Thursday, June 28, 2012

Textual Criticism, Falsifiability, and the Gospel of Q

In order for a claim to be convincing it has to be falsifiable. This sounds contradictory until you think about it a bit. The statement, "It will rain tomorrow" is falsifiable because you can observe whether or not it rains tomorrow. If someone says that a silent, invisible dragon that takes up no space lives in his garage, it is not falsifiable because there is no way of observing the dragon. The claims of most non-Christian religions are not falsifiable. There is no way of proving that Mohammed or Joseph Smith did not receive revelation from God and so there is also no way of proving that they did.

Christianity is unique as a religion in that it is falsifiable. If it could be proven that someone had Jesus's bones, it would be proven that Christianity is false. The historical evidence that a resurrection did take place is strong enough that there are people who believe that Jesus had some type of resurrection without buying into all that He taught. As Christians we believe what Jesus taught because He died and rose again.

Unfortunately much of current textual criticism operates under a number of assumptions that are not falsifiable and which the actual evidence tends to contradict. Even though the manuscripts that we have tend to support the idea that except in a few localized instances scribes tended to simply copy what was in front of them, textual criticism tends to assume that those who copied texts were making insertions and expanding the text all over the place and that these changes became the dominant text. This is true even among those who hold to a rather high view of Scripture. At the very least, they tend to accept the textual work done by those who assume that the church has been in the business of corrupting the text rather than preserving the text and that the reading that the church rejected should be preferred to the one it accepted.

The idea that the church expanded the text has also caused a shift from the historic view that Matthew was the first Gospel written to the idea that Mark must have been the first Gospel written. Mark seems to assume that the reader is already familiar with Matthew but the "shorter is original" argument tends to win out over the idea that Mark was writing for a specific purpose. When it is widely accepted that the church began to corrupt the text at a very early date, it's no surprise that people start to question the integrity of the Gospels themselves and start looking elsewhere for another source. So the "Q Source Hypothesis" developed.

The idea is that Matthew and Luke were dependent upon both Mark and "Q." The problem is that there is no evidence that there is such a thing as "Q." There is not a single manuscript and there is not a single reference to "Q" in the church fathers. It only exists in the imagination of textual critics. Since it only exists in the imagination of textual critics it is not falifiable. You can't prove that "Q" doesn't exist for the same reasons you can't prove that Joseph Smith didn't receive magic spectacles and gold plates. You can't prove that "Q" doesn't exist for the same reason you can't prove that the Gospels were not spoken through the mouth of a dragon that resulted in unicorns pooping out manuscripts. The idea that "Q" doesn't exist is in fact falsifiable because all you would need to prove me wrong is to produce a copy of "Q." But to assert that "Q" does exist is not falsifiable because there is no real way to prove that it doesn't exist. Augsburg/Fortress actually released a The Critical Edition of Q.Scholars voted on what passages they beleived were included in this thing that has no evidence of ever having existed.

If the Q theory only held sway in the field of textual criticism things might not be so bad. But the assumption of Q has ruined a great number of commentaries on the Gospels. Some scholars spend so much time in commentaries talking about whether or not a specific passage was drawn from Q that they have little space left to comment on the Greek text that really exists that is sitting before them and little time to delve into the theology of the text. Even more liberal scholars who buy into these theories like Brevard Childs have recognized the problem and insist that eventually you have to deal with the text you have--the text which is actually used by the church--rather than only dealing with the imaginary text that nobody has.

I am thankful for the Concordia Commentary series for this reason as well as many others. I'm really looking forward to the forthcoming commentary on Mark by Dr. James Voelz. Dr. Voelz studied under C.F.D. Moule and knows the Greek as well as anyone. He puts together a pretty persuasive argument for the idea that Mark was written after Matthew and Luke.

At the end of the day, the pastor's job is to deliver Christ-crucified to people from the Scriptures as the perfect icon of Christ. The pastor's job is not to engage in speculation and doubt in order to impress people with how smart he supposedly is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology by Charles Porterfield Krauth

I just recently finished reading The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology by Charles Porterfield Krauth. You can read it for free here or purchase a printed copy has several copies in various digital formats that you can download for free. Unfortunately the copy I downloaded for my Kindle had lots and lots of OCR errors. But possibly one of the other copies has fewer.

C.P. Krauth played a big role in getting the Lutheran church to return to her confessions in the 19th Century and this book is a tremendous accomplishment. In many other books, the term "Conservative Reformation" has reference to Lutheran and Calvinist churches as opposed to the "Radical Reformation" which refers to the anabaptists. But Krauth understands the Calvinists to be part of the "Radical Reformation." So the book is really a defense and explanation of the historic teachings of the Lutheran churches, especially on the issue of the sacraments. Krauth defends the Lutheran position as being the historic Christian position against every objection you could possibly think of and many you never would. He responds to some of the more legitimate arguments but also takes the time to respond to some of the most ridiculous arguments against the Lutheran position. In one section Krauth goes on forever refuting some ridiculous statements by some Baptists claiming that Luther believed immersion was required for a valid baptism. But Krauth spends most of the time correcting Calvinist misrepresentations of Lutheranism and arguing against the Calvinist position. He gives such a thorough defense of the Lutheran that it's hard to see how anyone could refute what he wrote. Unfortunately the length of his work results in not many people reading it. Krauth is direct. He's not flowery in his language. He doesn't talk around issues. Krauth takes a very definite position. For an exhaustive defense of the Lutheran faith you really can't beat him but it will probably exhaust you.

