Results tagged “Sacraments” from Reformation21 Blog

Calvin on the Sacraments

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For some, John Calvin seems to be at his most feisty when he writes on the sacraments. Against those who complain that infant baptism is a travesty of the Gospel, in the Institutes he stoutly insists, "these darts are aimed more at God than at us!" But a little reflection reveals he is also at his most thoughtful, and his analysis of sacramental signs can strengthen credobaptists as well as paedobaptists.

If repentance and faith are in view in baptism, how can infant baptism be biblical?  Calvin responds: the same was true of circumcision (hence references to Jer. 4:4; 9:25; Deut. 10:16; 30:6), yet infants were circumcised.

How then can either sign be applicable to infants who have neither repented nor believed? Calvin's central emphasis here is simple, but vital.

Baptism, like circumcision, is first and foremost a sign of the gospel and its promise, not of our response to the gospel. It points first of all to the work of Christ for us, not to the work of the Spirit in us. It calls for our response. It is not primarily a sign of that response. So, like the proclamation of the gospel (of which it is a sign), baptism summons us to (rather than signifies) repentance and faith.

In fact all believers are called to grow into an understanding and "improvement" of their baptism. This is as true for those baptized as believers as for those baptized as infants.

Consequently, whether baptism follows faith or precedes faith, its meaning remains the same. Its efficacy in our lives is related to (life-long!) faith and repentance. But its meaning is always the same--Christ crucified and risen, outside of whom there is no salvation.

To see baptism as a sign of my repentance and faith, then, is to turn it on its head. It diminishes, if not evacuates, the sign of its real power in our lives--which is to point us to Christ and to the blessings which are ours in him, and thus to draw forth faith.  Grasp this whole-Bible principle, holds Calvin, and all the New Testament's teaching on baptism beautifully coheres.

While Calvin was a theologian of the ages and his theology comes to us clothed in the garments of the sixteenth century some things never change--including many of the arguments, pro and con, in relation to the baptism of infants. This he passionately believed to be a biblical doctrine.

Calvin meets many of the arguments against infant baptism head on. Typically he deals with them by underlining ways in which they depend on a mis-reading of Scripture.

Thus faced with the insistence that regeneration is required for baptism, he questions the use of Scripture that lies behind such thinking.  Rebuffed by arguments that the order of biblical language ("teach, baptize") presupposes instruction prior to baptism, he points out that of course this is the order when adults are hearing and responding to the gospel for the first time. It would be a logical fallacy to think that the corollary of "adults should hear, believe and be baptized" is "infants must not be baptized"!  One would no more deduce that infants must not be fed because Paul states that 'those who do not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).

But there is one argument that credobaptist proponents, then and now, have often used as a kind of reductio ad absurdum: if you baptize infants, you ought also to give them the Lord's Supper.

Calvin sees a serious flaw here. For while both baptism and the Supper point to Christ, they each point to different aspects of union with him. Baptism points to a once-and-for-all initiation into Christ. It is done to us, not done by us. We do not baptize ourselves, we are baptized.

The Supper, however, is not a sacrament of initiation but of communion.  That is why we are active and engaged at the Lord's Table. For it is essential to be able to

• Discern the Lord's body 
• Examine oneself 
• Proclaim the Lord's death 
• Celebrate the Supper "in remembrance" of Christ.

Just why is Calvin so passionate about this--when, after all, baptism is never more than a sign?

One of the perplexities we modern Christians encounter in admiring magisterial Reformers like Calvin is the severity of their attitude to, and treatment of, Anabaptists. In Calvin's case this may seem all the more mysterious since he married the widow of a former Anabaptist! Our problem is partly--if only partly--due to the unspoken assumption that credobaptism involves, virtually by definition, personal faith and a commitment to evangelical fundamentals.

Sadly it has become clear that there is no necessary connection between the two. If a credobaptist can point the finger at the baptized babies who now have no connection with the church, the paedobaptist can note churches of fourteen thousand members baptized on profession of faith with a weekly attendance of only eight thousand. The sign is not the reality it signifies.

Perhaps this makes it possible for us to understand Calvin a little better. For him "Anabaptist" was not a synonym for "Evangelical."  After all, the best known Anabaptist with whom he had long-term, if profoundly unhappy personal dealings, was Michael Servetus. Horrific though it may sound to an enthusiastic credobaptist, Servetus held to "believer's baptism."  His attempted demolition job of orthodox Christianity--none too subtly titled Christianismi restitutio (guess what book that rhymes with!)--included an attack on infant baptism.

Calvin responds in the Institutio with twenty theological "karate chops." Again his underlying contention is that a false hermeneutic is at work--"He always falls back into the same false reasoning for he preposterously applies to infants what was said concerning adults alone."

It is in this context (Institutes IV. 16. 31) that Calvin reveals the reason for his passion in the whole controversy. Baptism is intended to give the Lord's people the assurance of sight (in the visible sign) as well as of sound (in the audible word of promise). Ignore the sign of the promise and little by little the promise itself will be obscured.

For Calvin, the obscuring of any, and every, divine promise is attributable ultimately to one being: Satan. That being the case, the little Frenchman will muster all the weapons he can to vindicate the promise of God that--even after our death--our God and Father will be to our children everything he has been to us--all within the context of faith. The sign is no more than a sign, but it is never a bare sign (signum nudum)--not so long as the one who gives it is the covenant making and covenant keeping God!

Calvin next turns to the theme of the Lord's Supper. His concern is twofold: (i) to provide a simple explanation of the Supper and (ii) to resolve difficulties related to it. What he does in IV. 17. i is worthy of imitation, namely the provision of a simple but rich exposition of the meaning of Communion. This at least we should share with Calvin: a concern that the Lord's people understand what they are doing at, and how they are to think about, the Supper: What is the Lord showing us at the Table?

The Supper is the Father's provision of nourishment in Christ for his children (Calvin's use of adoptio--adoptive sonship--is particularly striking here, and underscores again how important this is in his theology--as it was in his life). By it the Father means to give assurance to his children.

In essence the Supper is a gospel drama:

• Christ is set before us as the One who was crucified for us 
• Christ is offered to us as food to be received by us 
• Christ is received by us so that we feel him to be working in us.

Calvin's poetic eloquence here should be allowed to stand on its own:

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, 
he has made with us; 
That, becoming Son of man with us, 
he has made us sons of God with him; 
That, by his descent to earth,    
he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; 
That, by taking on our mortality, 
he has conferred our immortality upon us
That, accepting our weakness, 
he has strengthened us by his power
That, receiving our poverty into himself, 
he has transferred his wealth to us; 
That, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us) 
he has clothed us with his righteousness.

So--urges Calvin--let us make neither too little of the signs by severing them from the living Christ, nor too much so that we obscure him.

As he moves forward in his teaching on the Supper, Calvin's great concern is that Christians should "rightly use the Lord's Supper." He is, from beginning to end, a pastoral theologian. In seeking to serve the church he wants to be sensitive to two things: (i) the mystery of the Lord's Supper, and (ii) the nature of communion with Christ...

With respect to (i) he urges those who can to go beyond him. With respect to (ii) a number of  reformed writers have felt that he has already gone too far!  Statements such as his words in Institutes 4.17.8-9 are typical: "Whoever has partaken of his flesh and blood may . . . enjoy participation in life...The flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself."

These words need to be read in context. Calvin's logic here is: 

• The Father gave life to the incarnate Son so that he might give us life. 
• This life is in the incarnate Son. It is not a commodity extraneous to him. 
• In order to enjoy this life we must be united to the incarnate Son. 
• This union with the incarnate Son is realized through the Holy Spirit

In a word--our salvation and eternal life are resourced in Christ, incarnate, crucified, buried, raised, exalted, ascended, reigning, and returning. Our experience of salvation comes only from Spiritual union and communion with his still-incarnated Person. There is no other source of salvation and life than this incarnate Person. The life he received from the Father he now gives to us.

In our Table communion with Christ, we share his life--just as we share that life in all communion with him.  What is unique about the Supper, therefore, is not so much the mysterious nature of the communion, but the focus in that communion on the bodily Christ specifically as crucified and now risen.

For Calvin, therefore, the communion of the Table is not a communion with the Spirit, but a communion with Christ in and through the Spirit. But there is no other Christ with whom we can have communion than the embodied Son of God.

