Finitum Non Capax Infiniti

This Latin dictum means “the finite does not (or cannot) comprehend the infinite.” The phrase originated in the Lutheran-Reformed debates about the Lord’s Supper as it related to Christology. The Reformed typically accused the Lutherans of transferring divine qualities to Jesus’ humanity such that Christ could be everywhere, including the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes this resulted in the charge of Eutychianism (mixing Christ’s human and divine natures). The Lutherans typically accused the Reformed of rationalism as well as Nestorianism. The former was thrown at the Reformed because they thought the Reformed depended too heavily on philosophical pre-commitments. There was also the problem of supposedly separating Christ’s human from His divine nature (Nestorianism).

The phrase “finitum non capax infiniti” is related to what is called the “extra Calvinisticum.” The latter phrase refers to the fact that Jesus as God is everywhere, whereas Jesus as human is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. The “extra” then refers to the omnipresence that the divine has outside the human body of Jesus. I just read a brief but interesting article by a Lutheran pastor on this issue, and his claim is that the Lutheran view does not entail a change of the human nature, but rather a display of the very infinity of the divine. He defines the Lutheran capax this way:

In order to see this, it is important to observe what is meant by the Lutheran capax. As the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén notes, the Lutheran argument is not that the finite has some sort of inherent capability of containing the infinite, but rather that the infinite God is capable of communicating himself to the finite.

This is how he attempts to avoid the communication of divine attributes to the human. He says further, “if the infinite is truly infinite, then it must logically contain an infinite number of possibilities and one of these possibilities must be being contained by the finite.” There are several things that need to be said in response. Firstly, there is simply no way for the infinite to communicate itself to the finite without bursting the boundaries of the finite. We are talking here about the incommunicable attributes of God. So, while initially sounding plausible, the author has not answered the question. Instead, he has tried to shift the question.

Secondly, in answer to his hypothetical situation of the infinite needing to have “being contained by the finite” as a possibility, this fails to take into account the other attributes of God. He is singling out one attribute and separating it from the others. The other attributes include an inability to deny Himself. That God would not communicate divine attributes to the human is not due to inability, but rather to character. This question is in the same category as the age-old conundrum “Can God build a rock so big that He cannot move it?” The answer is no, but not because of a lack of ability on God’s part, but because it is not in God’s character to contradict Himself.

If God communicated the divine to the human, the simple fact remains that the human would no longer be human. It must be noted here that very few Lutherans seem to grasp Calvin’s actual doctrine as expounded by, say, Keith Mathison. We have all the divine and the human that we need in Calvin’s construction of the mechanism of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit bridges the gap between us and Jesus such that Christ’s humanity is fed to our souls by faith. So Christ is physically given to us in the Supper, but not in the bread and wine. Our reception of it is (S)piritual.

New Book on the Lord’s Supper

I received a review copy of this book two days ago, and read it the day I got it. Imagine a Baptist arguing for the LS as a means of grace! Of course, that is their original heritage, as the author well proves.

I have been eager for more books on the Lord’s Supper for two reasons. Firstly, I plan on preaching a series on the Lord’s Supper in the near future, and secondly, the Reformers talked more about the Lord’s Supper than about any other topic, including justification by faith alone. I have been realizing that the Lord’s Supper is a much larger and much more important subject than I had thought previously (being infected previously, I suppose, with some of the general evangelicalism’s memorialism). It is a gospel issue, since the Lord’s Supper preaches the gospel to all five senses. It is a means of grace fully equal to Word and Prayer. And yet, in today’s Christianity, it gets a measly third place to Word and Prayer. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that most people do not see the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace.

Enter Barcellos’s book. His thesis is fairly circumscribed: it is to prove that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, and to show from Scripture how the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. He is explicitly aiming his thesis at those who tend to follow the early Zwingli in their memorialism. Barcellos certainly proves his thesis (not that I took a lot of convincing!). Certain points he makes here and there are worth the price of admission, and I will point those out. The book is geared towards pastors. The average layperson will not be able to follow the serious Greek exegesis of various passages.

