Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Paedo and Teeto Debate the Sacraments



The following is by Angelus de Silentio:

Paedo and Teeto are invited to a debate about the sacraments. This is a transcription of what transpired:

Moderator:

Good morning all. Thanks for coming to Sacrapalooza here at the Protestant Palace Hotel, where all things sacramental are discussed, debated, exegeted, and then we all go back to doing whatever we did before we got together, just armed with more ammo (ordinance, if you will) to fire at the other guy. 

Just kidding, we're here to edify. That is, we're here to make you feel like Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. 

I'm pleased to introduce two prominent, world renowned theologians. From France, we have Paedo Baptiste. And from Argentina, Teeto Taler. 

A big round of applause for Paedo and Teeto!

Paedo:

Thank you. Thank you. I know what you're going to say----A Frenchman up against a blond guy from Argentina. You're thinking the Maginot Line is up here by the dais. Well, I left my white handkerchief at home, so I think we may have to go through the battle 'til the end. 

Seriously, though, I'm glad I was brought here to debate my friend Teeto on the important topics of baptism and communion. And I trust you will find this debate enlightening and enjoyable.

I've discussed baptism with Teeto so many times, I've considered just diving into a swimming pool while reciting some formula of the font, to get him off my back. How many times can one person say, "baptizo means to immerse in water?" We get it Teeto: It's all Greek to you.

And if we were discussing a bunch of Greek people who all of a sudden conjured up a religion called Christianity, I think I'd be on board with you. I'll even acknowledge that much of the early church practiced baptism by immersion. But that, as you know, Teeto, is not definitive. 

Baptism came about within a particular culture at a particular time. It was instituted by John the Baptist within a Jewish culture. He was calling on ethnic Israel to come and be baptized, and to repent of their sins. The washing was a symbol, you know, of the remission of sin. It was a symbol of their having been set apart from the world, and even from the rest of ethnic Israel, as people who have repented.

Now think of that sort of sign in the context of Israel. This is a people marked out by God by a physical, outward sign from when they were babies. Baptism would have been a powerful reminder to the children of Israel that they were chosen by God, set apart by Him in history, to be the people through whom the redemption of Christ would be revealed.

And when the apostles went out and preached the gospel, bringing about repentance, we see that not only was the convert baptized, but his whole household. Now, we are not told whether babies, or toddlers, or adolescents, or teenagers were a part of these households. But in a day and time when people had children very early in life, and kept on having children, to the degree people had a household they likely had children under seven years of age in the house. So when we talk about who may be a candidate for baptism, we must take the Scriptures as we find them: silent on the issue. We know that converts were baptized, and we know their households were baptized. We are left to use logic and reason as to what makes up a household, or at least what that concept would've been two thousand years ago.

As for the method of baptism: I get the Greek. I get that the overwhelming number of times we see baptizo it means to immerse. But the essence of something being immersed is the covering of the object. To quibble over the amount of water used to baptize someone is akin to a Pharisee crafting a law about how far we may travel on the Sabbath before we've broken a commandment. In other words, it's silly argument of aquatics, as it were. 

Similarly, with regard to communion, it arose from a culture in which we see people observing the Passover. The Lord's Supper was, of course, performed at a Passover feast. And we know from Mosaic Law that unleavened bread was the only type of bread one could have at the Passover. The potable was not dictated by the Law, as you may realize, but we know that the overwhelming majority of Jews in the first century would've used wine at the meal. Many would have cut the wine with water, which were that done at the first Lord's Supper would have been a fine picture of the blood and water at the cross. And we know, for instance, that after an 18 month stay in Corinth, the tradition of drinking wine at Communion was pretty well imbedded (though abused) by that church.

We might add, here, that there is a profound meaning in the bread and the wine. Bread is a symbol of Jesus Himself: I am the bread of life, He said. Bread was reminiscent of manna, as the Jews pointed out to our Lord. Further, it was a symbol of a successful harvest, as well as being a symbol of man's dominion over the earth: growing the wheat, grinding the grain, and making it into a dough to bake. Similarly, wine is described throughout Scripture as a drink of merriment, and something to look forward to in the kingdom. I suspect when the Psalmist's cup was running over, it wasn't running over with juice or water. I might also add that I can't find a single, solitary reference to grape juice in the Bible. Perhaps I missed it, but Teeto, in all our debates has never proof-texted me on that point, and I'm curious whether he'll do so today.

