Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Do They Feel That Way?

I have meet many Catholics who are shocked to learn that many Protestants hold their Church suspect and don't trust the word from Rome. Many modern Catholics don't understand why this is. One reason is because people have long memories, that often lasts for many generations, when wrongs are done to them.

The Catholics do have Martyrs from the Reformation era, but for every one Catholic martyr There were many times more Protestant martyrs who died horrible deaths with the nod of the Roman See. For every Sir Thomas More (who had Protestants in England killed for their Faith) there were many more Protestant Martyr's. I think of men like William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, John Hooper, John Bradford, Thomas Cranmer etc....

Roman Catholics can not pretend that the Church at Rome did not encourage that the sword, the stake and the Inquisition be used to suppress and destroy those that had broken with Rome. To say "That was then this is now" is not enough, especially if you claim to be the "true Church" and some amount of infallibility, as Rome does.

I want to see reconciliation in what is left of Christendom, but I am not foolish enough to think that will be easy. It want be, but we need to work for it and we need to be HONEST (a Christian virtue) when dealing with each other.

Some years back A Roman Catholic was offended when reading a copy of the Westminster Confession, because of some of the harsh things said about The Roman Catholic Church in it. My response was, "Have you read what the Catholics said about Protestants in the canons from the Council of Trent?"

In the religious disputes that racked Christendom after the Luther broke with Rome, there was wrong committed on all sides, but Rome was bigger and hit harder than any of its Protestant rivals were able to do. These things need to be dealt with and not simply dismissed as being unimportant because it was long ago. Wounds can last for millennia if there is no attempt at healing.

Coram Deo,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where Am I?

One thing is for sure, I'm certainly not in Kansas any more. On the American denominational map, I find myself feeling the way Dorothy felt when her house landed in Oz. Where am I and how did I get here?

I can worship with the Baptists, Lutherans, Presbytierians, Episcopalians and Catholics, but where do I fit? Where do my views of the sacraments, church government, theology. church history, etc... fit in in the current denominational landscape?

My undestanding of Covenant makes it impossible for me to ever feel at home in a Baptist church. I can and do worship with my Baptist brethren now and then, but I could never join a Baptist Church. The Baptist would not accept the baptism of my children as valid because they were baptised as infants, and I am convinced that paedobaptism is biblical. I would never want my children to adopt a Baptist understanding of baptism, because that would mean that they had lost the biblical concept of covenant.

The Lutherans (LCMS) that I've spoken and worshipped with insist that I hold to Luther's understanding of the Eucharist in order to take communion with them. I don't think Luther's view is correct. I can't go to a church for very long where they celebrate the Lord's Supper every week (which I think is correct in worship), but my family and I are barred from the table.

The Episcopal Church USA requires that I have a Trinitarian baptism to take part in the Eucharist. I think that is a proper fencing of the table, so I like that. In my family we are all baptised correctly (Trinitarian baptism) and my family and I can participate in Communion when we worship with the Episcopalians, but the Episcopal Church USA, as a denomination, is VERY liberal and I do not want to place myself or my family under the spiritual authority of a denomination that has approved and anointed a homosexual bishop and like minded priests.

The Catholic Church into which I was born and baptised, but never confirmed, tells me that I must agree with all that the Church officially teaches in order to be brought back into full fellowship and be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist at Mass. I cannot see this ever happening. When I started reading the Early Church Fathers, I was told by several Catholic friends and family members, that the Fathers would enable me, perhaps even force me, to return to Rome. They are, thus far, sorely mistaken. Reading the Fathers has certainly had an affect on my thinking. I view some things differently then I did before I started to read them, but they have also shored up a number of my differences with the Church at Rome. This especially true in my views on Papal infallibility and the authority of the Bishop of Rome over the Church. My personal view of the Catholic Church has softened a bit, though I have never been hostile toward Rome. Since I started reading Fathers I have found some more understanding of the history of Catholic doctrine, but they have not brought me closer to Rome. If anything, reading the Fathers has ended my flirtation, for now, with the idea of returning to Rome.

The Presbyterian Church (PCA) is the denomination that I have been a member of for over 20 years. It is a theologically conservative denomination and where I live it is more liturgical than it is in much of the country. I am glad for that because liturgical worship is historic and biblical worship. But many of the people in the PCA are more baptistic in their understanding of the Sacraments and less like Calvin and most of the 16th century Reformed theologians. I can live with that, but I am not sure how long they will be willing to live with those of us who have been really reading Calvin (or the Church Fathers) and adopting the views he taught on the sacraments. John Calvin, because of his teachings on the Lord's Supper and baptism, could not pass muster for ordination in many (most?) presbyteries in the PCA today.

I don't know enough about the Eastern Churches to comment on them, but I am hoping to attend an Orthodox worship service soon.

At this point in my life, I'm more in line with Reformed Episcopalians and closer to them than I am to any other sect or denomination. I don't know what they require for participation in the Eucharist. It really does not matter because there are no non-ECUSA (now EC) Episcopal Churches around where I live.

