Sacerdotalism and Sacramentalism

In reviewing chapter 10 of RINE, we need to start out with some definitions. Sacerdotalism has to do with a priesthood caste in the church. It is the idea that the priesthood in the church has supernatural powers. It is the idea that such a priesthood needs to be exalted at the expense of the laity. As such (although obviously related in practice) it may be distinguished from sacramentalism, the idea that the Sacraments work ex opere operato, or magically

The reason this distinction is important is because Wilson has not quite grasped what Warfield was targeting, in my judgment. Wilson says that Warfield is “disparaging the means of grace” (p. 85). This is the result of a rationalist system (Wilson’s own words). Then follows a lengthy quotation from Warfield’s book The Plan of Salvation. In this quotation, what Wilson sees is a denial of the means of grace in salvation in the interests of pure supernaturalism (p. 86). He calls Warfield’s view “closer to refried Gnosticism” (p. 86). Just to be clear, Wilson argues thusly: “I take his insistence that God works ‘directly’ on the human soul as a claim that God is working ‘apart from means'” (p. 86). Now, Wilson immediately qualifies this by saying that Warfield elsewhere acknowledges that God uses means of grace (p. 86). And he ends by asking this question, “But how is this not God working ‘indirectly’?” (p. 86). I will explain how this is so.

Warfield’s target is not sacramentalism in the quotation, but rather sacerdotalism. This is evident from the reasoning: “and has not suspended any man’s salvation upon the faithlessness or caprice of his fellows” (emphasis added). The target here is plainly a human priest getting in the way of God’s grace. He explicitly says “Sacerdotal system” in the quotation, which in turn defines “this human factor indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation” (quoted on p. 86 of RINE). It is plain, then, that the human factor which is intruded is the target of Warfield’s statement, and not the means of grace unmediated by a priest. Because Wilson has seemingly conflated sacerdotalism with sacramentalism in the mind of Warfield, he thinks that a denial on Warfield’s part of the former must also imply a denial of the latter, and furthermore a downplaying of the significance of the sacraments. Wilson further misreads Warfield when he says that “According to Warfield’s definition, to have the covenant dispensed in ordinances and to have them be spiritually efficacious, is sacerdotalism” (p. 88). This is plainly not Warfield’s definition of sacerdotalism. Warfield’s definition is plainly that mentioned above: a human intruder in the pathway of God’s grace. But surely we can therefore see that just because Warfield denies sacerdotalism does not mean that he has too low a view of the sacraments. What was Warfield’s view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

To answer that question, we must go to the Selected Shorter Writings, volume 1, pp. 325-338. Given the fact that Warfield was such a target of Wilson in this chapter, it might have been good had Wilson referenced these two short articles, which are quite clear concerning Warfield’s view. Warfield starts out his chapter on baptism by talking about circumcision, coming to the standard Reformed conclusion that (from circumcision to baptism) “the form of the rite was changed, not its substance” (p. 327). Then follows this statement:

God gave it to (Abraham) as a “sign” and a “seal,” not to others but to himself. It is inadequate, therefore, to speak of baptism as “the badge of a Christian man’s profession.” By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ…The meaning of that (the “honorable name in James 2:7, LK) is that we have been marked as the peculiar possession of our Lord, over whom he claims ownership, and to the protection and guidance of whom he pledges himself…What it means is just this and nothing else: that we are the Lord’s. What it pledges us just this and nothing else: that the Lord will keep us as his own. (pp. 327-328). Salvation is cleansing, salvation is ransoming. Baptism represents it from the one point of view, the Lord’s Supper from the other (p. 330).   

Does this sound like a rationalistic downplaying of the Sacrament to you? And furthermore, in Warfield’s view of the Lord’s Supper, he uses the same procedure: he starts from the OT type, and moves from there to the antitype.

What is done in the two feasts (passover and the Lord’s Supper, LK) is therefore precisely the same thing: Jesus Christ is symbolically fed upon in both…It is much rather only a new form given to the Passover (p. 333). All who partake of this bread and winde, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper…by which we testify our “participation in the altar” and claim our part in the benefits bought by the offering immolated on it (pp. 336-337).

Finally, it should be noted that Wilson says this: “I quote Warfield at this point knowing that as a confessional Presbyterian he had to (and did) acknowledge that God established and used means of grace within the Church. I do not want to misrepresent him as overtly denying that there are means of grace. But I do want to argue that Warfield was being inconsistent here” (p. 86). I am arguing that Warfield was not being inconsistent, but rather was denying sacerdotalism, and not sacramentalism, and even though he would also deny sacramentalism, he would not thereby downplay the importance of the sacraments. At the very least, he does not approach a refried Gnosticism. I will go over the latter part of this chapter in another post.

