here, yes, but not in some different way because of water or bread and wine. And also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here.

Christ is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven, no matter what the “minister of the sacrament” might say.

So how then are the justified elect in Christ? They are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict.

No ritual is a sign from God that we in particular have been united to Christ. Even if our children were to eat the “sacrament” with us, still that’s no seal that either we or our children have been justified or that God is our God.

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19 Comments on “Sacramental Union and Communion with Christ?”

  1. 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.


    the bad side of Bruce McCormack

    The nature of the atonement is not the satisfaction of the demands of divine justice but the destruction of the old sinner by the proclamation of the gospel. (sounds very Lutheran and sacramental!, as in Forde. And Luther himself)

    For Us and Our Salvation, Studies in Reformed Theology. p30

    p 27–”they make God’s mercy the prisoner, so to speak, of His righteousness, until such time as righteousness has been fully satisfied.”

    “We reject an understanding of biblical inspiration which would require that all biblical statements find their source in a Single Author.” p 195, “Actuality of God”

    Also, like Barth, McCormack tends to make time (history) and evil (sin) be nothing (privation).
    I don’t like the logic of his “paradoxes”


  3. markmcculley Says:

    The legal solidarity between the justified elect and Christ is no fiction. The sins of the elect imputed to Christ result in the just punishment of Christ their surety for their guilt, and until that legal reconciliation was received by these elect by means of God’s real legal imputation, these same elect were born in sins and under condemnation.

    When these elect are placed into Christ’s death (not by water) but in reality by God’s legal identification (Romans 6), they are already justified in this present age, not because of what they will do or because of what God promises to do, but because of what Christ has in reality already done back then when He died on the cross.

    And since those who have been justified are already citizens of Christ’s kingdom in this age, we need to obey the commands of our King who said—-

    Matthew 6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    7 “And when you pray, do not heap up EMPTY PHRASES as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 DO NOT BE LIKE THEM.

    We can say that it’s not the Court’s job to decide which rituals are empty and which are not, but the attempt to not be sectarian is already the mark of the merely ceremonial….

  4. markmcculley Says:

    his banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates HIMSELF to us with all his benefits. At that table he makes us enjoy HIMSELF as much as the merits of his suffering and death, as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of his flesh, and relieves and renews them by the drinking of his blood.

    HC Q. 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ?

    A. It is not only to embrace with believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin, and life eternal;a but also, besides that, to become MORE AND MORE UNITED to his sacred body, by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone”d and that we live, and are governed forever by one spirit,e as members of the same body are by one soul.

    In the context of Reformed theology, which was well established before Stoddard and Edwards, “renewal” did not mean that the sacrament was the means by which people were given new life (regeneration) but rather the conscious TAKING UP FOR ONE’S SELF self of the promises OFFERED in the Gospel and the restatement of the promises by the minister is part of the administration of the holy supper.

    Petrus van Mastricht, whom Edwards read, distinguished baptism as the sacrament of initiation of the supper as the sacrament of nutrition.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Barth–hus to speak of a continuation or extension of the incarnation in the Church is not only out of place but even blasphemous. Its distinction from the world is not the same as His; it is not that of the Creator from His creature. Its superiority to the world is not the same as His; it is not that of the Lord seated at the right hand of the Father. Hence it must guard as if from the plague against any posturing or acting as if in relation to world-occurrence it were an alter Chrisus [another Christ], or a vicarius Christ [vicar of Christ], or a mediator of all graces, not only out of fear of God, but also because in any such behaviour, far from really exalting itself or discharging such functions, it can only betray, surrender, hazard and lose its TRUE INVISIBLE BEING, and therefore its true distinction from the world and superiority to world-occurrence. (CD IV.3.2, 729)

    Berkhof —Roman Catholics hold that (water) baptism is absolutely necessary for all unto salvation, and that the sacrament of penance is equally necessary for those who have committed mortal sins after baptism; but that confirmation, the eucharist, and extreme unction are necessary only in the sense that they have been commanded and are eminently helpful. Protestants, on the other hand, teach that the sacraments are not absolutely necessary unto salvation, but are obligatory in view of the divine precept Willful neglect of their use results in spiritual impoverishment and has a destructive tendency, just as all willful and persistent disobedience to God has.

