Not Called to Communion: “Jesus and the Church”

I’m continuing to discuss Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s work, “Called to Communion,” originally a series of messages that Ratzinger delivered in 1990, including a “theology course” for 120 bishop and some additional addresses to synods of bishops. Ratzinger described this work as “a primer of Catholic ecclesiology.”

The header of this blog cites Calvin discussing “those corruptions, by which Satan, in the papacy, has polluted everything God had appointed for our salvation.” (Institutes, 4.1.1). There’s a line from a Keith Green song, sung from the perspective of the devil, who says, “I mix a little truth with every lie, to tickle itching ears.” Reading Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion,” I sensed that this is part of the methodology.
What follows here is the outline of the first section of the portion of Chapter one dealing with “the New Testament Witness on the Origen and Essence of the Church.

Within this chapter, this first section highlights some areas in which there might not be any outright lies or disagreements, except that the particular Roman spin “pollutes” them.

The first section,” entitled “Jesus and the Church,” (the topic of the next several postings) flows like this:

Jesus preached a “Kingdom”.

Jesus’s belief that the end was near would have made him desire to gather the eschatological people of God.

The sole meaning of Jesus’s activity is to gather the eschatological people of God.

“The Kingdom was promised, and what came was Jesus.”

Jesus is never alone

“The dynamism of unification” is a component of the new people as Jesus intends it.

Jesus himself is a point of convergence, and this “people” becomes a people solely through his call and the response to his call

The community had structure: (There were 12 apostles, and there were 70 or 72 disciples)

Prayer is a badge of this community

The disciples’s request, “teach us to pray,” and Jesus’s giving of “The Lord’s Prayer” is an indication that the disciples knew they were “a new community with Jesus as its source.”

Flowing out of prayer, and as the mark of worship, Jesus transformed the Passover “into an entirely new form of worship, which logically meant a break with the temple community”

Jesus announced the collapse of the old ritual and centers on a new, higher worship, focused on the Eucharist

Solely in terms of this center (in the Eucharist) does this “people of the New Covenant” have the status of “a people.”

Here, within the space of about eight pages, the flow of Ratzinger’s argument ranges from “Jesus Preached the Kingdom, founded a Church, called “a people” to himself as the convergence point, and “updated” the Passover in such a way that “the Eucharist” was the central form of worship in this community.

Some of these points aren’t debatable. For example, there is no question that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and sought to gather his people around himself.

I’d like to note that Ratzinger cites statistics to prove his point about the Kingdom: “This can be demonstrated statistically alone, by the fact that of the 122 mentions of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, ninety-nine belong to the synoptic Gospels, of which another ninety uses of the term occur in the sayings of Jesus.” (21)

Thomas Schreiner, in his “New Testament Theology,” clarifies and defines further the concept of the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). He says:

The kingdom of God is a central theme in Jesus’ ministry, and the meaning of the concept must be discerned from the OT because Jesus nowhere defines it. When Jesus referred to God’s kingdom, he had in mind God’s saving power; the fulfillment of his saving promises. When God’s saving promises become a reality, then those who are God’s enemies will be judged. … The kingdom can be explained in terms of the already-not yet. The kingdom was inaugurated in Jesus’ ministry but not yet consummated. It had arrived, but the full salvation and judgment promised had not yet come to pass.” (79)

It is clear from Schreiner’s willingness to draw from the Old Testament that Ratzinger’s statement, “The sole meaning of Jesus’s activity is to gather the eschatological people of God,” that this is not entirely true. Jesus’s purpose is a higher purpose than “calling a people.” More fundamentally than this: he is also to manifest God’s saving power.

The narcissism evident in Ratzinger’s “the sole purpose is to call a people” (which he then later defines as” the Roman Catholic Church”) is something that one would expect from Rome. (Later, Ratzinger tries to provide “exegesis” for why, precisely, Rome should be the theological focus of the New Testament, and I will discuss this as well).

In fact, it is not “the Church” that is the central focus of the New Testament; God is the central focus of the New Testament.

