Sacramental Validity, and there is no king in Israel

Alan Knox over at The Assembling of the Church (he's a Baptist, btw) has an interesting post on the Lord's Supper. He suggests that any Christian meal can be The Lord's Supper, and asks the following questions:

What makes a meal between believers the Lord's Supper?

What makes a meal between believers NOT the Lord's Supper?

I answered: correct form, intention, and matter. That is what makes something the Lord's Supper (or not). He answered that my answer was a systematization (it is), and there is no need for that, since every systematization is contextual:

Every systemization, every creed, every confession - even Nicaea, and Calvin, etc. - is given within a context. It is important for us to recognize that these systemization are not "gospel truth", and for us to struggle with these issues again within our own context.

I asked him if the JW's were not then a legitimate systematization/contextualization for 20th C. America. His answer, no, bc they are unbiblical, whereas any Christian meal being the Lord's Supper is not. To this I replied, and this is where I am curious as to your input:

Hi Alan,

"In those days there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes."

Not to be a jerk or anything, but isn't that what you have? You read Scripture and it says what you see there, and indeed, perhaps what you want it to see. There is no authority above you, except Scripture, right? But Scripture is determined by your own personal, individual reading.

This JW's are not an OK contextualization, and burgers at McD's being (or maybe being) the Lord's Supper is an OK contextualization. Because you say so. Or rather, because you say that is what Scripture says. Or perhaps, Scriptures says so because you say so.

At least the answer I'm presenting has stood the test of around 16 centuries, been used and tried in every continent, in thousands of languages, and commands respect in the three major traditions: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.

You have your opinion of what Scripture teaches. I have the opinion of the church across the world and through the centuries as to what Scripture teaches.


Fred said…
I'm sympathetic to the view that every meal should be a communion with Christ and others. I would suggest that some celebrations of the Lord's Supper are clear and definitive: i.e. sacrament — and some are analogous.
FrGregACCA said…
You make some good points, AD. It sounds like Alan has conflated the Eucharist with the Agape meal. In the beginning, they may well have been one and the same, but clearly, beginning with the context of the Church in Corinth, a separation began which, perhaps unevenly, spread to the whole Church. This separation, like so much else, is clear in Ignatios of Antioch (in the Didache, which, by most accounts is, like Ignatios, Syrian in provenance, but earlier - maybe much earlier, as in AD 70, the two seem to remain one event; however, as in the New Testament, regardless of what else is served and consumed, bread and wine are clearly what makes these meals Eucharist.)

But you are precisely right in that the matter comes down to the nature and authority of the Church. What Alan apparently doesn't realize is that you can support your high view of the Church from Scripture while he would be hard put to buttress his understanding from same without resorting to various verbal gymnastics. This, of course, also applies to the traditional understanding of the Eucharist in general in terms of the Real Presence and Eucharist as sacrifice. It is ironic that "sola scriptura" can produce people and traditions which ignore or try to explain away large chunks of the Bible.

However, I will give Alan this: the inherent potential sacramentality of eating and of food and drink is the meta-context, an understanding of which is necessary if the full meaning of the Eucharist is to be properly elucidated. I think that is what Fred is driving at as well. If you haven't read Schmemann's "For the Life of the World," I highly recommend you do so. In the meantime, Alan should read Jeremias' "Eucharistic Words of Jesus".
Don said…
As some of you remember, I spent some time on this subject last fall, starting here.

I think that AD's comments are correct. OTOH, I still think that the central weakness of the general Evangelical view of the Eucharist centres on the issue of the real presence.

I doubt that Alan would be as enthusiastic about his "systemisation" thesis if he was an Anglican, and/or had been through what TEC and other revisionists had put everyone through on this very point.
Brett said…
He said, "I do not want to lean on my own understanding or on the understanding of others. I want to trust completely in God."

That is the same nonsense my father in law says. it is usually followed by, "God has led me to believe..." or "God has revealed to me." Then I ask, how do I know God is speaking to you? (where is YOUR authority coming from.

It is nice to know God has to reinvent himself with every believer. Why would God, through the Holy Spirit not be able to guide his people and his Church to a deeper revelation of himself. If scripture is so clear, why did Athanasius and Arius have to argue over the Trinity.

Believe me Abu, it is a waste of time to argue. This is why the hundreds of pages of Catechisms of the RCC, Luther, and Calvin are all now reduced to a page snippet on a website with some verses.
Alan Knox said…
"That is the same nonsense..."

Interesting... a desire to trust God completely without leaning on your own understanding is "nonsense". Wow.

Samuel said…
But Scripture is determined by your own personal, individual reading.