I would hasten to point out as well that the overwhelming majority of the early church used wine at communion, and nobody used juice. A few cranks used water, but no modern denomination argues for that point, and so I suppose the church universal finds water to be clearly the wrong beverage.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Teeto.

Teeto:

Thanks Paedo for dipping in, as it were, to these most controversial of topics. I must say that I appreciate the tenor of your remarks.

And don't be intimidated by a blond Argentinian---I'm descended from Nephites, not Nazis. (*audience laughter)

Let me say that I've debated Paedo more times than I can count, and his arguments for infant baptism (and doing so by sprinkling) are as baffling as ever. You'll note, won't you, that Paedo cites no examples of sprinkling, nor can he point to an infant who was baptized by any method. His means of argumentation is one of silence cloaked in the veneer of freedom: the Bible is silent on who gets baptized and how, so let's exercise our freedom by sprinkling babies.

With all due respect, to believe Paedo's arguments concerning baptism you have to ignore language, imagery, and history. 

I hate to beat the dead horse, Paedo, but baptizo means to immerse in water. There were words available to the Greek writers of the New Testament that would be translated "sprinkle," and the Holy Spirit never inspired them to use those. To believe your argument would be to accuse God Himself of being a poor etymologist. And when Jesus said he would baptize with the Spirit and with fire, I wonder whether he meant there'd be a sprinkling of both? Are the saints of God sprinkled with His Spirit? Will the objects of divine wrath be subject to just a dash of fire?

Frankly, though, the language of the New Testament, though a powerful enough argument in and of itself to prevail in this debate, is not my surest arrow. That distinction belongs to the imagery of baptism. If Paul is right (I say with some cheek) then baptism is a symbol of the burial and resurrection of our Lord. And if it is to be a symbol of burial, it must be by immersion. Conversely, if it is a symbol of burial, it cannot be by sprinkling. Was the grave sprinkled over our Lord? Did he dip his brow into the cave? Or was He completely covered? My dear friend, once we know baptism is a symbol of burial and resurrection--of life coming from death---then we know it is by immersion.

Now that should seal the deal, as they say. But I wonder whether you caught the admission by my friend, that the early church practiced immersion? He just sprinkled that into his argument, didn't he? Not many people realize that it is near universally agreed among even paedobaptist scholars that the early church practiced immersion.

Regarding candidates for baptism: every example of a known baptized person in the New Testament is a believer. Every one. The household argument is rank speculation, wrapped in one reasonable assumption about what is silent, but ignoring all the other facts the New Testament writers are silent about. Now that was garbled, but let me explain. Paedo is quick to point out that the Bible is silent as to who was in the household, so Paedo assumes kids were in it. But he ignores that the Bible is also silent as to whether the household confessed Jesus as Lord. There is no logical basis for assuming that each, or any, household baptized in Acts contained an infant. There is no logical basis for assuming that people were baptized in a way that was any different from any convert: after confessing Christ.

And all that dancing around about circumcision: every time in the New Testament where circumcision is compared to something, it's compared to circumcision of the heart, and never to baptism. If Paedo's right, then it sure seems like at some point, when dealing with the Judaizers insisting on circumcising converts, that Paul would have cut them off by pointing out to them that baptism is the new circumcision. How about that argument from silence?

Well, let's talk about communion. Where the Bible is clear on baptism, it is opaque on communion. We're not told what to drink, or what the makeup of the bread out to be. The closest we come to is that the content of the cup is described as "fruit of the vine." Well, that could be grape juice or wine. It could be one, just as easily as the other. The important thing to remember about the Lord's Supper is that we're to reverently remember the Lord's sacrifice until He returns. Whether we do that through broken bread and wine or juice and crackers makes no difference. 

Thank you.

Paedo:

My dear Teeto, all that talk about language, imagery, and history petered out there at the end, didn't it?

I suppose it's true that we're never told what was in the cup. And if we lived in a world where we didn't know what was going on in Israel in the first century, or a world where we didn't have the Old Testament, or a world where Paul never wrote a letter to Corinth, I guess that would be an excellent point. 

