This is one I've never heard before...

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by J. Dean, Mar 28, 2012.

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  1. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    Some of you may be more familiar with this criticism than I am, but I'd like to hear your input on it.

    While reading a blog on Gene Veith's website ( Cultural engagement requires the Sacrament ), I came across the comment of a former Presbyterian who argued that the Westminster Catechism understanding of the Lord's Supper is quite "gnostic" in its approach, which in turn turned him to Lutheranism. He referenced #175 in the Larger Catechism to underscore his point.

    Now, I do not have a copy of the Cathechism on hand, so I don't know what the specifics of that particular Catechism question state, but that's the first time I've ever heard of Calvinism and Evangelicalism being accused of a "gnostic" approach to the Lord's Supper.

    Is this something you've heard before from others?
  2. GulfCoast Presbyterian

    GulfCoast Presbyterian Puritan Board Junior

    Question 175: What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?

    Answer: The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, is seriously to consider: How they have behaved themselves therein, and with: What success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfil their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.

    I am not getting any "gnosticism" from this at all.
  3. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Probably this person doesn't understand either the Catechism or gnosticism. In the Lord's supper our faith is nourshied not that we receive new revelations or knowledge. Question 175, as Mark helpfully posted, is what we do after we receive it. Not what is cognitivly happening while we are receiving it.
  4. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Lutheran apologists of a conservative stripe (of which Veith is an enthusiastic booster of all things Lutheran) frequently suggest that evangelicalism generally holds to a gnostic view of the supper and of spirituality generally. I confess that this is not an area of competence for me and I do not get the basis of the charge of gnosticism either.

    Rosenbladt tells of a conversation with Horton where Horton apparently attempted to find common ground between the two of them using some "obscure Reformed confession." Rosenbladt reports that he stopped the dialog by asking one question: "Mike, what do I put into my mouth?" Horton supposedly replied, "Why bread and wine, of course." To this, Rosenbladt answered, "Nice try, Mike, but no deal."

    Evidently (?), from a Lutheran perspective, anything other than a plain "common sense" reading of the words of institution ("this is my body . . . take and eat") involves a gnosticizing tendency. My reading so far suggests that they see the tangibility of the elements as important to the real presence of Christ. The notion of a mystical communion between the earth bound believer with Christ sitting at the right hand of the throne (Rosenbladt calls this Reformed Christianity's "elevator" theory) is gnosticizing.

    How they draw this conclusion is over my head. I would think that they would have called the "spiritual" or "memorial" views as docetist rather than gnostic. But, again, not my specialty.

    Reformed Christology assumes a relationship between the two natures in the one person that Lutherans see as "leaning" towards Nestorianism. Lutheran Christology, especially in Chemnitz's Two Natures book leans in the opposite direction, towards Monophysitism. Realize that conservative Calvinists and conservative Lutherans do not believe that their views (or that of the other guys) actually cross the line into heresy. But, they will generally admit that one view "tends" in one direction while the other "tends" in the other direction.

    In dealing with the practical problems of the unity of God and man, Calvinists have posited the so-called "extra Calvinisticum" where Lutherans deal with the practical problems by recourse to a communication of attributes. Investing the humanity of Christ with "infinite gifts" of the deity as in Chemnitz leads Reformed dogmaticians to cry that this view violates the famous definition of Chalcedon by a communication of attributes that results in mixing or confusing of the two natures.

    Hence, when R.C. Sproul met Rosenbladt, he announced: "Here come the Eutychians." To which the Lutheran replied, "Better than a Christ with multiple personality disorder." It is a 500 year old dispute between the two branches of the Rerformation, not likely to be settled here.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2012
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Some strict Lutherans are allergic to almost any sort of introspection; they associate it with a lack of faith, with Luther's experiences before conversion. Luther's Anfechtung (anxiety) from later on is practically equated with the temptation to be introspective; solution="Look away from yourself, always, always look away, away, away; look to the sacraments." Very often in Lutheranism, to DO is tantamount to BELIEVE; don't analyze your faith. It has to do with an extreme objectivization of the means of grace, by which the reality is experienced. Lutherans are not fond of self-examination; they find it entirely too Pietistic (which was a religious expression that had a virulent phase among the Lutheran Confessionalists).

    Contra the Romanist doctrine of ex opere operato, the Lutherans believe in the indispensability of faith to the benefit of the sacrament; however they also believe that participation in the Sacrament (particularly as the ordained minister employs the Word of Institution), faith is actually created in the recipient (faith cometh by the presence of the Word). So, by faith-created the sacrament is effectual right then for salvation for the worthy participant.

    And, consistent with those tenets, Lutherans believe that the very salvation that was just received in fact by the recipient, can also be lost. So, everyone who belongs to the church (had the beginning of faith in baptism), and continues to receive the Word in verbal and sacramental form, is constantly receiving his salvation at the moment he is receiving the means. For the person who is prone to lose his faith/salvation the moment he leaves the Divine Service, he better hope Jesus Comes-Again in the middle of worship.

