Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Christ's Presence at the Table

Over at Evangelical Catholicity Jonathan Bonomo has a friendly response to Will Barker's talk at the GA Colloquium on the Sacraments. I think this kind of courteous, but pointed interaction with the substance of these talks is fruitful.

I said something like this in my comments on his post, but it bears repeating—over and over and over again. The way “spiritual” and “spiritually” are understood by most in conservative presbyterian circles is not Calvinian. Heck, it’s close to subchristian. It's certainly not biblical. It always amazes and angers me that people pit “spiritual” against “physical,” “material,” and/or “body” in popular Reformed theology. The adjective "spiritual" in the Bible is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. Something that is "spiritual" is "of the Holy Spirit," and not necessarily anti- or supra-material or physical. It’s the Holy SPIRIT, people! We should all agree to capitalize the word "Spiritual" from now on in order to get this straight.
"How is your Spiritual life this week?"
"Fine, I have been striving to not grieve the Spirit in my behavior at work"
"That's great. I've been praying for you."
What is worse, I’ve found that even most ministers think that the “spiritual presence of Jesus” in the Supper is a shorthand way of saying that he is omnipresent as God the Son. Press them about what they mean by "spiritual presence" and they will say that Jesus is present invisibly and “spiritually” in his divine nature at the Table. But that doesn't get us anywhere. God the Son is omnipresent as God always and everywhere. So is the "spiritual presence of Jesus" at the Lord's Supper nothing more than the reality of his divine presence at Home Depot or Greenbriar Golf Club? No. The miracle of the Lord's Supper is that the Holy Spirit makes the glorified, life-giving body and blood of Jesus present to his people.

Perhaps we are so sloppy in our thinking about the Supper because we practice it so infrequently and we are so frightened to say that Baptism and the Lord's Supper actually do something. Talking about Baptism and the Lord's Supper in our circles is pretty frustrating.


Eduardo H. Chagas said...


I don't know if things look so bad in PCA, but in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, what's been passing as "really reformed Eucharistic Theology" is downright Zwinglian memorialism.

Being the Sunday School Superintendent, I get to do its opening, so, last Corpus Christi (it's a national holiday here), I seized the opportunity to talk about our view on the Lord's Supper in the homily (based on I Co. 10.16-17).

People found it so alien, that they interrupted the Pastor's lesson at Adult's Class no less than five times, to ask questions and discuss the homily.

sh said...

someone once said,

"If unbelievers don't go away from your service thinking, 'Those people are cannibals', we probably haven't done it right."

Unknown said...

One of my favorite examples of how spiritual doesn't mean "non-physical" is 1 Cor. 10:1-4:

I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (ESV)

We all know that the food they ate in the wilderness was real food. What made it spiritual is that the food was of God.

Unknown said...

I think a better preposition in the last sentence of my last comment would be "from." Not sure if makes that much of a difference, but I figured I'd correct myself.

BlackNTanInTheAM said...

"How does it..uh, How does it work?"
"I know not my liege. Consult the book of [sacraments]!"
Does any1 really know how a sacrament works? I've been in PCA church anon where I've yet to hear a decent go at it.
Of course, faith is the key. Can't have the grace w/o the faith. But the same is true of prayer. How does prayer change the pray-er? When does it work?
I think the best picture of what the Eucharist does is found in the letter to the Laodicean church.
There is condemnation (hear), commendation (respond), and then restoration (receive). That is how we find life. We hear what Jesus knows of us; we respond to it; we receive life. And all of this is based upon what it is we believe exactly.
The eating and drinking is really not about metaphysics (although they are there). The eating and drinking is about living and dying and how the twain do meet.
And they meet by faith. A believing heart hears what Jesus says (I know your deeds); responds to that word (whoever opens [his heart]); and receives life (I will come in-to him).
Really the sacrament is prayer with food along the side. So to ask how the sacraments work is to ask how prayer works and we all know that to ask is to receive.