Schreiner says:

Our survey of “God” in the NT reveals that he is foundational for NT theology. The God of the NT is not a new god; he is the God of the OT—the creator and redeemer. The promise of universal blessing given to Abraham and his descendants in the OT is fulfilled by this God. (167)

Prior to the “eschatological purpose of calling a people,” God already has a people. He already has made promises; He rules over history, and he fulfills his promises in Jesus Christ. He demonstrates, in the most remarkable way, that his word is reliable and true. He “judges those who practice evil.” According to Schreiner, “All human beings are called upon to honor and worship the creator God. (167)”

This is the reason why “Jesus calls a people.” The reason is not “to bring the Roman Catholic Church into existence.” It is to reveal His own glory.

Again, Schreiner elaborates: “Jesus called attention to God’s saving work on behalf of his people … The kingdom promises are fulfilled in Jesus and through his ministry and death and resurrection. As the Son of Man, he will determine who enters God’s kingdom on the final day” (79). “In each and every case (the message of each NT writer), we find that God has begun to fulfill his saving promises in Jesus Christ, and yet believers still await the completion of what God had promised” (116). Schreiner emphasizes the “already-not yet” character of Christ’s life on earth. God’s program had been begun, but it was not yet completed. So again, it is necessary to qualify what Ratzinger said. Yes, the coming of Christ is the Kingdom, and “the gathering of the people” is the eschatological meaning of this coming, but there is more to it than we can currently see.

Admittedly, I have not shown the in-depth argument for Ratzinger’s position. I have let him state it though. And I have provided a competing vision of Christ in the New Testament which places God, and Christ as revealing God, as the central focus.

To this point, the Reformation says, “Soli Deo Gloria,” to God Alone be the Glory. Joseph Ratzinger is making the case that the Church is glorious, too.

Yes, it’s true, that one reason Christ came was to call the eschatological people of God. But that’s not the central reason, and nor is it his central accomplishment.

To the proprietors of the “Called to Communion” website: Yes, as you claim, you are “where the Reformation meets Rome.” But the Reformation beheld God in Christ, that is, God in his full Glory. God in Christ is the focus of the New Testament. Does Christ point people back to Rome? Or does he point them further and deeper toward God? Why should the Reformation leave God (admittedly the point of convergence) and turn their gaze away from God and toward Rome?

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12 Responses to Not Called to Communion: “Jesus and the Church”

  1. Nathan says:

    To this point, the Reformation says, “Soli Deo Gloria,” to God Alone be the Glory. Joseph Ratzinger is making the case that the Church is glorious, too.

    Like the Apostle Paul? “…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

    As if a glorious Church detracts from God’s glory. I suppose a glorious wife detracts from a glorious husband? Fie, these false dichotomies. God in Christ, but where is Christ if not in the Eucharist? Such arguments push me toward Rome, which I am none too pleased about.

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  2. johnbugay says:

    Couple of things Nathan:

    First, don’t make the mistake of thinking “I don’t like Protestant arguments, therefore Rome is infallible.” That’s a very flawed way to think about it. Do a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Rome, based on its own merits. True, there are many Protestants in our day who have gone in different directions, but nevertheless, that does not preclude the fact that the absolute truth you seem to be looking for is within Protestantism. The Reformation was right to take the stand for the Gospel that it did. If you are feeling “pushed toward Rome,” the fact that you are “none too pleased” about it is a good thing. But that push toward Rome is full of falsity.

    Second, regarding that “glorious church” — the New Testament presents a strong measure of “already/not yet.” That “glorious church” is “not yet.” Christ has died, but the eschaton is “not yet”. Still, in that light, look at my posting on how Rome thinks highly of itself.

    https://reformation500.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/the-roman-church-thinks-highly-of-itself/

    Is the Roman church “glorious”? It does think that it, itself, is glorious. And Ratzinger wants everyone to think that, too. But on what basis does it think this, if not on the boastful pronouncements of the popes? You should not buy into this line of falsity.

    Hoehner, in his commentary on Ephesians, goes into some detail about the “glorious church”:

    Normally in an ancient wedding the bride would prepare herself by washing in the bridal bath after which the bridegroom would go with his friends to her house to procure her and bring her to his house to present her to his father. In brief then, Christ prepares (redemption and sanctification) the bride, the church, with the purpose that he might present her to himself in the character of gloriousness. It is he himself who prepares her, he alone presents her, and he alone receives her all-glorious.” (Hoehner, Ephesians, 759)

    Even though it is Christ who does this work, Paul does not, by any stretch, think that Christians are yet “glorious”, nor that the church is “glorious.”