I wouldn't say all aspects of Scripture reading is personal and individual. So I would be a bit cautious about that one, or else it could apply to each of us as well. (One can dig a hole for the other guy that one can himself fall into!) It is true that some aspects in the Scriptures (The Bible) are not fully and clearly defined, and in those regards we can diverge, and perhaps we are permitted to diverge (as a Christian body). Perhaps we can accept those divergences where the Bible is not interested to be wholly clear (as they are not fundamentally important). So in this regard, I would say that both Alan and you (Abu Daoud) can legitimately diverge within the Christian body, with differing opinions. God did leave us room for opinion, I hope.

At least the answer I'm presenting has stood the test of around 16 centuries ...

You mean your answer of "correct form, intention, and matter"? It depends on what is that "correct form", "intention," etc, which are much too general.

You know, I hardly delved deeply into these questions (which I don't consider fundamental to Christianity) about the finer details of the Eucharist and all sorts of questions that can't be answered directly from the New Testament. So, let me try to give my personal answer since I hadn't discussed them before at length.

What makes a meal between believers the Lord's Supper?

If it is done with the expressed purpose of those believers to remember the Lord Jesus, to break bread and to drink together, symbolizing His body broken, and
His blood shed, for our sins. So although Christians can eat together and say grace to give thanks, it is not a Eucharist, not unless some such rite and understanding of bread and drink are performed.

I would allow Alan a little more room to hold his views on this since there is no hard and fast rule in the NT that gives a precise answer to the question. (Unless you want to add extra-Biblical material.) There are many questions that the Bible does not address, and that's where our freedoms reside---and, yes, sometimes even within the (varying) hermeneutical context of the times. But the core of Christianity (the death, resurrection, and salvation of Jesus) are eternal facts for the Christian believer, and are non-contextual.


It is nice to know God has to reinvent himself with every believer.

Or are those just the individualities that God gave each person? God allowed man free will and even the will to disbelieve. If that is how God created man and the world, then that's the way it is.

Why would God, through the Holy Spirit not be able to guide his people and his Church to a deeper revelation of himself.

Who said He didn't? Only God, not you nor me, can read a person's heart to determine whether or not to guide a person in a certain direction. So that rhetoric just doesn't hold water.

If scripture is so clear, why did Athanasius and Arius have to argue over the Trinity.

Because He wanted them to think. :-) Without argument Christianity would not have grown and not have appealed to the thinking. Christians argue all the time, and they should! Jesus argued with the Pharisees, Peter and Paul argued in Acts & Pauline Epistles, etc. There's nothing wrong with it so long one doesn't assume a priori that it is wrong or unexpected.
Abu Daoud said…
Samuel and Alan:

You still have to answer the question of why the JW's are not a legitimate expression of Biblical Christianity, other than that, in your opinion, they are not Biblical.

I have an answer: there is an authoritative interpretation of the Scripture, embodied in the Nicene Creed (325) and the Definition of Chalcedon (451) that clearly explains HOW Scripture must be interpreted.

I don't think I'm digging a hole that I can't get out of. My approach to interpretation of Scripture is coherent and non-private. I rely on an authority outside of myself (the church throughout time and the world, that is, in its catholicity) to guide me in interpreting Scripture.
Samuel said…
Abu Daoud, I haven't said anything about JWs. I welcome them into our fold (and the SDAs), even if their views are quite different from mainstream Christian view. My reservation with them would be with their doctrines that Jesus was created and that He is not divine (so not one with the Father), which are contrary to Biblical teaching (as understood by most Christians). They also deny the Trinity. Their departures from some very central Christian teachings does isolate them from the mainstream---especially that their peculiar beliefs have not been held throughout the two millenia, except when it emerged in 1870's by Charles Taze Russell.
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Samuel,

You make two points similar to what I have said: JW's are not a legit. expression of Biblical faith b/c their interpretation of Scripture is novel (ie, not part of Christian tradition) and is not held by CChristians around the world (ie, it's not catholic).

Am I right?
Brett said…
No Allen, I am not calling the desire to trust God completely and not lean on your own understanding as nonsense, but banishing all authority but scripture. If you say it is scripture and God, how do I test "your interpretation" as led by God? I hold it to the light of interpretation throughout the history of the church.

I would NEVER believe anything in a book written 1900 years before I was born if I didn't KNOW where it came from and TRUSTED the people who had charge over it. How do I know it wasn't altered? Also, if I had known there were 20 plus other books floating around before the formation of the New Testament canon calling themselves inspired (the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Barnabas, the Gnostic Texts, etc..), I would have to either read them all and decide whether or not to put them in, or I'd want to trust the guys who decided they weren't worthy.

