I have set myself a goal for the five weeks of study during my sabbatical. The goal was to understand Cranmer’s theology of Holy Communion and to be able to teach it to new and mature believers, so that our main church service becomes a more meaningful and essential part of life for those who have learned the importance of Communion. The idea is either we dumb down or educate and, as an Anglican, dumbing down isn’t really an option.
The study guide (or catechism) is now one big question with eight questions, so far, which answer the first.
Why should I go to church?
1. What is the basic Christian story?
2. How does God speak to his people?
3. What is a sign and how does it work?
4. What is a seal and how does it work?
5. What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?
6. What does it mean to be “in” Christ?
7. What happens when believers gather for a communion service?
8. What are the main parts of a communion service?
I think that these eight questions cover the foundations, although questions 5 and 6 were added this morning, so there might be more to add. Once these questions are answered, I will move onto the second part of the guide, in which I aim to explain and teach the parts of the communion service, including the 10 commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the Nicene Creed and the communion liturgy itself.
This blog has been a really helpful way of reflecting on what I have been reading and producing. Someone who had been on sabbatical said the time will fly by. This is day 23 of 84. I don’t have a deadline for completion. If I finish, I’ll be glad, but the discipline of study and reflection is what these days are for. Here’s my notes from Francis Turretin’s section on the sacraments (Qu19) in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology. I also read Jonathan Edwards “An humble inquiry into the rules of the Word of God concerning the qualifications requisite to a complete standing and full communion in the visible Christian church.” which, when he published it, led to the congregation of his church in Northampton, Massachusetts to fire him—June 22, 1750. At least he wasn’t put in a fire, alive, for his view on the sacraments, as the Church of England bishops Ridley and Latimer were on October 16, 1555. I sincerely hope the result of my study project doesn’t generate similar reactions.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology
Question 19- The Sacraments
Q1. What is a sacrament as to the name and to the thing?
God willed to enter a covenant with the church in order to apply the salvation purchased by Christ, so for the greater confirmation of faith, he has condescended to seal this covenant by sacraments as seals, that by them as badges he might distinguish and separate his people from the rest of the world. On this account, it is necessary to consider them as incumbent upon us.
The Latin word sacraments (sacrando) – to consecrate and to initiate.
Scripture calls them “signs of the covenant” (Gen 9:12, 13, 17:11), “signs and seals” of the righteous by faith (Romans 4:11), “signs” (Ex 12:13), “patterns” (Heb 8:5, 9:23) and “figures” (1 Pet 3:21). OT – Gen 17:11, Ex 31:13, 17 and Ez 20:12,20).
A sacrament is a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:11)
[Sacraments are] “sacred visible signs and seals divinely instituted to signify and seal to our consciences the promises of saving faith in Christ and in turn to testify our faith and piety and obedience towards God.”
God effects the sacrament by the word of institution, for the word being added to the element, it becomes a sacrament not by the infusion of a new quality, but by a change of use. There are, however, two parts of the word which is called sacraments: the command and the promise.
The essence of the sacrament is from the divine institution. Therefore if the sacrament is administered according to it, whether the receiver believes or not, it is all the same. The truth of the promises does not depend on the faith of the believing; otherwise unbelievers could weaken the truth of God and from the infidelity of men God could be made a liar (which is absurd). Therefore, although faith is necessary to perceive the thing signified, still it is not necessary to constitute the essence and integrity of the sacrament.
Qu 2 – The necessity of the sacraments
Was it necessary that the sacraments should be instituted in the church and is their use necessary?
God did not need to use the sacraments, they are for our good. His word is sufficient and does not confirmation, but the sacraments help our infirmity and confirm out faith. [The thief on the cross had no access to a sacrament and yet believed the word and was saved.]
God, entering into covenant with man, willed all certain sacraments as so many seals to confirm it; not, indeed, on his part but on our part. Are they necessary?
The word of God is absolutely necessary, the sacraments only hypothetically.
The word is audible, the sacraments visible; the word produces faith, the sacraments confirm it.
The word is address promiscuously to all, believers and unbelievers, the sacraments pertain to the covenanted only; the word offers the promises of God to all indiscriminately; the sacraments seal the promises of God singly to each one partaking of them rightly.
The word is profitable without sacrament; the sacraments do not help without the word, but with it more powerfully move on account of sensible things and the analogy they have with spiritual things.
As to the necessity of their use, we say that it is not of means, but of command; not from the nature of the things (as if without them salvation could not be obtained at all), but from the command of God, because he willed to enjoin their use upon us for the confirmation of our faith. [presumably the command and the confirming being part of perseverance and living faith and obedience.]
Q3. The sacramental sign.
What is the nature of the sign required in a sacrament?
Sacraments are not from man but from God
They are not just by imposition (i.e. the rainbow) but also by analogy, that is from similitude (body and blood).
They are not merely theoretical signs (memorial stones), which do nothing else than represent and signify the thing of which they are signs, but practical, which not only signify, but also seal and really confer (not on all communicants, but on those for whom the word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit and faith change the use of the material of the sacrament.)
Q4. The sacramental union.
Is the essential and internal form of the sacraments places in the relation of the sign to the thing signified and in their merely relative union?
The sacramental union is relative, moral and real. There is no physical union of subject and accident, nor local union, nor spiritual, so that signs of the power of justifying and regenerating is immediately instilled. But the union is relative or moral, and is so relative and moral that the partaker is made one with the thing signified, which is Christ. (Romans 6:4-5, Galatians 3:27 and John 6:53.)
Q5. Are the sacraments only marks and badges of our profession? Or are they also signs and seals of the grace of God concerning the remission of sins and the regeneration of the Spirit?
Romans 4:11 and OT signs as in the study guide.
Q6. The sacramental word.
The sacramental word is not consecratory and operative (infusing and inspiring into the elements a certain secret power) but declarative and concionative (used with preaching or with the word). [See Ros Clarke’s paper]
Q7. The intention of the minister.
Whether the intention of the minister (at least doing what the church does) is necessary to the efficacy and efficacy of the sacrament.
The intention of the minister is not required (phew! I have been wondering if I have been a fit minister of the sacraments for the past 11 years given that most of what I have read in the past three weeks is new to me.) The work of God in the sacraments, by his word, his Spirit and his gift of faith is all of God and none of the work of the intention of the minister, otherwise there would be some dependence on me effect of the sacraments.