So, Teeto, just to destroy the rather simplistic argument you have for baptism, let me touch on your language, imagery, and history arguments if I may, but with the Lord's Supper.

Regarding language, I might say that on the night of the Last Supper Jesus was talking to twelve Jews. And when he passed around the cup, we may note that it was a common cup---cup, not cups. So there's that linguistic point you miss with all your plastic thimbles.

We may also point out that we know that in the context of a discussion on the Lord's Supper, Paul condemned the Corinthians for getting drunk, which I presume, Teeto, you know only occurs through a potent libation. But he never told them they were using the wrong substance. Just as you contend my argument about the meaning of baptism is destroyed by the fact that Paul never told the Judaizers that their circumcision demand is wrong in light of baptism, so too your argument that we have freedom to put either juice or wine in the cup is destroyed by Paul never bothering the Corinthians that, in an effort to prevent their continued drunkenness. (On a side note, isn't it interesting that all the people who say we have freedom to put anything in the cup, always pour red grape juice?)

Speaking of Corinth, Teeto, I'm curious: we have one example in Corinth where it is explicit that they drank alcohol at communion. You say the fact that all our examples of baptism consisting of believers is of vital importance. Why do you argue that the lone example where we are told what people drank at communion is meaningless? (And before you feign ignorance or plead ambiguity on the matter, let me put two and two together for you: "fruit of the vine" plus drunken Corinthians equals communion being practiced with wine.)

So, Teeto, why is the Biblical example argument good for baptism and not for communion?

Imagery: wine is a drink for both solemnity and celebration. Grape juice is for the child's cup. Bread is a serious food. Crackers are for parakeets and toddlers. Was there ever a drink offering of grape juice? Or was it of wine? How often in the Old Testament do we see grain and new wine together as a symbol of blessing and plenty? I suppose you'd argue that meant the actual grain along with wine and not bread. The coupling of bread and wine is seen throughout the Bible. The coupling of bread and grape juice, not a single time my friend. 

"For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord--the grain, the new wine and the olive oil."

Bread and wine are the symbols of God's blessing his people through the earth.

And history: Oh, Teeto. Find some grape juice in the church house before the 19th century my friend. I suggest that if you ever find a theologian before 1800 arguing for grape juice, you'll quote him on that point alone and disavow him on virtually all else.

Teeto:

I can see the hair of the dog hasn't roused you to reason. You're hungover on Israel and can't see past the Old Testament allusions to new wine and grain. You must read the old through the new, and when you do, you'll see through a lens of ambiguity. I'm sorry, Paedo, but Jesus said "cup," and you're stuck with it. He said, "fruit of the vine," but he didn't specify whether it was fermented.

Paedo:

I suppose he didn't specify the fruit or the vine, either,then?

Teeto:

Well, we know it was grape.

Paedo:

How? All he said was "fruit of the vine."

Teeto:

Because we know from history that the most prevalent vine growing fruit the Jews would be familiar with would be the grape.

Paedo:

Oh, so now history matters when we're narrowing which fruit it could be? Why is history irrelevant when determining whether the liquid was fermented? I mean, can you point out to me one reference to grape juice in the Old or New Testament?

Teeto:

You miss the point, Paedo: Jesus only said cup! He only said, fruit of the vine!

Paedo:

I see. Well, the Bible only says baptize; it never says who, just lists some converts and includes their households.

Teeto: 

Again, the word means immerse, and your household argument is completely from silence.

Paedo:

Silence?

Teeto:

Yes.

Paedo:

You mean, like, "the Bible is silent as to whether the fruit of the vine was fermented?" That kind of silence?

Teeto:

I see what you're doing, but it won't work. Besides, I have weaker brothers who are offended by alcohol.

Paedo:

Well, that's a bit unfair, isn't it?

Teeto:

How do you mean?

Paedo:

Well, you created that weaker brother with your arguments. You can't create the weaker brother with your own error and then say you get to keep practicing communion the wrong way because you created someone who may be offended by practicing it the correct way.

Aside from that, though, you just switched your whole argument. Your argument before was that there's ambiguity. Now, it's that you have a weaker brother.