    That they are not absolutely necessary unto salvation, follows: (1) from the free spiritual character of the gospel dispensation, in which God does not bind His grace to the use of certain external forms, John 4:21,23; Luke 18:14; (2) from the fact that Scripture mentions only faith as the instrumental condition of salvation, John 5:24; 6:29; 3:36; Acts 16:31; (3) from the fact that the sacraments do not originate faith but presuppose it, and are administered where faith is assumed, Acts 2:41 [see also 10:42-48]; 16:14,15,30,33; 1 Cor. 11:23-32; and (4) from the fact that many were actually saved without the use of the sacraments. Think of the believers before the time of Abraham and of the penitent thief on the cross. [Systematic Theology, (1941). 618-619.]

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Leithart: The big difference between the word and baptism is that the word offers God’s grace to everyone-in-general while baptism declares God’s favor TO ME . Baptism wraps the gift of forgiveness and justification and puts MY NAME on the package. Like the gospel, BAPTISM REQUIRES a response of ENDURING faith. Faith involves believing what baptism says ABOUT YOU .

    Leithart–The self-imputation of “righteous” is based on the baptismal declaration that we are “justified from sin” by union with the death and resurrection of Jesus. And I can’t, of course, live a life of unbelief and disobedience, and expect baptism to rescue me at the end. Such a life would betray my baptism…..

    Read more:

  7. markmcculley Says:

    hilip Cary—Catholics don’t worry about whether they have saving faith but whether they are in a state of mortal sin—so they go to confession. Reformed Protestants don’t worry about mortal sin but about whether they have true saving faith—so they seek conversion.

    Luther points here to the words “for you,” and insists that they include me. When faith takes hold of the Gospel of Christ, it especially takes hold of these words, “for you,” and rejoices that Christ did indeed died for me

    In this way the Gospel and its sacraments effectively give us the gift of faith. I do not have to ask whether I truly believe; I need merely ask whether it is true, just as the Word says, that Christ’s body is given for me. And if the answer is yes, then my faith is strengthened—without “making a decision of faith,” without the necessity of a conversion experience, and without even the effort to obey a command to believe.

    For what the sacramental word tells me is not: “You must believe” (a command we must choose to obey) but “Christ died for you” (good news that causes us to believe).

    It is sufficient to know that Christ’s body is given for me. If I cling to that in faith, all will go well with me. And whenever the devil suggests otherwise, I keep returning to that sacramental Word, and to the “for us” in the creed, where the “us” includes me. Thus precisely the kind of faith that is insufficient to get me admitted to the Puritan sacraments—which is to say, mere belief in the truth of the creed and trust in my baptism—is all the faith I have. If Luther is right, it is all the faith I can ever have, and all the faith I need.

    the Reformed tradition generates pastoral problems that cannot be helped by the sacrament, because neither word nor sacrament can assure me that I have true saving faith. The logic of the matter, it seems to me, makes it impossible to split the difference between these two positions and get the best of both.

    mcmark—-Talk of the sacrament “for us” always replaces talk of definite atonement only for the elect, and crowds out any good news of justice requiring the final salvation of all for whom Christ died. The Lutheran “us” claims to be everybody, but for Lutherans, it’s not the death for “us” which saves anyone, because what saves anyone is present faith. Present faith, present salvation, and losing faith is losing salvation, and Christ’s satisfaction of the law has nothing to do with it.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    s circumcision law or grace? If circumcision is both law and grace, is the “covenant grace” of circumcision necessary for the demands of law? ( Were the nations outside the Abrahamic covenant not under law?) If the “covenant grace” of circumcision results in increased sanctions for Ishmael, is God’s grace ineffectual, and ultimately conditioned on the sinner? My concerns are not ultimately about the subjects of water.

    We are all born condemned in Adam, and that it’s not rejection of the gospel which condemns us. According to John 3:17-21, those who do not believe the gospel remain in the condemnation in which they were born, for there is no other “offering” for sins but that one and only sacrificial death of Christ for sinners.

    Simply put, Christ did not die in order to make it just for God to condemn sinners. Many sinners never hear the gospel, and all of these sinners are under the wrath of God. We must not turn the gospel into the law. We need to say straight out that the Abrahamic covenant has “law parts”. I certainly acknowledge that circumcision is not only a matter of law, but is also (even mainly) about the “cutting off of the flesh”. (the death of Christ– I think, not regeneration)

    Does the gospel “bring condemnation”? Or is condemnation already here, so that we need to be saved from condemnation? Is it the gospel which kills and makes alive? Or is the law which kills? Or is the “killing which results in making alive” something different than the killing condemnation of the law?