We stand on the shoulders of great men of God such as Athanasius and look through their lense. We respect that God works through the Holy Spirit to keep his teachings true in the Church despite the errors of man. BC, as 1 Timothy 3:15 says "...the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In fact, I would say that where RCC and Orthodox agree, protestantism loses.
Samuel said…
Yes, Abu Daoud, that sounds right. (Except I would not exactly use the adjective 'novel' to describe JWs since one tends to think of that word as meaning a 'good' or 'refreshing' idea.)
Samuel said…
Some feedback to Brett (which may or may not be useful). I thought to share my own experiences in light of his comments, because I too struggled with many issues that confront a Christian. (Good! That’s how the Christian brain grows!) :-)

… banishing all authority but scripture.

Protestantism does not do away completely with authority but rather has a different, or more democratic, approach to it than in Catholicism. After all, the various Protestant denominations have their own authorities as well, like Calvin, Luther, et al---as well as, of course, the authorities that we rely upon when we consult Bible commentaries, concordances, Christian dictionaries, encyclopedias, Bible translations, etc. Though Protestants consider these to be authorities, they are not considered infallible. That’s one of many important differences. When it comes to many relevant modern-day issues that the Bible does not address, or does not address clearly enough, and even in matters that could rightly change with the times, it is more advantageous to not feel you have to stick with the views of one single individual, but be allowed the freedom to express your opinion and follow your own conscience (even in religious matters)---esp. where there is room for freedom of thought. I know that many Catholics do this anyway, regardless of what the Pope might proclaim: they follow their conscience. There is this Catholic ‘divide’ that resulted from the modern world with its own peculiar set of issues. So on that score, not a few Catholics behave pretty ‘protestantly’ already (if I am permitted that adjective).

If you say it is scripture and God, how do I test "your interpretation" as led by God? I hold it to the light of interpretation throughout the history of the church.

I believe both Catholics and Protestants do this---namely, studying how a topic or passage was understood and treated by the various Church leaders and Christian thinkers and scholars.

If someone takes recourse to the historical background, and finds it wanting, then it is their right to formulate an interpretation of their own. Of course, we may agree or disagree with them, which is quite alright and we can discuss it with a kindly spirit. We don’t have to 'police' them, though. God gave us the right to believe what we will, to choose and judge good from evil---something we expressed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (or its analogue in other democracies). Sometimes, how earlier periods understood matters in Scripture need not constrain us to think along the exact same lines, but more in light of our contemporary settings. It depends entirely on the matter at hand. For example, the knowledge and ideas that we have gained from His Works (science) today could help to shed new light on matters that our fathers have not known or understood the way we do today (their interpretations at times based on not knowing what we know today).

I would NEVER believe anything in a book written 1900 years before I was born if I didn't KNOW where it came from and TRUSTED the people who had charge over it. How do I know it wasn't altered?

I fully agree, as in fact there were some places where alterations did occur (as in the last chapter of Mark’s Gospel), which is why Matthew and Luke diverged at the end. That is why one would need to study and explore before one commits him/herself to how these books are to be taken. Unfortunately, much of modern Biblical scholarship has been rough on the Bible (not without speculation on their part)---positive in some areas and negative on others. That is why a point arises when one may take a step of faith (or not) regarding the extent to which the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles, for example, can be trusted and believed as a foundation for one’s life. It’s a lot of work, admittedly, with its many ups and downs (as I have experienced over the years). For me, I decided to take that personal step of faith and make Jesus Lord of my life---as taught by the canonical Gospels and Paul. Faith is key. (Blessed are those who believe and not seen; faith the evidence of things not seen---Hebrews.) And why? Because reason (and even scholarship) is just too weak to prove things either way (without importing philosophical or methodological presuppositions into it all). One of the biggest lessons I learned in all this is that there is indeed room for faith---lots of room---room for hope, and that Christianity---especially Jesus---can help bring out the greatest potential in an individual to live a full, electrifying, constructive, optimistic, and positive life (demonstrated infinitely often during the last 2000 years in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish traditions). The proof is in the pudding.

Also, if I had known there were 20 plus other books floating around before the formation of the New Testament canon calling themselves inspired (the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Barnabas, the Gnostic Texts, etc..), I would have to either read them all and decide whether or not to put them in, or I'd want to trust the guys who decided they weren't worthy.

The Gnostic literature (found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt) was largely composed in the second century, so one cannot really place them on a par with the canonical Gospels which were written in the first century. The Gnostics did not believe Jesus was crucified and some even taught that Jesus was not really human (Jesus just ‘appeared’ to be this and that), quite unrealistic compared with the canonical accounts and Jesus’ historicity. (Incidentally, the Quran seems to have been influenced by some Gnostic thinking in its interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion---perhaps coming thru the Carpocrations who were in Arabia during Muhammad’s time, if memory isn’t failing me.) I remember also this Gnostic belief (expressed by one of their gospels) which held that this universe was created by an evil god, and that Jesus entered this realm of creation in order to save humanity from their evil creator. I read a couple of the Gnostic gospels and found them to be rather amusing, perhaps somewhat resembling John’s Gospel in a few places (though unlike the Synoptics).

