Friday, January 17, 2014

Three Views on the Supper

I do reserve the right to have my mind changed by debate that I do hope happens, but I will just start the conversation because I don’t think the conversation is taking place at all, and that is to our detriment.  
The conversation is about the Lord’s Supper and the phrase “Means of Grace”.  Everywhere one looks on the internet you can find people complaining about Zwinglianism and the answer to it always be more like Calvin, which is defined then as a Means of Grace view.  First, I think Zwinglianism is an acceptable Reformed view, and undeniably the original reformed view.  Second, I think there are more Reformed views than these two, namely you have Bullinger’s view.  Third, I think all three views are rightly described as a “Means of Grace”.  
It starts with the word “means”. shows us that definition can be “to be used to convey; denote” or it can be “to act as a symbol of; signify or represent”.  If you are familiar with the Zwingli vs. Calvin debate in the Lord’s Supper, I think you can see Calvin would use “means” according to the first and Zwingli fits nicely into the second definition of “means”.  Calvin thinks the bread and wine instrumentally convey grace and Zwingli thinks it represents grace already accomplished.  Thus even Zwingli could claim the Supper as a means of grace since pondering what is symbolized and represented in the bread and wine is using the Supper as a means to understand and remember the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So this debate needs to stop degrading Zwingli so thoughtlessly.  It really is more a debate between “Symbolic Memorialism” vs. “Symbolic instrumentalism”.  And there is another option.
Bullinger had a different view that one could easily argue was actually the majority opinion in the Reformed Churches known as “Symbolic Parrallelism”.  Bullinger admits a present grace, but denies the instrumental connection that Calvin demands.  As Bullinger describes in Chapter 19 of the Second Helvetic Confession, “so that the faithful, when they receive them [sacraments] of the ministers, do know that the Lord works in His own ordinance, and, therefore, they receive them as from the hand of God”.  Bullinger admits a present grace, which Zwingli seems to reject, but Bullinger has the physical sacrament on a completely different track than the receiving of the grace.  Grace can be seen as parallel to the sacraments, but not physically united to it.  Compare that to say the Scots Confession of 1560 Chapter 21, which after damning those who believe in bare signs and rejecting transubstantiation goes on to say, “but this union and conjunction which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus in the right use of the sacraments is wrought by operation of the Holy Ghost, who by true faith carries us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and makes us to feed upon the body and blood of Christ”.  Note here the conjunction of the grace to the physical element.  Again in the French Confession of 1559 Chapter 37, “He sacramentally exhibits; and, therefore, we enjoin with the signs the true possession and enjoyment of what is offered to us in them.”  They are not parallel, but intersected.  Christ is in the signs, and true enjoyment of the grace of Christ is offered in the bread and wine.  The sacrament is the instrument used by Spirit to bring grace to us.  
If you are looking to categorize Confessions we can easily see many that are Calvinistic “Symbolic Instrumentalism” such as the French Confession, the Scots Confession, and The Belgic Confession”.  We can see some Zwinglian “symbolic memorialism”.  And we can see many Bullinger inspired confessions or “symbolic parallelism” such as the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  Yes, the Heidelberg is Bullinger on the Lord’s Supper.  Question 75 goes to great length to keep grace unfettered from the sign.  “As certainly” as I see the sacrament, I know Christ the promise of Christ being offered for me.  It is a “pledge and token” (Q.73), “testifying” (Q.80) of what Christ offers and has done.  The grace is parallel to the sacrament, not presented in or instrumentally through.  In fact Question 76 of what does it mean to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood can be summarized as simply “believe the promise of God and be united to Christ” something not really tied to the administration of the sacrament at all.  
Still think it might be Calvinistic?  Consider this comment from Calvin in a dedication to Frederick III of the Palatinate:
That we really feed in the Holy Supper on the flesh and blood of Christ . . . we freely confess.  If a clearer explanation is asked, we say, that the substance of Christ's flesh and blood is our spiritual life, and that it is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine. (as quoted in A Faith Worth Teaching, Jon Payne, pg.117)
That is not what the Heidelberg says.  Feeding on Christ is not said to be done in the Supper, but in believing, and never is it communicated under the bread or wine.   
The Westminster Confession is ambiguous, but the Larger Catechism (especially 170) is very Calvin.  The First Confession of Basel is ambiguous, but clearly not Zwinglian.  The First Helvetic Confession is Bullinger’s Parallelism although perhaps a Zwinglian could claim it.  Farel’s Geneva Confession of 1536 is Zwinglian.  Laski’s Emden Catechism of 1554 is Zwinglian.  
I hope that we can see that it is not as simple as Zwingli vs. Calvin and that toss everything that is not Calvin aside is to throw away the vast majority of the Reformation.  There will be more, but for now I stop to listen to the comments (if any).  


Matt Powell said...

Thanks, Lee. Have you read up on the debate between Hodge and Nevin in the mid-19th century on this subject? Very fascinating. He partly explains Calvin's expressions by showing that he was attempting to reconcile with Lutherans on this subject, and thus express himself in a way they would find acceptable. But later, he co-signed a statement, the Consensus Tigurinus, that expressed a common view of the Supper with the Zwinglians.

Jeremy said...

Thanks Matt...Keith Mathison has provided some links regarding that debate

Lee said...

I am familiar with the Consensus Tigurinus. It is a document that follows Bullinger, as it goes beyond Zwingli (although keeping his emphasis on fraternity and fellowship and thanks), but does seem to be short of where Calvin would rather be. The last edition of the Institutes is after the Consensus, so I think Calvin would still much prefer a closer tying of the Spiritual Presence to the bread (he often uses the word "under" which Bullinger does not seem to use). I don't think Hodge is right in saying he was just trying to reconcile with Lutherans.
Interestingly enough you can read Calvin's commentary on the Consensus at the following link starting at page 221.

Matt Powell said...

Hey Lee, thanks for that link- I'll check it out. And yes, you're right about Calvin's view- it's obviously distinct from Zwingli's and Hodge doesn't say differently- just that _in part_ it may have been driven by that desire. Anyway I really appreciated the post- I learned some things.