Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nazarenes: "Memorial" or "Real Presence"?

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?


Todd Stepp said...

Eric+, . . . Here we go . . .

First, I believe your gramatical question (i.e., your conclusion) is invalid, because the wording is not ". . . through which believers have life . . .," but rather, ". . . through THE MERITS of which . . ." - It cannot mean the merits of the sacrament, but it must mean the merits of "His sacrificial death."

Second, I do like your stretching the term "Communion" in the article to argue for memorial and real presence. - I do think, though, it is still stretching.

The truth is, compared to the other two largest Wesleyan-holiness denominations (The Wesleyan Church & the Free Methodist Church - not including the non-sacramental Salvation Army, or the restorationist Church of God, Anderson), the Church of the Nazarene has the weakest articles on the Lord's Supper, sacramentally speaking.

I talked with Rob Staples about this, to which he responded (as I recall!), something like, "I believe our article of faith . . . I believe at least that much!"

Which is to say that our article does not say it all, nor is it intended to say it all. Though I wish it said more!

My argument has always been that, in the article, we call it a "sacrament." For a self-identified Wesleyan denomination to use the term "sacrament" is to do so within a Wesleyan context. That context requires a Wesleyan definition. To say "sacrament" in an article of faith (remember this word is not the title, but a part of the article, itself) is to say "an outward sign of an inward grace and a means whereby we receive the same." - That is the Wesleyan definition of a sacrament (short version).

If that argument is valid, then the article can be read as sacramental, rather than just memorial/ordinance. Though, of course, the memorial aspect is what is explicit.

I'll break this up and talk about baptism in my next comment!


Todd Stepp said...

Before moving on to baptism . . .

The article of faith is a minimal statement, no way around that. However, if the rituals of the church, though not binding, can be read sacramentally (i.e., real presence), then the implication is that a doctrine of real presence is at least permitted by the article of faith.

Our ritual on the Lord's Supper, does talk about taking "these emblems." However, it also says, ". . . and, by faith, partake of the life of Jesus Christ . . ." - How? By taking the emblems by faith, i.e., by partaking of the sacrament in faith we receive the life of Jesus Christ.

Further, the ritual says, "Let us not forget that we are one, at one table WITH THE LORD." That is, Christ is really present (if not in the bread and juice, at least at the Table).

Additionally, in our prayer, we ask that ". . . as we receive . . ." the sacrament, ". . . we may be made partakers of the benefits of His atoning sacrifice." - That is certainly more than a memorial view.

That is, of course the ritual, not the article. It does indicate, though, that the article is not meant to be read exclusively as a memorial.

Having said all of that, I wish that the article was more clearly sacramental in nature.

I have refrained from writing resolutions that mess with the articles or the constitution, because it is my experience that you never know what committees will do with them. If they see the article as threatening their view, they may ammend it to say explicitly what you don't want it to say. - If I were also a delegate to the G.A., I could at least stand up for and argue for the resolution, but I don't forsee my being a delegate anytime soon!


Todd Stepp said...

Concerning infant baptism, our ritual (which is not binding upon us) clearly states that "we do not hold that baptism iimparts the regenerating grace of God."

I disagree with the ritual. I tried to have it changed. They did change it, but they did not change that part.

One can argue that, of course, it is GOD who imparts regenerating grace through baptism, not that baptism, itself imparts it. But such an argument tries to work around the intent.

The other part of the ritual says that "Christian baptism signifies for this young child God's acceptance . . . on the basis of prevenient grace." - The ritual, thereby, is NOT sacramental. It does not impart nor is it a means whereby the child receives even prevenient grace, but rather is a proclamation of the prevenient grace that is already there!

It is clearly different in meaning than "Christian baptism for adults."

It is a terrible ritual, from a sacramental point of view, as well as from a Wesleyan point of view. That is, prevenient grace is a Wesleyan concept; Infant baptism is a Wesleyan concept, but putting the two together is NOT Wesleyan.

Staples makes Wesley's position (viz., baptismal regeneration in the case of infant baptism) clear in his book, and does everthing but say "I believe this and this is what we should believe." He does everthing but say that, likely because he knows that NPH wouldn't go for it.

I really wish we could change the ritual, but the view expressed seems to be the prevailing view of those who have greatest influence.

Thankfully, as I have said, we are not bound to the rituals.


Brannon Hancock said...

I have to agree with Todd's point about the "grammar" of the article to which Eric's post pointed us. I don't think there is any way to validate a reading of that passage other than that "through the merits of which" refers not to the sacrament but to Jesus' death.

At a "lowest-common-denominator" level, we are memorialists. I think I have to agree (unfortunately) with my philosophy prof Dr. Spaulding that you just can't get around this. However, I want to agree with Todd AND Eric that I don't think our AsOF say all there is to say, or "close down" possible avenues of belief about the sacraments. Todd makes a great point that just by using the language of "sacrament" rather than "ordinance" we are in much better shape to make the case for Real Presence.