Sometimes Calvin's view is described as "spiritual." Indeed it is Spiritual (i.e. through the Spirit). But it is so because it is Christological. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Son in our eyes. In this way, in our Table communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, we "feel his power in partaking of all his benefits" (Institutes 4.17.9).

 

*This post originally appeared as a series of posts on the Institutes, published at Reformation21 in November 2009. 

John Calvin on the True Church

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When is a "church" not a church? How do we recognize the true church of Jesus Christ? And how do we discern the false? Calvin's answer, in the Institutes 4.2.1 - 4.2.12, to what was in his day--and remains--an important question, is, essentially: the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are the hallmarks of the true church. Where these are lacking, "surely the death of the church follows." 

Why should this be so? Because the church is built on the prophets and apostles (Eph. 2:20). They have a primacy of role in person in the course of redemptive history; but their teaching is the foundation for every generation of Christian faith. Substitute another foundation for the church and the whole building will crumble. 

But in Calvin's eyes Roman Catholic theology failed to grasp this, and effectively transferred the authority of the once-for-all written apostolic word to the questionable strength of a chain of bishops of varying degrees of orthodoxy and reliability. 

Physical succession may be attractive, but it guarantees nothing. That is precisely why we have the written Scriptures, so that the truth of God may be carefully preserved and passed on intact from believing generation to believing generation. Neither biblically instructed Christians of the 16th century nor the Fathers of the church in the early centuries believed that a mere succession of bishops guaranteed that the gospel message would be maintained in its pristine purity. 

This is why Calvin's departure from the community of physical succession was not schism. For how could agreement in the word of God be regarded as schism from the church of God? 

The episcopacy that holds the church together in unity is not man's but Christ's. The unity of the church, therefore, is not a formal, historical reality made concrete in an institution (the college of bishops or the pope). Rather it is a dynamic reality, born out of living union and communion with the one true bishop of our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ. Rome's fault was not only its boast in the historic episcopacy but in its failure to make confession of biblical truth and in its anathematizing of those who did. 

If the truth be told, not Geneva but Rome is schismatic. More than that, Rome harbors idolatry within its bosom in the celebration of "the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege" (4.2.9). 

Yet, it remains true, Calvin acknowledges, that there are believers--however confused--within the pale of Rome. Correspondingly there are "traces of churches," but Rome itself cannot be considered a true church or part of the one true church. In fact, Rome gives expression to the spirit of antichrist. 

Here again is Calvin's ability to see with both eyes. In some Roman communities he was sure there were true believers; in that sense they are churches. Even major distortions of truth and failures with respect to grace do not necessarily mean there are no believers in the community. 

The truth is that the heart may be regenerated while the head is not finally cleansed. Calvin appears to have thought that some of them were in fact true believers, however inconsistent theologically and perhaps intimidated personally they were. He understood, and while he disapproved he struggled to exercise wisdom and patience. But in the end Christ was being obscured. And if Christ is obscured for long, man-centered, self industriousness, and ritualism always seems to follow in its train. That is always an explanation for the (ongoing) necessity of reformation. 


*This was first published on Ref21 in September of 2009. You can find the original postings here and here

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Scripture's account of God's command to Abraham to "circumcise the flesh of [his] foreskin" (Gen. 17.11; KJV) affords Calvin ample opportunity to reflect on the reality and nature of sacramental signs. Thus he is keen, in his comments on this and surrounding verses, to emphasize the close relationship of sacramental signs to God's covenant word of promise (and so the need to articulate that word of promise when administering said signs). He is equally keen to highlight the critical role that such signs, being "sculpture[s] and image[s] of that grace of God which the word more fully illustrates," play in sustaining human faith. He is likewise keen to insist that God's promises are themselves, apart from those signs, "effectual to... salvation," and so to discourage his readers from "restrict[ing] God's own effectual working [of the spiritual realities that sacraments signify] to those signs." And closely following from the last point, he is keen to censure any person who holds God's sacramental signs in contempt, and so -- "feigning himself to be contented with the bare promise" -- violates God's covenant "by an impious severance of the sign and the word" (i.e., by a failure to observe the sacrament).

Yet Calvin does not fail, in the midst of such sacramentologizing, to note the remarkable character of what God actually commands Abraham to do in Gen. 17.11. God's bidding of Abraham to "circumcise the flesh of [his] foreskin" is particularly noteworthy, in Calvin's estimation, given the unprecedented nature (to Calvin's knowledge) of such a surgical procedure in the ancient world, not to mention the primitive nature (again to Calvin's knowledge) of ancient medicine if measured in terms of proper surgical tools, adherence to principles of hygiene, possibilities for anesthesia, and so on.

"Very strange and unaccountable would this command at first sight appear," the Reformer reckons. Calvin further speculates about what Abraham's thought process might have been regarding this "strange and unaccountable... command": "this might [have] come into his mind, '...if, by this symbol, [God] would consecrate me to himself as a servant, why has he put me off to extreme old age? What does this mean, that I cannot be saved unless I, with one foot almost in the grave, thus mutilate myself?'" Reservations about circumcising himself (and his household) might, Calvin reflects, have likewise stemmed from the prospect of "acute pain" associated with the act, some "danger of [the loss of] life," and the almost certain consequence of being made the "laughing-stock" of his immediate world. 

Such consideration of Abraham's sentiments toward the act he was bid to perform ultimately serves to highlight the remarkable character of Abraham's faith and obedience. "He must, of necessity, have been entirely devoted to God," Calvin reasons, "since he did not hesitate to inflict upon himself [that] wound." Abraham likewise "circumcised the whole of his family as he had been commanded," testimony both to Abraham's obedience and to the respect and trust he had previously earned from his servants, who "meekly receive[d] the [same] wound, which was both troublesome and the occasion of shame to carnal sense." Abraham's promptness in obeying God also deserves note: "he does not defer the work to another day, but immediately obeys the Divine mandate."

All in all, one gets the impression that Calvin considers Abraham's willingness to trust and obey God in this command almost as extraordinary as his subsequent willingness to trust and obey God when ordered to sacrifice Isaac upon the altar some years later.

But Calvin is equally keen to discern some motive on God's part for issuing such a strange command, beyond (of course) the appropriateness of the ritual commanded to represent the peculiar promise of God's covenant. And, naturally, Calvin succeeds in this, ultimately arguing that God's command served its own peculiar role in humbling Abraham.

On this score again the sign corresponds to God's word of promise, which itself elicits humility by reminding Abraham (and every true believer) that ultimate blessing lies outside any person's grasp and is freely offered to those (and only those) who understand and feel their inability to seize such blessing by some effort or merit of their own. God's command to Abraham to circumcise himself and his household humbles the patriarch in two distinct ways. Abraham is humbled, first of all, by the sheer and simple "shame" associated with the act he is ordered to perform. "It was necessary," Calvin comments, "for Abraham to become a fool , in order to prove himself obedient to God."

But Abraham is humbled even more profoundly by God's further instructions, having just identified circumcision as "a sign of the covenant between you and me," to circumcise both his sons and his slaves without any apparent distinction between the two. By these further instructions "the pride... of the flesh is cast down; because God, without respect of persons, gathers together both freemen and slaves."

Calvin's logic runs something like this: by administering the sign of the covenant to his slaves, Abraham was -- at God's express bidding -- extending God's twofold promise of redemption through the Seed and inheritance of a (heavenly) land to persons who, at least according to their earthly station, never expected (nor were expected) to inherit much. Abraham was, in other words, reminded that God shows no partiality (Rom. 2.11) in the distribution of his grace and gifts, no matter man's natural proclivity to privilege sons over slaves in the bequeathing of material blessings. The truth so clearly expressed in Gal. 3.28-29, then, that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female," but all are equally "heirs according to promise" was foreshadowed at the earliest expression of God's promise, when Abraham extended the sign of said promise to all (both slave and free) within his household.

Calvin's teaching on this point yields several practical considerations. For one, it reminds us that God seldom -- or rather, never -- shares our biases, whether such be founded on social, economic, racial, or other differences. For another, it reminds us that humility is indispensable to securing a share in God's promise of eternal fellowship with himself. Indeed, God's promise itself induces humility (inasmuch as faith entails humble recognition of one's need). But even in our day, the signs that God has attached to his promise can do their part to hasten the debasing of our pride. Few things, after all, are as un-cool (by the standards of the world) as having water applied to oneself in the Triune name, or regularly breaking bread and sharing a cup in remembrance of Christ with fellow members of Christ's church.