    So, the unworthy person who receives communion really and truly receives the body and blood of the Savior in Lutheran theology. To sin against the body and blood is to do more than violence to the formality of the covenant in His blood; it is to do violence to Jesus himself, bodily. In Lutheran theology, Jesus has not been exalted beyond all puny human powers to do him further injustice or indignity. But, by the ubiquity of the human-nature (as communicated), Jesus because of his ineffable condescension continues to suffer himself to be humiliated. The unworthy actually "crucifies Christ afresh," thus meriting strong condemnation.

    And, I should probably say that admittedly there are many, many evangelicals (as well as some less-well catechized in Reformed churches) whose views might best be described as "gnostic."

    It's easy and simplistic (and part of their ongoing vendetta against their Reformed cousins) for the Lutherans to take everyone to their "left" and lump everything from the Reformed Confessionalist to the foaming Pentacostal in one category of "fanatic," or with more venom, as "Reformed." So, if there is a tendency anywhere to the "left" of them (and of us) to "gnosticism," then ipso facto, the "Reformed" are gnostic. They are not interested in judging any particular group by their particular Confession. It is sufficient that none of them are sufficiently "Lutheran."

    It's a manifestation of their long-standing fury at us, their closest cousins, for daring to disagree with them; for daring to think that the Holy Scriptures themselves would support our views, and oppose theirs. Just remember this: only the Lutherans have made their explicit hostility to us a matter of church-confession; the converse is not the case, though we clearly confess a denial of those errors which they hold. We think they are mistaken; they think we are heretical. In general, we would not refuse them Communion; they will refuse us, assuming they mind their Confession.

    The Reformed view isn't gnostic, not in the least; that's just a standard element of Lutheran slander. But you must understand: to affirm spiritual reality; to insist on a full-orbed faith (notitia, assensus, fiducia) as essential to salvation, and such faith is necessarily reflexive and reflective; to deny that eternal salvation can be lost by strength of a human will (even while affirming apostasy, rightly defined); to believe that the embodied Christ has been "received into heaven until the times of restoration of all things," Act.3:21, i.e. that the risen Christ has a localized body like all other embodied humanity (pre-death & post-resurrection)--such doctrines, in the form we affirm them, offend our Lutheran brethren.

    And yes, we should continue to identify truly Protestant Lutherans as brethren. Their one-way street of invective does not need to be reciprocated. They will continue to anathematize Calvin; we will continue to revere Luther. Let certain ones among them bear their petty disgust toward us. "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" Php.1:18.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  6. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you for the reponses. Dennis, you mentioned Nestorianism. What is that?
  7. GulfCoast Presbyterian

    GulfCoast Presbyterian Puritan Board Junior

    I believe Nestorianism is the heretical belief that Jesus had two distinct natures. One divine nature, and one seperate human nature. That is, if I don't have my heresies confused.
  8. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Yes. I just read about it today while studying church history. Nestorianism is two persons (or at least that's what the critics accused it of; think oil and water), Miaphysitism (or Monophysistism) is one person, one nature (think wine and water), the Chalcedon position is one person two natures (like the Trinity, using an allegory doesn't really work).* One overestimates the distinction between divine and human, the other underestimate the distinction between divine and human.

    *I may be confused on Nestorianism and Monophysistism, I'm learning.
  9. kappazei

    kappazei Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, we will love them in the name of Christ, just the same.
  10. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Bruce, what a brilliant statement! That was actually enlightening on several levels. Thank you for one of the most comprehensive answers on a subject I can remember! As usual, you nail it.

    However, I think that some of your statements may overstate the tone of the confessional Lutheran, certainly the invective. My example would be the White Horse Inn with its two Reformed, one LCMS Lutheran, and one Reformed Baptist. The rhetorical overkill of past controversialists is doubtless true. However, that kind of verbal "take no prisoners" language was most true when all sides where still downing Anabaptists. One of the most conservative Lutheran journals on the right end of the spectrum published a Michael Horton article a few years ago.

