Sunday, February 11, 2007


A discussion starter from Dr Peter Toon

In the use of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there is the tendency on the side of evangelical Protestantism to see them as human activities offered to God, and on the side of liberal Protestants (including Episcopalians) to see them as existing for their social implications in this world. Thus Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are seen in terms of (i) a person dedicating himself to God, and of remembering the atoning death of the Lord Jesus by Evangelicals; and (ii) a person dedicating himself to improving the created order and of being energized to go out into the world to join God in the mission of revolutionary change by liberal, progressive Protestants.

Let us here reflect upon the latter.

Here the question is not, Whether the Sacraments have social implications, for they most surely do (as Scott-Holland and Gore pointed out a century ago for Anglicans and Vatican II for Catholics in the mid 1960s); but, Whether the social implications are the primary purpose of the Sacraments.

It is well to remember as we begin our reflections that while Baptism requires only water, from a stream or a well or a manufactured water line, the Lord’s Supper requires bread and wine. Unlike water, bread and wine are not found as such in the earth but are made by human hands in complex processes from what is found in the earth. Thus what is needed for the visible part of the Sacrament of ENTRY into the Body of Christ is easily attainable from nature, but what is needed for the visible part of the Sacrament of REMAINING WITHIN the Body of Christ has to be made from nature’s fruit. This reminds us that the human being is a wonderful unity of flesh and spirit, not a pure spirit imprisoned in an alien body and not the most advanced product of biological evolution; and it is as a person who is a unity of spirit and flesh, that God ministers to him through Sacraments (which have both visible and invisible aspects). And the fact that man uses bread and wine for the Sacrament point clearly to relations and implications of the Sacrament and those who receive it to the world from where the bread and wine are taken. For the Church which kneels at the Holy Table to ignore the world outside, with its sorrows and problems, would be to deny the processes and context from which bread and wine of the Sacrament came. By using bread and wine—and oil for anointing—the Church is necessarily implicated in the world around it.

However, the Sacraments are first and foremost by the institution of the Lord Jesus Christ for the purpose of making, preserving, extending, maturing and perfecting the Body of Christ, the household of God the Father, the people of God. They are actions of God through his Ministers which call for the response of man and which have the purpose of drawing human beings into closer union with the Lord Jesus Christ so that through, with and in him, the Mediator and High Priest, they can be presented to the Father as one body, one people, one household, to worship and glorify him, to serve and obey him. The end of man is to enjoy and glorify God for ever not as a solitary individual but within the one Body of Christ as one member together with countless others.

The social implication arise because the Church of God is a divine society and a people who belong to the heavenly Jerusalem. In the world, this people is as salt to prevent putrefaction and is as light to bring illumination in the darkness. Yet the purpose of this involvement for and in the world is not only to improve the world and the lot of people therein; but it is to point to the new heaven and the new earth, to the way of eternal life in following the Lord Jesus. So, as it has been said, the Church has many functions in society (differing from place to place and culture to culture) but it must never—and can never if it is true to its God-given nature as the Mystical Body of Christ—become a mere function of society. The Church is the society of the heavenly Jerusalem and of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity. Thus in functioning within society the Church never takes it agenda from the world but only from the teaching of Christ and his apostles.

In The Episcopal Church, especially since the 1960s, the social implications of the Sacraments have been seen and acted upon. Regrettably, they have not usually been seen in the proper perspective. While it is possible to read the Service of Baptism and Holy Eucharist in the 1979 Prayer Book as seeing the social implications as subordinate to and arising from the act of Christ in drawing persons into his own self (that is into his glorified human nature) by his Sacraments, the reality is that they have been read by the progressive leadership in terms of their social implications and—virtually—their social implications only. They have become the means to apply—while using the familiar language of Christian Zion from the received tradition of worship— the doctrine of God as the divine Spirit as being primarily around, through and in the universe, and only, in a secondary sense, transcendent and apart from it (thus panentheism, process theology or pantheism are usually in place in Episcopal spheres).

So in reference to Baptism—as the installation of the lady Presiding Bishop in November 2006 illustrated to perfection—what is taken absolutely seriously is the so-called “Baptismal Covenant,” and within it the part where the baptized commit themselves to striving for peace and justice in the world and recognizing the dignity of all persons. And we know that this commitment is, in real terms, roughly the equivalent of the social and political agenda of the United Nations to improve this world—e.g. the so-called millennium goals.

And in reference to the Holy Eucharist, what is taken seriously are (a) the passing of the peace as an affirmation of the dignity of all and that God is through and in all whoever they are and whatever their orientation and nature; (b) the community spirit and the subordination of individualism to communitarianism for action; and (c) the being sent out into the world to do the will of God (that is, to fulfill the Baptismal Covenant). The priest/priestess at the altar, and the eating of bread and drinking of wine, are ways of identifying with Jesus the friend of outcasts, the needy and the unwanted. The sense that the Eucharist is the being lifted up to heaven to share in the Messianic Banquet with the whole company of heaven is not present—except perhaps in some metaphorical way to emphasize communal sharing on earth.

There is minimal or no reference in modern Episcopalianism on Baptism as the Sacrament of Regeneration (that is of being born again into the eternal kingdom of God, the heavenly family of God and the Mystical Body of Christ), which looks to heaven and not to earth primarily; and when looking at earth sends for the baptized as identified with the crucified Saviour to do battle with sin and Satan. Likewise there is minimal or no reference on the Eucharist as the Institution of Christ to be built up into him, into real members of the Mystical Body, to real union through him and by the Spirit with the Father. This is because the emphasis is basically immanentalist and horizontal, with little regard for the vertical and transcendent. Practically speaking God is subordinated to the cosmos.

Though the 1979 Prayer Book can be used by discerning people in ways that accord with the received tradition of orthodox Common Prayer, regrettably its primary and normal use in the modern Episcopal Church seems to be in the service of a new kind of Episcopal Religion which, while using a good amount of traditional terms, words and music, is in fact propagating a wholly different Deity and religion than that received by this Church from the Ecclesia Anglicana centuries ago.

[See further the 64 page booklets: Anglican Identity for a global Communion; The Anglican Formularies and Scripture; and Episcopal Innovations 1960-2004 by me from or 1 800 727 1928 ] Sexagesima, 2007

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