Calvin on Union with Christ through Word and Sacrament

In his “Summary of Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments,” Calvin articulates the idea of union and communion with Christ through the means of grace.

The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God … communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.

We believe this communication to be mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and Spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit [by whom] he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ…. so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.[1]

[1] Jean Calvin, Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 170–77.

Catholic Describes Communion Service in Calvin’s Church

What was the Communion service like in Calvin’s Geneva? One Catholic who attended a service gave the following description.

Three or four times a year, according to the will of the authorities, two tables are set up in the church, each covered with a tablecloth, and a lot of hosts are set on the left, and three or four cups or glasses on the right, with lots of pots full of either white or red wine below the table. And after the sermon the preacher comes down from the pulpit and goes to the end of the table on the side where the hosts are, and with his head uncovered and standing places a piece in each person’s hand, saying ‘Remember that Jesus Christ died for you’.

Each person eats his piece while walking to the other end of the table, where he takes something to drink from one of the Lords, or another person deputized for this task, without saying anything, while sergeants with their head uncovered pour the wine and provide additional hosts if they run out. Throughout all of this, somebody else reads from the pulpit in the vernacular with his head uncovered the gospel of Saint John, from the beginning of the thirteenth chapter, until everyone has taken their piece, both men and women, each one at their different table.[1]

[1] Description taken from Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed.

Warfield on the Fundamental Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

According to some Pauline scholars, 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 “has been remarkably underused in most churches’ theology and liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.”[1] Theologians and liturgiologists tend to focus on what Paul says about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11 rather than on what he says about the sacrament in 1 Cor. 10.

To some extent, this asymmetrical analysis of Paul’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is warranted by the text itself. In 1 Cor. 11, Paul is directly addressing the practice of the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor. 10, he is not. Rather, he’s addressing the issue of eating food offered to idols. What he says about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 10 is incidental to the main point of the text.

However, Paul’s sayings regarding the sacrament in 1 Cor. 10, despite the fact that they are purely circumstantial, are, nonetheless, profound. It is unfortunate that this text has been underused in eucharistic theology.

Several years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that B. B. Warfield had preached a sermon on this text one Sunday afternoon to a group of students at Princeton Seminary. Warfield’s exposition clearly illustrates the importance of 1 Cor. 10 for a Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

In Warfield’s analysis of this remarkable passage of scripture, he seeks to explain the fundamental meaning of the Lord’s Supper according to the apostle Paul. (more…)

Hughes Oliphant Old Sums Up His Life’s Work

 


Hughes Oliphant Old has been publishing articles and books on the subject of worship since the 1970s. [See select bibliography below.]

His book entitled Worship Reformed According to Scripture is hands down the best volume on Reformed worship in print.

His magnum opus is his seven-volume series on The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. This is the most comprehensive study of the history of preaching ever produced in the English language.

In September of 2014, I had the enormous privilege of hearing Hughes Oliphant Old give his last public address. I was brought to tears when he called it his “swan song.”

Even though his body was frail and he had a difficult time recalling his lecture points, his passion for the glory and worship of God clearly came through.

In this talk, Hughes Oliphant Old summarizes his life’s work in five main points.

The funny story he tells at the end of the lecture underscores his total commitment to the ministry of Word, sacraments, and prayer.


Select Bibliography

The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. American Edition. Black Mountain, NC: Worship Press, 2004.

Worship Reformed According to Scripture. Revised and Expanded Edition. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002.

The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century. Eerdmans, 1992.

Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology. Eerdmans, 1992.

Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. Eerdmans, 1995.

The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Seven Volumes. Eerdmans, 1998–2010.

Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. Tolle Lege Press, 2014.

 

Calvin on the Realities & Signs of the Sacraments

In Calvin’s thinking, the signs of the sacraments should be distinguished from the realities which they signify, but they should not be separated from them. First Corinthians 10:1–4 says,

For I do not want you to be unaware, 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.

In Calvin’s commentary on this text, the Reformer makes the following observations about the signs and realities of the sacraments.

