Sabbatical Day 16: Draft study guide part 1


Birmingham library doesn’t open until 11am, but McDonalds has a quiet corner for me to work in from breakfast time. My eldest son has let me tag along on his school journey, on the Metro.  It’s great to be in town before 8am, as my mind is clearest first thing.

I want to have a draft study guide to discuss at my next supervision with Garry Williams on Thursday.  The study guide starts with the automatic question of our consumer driven culture, “why should I go to church?”  The basic Christian story is followed by an explanation, with diagrams, of what God does and what his faithful people do in church. The diagrams are important for a culture where there is English second language, low educational qualifications or both.  Question 3 asks “what is a sign and how does it work?” Lastly, there’s an outline of the parts of the communion service.   Here’s what I have so far.  Study Guide for Communion part 1 (early draft).

Part 2 of the study guide comprises the liturgy of the communion service on the left page and the re-ordered but not reworded or re-numbered ACNA catechism on the right page. There’s lots of work still to do on this so I won’t post it until later.  The ACNA catechism runs over 71 pages of A5!  Not all of it applies to the communion service, so I’ll whittle it down a bit.

As usual, here’s my notes from today’s reading.  I had a rummage through Birmingham Library’s theological reference section after lunch.  It is quite an extensive collection, slightly dated (mostly middle to late 20th century) but there is lots of useful stuff.  I borrowed and read “The Covenant Sealed: The development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England” by E. Brooks Holifield (1974), which usefully showed the debate and variety of language used to describe the work of God in the communion service.  Holifield commented on the way many Puritan educational manuals were written to explain God’s part and the believer’s part in the communion service.  It seems that I am in good company by writing my own study guide.  There were a variety of understandings, at least three, all broadly Calvinistic, which, when mixed with the Erastian controversy, meant pastors and vicars developed quite individual convictions and so wrote manuals to teach those convictions.  I don’y expect my manual to be universally acceptable to even close friends, but there is something useful to be gained by ministers in thinking about and applying the doctrine of the sacrament.

Thomas Cranmer. Countenay Library of Reformation Classics

Cranmer’s introduction to the reader is as good a summary of the gospel as any I have found:

Our Saviour Christ Jesus according to the will of his eternal Father, when the time thereto was fully complished, taking our nature upon him, came into this world from the high throne of his Father, to declare unto miserable sinners good news; to heal them that were sick; to make the blind see, the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak; to set prisoners at liberty; to show that the time of grace and mercy was come; to give light to them that were in darkness and in the shadow of death; and to preach and give pardon and full remission of sin to all his elected. And to perform the same, he made a sacrifice and oblation of his own body upon the cross, which was full redemption, satisfaction, and propitiation, for the sins of the whole world. And to commend this his sacrifice unto all his faithful people, and to confirm their faith and hope of eternal life in the same, he hath ordained a perpetual memory of his said sacrifice, daily to be used in the Church to his perpetual laud and praise, and to our singular comfort and consolation; that is to say, the celebration of his holy supper, wherein he doth not cease to give himself with all his benefits, to all those that duly receive the same supper according to his blessed ordinance.

Book 1 Of these words of Christ (John 6) it is plain and manifest that, the eating of Christ’s flesh and the drinking of his blood is not like the eating and drinking of other meats and drinks…

…But as touching this meat and this drink of the body and blood of Christ, it is true, both he that eateth and drinketh them, hath everlasting life; and also he that eateth and drinketh them not, hath not everlasting life. For to eat that meat and drink that drink, is to dwell in Christ and to have Christ dwell in him.

And therefore no man can say or think, that he eateth the body of Christ and drinketh his blood, except he dwelleth in Christ and hath Christ dwell in him. Thus have ye heard of the eating and drinking of the very flesh and blood of our Saviour Christ.

…He [Christ] spake not to the intent that men should think, that material bread his very body, or that his very body is material bread; neither wine…but [the sign and the thing signified being the sign of the bread signifying death to sin in his body and resurrection to eternal life the sign of wine signifying the remission of sins and membership of the new covenant.]

The Covenant Sealed

The development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England

E. Brooks Holifield (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1974)

William Perkins described a sacrament in formal terms as an external sign and an internal reality united in a “sacramentall relation.” The relation was not natural; itg did not, that is, effect a substantial mutation of the sign, and the internal reality was never “included in” the sign. A sacramental union was “respective.”

[The union] is respective, because there is a certaine agreement and proportion of externall things with the internall, and of the actions of one with the actions of the other; whereby it commeth to passe, that the signes, as it were certaine visible words, incurring into the external senses, do by a certain proportionable resemblance draw a Christian mind to the consideration of the things signified, and to be applied. (Perkins, Golden Chaine, Works 1:72)

The pastoral and practical thrust in Puritan sacramental reflection, with the accompanying disposition to concentrate on the spiritual subjectivity of the communicant, produced a certain imprecision about the issues which divided earlier Reformed theologians. About such matters as the relationship between the res signifcans and the res significata, the ministers were often indifferent and sometimes curiously inconsistent. …[I am not convinced by Holifield’s selective quotations of Perkins, Dod, Preston, Henry Smith, Bradshaw and Richard Stibbes and would need to read them all in context but don’t have time. They quotations all allude to an agreement on the relationship between the word, faith, the signs and the work of the Holy Spirit in uniting faithful believers to Christ and so his benefits.]

Debate and Devotion

Three positions by late 17th century: the highly subjective spiritually which gave priority to inward preparation over objective reality of the sacrament [sounds like Auburn Avenue stuff]; the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper capable of converting the unregenerate by stirring faith; the efficacy of the sacrament because of the mystical presence of Christ. In all three schools, there was a proliferation of training and teaching manuals on the sacraments! All were focused on the Lord’s Supper as a seal of the covenant.

Erastian controversy

If a converting ordinance… then free admission.

If a not a converting ordinance…then exclude the notorious evil liver from communion to bring to repentance [BCP communion service] but do not demand proof that any communicant is regenerate. The latter practice of excluding the notorious evil liver from communion is set out in my study notes from day (?). If the vicar is to judge, what prevents injustice or personal prejudice?

John Humfrey made two distinctions. First, the sacrament sealed the conditional, not absolute covenant. Since the Lord’s Supper did not seal and interest in Christ “absolutely, “ men who failed to repent and believe, to meet the covenant conditions, would never receive its full benefits. But the sacrament did convey grace enabling the elect to fulfil the requirements of the covenant, thus obviating any need to limit administration to those who presumably had already met the conditions of faith and repentance. Second, the sacrament was not a “seal of faith”, unless that simply meant that it increased and confirmed faith, or provided Christians an occasion to engage themselves to believe. But to stop at that was to minimise the objectivity of sacramental sealing: “God doth not attest our Faith but the truth of his own promises.” Humfrey criticized ministers who sought to bar unregenerate Christians because the sacraments do not seal “blanks”. [but The promise of God is for faithful believers to be united to Christ].

Drake thought that the sacrament sealed both a conditional and an absolute covenant. Conditional – he who believes shall be saved. Absolute – the elect saints who had received an effectual call. Therefore, exclude the unregenerate.

[This debate seems to have moved quite a distance, at least in Holifield’s mind, from the two goals of Cranmer’s liturgy: to produce genuine Christian living and a united, loving community. The pragmatic or applied theology cannot be ignored when considering the theological nuances of the Supper. We can surely leave the eternal results to the Lord, and focus instead on his will being done on earth as it is in heaven].

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