Just Add Water (2 of 4)

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This is the second of 4 parts in response to Dr. Mark Jones on the question and meaning of Baptism and the Lord's table as the question stands between Baptistic types who practice a closed table and Presbyterian types who practice a more-open table.

Two items as caveats, as listed previously, before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:

  1. The opinions and arguments here are mine and not the arguments of the Alliance.  Hate the player and not the game in this case.
  2. The arguments I will make here are also not the position of the local church I attend.  In spite of that church being baptistic in confession, they practice a more open form of communion than I would advocate for.  I'm not an elder there, so as I make my case for what I think is a robust response to Mark Jones, I speak for myself and not my church at BCLR.org.

The Meaning of Baptism

There are a lot of important ideas to run down from where we left off last time, such as the meaning of maturity and how we can know the difference between immaturity and actual apostasy or faithlessness, but the scope of this essay is the question of Baptism.  If we accept the WCF's definition of saving faith (and I have, previously), do we really need anything else to understand who is and isn't "a Christian"?

The answer, obviously, is "no" and "yes."  In some important sense, we really don't need any more hair-splitting to answer the question of who is and is not a Christian - we just have to see it through to the end.  That is, we have to agree that someone who starts down the path of obedience to Christ ought to continue down that road (we hope with few pit-stops and detours, but we also know that even Peter actually denied Christ after declaring him to be the Son of God), and as James says in his letter we should show our faith by doing works. 

There's absolutely nothing controversial about this as the WCF says plainly:

Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.

These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

And all good Protestant warning labels stipulated to this statement.  But foremost among these things "commanded by God in his holy Word," certainly not "devised by men out of blind zeal," are the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper -- and this is where the "yes" part comes in.  For my money, we Baptists would be best served to use the Presbyterian word here for two good reasons: (1) we are talking about the means of corporate worship in these items and not merely the more-common acts of obedience which the Bible commands, and (2) I think it clarifies what is at stake as we approach the question of how one influences the use of the other.

That relationship is the one which Dr. Jones' essay misses broadly as it considers why some of us Baptists are closed-table at the supper - because surely when Dr. Jones accuses Baptists of denying the Christianity of Presbyterians he isn't denying that one's baptism ought to come before one participates with the body of Christ and in the body of Christ at the Lord's table.  Of course not - what he is saying is that because baptism makes one a Christian, denying that one is baptized (by drizzling, before personal faith) denies that one is a Christian.  He isn't denying the logic that only the baptized ought to participate in the Lord's supper; he's questioning the meaning of denying the baptism of those baptized as Presbyterians are inclined to do -- which is to say, to baptize infants.

This is why the question of what makes one a Christian had to be addressed first.  In the Presbyterian view, what makes one a Christian is the sign and seal of Baptism.  It puts one inside the covenant in some way which may or may not be finally determinative -- I'll leave that for the FV and non-FV readers to settle in a back alley after school today.  This is why, after all, it is also called "christening" by many - it is what makes one a Christian in a formal and regulated way as opposed to the rather disappointing "asking Jesus into your heart" sort of way which doesn't really mean anything biblically or ecclesiologically. 

But let's be honest: Jesus didn't put it that way.  Jesus' mentioning of baptism comes at the end of all his other statements about the life of obedience, and at the beginning of the great mission of the church.  When the Apostles went out , they didn't first baptize anyone and then preach to them repentance until it made sense to them.  The message of the Gospel comes in the NT first by the preaching of repentance, then by the washing of the water for the sake of a clean conscience.  What is true under the new covenant is what was actually true under the old covenant: the right offering to God is a broken spirit and a contrite heart; God does not desire sacrifices but obedience; he desires that we love Him more than we commit to duties and rituals.  That doesn't eliminate the rituals by any means, but it does put the rituals in a place subordinate to the truth which they are communicating.

And that, frankly, is the actual Baptist objection to Presbyterian baptism - not that one does not have right faith now, but that one has somehow allowed that the ritual means anything prior to the real condition of the one practicing the ritual.  We may be guilty of waving off the baptism of babies as "sprinkling," but the meaning there is not that there's not enough water added: it is that somehow adding water takes the place of the faith the water ought to represent.

Honestly, only the Baptist with the hardest heart toward formal theology would deny any of the following from the WCF:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.

But we would have to be gullible to read the phrase, "a sign and seal of regeneration," and not ask the question: doesn't regeneration imply faith?  We certainly commit our (baptist) children to the waters when the waters definitely imply faith - because we ask them to make a confession of faith to be admitted to the waters.  And in that way, for us the sign and seal overtly demonstrate that faith which this child has as it has been given by God, and show them being raised in newness of life in the forgiveness of their sins on the basis of faith.

The problem we are objecting to, then, in paedobaptism, is that the sacrament is not a King James Version of "just add water."  We deny it's a baptism because we deny it's a sacrament unless it is preceded by faith.  That is:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.

The problem is not that you are not Christians now: it is that when you were wetted down, you were not Christians then.  You did not have faith then.  And with full respect to those who did have faith when they did this to you,  the sacrament is meaningless apart from the faith for which the sacrament is a sign -- which is, your faith, the faith God gave, not the faith which God might give.

Because of this, we would say you have not been baptized.  And without baptism, of course you cannot come to the Lord's table.


More on that next time.

Baptism: What's On My Bookshelves

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When I first arrived at seminary, I was appalled that anyone claiming to be Protestant would baptize infants. In my limited understanding, only Roman Catholics conducted themselves in such an unbiblical manner. In my mind, infant baptism may have been as close to heresy as one could get without quite being labeled heresy. 

This shallow view of baptism sent me on a journey to study the sacrament. Since my journey began years ago, I have collected several books on this important topic. I have concluded that the sacrament of baptism is much more than simply placing water on someone's head (or immersion if you prefer). Baptism has direct implications for the way in which one reads the Bible (i.e., covenant theology, dispensationalism, etc.), the way one views the sacraments (i.e. sacramentology), the way one understands the church (i.e., ecclesiology), and the way one interacts with his or her child(ren) in the home.

While I am not endorsing all the information in the books listed, here are some of the books, along with the Bible, that are on my bookshelves. I have not included books on covenant theology nor dispensationalism, though these topics are approached in some of the books listed. If you are wondering which books I would recommend on either side of the debate, I have placed those books at the end of this post. Let me be clear, however. Simply because I am recommending these books--among the others--does not mean I am endorsing everything in the books nor I am necessarily endorsing the author's views on other topics not mentioned in the books.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by G. R. Beasley-Murray
2. Christian Baptism: A Fresh Attempt to Understand the Rite in terms of Scripture, History, and Theology edited by A. Gilmore
3. Antipaedobaptism in the Thought of John Tombes: An Untold Story from Puritan England by Mike Renihan
4. Pilgrim Pathways: Essays in Baptist History in Honour of B. R. White edited by Brackney and Fiddes
5. Lectures on Baptism by William Shirreff
6. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of its Own Proof-Texts by John L. Dagg
7. Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright
8. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul K. Jewett
9. The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Verses Paedobaptism by Fred Malone
10. The Scripture Guide to Baptism: Containing A Faithful Citation of All the Passages by R. Pengilly
11. Baptism and Christian Unity by A. Gilmore
12. Should Babies Be Baptized? by T. E. Watson
13. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Douglas Van Dorn
14. Concerning Believers Baptism edited by F. C. Bryan
15. Baptism and the Baptists: Theology and Practice in Twentieth-Century Britain by Anthony Cross
16. From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism: A Critique of the Westminster Standards on the Subjects of Baptism by W. Gary Crampton
17. Biblical Baptism: A Reformed Defense of Believers Baptism by Samuel E. Waldron
18. Christian Baptism by Adoniram Judson
19. A Conversation About Baptism by R. L. Child
20. More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism by Stanley K. Fowler
21. Baptist Sacramentalism by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson
22. Baptism Sacramentalism 2 by Anthony Cross and Philip E. Thompson

A PaedoBaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Return to Grace: A Theology for Infant Baptism by Kurt Stasiak
2. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Douglas Wilson
3. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by J. V. Fesko
4. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge
5. The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective by Ronald P. Byars
6. Christian Baptism by John Murray
7. Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament by Bryan Holstrom
8. The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism by Peter Leithart
9. The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition by James Brownson
10. Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism by Robert Booth
11. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Robert Letham
12. The Meaning and Mode of Baptism by Jay Adams
13. What Christian Parents Should Know About Infant Baptism by John Sartelle
14. Baptism by Francis Schaeffer
15. William the Baptist by James Chaney
16. Children of the Promise: The Case for Baptizing Infants by Geoffrey Bromiley

An Historical Approach to Understanding Baptism:

1. The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church by Lewis Schenck
2. The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland by Joachim Jeremias
3. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson
4. Baptism in the Early Church by Hendrick Stander and Johannes Louw
5. What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom by David Wright
6. Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective - Collected Studies by David Wright
7. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries by Joachim Jeremias

3 Views on Baptism:

1. Baptism: Three views edited by David Wright

If you are struggling through the issue--along with your Bible--here are some books on each side of the baptismal font/tub that may help as you study this important sacrament.

A Baptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. Baptism in the New Testament by Beasley-Murray
2. Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism by Van Dorn
3. A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism Furnished By One of Its Own Proof-Texts by Dagg
4. Should Babies By Baptized? by Watson

A Paedobaptist Perspective on Baptism:

1. The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Strawbridge
2. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by Fesko
3. To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism - Covenant Mercy for the People of God by Wilson
4. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Letham

Also, if you are interested, here are two debates on the matter, as well as a short, non-exhaustive series I wrote on the topic nearly two years ago.

1. Strimple and Malone
2. Shisko and White
3. Baptism: The Doctrine That Caused Tears


When we are tempted to sin, to what or to whom do we look? The standard answer, which is appropriate, is Christ. We look to him, the great healer and physician, the alpha and omega of our faith, by faith. That lens through which we look to Jesus (i.e., faith) is that intangible reality whereby we receive and rest upon Christ alone for our salvation. Unfortunately, however, our faith is not always strong. It wanders during times of temptation. 

I am sure we all desire to use our faith to look to Jesus during those times, but sometimes our faith is weak. Additionally, during those times of temptation we cannot see our faith nor observe the Christ of our faith, which can be a problem. It might be easier if we could purchase two pounds of faith at the grocery store and place it on our dining room table to remind us of the reality to which it points, but we cannot. It might also be nice if someone could pour a cup of faith for us to jar our minds back to the reality of a crucified and risen savior, especially during times of temptation to sin, but that is not going to happen.

Thankfully, God understands the weakness of our faith. It is an intangible reality that wavers like the waters of the ocean. It sways like the wind during the spring time. Therefore, due to such inconsistencies, the Lord God almighty provided us with tangible realities that grant an objective meaning free from oscillation. In particular, one of two corporeal realities the Lord gave was baptism.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, baptism is "a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's" (WSC 94). This is the objective meaning of baptism. It does not change.

What does this have to do with temptation to sin?

When we are tempted to sin, look to our baptism. Our baptism provides our identity. In the midst of temptation, our faith can waver to the point of feeling nonexistent. It will, then, be extremely difficult to use that same mediocre faith to trust in and rely on the promises of God free from anything tangible. 

Our baptism declares that God has placed his triune name upon us and we are his. He is for us and not against us. In baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ and made a partaker of the benefits of a gracious covenant. 

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, baptism also announces the "remission of sins by [Christ's] blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life" (WLC 165).

This is who you are. Although the strength of your faith may vary, the announcement of who you are in Christ, as depicted by your baptism, does not. In fact, one of the blessings of baptism is that its reality is demonstrated tangibly. That is, although you cannot see your faith (you may observe the product of it), you can see and feel your baptism. Allow the certainty of the streams of water poured over your head remind you of the certain and sure promises of Christ your savior and your identity in him! 

This ought to help you during times of temptation. When the trees of temptation are standing around you, it is hard to recognize the streams of faith that should lead you out of the forest to Christ. Therefore, look to your baptism. The promises are God are tangibly revealed therein. You felt it; you touched it. And just as sure as you felt those waters of baptism, remember what God did for you and has said about you. When you are tempted to sin, therefore, look to your baptism.

But, pastor, I have a question. Doesn't looking to your baptism require faith to believe the promises signified therein during times of temptation?

Until next time...

He Blessed them

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We recently had our communion services here in Back. We follow the old Highland pattern of having special services from Thursday through to Monday, morning and evening, in both Gaelic and English. The advantage is that it becomes a high point on our religious calendar - our local version of T4G, with visiting preachers and much conferring! - the downside is the practical one of hosting all the visitors who are with us for the communion service. We had a time of rich blessing, however, and finished with a first rate sermon on Monday evening, where the preacher was Rev Kenneth Stewart of Dowanvale Free Church in Glasgow. He is worth listening to - his website has recently began hosting his sermons. He preached in Back on Luke 24:50 - Christ blessing the disciples before his ascension, and gave us a wonderful sermon on the significance of the benediction. 'Grace, mercy and peace,' he said - 'it's all you need!'. The sermon can be heard on our own website here.

Results tagged “Sacraments” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 29.7, 8

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vii. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

viii. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.

The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Supper

The remedy to a doctrine of the real physical presence of Christ is not a doctrine of real absence, but a doctrine of Spiritual presence, and paragraph seven presents that old Calvinistic doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ in the supper. When we are properly receiving the supper (including an examination of ourselves, 1 Cor. 11:28), we are 'inwardly' partaking of Christ while 'outwardly partaking of the visible elements'. The apostle Paul calls this 'participating' or 'fellowshipping' in the blood and in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) - a concept which usefully challenges conventional assumptions in evangelicalism that the Lord's supper is merely a memorial moment to remember Jesus. 

This participation in Christ in the supper is 'by faith' and 'spiritually'. That is to say, when we come to the supper, trusting afresh in Christ and the triumph of his cross, we find Christ present by his Holy Spirit in the supper. And through this meal we by faith receive him, with all the benefits of his death that are reserved for believers. We feed upon him. We are nourished by him. And although that receiving and feeding is not carnal or corporal, it is real and actual. 

To state it a different way, and even more emphatically, 'the body and blood of Christ' is not during the supper 'corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine'. Christ is not present in the body or in the flesh. No Catholic, or Lutheran, or 'high Anglican' formula of real presence in the sense of physical presence is correct. But nor are these doctrines necessary! Spiritual does not mean artificial. Spiritual realities are true realities. And so this confession rightly insists that Christ is present 'really, but spiritually' in the supper. He is as 'present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves' are present 'to their outward senses'. 

Eating and Drinking Damnation

Along with the theory that Christ is physically present in the supper, came the puzzle of unworthy participants eating the bread of the supper. Did they partake of Christ in the supper? The early medieval answer to the questions was yes, but without benefit. Later theories argued that any participation in the mass had almost automatic benefit. Medieval skeptics about physical presence, and the Protestant Reformers with them, parodied the theory by asking about the mice. Did mice eating the crumbs that had fallen on the cathedral floor also partake of Christ's body? Unlikely, it seemed. But how could the conclusion be avoided?
 
The Westminster assembly, like the Reformers before them, concluded that 'ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament' but 'not the thing signified thereby'. They get food and drink. They do not get the Saviour or any benefit from him. 

Nevertheless, not only is there no positive benefit in coming to the table, there is also real harm. As scripture states so clearly, by unworthy participation in the supper, people become 'guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Cor. 11:27; c.f., vv. 27-29). That is to say, they drink to their own damnation. 'Ignorant and ungodly persons . . . are unfit to enjoy communion with' the Lord and 'so are they unworthy of the Lord's table. The problem is not simply that unbelievers should not hide in the ranks of believers. It is much deeper than that. This meal speaks of Christian partnership and fellowship and as Paul asks, after all, 'what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? Christ with Belial? God with idolatry? (2 Cor. 6:14-16). Partaking of 'these holy mysteries' while remaining an unbeliever is not merely a mistake, it is a 'great sin against Christ'. Ministers need to speak words that force a serious rethink for non-Christians who assume they are entitled to partake of Christ's supper.