The best things about the book (for me) were the careful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:16, and the description of the tenses of the Lord’s Supper. The former is a lynchpin verse for the case that the LS is a means of grace, and not just a remembering. The latter was a fascinating point that also helps greatly in proving the thesis: the LS looks back to Christ’s finished work, looks at present to our Savior in heaven (and by the power of the Holy Spirit we commune with the risen Lord now), and we look forward in time to the wedding supper of the Lamb (“until He comes”). If the LS is only a remembering, then only the past tense matters. Barcellos also ties in the tenses with the tenses of the Lord’s Day in a very intriguing way (noting that “kuriakos” only ever describes two things in the NT: the LS and the Lord’s Day). I think one could even go farther than Barcellos here and connect it all back to the covenant via Vos’s description of the change of covenants as related to the Sabbath (in his Biblical Theology).

So, overall, I am very enthusiastic about this book, and will use its insights in my sermon series with gratitude. There are a couple of points where I think the book might be improved. Firstly, the book is a bit short (128 pages including indices). There were many times when I thought he could have expanded his arguments and included more data. I wanted more exegesis, too! Secondly, although he mentions the connection of Word and Sacrament towards the end of the book, I felt that this topic deserved its own chapter. He has a whole chapter devoted to comparing the LS with prayer as means of grace. To me, it seems just as important, if not more so, to compare and connect Word to Sacrament. This was a very important connection to the Reformers. Barcellos mentions it, and says some very good things about it, but I felt that it deserved a whole chapter to itself. Thirdly, though I know he knows Mathison’s book, I get the feeling he is not quite convinced by everything that Mathison says. Now, that’s perfectly fine. But I do think that Mathison’s book provides enormous ammunition to those arguing Barcellos’s case for the LS as a means of grace. Calvin’s position on Christ’s presence in the LS may be hard to understand at times (Hodge, Dabney and Cunningham all rejected it, though they agreed with Calvin that the LS is a means of grace), but to me it seems the most biblical position. Especially in the discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, it seems to me that Calvin’s position makes eminent sense of the text there. Here’s to hoping that Barcellos is already thinking about a second edition. This book is already a very worthy addition to the discussion and well worth the purchase.

A Hidden Assumption in the Paedo-Communion Position

I wrote a blog post last year on how many places in the Westminster Standards (and the PCA’s BCO) that are contradicted by the paedo-communion system. Paedo-communion is contrary to our system of doctrine and strikes at the vitals of religion. Sacraments are not adiaphora. They proclaim the gospel. Issues about the sacraments are gospel issues, therefore. The Reformers understood this much better than we do today, probably because of the implicit Zwinglianism (and worse) infecting the church at large. Most of the Reformers did not agree with Zwingli on the nature of the Lord’s Supper.

What I wish to do in this post is to examine a usually quite well-hidden assumption in the paedo-communion position concerning the benefit of the Lord’s Supper to those who do not participate. The assumption is implicit in the title of Leithart’s book, Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? The hidden assumption is that (in the credo-communion position) the Lord’s Supper has not only no benefit for those not old enough to participate, but actually causes harm to children when they do not participate on the basis of their age. The harm caused is usually phrased in terms of the exclusion they feel when they see others participating but they cannot.

I want to challenge this assumption rather strongly. The nature of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel of our Lord’s death until he returns (1 Cor. 11:26). Anyone who sees it without participating can potentially benefit from it, because it is gospel proclamation. It has been known to happen that people are sometimes converted by seeing what they are missing. Furthermore, the Lord’s Supper is a great opportunity for teaching people. Everyone who hears that teaching can benefit from it. So, not only is minister preaching the gospel through the sacrament, but he is also teaching the congregation about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

What effect will that have on the young child who cannot yet participate? Well, he will have the gospel preached to him such that conversion might happen. Further than that, he will learn about the Lord’s Supper. Both of these things should help create a longing for that communion. This creation of a longing for deeper communion with the Lord can be the very thing that prepares him to receive the Lord’s Supper properly. So, far from excommunicating our children, we are preparing them for that communion.

