Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sacramentalism & Spiritual (Un)employment

Phil's blog is up and runnning, and the sparks are already flying (pun intended).

His first topical post - on the dangers of Internet calvinism - is pretty fair (even if he paints BHT and IMonk with a broad brush). His second post is more puzzling.

He quotes a bit from one of MacArthur's forthcoming books that he's editing (nice bit of advert, Phil ;-} ...)

Human instinct seems to tell us that what we do is more important than what we believe. But that is a false instinct, the product of our fallen self-righteousness. It is a totally wrong way of thinking—sinfully wrong. We must never think more highly of our works for Christ than we do of His works on our behalf.


Good so far as it goes (but I would say that our beliefs should shape our actions, and that to place primacy on one against the other is wrong). But certainly, Christ's works on our behalf are more important than our own in response.

Now, comes the problem. Phil's commentary on the above paragraph states...

That pretty much sums up the whole gist of my concerns about the drift of modern evangelicalism—including evangelicals' obsession with political remedies for moral maladies, the rise of sacramentalist doctrines, the various attacks on the doctrines of imputation and the active obedience of Christ, and the general tendencies of "purpose-driven" and "seeker-sensitive" philosophies (where methodology is stressed and the content of the gospel message is neglected).


Ooooo-kay. Some of this I can track with - the political and methodological criticisms, for example. They too often do spring from a focus on our actions without due consideration of the beliefs and motivations that drive those actions. I may even buy into the same criticism about non-imputational views of the atonement (it depends on who he's criticizing and why). But sacramentalism? The whole point of sacramentalism is that it is not US doing the "work" in receiving God's offered mercies - it is Christ and the Spirit. It is God in Christ meeting with us at the table, it is the Spirit who unites us to the covenenat body in baptism. Do we work in the process? Yes, but only in the sense that we also "work" in faith - we *do* believe when we have faith, even if that faith is itself God's gift. Our work is passive, and secondary to God's work which must come first.

It is the non-sacramentalists who see baptism and the eucharist as merely something WE do.

So, what is Phil talking about?

6 Comments:

Blogger ct said...

Sacramentalism refers to the subject of regeneration. Regeneration is effected, when it is, by the Word and the Spirit, not by ritual 'sacraements'.

Get baptised, participate in the Lord's Supper, but don't think they regenerate you.

And beware churches and clerics who exalt clerical hierarchies and ritual sacraments to suppress the Word and the Spirit (the Roman Catholic Church being the obvious standard for this practice, but see it by degree infiltrate any visible church).

3:49 PM  
Blogger blepein said...

Xenophon is right on the money with Sacramentalism involving regeneration. It also includes Justification as Catholicism does by using the sacraments to infuse sanctifying grace into the soul and finally purified in purgatory for final Justification to be complete.
Baptism may put you into a covenant family as a baby but it is not salvation. It is the promise ,seal and sign of the covenant which promises to save those who call upon the name of the Lord. I believe sacraments do infuse grace into the soul but it is not the grounds of our justification. That is only the imputed righteousness of Christ which we receive the moment we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The sacraments are to be used to grow in grace and sanctification,not justification.
Sacraments have a vital part in our christian life. Sacramentalism does not.

7:01 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

Interesting, how the posts on Christian love and charity get so few commments (here and at Phil's blog) while this post gets them...

I never intended for "sacramentalism" to mean justification by the sacraments. So "sacramentalism" does not entail Catholicism. What I said was that there is spiritual work going on in the sacraments, and that God is the major worker involved. There is good scriptural support for saying this - and support within the context of classic Reformed theology as well. Just read Luther (Babylonian Captivity of the Church) and Calvin (Institutes, IV:17-18) for clear examples.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Phil Johnson said...

Doug, you wrote:

"I would say that our beliefs should shape our actions, and that to place primacy on one against the other is wrong."

If beliefs should shape our actions, then beliefs by definition have primacy.

What you are saying (correctly) is that right belief is the cause of all truly good works. "Good" works divorced from faith aren't really good. So unless you want to argue that the cause has no primacy over effect, you've contradicted yourself.

8:25 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

I take it this is the promised whupping? ;-}

Phil, what I'm trying to do here is work out the relation between my beliefs and works. It's all well and good to say beliefs have primacy. But I see the bigger problem in our circles as beliefs divorced from actions. I've seen too much emphasis on getting across right beliefs, with precious little actions of love to go with it. I know I've been guilty of that myself - you've seen it on the old list.

I'm sick of debating Calvinism with people, Phil. Tell me - how many people do you think I've convinced via Internet argumentation over the years? I can't think of even one. And the debates get too ugly and too personal, too quickly. That's a big reason I'm not on the list anymore. There's a place for doing teaching and debates like that - I'm just beginning to think it's best done personally, in the context of a local church.

I'm not saying Calvinism's not true - I'm just wondering if I haven't been focusing on the distinctives of Calvinism to the detriment of seeing the wider implications of the body of Christ. We say we believe in "once holy, universal, and apostolic church" - do we really believe it? The way we Christians talk about each other on the Web, I sometimes wonder.

Did my words seem contradictory? Maybe so. I no longer make any claims to infallibility, if I ever did. I won't try to defend every small point of what I say here. But I'm wrestling with these issues right now - theology vs unity, revelation vs our understanding of it, what it means to be a Christian in America - and this blog is a chronicle of that struggle. Frankly, I'm surprised how deeply others have been sucked into it (and how deeply I've been sucked into the BHT/iMonk sphere of things). And I haven't said anything here I haven't said before to my pastor and close friends in my church - those to whom I hold myself spiritually accountable.

This is a public blog, so I welcome comments and even criticisms. I need the accountability. And I know I'm not where I was at when we last knew each other. So by all means, be honest and critical of what I say. Let's just do it in charity. Hokay? ;-}

8:56 PM  
Blogger Phil Johnson said...

Doug wondered, "I take it this is the promised whupping? ;-}"

You have GOT to be kidding. You know me better than that. You can't get off the hook THAT easily. ;-0

11:43 PM  

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