Update: to tack on something that is unrelated to this specific post, but very much related to the FV, see this outstanding quotation from Jonathan Edwards.



  1. June 28, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Well done -you have all the makings of making the list of contributors to phase two of the Warfield project that is now under way.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 28, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for your vote of confidence, Gary.

  3. Stewart said,

    June 28, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Lane, do you think Warfield would agrees with the WCF that the sacraments not only “represent,” but also “apply” benefits to worthy receivers? Thanks.

  4. Stewart said,

    June 28, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    First, let me say that I’ve only read a few Warfield books. I just don’t know where he stands on a lot of things. But if you think these two quotes accurately represent Warfield’s view of the sacraments, he still seems to have a “low view.” I just don’t see any emphasis on the sacraments being a “means of grace.” The sacraments to more than just “represent.” They are more than just “symbols.” Wouldn’t you agree? Where does Warfield stand on that? Thanks.

  5. tim prussic said,

    June 28, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Just a note: Remember that Warfield’s PoS (that’s Plan of Salvation! [hehe]) is not in anyway inteded to be a work about the correct view of the sacraments. It’s been a few years, but I think Lane’s distinction ‘twixt sacerdotalism and sacramentalism is most helpful.
    As to Warfield’s view of the sacraments, just the quotes above in Pastor Lane’s original post seem to indicate quite a high view of the sacraments. Maybe Pastor Lane’s got more up his hefty head of his.

  6. Xon said,

    June 28, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    But, Lane, the FVers have already read Warfield and his words condemn him. What need have we for this sophistry? You are just being an obstinate defender of error, coming in and trying to interpret his words in context. :-)

    Oh yeah, and don’t you Warfield guys ever admit error on anything? :-)

  7. greenbaggins said,

    June 28, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Warfield scholars never admit to error on anything: it is out of accord with Warfield’s doctrine of inerrancy! ;-) Isn’t that right, Gary?

    I think Warfield’s view is the view of the Westminster Standards.

  8. tim prussic said,

    June 28, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Too much humor in here, gentlemen. Smiley faces and all…. what do you think this is?! Don’ t you know that we’ve just discovered that jocularity is a sure sign of works righteousness… see the “A Conversion Experience” sting for the details.

  9. NHarper said,

    June 28, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Why was the Lord’s Supper ordained?
    It was ordained for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we thereby receive. Now is the view here stated the doctrine of the New Testament? If it is, let us never be ashamed to hold it close, profess our belief in it, pin our faith on it, and steadfastly refuse to hold any other view, no matter who teaches it. In subjects like this we must call no man master. It matters little what great theologians and learned preacher have thought fit to put forth about the Lord’s Supper. If they teach more than the Word of God contains they are not to be believed.

    In the New Testament I find no less than four separate accounts of the first appointment of the Lord’s Supper. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, all four describe it: all four agree in telling us what our Lord did on this memorable occasion. Only two tell us the reason why our Lord commanded that His disciples were to eat the bread and drink the cup. Paul and Luke both record the remarkable words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Paul adds his own inspired comment: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (Luke 22:19, i Cor. 11:25-26). When Scripture speaks so clearly, why can’t men be content with it? Why should we mystify and confuse a suject which in the New Testament is so simple? The “continual remembrance of Christ’s death” was the one grand object for which the Lord’s Supper was ordained. He that goes further than this is adding to God’s Word, and does so to the great peril of his soul.

  10. tim prussic said,

    June 28, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, more ink was spilled on the nature of the sacraments (the Lord’s Supper in particular) in the Reformation than on any other theological point. I know that’s certainly true of Calvin. It seems there might be a bit more going on in the Supper than you’re letting on, NHarper. Although, what you’ve said of it is clearly beyond dispute.
    One place to consider is 1 Cor 10 – what is the fellowship with/participation in the body and blood of Christ? What kind of loaded language (koinonia) is Paul employing and why?

  11. NHarper said,

    June 28, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    That’s a great important question, Tim.
    Who ought to receive the Lord’s Supper?
    First, let me show who ought not to be partakers of this ordinance. The principle giants whom John Bunyan describes in “Pilgrims Progress” as dangerous to Christian pilgrims were two, Pope and Pagan. If the good old Puritan had foreseen the times we live in, he would have said something about the giant Ignorance.

    It is not right to urge all professing Christians to go to the Lord’s Table. There is such a thing as fitness and preparedness for the ordinance. It does not work like a medicine, independently of the state of mind of those who receive it. This kind of teaching can turn the reception of the Lord’s Supper into a mere form. I believe this is the great danger and flaw of the FV. Ignorance can never be the mother of acceptable worship, and an ignorant communicant who comes to the Lord’s Table without knowing why he comes, is altogether in the wrong place. “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” – “recognizing the body of the Lord,” – that is to understand what the elements of the bread and wine represent and why they are appointed, and what is the particular use of remembering Christ’s death – is an essential qualification of a true communicant. To come to the Lord’s Table is not to be taken lightly, or carelessly! It is a solemn ordinance and solemnly it ought to be used. This is why I am vehemently opposed to paedocommunion. Parents should respect this essential qualification for true communion by waiting until their child understands what it truly means to “recognize the body of the Lord”.