He also sings the praises of Luther for some time in his book. I thought it was a little over the top but he says some things about Luther I was not aware of. So go lock yourself in the Wartburg Castle for a few months and read some Krauth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dispensationalism, Calvinism, and Progressive Revelation

Issues Etc. recently had a very interesting interview with Dr. Thomas Ice. I appreciate the fact that Issues Etc. often has guests that disagree with the theological position of the program so that we are able to hear a representative from that theological position explain why they believe what they believe. Dr. Thomas Ice is a very intelligent man and able to defend Dispensationalism as well as anyone I've heard. There are some huge problems with his position but I thought he had some very interesting things to say.

Dr. Ice is an honest enough scholar to admit that Dispensationalism is a relatively new system of belief. Dr. Ice does not believe this is problematic because according to him doctrine is in continual development. He listed the substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, and covenant theology as all things that took time to develop in the church. Dr. Ice says that the early Dispensationalists were Calvinists and very concerned about the glory of God.

This interview with Dr. Ice made me realize something I had not noticed before. Even though most current Dispensationalists are not Calvinists and most current Calvinists are not Dispensationalists, Dispensationalism could not have developed without Calvinism.

Both the Lutherans and the early church fathers believed that the Scriptures were all about Jesus. The early church fathers found Jesus in some of the most unlikely places in the Old Testament. By doing this, they were following the Apostolic tradition. Many examples could be pointed to in the New Testament but I'll just use one as an example that I believe also demonstrates the problem with Dispensationalism. Hosea 11:1 says:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1 ESV)
If all we had was Hosea 11:1, how should it be interpreted? It would seem that according the historical-grammatical method used by most Protestants "Israel" would be understood as national Israel and God is speaking of a past even when He delivered Israel out of the land of Egypt. But how does Matthew interpret Hosea 11:1?

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15 ESV)

Matthew takes a statement that appears to be just a statement about a past even that happened to Israel and interprets it as a prophecy about Jesus. The Dispensationalist will tell us that Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit and free to give entirely new meanings to Old Testament texts. The Calvinist will generally accept Matthew 2:15 as giving us the authoritative interpretation of Hosea 11:1 but is uncomfortable with interpreting Old Testament texts that are not explicitly referenced in the New Testament in the same way. The Lutherans and the Early Church Fathers understood the Apostles to be providing us with examples of how we should read the Old Testament.

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39 ESV)
Lutherans understand the above passages to teach that all of the Scriptures are all about Jesus. Calvinists and Dispensationalists tend to take them to mean that the Old Testament contains prophecies about Jesus but that the Old Testament is not all about Jesus. The church fathers taught that the Psalms were all about Jesus, but Calvin only believed some of them were and thought that the interpretations given by the church fathers that found Jesus everywhere were ridiculous just as the Dispensationalist finds them ridiculous.

Lutherans confess with the Apostle Paul that the central message of all preaching should be Christ-crucified because ultimately the Scriptures are all about Christ-crucified for the justification of sinners. But Calvinism and Dispensationalism see God's glory as the central teaching of all of Scripture. For Calvinism and Dispensationalism, the crucifixion of Christ is part of the larger story about God's glory.

I appreciate the work done by Kim Riddlebarger and other Calvinist theologians on eschatology. Lutherans have been a little lazy. But Calvinist theologians tend to make the leap immediately to showing how the church is the fulfillment of Israel. This is partially due to the prominent place that Covenant Theology has in Calvinism. When Calvinists argue for infant baptism they tend to do so on the covenantal grounds first defended by Zwingli rather than use the historic arguments about infants being part of the nations and needing to have their sins washed away. But rather than jump immediately from Israel to the church, I think it's important to see as Matthew does that Jesus is Israel reduced to one. Jesus is the New Israel. Jesus does everything Israel failed to do. Through our union with Jesus as the church we receive the blessings promised to Israel. This keeps everything centered upon Christ rather than on a transition from Israel to the church.

I think this could be helpful from an apologetics perspective as well. Often, Dispensationalists are reacting against covenant theology which they understand to be replacement theology that replaces Israel with the church. But the Scriptures are not centered upon Israel or the church, they are centered upon Christ. What is said about both God and Israel in the Old Testament is usually metaphorically true of each of them but becomes literally true in Christ. Psalm 22 applied in some metaphorical way to both David and Israel but is literally true of Christ. When Job says that God walks on the waters, Jesus literally does that. People have managed to use Old Testament prophecy in very wrong ways to justify the taking of another person's land or slavery or something like that. But the possibility of abuses get taken off the table if you take it as all being about Jesus and it's hard to argue that the Devil is deceiving people into thinking that the Bible is all about Jesus.

Todd Wilken rightly pointed out how mainline liberals have used the idea of the continual development of doctrine to justify some pretty outrageous things. But so has Rome. And I think people would be surprised to find out that even in confessionally Calvinist circles, the idea of the continual development of doctrine is promoted. I was at a lecture done by Herman Hanko where he said that if  a church does not continue to develop in its doctrines it will die off. That's at least part of the reason why there are so many different Calvinist denominations. They have all developed in different directions.

Calvinism has to accept the idea that doctrine isn't just something to be handed down but must be continually developed. Otherwise there would be no way to justify the doctrine of the limited atonement or the idea that once someone has real faith they will never fall away from the faith. Michael Horton has tried to find these teachings in the church fathers but as I've shown in a previous blog post the scholarship is really, really bad. You can't find TULIP in the church fathers. Contrary to Dr. Ice you can find justification by faith alone and the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement does not begin with Anselm. But it's not that surprising that within the Calvinist system that believes that everyone got it wrong until they came along that Dispensationalism would develop and regard themselves as building upon and further developing what Calvinism started. If everyone got the atonement wrong for so long, how do we know that they didn't get eschatology wrong and the relationship between the church and Israel? The covenant theology taught by Calvinism is a relatively new doctrine in the Christian church, only a little bit older than Dispensationalism.