I do believe that the Church needs to be more latitudinarian. I mean by this that we MUST take those passages about unity much more seriously than we have since the Reformation. Protestants have used the concept of "doctrinal purity" as an excuse for schism and splintering ad infinitum. What about the doctrine of unity which is so clearly taught in Scripture? Shouldn't we take those verses seriouly too?

We need to work for unity, while insisting on basic orthodoxy. As an example, there are about a dozen Presbyterian denominations that say that the Westminster Confession is their doctrinal standard, but they remain divided. WHY?

I have a fairly broad view of what makes up the true Church of Jesus Christ. I think accepting the Apostles Creed is an absolute minimal standard of Orthodoxy. Because of my broad view of the Church, I can worship at all these Churches mentioned above (and many more).

As things stand, I will likely keep my membership in the PCA until they tell me that I am no longer welcome because they consider me to be to "Catholic."

Coram Deo,

Ps. To see more denominational demographics go here:

Monday, October 22, 2007

The last post on my blog (if anyone has read it) may have come as a surprise to both Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. I’ve found that both groups generally assume that Catholics alone believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. They also tend to believe that Protestants consider The Lord’s Supper to be little more than a memorial of Christ death on the cross.

Of course what I wrote in the last post contradict what “most” Christians believe about the historic Protestant position about Communion. This is because most Protestant of todays Christians have long since departed from the Reformers on this doctrine as well as many others.

I know some folks will say it is easy to make claims like this, but what about some proof. It is right and good that people ask for a validation of the claims made and I hope to do that below.

Let’s first take a look at the Catechism John Calvin prepared in 1541 for the Church at Geneva:

Q: Do we therefore eat the body and blood of the Lord?
A: I understand so. For as our whole reliance for salvation depends on him, in order that the obedience which he yielded to the Father may be imputed to us just as if it were ours, it is necessary that he be possessed by us; for the only way in which he communicates his blessings to us is by making himself ours.

Q: The Supper then was not instituted in order to offer up to God the body of his Son?
A: By no means. He, himself alone, as priest for ever, has this privilege; and so his words express when he says, “Take, eat.” He there commands us not to offer his body, but only to eat it.

And again:

Q: What then have we in the symbol of bread?
A: As the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us to reconcile us to God, so now also is it given to us, that we may certainly know that reconciliation belongs to us.

Q: What in the symbol of wine?
A: That as Christ once shed his blood for the satisfaction of our sins, and as the price of our redemption, so he now also gives it to us to drink, that we may feel the benefit which should thence accrue to us.


Q: Have we in the Supper only a figure of the benefits which you have mentioned, or are they there exhibited to us in reality?
A: Seeing that our Lord Jesus Christ is truth itself, there cannot be a doubt that he at the same time fulfills the promises which he there gives us, and adds the reality to the figures. Wherefore I doubt not that as he testifies by words and signs, so he also makes us partakers of his substance, that thus we may have one life with him.

In a short confession of faith that was written by Calvin about that time we find in a section titled “Of the Real Receiving of the Body and Blood of the Lord” the following:

Wherefore we hold that this doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ, viz., that his body is truly meat, and his blood truly drink, is not only represented and ratified in the Supper, but also accomplished in fact. For there under the symbols of bread and wine our Lord presents us with his body and blood, and we are spiritually fed upon them, provided we do not preclude entrance to his grace by our unbelief.

The questions and answers above are all from the hand of Calvin, and were written to instruct the people in the Church at Geneva, this is of the section from his short confession as well. I know many of my Reformed brethren will have difficulty with what Calvin wrote in the catechism, but it is important to know that what he wrote for the catechism was his consistent and often reiterated position on the matter.

Now let’s leave Calvin’s Catechism and look at some of his other writings. In the mid 1500’s Calvin and other Reformed theologians got into a debate with some of their Lutheran counterparts on the issue of Christ presence in the Supper. Joachim Westphal wrote against the Reformed position. Westphal condemned the Reformed Christians and accused them of denying Christ presence in the Eucharist.

Calvin took up his quill to defend the Reformed doctrine on Communion. In his first treatise defending the Reformed position he was still hoping to see unity between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. So he tried to be diplomatic and non-confrontational. Here are segments from that Treatise:

The bread is given us to figure the body of Jesus Christ, with command to eat it, and it is given us of God, who is certain and immutable truth. If God cannot deceive or lie, it follows that it accomplishes all which it signifies. We must then truly receive in the Supper the body and blood of Jesus Christ, since the Lord there represents to us the communion of both. Were it otherwise, what could be meant by saying, that we eat the bread and drink the wine as a sign that his body is our meat and his blood our drink? (pg 163)

… we have good cause to be satisfied when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all his blessings. (pg. 163)

We all then confess with one mouth, that on receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the
ordinance of the Lord, we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

In this first treatise (which is titled “A Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, In Which Is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility”) Calvin takes on Westphal directly, but he does not mention him by name. Calvin writes, “It is not necessary to go far for arguments in our defense, seeing that this foolish man shortly afterwards quotes our own words, in which we openly acknowledge that the body of Jesus Christ is truly communicated to believers in the Supper. I pray you do we leave nothing but empty signs when we affirm that what is figured is at the same time given, and that the effect takes place?” (pg. 195)

There is much more that Calvin wrote on this issue. Over and over again in his writings he makes clear that he believes that we do truly partake of Christ true body and true blood when we, in faith, eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper. He disagrees with both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic explanations of the mode by which we receive Christ, but that is about mode and not about the fact that Christ body and blood are truly given to believers in the Eucharist.

