Given for You (Keith Mathison)

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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Review of Keith Mathison's Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper.

Thesis: The modern Reformed church has lost sight of Calvin's robust view of the Supper leading to a neglect of the Supper in general.

Exposition of Calvin's view of the Supper: Calvin defined sacraments as "visible words from God" (Mathison 7); the offer in the sacrament is objective, but can only be received by faith. The sign and seal of a sacrament must be distinguished but can never be separated. It is a seal of the promise that believers who truly partake of it partake of the body and blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the bond of the mystical union between the believer and Christ. We are united to Christ in baptism and grow in this union in participation in the Lord's Supper (19).

How Is Christ Present? Christ is bodily in heaven and the reality and benefits of Christ are channeled to us by means of the Holy Spirit. The flesh, indeed the whole Christ, is given to us by means of the Holy Spirit (29):
1. The body of Christ remains in heaven and retains all its properties.
2. The Holy Spirit lifts our souls to heaven whereby we partake of the body of Christ.
3. Eating Christ is a heavenly action in a spiritual [read Holy Spirit] manner.
4. The presence of Christ is a real presence and a real descent effected by the Holy Spirit.

Historical and Biblical Surveys

Mathison then surveys the field of church history and the Old and New Testaments to bolster his thesis that Calvin's view is the biblical view. This is where the real money of the book is. The heart of this section is the Nevin-Hodge debate, and on Mathison’s reading Nevin was the winner (as far as church history goes).

Hodge’s view: Hodge’s view in his ST hovers around Calvin’s view, as he uses language like “believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (Hodge III: 622). At the end of the day, he rejects Calvin’s view and says it is “peculiar” (630). Indeed, Christ is present to us by our “intellectual cognition” as “the body and blood fill our thoughts” (641-642).

Nevin’s view: by the power of the Holy Spirit, the obstacle of distance, of Christ’s body being in heaven, is overcome (Nevin, Mystical Presence 60-61).

Hodge’s review: Hodge doubles down on his position that Christ is present to the mind and it is a presence of virtue and efficacy (Hodge. “Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper, Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 20 (1848): 227-228. Hodge ends his review critiquing Nevin’s soteriology, and this is probably the only part where Hodge might be right.

Nevin’s response: Nevin doubled down on his historical analysis, which was a smart move as Nevin had the high ground on this point. What is the positive import of 16th century sacramental language? For Nevin the real presence is neither carnal location nor a mere object of thought.

The rest of this chapter surveys Reformed theologians’ views on the Supper. It’s quite interesting, but it doesn’t compare to the Nevin-Hodge debate.

Practical Conclusions

Mathison critiques inadequate views of the Supper (Zwingli, Lutheran, and Roman) and ends with a call for: 1) using real wine; 2) having the supper weekly or frequently and 3) and the problem of paedocommunion.

Per (1), real wine is preferable to grape juice but it is still close enough that it functions as a sign and it can be performed by the same actions. This is my response, not Mathison’s.

Per (2), I no longer argue for weekly communion. I think monthly is better than quarterly, and quarterly better than a few times a year, which is just sad. I am more concerned that we don’t use terrible reasons for rejecting eating often with Jesus. If your view is that too much of the Supper with Jesus would make it lose its “specialness” or that it feels too “Roman Catholicky,” then….well, that’s just sad.

Per (3), he dodged the issue.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Per (1), real wine is preferable to grape juice but it is still close enough that it functions as a sign and it can be performed by the same actions. This is my response, not Mathison’s.
Can you say the same for watermelon juice? :) Also why not use milk to baptize...it is mostly made up of water?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Can you say the same for watermelon juice?
One comes from a watermelon. The other comes from a grape. So, no. Does a watermelon function as a sign? No. Sacraments are far more than signs, but not less. I like wine in the Supper. I think 99.99% of reasons for using grape juice are very bad reasons. I don't want to get derailed beyond that point.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
Does he interact with Scottish Presbyterian tradition of four times per year? Didn’t this tradition teach Calvin’s “spiritual presence” view? I’ve also thought that the Westminster Standards view was Calvin’s though I’d like to hear if it isn’t.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Does he interact with Scottish Presbyterian tradition of four times per year? Didn’t this tradition teach Calvin’s “spiritual presence” view? I’ve also thought that the Westminster Standards view was Calvin’s though I’d like to hear if it isn’t.
The Scots as a general rule were close to Calvin in terms of the Supper. The 4x a year reflected a unique moment in the killing times. To make it the standard rule just boggles the mind.