You can have your covenant theology or your Dispensationalism. I'll take Christ-crucified in my ear and in my mouth for the forgiveness of my sins.

The SBC: Calvinism, Arminianism, and the Sinner's Prayer

A Facebook friend of mine asked me to comment on the SBC resolution on the Sinner's Prayer. I really don't have a dog in the fight and for the most part it's just silly but I guess I'll respond anyhow. The majority of churches in the SBC follow the typical Baptist understanding of salvation. They typically don't think theology is really all that important and embrace those doctrines that they like the most or that they think are most helpful for evangelism. They embrace a hodge podge of Calvinist and Arminian doctrines. They don't like total depravity, election, the limited atonement, or irresistible grace, but they do like once saved always saved. (This is different from the Lutheran position which isn't Calvinist or Arminian either but just lets the paradoxes hang there. Lutheran theology is not theologically lazy and isn't taking its positions based on pragmatic reasons. Lutherans take the positions that they do because they believe the Scriptures are all about Jesus and trust the Scriptures more than human reason.) On the other hand, there has been a growing number of Calvinists in the SBC. They claim that the SBC has been Calvinistic historically. From my own studies it seems more likely that there has always been people with a variety of soteriological positions within the SBC. The Calvinists may have predominated at the beginning but they weren't the only ones there and there was never a move to adopt a Calvinist confessional document that was binding in any sense. The Baptist Faith and Message doesn't take any real position on the issue and even that isn't really binding in any real sense. From its beginnings the SBC has been more concerned with sending missionaries than it has been concerned with what those missionaries believe. The SBC was founded in 1845 after disputes with the Northern Baptist Churches over slavery. The American Baptist Home Missionary Society would not appoint slave owners as missionaries and this in part led to the formation of the SBC. Over time of course the SBC has abandoned the pro-slavery position, but the only things that really seem to unite the SBC are not-baptizing babies, not recognizing and form of baptism other than immersion as being valid, and being very pro-missionary.

But anyhow, you have basically two groups. You have the Calminian Baptists who are still in the majority but  who fear the rise of the Calvinist baptists. So recently they have chosen to respond by trying to pass meaningless resolutions. The passing of meaningless resolutions is certainly not unique to the SBC, it seems like all reasonably large denominations feel the need to do so. But I think it might be interesting to look at the resolution and the Scriptural references offered. You can read it in its entirety here. But I'll address each section in order.