    This is Christ’s work, to be accomplished in His time.

    Third, “where is Christ if not in the Eucharist?” Before you go there, ask, where is Christ, biblically?

    But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.

    We know where Christ is. And according to Hebrews 4:16, “we may with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Is that throne really present within the Roman Catholic Church?

    According to Calvin, “the sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher, comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved an our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in (Institutes 4.14.10.) Now if the Holy Spirit be moving, who are you to say that it is not “real”?

    For this reason, the Lord instituted for us his Supper, in order to sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood; and to give us certainty and assurance that in this consists our true spiritual nourishment; so that, having such an earnest, we might entertain a right assurance about salvation.

    That is, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, gives us such assurances as we need in the certitude of his presence and promises.

    On the other hand, have you considered that Rome does not have Christ “really” present in the Eucharist? He’s only there “sacramentally”. Yes, they say it’s “really sacramental”, but then they are forced to use Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accidents” to describe how Christ is present. And Aquinas says this:

    The body of Christ is in this sacrament as if it were just substance. But substance as such cannot be seen by the bodily eye, nor is it the object of any sense, nor can it be imagined; it is only open to the intellect, the object of which the essence of things, as Aristotle says. Hence, properly speaking, the body of Christ, according to the mode of existence which it has in this sacrament, can be reached neither by sense nor by imagination; it is open only to the intellect which may be called a spiritual eye. (Cited in Keith Mathison, “Given for You,” pg 351.)

    Now, unless you are willing to grant that Aristotle’s categories of “substance and accidents” are positively correct descriptions of reality (thus putting more faith in those categories than in, say, quantum physics), then the “mode” in which Christ is “really present” is less “real” in Roman Catholicism than in Calvin’s doctrine.

    Even using Ratzinger’s notion that the “transformed” Passover of Israel is a “step beyond” the Lord’s prayer, Calvin more accurately accounts for how at the Lord’s Supper, we meet the Lord sacramentally. For Rome relies on Aristotle to assert “real presence.” Calvin relies on the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And Calvin’s doctrine accounts for all of the Biblical data.

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  3. Nathan says:

    Even though it is Christ who does this work, Paul does not, by any stretch, think that Christians are yet “glorious”, nor that the church is “glorious.”

    Really? So Paul’s glorying in his (and his churches’) suffering, the present glory we have now because of the Spirit (1 Co. 2), man, the image and glory of God (1 Co. 11:7), the glory of Moses (2 Co. 3:7), the glorious ministry of the church, far surpassing that of the Law (2 C.o 3:10): all of that happens entirely at the end of the age? Sorry, but I can’t go along with the idea that glorification begins anywhere other than the present created order. (By all means, exegete otherwise, if you disagree.) It reaches its fulfillment in the future (Rev. 21:11, where God glorifies the heavenly city), but glory, like the kingdom, is already/not-yet (2 Th. 1:12).

    Yes, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, but he also promised to be with us always, to the end of the age. It is consequently problematic to deny Christ’s immanence, even if we substitute the presence of the Spirit. He did not say “my spirit is with you always,” but rather, “I am with you always.” Further, if he is not in some sense present in the Eucharist, John 6 makes no sense. Substituting Christ with the Spirit can easily lead to a subversion of proper Trinitarian understanding.

    Now, unless you are willing to grant that Aristotle’s categories of “substance and accidents” are positively correct descriptions of reality (thus putting more faith in those categories than in, say, quantum physics), then the “mode” in which Christ is “really present” is less “real” in Roman Catholicism than in Calvin’s doctrine.

    There seems to be nothing real at all in Calvin’s description: all eating does is confirm in our minds that we were already partakers of Christ’s flesh and blood before we ate. Therefore eating is not actually eating, but is rather a functional act with the real purpose of altering the subject’s conscience. There’s a reason why I don’t follow the traditions of Calvin, and this is one of them. Luther is far more agreeable here.

    But the “reality” of quantum physics has absolutely nothing to say about divine immanence, still less so the incarnation. The physics (and metaphysics) of Christian belief are of a different category. If the incarnation is true, the only real objection to the Real Presence must be exegetical, and that I have not been convinced of. So while I may not completely appreciate Aquinas, over-explanation beats explaining-away any day.