    Secondly, sinners living in open sin and determined not to give it up ought never to come to the Lord’s Table. To do so, is a positve insult to Christ, and to pour contempt on His gospel. It is nonsense to profess we desire to remember Christ’s death, while we cling to the accursed thing which made it needful for Christ to die. The mere fact that a man is continuing in sin is clear evidence that he does not care for Christ, and feels no gratitude for the offer of redemption.

    Thirdly, self-righteous people who think that they will be saved by their own works, have no business to come to the Lord’s Table. Strange as it may sound at first, these persons are the least qualified of all to receive the Lord’s Table. They may be outwardly correct, moral, and respectable in their lives, but so long as they trust in their own goodness for salvation they are entirely in the wrong place at the Lord’s Supper. For what do we declare at the Lord’s Supper? We publicly profess that we have no goodness, righteousness, or worthiness of our own, ant that all our hope is in Christ.

    This is where I go a little balliistic on this false notion of Non-Elect Covenant Members. The plain truth is that the Lord’s Supper was not meant for dead souls, but for living ones. The NECM fall into one or more of the above categories – the careless, the ignorant, the willfully wicked, the self-righteous- and they are no more fit to come to the Lord’s Table than a dead corpse is fit to sit down at a king’s feast. To enjoy a spiritual feast we must have a spiritual heart, and taste, and appetite. To suppose that the Lord’s Table can do any good to an unspiritual man is as foolish as to put bread and wine into the mouth of a dead person. Because of their state, the so-called NECM are utterly unfit to come to the Lord’s Supper. To urge them to partake is not to do them good but harm. The Lord’s Supper is NOT a converting or justifying ordinance. If a man goes to the Table unconverted or unforgiven, he will be no better when he comes away (actually worse due to the associated judgments for coming unworthily).

    I need to take a break here for everyone’s sake!

  12. jared said,

    June 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Nice Edwards quote, though I don’t see what it has to do with FV advocates since the two I’m most familiar with (Leithart and Wilson) would agree with it completely.

  13. June 29, 2007 at 8:18 am

    As my chapter in the book on Warfield that I edited will make clear- there is a very significant difference between Wilson and Warfield on the subject of this post-and it has nothing to do with ‘refried gnosticism’-and everything to do with Wilson & co. mirroring the views of Warfield arch-foe C.A. Briggs. Added to that, Brad Gundlach’s remarkable chapter on Warfield ,Biblical Authority and Jim Crow demonstartes as well the repulsive response BBW would have had to Wilson and Wilkins dreadful book on slavery.

  14. tim prussic said,

    June 29, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Johnson, sounds fantastic. I look forward to it. Please, tell us what you really think of Wilson/Wilkin’s slavery book!

    NHarper, thanks for your views – I’m sure we could find stuff in there to work on. However, you never got around to answering my questions:

    “One place to consider is 1 Cor 10 – what is the fellowship with/participation in the body and blood of Christ? What kind of loaded language (koinonia) is Paul employing and why?”

  15. NHarper said,

    June 29, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    I guess you are asking me the question what benefit communicants may expect to get by receiving the Lord’s Supper. Sorry, it is taking me so long to get around to that; I thought it was important to first explain who ought to take the Lord’s Supper. Let me briefly answer that because the benefits or the “fellowship” depend on who is participating in the ordinance.

    People who have examined themselves to see whether they have truly repented of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life – have a true faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of His death – they are in love with all men. In a word, I find that a worthy communicant is one who possesses three simple marks and qualifications – repentance, faith, and love. Let such a person come boldly to the Lord’s Supper. Let no barrier be put in his way. He may draw near with confidance, and feel assured that the great “Master of the Banquet” is not displeased.

    Such a man’s repentance may be very much imperfect. Never mind! Is it real? Is he truly repentant? His faith in Christ may be very weak. Never mind! Is it real? A penny is as much true money as is a one hundred dollar bill. His love may be very defective in quantity and degree. Never mind! Is it genuine? The first twelve communicants, when Christ Himself gave the bread and wine were weak indeed – weak in knowledge, weak in faith, weak in courage, weak in love. But, eleven of them had something about them which outweighed all defects – they were real, genuine, sincere, and true.