    But, tone aside, your clear delineation of the two positions rings true to what I have observed as well. I have always been curious at the fact that Luther's predestinarian teaching (cf. Bondage of the Will) is arguably stronger than anything Calvin wrote on the topic. However, unlike Reformed thought, Luther denied the other elements of the TULIP. Many authors have commented on the logical coherence and unity of Reformed soteriology. The "five points" hang together and mutually reinforce one another. Explanations of one point support the basis for the others. Conservative Lutherans seem to take individual passages as they find them, without a concern to discover an harmonizing logic. For instance, Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 teach election; John 3 proclaims (it is claimed) a universal atonement; Hebrews 6/10 delineate (it is maintained) the possibility of falling away.
  11. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    I watched a video of Lutheran Rev. Johnathan Fisk (on Youtube, referred courtesy of somebody here: good stuff overall), and he stated that Lutherans hold to Total Depravity and Unconditional election. Here's the video:

    ---------- Post added at 07:37 AM ---------- Previous post was at 07:29 AM ----------

    BTW, for the record he attaches Calvin to the Enlightenment. That's an odd thing to say, because I thought Calvin preceded the Enlightement by a hundred years or so.
  12. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    One other thing: I misunderstood the fellow who made the quote I attributed to him, and he took the time to kindly point this out. His statement was that Q&A 175 had the gnostic view on the effects of the Lord's Supper. In fairness and deference to him, I have posted the correction here.
  13. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Whatever the specified nature of the objection happens to be, the fact remains that the objection as stated is consistent with the strictest Lutheran interpretation of their Confession; which to a Presbyterian's Confessional view, so far as the Lutheran's may be compared with the Bible, is found wanting.

    As previously stated, almost anything reflexive or reflective about faith is well outside the comfort-zone of many a Lutheran. The spectre of Pietism looms so large, that even a perceive hint of introspection is consistently met with a (over-)reactive, willful impulse to put as much space as possible from it. There is too often too little appreciation for the need also to avoid the equivalent dangers (to a radically etherialized faith) of a radically objectivized faith. And to be both fair and honest, there are branches of evangelical Lutheranism (non-liberal) that today are either cheerfully Pietistic, or who have not sought so radical an amputation of Pietism's leaven as others have. Pietism was, after all, one reaction to a cold formalism in religion that was not entirely mere perception of a problem.

    After all, what is faith, if it is never heartfelt, and if it never encourages the believer in any way other than that it reminds him he once (and perhaps again, and again) had been present for engagement in Gottesdeinst (Divine Service)? Is this "faith working by love"? Is this a "faith-with-works" that isn't dead? In some Lutheran circles, those are not allowable questions; but instead are "gnostic" inquiries.

    It is possible (and we would admit it as well) that an apparent lifelessness and listless participation does not bear a wholly adequate or accurate witness to a deficient faith. But, we can't forget that according to Lutheranism, saving faith (which may yet be lost) was created there in the act of Word and Sacrament. The Lutheran pastor (despite his protests) doesn't quite entirely evade his parishioner's reflexive question; he would simply have the inquirer put his faith in his participation in the worthy-rite and worthy-ministry, and rest his uneasy conscience upon them. But sad to say, simply attending the means of grace habitually, while stifling every reflexive concern over the proper "effects" of religion, will indubitably produce a field rife with tares--perhaps even a tare-field, with only a scattering of wheat.

    To our way of thinking, a purely objectified ministry is a step too far back toward Rome. It entrusts the reality and content of the faith-that-saves to the (true) church as "dispensary" of Divine Grace, for the creation of that faith; without acknowledging the responsibility of the individual to examine whether he is "in the faith" or not (and not just by checking the baptismal record or membership roll). Here there is a kind of mirror image of the religious enthusiasts' confidence in his emotion-laden religious experience of worship; without his feelings stimulated to a "high" he lacks confidence in the nearness of God--this focus is wholly internal. But with a wholly external focus, confidence in the nearness of God is transferred entirely to the ministry, and to attendance upon the Word and Sacrament; the truth is said to have nothing to do with the frame of one's personal reception of it--instead, God's objective nearness made personal reception a necessary reality.

    And so, the WLC's enjoining of such reflexive and reactive questions as found in Q&A175 speaks mainly to one side of the balanced equation of subjective and objective measures in religion. In connection with the sacrament of the gospel, it speaks of further duty (ah, law!), consideration (ah, introspection!), and the blessings of assurance--which precious quality of faith the Lord's Supper was ever intended to help and strengthen. To find there a "gnostic view of the Supper's effects" is first to look for "effects" in this Q&A (what is meant by the term? how are such expressed here? are they expressed at all?), and then to deplore the fact that the Q&A fails (!) to indicate that objecting saving effects were imparted to the soul, worthy or not. But that is only to object that the theology of the Westminster Standards aren't gnesio-Lutheran! But so being, it certainly doesn't prove that the Standards promote "gnosticism." First prove that self-examination is inherently "gnostic."
  14. GulfCoast Presbyterian

    GulfCoast Presbyterian Puritan Board Junior

    If introspection or self-examination is “bad,” I wonder how they interact with versus such as 1 Cor 11:28-30 or 2 Corinthians 13:5???
  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Of course, there are responses to such probes. But the upshot is that to whatever degree we take those things, it is surely too far (in their estimation). Because... well, otherwise we'd be good Lutherans; and we obviously aren't. So, the problem is clearly with us...
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