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    • johnbugay says:

      Nathan, you are really missing the boat here. I am not sure where to begin.

      If you scroll up a bit, you are trying to claim that “Joseph Ratzinger is making the case that the Church is glorious, too. As if a glorious Church detracts from God’s glory.”

      With 1 Cor 2. Paul is saying, “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.” The only “glory” in this chapter is to talk about God’s eternal decree “which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” But that is an eschatological glory: Eye has not seen it, ear has not heard it, the heart of man has not imagined it.

      In your ultimate proof text, too, 2 Cor 3:10, Paul is talking about his own ministry in the new covenant — the covenant of Jeremiah 31: “You (Corinthians) yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts … you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

      It is this “ministry of the Spirit” (v. 8) which is being contrasted with “the ministry of condemnation”; the “glory” is the glory of the Gospel. It is true that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image (“the glory of the Lord”)

      But this giving of glory is not a function of Paul himself — nor would it be a function of “the Church.” It is a function of “the ministry of the Spirit,” that is, the gospel message. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

      We are “being transformed” — present participle. It is not yet “our glory”.

      To some degree, I won’t argue with you about “glorification”. There is an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” in store for believers (2 Cor 4:17), and this glorification is already accomplished (Romans 8:29). But it is a “glory to be revealed to us,” and “we wait with eager longing” for this.

      But the concept of “church” to which this is applied has nothing to do with the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, which did not exist and so Paul cannot have been talking about it. Paul’s exhortations about glorification are applied specifically to individuals, in Romans 8, in 2 Corinthians, and elsewhere.

      But somehow you have morphed this conversation from my initial statement, “to God alone be the glory,” to your notion that the Roman Catholic Church is somehow a glorious thing. The “glory” promised in Romans 8 and in the other verses is a glory that is only due to individuals, not to the corporate Roman Church. No one ever makes the argument that the one church of Christ is equivalent to the Roman Catholic Church. It is merely always assumed. You are doing that here.

      If you really want to impress me, or anyone, you should make the argument that “The Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church, the Church that Christ founded, and it is the sole repository and dispenser of God’s glory on earth.” That is what the Roman Church says about itself. But such a thing has never been demonstrated. It is only given as a bald-faced assertion.

      Further, if he is not in some sense present in the Eucharist, John 6 makes no sense.

      I have two commentaries on the Gospel of John, which refer to other exegetical commentaries, and the unanimous opinion of these writers is that the sacrament of the Eucharist is not in being discussed in John 6, or if so, only in a secondary sense. The primary sense of the passage is that Christ’s “flesh” is given for the world, in the sense that, “the Word became flesh.” This discussion also anticipates the phenomenon of “mutual indwelling,” as elaborated in John 15, because of the “once for all” activity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

      During this passage, there is a very close parallel: verses 54 and 40. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. “Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood” and “looking to the Son and believing in him” yield precisely the same reward. Consider the words of Augustine, “Believe and you have eaten.”

      There seems to be nothing real at all in Calvin’s description: all eating does is confirm in our minds that we were already partakers of Christ’s flesh and blood before we ate. Therefore eating is not actually eating, but is rather a functional act with the real purpose of altering the subject’s conscience.

      So, you are saying that there is “nothing real at all” happening “when the Spirit, that inward teacher, comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved an our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in.” There is nothing real at all about the movement of the Spirit. You would rather rely on Aristotle’s categories of substance and accidents to describe what “real” is.

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  4. herbert says:

    John, Let me just chime in quickly.

    You say to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to Rome based upon its merits. I don’t see how this sort of argumentation works when speaking in covenantal terms. When Christ had just spoken of his followers necessarily partaking of his flesh and blood and so many turned away (i.e. gave their “thumbs down to Christ”), St. Peter, affirming his allegiance to Christ, said “Where else will we go, Lord?” I find that we’re in a similar situation today, as His followers. We simply can’t just create new Churches… or pick and choose among denominations whose doctrines are most aligned with our private interpretations of Scripture. We simply can’t reduce the deposit of faith to some lowest common denominator Christianity. At the same time, what are we to do with rigidly confessional Christian communions who stand in doctrinal contradiction with one another? Apart from becoming scholars, how can we sift through this denominational madness without becoming doctrinal relativists? This is why scholars such as RR Reno have spoken of being received into the Catholic Church as a sort of offering up of one’s self for adoption- adoption into the Church guided by Christ to this very day and against whom the Gates of Hell will not prevail.
    thanks…

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  5. johnbugay says:

    Hi Herbert — I am glad to see at least that you are thinking in “covenantal” terms, which was a biblical-historical concept only noticed and elaborated on by the Reformers.