    I agree with Machen that the death which saves (Galatians 2) is not our experience of condemnation by the law but Christ’s satisfaction of law by death and God’s legal placing of us into that. To know and believe the gospel is to finally fear God and to know what God’s law demands.

    The man who does the law, shall live by the law.
    That is not the gospel.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Since there is one gospel only, there is only one church. And since there is one gospel only, there is only one covenant of grace, with different administrations, and therefore there is only one baptism, therefore baptism is circumcision, and therefore water is only another “form” of the same “essential” thing as circumcision, and therefore baptism by John is not water only and the baptism by Jesus is not with the Spirit only, and therefore the one baptism is water baptism and therefore water baptism is Spirit baptism. But Spirit baptism is not Christ giving the Spirit without water, because there is only one baptism, and it’s the one where the Spirit unites us to Christ and gives us Christ. yes, such an argument could be made, and such a conclusion is often assumed, even without argument. But it’s a bad argument and a false conclusion.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    the short version of Galatians—-if you have been circumcised, you don’t need John’s water baptism or any other water baptism. If you have not been circumcised, then you need water. Infant water baptism has come in the place of circumcision, and if you missed it, too bad, because infant baptism is best at showing that grace is sovereign, but some pagans slip through the cracks in the second generation, and if that has happened to you, we can baptize you with water after you are effectually called but that’s second best and makes it looks like you believe in free will. No more physical circumcision. End of Galatians. None of that other nasty castration stuff about “let the knife slip”… God is still your God and your children’s God and promises them all salvation.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    it is unnecessary to choose between water baptism and Spirit baptism (except if we are talking about Acts 19 and John’s baptism–see Fesko, 322, Word, Water and Spirit) , but it is necessary to say that Spirit baptism is not God’s imputation, and not Christ’s giving the Spirit, because the Confession teaches us that Spirit baptism is the Spirit giving us Christ by uniting us to Christ by faith) Luke 3: 6 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Larry Ball–The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time of the administration of baptism, but it is tied to the administration of baptism itself. No Christian parent should expect that grace be “conferred” (Confessional language) on their children apart from their children being recipients of the sacrament of covenant baptism. The same can be said of adult baptisms. The grace promised in the ordinance of baptism is actually conferred in God’s appointed time “by the right use of this ordinance” (Confessional language). Grace is conferred because the ordinance is used.

    Larry Ball– I am certainly not denying the doctrine of election. HOWEVER, the doctrine of election was never given to negate the hope of the promises that are given to Christian parents. The doctrine of election taught in Romans 9 to explain why there was unbelief among the covenant people of God. It was intended to be an explanation — not a qualification to the promises of God.
    Some preachers are haunted by what I call the “if clause.” For example, it is often said to Christians that the promises of God are for you “if you are saved” or “if you are a true believer.” The very promises that give hope to Christians often die a slow death by a thousand qualifications.

    Larry Ball–Covenant Baptism is not merely a symbol. If anyone is dedicating himself in covenant baptism, it is God who is dedicating himself to keep the promises he has made to Christian parents This is a high view of the efficacy of covenant baptism. It is simply the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  13. markmcculley Says:

    I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”.

    (1) Jesus calls it “this fruit of the vine”, which is an allusion to grapes, not blood.

    (2) If “my blood” is to be considered an ontological identity with “*this* fruit”, then it follows that Jesus is claiming that the day will come that he joins the disciples in drinking his own blood.

    At the point Jesus passed the bread around the table during that Passover, was the bread ontologically identical to the substance of the living body that was doing the passing?

    His body was doing the passing, not being passed. At that point Jesus says “this is” my body….

  14. 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

    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.”