When [Paul] says that the fathers ate the same spiritual meat, he shows, first, what is the virtue and efficacy of the Sacraments, and, secondly, he declares, that the ancient Sacraments of the Law had the same virtue as ours have at this day. For, if the manna was spiritual food, it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies.

A sign, it is true, is a sign, and retains its essence, but, as Papists act a ridiculous part, who dream of transformations, (I know not of what sort,) so it is not for us to separate between the reality and the emblem which God has conjoined. Papists confound the reality and the sign: profane men, as, for example, Suenckfeldius, and the like, separate the signs from the realities. Let us maintain a middle course, or, in other words, let us observe the connection appointed by the Lord, but still keep them distinct, that we may not mistakenly transfer to the one what belongs to the other.

So Roman Catholics err by confounding the reality and the sign. Anabaptists err by separating them. Calvin argues that sign and reality must be kept distinct, but they must not be severed.

The sacraments are signs, but they are not empty or bare signs, nor are they signs of something absent but of something present, given, and received.

Ultimately, the reality signified by the signs is Jesus Christ himself and all the benefits of redemption which are found in him.

 

Baptism in the Didache

Here’s my very brief introduction to baptism in the Didache. This topic deserves several articles, and I plan on following up with it in later posts. Stay tuned!

What does the Didache teach us about the theology and practice of baptism in the ancient church?

Chapter 7 of the Didache addresses the topic of Christian baptism.

In verse 1 of this chapter, we see a connection between baptism and catechesis. Those who were about to receive baptism were first of all instructed in the way of life.

Secondly, we learn that whenever baptism was administered, God was invoked by his triune name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The recipient of baptism was being baptized into union and fellowship with the Triune God.

Thirdly, baptism ordinarily would have taken place outdoors in living water, meaning running or flowing water. This was the ordinary setting for Christian baptism, but verse 2 tells us that if such water was unavailable, Christians were free to baptize with other water, preferably cold water.

Next, we see that pouring water on the head three times—which is known as trine baptism—was an acceptable mode of baptism, even though it may not have been the ordinary mode of baptism.

Finally, we see that the rite of baptism was preceded by a short period of fasting. Those who were about to be baptized should fast, and the one who was going to administer baptism should likewise fast, as well as any others in the congregation who were able to do so. This fast ordinarily lasted one to two days.

The Didache does not explain the reason for the pre-baptismal fast, but it was most likely understood as a sign of repentance.

So there we have a brief introduction to what the Didache says about Christian baptism in the ancient church.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Didache, I recommend the following resources. I would start with O’Loughlin’s short commentary. That’s the best introduction to the Didache available today. For more detailed study, you’ll need Milavec and Niederwimmer.

The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec

The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50–70 C.E. by Aaron Milavec

The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians by Thomas O’Loughlin

The Didache by Kurt Niederwimmer

 

Hughes Oliphant Old Describes the Earliest Christian Hymnal

The Odes of Solomon is the earliest collection of Christian hymns.

The forty-two odes in the collection were most likely composed in the late first or early second century by a Jewish Christian(s) in the region of Syria.

The plural pronouns and congregational references in the odes suggest that they were composed for use in Christian worship.

Hughes Oliphant Old says,

The Odes of Solomon is the only sizable collection of Christian hymns which has come down to us from the earliest centuries of the church. They seem to have been composed at the close of the first Christian century. Originally they were composed in Syriac. They are the praises, not of the Western church, but the Eastern church, a church still very close to the Semitic roots of Christianity.

The Odes of Solomon are Christian psalms in a way very similar to the canticles in the Gospel of Luke. That, of course, is implied by the title of the work. Just as Solomon, the son of David, continued the doxological service of his father by writing the Song of Solomon, so Christians continue the doxological service of the Son of David, anointed by the Spirit, by singing Christian psalms. The title is a sort of apologetic for Christian hymnody.

There are more than forty of these odes, each a Christian elaboration of one of the canonical psalms. Although sometimes the imagery is a bit strange to our modern Western ears, these ancient hymns are great Christian poetry. It probably gives us about as clear a picture of the worship of the early church as any document that has come down to us.