    Reno was wrong. These intellectuals who convert to Rome out of some misplaced idea of “unity” are like a bunch of lemmings running off a cliff. You’re making the mistake of assuming Rome’s view of “the Church” is “the Church” to which we must all turn. Ask Rome (somehow) to prove (and not merely assume) that it’s version of “Church” is the same as the doctrines that the Apostles taught.

    Rome’s view of “the Church” is highly mutant, in many respects. What you see there is not “the deposit of faith.” Paul warned the Corinthians, in the strongest possible terms (1 Cor 10) to flee from idolatry, to have nothing to do with it. And yet, in instance after instance, Rome embraced idolatry, incorporated it into its own “deposit of faith” and forced it on the rest of Christianity.

    Do you think I’m exaggerating? Look at some of the evidence. At a recent thread at BeggarsAllReformation.blogspot.com, I added this to the discussion:

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2010/04/romanist-charity-says-zwingli-was-idiot.html

    I have no problem exploring the idea that “all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles.” [Quoting Zwingli on Baptism]

    In another vein, T.F. Torrance, in his 1947 work “The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers” has written very convincingly that the generation of Apostolic Fathers from 1 Clement through the next 100 years or so had lost the concept of grace that was taught in the New Testament.

    I’ve written briefly about that here:

    https://reformation500.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/paul-and-the-proper-place-of-unity/#comment-157

    Torrance traces the concept and the word charis, “grace” both through Greek language and culture, and through the Old Testament. He isolates the meaning that is used in the New Testament — and illustrates not only Pauline “grace” but also “the Grace of God” as practiced by Christ in the Gospels, in interacting with sinners such as Matthew and Zacchaeus, the sinful woman in Siman’s house, “freely forgiving them,” “and in the eager compassion in which He healed the sick and suffering, as in His constant demand or mercy and forgiveness among men because of the love of God.”

    Torrance then traces the way that the concept of Grace is used in these apostolic fathers. His study is both theological and exegetical, and in case after case — Clement, Ignatius, Didache, Barnabas, Hermas — charis was only given in association with the performance of certain works, deeds, or rituals. Charis had to be earned.

    More recently, in conjunction with some lectures on the NPP, Carson notes that just as in the Jewish culture around them, “grace was something given by God to those who worthily strive after righteousness to enable them to attain their end. It was something to be acquired” (139).

    In 100 years, the New Testament concept of “free grace” had been transformed into something that “had to be earned.” It is anachronistic to call this “Pelagianism,” but the phenomenon is there, clearly, in the earliest of the church fathers.

    But beyond this, I think it would be fruitful to trace early church misunderstandings not only on baptism (keep in mind that Constantine and many others put off baptism until just before their death, showing a great deal of misunderstanding) and grace, but also, Paul’s doctrine of justification became muddled and lost, and even (and perhaps especially) the early “development” of the papacy, culminating in a hijacking of Christianity. I believe all of these things can and should be studied and outlined, because these various strands, together, will show how badly a Martin Luther was needed, how badly the Reformation was needed to set the church aright.

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  6. Shawn Miller says:

    John, your argument against the glory of the church is just rhetoric. It’s okay to admit that. It fine and proper to draw distinctions between God as superlative glory and others (the church, the soul of man, the present created order) which participate in His glory. How could the church,body of Christ not be a glorious thing? Is Christ, now glorified in heaven, not glorious? You know that what you really disagree with is any conception of a visible church and Catholic ecclesiology.

    “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the glory of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the glory of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of glory, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in glory.” (1 Cor 15)

    As for Aristotle, you’d best read Aristotle before you wildly object. The technical language you scoff at, although it is necessary in all disciplines (especially theology; consubstantial, homoousios ect.), is really nothing more an attempt a vindicating common sense notions of change. When things change they either change incidentally (in accident) or fundamentally (in substance). This is why we assert that when your hair turns white, you remain essentially John. This is why we assert that, even though every single cell in your body will have been replaced in 7 years, you are still John. If you disagree, then the alternatives always will be that there is no such thing as change, or there is no such thing as permanence.

