I will admit, when I first read Christopher Jackson’s article, I was pretty excited – you can even see the comment I left there. The fact is, deep down I want to believe that everyone really is or wants to be or would want to be Lutheran! But subsequent reflection has subdued my elation somewhat. Here we must first ask, is it really accurate to say, as Jackson does, Moore is going well beyond the “Baptist Faith and Message” document – or that the words from his sermons on the sacraments are even a “contrast” to it?
I don’t think so. In his communion sermon, for example (see yesterday’s post), Moore does not say anything other than what Zwingli or Calvin could have said, even if they did not. Certainly for them as well as Luther, the Lord’s Supper was all about “proclaiming the Gospel” – the work that Christ does to save sinners! As for the vivid language about the body and the blood, I am under the impression that that would be permissible for the Reformed as well, so long as what is really being said is that Christ said “this is my body and blood”. Pastors themselves should be careful not to give the impression that the bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood respectively, because that is not really true. We are reminded of a 19th German Protestant liturgy in the past where, to circumvent the controversial issues, the pastor was instructed to say: “Christ said: This is my body etc.”
As for the sermon on baptism, is it really “approaching” Luther’s position, as Jackson says, or is it perhaps “shying away” from it? Note that in the sermon the water merely symbolizes – albeit perhaps in a dramatic enactment – what God is doing apart from the water: “I am showing you…” The water is “given meaning” in this approach, but the intimate and salvific connection between word and water is just not there. The point is that the Reformed have always had this much, even if some radical Zwinglian may have denied it. Do we think in Moore’s case the glass is half empty or half full and what is our reason for thinking what we do? Has Moore’s language about baptism been steadily building up to where it is now over the years? The fact is that some persons always approach something without ever getting there! Are we to approach the gospel – which baptism surely is – or proclaim it? In reality, baptism gives meaning to us because Christ really does join His whole self – and the eternal life He brings – with His people through water and the word. This is what we receive in simple trust.
And all of this begs the deeper question: why the different views over what the Lord’s Supper and baptism are and do? I think there is a clear answer to this and it will surprise many people. Those interested in these matters often overlook – or are unaware of – the fact that in the 16th century the Jesuits and Calvinists joined forces against the “outrageous” Christology of the Lutherans in the 16th century. Lutherans like Rosenbladt and Veith, not looking to make a big fuss and be a turd in the punch bowl, are often quiet about this, but I note that there is an Article VIII in the Formula of Concord that deals with the Christological issues that came up – originally because of disagreements about the Lord’s Supper. Not only this, there actually was an “Apology to the Formula of Concord” that was written precisely to address the objections and misunderstandings the Jesuits and Calvinists had about the Lutherans’ Christology.
As Gene Veith recently said of the Reformed position, “the Body of Christ can’t be on the altar because it’s up in Heaven with God”. Some Reformed persons might deny this is why they do not accept the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, but for Ulrich Zwingli, at least, this was indeed the case. Not only this, but in John 20:19 when Jesus enters the locked room, “Calvin said that the divine nature of Christ must have performed a miracle and made an opening, so then the human (limited) body of Christ could enter the room. Others say that no miracle at all was involved, and the Christ must have had to crawl through an open window or something.” (Schurb, here). “The finite cannot contain the infinite”, we are told, and this has had implications for Reformed Christology all the way from Ulrich Zwingli to this very day, try mightily as some may to make this axiom more palatable. One may even wonder whether Karl Barth’s doctrine of Scripture is simply the natural outgrowth of a consistently applied Reformed Christology – namely that simple written words meant to be read and understood by a human being cannot, in any sense, be infused with the divine – the infinite God simply cannot communicate Himself or His attributes to something so material and finite.*
If Christology is a part of a consistent “catholic tradition” which version of Christology are we talking about? I note with interest that some Reformed folks are becoming Eastern Orthodox in part because of their Christology (see here) – a Christology that Lutherans really do seem to have much in common with. In any case, we certainly do not want to water things down into some “classical” formulation all who are not crazy Jehovah’s Witnesses, Liberals, or Mormons can agree on! That simply is not recognizing the important reasons why brave saints in the past held the line here and fought as they did – and appreciating that they did theology based on the breadth and depth of Scripture.
Therefore, when Christopher Jackson says that we should talk to Baptists not only about sacraments that distinguish us from them but also about “points of commonality”, e.g., Christology, that does not work – the differences between Baptist and Lutheran Christology only resurface in the sacraments. In Gene Veith’s challenge to Jackson, he astutely points out “as [Jackson’s argument is] framed, the assumption seems to be that there should be essential agreement, at some level, between all of the different theologies”. Dr. Veith, I suggest, is right: we cannot assume that is the case and need to challenge ourselves to look at history and our respective theologies a bit more closely. Jackson’s viewpoint is especially understandable if we think the end result of theological disagreements are things like the Thirty Years War, but I think we can, by the grace of God, do much better than that. I think if we want to talk about points of commonality – something that certainly needs to be done as well! – we need to be talking about other things.
More than anything, this is just about communication basics: what do you really mean when you say XYZ? When it comes to our paychecks, we are definitely concerned to get things right: we want a paycheck that is “strong enough to deliver us” so to speak. Something similar holds true for our understanding of Jesus Christ.
You agree that Christ is 100% God and 100% man? Good. Now, what does this mean? Is the flesh of Christ life-giving in and of itself – not just some pipe through which divine operations flow – because it is united to the divine nature in the personal union? And does this mean that the whole Christ – 100% God and 100% man – dwells within you – really and truly? When Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches” does this mean that we are just some pipe through which divine operations flow, or are we truly united with God?**
Tomorrow we will look at the classical Reformed and Lutheran positions in Christology in some depth – while keeping the practical implications of the theology in the forefront.
*or, keeping the goal of the Scriptures in mind, Barth would say that it is not true that every person who reads the Scriptures or hears them read hears the word of God. We would say that persons really do hear the word of God – and insofar as they read them in their own language they can understand them according to their abilities – whether or not they receive it as such.
**And here, incidently, is where the Lutheran blogger Jordan Cooper is indeed touching on something very important when he speaks about Luther’s “theosis” (see here) ; and here) – which is a result of God’s declaring us righteous and not a cause of it. Second link is: Marquart, Kurt E. “Luther and Theosis” [online]Concordia Theological Quarterly 64 (2000) no. 3:182-205. Available from <http://www.ctsfw.edu/library/files/pb/1054>
Man climbing in window image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amanderson/2518800510