WHEREAS, God desires for every person to be saved and has made salvation available for any person who hears the Gospel (John 3:16; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2); and
The idea that "God desires for every person to be saved" is adequately demonstrated by the Scriptural passages provided. The idea that God "has made salvation available for any person who hears the Gospel" is not or at least it's not clear as to what it means to make salvation available. Christ has won salvation for every person, even those who never hear the Gospel. Paul says that the job of the pastor is to be a minister of reconciliation who says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Salvation is received through faith. I suppose there is a sense in which you can say it is "available" but at best the language is sloppy.
WHEREAS, A free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel is both possible and necessary in order for anyone to be born again (John 3:1-16; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:11-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13); and
None of the proof texts listed prove the statement. None of them say that we are born again by responding positively to the drawing of the Holy Spirit. John 3 says we are born again/from above by being born of water and Spirit which is a pretty clear reference to baptism even though neither parties like that idea. Acts 16:30-31 says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" but it doesn't say that we are born again by believing. Romans 10:11-13 says that all who believe in Jesus will be saved. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says that the Word of God is at work in believers. It doesn't say that belief is what causes God's Word to work. There are a couple of different problems that I think are hidden beneath some of the language used in the resolution. The Calminians tend to think of being saved and being born again as being completely synonymous. Most of the time they will only speak of salvation in terms of what happens when someone believes the Gospel at a particular time when someone makes a decision for Christ or something. But the Scriptures have a much richer understanding of salvation. In Romans 5 the Scriptures say that all who died in Adam were justified in Christ (this won't make the Calvinists happy either). So if someone asks me, "When did you get saved?" I can say, "On April 3, 33 AD." The Scriptures also speak of salvation as tied to God's Word in baptism ("baptism now saves you," "baptism for the remission of sins," etc.). So I can say that I got saved on the date of my baptism. Of the proof texts listed the John 3:1-16 passage would fall under this category. However, the Scriptures also speak of our salvation as future. And if you look at the verb tenses that's what's going on in the Acts, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians passages that are listed. The Scriptures point us to our salvation as a future event that happens when Christ returns and our bodies are resurrected. We are not just spirits trapped inside an evil body. For the Calvinist in the debate (and here Lutherans would agree) they would point to the fact that in the Scriptures regeneration produces faith, it's not the result of faith.
WHEREAS, Prayer is God’s gracious means through which any person can communicate with Him and is everywhere in Scripture commanded and commended for every matter and every person (2 Chronicles 7:14; Matthew 7:7-11; Mark 11:17; Philippians 4:6); and
God does not hear the prayer of the unbeliever and this is part of the problem with the sinner's prayer. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins you are already a believer and it is certainly a good thing to thank God for this salvation He has given you but sinner's prayer makes it seem like your act of saying the prayer is what makes you a believer or Christian. For practical purposes the altar call and sinner's prayer end up replacing the gifts that God has given to us. The Scriptures speak of both baptism and the Lord's Supper as being for the forgiveness of sins and saving us. The Baptist doesn't believe this and so he replaces the sacraments with the sinner's prayer.
WHEREAS, Praying to God to express repentance for sins, to acknowledge Christ as Lord, and to ask for forgiveness and salvation is modeled in the Bible (Acts 2:37-38; Romans 10:9-10); and
In Acts 2 Peter says to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Peter doesn't say "Repent and say the sinner's prayer." He doesn't even say, "Repent and pray." Romans 10:9-10 says that those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord as an expression of their belief that God raised Jesus from the dead they will be saved. But it doesn't say that their salvation is a result of this action. In the book of Acts the calling on the name of the Lord is associated with baptism where the baptismal candidate would call on the name of the Lord and be baptized.
WHEREAS, While there is no one uniform wording found in Scripture or in the churches for a “Sinner’s Prayer,” the prayer of repentance and faith, acknowledging salvation through Christ alone and expressing complete surrender to His Lordship, is the biblical means by which any person can turn from sin and self, place his faith in Christ, and find forgiveness and eternal life (Luke 18:9-14, 23:39-43); and
Both the publican/tax collector and the thief on the cross cry out for mercy based upon their belief that God is merciful. They do not express complete surrender or anything like that (I think people are fooling themselves if they think they have completely surrendered themselves anyhow.). Instead they both essentially just cry out, "Lord, have mercy!" This is our continual cry based on our belief in who God is in Christ. This is not something we do to make ourselves born again but a confession of who we really are and who God really is. We sin daily and daily we receive God's forgiveness.
WHEREAS, It is biblically appropriate to help a sinner in calling on the Lord for salvation and to speak of Christ’s response to such a prayer as “entering a sinner’s heart and life” (John 14:23; Acts 2:37-40; 16:29-30; Romans 10:11-17; Ephesians 3:17); and
John 14:23 speaks of the Triune God entering into the believer. This is a promise given by Christ. The Triune God will abide in the believer. Jesus is not saying, "Say this sinner's prayer and then I will come and live in your heart." Acts 2:37-40 says to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 16:29-30 simply has the question from the jailer as to what he must do to be saved. I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. Romans 10:11-17 speaks of the salvation of all who believe and speaks of the believer expressing himself by calling on the name of the Lord (which was ordinarily done at baptism). Verse 14 also makes clear that Christ speaks through the pastor. But there's nothing about asking Jesus into your heart. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the hearts of those who are already believers in Ephesus. This isn't a prayer given to them to say to become Christians. Rather it is Paul's prayer for their daily spiritual needs.
WHEREAS, A “Sinner’s Prayer” is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the Gospel (Matthew 6:7, 15:7-9; 28:18-20); now, therefore, be it
This is strange. In the Scriptures we don't really find altar calls and sinner's prayers but now we are fishing around for guidelines on how to use or not use the sinner's prayer. Matthew 6:7 warns against mindless babbling as found in pagan prayers. Matthew 15:7-9 warns against teaching that doctrines and practices that men come up with be taught as commandments from God. But it would seem that trying to pass a resolution promoting the "Sinner's Prayer" is just that. Matthew 28:18-20 says to make disciples by baptizing people not by having them say a sinner's prayer.
RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in New Orleans, LA, June 19-20, 2012, commend the use of a “Sinner’s Prayer” as a biblically sound and spiritually significant component of the evangelistic task of the church; and be it further
So says the commandments of men...
RESOLVED, That we encourage all Christians to enthusiastically and intentionally proclaim the Gospel to sinners everywhere, being prepared to give them the reason for the hope we have in Christ (I Peter 3:15), and being prepared to lead them to confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9), including praying to receive Him as Savior and Lord (John 1:12).
Are you enthusiastic enough? That sounds like a commandment from men too. 1 Peter 3:15 says we should be ready to give an answer when people ask us about the hope that is in us. It doesn't say that every Christian is responsible to go proclaim the Gospel everywhere. If the guy who wrote these resolutions really believed that he wouldn't have time to write these resolutions. How do I know if I'm intentional enough? Romans 10:9 should give comfort to every believer. It's not a checklist to make other people do. God's Word does what it says. It doesn't need your help. John 1:12 isn't a command either. It's a description of what actually happens. The "Sinner's Prayer," just like the altar call, is a man-made tradition that finds its roots in 18th Century revivalism. The people who came up with it knew full well that this tradition was not found in the Scriptures. But for pragmatic reasons they thought it was a good idea. Then they went hunting for Biblical passages to support what they had already decided to do. And now it's reached the point that people wouldn't even know how to bring other people the Gospel without using it. The Gospel is not the "Sinner's Prayer." The Gospel is Christ-crucified. God has not promised to work through the "Sinner's Prayer." God has promised to work through His Word both in the preaching of the Word and in His Word in baptism.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Curious Case of Ulrich Zwingli: Pelagian Politician and Hero to His Victims