Teeto:

Look, let me make this real simple: The New Testament is ambiguous about what everyone but the Corinthians drank at communion. Therefore, there's freedom to drink whatever you please, so long as it is a "fruit of the vine," and so long as that vine is the grapevine.

However, although there's freedom, some people are offended by alcohol, so we must honor them by drinking grape juice.

Paedo:

Okay, so there's freedom to drink grape juice or wine, unless somebody erroneously thinks wine is sinful (likely due to erroneous teaching from some pastor down the line) in which case there is no freedom because of the whole weaker brother deal?

Teeto:

Exacly!

Paedo:

What if someone believes that there is no option as to what to drink, but in fact one must drink wine at communion? Since he believes there's no freedom, isn't he a weaker brother as well?

Teeto:

Have you ever played paper-rock-scissors? Grape juice weaker brother is weaker than wine weaker brother, so grape juice weaker brother wins.

Paedo:

Ha! I see, the weaker brother hierarchy, or lower-archy, as it were. You Baptists are so complicated.

So what about the crackers?

Teeto:

After careful consideration, we'll break bread, but we will never use wine.

Paedo:

Why switch to broken bread, then?

Teeto:

Well, we know he broke the bread.

Paedo:

Will you use leavened bread or unleavened bread?

Teeto:

Well, we'll go with unleavened, since we know that's what Jesus would've used based on history.

Paedo:

I see. But we don't know whether he used wine based on history?

Teeto:

We do. That is to say, we in the know do. But there are many who don't know, and as I said, they're the weaker brother.

Paedo:

Will you teach them that they're wrong?

Teeto:

Yes

Paedo:

So you'll teach them that they're wrong, but you won't make them change? I'm sure they'll get the lesson.

Teeto:

Hey, how did we come to focus on me so much? And since when did you care so much about language and proper symbolism?

Your haranguing of me regarding communion just destroyed your arguments regarding baptism! You just spent thirty minutes preaching to me about symbolism and language and history and all that.

You've wielded the axe that cut off your own legs! 

Paedo:

Look, I admit you have a textual argument for immersion. I never said you didn't. I disagree with it. I think you're pigheaded about it. But I concede you have a point.

Moderator:

And with that, our time's come to an end.

Thank you, gentlemen, for a lively debate here at the Protestant Palace Hotel. I'm sure we all enjoyed it! 

I wonder, if I invite everyone to go have a drink, are we going to have a debate about whether I mean beer? Because, I mean beer. 

Then, after a pint or three, everyone's invited to meet outside the hotel here, where we can all take a dip in the pool. And Paedo, when I say that, you don't have to just dip a toe in. You can go all the way, but you have to yell, "Baptizoooooooo!" as you jump off the diving board.

Friday, April 12, 2013

On Wine and Broken Bread at Communion


A. Introduction

Three issues are relevant to whether a congregant ought to have the option of eating broken bread and drinking wine at communion:

1.             Whether Jesus intentionally chose broken bread and wine, to the exclusion of other possible elements, to represent His body and blood.
2.             Whether churches have an obligation to preserve the sacrament of communion as Christ intended it to be practiced.
3.             Whether the Bible conveys authority to churches to materially and substantially alter a sacrament instituted by Christ.

I’ll not patronize the reader by writing “The Biblical Case for Using Broken Bread and Wine at Communion.” The idea that Jesus used anything other than broken bread and wine at the Last Supper is risible, and no one I know clings to the notion that Jesus and the apostles ate crackers and consumed grape juice that evening.

In the law we deal with something called “the burden of proof.” In lawsuits the party seeking relief has the burden of proof, and he must meet his burden in order to prevail. One frustrating aspect of debating what elements to use at communion is that the burden of proof has been shifted, inappropriately, by a tradition within the Baptist and Methodist denominations. (Thomas B. Welch of Welch's Grape Juice fame, was an ardent supporter of this, and his pasteurized grape juice was a hit with tee totaling Methodists.)

If we go back in time to the year 33, or so, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, we know that He used wine and bread, as did the early apostolic church. So it strikes me that if a man, or a church, or a denomination, desires to practice the Lord’s Supper other than the way in which Jesus and the apostolic church practiced communion, the burden should be on him. In other words, the proponents of juice and crackers ought have to “prove,” if you will, why it is that when Jesus uttered the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we may ignore the “this.”