The point about our rituals (some of which, I agree, are terrible) not being binding is also a great reminder. I am working on the ritual by which we will baptize my son Joseph (1 yr old) and other than some bits from Middendorff's Church Rituals Handbook, my sources are entirely non-Nazarene, and I am using nothing from the "official" Nazarene rituals in the Manual (I've even gone back into earlier editions - decades back! - of the Manual to see if I can salvage anything I like or agree with...but

I think, however possible, we just have to make the case for a truly *sacramental* theology of Communion and Baptism, and embody it through our praxis, and slowly move our people toward a better conception of what's going on with these two actions - starting with the affirmation that sacraments are first about what GOD is doing, and only secondarily about our response. God is the principal actor, not us.

J.B. Chapman said...

I personally do not have anything of substance to add to this discussion except that I do not hold to the memorialists perspective, but most of my fellow pastors on my district do.

I would urge those who have the WTJ (Wesleyan Theological Journal 43 no 2 Fall 2008, p 101-122.) to read "A Wesleyan Analysis of the Nazarene Doctrinal Stance on the Lord's Supper" by Kyle Tau. It is pertinent to this discussion. Since it is not available through ATLA, I copied and pasted the PDF (from WTJ CD) and have it if you want a copy email me at epiclesis (at) gmail (dot) com.

FYI - I will be out hunting this weekend, so I might not get to you as soon as you want, but will do it asap.

Todd Stepp said...

In terms of promoting the sacramental position, I have for years recommended to other pastors, and those coming through the process of ordination, Rob Staples book, "Outward Sing and Inward Grace."

Rob is thoroughly Wesleyan.

It really is a fantastic book, and the only theology of the sacraments published from within the Wesleyan-holiness branch of the tradition.

Most pastors will consider it, because it comes from NPH. Plus the foreword is by William Greathouse.

If you have extra money (ha!) give it to a pastor (or at least your d.s., if s/he doesn't have a copy).

You'd think I was getting a cut, wouldn't you!


Dave Belcher said...

Part I


You say: "Concerning our Article on Baptism, doesn't the mere fact that the article affirms the validity of infant baptism move us beyond memoralism?" I'm not sure that it does, actually, and specifically because Zwingli himself -- the origin of what has come to be known as the "memorialist" view -- also held to the validity of infant baptisms (he espoused this position when he came into contact with the Anabaptists in Zurich -- who rubbed him the wrong way, politically and theologically). I think it's probably more appropriate to say that the Articles on both baptism and eucharist tend toward a Zwinglian (and thus Reformed!) understanding of "sacraments." And thus it is important to stress that Zwingli also held the Lord's Supper to be a "sacrament" (as he did baptism, whether infant or adult), only, he took "sacrament" to mean something very specific tied to his understanding of the functioning of a "sign" (which is clearly not Augustine's understanding of the same -- I believe Wesley tends to a much more Augustinian understanding of "visible word" than does Zwingli).

In fact, a close look at the wording of the baptismal Article is revealing (omitting the third paragraph):

"XII. Baptism
16. We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.
Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training."

Note especially that baptism is first said "to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior" and only then, and on the basis of the fact that baptism is a "symbol of the new covenant," is it noted that children are able to be baptized -- but here still only on the condition of testimony of (god)parents who are willing to raise them in the faith.

Dave Belcher said...

Part II

This is significant in that it is in close parallel to Zwingli's own acceptance of infant baptism. He understood baptism of infants to be a welcoming of them into the family of God -- Zwingli was an extremely corporate and communal thinker, something often glossed over -- or, more precisely, into the covenant, and thus, while infants could not respond in faith, if their parents were indeed a part of the covenant society by faith, then baptism served as a sign of the children having been brought into the covenant (conditional on the parents' oath to bring up the children in the faith). Belief was thus still requisite -- only, parents' belief could act as a proxy, if you will, for the infants' equal lack of such. And tied to this point is also the first line of the Article: Baptism "is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ." As Todd and Brannon have noted with respect to eucharist, here baptism is tied up not with an incorporation in Christ's saving death, but it signifies the acceptance of the benefits (holding a close relationship to "merits") of Christ's atoning death. Again, the parallel with Zwingli is striking. Baptism is not a saving grace for Zwingli -- remember, he was a strong predestinarian, and he didn't believe in original sin, so baptism can't "add" anything to one's already having been elect -- but is a "sign" (in the sense of a public reference point) of one's having been included in the covenant community of faith...which is precisely where Christ's benefits are enjoyed spiritually because by faith.

Well, that was sprawling, and I may not have added much to this conversation, but I think that Brannon is right here: the rubrics or the Ritual, as Todd pointed out, are not binding on liturgical practice (and neither do the "Articles" serve as delimiting what can and can't be believed, in the older confessional sense), and thus while we may honestly see a deep Zwinglianism present in the Articles of Faith -- and elsewhere, epsecially in practice -- the antidote to such, in this case, is a different practice...something folks like you, Eric, have already begun to do. Peace.

Brannon Hancock said...

Thanks for this refresher on Zwingli, Dave - very helpful! Sheds much light on our liturgical identity crisis. Maybe Dr. Gunter was right when she said "reformed theology" was one of the biggest threats facing the holiness movement today! ;-)