Of all the major 16th Century magisterial Reformers, Zwingli is perhaps the oddest. There is no major branch of Christianity that traces its lineage back to Zwingli but many of his ideas are influential among Baptists, Calvinists, and liberals. Many Baptists regard him as a sort of hero of the faith but the anabaptists in Zwingli's day came to regard him as being worse than the pope. Zwingli's own views on the issue of infant baptism are still disputed. On July 14, 1524, Zwingli wrote (For most of the quotes in this article I am dependent upon a paper written by a defender of Zwingli. My interpretation of these quotes is obviously different.):
Although I know, as the Fathers show, that infants have been baptized occasionally from the earliest times, still it was not so universal a custom as it is now, but the common practice was as soon as they arrived at the age of reason to form them into classes for instruction in the Word of Salvation (hence they were called catechumens, i.e., persons under instruction). And after a firm faith had been implanted in their hearts and they had confessed the same with their mouth, then they were baptized. I could wish that this custom of giving instruction were revived to-day, viz., since the children are baptized so young their religious instruction might begin as soon as they come to sufficient understanding. Otherwise they suffer a great and ruinous disadvantage if they are not as well religiously instructed after baptism as the children of the ancients were before baptism, as sermons to them still prove. (Huldreich Zwingli, Ausleqen und Begrundung der Schlussreden oder Artikel, as found in Huldreich Zwingli's Werke, Vol. 1, pp. 239-240, quoted by Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli, p. 243)
Some of Zwingli's followers became anabaptists and used some of Zwingli's writings in support of their position. On August 31, 1526, Zwingli wrote:
Then the blind fellow adduced what I had written about teaching catechumens some years ago in the book on the Sixty-seven Articles. For he did not know that it was our custom that boys also as in former times be taught the rudiments of the faith. This he referred to baptism, rather indiscreetly; as if I had said that it was my counsel that the custom of not baptizing infants be brought back again, when I had spoken of imbuing children in the elements of faith. When he saw that he had erred in this matter he was charming.(Huldreich Zwingli, Letter to Peter Gynoraeus, August 31,1526, as found in Huldreich Zwingli's Werke, Vol. 7, p. 534. quoted in Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli, p. 253)
Zwingli does not say that infant baptism is invalid in the 1524 quote. But he pretty clearly says that he thinks it's better to wait until the child is older. His position is similar to some statements made by Tertullian although Tertullian believed in baptismal regeneration which Zwingli rejected.  However, rather than saying that he was wrong in what he had previously written Zwingli tries to pretend that the other guy just didn't understand. Zwingli was a politician and this becomes apparent on more than a couple occasions. The anabaptists had studied under Zwingli and received their foundational teachings from Zwingli. They understandably felt betrayed when Zwingli turned on them. In conversations with the anabaptists, Zwingli told them that he didn't think the theological differences between them and him were significant enough to divide over but he did not always say this same thing to the state. At times he would call for leniency, at other times he would call upon the state to get rid of these anabaptists.   Some have wondered if Zwingli actually changed his position on infant baptism or if he decided to start defending infant baptism for political reasons. I don't think we can know for sure, but we do see a general pattern throughout Zwingli's career where he seems to change theological positions when it is politically advantageous.

When Zwingli wrote his defense of infant baptism, he said that he didn't believe that anyone else had ever defended infant baptism with the arguments he was making (Yoder, Tdufertum und Reformation, p. 18.). Historically the church has defended infant baptism based on the command to disciple all nations by baptizing them (since infants are part of the nations) and also on the belief that infants are born sinners. But Zwingli denied the doctrine of original sin. He wrote:
Whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to admit that original sin, as it is in the descendants of Adam, is not properly sin, as has already been explained, for it is not a transgression of the Law. It is therefore properly a disease and a condition.
Zwingli's denial of original sin led him to defend infant baptism on covenantal grounds. Zwingli argued that infant baptism replaced circumcision and so the children of believers should be baptized just as the male children of believers were circumcised under the old covenant. The Calvinist churches have followed Zwingli in this argument.

But Zwingli's character and general approach is most apparent in his debate with Luther and the events that followed. Hermann Sasse's excellent book, This is My Body, provides a very helpful reconstruction of the debate. Throughout the debate, Luther clung tightly the Scriptures and Zwingli objected on philosophical grounds. They wrote up a statement in which they stated fourteen points of agreement and one point of disagreement. But after the debate, Zwingli published his own edition of the proceedings of the debate and the resulting articles. In his edition Zwingli bragged about how he supposedly beat Luther in debate and included added "explanations" to the articles in the margins that basically denied the very things that the articles of agreement said. Luther understood the articles to be a real confession of faith to die for. Zwingli understood them to be a political statement that could be read in various ways to bring people of different beliefs together to co-operate politically.

Zwingli's method of Biblical interpretation was rationalistic. Even though the average person would probably put Zwingli and the Roman Catholic church on opposite ends of the spectrum on the issue of the Lord's Supper, the underlying presuppositions are almost identical. Throughout the debate, Zwingli quoted Thomas Aquinas who taught that revelation can never contradict reason. Aquinas used this in support of transubstantiation. Zwingli used this in support of his purely symbolic view of the Supper. Luther took the exact opposite position and said that revelation often contradicts human reason. In many ways liberal Bible scholars can find their spiritual father in Zwingli. If reason tells us that if it looks like ordinary bread and wine it must be ordinary bread and wine, then reason also tells us that people don't rise from the dead, walk on water, or do any of the other things that the Scriptures say.