B.        General Premises

The way in which we worship is formative.Each element of worship conveys truth. Our gathering together on Sunday mornings is, for instance, a statement to the world that Jesus was resurrected, that He has a people, and that He has called those people out of the world.Were we to do nothing but congregate on Sundays we would still proclaim the Resurrection and the future return of Christ. Our fellowship at the church-house and the friendly greetings we give to our brothers and sisters in Christ say something about community. Our singing with one another conveys truth about our awe of God, our love for Christ, and our unity as a body. Our use of kneelers is formative—we do it to create in us, as a church, a reverence for God, depicting a future time when we will fall prostrate at the feet of Jesus. We pray because we believe in a benevolent God who loves us. We recite creeds from throughout church history, not because no one in our congregation is capable of crafting a dozen orthodox lines, but to stand with the historic church in our recitation of truth, acknowledging that we are connected with the church throughout history. We read Scripture, typically standing,displaying a reverence for the Word of God, which is itself a way of worshiping Christ. We listen as the Word of God is proclaimed through preaching, by which we endorse the gospel, and through which we implore sinners to repent. We have an invitation where Christians and non-Christians may come forward and pray. We collect money from the saints to further the gospel through our pastors, our ministries, and our missions.

And there are certain days when we baptize people. Stirring the still waters of the font, immersing the penitent convert in a watery grave, and raising him to newness of life. We, as a denomination, care about this a great deal. We split, after all, from other Reformed Protestants hundreds of years ago because we declared that God ordained a very specific way in which man should be baptized: by immersion in water, after conversion. We would never immerse someone in mud, tomato juice, or a vat of Ginger Ale. Nor would we wash someone with water, “covering” him by wiping a wet washrag all over him. Why? Well, not only because God ordained that we use water and that we immerse, but because there is a meaning behind the water (it’s cleansing) and there is a meaning behind the immersion (death to life).

(Consider this hypothetical: A congregant expresses to his Baptist pastor that he’s considering leaving for a Reformed Presbyterian or Anglican church. The pastor points out to the congregant the paedobaptist’s error regarding baptism. He argues that the meaning of the term baptizo is to immerse in water, that immersion was how Christ was baptized, that immersion was how the early church practiced baptism (as is acknowledged by most all credible church historians) and that immersion has a deep, symbolic meaning. So the pastor points out to the congregant the language, the history, and the meaning behind baptism. Then our hypothetical congregant responds: “But they use wine and broken bread at the Lord’s Supper. What’s your argument for juice and crackers?” The Baptist pastor cannot rely at that point on language, history, or meaning of the elements. He must move to a different set of arguments, which stress that the Lord’s Supper is purely a symbol. I submit that the pastor, in that scenario, has just gutted his arguments about baptism by implying that what the Bible says about how to practice the Lord’s Supper is irrelevant.)

When God ordains something, His proffered methodology conveys a meaning. That is not to say that we will always understand His meaning, but we can (or we should) agree that God is, if anything, intentional rather than capricious with His choices.

C.        Reasons why taking communion as Jesus did should be important to you.

So why should we care about whether we have the option of drinking wine at communion, and why should we care about whether we eat actual bread that is plainly broken?

The short answer is that such is the “this” which Christ commanded us to do in remembrance of Him; we should do “this” rather than “something like this.” (Or at least we should be permitted to.) Jesus broke bread, poured wine, and the apostles ate the broken bread and drank the poured wine.

Also, the way in which we conduct communion has a formative effect on the congregation, just as baptism does. The shout of “Sola scriptura!” in a sermon on grace, followed by men passing out grape juice and crackers, because that’s our tradition, unwittingly communicates something very wrong. Without saying a word, we tacitly undermine the footings of our theology. The congregant sits, taking elements foreign to the actual Last Supper. While he may not be conscious that he is doing something materially different than what Christ commanded, it has a formative effect, the same way a woman preacher delivering a perfectly orthodox sermon has a formative effect on her audience,or watching a convert being baptized by sprinkling has a formative effect. For some, that effect will be a feeling that the church believes all drinking is wrong, or taboo. For others, it will serve as a prime example of how the church makes pragmatic decisions in spite of Scripture.