Retrieving the Lord’s Supper

A very common attitude that I have seen these days is that the Lord’s Supper is not a gospel issue. Therefore, issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper are peripheral, not central. I wish to challenge this assumption rather sharply. It came to a focus for me after reading this outstanding book on the Lord’s Supper. The fact is that the Lord’s Supper is gospel proclamation. Take 1 Corinthians 11:26 as proof of this: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” That word “proclaim” is a preaching word. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel every bit as much as preaching itself is, though the mode is different. Reformed theology has always tied Word and Sacrament together. Calvin believed that not only does the Lord’s Supper signify and seal the Word of God, but the preaching helps us to understand the sacrament.

A second swath of evidence is the myriad of books that the Reformers wrote on the Lord’s Supper. They wrote more books about the Lord’s Supper than they wrote about justification, Scripture, or worship. Obviously, the Reformers did not think of the sacraments as peripheral at all.

Mathison argues that one of the reason why the Lord’s Supper has become a peripheral issue for evangelicalism is that the true view of Calvin has given way to the early Zwinglian view. We have relegated the Lord’s Supper to something we do in our own minds as a pledge of our devotion to Christ, almost completely forgetting that it is a means of grace. Of course, the Lord’s Supper (abbrev. “LS”) is not something in which we are passive. However, the LS is a means of grace, not just a pledge. The LS is therefore in the same category as prayer and preaching, NOT in the same category as recitation of creeds, or profession of faith, or singing of hymns.

Mathison also posits that Calvin’s view is not something actually held much today (though he sees a resurgence), even by those who claim to hold to it. Calvin’s view can be summarized this way: 1. Jesus Christ is physically located in heaven; 2. Therefore we do not masticate Christ with the physical mouth (we don’t have bits of Christ floating around in our intestines), but the spiritual mouth, which is faith; 3. We feed on Christ’s actual body and blood, though not in the bread and wine; 4. The Holy Spirit bridges the distance between Christ and us through our union with Christ; 5. God communicates Christ to us through this means of grace; 6. The sign is connected to the thing signified, but is distinguished from it, such that unbelievers get nothing, but believers get Christ; 7. By “spiritual presence” Calvin does not mean that Christ is present to us only in a spiritual way, but rather that the whole Christ (including His physical body!) is given to us by the Holy Spirit through our union with Him.

Before you jump on this summary by saying that it is absurd, you should read Mathison’s book. It is an excellent cure for the incipient memorialist, pietist (as opposed to pious), non-means-of-grace understanding of the LS that is so prevalent today.

The Hebrew Roots Movement

There is a movement afoot (small, but rather persistent) to return to the Old Testament way of doing things (and they would argue that the New Testament changes pretty much nothing). This (usually) involves a return to Saturday Sabbath, celebration of the Old Testament feasts (and even non-OT feasts like Hanukkah!), and observance of the Old Testament dietary laws. There have been Messianic Jews around for quite a while, but what is happening now is that previously Reformed people are becoming persuaded by this viewpoint. What I want to do in this post is examine some of the architectonic issues at play, and then respond to some specific things in the blog post linked above.

The first and most important question, when it comes to the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is this: how do we read our Bibles? This is the question of hermeneutics. What are the principles by which we come to the conclusions we do? Is there such a thing as an apostolic hermeneutic? That is, do the apostles read the OT in a certain way that might not seem obvious to us at first? I do not have time or space to lay this out in full. There are many excellent books on the subject. I would recommend this one. When we look at John 5 and Luke 24, the following picture emerges: the NT is the lens through which we see the OT, and not the reverse. We read the OT in the light of the end of the story, which is Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us in Luke 24 and John 5 that if we read our Old Testaments and do not see Jesus, then we are misreading the Old Testament! This principle can be taken to an extreme, as in the case of Arthur Pink, who, while having many helpful things to say, went a bit overboard on typology. Not every detail is specifically about Jesus. The story as a whole is about Jesus. It organically unfolds in such a way that Jesus is the climax of the OT. To put it mildly, the Hebrew roots movement does not read the Bible this way. For them, the OT is the lens through which they see the NT. As a result, they misread the OT. A very simple question can point out how misguided this is: if the OT is clearer than the NT, then why did we need the NT at all? Hermeneutically, we read the more difficult parts of the Bible in the light of what is clearer.