But why does coming to the table unworthily involve eating and drinking damnation? Why is it a great sin? What is so dangerous about a pretended communion with Christ and his church? The answer is found in the great privilege that it is to partake of a meal which so perfectly pictures our participation in Christ. It is intended to nourish Christian faith. To come to the table without that Holy-Spirit-worked faith in the Saviour is to try to seize a gift which can only be given. Coming to the table then becomes the personal symbol of a man or a woman's presumption. The supper becomes an emblem of the arrogance of someone who fancies he or she can fellowship with the Father, without coming through his Son. 

Out of concern for unbelievers themselves, we warn them not to partake of the table. We also refuse to invite them to the table because those who reject Christ and his church must not be admitted to the fellowship meal designed for those who accept him and his people. Here, what is true of the membership of the church is true for the sacrament of the church. What Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 applies to his discussion in 1 Corinthians 11. 'Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed' (1 Cor. 5:6-7). The church and the table need to be 'purged' (1 Cor. 5:13). We must, in the strong words of Jesus for those who reject truth, not 'give dogs what is holy' or 'throw pearls before pigs' (Matt. 7:6). As a serious warning to those who are erring, we must avoid fellowship and warn 'any brother' who is idle and unwilling to be instructed - surely a command which sometimes justifies suspending a member of the church from the communion table of the church, and always justifies insisting that those who come to the table be members in good standing with a church that loves and preaches the gospel of the Triune God (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.5, 6

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v. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

vi. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.

A Reader's Guide to the Sacraments

The fifth paragraph of the chapter offers a condensed reader's guide to the sacramental sections of the Bible, one of a number of such guides to Bible readers found in the Confession. It is designed to explain the vivid language used in Scripture to describe the Lord's supper: 'The outward elements in this sacrament', the bread and the wine, when 'duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ', have such a close 'relation to Him crucified' that 'they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent'. 

We see this kind of language, for example, in Matthew 26:26-28. There 'Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant"'. The Westminster assembly's observation here is that Jesus did not say that the bread was like his body. He did not say that the wine was like his blood. He effectively, and shockingly, told his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood. The Westminster assembly's conclusion here is that what Jesus spoke, he spoke 'truly'. That is to say, there is nothing inappropriate or problematic about this kind of talk. It is just as acceptable for us to use this language today as it was for Jesus to use that language himself. He substituted the reality for the symbol, instead of the symbol for the reality. And so can we.

Evidently Jesus spoke this way because his sacrament and his sacrifice are so closely related; because the symbol chosen by Christ is so perfectly suited to represent himself. Nonetheless Christ's statement (made by a Saviour of flesh and blood) was true in a sacramental sense only. That is to say, the bread is a true symbol of Christ's flesh. In substance, in nature, the bread is bread and the wine is wine. 

The interchange between symbol and substance is amply illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul moves back and forth between mentioning 'the body and blood of the Lord' (once, referring to the crucifixion and the supper), and eating the bread and drinking the cup (three times, referring to the supper). The Apostle's continued references to the bread and cup illustrate the fact that references to 'the body and blood of the Lord' do not change the fact that even after these common elements are properly set apart for holy use 'they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before'.

The Physical Presence of Christ in the Supper: The Trouble with Transubstantiation

If the fifth paragraph's instructions on reading biblical language is correct, then the truth of the sixth paragraph carries real force. The Roman Catholic 'doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation)' is simply incorrect. The doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that when the elements of bread and wine are consecrated, or ceremonially set apart by a priest, that the real substance of the bread and wine changes into flesh and blood even though all the apparent characteristics of the bread and wine don't change. The bread still looks and feels and smells and tastes (and if you drop enough of it on the floor it still sounds) like bread. The wine still tingles on the tongue and smells like the South of France or Napa Valley. But Roman Catholics are taught that it is really Christ's flesh and blood.

Transubstantiation was the dominant theory, but by no means the only theory, employed to explain how the elements of the supper could become the body and blood of the Lord. Here the Westminster assembly is rejecting not just transubstantiation, but any theory that attempted to justify a doctrine of the real physical presence of Christ. Neither the 'consecration of a priest', nor any other special words or actions, are capable of changing the substance of the elements of the Lord's supper. The idea of transubstantiation or any similar theory really is 'repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason'. Without doubt it is contrary to Scripture. After all, as the resurrected Jesus explained to his disciples, he has normal 'flesh and blood' (Lk. 24:39). As Peter preached at Pentecost, heaven has received Jesus and will keep him until all things are restored at the last day (Acts 3:21). We celebrate the supper 'in remembrance' of Jesus, but 'remembering' is certainly an odd thing to do if Jesus is actually present with us bodily, first on the table, and then in our mouths (1 Cor. 11:24-26). Angels once had to tell people standing around an empty tomb, 'He is not here, but has risen' (Luke 24:6). We sometimes need to tell people standing around the Lord's table, 'He is not here, but has ascended'. 

Transubstantiation and the family of associated theories are also contrary to common sense. We should not require a simile in order to identify a metaphor. When Jesus stated that the bread or wine was his body or blood, we should not need for him to spell out that he means that the bread or wine 'is like' his body or blood. It is no exaggeration to say that the idea of a physical presence of our Lord in the Lord's supper theologically and linguistically 'overthrows the nature of the sacrament' but also, historically, has been the cause of many superstitions - yes even obscene idolatries.

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.3, 4

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iii. The Lord Jesus hath, in his ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break bread, to take the cup and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. 

iv. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone, as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

Celebrating the Supper

Having defined the essence of the supper in paragraphs one and two, the Confession directs the celebration of the supper in paragraphs three and four. The place to find basic directives on the celebrating of the supper is in the fourfold summary of the first supper recorded in the first, second, and third gospels and in one epistle (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). There we find three key features.

First, Jesus, serving as the prime minister of the new covenant, declared his word of institution - he directed his disciples, telling them what to do and when, and explaining what the elements and actions meant. His disciples then passed this instruction on to other disciples, although the subject of the supper is important enough that the Apostle Paul appears to have received instructions on the supper directly from the risen Christ himself. 

Second, we can see from these four accounts that as an essential ingredient of the supper we are to mix in prayer, as we see Jesus himself doing. These prayers are to include a petition for the blessing of the elements, asking God to set apart what is common to be used for a purpose that is holy. We are to ask that God would take this ordinary bread, and ordinary wine, and bless it by his Holy Spirit for extraordinary good.

Third, the minister is 'to take and break' the bread, and 'to take the cup' and, not forgetting to partake of the meal themselves, they are to give the supper to all those who are communing with Christ and his people at that supper, as Christ did on the night when he was betrayed.

Private Communion

The last line of the third paragraph specifies that the Lord's supper is not to be received privately. One reason why the Westminster assembly frowned on bringing the bread and wine to persons not present in the worship service, was presented in paragraph one: this meal is intended to celebrate communion with Christ, but also with fellow Christians.
 
A second related reason why the Westminster assembly disapproved of private communion is found in the Bible itself: not only did the individualistic approach of the Corinthians earn an apostolic rebuke (1 Cor. 11:20; c.f., 17-22), it seems to have been the settled pattern of the first Christians to 'gather together to break bread' rather than to eat in isolation (e.g., Acts 20:7). 

A third reason why the assembly worked to banish the still-popular practice of private communion is suggested in paragraph two and clarified in the opening line of paragraph four: Roman Catholics had long inflated the saving efficacy of the mass and offered private masses as a kind of life-line to grace. The assembly considered the continuation of private communion a poor example, even in churches where the theology of the Lord's supper had been corrected. Like the Israelites who were to remember the rebels of the wilderness days, Protestants were to remember the Romanists of the theological wilderness and avoid their ways (1 Cor. 10:6).

Pretended Religion

Having forbidden private communion, the assembly tackled other ceremonial abuses too. The most egregious was the Roman Catholic practice of forbidding people to drink of the cup, lest they accidentally spill the blood of Christ on the floor of the church. Suffice it to say that when Jesus gave the cup, he gave it to all disciples, both the coordinated and the clumsy (Mark 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:25-29). The practice of withholding the cup from the laity was a gradual, natural, and tragic development from the idea that the wine miraculously become blood when blessed by the priest - a theory which the assembly confronts in paragraphs five and six. 

