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Archive for the ‘Eucharist’ Category

The necessity of reforming the churchThe necessity of reforming the church by John Calvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good little read, which has the advantage of being very concise and direct. It was written to Emperor Charles V on the eve of the Diet of Speyer (1544). This tract was written as an apologia for the Reformation. What was going on in the sixteenth century that made reformation necessary? I think Calvin lays out a case that it was quite necessary, and that the only course of action open to the Christian who loved the church of Jesus Christ was to support the Reformation.

What will be most surprising about this work is how heavily some issues factor into Calvin’s reasoning. You might expect him to focus on sola scriptura or sola fide. These issues simply do not get much attention. Instead, Calvin focuses on the abuses in worship, prayer, and the Sacraments. This, I think, should be quite instructive for us. Too often, we place a great stress on theological purity, but scarcely think about purity in the corporate action of the church. We should have done the one without leaving the other undone. Let us serve our Lord by pressing forward toward excellence in all areas of life.

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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and OrthodoxyFor the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first contact with Alexander Schmemann. I am quite sure that I’ll make some time to explore him further, for I found this little book to be both gloriously illuminating and but also a bit scary.

As to the illumination, Schmemann proposes a view of the world that is enormously compelling. He sees the world “sacramentally.” I think what he means by that is that the world is God’s creation and is both to manifest his presence and also to be fellowship with us. Sin, of course, destroys the whole sacramental aspect of creation and now leads only to death. The church, however, is the sacrament to the world. It is through the church that God manifests his presence to humanity and has fellowship with creation, thus fulfilling creation. This sacramental church function is wonderfully Christ-centered and is expressed and lived in the Sacraments (do note the capital S) of the church. I found all this to be wonderful and refreshing, especially because I saw significant aspects of Postmillennialism and Van Tillian apologetics woven throughout. Not to mention that Schmemann (with his insightful attack on Secularism) would be death on RADICAL two-kingdoms theology. All this is splendid.

But not all is splendid, for the book is also scary. Schmemann did not intend this book as an apologetic for his Eastern Orthodox views of the Sacraments (all seven of them). Rather, it is more a description or an elaboration. Schmemann did not set out to “prove” anything, but rather to set forward or present his ideas. Well, ideas are dangerous things. Just because an idea (or a collection of them) is compelling does not make it correct or true. Holding, as I do, the Bible to be the final word on truth and “leitourgia,” I want to be very careful to weigh Schmemann (and everyone else for that matter) in the balance of God’s very Word. Where Schmemann has captured and articulated God’s truth, let him be our teacher. Where he has not, let God be true and every man a liar.

Finally, as I read this book, I saw Peter Leithart on about every page. Many of Pastor Leithart’s criticisms in The Baptized Body, for example, are quite clearly traceable to Schmemann’s influence (or at least so it seems to me). I mention that only in passing, not to paint Schmemann with a Leithart brush. I am quite sure that the discerning reading will benefit from Schmemann, even in he is opposed to Leithart’s thinking. However, it seems to me that if one wants to understand Leithart better, Schmemann would be a good place to start.

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The Bread and the Cup

We live in a period of time in which individualism is huge and the centrality of the church is almost non-existent. One casualty of this unfortunate arrangement is that coming to the Eucharistic Meal is seen almost solely as an individual’s personal choice, not as a matter of the official ministry of the church. As a campus pastor of mine put it to unbelievers at our Friday night para-church meeting: “When the bread is passed, if you feel God tuggin’ on your heart, go ahead and partake.” In the first place, a para-church organization (of which there are about 14 billion) has NO BUSINESS administering the Sacraments given to the church by Christ.  That aside, what does an unbeliever (even if he “feels God tuggin’ on his heart”) have to do with the Lord’s Table?! This is all quite misguided. It is wrapped up in the unseen errors of our own day, and it is a practice is not only largely missing from the history of the church, but is roundly condemned throughout the whole of that history. Finally, offering the holy Meal to people before they are baptized is not just contrary to church history, but is contrary to a sound reading of Scripture. (more…)

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