A second issue I wish to treat is the ignoring or denial of the three-fold division of the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Jesus says that there are weightier matters of the law. He castigates the Pharisees for harping on the minor matters, while ignoring the heavier ones. This indicates a distinction within the OT laws. The fact that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s finger on tablets of stone, whereas the rest of the law was written by Moses on more perishable materials also indicates that the Ten Commandments are the most important section of the law, as reflecting the very character of God. The reason this issue is important is that the HRM (Hebrew roots movement) puts all laws in the same category of permanence. There is no such thing, in their minds, as a built-in expiration date of a law. For them, anyone who changes the law is automatically abrogating the law. For them, there is no possibility that there might be underlying principles (general equity) that carries over, but appears in different form in the NT. However, if the three-fold division of the law is an appropriately biblical way of thinking (and see this book for an excellent argument in this direction), then we are not in fact forbidden to wear 50% polyester 50% cotton shirts (two different kinds of threads), nor are we anymore forbidden to take the mother with the eggs. The principles underlying these laws continue today (be discerning about what is holy and what is not, what is conducive for spiritual growth and what is not: don’t mix the world and the church). But they do not apply in the same way today as they did in OT times.

A third issue is that of sources. He quotes this website as “proving” that it was the Roman Catholic Church that changed Saturday to Sunday, and that the NT says nothing of the sort. Is this a credible website, if it claims that the Vatican was at work in the Council of Laodicea in 321 A.D.? Surely Rambo could be more discerning in his choice of sources. All internet sites (including this blog!) must be tested, and not believed simply because they are out there, and because it happens to agree with one’s position. He also quotes this website which gives a quotation of Spurgeon completely out of context. If he had looked at the sermon from a more reputable website, he would have seen Spurgeon’s rather important qualification immediately following the quotation in question: “Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day.” Precisely. And this is the position of most in the Reformed world who celebrate Christmas. It is an historic position in the Reformed world to reject all holy days except the Sabbath. But it is not a question of choosing between paganism and the biblical position, if there is a third option that is defended as biblical. Hence, Rambo commits the fallacy of false dichotomy in addition to misquoting sources (which, incidentally, is a violation of the ninth commandment).

A fourth issue that I wish to bring up is a brief discussion of Ephesians and Galatians in regard to these very matters. Paul castigated Peter for not eating with Gentiles in Galatians 2. Why did Paul do that? Because Peter was forcing the Galatian Gentiles to live like Jews in order to be saved! See in particular Galatians 2:14. To re-erect the barriers between Jew and Gentile is false teaching. Gentiles do not have to live like Jews in order to be saved. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul says that Jesus has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” First question is this: what does “katargeo” (the word translated “abolished”) mean? According to BDAG, the most reputable Greek Lexicon for the study of the NT, there are 4 possible meanings (context must decide which one is in use here): 1. “to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust” (this does not seem likely, as commandments are not like some sort of usable substance) 2. “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG lists Ephesians 2:15 under this definition). This is definitely possible. 3. “to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside” This is also possible. 4. “to cause the release of someone from an obligation (one has nothing more to do with it), be discharged, be released” This is also possible. About which laws is Paul speaking? In context, it must be the laws that separate Jews from Gentiles. In verses 11-13, Paul speaks particularly of how Gentiles have been brought near, having before been aliens to the people of God. Then, in verse 15, the effect of Christ’s action is to make one new man out of the two. There is now neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ (as he would also say in Galatians). So, the laws that separate Jew from Gentile are “katargeo’ed.” Any of the last three meanings means that Gentiles do not have to observe those laws in order to be part of the body of Christ. What Rambo is doing, then, re-erects the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. It creates barriers between people.