Actually, any additional ceremonies attached to the supper and required either of those who administer or of those who receive the supper is an offence to God. Bowing down to the elements, lifting up the elements, parading the elements, adoring the elements, storing them for later religious purposes - all of these activities oppose the true nature of the sacrament and subvert the simple institution of Christ. It is vain worship - empty and useless. Yet all of these practices were commanded by the Roman Catholic church, with penalties for nonconformity. Some of these practices were commanded by the Church of England, with penalties for nonconformity. Both the Reformation and post-Reformation histories vividly illustrate the drift and the danger to leaders in the church who 'teach as doctrines the commandments of men' (Matt. 15:9). 

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.2

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ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Not an offering, not a sacrifice

Having once charted out what the Lord's supper is, the Confession now adds in many comments about what it is not. It is not, in the first place, an offering. 'In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father'. In fact, in the ceremony of the supper, there is 'not any real sacrifice made at all'. Jesus is not given up once more either for the forgiveness of the sins of the living, or of the dead, or for any other purposes.

As students of history will know, the Westminster assembly is here refuting the notion of a 'sacrifice of the mass'. As students of world religions will know, this continues to be an abiding error in the sacramental theory of the Roman Catholic Church. As students of the Bible will know, that Christ can ever be sacrificed again is denied in the most emphatic terms in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews 9.

First, in contrast to the Old Covenant regime, Jesus has no intention to 'offer himself repeatedly', or to 'suffer repeatedly'. The very thought is absurd to the author of the Hebrews. We see this in Hebrews 9:25-26.

Second, there can be no repetition to Christ's finished work. Jesus 'has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself'. Nothing more will ever be needed. There is only one Christian sacrifice and it is seen on the cross and not in a supper. We see this in Hebrews 9:26.

Third, the so-called bloodless 'sacrifice' that is supposedly offered in the Roman Catholic mass can have no merit because 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins'. We see this in Hebrews 9:22.

A commemorative offering or a commemoration of an offering?

The second point made in this second paragraph is that this sacrament is not a commemorative offering but a commemoration of an offering. Roman Catholics under siege will describe the mass merely as a commemorative offering of Jesus - a memorial offering. Given the stern statements of Hebrews 9, the Westminster assembly is right to see the supper instead as a commemoration of an offering - the one offering up of Jesus himself, by himself, upon his cross, once in history for all time. That is why Jesus kept saying that Christians are to observe the supper in his remembrance (1 Cor. 11:24-26): because it is that important, and because it will not be repeated.

By its very nature the Lord's supper is the kind of commemoration which is also a 'spiritual oblation'. Christians engage in this supper, like Christ, by blessing God and giving thanks (Matt. 26:26-27). As it is a meal which offers spiritual rather than physical benefit, in doing so we are giving thanks for Jesus more than we are giving thanks for wheat or wine. We are offering heartfelt sacrifice of praise to God for Jesus. We are publicly proclaiming the good news of what Jesus has done, which is yet another way of offering praise (1 Cor. 11:26). Nonetheless, it is praise that we offer again and again in the supper, not Jesus. The meal remains a commemoration. 

It is for that reason that Reformation era theologians protested effectively, against what some major medieval theologians had earlier protested ineffectively: the 'popish sacrifice of the mass'. And for those reasons it is not an exaggeration to say that the mass 'is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect'. The 'sacrifice' of the mass requires the return to a priesthood, while we have priests enough in the one permanent priest who is Christ (Heb. 7:23-24). The 'sacrifice' of the mass calls for continued offerings when Christ has 'once for all . . . offered up himself' (Heb. 7:27). 

So let us listen to the Scriptures! They tell us that Jesus 'offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins'. Let us trust the Word of God, which tells us that after Jesus offered himself and completed his work, 'he sat down at the right hand of God' (Heb. 10:11-12). Let us never drift into a church that ceremonially re-sacrifices Christ when 'by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified' (Heb. 10:14). Let us not look for grace or forgiveness mediated through the mass when we find it directly from Christ himself. 

After writing eloquently about the end of daily sacrifices in the final sacrifice of Christ, the author of the letter to the Hebrews reflected on what this means for Christians who will one day be summoned to meet God. By the inspiration of the Spirit, he was brought to recall two promises of God in Jeremiah 31:33 and 34. In the first, God promised to put his law on our hearts and write it on our minds. In the second, he added, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more'. 

If that is the essence of God's gracious covenant with us then, as Hebrews 10:18 rightly states, 'where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin'. The Lord's supper witnesses to what Christ has already done - the one who is the only propitiation, the only wrath remover, for all God's chosen ones. 

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust

Chapter 29.1

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i. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

One reason for the particular poignancy of the Lord's supper in the life of the Christian church is its birthdate: this sacrament came into being the night Jesus was betrayed. The gospel histories highlight this fact. The Apostle Paul recalls this context again in his letter to the Corinthians. And Paul in turn was only delivering what he had received from the Lord himself. Here, in a paragraph which paraphrases a passage from Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the Westminster assembly brings us back once again to the night of the betrayal. In returning to that scene, we are reminded of all the cardinal truths about this supper and what it represents. 

First, it was our Lord Jesus who instituted this new sacrament. No one less than Jesus could and did replace the Passover meal with another meal. No one less than Jesus could and did command the Christian church to celebrate a meal that centered completely on himself. As Paul explained to the Corinthians, this meal is 'the table of the Lord' and 'the cup of the Lord'; it is 'the Lord's supper' and we are to observe the meal as he requires (1Cor. 10:21; 11:20).

Second, it was on that night that Jesus instituted a sacrament of 'his body and blood'. This is a striking phrase, not popular in Protestant churches today, but historically very accurate in its emphasis. When Jesus instituted the Lord's supper he showed, he ate, and he drank the elements of bread and wine. But his words emphasized not the elements of the supper, but the reality they represented. For what did Jesus say? 'This is my body which is for you.' 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood' (1 Cor. 11:24-25; c.f., Matt. 26:26-28; Mk 14:2-24; Lk. 22:19-20). 

Third, the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is 'to be observed in his church'. This is a point which paragraph three will take up in greater detail, but it is evident enough in the very context in which the Lord's supper was originally delivered. This meal was not given to Peter, James, and John - a few favourite friends of Jesus. It was given to all the disciples (Matt. 26:20; Mk 14:17; Lk. 22:14-15). It is be observed, or performed, in the church.

Fourth, this supper is to be observed until 'the end of the world'. Christians have always understood that when Jesus twice told his disciples to remember him, that he intended a 'perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death'. This is why the Apostle Paul repeated both of Jesus's calls to remembrance, and then concluded by saying that 'as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' (1 Cor. 11:24-26). It is unthinkable that Christians would forget Christ's sacrifice. On the contrary, we proclaim his death until he returns, not only with our words, but also with his supper.

Fifth, a return to the events of that dark night helps us to see that Jesus was promising benefits to true believers. We celebrate the supper not only in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice of himself, but also in remembrance that Jesus promised his body for us, and that his bloody covenant is with us (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Jesus gave himself in our place, and for our sake, and the supper was designed to keep this glorious fact before our eyes. It's because the supper serves as a seal of the benefits and treasures of redemption that Paul refers to the wine as 'the cup of blessing' (1 Cor. 10:16; for 'sealing' see WCF 27.1). 

Sixth, this supper is to be observed for our 'spiritual nourishment and growth' in Christ. We can see from the gospels that the Lord's supper was, at least in part, a ceremonial addition to an existing meal. It was not a normal meal. It was not intended for bodily nourishment and growth. Paul had to remind the Corinthians of this because they were hurrying to serve themselves so that they would have enough to eat (1 Cor. 11:17-22). That is one reason why we need to remember that Jesus took the symbolic cup and used it as an emblem of his own sacrifice 'after supper' (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The Lord's supper is like a good sermon: it is intended as food for the soul.

Seventh, we are to celebrate the Lord's supper for our 'further engagement in, and to, all duties' which we owe to him. In saying this the Westminster assembly is not drawing on a particular passage in Scripture. The gathering is simply noting the gratitude that guilty Christians show in response to grace. In realizing that Jesus not only gave us himself, but also gave us this abiding reminder of his gospel, we are moved to thought and action. We are renewed in our commitment to Christ and in the service that we owe him. These are reasons enough to observe the supper, nonetheless, participation in this meal is also a profession of exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ that implies submission to his lordship alone. After all, as Paul warned the Corinthians, 'You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons' (1 Cor. 10:21).