He deals with Westminster. It's nothing startling on any side, except that its strong language of sealing probably rules out the memorialist views.
 

MChase

Puritan Board Freshman
Shawn Mathis interacts quite a bit with Mathison and exposes the errors that undergird the arguments for weekly communion.

For instance Mathison saying:
“Without the sacrament, the word is not properly sealed and does not have its full, intended effect.”


Quarterly communion was practiced for reasons that are much more grounded and biblical than just the fact that it was the killing times.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Shawn Mathis interacts quite a bit with Mathison and exposes the errors that undergird the arguments for weekly communion.

For instance Mathison saying:
“Without the sacrament, the word is not properly sealed and does not have its full, intended effect.”


Quarterly communion was practiced for reasons that are much more grounded and biblical than just the fact that it was the killing times.
I'm friends with Mathis, and I do not advocate weekly communion. However, I think eating with Jesus is a good thing. I think it is a good thing to have God's promises sealed on my heart more regularly than not.
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
Mercersburg seems to be making a comeback. I would like to know what RCUS people think about this. Everyone usually just focuses on communion but this is just one part of Mercersburg, which was rejected by all reformed churches at the time.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Mercersburg seems to be making a comeback. I would like to know what RCUS people think about this. Everyone usually just focuses on communion but this is just one part of Mercersburg, which was rejected by all reformed churches at the time.
The historical argument in Nevin is more or less air-tight, which might be why Hodge bowed out of the debate. Nevin's troubling aspect is his German idealism. That's not the problem, though, but it can lead to a problem.

I like Schaff. I've read about half of his church history series. Principle of Protestantism is good. The Reformed Catholicks weren't penultimate Campbellites. They reformed the Catholic church. They didn't go back to 50 AD. Schaff correctly argued that the Reformed church was a legitimate consequence of the medieval church.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I have long thought Mathison's book one of the very best books on the Lord's Supper. The main thing I got from it is that what people tend to think of as Calvin's view of the LS is not, in fact, Calvin's view of the LS. I see this in ordination exams all the time. The candidate says "Spiritual presence," without ever elucidating what that means. What they typically mean is that the Holy Spirit comes to us and is present with us in the LS. This is not what Calvin meant. Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit takes us up into heaven, by faith (the Holy Spirit bridging the distance), and enables us to partake of Christ's body and blood with the mouth of faith in heaven itself. This is indicated in Reformed liturgy by the sursum corda. It is not a literal masticating, but it is a feeding on Christ that includes and even focuses on His humanity.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
Mercersburg seems to be making a comeback. I would like to know what RCUS people think about this. Everyone usually just focuses on communion but this is just one part of Mercersburg, which was rejected by all reformed churches at the time.
I am not encouraged by it, personally. James I. Good, the voluminous historian of the RCUS details at considerable length the issues that Schaff and Nevin brought in their wake. There was a lot to dislike. It's clear to me that Good himself (and other opponents of Schaff and Nevin) had some problems of their own, although there were some penetrating criticisms as well. We would be much better served by cultivating an acquaintance with the theologians of Reformed orthodoxy, and some knowledge of the seminal theologians from every time, vs. concentrating ecclesiastical attention on some of these minor and idiosyncratic intellects.