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus put Jesus to death

    Jesus is God, so God put Jesus to death

    some humans put Jesus to death

    all humans killed Jesus, which means that Jesus died for everybody

    which means that Jesus died not only to save some, but to make all guilty of killing him???? NO NO NO

    “Modern readers ostensibly determined to find the sacraments in every passage fail to read the whole chapter as a coherent historical narrative. There is a theological unity between John 6 and the Lord’s Supper, for it speaks of Christ’s divinity and atonement of mankind. The same Christ who died and rose gives His body and blood in the Supper. All doctrine is related dogmatically. But careless exegesis short circuits the theological task by looking for code words pointing outside the text itself. This critical method, though not necessarily its conclusions, devalue the words given by God and the authority of our doctrine by simply assuming the truth. If the Scriptures are mere commentaries on God’s Word, how are they also that very Word? A presumed distinction is made between the “direct Word of God” and apostolic commentary on that Word of God [Scaer, Apostolic Scriptures, (CPH 1971), 51.]
    “Redaktionsgeschichte [Redaction criticism] puts the emphasis on the writer[s] [redactors of the materials]” … “who deliberately set forth their material in such a way as to teach a given theological position” [Apostolic Scriptures, 62]. Exegesis then becomes an excavation of individual (previously assumed) themes and emphases from the redactor’s theological and historical context, rather than a drawing out of all teaching from the single source of God’s Word. While the results in the LCMS have not been as caustic or un-theological as for the liberal scholars, this approach does undermine Scripture as the basis for all doctrine.
    This new view of the Bible allows for hidden or novel interpretations, not provable by the text itself. Words like “symbolic” or “undertones” are used. Conjecture and speculation are then objectified and “scriptural,” so the actual text itself is seen as unstable and indefinite. The reasoning goes: a few words of John 6:52-58 sound like the sacramental words, therefore they must be about the Sacrament. The focus is on key words and extra-biblical data, so that the meaning is obvious even apart from the context. The basic argument is that the context of John 6 is the early church, not the words or history given in the text. Luther went to the text and saw an accurate reporting of Jesus’ dialogue with unbelieving Jews who merely wanted bread from Jesus. These two CTQ articles barely address the text, the content of John 6. How can one disprove what is not there for sure in the first place? The sacramental view deals with the scriptural meaning as shadows and images, not the plain truth of Christ—the bread of life who died for all men.
    So John 6 addresses a hypothetical problem of the early Church, but one not mentioned by the text. “Could John have confronted a similar problem: Christians denying the Son of God in the flesh by abstaining from the Lord’s Supper and then leaving?” [43]. Did Jesus feed the 5000 and address the Jews’ unbelief in rather harsh words to speak to later Christians about avoiding communion? Only if John is more a creative author than a simple narrator who is concerned about historical accuracy. Luther’s chronological argument (that the Supper was not yet instituted) assumed that John 6 was reliable history in every sense. This novel approach raises the question: Did John forge Jesus’ words to give this “secret” message about the Supper? It is contrary to the idea of a historical narrative. If a newspaper article was written with hidden undertones of the truth in this manner, we would call it a lie. But God does not lie or deceive—men do.
    Luther did not just take a polemical stance on this text. He preached extensively and positively on it. To accuse him of doing otherwise is dishonest. He could say, “Thus saith the Lord.” But here in these two articles we have “if’s” and hypotheses and unproved “rules of interpretation.” For Luther the text was bigger than him. It was not an academic question, but God’s own Word that dare not be played with as a “chessboard” [62]. Luther was not “cutting his losses” or equivocating due to ecumenical concerns [49]. His hand was not forced by anything other than God’s Word. Luther was not the compromising type. Scripture is bigger than us and our desire for a clearer and more direct word—it is God’s speech to us.
    Luther, when he makes his “either-or” argument about John 6 being sacramental, is accused of being “purely Zwinglian.” This disrespect of Luther is shameful. Luther was not backed into a corner by this text, rather his exegetical position on John 6 was firmly fixed from 1520, before the sacramentarian controversy [52; The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, LW 36:19]. He preached many sermons on it over decades. They were positive, Gospel-filled sermons, not simply polemical diatribes. “In a different situation the reformer may have allowed his intuition to follow his instincts to develop a eucharistic interpretation of John 6. His situation did not allow him this luxury. Ours does.” [62]. How can anyone know Luther’s supposed exegetical intuition, when he spoke so vehemently against what these articles propose? This is a poor way of arguing and no words of Luther are even enlisted.