Eighth, the Lord's supper is to be observed in the church as a powerful symbol of our communion with Christ, by his Holy Spirit. We can see that this meal is communal by thinking about its first participants: the disciples were there communing with Jesus. Naturally, Jesus was there with those disciples in a way that he is not with later disciples. Nonetheless, Jesus Christ is present with us by his Spirit in this supper (see WCF 29.7), a fact which is central to one of the proof-texts proffered by the authors of this confession. In fact the Apostle Paul speaks of Christians partaking of the cup as those who 'drink of one Spirit' (1 Cor. 10:13). He also refers to the act of drinking the cup as 'a participation' or 'fellowship in the blood of Christ', and the act of breaking bread as 'a participation' or 'fellowship in the body of Christ' (1 Cor. 10:16). 

Ninth, recollection of that first supper and reflection on 1 Corinthians 10 is clearly calculated by God to underscore the closeness of our communion not only with Christ, but with Christians. The disciples communed with Christ at the Last Supper, but they also communed with one another. And while 1 Corinthians 10:16 stresses our union with Christ in this supper, 1 Corinthians 10:17 stresses our union with other believers in this same supper: 'Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread'. This unity with one another in Christ, reinforced in this supper, is also a unity with one another in the Spirit. Just as 'in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body' so also, now thinking of the Lord's supper, 'all were made to drink of one Spirit' (1 Cor. 12:13). No wonder that the assembly concluded that the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to be observed as 'a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body'. The meal so often called the Last Supper was really the first supper.

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 28.1, Part Two

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i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.

The Westminster Confession's second important theme in treating baptism concerns the efficacy of baptism. This is a vitally important matter today, in which Christians must avoid errors that fall on both sides of the Bible's teaching. On one side, Baptists and many other evangelicals err by denying that there is any efficacy to baptism, instead treating the sacrament as a bare sign. On the other side, hyper-covenantal Reformed Christians err by granting too much efficacy, or rather the wrong kind of efficacy, to baptism's role in Christian salvation. This latter concern is especially associated today with the so-called Federal Vision movement, which treats the rite of baptism as being essentially the principle instrument of salvation.

The Confession takes up this matter by making the classic statement that baptism is "a sign and seal of the covenant of grace." As a sign, baptism points to the blood of Jesus which cleanses our sin and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit that enables us to believe and be saved. As a seal, baptism presents an authentic offer from God and an official authentication of saving faith when it has been acknowledged by the elders of the church. Properly defining the word "seal" is essential, since some readers take the Confession to mean that the grace of Christ is more or less infused by baptism into the recipient's spirit. Instead, baptism serves as a seal in the way that a government seal makes a passport official. Those who profess true faith in Jesus receive baptism as a seal that makes the covenant relationship official, together with all its benefits.

A particular controversy today concerns the claim that the Confession's teaching that baptism confers "ingrafting into Christ," "regeneration," and "remission of sins." This is the Federal Vision teaching that states that baptism confers the reality of these saving graces, so long as one upholds his or her baptism by remaining in the church. This is not what the Confession teaches, however. The Confession teaches that baptism confers the "sign and seal" of these things.  Union with Christ, forgiveness of sins, and regeneration come only with faith; baptism presents the sign and seal of these things, upon the confirmation of saving faith. Appeal is made to paragraph 6, where the Confession states that "the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost."  This is true, so long as we remember that the grace promised in baptism comes in the form of sign and seal. Baptism never confers the reality of union with Christ and its saving benefits, but rather the sign and seal of those blessings which only faith may receive. This understanding is confirmed when we consult WCF 14:1, which says, "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word." Salvation is received only through faith in the Word of God (see 1 Pet. 1:23). That statement goes on to say, "by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened" (WCF 14:1). In other words, union with Christ and its saving benefits occurs through faith alone in God's Word, and that saving faith is then strengthened by the Word, the sacraments and prayer.

WCF 28:6 makes the interesting point that the "efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether or age or infants) as that grace belongeth to, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time." This answers the objection that many are baptized without believing (often as infants), so that they cannot receive the grace offered by baptism. The Confession answers that the grace of baptism is nonetheless conveyed at the time of saving faith, at whatever time that God has willed. Here again, we must remember that the Confession speaks of baptism conferring not saving grace but signing and sealing grace - that which signifies and confirms salvation through faith. The point of the Confession is that whenever true and saving faith occurs, that is when the sign and sealing grace of baptism is actually received.

Consider two situations. When a non-Christian adult believes, the subsequent baptism conveys the sign and seal of the covenant that faith has received. What about a covenant child who was baptized as an infant, who then comes to saving faith later in life? In this case, the saving faith looks back to what was offered and exhibited in baptism, the reality of which has now been conferred through the gift of faith. Understanding this teaching helps us to realize that when a covenant child is baptized, the grace of salvation is really offered and exhibited to him or her, and the sign and seal of that grace (to be received through faith) is really conferred. With such a beginning to the child's life in the church, our covenant nurture of the child must continue to offer and exhibit the covenant of grace. Later, when faith marks the child as truly possessing salvation, that faith receives the grace that was set before the child from the beginning of his or her life in the church, through baptism, which grace now belongs to the believing child through the Spirit's gift of saving faith.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.

Chapter 28.1

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i. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace... Which sacrament is, by Christ's appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

The Westminster Confession's teaching of the sacrament of baptism may be understood under five headings, the first of which is the necessity of baptism. This sacrament is "by Christ's appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world." The point is that the church is obligated to administer baptism and Christians are likewise obligated to be baptized, as Christ's prescribed manner for joining his Church.

One argument against the necessity of water baptism is made by Quakers, who assert that there is no gospel precept for this sacrament and that we are instead to baptize in the Spirit (see Mt. 3:11).  To the contrary, however, Jesus expressly charged the church with instituting baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a necessary accompaniment to evangelism: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). It is evident that this does not refer to baptism in the Spirit, for the simple reason that the Church is not able to regenerate the sinner's heart.* Instead, the example of the New Testament makes it perfectly plain that the Church is to administer water baptism in the name of the Trinity, so that believers and their households may properly receive admission into the visible body of Christ's people (see Acts 8:36-38, 9:18, 10:47-48, etc.).

Christian baptism is necessary, therefore, because it was instituted directly by the Lord Jesus Christ, together with his express command for it to be administered "in his church until the end of the world" (WCF 28:1), even as Jesus extended his Great Commission "to the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20).  This gives us the answer to a number of important questions. Is it necessary for a believer in Jesus to be baptized? The answer is Yes, at Jesus' institution and command. Is baptism necessary for church membership? The answer is Yes, since Jesus linked evangelism to baptism in bringing disciples into his church (Mt. 28:19). Is baptism necessary for admission to the Lord's Table?  The answer is Yes, since the public rite of admission to the church and its privileges, including the Lord's Supper, is baptism. This naturally accords with the uniform example that we see in the New Testament. When Peter preached to the crowd after the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, about three thousand believed and "those who received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41). During Philip's evangelizing ministry in Samaria, those who believed "were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). So it goes throughout the book of Acts, including the conversion/baptism of Paul, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, Crispus, and the Ephesian converts (Acts 9:18, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 18:6, and 19:5).

When we speak of the necessity of baptism, however, we do not mean that the rite of water baptism is absolutely necessary as a condition for salvation. The Confession guards against this view, saying that although "it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it" (WCF 28:5). The great example is the thief on the cross who believed in Jesus and was saved, without being baptized by water (Lk. 23:39-43). He was not in a position to be baptized, as it true of others who are soon debilitated or die after trusting in Christ. The point is that baptism is not necessary as a condition of salvation, but rather as a consequence of salvation (either the believer's own salvation or that of his or her parent's, as we will see).  

Baptism is necessary in that it is required of Christians and the Church that they obey Christ's commands and give him glory by faithfully administering the sacraments of his church. This means that new believers who have not been baptized, as was my case when I came to faith in Christ at the age of 30, should feel an obligation to receive baptism, thus joining the church and giving a public testimony to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we will see in our next study, this manner of public testimony also grants a sealing assurance to the believer that he or she really does belong to Jesus.