In addition to Zwingli's rationalistic doubt of the plain words of Scripture, when he was certain that he was right but unable to find Scriptural support he would sometimes appeal to visions:

We began, therefore, to think over the whole, revolve the whole; still the examples which occurred were the same I had used in the Commentary (on True and False Religion), or of the same kind. I am about to narrate a fact--a fact of such a kind that I would wish to conceal it, but conscience compels me to pour forth what the Lord has imparted, though I know to what reproach and ridicule I am about to expose myself. On the thirteenth of April I seemed to myself, in a dream, to contend with an adversary, a writer, and to have lost my power of speech, so that what I knew to be true my tongue failed me in the effort to speak...Though, as concerns ourselves, it be no more than a dream we are telling, yet it is no light thing that we were taught by a dream, thanks be to God, to whose glory also we are telling these things. We seemed to be greatly disturbed. At this point, from a machine," (the theatrical apparatus by which supernatural persons were made to appear in the air,) “an adviser was present (whether he was black or white I do not at all remember; for it is a dream I am telling), who said: You weakling! answer him that in Exod. xii. 11, it is written: 'It is the Phase--that is, the Passing over of the Lord.' On the instant that this apparition showed itself I sprung from my couch. I first examined the passage thoroughly in the Septuagint, and preached upon it before the whole congregation with all my strength. This sermon dispelled the doubts of the students, who had hesitated because of the obstacle of the parable" (that "is" meant "signify" only when a Parable was explained). "Such a Passover of Christ was celebrated on those three days as I never saw, and the number of those, it is thought, who look back to the garlic and flesh-pots of Egypt is going to be far less." (Zwinglii Opera. Turici. 1832. III. 841.) 

In this passage, Zwingli attempts to refute the Lutherans who he refers to as those "who look back to the garlic and flesh-pots of Egypt." But the passage he appeals to doesn't help him at all. In Exodus 12:11, Zwingli assumes that "it" means "the Lamb" and the meaning is that the lamb signifies the Passover. But the word "is" is not found in the Hebrew. Also, "it" does not refer to just the lamb but everything that precedes. But even apart from this, Zwingli's appeal to divine revelation to take us away from the plain words of Scripture is disturbing. If Zwingli did in fact see a vision it was inspired by demons or his own sinful nature.

I'm aware that most Calvinists will say that they have some problems with Zwingli as well. But I've noticed that if you attack Zwingli, most Calvinists will take it as an attack on Calvin. There is also a general shift in Calvinist churches away from a Calvinist understanding of the sacraments to a Zwinglian view. At any rate, I think Calvinists and Baptists should at least be aware of who this Zwingli fellow was. He is not a hero of the faith. He is an enemy of the faith. He was a rationalistic Pelagian politician who had more confidence in his own reason than he did in God's Word.

Just as an aside, I know that some in the Calvinist camp think that if only Calvin had made it to the Marburg Colloquy, Lutherans and Calvinists would be united today. But I don't think there is any real reason to believe this. Zwingli's basic arguments against the Lutheran view are essentially the same as Calvin's.

The bread is the body of Christ. The wine is the blood of Christ. They are for the forgiveness of your sins. That's what Jesus says.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not Discerning the Lord's Body

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ESV)

There have been a variety of interpretations as to what it means to discern the Lord's body. There are some significant textual variants in this passage and I don't necessarily agree with the textual decisions made by the ESV translators but I don't believe these textual variants are significant in how the passage should be interpreted. Older interpretations tended to understand "discerning the body" sacramentally. Those in Corinth were not recognizing that they were receiving the body and blood of the Lord, were treating it as a common meal, and were not showing proper reverence. More recent interpretations direct us to the actual abuses that were taking place and argue that "discerning the body" has more to do with showing love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ since they are the body of Christ.

Both ways of interpreting the passage don't seem to take everything that is said seriously enough. Paul is not addressing a congregation that is explicitly denying that we receive Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. But if "discerning the body" only has to do with our treatment of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then it doesn't make much sense as to why the unworthy partaker is "guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord." A few years ago I started thinking that there is probably a double entendre here. By treating the Lord's Supper as a common meal and making the poor people sit at the kiddie table, they were by their actions denying that receiving Christ's body in the sacrament is what it's all about and also not acknowledging their brothers and sisters in Christ as brothers and sisters in Christ. They were neither discerning Christ's body in the sacrament nor discerning that every member of the church is part of Christ's body. They were not engaging in a communal participation in the body and blood of Christ but engaging in a common feast with other wealthy people.

Recently, I've been listening to a Bible study on the Gospel of Mark led by Dr. James Voelz. In one of the classes, Dr. Voelz suggests an interpretation that is just a little bit different from my own and I think a better option. Dr. Voelz argues that "the body" which is not being discerned is the body of Christ which is in the body of the fellow communicant. When we partake of communion we receive Christ's actual body and blood inside of us. If we despise those we commune with we are not recognizing the body and blood of Christ inside of them. By despising our brothers and sisters in Christ and thinking we are better than them, we become unworthy participants and completely miss the point. We end up eating and drinking judgment to ourselves. Christ gives His body and blood for sinners. When we receive Christ's body and blood we are testifying that we are sinners and that we need the forgiveness of sins given in His body and blood. But if in some way we use the Supper to show that we are better than others who receive the Supper we do not know what we are truly receiving. Because of this sin against the body and blood of Christ, Paul says that some were actually getting sick and even dying. I've heard some try to explain that this was just the natural result of overeating but that's not what Paul says.

Paul's commentary on the Words of Institution found in this chapter should be enough to convince us that we truly receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper and that it is Christ's body and blood regardless of whether or not people believe that it is. Those who do not discern the body still receive the body but it is to their own judgment.

This should be enough to keep anyone from adopting an open communion policy as well. That's not the issue Paul is actually addressing. Paul is dealing with those who deny the body of Christ in their brothers by their actions. But today we have many who just plain deny the presence of the body of Christ. There are many confessions of faith and church bodies that officially deny the body of Christ. It would be unloving to encourage people who do not discern the body of Christ in the Supper to partake of something that could hurt them. The church has always practiced closed communion. It's not until very recently that some have begun to practiced open communion. In the early church you couldn't just walk in and expect to be able to partake. The bishop had to know you. Travelers had to bring a note from their bishop. To partake of communion with others meant that you shared a common confession with them.