Using wine and broken bread would reconnect us to the historic church (including ancient Israel) in a way that grape juice and crackers do not, and cannot.

But the most important reason is the aforementioned idea that there must be an intentional reason for Christ choosing broken bread and wine to represent his body and blood, and that we should follow Christ in the Supper as we follow Him in baptism. In thinking about the bread, I can’t imagine a clearer metaphor. Jesus invoked this idea, preaching that He is the bread of life. The fact that the bread is broken is a beautiful symbol of the death of our Lord. Uniformly shaped crackers do not convey the broken body of Jesus like bread, broken, and distributed.

Wine was specifically chosen by God to represent the blood of Christ. Wine was used by Moses to recall the Passover,and to portend the cross. The combination of wine with bread at Passover was over a millennium and a half old by the time of Christ, and was more than another millennium and a half old before a well-intentioned Baptist thought to use grape juice. (I say "well-intentioned," but I do so half-heartedly. Is one well-intentioned if his intent is to have the church observe communion in a way Christ didn't intend?)

Wine’s potency is meaningful. Its imperishability compared to juice is meaningful. The Psalmist’s paeans of new wine in heaven are meaningful. Paul never suggesting to a drunken Corinthian church to switch to grape juice (or water) is meaningful. Wine is a gift from God to bring joy to man; grape juice isn’t. In the new heavens and new earth we will have new wine, not new juice. No man has a glass of grape juice overhigh-conversation. Wine nicely warms men’s hearts as they speak until the wee hours. No man woos his bride with grape juice. Grape juice doesn’t come close to pointing to the blood of Christ, any more than sugar-water does. Its sweetness belies the aura of that bitter night. Wine is celebratory and solemn all at once, capable of simultaneously directing our attention back to the cross and ahead to the wedding feast. Grape juice is what you serve to toddlers at a birthday party.

In fact, that we ought to drink wine is silently, though clearly, conveyed in our drinking juice. For the opponent of wine at communion, passing out grape juice is wielding the axe that cuts off his own legs. By drinking grape juice we at once say that the substance in the cup is irrelevant, and also that it matters immensely. When we eschew wine, we say, “It matters not what Jesus drank, or what God had Moses use, or what the apostolic church poured. We just need some liquid in the cup.” But when, of all the liquid drinks in the world, we choose dark red grape juice, we admit that the substance matters very much, indeed. But once we reject wine, our effort to replicate the essence of wine through grape juice rings hollow. (The oddity of this cannot be overstated, especially in light of the most common reasons for rejecting wine—a belief that alcohol is bad, or simply too dangerous to have in church. Choosing grape juice in this milieu is a bit like a vegan ordering chicken-flavored tofu: it satisfies the moral conscience, but mimics what he finds offensive.) If we really don’t think it matters what substance we put in the cup or on the plate, why do we go to such trouble to approximate broken bread and wine without actually serving it? Why not go with buttery croissants and grape-soda? Or cheese and Coca-Cola?

Wine is to grape juice as unleavened bread is to leavened bread. It’s wholly different. Imagine passing out a slice of Mrs. Baird’s to each congregant observing the Lord’s Supper. Most churches would be embarrassed, and no one would say, “Well, so long as it’s like unleavened bread, in that it’s still bread.”

There’s something to the notion that one has to wait a good while for wine to ferment. There’s a reason we don’t eat wheat and drink fresh-squeezed grape juice.

While some may say I'm being a wooden literalist, I would suggest that while I am no such thing, there is no question but that Christ literally chose specific elements to metaphorically represent His body and blood. To purposefully alter the physical metaphors He chose is akin to reading a verbal metaphor chosen by Christ in Scripture and altering it: “I am the moon, and you are the beams. When the beams are close to the moon they are bright and beautiful. When the beams reach away from the moon, they fade into the night.” We’d think any preacher was struck with lunacy (
har har) for reading the parable of the vine that way. But when we intentionally and materially alter a physical metaphor, well, that is deemed a reasonable display of sensitivity to those who may be offended. What is not considered is whether God may be the least bit perturbed at the hubris of an almost four thousand year old way of doing things being switched up because of the Temperance Movement, particularly in light of the imperative: Do this.

D.        Conclusion

When Jesus said, "Do this," what did He mean?