John Calvin was not alone in this view. What he argues for is the same doctrine that we find in the 16th century creeds and catechisms of all the Reformed Churches. Calvin and other Reformed theologians believed that they were standing with the Early Church Fathers and the Bible when they taught and defended the idea that “we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ” when we take part in eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion.

Coram Deo,

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In the Church there has always been controversy, and though this is very disheartening at times, it is as God has ordained things to be and we must believe that He has a reason and a purpose in all of it. Over that last twenty plus years (as a layman) I have studied many of the great controversies that have rocked and shaken the Church of Jesus Christ through the centuries.

We see in the Scriptures themselves that theological controversies have existed from the beginning, even during the times of the Apostles themselves. Of course at that time Paul, Peter, James and John, etc… could and did settle such issues. They did so either by directly addressing them personally or by coming together, discussing the problem and then rendering a verdict. They did the latter at the Jerusalem Council which was presided over by St. James.

I’ve mentioned a number of times that I have been reading the Early Church Fathers (ECF). My reading of the ECF is not a systematic thing. I have bounced around reading one from this century and another from that century. I read one who writes in Latin and then another that writes in Greek etc...

I've noticed that the Fathers do not agree on everything. They had their disagreements and controversies also. This was true of such great men as St. Augustine and St Jerome. They had a number of serious differences with one another and there are plenty other examples that can be given.

One thing that I am struck by is when I come across a topic where ECF do appear to have true universal agreement. I find this especially interesting if the issue that all the Fathers agree on is one that modern evangelicals seem to reject out of hand, and believe the issue to be not even worthy of their consideration.

The presence of Christ in the Lords Supper, which is also known as Communion or the Eucharist, is one of those topics where the ECF are in total agreement. In reading the Fathers it soon becomes clear that they all clearly believed that when they participated in the Eucharist that they were truly, in some way, partaking of Christ including his body and blood. They all believed that Christ was present in the communion meal.

The question of “how” this was so became a controversy in later centuries. But even when controversy over the means or mode by which Christ was present in the sacramental did appear on the scene, it was still universally accepted that Christ was present, the debate was over “how” and never about “if” He was present in the Supper.

During the Protestant Reformation you find that both the Lutheran and Reformed camps strongly defend the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They differed with one another on the “how” issue. Many of the Lutherans strongly attacked the Reformed position, even at times, accusing the Calvinists of denying the true presence of Christ in the Supper. The Reformed Churches and theologians responded loud and clear that they did believe that in the Supper the believer did truly partake of the true body and true blood of Jesus Christ. They also made clear that they disagreed with both the Lutherans and Roman Catholics as to how one partook of Christ, but they were very clear in defending the fact that they did believe that they believed (as did the ECF) in the literal presence of Christ in Communion.

The Anabaptist did deny that Christ was truly present in the Eucharist. They denied that the supper (and baptism) was a sacrament or even a means of grace. It was the Anabaptist who broke with all the ECF and all the Church that had existed up until that time. Sadly, modern Evangelicals, even most Reformed Evangelicals, have abandoned the historic position the Church and have adopted the radical teachings of the Anabaptist.

I count myself as being in the Reformed Evangelical camp. I am Reformed and have been a member of a Presbyterian Church for over twenty years. I’m a Calvinist and I hold to Covenant theology. I’ve read a good deal of Calvin’s writings including much of his Institutes, commentaries, tracts and his letters as well.

Many of my Reformed brethren would have a hard time agreeing with Calvin and other founders of the Reformed faith, because on the Lord’s Supper and a number of other issues most modern Reformed Christians are far removed from both the 16th century Reformed Church and the ECF as well.

On issues like the Eucharist and baptism I am much closer to John Calvin, the 16th Century Reformed Church and the ECF than I am with many of my conservative Reformed Christian brethren. I believe, like Calvin and the ECF, that when I eat the bread and drink the Communion wine I truly partake of Christ and receive grace.

Coram Deo,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Death of a Reformed Evanglical Giant

As I was getting ready to start a turnaround last month, I heard about the death of D. James Kennedy. I was surprised by the news and deeply saddened also. Rev. Kennedy was greatly used of God in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

D. James Kennedy will be missed. He was a wonderful preacher and a solid Reformed pastor. Hew was the most famous pastor in a relatively small denomination the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Which is the same denomination that I have been a member of since discovering the Reformed faith a little over twenty years ago.

Kennedy was a Calvinist and strongly evangelical. That is very good and much need combination in today's "Evangelical" circles. He stands coram Deo but now he can see the very face of God and even see the wounds that Christ received in His body to save D. James Kennedy and the rest of us from our sins.

Coram Deo,