    The root of this sacramental interpretation is actually a modern, historical-critical method of interpreting the Word of God. But Luther had no such sophistication—clear Scripture was the basis for his doctrine. This is the real reason Luther held to his view on John 6, despite the disparagement of modern scholars: Luther was compelled by the text. In stark contrast, modern “interpreters of this discourse must be aware that they are interpreting not only what the original speaker (i.e, Jesus) was communicating to the original audience (i.e., Jews and disciples of Jesus), but primarily what the author (i.e., John) was communicating to his readers (i.e., post-Easter Christians)” [37]. The question of authorship is the issue. Did John “author” Jesus’ words, that is, falsify them? Did John modify Jesus’ quotations for his secondary context thereby changing their meaning? How can they still be Jesus’ words if his original words were edited or redacted to say something contrary to their original sense?
    Historic Lutheranism took the words at face value. Jesus was speaking to Jews before the Supper was instituted. The text attributes all the speech to Jesus and none to John. Did John overlay the words with symbolic meaning? Redaction criticism claims that he did by changing the original discourses and words, as though he were a theological author in his own right. While it allows for more creativity in interpretation, it is also an indefensibly low view of Scripture. This critical view has been a boon to scholars bored with rigid doctrinal theology and the clear Word of God, but it is dangerous and deceiving when its results are pressed upon the Church.
    The real question should be: Is John 6 a plain historical narrative or something else, not indicated by the text? The result of this interpretation is confusion, not clarity: “The earliest church reflections on the Lord’s Supper are seen to resemble closely what later became the classical Reformed view of a symbolical meal. Texts in their final form, as we have them in the Bible, were encrusted with views now associated with Lutherans and Catholics. Because the Gospels preserve both earlier and later reflections on the Last Supper, Lutherans and Reformed justified their accommodation as biblical with each other on the Lord’s Supper in the Formula of Agreement” [Scaer, “Reformed Exegesis and Lutheran Sacraments: Worlds in Conflict,” CTQ 64 (Jan.\ 2000), no. 1:18-19]. This is a very different underlying view of Scripture, that there are high-level strands or themes woven into the true history and words of Jesus, addressing an unlisted audience. Such a view renders the text uncertain and likely conflicting.
    If the Scriptures are a priori about the sacramental rites, then of course, any “eating” or “drinking” is sacramental, apart from the context in which those words occur. Must every lunch we digest also be sacramental if we “take it” and “give thanks” via the common table prayer? But how does that help proclamation or faith? The truth is that simply pointing to the outward work of receiving communion is not the Gospel. It fails to do the hard work of telling us why we should want Christ’s body and blood. John 6 does proclaim Christ’s atonement and self-giving for the world. But Communion is not open for all (especially the unbelieving Jews to whom Jesus directs His words) to receive, as is the Gospel. It is the preacher’s job to connect the text and its context to people and then direct them to the Supper in faith, so they desire the forgiveness it offers. This a much more difficult task than simply ripping John 6:53 out of its context by an exegetical sleight of hand.
    Contra the misleading argument, John 6 is still figurative, even if it is sacramental [58]. Eating Jesus’ “flesh” is cannibalism, not the Supper, if the text is taken literally. If taking “eating” and “drinking” as faith is “spiritualizing” the text or “allegorical,” so is making it about the Lord’s Supper [57]. The purely physical eating of John 6 is cannibalism, which does not give life. The Lutheran Confessions label this literal view of the Jews in John 6 “the Capernaitic eating” and deny that it is the Supper instituted by Jesus. “Hence we hereby utterly reject and condemn the Capernaitic eating of the body of Christ, as though we taught that His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food” [FC Ep VII:42]. So the sacramental reading still takes a figurative, half-allegorical approach, while also leaving behind the stated context (Jews) and the theme (faith) of Jesus’ prior words. It is a forced and inaccurate argument. Eating Jesus’ big toe like an apple is not the same as receiving the Supper for forgiveness. The Lutheran confessions are clear on this, whereas the sacramental-redactionists are vague and equivocating.
    What does a sacramental vision of John 6 add to proclamation? Nothing. It merely shows they have found the sacraments that they assumed were there (from the unwritten context). So everything can be “sacramental,” but it will be a generic meaning as presented: “Christians are to see how this meal teaches them about the ongoing presence of the risen Lord, who now prepares and serves his church with the miraculous food of his flesh and blood.” That is exactly the assumed context in the first place: Early Christians are gathered around the Supper! It removes the work of wrestling with faith and the Gospel, as if Christianity were simply a matter of eating and drinking in outward observance at the right spot. This method of doing theology is inferior to Luther’s.