Now, to get to some specific things in the blog post. His overarching issue is anti-semitism, which he expands quite a bit beyond what most people would define as anti-semitism. I would define it simply as hatred for the Jews (and I certainly do NOT hate Jews!). However, Rambo defines it pretty much as anything that is not his viewpoint on the OT. So, if we do not observe the OT feasts, we hate Jews. Or, if we do not observe Saturday Sabbath, we hate Jews. One charge that blew my mind into smithereens was this one:

I called Yeshua by a Greek name, ‘Jesus,’ thus denying, with each use, His real heritage and even who He is. Yeshua means ‘salvation, deliverer.’ What does Jesus mean? There isn’t even a letter ‘J’ or ‘j’ sound in the Hebrew alephbet/language or in Greek!…Changing the name of Yeshua to Jesus denies His Jewishness and is antisemitic to the core. Think about it.

So, transliterations of Hebrew names into Greek and into English constitute anti-Semitism and hatred for Jews? So, why doesn’t he use Hebrew letters instead of English letters? One could argue that even transliteration itself is anti-Semitic. Why does having a “j” instead of a iota or yodh (which is a VERY standard transliteration practice) have any relevance whatsoever to anti-Semitism? If it does, then he is still being anti-Semitic for saying “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” instead of “Avraham, Yitzhaq, and Ya-aqov” (gotta make sure that it’s a “q” and not a “k” to represent the letter qav, or else I’m being anti-semitic!). Furthermore, he is not quite correct in his assessment of the name “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation,” not simply “salvation” or “deliverer.” And, yet further, the name Jesus means exactly the same thing! The Greeks did not change the name when they wrote “Iesous,” nor did English writers change a thing when they wrote “Jesus.” They all mean exactly the same thing, which is not quite what Rambo says it means.

He accuses Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the Reformed denominations of advocating a “covert dispensationalism.” This redefines the term “dispensationalism.” The Presbyterians and the Reformed (and to a lesser extent, the Lutherans) believe in one covenant of grace extending from the proto-evangellion in Genesis 3:15 through the end of the New Testament. There are different administrations of this same covenant, but it is always the same covenant, building later additions on to the earlier ones. There is a progression of the covenants culminating in the new covenant that Christ instituted by His death and resurrection. This is not dispensational in any historical understanding of the term. Rambo seems to think that any change from the OT at all is dispensationalism. If that is true, then we don’t need Jesus at all. Jesus then adds absolutely nothing.

On his quotation of Calvin and Luther, one must be careful to put these quotations into historical context. I would not excuse Luther’s attitude towards the Jews. Neither would just about anyone else alive today. They were different times, however, and we must be careful not to judge the Reformers by our modern cultural situation. As for Calvin, that statement that Rambo quoted is quite mild compared to how he blasted the Roman Catholics. This kind of statement is not something unique in the writings of Calvin, as if he had it in for the Jews in particular. Furthermore, Calvin’s point is that anyone who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior deserves to have this end. Calvin would have said the same thing about anyone who rejected the Messiah.

This supposed anti-Semitism is then applied as an across-the-board poison that infected everything they wrote. This is HIGHLY fallacious. He says that their anti-Semitism “permeates every doctrine.” This is stunning. Should I accuse Rambo of anti-Semitism because of his mis-transliteration or his mistranslation of a Hebrew term? Or is Rambo simply using this as an excuse to reject anything and everything the Reformers said? Aside from the problem of whether he has interpreted (particularly Calvin) correctly, there is the issue of an illegitimate extension of Calvin’s sayings into all areas of doctrine.

My Intinction Paper

I have written a paper on intinction for the Palmetto Presbytery. It might be of some interest to a few of my readers, especially given the current BCO amendment being voted on by the Presbyteries. Intinction is the practice of dipping the bread into the wine during the Lord’s Supper. My paper is historical, exegetical, and systematic-theological in its approach. The full paper is available here.