    Nathan, something I learned on my journey towards Catholicism (not yet being confirmed) is that dogma actually protects mystery. The Church has not over-rationalized the Eucharist, rather transubstantiation ensures that no Catholic can avoid the mystery. Transubstantiation means, in the strongest terms possible, that we believe that something impossible (but for God) happens. On the contrary, a Catholic isn’t free to rationalize the event by minimizing it or subjecting it to safer categories.

    I really like what you have to say above.

    Best,

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  7. johnbugay says:

    Shawn Miller — your argument in favor of the glory of the church is just rhetoric. It’s ok to admit that.

    Further, I freely admit that the church is made up of individuals who are created in the image of God (which is marred by sin though still present), and the one true church is destined for something eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has the human heart conceived it. (In fact, I think I already said that).

    If you want to make an argument that “The Roman Catholic Church” is the one true church, you are free to try to do that.

    As for Aristotle, I’m sure you will agree that his intention was to describe reality the best that he could, and if, in ancient Greece, they had known of quantum mechanics in his day, his philosophies describing reality would have been quite a bit different.

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  8. Tapestry says:

    Nathan, your love of truth is very evident, I’m really proud of you buddy.

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  9. Nathan says:

    I think you’ve missed my point. I’m saying the Church qua Church: that which the scriptures speak of. Whether that happens to be the Roman church I am not yet convinced, but I’m even less convinced of your description of the scriptural evidence.

    Other than 1 Cor. 2, 2 Cor. 3:18, and probably Eph. 3:13, it is possible to restrict Paul to an individualistic view of glory. But possible and preferable are not the same. The present passive indicative first-person plural increase in glory in 2 Cor. 3:18 is just that: we are now, today, in the present, in the process of being glorified. To some small extent, it is our glory (not that it comes from us, since we receive it from God), or Paul’s grammar needs correction.

    If you really want to impress me, or anyone, you should make the argument that “The Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church, the Church that Christ founded, and it is the sole repository and dispenser of God’s glory on earth.”

    I haven’t made it that far yet. I am convinced that Christ founded one Church, and further that Calvin’s description of it is wrong. I am also convinced that the true Church is what she is, regardless of demonstration, because she is the work of God.

    “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” And to look to the Son, I look to the table. If I believe I have eaten, but if I press that logic, I become a Quaker. All this really does is privilege one scriptural statement over another: a minimalist exegesis that I think subverts the true beauty and complexity of scriptural language. The same method is used by people who deny the necessity of baptism or refuse it to infants.

    Who are the authors that have this “unanimous opinion” on John 6? I much prefer first millennium authors, and especially the native Greek speakers, so your notion of what makes a good authority may not coincide with mine.

    So, you are saying that there is “nothing real at all” happening “when the Spirit, that inward teacher, comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved an our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in.” There is nothing real at all about the movement of the Spirit. You would rather rely on Aristotle’s categories of substance and accidents to describe what “real” is.

    No, I’m saying there is nothing real at all about the table being the communion of Christ’s body and blood if all it really is is the movement of the Spirit. It seems like I’m doing one thing, but in reality something else is happening: sorry, but that sounds more like speculation than exegesis. It seems that according to Calvin, eating isn’t eating, and drinking isn’t drinking: reality is elsewhere. This is fine if you’re a Platonist, but I am not.

    I hope sometime before the end of the year to be able to examine Torrance, since the Apostolic Fathers are so influential with me. But I’m no more optimistic about his restorationist ideas than those of Calvin or Philostorgius for that matter. If the Fathers got grace wrong, theirs is a different faith than that of the Reformers.

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  10. johnbugay says:

    Nathan: I think you’ve missed my point. I’m saying the Church qua Church: that which the scriptures speak of. Whether that happens to be the Roman church I am not yet convinced, but I’m even less convinced of your description of the scriptural evidence.

    In my most recent posting, “The Real Body of Christ,” I’ve gone into some detail about how all this fits together. I’ve cited a number of commentators on Paul’s use of “body of Christ” to describe the church. I’m not sure that I’ve touched on everything you want to see, but I’d be interested in knowing what you think about it.