    It is boldly stated: “The prologue necessitates that one adopt a sacramental consciousness in order to understand the theology of this Gospel” [59]. But the prologue does not mention the sacraments or any sort of consciousness. The beautiful words of John which speak of the incarnation of our Lord are not a license for a game of hermeneutical “Where’s Waldo.” Many allusions, encrustments, and themes related to the Sacrament do not profit faith. Firm promises of Christ do, which is what Luther sought. The thesis is unproved, yet it is required of us to “uncover a sacramental interpretation in the very fiber of John’s Gospel” [61]. How vague and reductionistic. The logic is: “It must be, even though it doesn’t explicitly say, so it really is.”It reeks of modern biblical scholasticism, as opposed to the Spirit who leads into certain truth.
    “Eucharistic clues,” or redaction-critical “droppings” we might say, are seen by those with the correct sacramental “consciousness” [60, 61]. So anything that can remotely be twisted to be about the sacraments is about the sacraments, by theological fiat. No careful reading of Scripture is needed! No wonder we cannot even discuss this passage rationally—the discussion is not about the passage at all.To follow Luther’s reasoning is to render these modern Lutherans “amused” and “baffled” [54]. The authority and unity of Scripture is really at stake. The presumed fact that John 6 is so “obviously” about the Sacrament and useful for us today, does not make it true or faithful to the Word of God.
    No one can say that John 6 is not about faith. To do so is to call God a liar. The text speaks clearly. v29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” v35-36: “Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” v40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” v47-48: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” There is no break in the text—Jesus continues the sermon to speak of eating His flesh, since He is the bread of life. He escalates the bread of life metaphor for faith in the face of the Jews’ offense at Him (so the Gospel becomes the savor of death to them). Contra Luther and the text itself: “There is a distinct shift in the discourse at John 6:51” [38]. Is this from John the “author” or from Jesus the author? How are we to know? Luther’s reading of it, available in LW 23 and many sermons in English, demonstrates a more careful attention to the inspired words.
    The contrary perspective, as argued, is less forthright and actually somewhat deceiving. It insults Luther, while not revealing its own playful understanding of this text. It fails to admit that words can be used in many ways. A homily is not strict interpretation. Exegesis is not dogmatics. In Christian freedom, we can use the words of John 6 in ways Jesus did not intend or sanction at all, as long as we don’t contradict the Scriptures or change their meaning. We are not bound to speak just like Jesus.
    These arguments dismiss Luther and psychoanalyze him as to the reason he could not really be “Lutheran” and read John 6 as sacramental. It is so obvious from this perspective that Luther must have been forced by severe circumstances to be so “Zwinglian.” But maybe such scholars in Luther’s shoes have not surpassed the master. Luther rebuts: “I now remind you that these words are not to be misconstrued and made to refer to the Sacrament of the Altar; whoever so interprets them does violence to this Gospel text. There is not a letter in it that refers to the Lord’s Supper” [Church Postil 2.1:402].
    Again, what is gained by a sacramental reading of John 6? Besides being natural and easy (and requiring almost no interpretive work), what does it contribute to our knowledge? That we should have communion with fish or nothing instead of wine? That Baptism is not enough for infants? Errors have crept in due to emphasizing this misreading of the text, which does not talk about the Lord’s Supper at all. It does not say anything definitive about the Supper, even according to the opposition. But what do allusions contribute to faith? They are not solid promises to rely on, but only intellectual hooks upon which to hang what we already know and assume. So John 6 (or really only a few verses) is merely the jumping off point for those who understand the sacramental clues. The real context of it, the feeding of the 5000, the Manna, the Jews wanting a bread-king and not a Savior, become irrelevant. After all, some would argue: “A chronological approach to the Gospel may provide a distorted interpretation” [55]. That is a strange guideline and impossible to prove. While the Gospels are not history books, we must assume that they are accurate where they imply chronological accuracy, if we are to consider them true at all.
    Scripture is at stake. This recent sacramental reading of John 6 demands a context outside of Scripture, an unwritten one we can never be sure of. How can we know if we have arrived at a “fuller” reading of the “sacramental overtones,” if they are not plainly stated [45]? What if we have faith in Christ for forgiveness, but not the correct sacramental consciousness? Is that the same as the Spirit, who is required to understand Scripture and believe in Christ who is Lord? This redaction-critical method turns the clear and plain Scriptures, which explicitly testify of Christ, into hidden messages containing subtle, unstated themes, which cannot be a reliable foundation for Christ’s sure, saving teaching. It obfuscates the Word of God. Not only that, it denies by implication Sola Scriptura and its perspicuity, by necessitating an unknown 1st century context. This disagreement is not over a verse or chapter, but the nature of Scripture and how it should be viewed as authoritative today.