A Great Listen

I know that this podcast has been around for a while now (since July), but I do not often get to listen to podcasts on a regular basis. There were many important things there to which I want to draw our attention.

First up, and most importantly: theistic evolution. Our denomination already has an in thesi statement against theistic evolution (in the creation days study committee report). We also have judicially disciplined someone in the SJC for teaching theistic evolution. And yet, there are still officers in our denomination teaching theistic evolution. This is a complete travesty of vows to submit to the brothers. This is thumbing their nose at the PCA and saying, “come and get me.” This is also dishonesty, and as Rich Phillips pointed out, extremely divisive.

Second point: why is the PCA so divided? Phillips’s answer is that our Reformed heritage is not controlling our methodology. The PCA prides itself on doxological diversity, and almost brags about it as if it were a strength. It is rather a great weakness. Phillips points out that only a disfunctional family talks about unity all the time. A functional family talks about what they’re going to do next (the mission). Our GA talked about unity all the time. Why? Because we are incredibly disunified. And talking about it is not going to solve the problem. Neither is hand-wringing. Bringing our worship into line with the regulative principle would go a long way, however.

Third point: Why would we not want to try to make our worship as biblical as possible? This has great relevance to the intinction issue. People usually bring up red herring issues in this regard like wine versus grape juice, and leavened versus unleavened bread as something you would have to regulate if you were going to regulate intinction. However, are those not separate, distinct issues? The arguments for wine and grape juice are distinct from the arguments for intinction. Some thing for leavened and unleavened bread. The real issue is the regulative principle underlying everything else.

Fourth point: the PCA is a gospel denomination. If the GA can be persuaded that an issue has to do with the central issues of the gospel, then the denomination will vote in a landslide in favor of the gospel. Take the Insider Movement study committee report. Once the issues were clearly on the table, the PCA voted clearly for the gospel and for the Word of God. Same thing with the Federal Vision study committee report. This is both encouraging and discouraging. The encouraging thing is that we stand for the gospel. The discouraging thing is that if we don’t perceive that something is important to the gospel, then it doesn’t matter. This is not Reformed, but general evangelicalism.

How Hostile Is Paedo-Communion to our Standards?

How hostile is PC to our constitution? The following places in the Confessional material and the BCO pertain to the issue. It must be remembered that all these statements must be interpreted in the context of a non-paedo-communion belief and practice, since our constitution has a firmly non-paedo-communion viewpoint.
Westminster Confession of Faith: Chapter 27.1 tells us that sacraments “confirm our interest in him.” Sessions need to determine, according to their best ability to judge fruit, who has an interest in Christ, such that their interest can be confirmed. 27.3 states that there is “a promise of benefit to worthy receivers,” for the sacraments. Worthy receivers must refer to those who have faith. In the case of baptism, that faith can come after the sacrament, but in the case of the Lord’s Supper, the faith needs to come before the sacrament, in order for the receivers to be worthy. 29.1 states that the Lord’s Supper is to be “for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body” (emphasis added). These actions are not possible for infants to perform. 29.7 again mentions “worthy receivers,” as well as something being presented “to the faith of believers.” Incidentally, the question of whether infants can have faith is irrelevant. The question is the faith of the person that the session has to determine. 29.8 explicitly state that ignorant men might receive the outward elements, but they do not receive the substance. An ignorant partaking is a condemnatory partaking. 29.8 clearly states this.

