I was at a CEU seminar the other day with Dr. Henry Spalding, provost at MVNU, and previous professor of theology/philosophy at ENC, TNU and NTS. I asked a question about the spectrum of understandings regarding the sacraments present in the denomination. His answer was long and quite good. Two comments in particular stood out, but we shall address them one at a time:
"There is no way anyone can read anything but a memorialist view in what our Articles of Faith actually say."
That comment was a little surprising to me. Is it possible to see in our AoF's a real presence theology? Is it possible to see anything but a memorialist theology? His comment really got me thinking.
Regarding the AoF on "The Lord's Supper,"
I would agree that the Memorialist language is very strong. That noted, however, I would argue that the AoF opens the door to a more thoroughly Wesleyan reading by its inclusion of "memorial" and "communion". Communion is what two people share when they are together. Communion requires presence. So to say it is both "memorial" and "communion" is merely a paraphrase of Wesley's definition "(1) an outward sign of an inward grace, (2) and a means by which we receive the same."
My second argument is a grammatical one. Perhaps it is a stretch, but I think it is a valid reading. I am not a grammarian (so some of you who are feel free to jump in) but look at the following statement:
"We believe that the Memorial and Communion Supper
instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essentially
a New Testament sacrament, declarative of His sacrificial
death, through the merits of which believers have life and
salvation and promise of all spiritual blessings in Christ. "
Does this read that the "Memorial and Communion Supper" is a sacrament that declares his death, and that it is through the merits of his death by which believers have life? Or could it also be read that the "Memorial and Communion Supper" as sacrament is declarative of his death AND the it is the sacrament through which believers have "life and salvation and promise of all spiritual blessing." At this point, I don't want to argue the theology of either statement, only to ask if both are acceptable readings? For if the latter is a valid grammatical reading there is no doubt that the AoF could be understood in terms of Christ's presence and as a means of grace.
Concerning our Article on Baptism, doesn't the mere fact that the article affirms the validity of infant baptism move us beyond memoralism? There are two major understandings of infant baptism. One being a sacrament of prevenient grace; the other being a sacrament of salvation. Now if we hold that infant baptism is a sacrament of prevenient grace and believer baptism is a sacrament of saving grace, then we are talking apples and oranges -- two different baptisms. Surely this is not the case. If, however, baptism is baptism is baptism regardless of when or how, as our article seems to read, then we have to accept that both paedo- and credo- baptism are the sacrament of salvation, and thus the acceptance of infant baptism moves beyond memorialism.
So the question then, is not really what do you believe or what Wesley believed or what Wesleyans ought to believe. The question is, what do our AoF permit us to believe? and what do you read that brings you to your conclusion?