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Augustine: “You have also read how Paul … was compelled by the great violence with which Christ coerced him to know and embrace the truth; for the light of men’s eyes is more precious than money or gold …. This light, suddenly taken away … he did not get back until he had become a member of the Holy Church. You think coercion should not be used to deliver a man from the error of his ways yet you see … that this very thing is done by God.

  17. markmcculley Says:

    where does the Bible speak of impartation or incorporation?

    Since faith is not the righteousness of Christ, then we should not speak of “justifying faith” because what God uses to justify sinners is Christ’s death. Faith in Christ’s death is not Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s death is Christ’s righteousness, and Christ’s death is the object of faith.

    Calvin–Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). …We are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness (Institutes, 3.16.1).

    Colson–Calvin did not hesitate to attribute both legal and relational, or forensic and ontological, realities to our union with Christ. Jesus both imputes and imparts grace when he incorporates us into himself through the Spirit. These benefits belong to us because we are members of the Beloved, Jesus Christ.

    mark- Colson is saying that regeneration is relational and ontological. Colson is assuming that “union” is relational and ontological. Colson is begging the question by not defining incorporation? Why is “incorporation” not forensic but “relational and ontological”? What is the difference between “impartation” (in us) and “incorporation” if you assume that becoming members of Christ (in Christ) is not forensic? If we do begin to “possess the Benefactor” before God’s imputation of righteousness, why do we even need God’s imputation of righteousness? If we are already members of Christ and have Christ in us before God justifies us, how could justification be of the ungodly and why would we need justification?

    Colson–While God’s justification of the ungodly certainly compels our obedience (2 Cor. 5. 14-15), this paradigm obscures the relationship between our sanctification and the living Jesus. By prioritizing justification in the cause-and-effect chain , it makes sanctification a secondary link contingent upon justification.

    Colson–Three things happen: (1) grace becomes synonymous with justification, not all the benefits we receive in union with the resurrected Christ, (2) grace becomes a motivational resource that encourages sanctification, not the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit that enables sanctification, and (3) sanctification loses its radically Christo-centric orientation, becoming a step in a formula distantly related to Christ. This unnecessarily shackles God’s grace to forensic categories.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    The Westminster Confession (28:6) ‘the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered’

    1. Since this is so, why not administer water to people after they believe the gospel?

    2. If the efficacy of God using water is not God giving faith in the gospel, why would water be needed before a person believes the gospel?

    3. if the elect are united with Christ before and without being imputed with Christ’s righteousness, is union with Christ not something obtained by Christ’s righteousness?

    4. if the elect are given the Holy Spirit before and without being imputed with Christ’s death, is the Holy Spirit not given by Christ and is regeneration not purchased by Christ’s death?

    Salter , ‘Without faith, of course, the subject of baptism is simply getting wet, nothing more’.

    Gibson—Note what is happening here: the definition of baptism is dependent on the position of its subjects. Without faith, baptism is not baptism. It is just getting wet. In this construction, one form of spirit-matter dualism is overcome by another. For the union of sign and thing signified has become so separate that without the thing signified the sign has actually ceased to exist.

    Calvin–“Augustine says: ‘And hence, he who remains not in Christ, and in whom Christ remains not, without doubt neither spiritually eats his flesh, nor drinks his blood, though with h is teeth he may carnally and visibly press the symbol of his body and blood.’

    Sheaer– We are told that the visible sign is opposed to spiritual eating. This refutes the error that the invisible body of Christ is sacramentally eaten in reality, although not spiritually. We are told, that nothing is given to the impure and profane beyond the visible taking of the sign

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