    I do agree with you that Christ founded “one church.” I’ve written about that extensively here, especially in conjunction with some things that A.A. Hodge wrote about it, and in conjunction with the so-called “Nestorian” churches of the East. (Which never held to the “Nestorian” heresy, but which, nevertheless, were cast off in spite of being thoroughly orthodox.)

    But I don’t believe Calvin was wrong. Calvin is thoroughly Scriptural. If you don’t like what Calvin says, it would likely be because you don’t like where the Scriptures lead.

    As far as John 6, I believe I’ve cited Kostenberger, Carson, and Raymond Brown. In the process of establishing their opinions, these writers cite a number of other writers. But don’t take my word for it. Check them out.

    As far as “native Greek speakers,” you are referring to the earlier Greeks and the part of the church that became the Greek Orthodox church. But still, I’d beware of that “mystical theology” which holds that we can’t know very many things about God.

    Scriptures tell us a whole lot about the positive attributes of God — what we see through nature, what we know from the Scriptures. The Scriptures, we are told, are wholly adequate to the purpose of telling us what we need to know about God.

    One more thing: you suggested that Calvin’s “eating” and “drinking” is Platonist. But it’s really quite the opposite. It is the Roman Catholic church that has embraced platonism and neoplatonism; the Reformers, in their attempt to base the faith on “Scripture alone,” sought to remove those Platonist influences from their teachings.

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  11. Nathan says:

    Calvin is thoroughly Scriptural. If you don’t like what Calvin says, it would likely be because you don’t like where the Scriptures lead.

    And of course this is what pretty much all Calvinists (indeed all biblicists) say. You already know I think Calvin’s ecclesiology is diminished compared to what scripture teaches and that I think Luther’s Eucharistic theology is far superior and more scriptural. I’m almost convinced by now that Calvin wrongly left the Wisdom of Solomon out of his canon, so that might as well be strike 3. There are plenty more objections I have with Calvin and his (variegated) tradition, such as paedocommunion, cessationism, and sacraments (I count more than 2), and all of them are based on the whole of scripture.

    So, in short, I don’t think Calvin is “throughly Scriptural,” at least not in any satisfactory sense. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” Calvin responds:

    “Now, when the cup is called a participation, the expression, I acknowledge, is figurative, provided that the truth held forth in the figure is not taken away, or, in other words, provided that the reality itself is also present, and that the soul has as truly communion in the blood, as we drink wine with the mouth. (strong emphasis added)

    The participation is figurative, and the reality is happening with the soul. How is that not Platonism? Did Christ offer up spiritual flesh and spiritual blood on the cross? About the only thing I can really agree with Calvin on concerning this passage is that the cup should not be withheld from the faithful.

    First you accuse Rome of Aristotelianism, now you accuse them of (neo-)Platonism. Of course, if you think the Reformers did or were even capable of expunging philosophical influence from their teaching, I’ve got a bridge for sale (somewhere in the land of Nominalism). I’ve heard the anti-philosophy stuff so much I’m really tired of trying to argue against it. For convenience, I’ll boil it down to mere epistemic posturing and accumulated, extraneous presuppositions. I deny the illegitimacy of philosophical inquiry,

    As far as “native Greek speakers,” you are referring to the earlier Greeks and the part of the church that became the Greek Orthodox church. But still, I’d beware of that “mystical theology” which holds that we can’t know very many things about God.

    I’m referring to guys like Ignatius, Clement, Justin, Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Basil, the Gregorys, etc.. It borders on the absurd to give priority to a teaching that is “clear” to 16th century Western medievals but completely missed by a bunch of people who read and memorized the scriptures which were actually written in their native language.

    Your fear of “mystical theology” is duly noted, but I’ll raise you a 2 Cor. 12, 2 Pet. 1:4, and Book of Revelation. I can’t think of any mystical theologians who deny that scripture can tell us what we need to “know” about God, but your definition of “know” runs the risk of being far too limited: we have sacraments for a reason, and they cannot be wholly subsumed by scripture. Scripture itself quite often points beyond itself, to the apostles, the Church, and the Spirit. And that, to take brevity to excess, is why being “thoroughly scriptural,” even if I grant that such a thing is not a category error, looks like something other than Calvinism.

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