Westminster Larger Catechism: WLC 168 again states the necessity that people “worthily communicate.” It is also impossible for infants to “testify and renew their thankfulness” (from the same question). WLC 169 states that “thankful remembrance” is required, which is impossible for infants. WLC 170 again mentions worthy communication. They need to “by faith…receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death” (emphasis added). The entire content of question 171 is impossible for infants to perform. Question 172 is not as directly germane, but is still indirectly related. Question 173 tells us that all “who are found to be ignorant…may and ought to be kept from that sacrament.” Plainly the question of those who are ignorant is a distinct question from those who are scandalous, though both cases are discussed in the question. The reasoning here is simple: those who are ignorant cannot partake worthily of the Lord’s Supper. Question 174 describes the requirements of those while they participate, again requirements that infants and most young children are unable to perform. Question 175 tells us of the duties we have after we have participated, which are again impossible for infants and young children to perform. Question 177 is the obvious question that disagrees with the idea of paedo-communion in the phrase “and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question 92 says that the benefits of the sacraments come to and are applied to believers. In the case of baptism, that can come before faith, but the session has to decide whether a person can be admitted to the table based on a credible profession of faith. Question 96 mentions worthy receivers. Question 97 is the most direct statement of what is required for worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. Anything other than doing what that question requires is defined as eating and drinking judgment to themselves.

Book of Church Order: 57-1 state that “Believers’ children within the Visible Church, and especially those dedicated to God in Baptism, are non-communing members under the care of the Church.” Surely, PC advocates cannot agree with this definition of children. In 57-2, careful examination is required of sessions. This needs to be more than simply “Do you believe in Jesus?” Children who are two years old can be encouraged to the point of saying “yes.” But without further examination, it cannot be clear that the child actually believes. Although 57-4 uses the language of “recommended,” it is clear that PC advocates would say that it is not recommended that a public profession of faith be required. 58-2 states specifically that “The ignorant and scandalous are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper.” PC advocates cannot possibly agree with this statement. 57-3 states that the people be “instructed in its nature, and a due preparation for it, that all may come in a suitable manner to this holy feast.” Instruction is therefore essential to the “suitable manner” in which people need to come to the Supper. Infants and small children are not capable of receiving this instruction.

In my opinion, any advocate of PC would need to take an exception to all of these passages in our constitution. It is not just the age of the recipients. It is a completely different understanding of the sacrament. The benefit comes completely differently in a PC understanding versus a non-PC understanding. The difference is this: the constitution and non-PC advocates believe that a subjective element is required for proper reception of the sacrament. PC advocates believe that benefit can come without any subjective element whatsoever.

One more point needs to be made. PC advocates in the PCA always agree not to practice it. However, in believing it, there is no way that they can agree with the sections in the BCO. We do not allow exceptions to the BCO. And it is quite gratuitous to assume that a person can be in conformity by merely practicing what the BCO states. In my experience, PC advocates almost never mention exceptions to the BCO. In my opinion, this is not honest.

Doctrinal Failures ARE Moral Failures

The title is my thesis in this post. This point might seem obvious, except that many people do not treat doctrinal failures this way. To prove the thesis is easy. A doctrinal failure leads people astray. Leading people astray is a moral failure. Therefore, doctrinal failures are moral failures. Scripturally, one can point to Acts 20:28-31 and the book of Jude (and there are many other passages as well).

But there are complicating factors, aren’t there? Consider these points: 1. every teacher is wrong on some points of doctrine or other; 2. there are degrees of failure, some of which would lead people to Hell, while others might only lead to confusion. How does one tell what kind of category governs a particular failure or not? And how does one judge how serious an error is? The Bible does tell us of a pattern of teaching, of sound doctrine. There is such a pattern. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching to which we need to conform. There is a system, in other words. The Westminster divines believed that they had codified that system in their standards. They were concerned to put the system of doctrine contained in the Holy Scriptures down in a form to which the church could agree. Therefore, I believe that the Westminster Standards is the system of sound teaching described by Paul, and that it is the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Many folks would disagree with this, arguing that the system is much smaller than that. They might limit it to the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. But there are many central things in the Christian faith of which those two creeds do not speak. For instance, neither the Apostles Creed nor the Nicene Creed speak of justification by faith alone. That’s pretty central. Neither of those creeds speak of the sacraments in any detailed way. Those are central to the very definition of the church. Now, the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are very important, and surely everything that they DO address is certainly of the highest level of importance. But neither can be said to be a complete system, even when one takes into consideration the later expositions of the creeds. For Reformed folk, the best we have are the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.