In that historical context they came across as having being as close to Rome as possible; now if that's the goal we have granted them the place they claim, as defining the standard (and so we've practically surrendered the ultimate authority of Scripture). That's unhistorical and unscriptural as well as unreformed. Polemically it's a very weak position to be in, because being as close to someone as possible always leaves open as a viable option just going over completely.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
In that historical context they came across as having being as close to Rome as possible; now if that's the goal we have granted them the place they claim, as defining the standard (and so we've practically surrendered the ultimate authority of Scripture). That's unhistorical and unscriptural as well as unreformed. Polemically it's a very weak position to be in, because being as close to someone as possible always leaves open as a viable option just going over completely.
That's more true of Nevin than Schaff. In his History Schaff is fairly brutal against Rome. While I don't want to sound Freudian, Nevin's flirting with Rome came at a time when he had a nervous break down, and all he could see around him was Finneyism. Even in the midst of that, he never jumped the Tiber.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I think that's fair, Jacob. It's true that the men were not identical. Of course, when they were associated at Mercersburg, and before Schaff had completed his church history, their contemporaries may have been quite inclined to see them both as belonging to the same party. Certainly on his first arrival in the country, in the context of the tensions with Roman Catholics, Schaff was seen as much too soft and sympathetic. It was as well he wound up at Union, and it might have been better if they had poached him from Europe without the German Reformed Church needing to play any part in that.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I think that's fair, Jacob. It's true that the men were not identical. Of course, when they were associated at Mercersburg, and before Schaff had completed his church history, their contemporaries may have been quite inclined to see them both as belonging to the same party. Certainly on his first arrival in the country, in the context of the tensions with Roman Catholics, Schaff was seen as much too soft and sympathetic. It was as well he wound up at Union, and it might have been better if they had poached him Europe without the German Reformed Church needing to play any part in that.
The only real red flag for me (since i am not persuaded they were closet Romanists) is the German idealism. It's not necessarily wrong, but I understand why people get nervous about it.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
Closet Romanist is probably simplistic. Neither Schaff nor Nevin Newmanized. But that's not the only way to go wrong.

Obviously a hypothetical can't be known, but if the influence of Mercersburg was not dispositive, I think it did more to abet than to resist the disastrous union of 1934; combined with the merger of 1957, that produced the UCC, of unhappy repute. From my Westminsterian inflected point of view, the gravitational pull of Schaff was in the direction of doctrinal latitudinarianism, of worship as aesthetic rather than spiritual, and of valuing organizational unity in new directions more than Biblical fidelity. In an alternate timeline where the German Reformed paid more attention to the CRC than to other influences, it might have been in a much healthier condition for a few decades longer. In the false alternative of revivalism or Mercersburg (a false alternative which perhaps explains without justifying the attention the peace-loving Darryl Hart has paid to Nevin), there was qualified acceptance and rejection of both trends, but in such a way that the church was left devastatingly vulnerable to the ecumenism of the early 1900s.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
the gravitational pull of Schaff was in the direction of doctrinal latitudinarianism,
You might have a point there.
, of worship as aesthetic rather than spiritual,
I would have to see specific articles on that point. In his works Schaff praised the simplicity of worship, and if he was a Hegelian, he would have rejected the senses in favor of the mind.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
History of the Christian Church, v.2:267 (ch.6 §76):

"Art reaches its real perfection in worship, as an embodiment of devotion in beautiful forms, which afford a pure pleasure, and at the same time excite and promote devotional feeling."
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
History of the Christian Church, v.2:267 (ch.6 §76):

"Art reaches its real perfection in worship, as an embodiment of devotion in beautiful forms, which afford a pure pleasure, and at the same time excite and promote devotional feeling."
I remember that line. I didn't see that as meaning we should focus on aesthetics in worship, and given his criticisms of Rome, I wouldn't think that's what he means. Stain glass windows, not even having pictures in them, makes me feel more devotional. Then again, we can find the liturgy of the German Reformed church in Pennsylvania and see what it was like. Nevin collated one of them, but I think that was more for catechetical purposes.
 
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