*Properly speaking, baptism in the Holy Spirit refers not to the individuals' regeneration at the moment of conversion but rather Christ's outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost. Peter made it very clear in Acts 2:33 that Jesus' baptism in the Spirit took place at Pentecost, and the symbolism of the Spirit descending in tongues of spiritual fire clearly fulfills the expectation established by John the Baptist's teaching: see Luke 3:16 and Acts 2:3.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.

Chapter 27.5

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v. The sacraments of the old testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.

Why end the section on the sacraments with a statement as to the diversity and unity of old and new covenant sacraments? The reason seems to be to underline once more what is stated so clearly in the opening section: the hermeneutical importance of the unity of the covenant of grace. Circumcision is to baptism what the Passover is the Lord's Supper. Circumcision, as Romans 4:11 insists, was "a sign and seal of the righteousness that he [Abraham] had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." Circumcision was not a seal of Abraham's faith, but of the (covenant) righteousness which he received by faith. Similarly, baptism seals the word of promise of the gospel - union with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:1-4). Thus circumcision and baptism are considered as functionally equivalent (Col. 4:11-12), as are Passover and the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Old covenant sacraments were types and shadows, but they pointed to Christ and his benefits. The hermeneutical importance of this understanding lies in ensuring that the principle espoused in the administration of the sacrament of circumcision carries through into the administration of the sacrament in the new covenant. Thus, Peter on the day of Pentecost delivers a sermon arguing for continuity rather than discontinuity of sacramental administration: "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39).  

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Chapter 27.4

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iv. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

There is something both expected and unexpected about this section. First is the statement as to the number of sacraments. Medieval Rome espoused seven. In addition to baptism and the Supper were Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. Luther, in the Large Catechism (IV:74-75) added "repentance" ("Confession" and "Absolution" are referred to as the "Third Sacrament"). In contrast, the Confession insists that there are only two sacraments. Foot-washing, as Calvin made clear in his Commentary on John 13, is not a sacrament because it was not viewed as such in the on-going life of the early Christian community. 

The "unexpected" aspect is the statement regarding who may lawfully dispense the sacrament. Only a lawfully ordained "minister of the Word" may officiate in the sacraments. Since the Directory for the Public Worship of God, advocates a separate office of elder and minister, this explains the reason why in Presbyterian churches ruling elders may not administer baptism or the Lord's Supper. Congregations without a minister must therefore engage an "interim minister" of some kind in order to administer the sacraments. This, on surface reading, seems to highlight a difference between ruling and teaching elders that cuts across current understandings of the parity of the eldership in some Presbyterian polities. 

Does this statement in the Confession raise the specter of clericalism? However we answer that question, the reason for the statement is clear enough: no sacrament may be dispensed without an adequate explanation of its meaning, i.e. a lawfully ordained minister of the gospel. 

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Chapter 27.3

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iii. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

This section deals with the efficacy of the sacraments. Firstly, grace is exhibited in the sacraments. Baptism and the Supper do not function ex opere operato - by virtue of their application alone. Failure to apply the hermeneutical principle advocated in section two - the "sacramental principle" - leads to attribution of the meaning of sacrament to the recipient. In general, the Church Fathers lost sight of the sacraments as signs to stir up faith and seals to confirm believers in possession of the blessings signified, regarding (for example) baptism as actually conveying regeneration to those who did not obstruct its working. Since infants could not do this, all baptized infants were accordingly viewed as regenerate. Similarly, dangers of formalism arise in the Supper.

Of particular interest in our time is the Confession's comment as to the relationship between the efficacy of sacraments and the officiant. In opposition to the idea that baptism and the Supper are only effective if the "minister" (or whoever the presider may be) is a regenerate Christian, the Confession expresses what to some amounts to a very "high" view of the sacraments. They are effective to the faith of the recipient regardless of the lack of it on the part of the officiant. The efficacy of the sacraments lies a) in the work of the Holy Spirit (rather than the sacrament itself or the one who administers it), b) the word of institution (viewed here not simply as a ritual), but as c) containing the promise of the covenant-Lord. The sacraments are effective due to the word and Spirit - both are essential. 

This signals the importance of Scripture and sound interpretation (preaching) whenever the sacraments are observed. Just as the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures and shows us Christ, so mutatis mutandis in the sacraments. Where faith is present (worthy receivers), the sacraments accomplish what they promise - union and communion with Jesus Christ. 

Care should be exercised in not misconstruing the intent behind the expression "worthy receivers." Too often, preparatory exercises can lead to the idea that this makes us worthy - an idea utterly foreign to the grace of the gospel. Baptism and the Supper are for sinners!

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Chapter 27.2

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ii. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

This section has been called "the sacramental principle" - functioning in a similar way to a synecdoche where the term for a part of something is used to refer to the whole of something (e.g. referring to the police as "the law"). Similarly, in the Covenant of Grace, the signs and seals signify so closely what is promised by the covenant and received by faith that the one is often attributed to the other. So, for example, in the Abrahamic Covenant, God institutes circumcision, saying: "This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17:10). Here, circumcision is the covenant. Similarly, the "bread" is Christ's "body" and the "cup" is Christ's "blood of the new covenant" (Matt. 26:26-28). The same is true of the expression "the washing of regeneration" (Tit. 3:5).

Behind this "sacramental principle"/hermeneutic lies memories of the Reformation debates surrounding the meaning of "is" (Lat. est). The Marburg Colloquy in 1529, for example, demonstrated the failure of Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther to agree on the meaning of the expression hoc est corpus meum. Did the bread and wine represent Christ's body and blood or were they (somehow) the actual body and blood of Christ? In order to avoid baptismal regeneration or sacramental transformation (consubstantiation, transubstantiation), the employment of an interpretive principle is essential. It is necessary, therefore, that the next section deal with the issue of the efficacy of the sacraments. If, for example, a baby receives baptism - a sign and seal of regeneration and forgiveness of sins, justification and adoption, perseverance and glorification - how do we avoid the conclusion that the baby is regenerate? The important point to bear in mind is that sacraments say nothing as to the condition of the recipient.

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Chapter 27.1

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i. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.

It is interesting in itself that the Confession would provide a separate chapter on the nature of sacraments before dealing specifically with baptism and the Supper. The word "sacrament" is not a biblical word, and, etymologically, its Latin narrative somewhat skews the discussion. In eight of the twenty-seven or twenty-eight occurrences of the Greek musterion (mystery), the Latin Vulgate chose the word sacramentum. (All other occurrences employ the word mysterium). Sacramentum in its Latin context was the sum of money two parties engaged in a legal suit deposited with the tresviri capitales, so-called because the losing party's sum was used for religious purposes. Sacramentum was also used in the military sphere to describe the initiation oath entered into by newly-enlisted troops. It is the latter concept - that of a life-death oath of allegiance - that rose to the surface in sacramental discussions in the Reformation and post-Reformation debates. For some, therefore, Baptism and the Lord's Supper were thus viewed primarily as an oath of allegiance, a responsive promise of loyalty and obedience, "solemnly to engage... to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word" (27:1).

It is therefore important to see that the Westminster Divines did not focus on this aspect of a sacrament but rather employed a robust covenantal understanding of baptism and the Supper as "signs and seals of the covenant of grace." Despite the fact that only circumcision is specifically referred to as a "sign and seal" (Rom. 4:11-12), the Confession assigns this understanding of physical markers to all the individual covenants, and the unifying concept of the covenant of grace in particular. Following chapter seven, "Of God's Covenant with Man," the Confession assumes a unified understanding of the Old and New Covenants as dual redemptive-historical administrations of the one covenant of grace. In doing so, they are expressing an understanding that all covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and  the New Covenant) are accompanied by physical signs and seals and that baptism and the Supper employ a similar function in relation to the New Covenant.

Five additional features of a sacrament are specified:

·      Sacraments are immediately instituted by God

·      They signify/represent Christ and his benefits

·      They confirm our interest in Christ

·      Distinguish members of the church from the rest of the world

·      Sacraments serve as expressions of commitment and discipleship

It is crucial to note that the Confession views the sacraments as signs of the covenant of grace and not signs and seals of faith. They do not function as markers of my response to the covenant, but of the covenant itself and the promises of God that accompany it.

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.