On the other hand, the passage warns against being too exclusive. If those who hold to a common confession are excluded, the person excluding them fails to discern the body of Christ that is in the one they are excluding. People shouldn't have to jump through hoops and receive the Lord's Supper as some kind of reward.

There still remain other related questions. What about infants? God works faith in baptism so we know that they are not without faith. Does the ability to discern the Lord's body in the Supper require a certain level of cognitive ability? Do the dangers associated with not discerning the body apply to people who have not reached that level of ability? Or do the warnings only apply to those who are actively opposed to the teaching that we receive Christ's body or actively causing disunity in the body of Christ? Does the call to self-examination apply in every instance? The Scriptures say that if a man won't work he shouldn't eat but we wouldn't apply that teaching to infants. Luther seemed to take a pretty neutral position. He acknowledged the practice in the East and did not condemn it but he didn't try to introduce it into the Lutheran churches. Has the West departed from historic Christian practice or has the East? I really don't know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Calvin, Augustine, and the Eucharist

In a debate I listened to recently about the Lord's Supper, the Lutheran made the claim that Calvin's doctrine was a completely new doctrine while the Calvinist directed us to Calvin's Institutes where Calvin quotes the church fathers. I thought it would be a good idea to see if the church fathers are saying what Calvin says they are saying. If someone notices that I'm missing a key argument from Calvin please let me know, but from what I can tell Calvin seems to rely mostly upon Augustine and so I'll focus my attention on Augustine. Calvin writes:

Since the advocates of this spurious dogma are not ashamed to honour it with the suffrages of the ancients, and especially of Augustine, how perverse they are in the attempt I will briefly explain. Pious and learned men have collected the passages, and therefore I am unwilling to plead a concluded cause: any one who wishes may consult their writings. I will not even collect from Augustine what might be pertinent to the matter, [645] but will be contented to show briefly, that without all controversy he is wholly ours. The pretence of our opponents, when they would wrest him from us, that throughout his works the flesh and blood of Christ are said to be dispensed in the Supper--namely, the victim once offered on the cross, is frivolous, seeing he, at the same time, calls it either the eucharist or sacrament of the body. But it is unnecessary to go far to find the sense in which he uses the terms flesh and blood, since he himself explains, saying (Ep. 23, ad Bonif.) that the sacraments receive names from their similarity to the things which they designate; and that, therefore, the sacrament of the body is after a certain manner the body. With this agrees another well-know passage, "The Lord hesitated not to say, This is my body, when he gave the sign" (Cont. Adimant. Manich. cap. 12). They again object that Augustine says distinctly that the body of Christ falls upon the earth, and enters the mouth. But this is in the same sense in which he affirms that it is consumed, for he conjoins both at the same time. There is nothing repugnant to this in his saying that the bread is consumed after the mystery is performed: for he had said a little before, "As these things are known to men, when they are done by men they may receive honour as being religious, but not as being wonderful" (De Trinit. Lib. 3 c. 10). His meaning is not different in the passage which our opponents too rashly appropriate to themselves--viz. that Christ in a manner carried himself in his own hands, when he held out the mystical bread to his disciples. For by interposing the expression, in a manner, he declares that he was not really or truly included under the bread. Nor is it strange, since he elsewhere plainly contends, that bodies could not be without particular localities, and being nowhere, would have no existence. It is a paltry cavil that he is not there treating of the Supper, in which God exerts a special power. The question had been raised as to the flesh of Christ, and the holy man professedly replying, says, "Christ gave immortality to his flesh, but did not destroy its nature. In regard to this form, we are not to suppose that it is everywhere diffused: for we must beware not to rear up the divinity of the man, so as to take away the reality of the body. It does not follow that that which is in God is everywhere as God" (Ep. ad Dardan.). He immediately subjoins the reason, "One person is God and man, and both one Christ, everywhere, inasmuch as he is God, and in heaven, inasmuch as he is man." How careless would it have been not to except the mystery of the Supper, a matter so grave and serious, if it was in any respect adverse to the doctrine which he was handling? And yet, if any one will attentively read what follows shortly after, he will find that under that general doctrine the Supper also is comprehended, that Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, and also Son of man, is everywhere wholly present as God, in the temple of God, that is, in the Church, as an inhabiting God, and in some place in heaven, because of the dimensions of his real body. We see how, in order to unite Christ with the Church, he does not bring his body out of heaven. This he certainly would have done had the body of Christ not been truly our food, unless when included under the bread. Elsewhere, explaining how believers now possess Christ, he says, "You have him by the sign of the cross, by the sacrament of baptism, by the meat and drink of the altar" (Tract. in Joann. 50). How rightly he enumerates a superstitious rite, among the symbols of Christ's presence, I dispute not; but in comparing the presence of the flesh to the sign of the cross, he sufficiently shows that he has no idea of a twofold body of Christ, one lurking concealed under the bread, and another sitting visible in heaven. If there is any need of explanation, it is immediately added, "In respect of the presence of his majesty, we have Christ always: in respect of the presence of his flesh, it is rightly said, Me ye have not always.'" They object that he also adds, "In respect of ineffable and invisible grace is fulfilled what was said by him, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.'" But this is nothing in their favour. For it is at length restricted to his majesty, which is always opposed to body, while the flesh is expressly distinguished from grace and virtue. The same antithesis elsewhere occurs, when he says that "Christ left the disciples in bodily presence, that he might be with them in spiritual presence." Here it is clear that the essence of the flesh is distinguished from the virtue of the Spirit, which conjoins us with Christ, when, in respect of space, we are at a great distance from him. He repeatedly uses the same mode of expression, as when he says, "He is to come to the quick and the dead in bodily presence, according to the rule of faith and sound doctrine: for in spiritual presence he was to come to them, and to be with the whole Church in the world until its consummation. Therefore, this discourse is directed to believers, whom he had begun already to save by corporeal presence, and whom he was to leave in coporeal absence, that by spiritual presence he might preserve them with the Father." By corporeal to understand visible is mere trifling, since he both opposes his body to his divine power, and by adding, that he might "preserve them with the Father," clearly expresses that he sends his grace to us from heaven by means of the Spirit.
Calvin admits that Augustine does use realistic language in regards to the Eucharist--Augustine speaks of Christ's body falling on the earth and entering the mouth. However Calvin claims that Augustine only uses this verbiage because of the relationship between the sign and the thing signified. He then provides some quotes where according to Calvin, Augustine is teaching that Christ is spiritually present in the church but Christ's body is only in heaven. But in reality, Augustine ends up sounding very Lutheran when these passages are read in context at least in regards to the way that Christ is present. Lutherans of course, do not agree with Augustine in all of his teachings about the Eucharist being a sacrifice. Lutherans do not teach a local presence of Christ's body. Instead they teach that Christ is in fact in heaven but through the power of His Divinity Christ's flesh and blood are supernaturally present in the Lord's Supper. And this seems to be exactly what Augustine is actually saying. Calvin cites a portion of Augustine's book on the Trinity chapter 10 section 20 that says:

But because these things are known to men, in that they are done by men, they may well meet with reverence as being holy things, but they cannot cause wonder as being miracles.
But in the VERY next section, Augustine says:

What man, again, knows how the angels made or took those clouds and fires in order to signify the message they were bearing, even if we supposed that the Lord or the Holy Spirit was manifested in those corporeal forms? Just as infants do not know of that which is placed upon the altar and consumed after the performance of the holy celebration, whence or in what manner it is made, or whence it is taken for religious use. And if they were never to learn from their own experience or that of others, and never to see that species of thing except during the celebration of the sacrament, when it is being offered and given; and if it were told them by the most weighty authority whose body and blood it is; they will believe nothing else, except that the Lord absolutely appeared in this form to the eyes of mortals, and that that liquid actually flowed from the piercing of a side which resembled this.
Augustine did in fact introduce the platonic vocabulary that the Calvinist position is so dependent upon but Augustine himself did not hold to the Calvinist position and it's really hard for me to believe that Calvin himself could have thought that Augustine did. It really seems to me that Calvin had already concluded what he thought must be happening in the sacrament and then went digging in the church fathers to find some phrases. It is also possible that Calvin was reading Augustine through some sort of faulty lens that Calvin learned from medieval scholasticism. But it does not seem to possible to read Augustine in such a way that he agrees with Calvin.

Augustine unfortunately introduces some Platonic philosophical language into the way that we speak of the Lord's Supper. The word "sacrament" finds its roots in Augustine and is itself problematic. Augustine also introduces the idea of distinguishing between the sign and the thing signified. But Augustine doesn't believe that one can be present without the other. It wasn't until the middle ages that some theologians began to talk about the sign being there but not the thing signified or the thing signified but not the sign. Augustine regards the Supper both as symbol and reality at the same time. For Calvin it is unthinkable that those without faith would receive Christ's body and blood but Augustine is certain that they do:

“For as Judas, to whom the Lord gave the sop, not by receiving what was evil, but receiving in an evil manner, afforded a place in himself to the devil, so each one who receives the Sacrament of the Lord unworthily does not bring it to pass that it is evil, because he is evil, or that he has received nothing because He has not received unto salvation. For it is the Body and Blood of the Lord no less even to those of whom the Apostle said, ‘Who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself’.” (De Baptismo, V. 9)
For Calvin it is unthinkable that we would receive Jesus' body and blood in our mouths but Augustine says that we do:

“We receive with a faithful heart and the mouth (ore) the Mediator of God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, who gives us His Body to be eaten, and His Blood to be drunk, although it may seem more horrible to eat human flesh than to destroy it, and to drink human blood than to shed it “ (Contra advers. leg. et prophet. 1-2, n. 34)
Calvin tries to read the many passages in Augustine that make these kinds of statements as if they are just attributing something to the bread because of its relationship to the body of Christ in the sacrament but Augustine is saying much more than that. In his exposition of Psalm 34 Augustine says:

Or rather some spiritual Christian invites us to approach to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But let us approach to Him and be lightened; not as the Jews approached to Him, that they might be darkened; for they approached to Him that they might crucify Him: let us approach to Him that we may receive His Body and Blood. They by Him crucified were darkened; we by eating and drinking The Crucified are lightened. (9)

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Review of a Calvinist/Lutheran Debate on Baptismal Regeneration

Hoagies and Stoagies had a debate a couple years ago between a Lutheran  and a Calvinist on baptismal regeneration. Dr. John Bombaro took the Lutheran position and David Okken defended the Calvinist position.

Bombaro spent the majority of his time defending the idea that baptism is an example of performative speech that God's Word does what it says. Bombaro argued forcefully and with conviction. I think Bombaro could have done a better job answering some of the questions about not all Israel being Israel and issue of apostasy but he did an excellent job overall.

Okken's arguments all seemed very weak and he seemed unsure of his own position throughout. He often seemed to struggle because he didn't seem to really understand the Lutheran position.