The spirit of New Testament worship is found in these hymns with an amazing freshness and vitality. And even if their language comes from the ancient Orient, they seem to have a classic evangelical quality about them. They are as eloquent about Christian love as ever the Franciscans, about grace as the Calvinists, about holiness as the Wesleyans, and they are as filled with the Spirit as ever any charismatic could wish.

I visited Hughes Oliphant Old the day after the following interview was recorded. He told me, “Someone dropped by yesterday to ask me about the Odes of Solomon.”

Here’s a clip from the interview in which he describes the Odes of Solomon and explains their original purpose. Speaking purely off the cuff…

The Odes cast a spell. Something beautiful is happening here.

It has a literary integrity I think that’s very important.

The Odes are very unusual in the different imagery that they come up with. But that imagery is used again and again.

One place where the Odes seem to have mined this imagery is the Book of Psalms.

And Rendel Harris, the great scholar who really brought the Odes to the attention of the modern world, refers to these Odes as Psalm pendants.

It’s as though the congregation might have sung a particular Psalm, and then, the Odes would’ve been sung as a response to it.

And so many of the Odes when one reads through them one realizes that the imagery of Psalm 45 is being used or Psalm 63 is being used.

And that’s one of the beautiful things about these Odes is that they’re so close to scripture.


For more on the Odes of Solomon, see Michael Lattke’s commentary in the Hermeneia series.

 

Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap

Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”

It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor. (more…)

The Lord’s Prayer in Reformed Worship, Pt. 4

“Thy kingdom come.” The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is about the ultimate hope of God’s people—the coming of the kingdom of God.

As devout Jews in the first century were waiting for the kingdom of God, they prayed earnestly for the appearance and reign of the Messiah.

Luke tells us that when the elderly prophet Simeon, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” held the child Jesus in his arms, he blessed the LORD for answering his prayers. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32).

Likewise, Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, was “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43).

So devout Jews in the first century were waiting and praying for the appearance and reign of the Messiah. Most of them, no doubt, had wrong ideas about the nature of the messianic kingdom, but they were praying for its arrival.

We see examples of this in the prayers of the synagogue.

And Jerusalem, Your city, return in mercy, and dwell therein as You have spoken; rebuild it soon in our days as an everlasting building, and speedily set up therein the throne of David. Blessed art thou, O LORD, who rebuilds Jerusalem (Amidah 14).

Speedily cause the offspring of David, Your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by Your divine help because we wait for Your salvation all the day. Blessed art thou, O LORD, who causes the strength of salvation (Yeshua) to flourish (Amidah 15).

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world that he created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom, and may his salvation blossom and his Anointed one be near … speedily and soon (Kaddish).[1]

The kingdom of God is not simply God’s eternal, universal reign over the world but his redemptive reign in the person of Jesus Christ, who, as the only mediator between God and man, exercises the offices of prophet, priest, and king.

The nature of the messianic kingdom is not geopolitical or earthly, and it is not confined to the Jews but includes all nations. The kingdom of God is spiritual and heavenly; present and future; already and not yet.

To pray for the coming of the kingdom suggests that it has not yet fully come. The petition—“Thy kingdom come”—has in view the as yet incomplete nature of the kingdom.

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a cry for the consummation of the kingdom like the prayer of the primitive church: “Come, Lord”; “Maranatha” (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20).

Until the consummation, the kingdom of God will grow and advance throughout the world. “Thy kingdom come” is an eschatological prayer for the consummation of the kingdom, the return of Jesus Christ.

But it is also a missionary prayer for the advancement of the kingdom through the spread of the gospel.

“Thy kingdom come” prays for the reign of Christ, the growth of the kingdom, the salvation of the lost, the subjection of Christ’s enemies, the destruction of Satan’s kingdom, the return of Christ, and the consummation of his kingdom at the end of the age.

All of these ideas are included in the simple petition: “Thy kingdom come!”

Endnotes

[1] See C. W. Dugmore, The Influence of the Synagogue Upon Divine Office (London: Faith Press, 1964). Though a bit dated, this book is still a helpful resource on the Jewish roots of Christian worship. More recent scholarship tends to be skeptical with regard to what we know about synagogue worship in the first century.

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