    What benefits may communicants expect to get by receiving the Lord’s Supper/
    We need to settle it firmly in our minds that the Lord’s Supper was not given to be a means either of justification or of conversion or of what the FV calls “covenant renewal”. It was never meant to give grace where there is no grace already, or to provide pardon when pardon is not already enjoyed. It was certainly not intended to make our peace with God, to justify, or to convert. And, it was never intended to be a “reminder” to God of his covenant with his people. Since when does God need a reminder?

    The simplest statement of the benefit which a truehearted communicant may expect to receive from the Lord’s Supper, is the strengthening and refreshing of our souls – clearer views of Christ and His atonement, clearer views of all the offices which Christ fills as our Mediator and Advocate, clearer views of the complete redemption Christ has obtained for us by His substituted death on the cross, clearer views of our full and perfect acceptance in Christ before God, fresh reasons for deep repentance for sin, fresh reasons for lively faith – these are among the leading returns which a believer may confidently expect to get from his attendance at the Lord’s Table. He that eats the bread and drinks the wine in a right spirit will find himself drawn into closer communion with Christ and will feel to know Him more and understand Him better.

    The error of covenant renewal is in making an idol of the Lord’s Supper.
    More later

  16. tim prussic said,

    June 29, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Sweet verbosity!

    Lotts of stuff. I’m particularly interested in your last statement: “He that eats the bread and drinks the wine in a right spirit will find himself drawn into closer communion with Christ and will feel to know Him more and understand Him better.”

    I don’t disagree, but I think you’re missing THE point from 1 Cor 10 – the bread and cup ARE a communion/participation in the body and blood of Christ. It’s not that the sacrament just brings into closer communion, but that it is communion. How do you understand this?

  17. Robert Harris said,

    June 29, 2007 at 4:31 pm


    #15 “The error of covenant renewal is in making an idol of the Lord’s Supper.”

    How so?

  18. Bedell said,

    June 29, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Was there something wrong with my earlier post? I no longer see it.

  19. David C. Moody said,

    June 29, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    I have not read a lot of Warfield, but I have read his Plan of Salvation. In the chapter “Sacerdotalism,” he attacked any use of the sacraments which puts the dispensing of the grace within the power of the ministers of the church. In other words, the church does not hold the sole power to a machine which saves individuals.

    Sadly, however, Warfield never puts the brakes on his argument. He argues against grace being applied through the sacrament so much that he gives the distinct impression that anyone who thinks any grace is applied through physical means is a sacerdotalist. Then, in reading your quotes, I realized what rubbed me the wrong way when I was reading that chapter from Warfield: he thinks that the sacraments are merely symbols. (See his use of the word “symbolically.”) As such, he is not a son of Calvin but of Zwingli (just stating a fact, not saying it’s necessarily bad).

    The Reformed and the WCF have historically held that the sacraments are “means of salvation.” (That was a direct quote from the WCF.) Warfield essentially differed with this view because he saw it as a mere symbol.

    And for the man who wrote that going beyond a mere remembrance puts your soul in danger, all I have to say is that he has just attacked nearly all believers throughout the history of the church, except for Zwingli and the Evangelicals after the Second Great Awakening. His eyesight is myopic. I think he should read the WCF, or if he has read it, perhaps he should read it with glasses on so he sees how the Confession clearly goes beyond his view by using the term “means of salvation.”

  20. greenbaggins said,

    June 29, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    David, I will leave Gary Johnson to wipe your argument off the face of the map. He is a Warfield scholar (not to mention being related to him!). Your argument is ridiculous. Warfield holds to the Westminsterian view of the sacraments.

  21. June 30, 2007 at 6:59 am

    Please do read the two items from the collected shorter writings of Warfield that Lane cited in his post. It really boggles the mind that your could read Warfield ( through the lenses of Wilson & co. obliviously) and come away with that impression-but then again our friend Robert K, intoxicated by the late Ted Letis, became convinced that BBW undermined confidence in the autority of Scripture!

  22. July 1, 2007 at 4:47 am

    There is a very interesting piece by Carl Trueman,”Better Than Chick Li.II” over at Ref 21 that touches on this subject. Worth pondering.

  23. July 2, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    […] 2nd, 2007 at 1:28 pm (Federal Vision) Here I began my critique of chapter 10 of RINE. One note must be appended to that post: it will be […]

  24. July 12, 2007 at 10:08 am

    […] Federal Vision)  While we await Wilson’s response to my two posts on Sacerdotalism (here and here), we will move on to his chapter on […]

  25. July 23, 2007 at 8:41 am

    […] Wilson asking if he is desirous of continuing the debate. I believe that since June 28th, which was the first post on the sacerdotalism chapter, and July 2nd, which was the second post on that chapter, and July 12th, which was my first post on […]

  26. July 28, 2007 at 11:20 am

    […] not to want to answer my query about Warfield. I would still appreciate it if Wilson would engage the Warfield quotations from the Shorter Writings, those books out of which Wilson forgot to read when formulating what […]

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