Take paedocommunion as a test case. If one believes that the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are the only issues of importance, then one will judge paedocommunion to be a secondary matter. However, if the proper administration of the sacraments is a matter pertaining to the very definition of the church, then it is not a secondary issue. Paedocommunion is a doctrinal failure. Therefore, teaching paedocommunion is a moral failure.

This might outrage folks out there who are not thinking in these terms. But notice how different we usually feel about two hypothetical scenarios: if a pastor were embezzling funds from the church, or if he were falling prey to alcoholism and the Presbytery found out about it, firm steps would be taken to discipline that pastor, and rightly so. But so far, when a pastor is caught teaching unconfessional doctrine, practically no steps are taken, and when they are taken (usually under duress!), the situation is treated completely differently. The idea sometimes emerges that, even if he were teaching wrong ideas, and has “changed,” then it doesn’t matter whether he was teaching falsely before. That’s like saying that a pastor who was caught in having an affair can be given a free pass as long as he’s changed. The situations are identical. He has led people astray! Period!

The biggest problem right now is the “good ole boy” club syndrome. This is that teaching elders in the PCA are being given a free pass on their doctrine because “he’s such a nice guy,” or because he’s been there a long time, or because of some other social reason. We are forgetting the sheep in all of this. Sheep are being led astray, and because of our “good ole boy” syndrome, we are forgetting how serious a sin this is. And so, instead of exercising due diligence and following up problematic doctrine (such as the FV), we attack anyone who possibly, dares audaciously, in a totally unloving way, to actually bring up the remote possibility that there is an error somewhere in someone’s teaching! The whistle-blower is impugned, attacked and dredged through the mud, all in the name of love and charity, of course. Of course, if the issue were adultery, no one would even think of attacking the messenger. But doctrine is not being treated as a moral failure, but rather as a slight, insignificant “infirmity.” The Bible treats doctrinal failure much more severely than we do, and we are in big trouble because of it.

Christ’s Humanity and the Lord’s Supper

It occurred to me recently that, although the Reformed tradition has been correct about the (S)piritual presence of Christ at the Lord’s supper, the orientation of that discussion has always (due to the debates) been (limitedly) the physical place on earth wherever the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated.

There is an element of the Lord’s Supper that has sometimes been overlooked in all this, an element which the Reformed have always affirmed. It is called the sursum corda. It is the “lifting up of the hearts.” This element is common among all Christian traditions, incidentally. “Lift up your hearts…” “We lift them up to the Lord.” This does not mean “feel uplifted.” This actually means that, by faith, we are lifted up into the presence of God in heaven itself. If you look up Calvin’s liturgy for the Lord’s Supper, you will find it clearly present. At the Lord’s Supper, then, what we are saying by the sursum corda is that we are lifted up into the presence of Christ Himself, by faith.

The implications of this for the Lord’s Supper now become clear. Christ is not physically present in the elements down here on earth. He is present “down here” only by the Holy Spirit. But He also lifts us up to Him there in heaven spiritually, by faith. So Christ is present physically at the Supper. The two qualifications are that He is not present in the elements, and He is not present down here except by the Spirit. Instead, He lifts us up by the Holy Spirit through our faith, so that we can be present THERE.

My wife, when I had explained this idea to her, had one of those (many!) brilliant insightful moments, and added that this was eschatological: we are already present there at the Lord’s Supper in heaven by faith, and we will be present at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the future. So there is an already/not yet structure to this participation. I think I had known this about the Lord’s Supper in general. However, I had not applied it specifically to being in the physical presence of Christ by faith already, and waiting for our physical presence to be before His physical presence not yet.

I have not seen this particular idea anywhere, although I guess I would be surprised if no one has ever thought of it before. I myself came to it as I was contemplating the last Christological post I had written here. If anyone knows of anyone who has thought this thought before, I would be grateful if it could be pointed out.

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