In fact, I would say that where RCC and Orthodox agree, protestantism loses.

I don’t exactly know what you mean, can you please elaborate? The point of Protestantism is to be independent of the Catholic and Orthodox approaches to Christianity, that divine authority need not be restricted to one or a few people (Papal infallibility), that there needs to be some flexibility with the times. (Both, though, agree on Jesus’ centrality, which is primary.) It works the same way when George Washington and his continental army broke away from the imposing political authority of the British king: no longer do Americans need to be under the suzerainty of royalty dictated by some one (infallible) king. After all, a Christian is supposed to receive Christ in a personal way, which means that his faith will take some individual form in some way (thus, some authority/guide from within, thru the Holy Spirit, and some from without). Christians do not have to be Xerox copies of one particular model. God gave us freedom, and we thank Him for it. That’s my vision, anyway, for what it’s worth.
Jeff said…
Not to be a jerk or anything but, of course, you're talking Tradition.

How can we decide which Traditions are core and which are just small 't' traditions?

I don't think there's any way in the end to "do Church" without Peter.

I think you're spot on. But I think in the end, you and this Baptist guy are in the same boat. And what you want is a Barque.
Don said…
I find this debate amazing.

Much time has been spent on authority and its sources. What's been overlooked is the fact that the Scriptures--whose authority no one challenges--do not support the whole concept of a purely symbolic Eucharist, which is the sine qua non of the whole Evangelical concept of the Lord's Supper.

Without a reasonable understanding of the nature of the sacrament, how is it possible to discuss its validity?
Abu Daoud said…
Hey Jeff,

Ah yes, well, that is a legit objection. Let me propose that the unified witness of the church is the authoritative way of interpreting Scripture. That unified witness ended in the 11th C. with the great schism.

Abu Daoud
FrGregACCA said…
Actually, AD, the splits go back to the Fifth Century, the first after Ephesus, AD 431, with the Assyrian Church of the East, and after Chalcedon, leading to the separation of the Oriental Orthodox Churches from Rome and Constantinople.

HOWEVER, when one looks at these four traditions (Assyrian aka "Nestorian", Oriental aka "monophysite", Byzantine aka "crypto-monophysite" and Rome aka "papist".) over against the products of the Reformation, there is a very high degree of consensus which is also largely shared, of course, by classical confessional High Church Anglicanism.

And, speaking to the subject at hand, all of these agree that their bishops are bona fide successors of the Apostles, fully vested with their authority and, according to this authority, the Eucharist has a certain meaning (Real Presence, Sacrifice) and is to be celebrated in a certain way (lex orandi, use of bread and wine exclusively, presided over by a priest, that is, a bishop or presbyter). All of this is fully in line with the Bible.
Steve Scott said…

I'm interested in your interaction on this. I agree with you that not just any meal can be the Lord's Supper. There is a distinction between the two, and Fr. Gregory pointed out a separation in Corinth. Was there not a distinction between the Supper and the feast in the upper room when Christ ordained it? Also, is there an example of the Supper in the NT that doesn't occur with any other meal?

I'm beginning to think that the two, although separate, should go together. Many churches don't observe the meal, yet observe the Supper. What would the Supper be divorced from a meal? Could the Supper divorced from a normal meal be a source of confusion for evangelicals?
Abu Daoud said…
Hi All,

A few notes:

Fr Greg: I am well aware of the events in the 5th C. but I lean towards the position that these are logomachies.

Steve: There was a division very early on between the agape meals and the Eucharist. Maybe what Alan is speaking of is reviving the Agape meal? That does not seem problematic to me at all.

My understanding is that celebrating an Agape meal with lots of people (and lots of food) when you are being persecuted is very difficult, especially when you are celebrating this multiple times per week. This made the ritualization necessary, which does not seem like a bad thing to me.
abu 'n um tulip said…
Found a great quote yesterday on this subject. "The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider "communion of saints" down through the age."
Written by Michael Horton (Reformed), quoted by John Piper (Baptist).

Abu Tulip
Lucian said…
What makes a meal between believers the Lord's Supper?

Not "what?", but "Who?": the Holy Spirit.

Priest (silently): Again we offer to You this spiritual and unbloody sacrifice, and we implore and pray, and entreat You, send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here present. (Blessing the bread:) And make this bread the precious body of Your Christ. (Blessing the chalice:) And that which is in this chalice, the precious blood of your Christ. (Blessing both:) Having changed them by Your Holy Spirit, so that to those who partake of them, they may be for the purification of the soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion in Your Holy Spirit, for the fullness of the heavenly kingdom, for confidence in You, not for judgment or condemnation. Moreover, we offer to You this spiritual sacrifice for those who departed in the faith; the forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and for every righteous spirit who has died in the faith, (loudly:) especially for our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary

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