Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sacraments and the PCA GA


This year at the PCA general assembly there was a culoquium (an academic "get-together") on the Sacraments. The audio for all five sessions can be found here. All and all the papers that were given were good (a few points that I did not agree with, but they were addressed in the Q & A time) and the atmosphere was very Christ exulting.

During the Question and Answer section of the culoquium Dr. Ligon Duncan made a passing remark about the nature of the sacraments. He said that the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, are not "justificational;" rather they should be understood as "sanctificational" (as a side note, one of the coolest things about theologians is the fact that they get to make up new words!). This language and understanding of the sacraments is a good way to understand the efficacy (the "working-ness") of the sacraments. However, some do not think the sacraments are "simply concerned with 'sanctification.'"

Those who want to understand the sacraments as more than sanctification agree that there is an aspect of justification to the sacraments.
Baptism does not just convey the message of “You are holy.” It does not only say, “You are set apart from the world.” It also says, “Your sins are forgiven.” So too with the Eucharist. “This is my body, broken for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for the remission of sins.”

Those are “justificational” ideas.

The problem, as I understand it, with this view is it misses the role of justification in our sanctification. If you notice in the argument that our "sins are forgiven." This is in the past. In other words, baptism reminds us, if we have faith and repent of our sins, that we are forgiven. This is not properly understood as justification, but rather as reminding us of our justification, which is sanctification. It seems to me to be misunderstanding that fact that part of sanctification is being reminded, daily, that we are justified. This is not the same thing as saying that sanctification has aspects of justification in it. It is right to say that these are "justificational" ideas, but it still remains that the the sacraments are dealing with sanctification, and not justification proper.

16 comments:

  1. The question, of course, would be how are the sacraments justificational? Are we denying the once-for-all nature of justification? Are we to say that the primary nature of sanctification is looking back on what has occurred and believing that? Or, as the standards teach, are we to affirm that the primary focus of sanctification is the progressive Spirit-wrought transformation whereby we are more and more recreated into the likeness of Christ?

    Certainly, the sacraments are based on what has occurred on our behalf upon the cross and in the application of redemption in us at a particular place and time. No one should argue that sanctification is not intricately tied to justification, in that no one can be sanctified who has not been first justified. However, the greater part of sanctification is NOT looking back to what has been done, but present transformation.

    Finally, I think it is important to see what Duncan was saying. The Sacraments pertain to sanctification, not justification. Anyone who balks at that statement, it seems to me, is just looking for something to quibble with.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "However, the greater part of sanctification is NOT looking back to what has been done, but present transformation."

    That doesn't strike me as mainstream Reformed but more in keeping with something one might find in the Radical Reformation.

    I think the reverse is actually more Reformed, since sanctification is tied to the heels of justification. If Calvinism is true then looking inward to "present transformation" will render more despair than relief. Remember, the gospel, as Luther told his overly introspective and consequently morose assistant, is completely outside us. That's good news.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Josh,

    I'm not actually sure if you've criticized my position or not, but you have certainly made it look as if you are criticizing it.

    How about two more portions of what I wrote:

    "I think I understand and agree with the theological truth that he is trying to safeguard in this sort of statement, but I also think that the whole manner of speaking is cumbersome and inaccurate."

    And also:

    "So perhaps rather than simply confining the sacraments to sanctification simpliciter, we should explain that a major part of sanctification is the realization, apprehension, and strengthening of belief in our justification. The sacraments talk about objective justification, and our sanctification believes what is proclaimed."

    So, the first thing to note is that you and I are in theological agreement over what justification is and what sanctification is. Thus the "big stuff" is not at stake.

    The "debate" would be over how to use a new word like "justificational" and what that might mean. I as addressing the manner of speaking.

    Now it is obviously false to say that the sacraments only pertain to sanctification. The sacraments sign, signify, represent, and exhibit (a systematic term meaning "hold out" or "make present") the person of Jesus Christ and all of this benefits.

    Baptism signs and seals ingrafting to Christ and remission of sins (WCF 28.1). So too, the Lord's Supper seals "all benefits" of Christ's sacrifice to believers (WCF 29.1).

    Thus they certainly do pertain/refer to justification as much as sanctification. Forgiveness is a justificational idea. Now there's also sanctificational stuff in there too: regeneration, growth in Christ, etc. The two conceptare distinct, and both are brought to mind in the right use of the sacraments.

    And of course there is certainly a difference between thinking about justification and thinking about sanctification. Even if you include "thinking about justification" within the benefits of sanctification, the two terms still carry different meanings when commonly used.

    Take Luther for example. I know he's a papist, but whatever. One of his great comforts was his baptism. His baptism let him know that he was safe and secure. He didn't have to continue to become holy to be accepted by God. Baptism didn't start a process. It was not primarily concerned with moral preparation or internal righteousness.

    Instead it was a testimony to justification extra nos, a truth which only had to be believed, and its memory always made him sure of his acceptance with God. He knew he was forgiven.

    That's a great pastoral reason to consider the sacraments as justificational. They are sure testimonies of the truth that you are justified. It is something good to know.

    If they are only speaking of sanctification, then the door is certainly left open for moralism and self-salvation. One will think of himself and his own moral state.

    Thankfully, they testify to God's free grace and the all sufficiency of Christ's accomplished worked.

    But again, you essentially concluded what I did. A filled out sanctification includes the realization of justification. Sorry if that's a buzzkill.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey check it out. Steve and I agree on this one!

    Life is fun.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Steven,

    Steve or Steve?

    Steve

    (The name Steve sounds funny when you say Steve four times....er, six times.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Perhaps the entire quotation from Duncan would be helpful. Below is the question and his response:

    Question: Please speak to the possibility that God could overrule the improper teachings and misconceptions of the sacraments in both memorialistic and Roman Catholic traditions and still accomplish at least a measure of what he intends despite the misunderstanding of the elect in such fellowships.


    Response: Apart from the problems related to fellowships in which the Gospel is not preached as it is set forth clearly in God’s Word, the answer to that question is yes: God can and thankfully he does. He saves us from our inconsistencies and occasionally saves us by our inconsistencies. And he is gracious to show his mercy to us despite our misunderstandings. That having been said, if fundamentally I view the sacraments as something I have to do in order to receive grace that changes me so that I am accepted, then I will be missing the fundamental point of the sacraments to me, which is: in Christ I have been accepted. And so if, in any case, the sacraments are viewed as justificational as opposed to sanctificational the dynamic of the initiative of God to us in mercy is interrupted and so grossly skewed that it deeply impairs the ability of the recipient to gain the assurance that God intends to convey. That is why we care that the gospel is preached clearly, that is why we care that the sacraments are instituted biblically and scripturally when they are administered. And preferably, we would be in communions where at least that much was understood about the sacrament as it was administered. Can you receive the blessing of God’s grace conferred in a memorialistic, Zwinglian, service? Much to their chagrin, yes you can. Would it be more helpful to have a more full orbed understanding of the sacraments in order to gain the assurance that God intended? Yes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. To steve (not Steven nor Steve Tipton... this is going to get confusing):

    Sanctification is the process of being 'sanctified:' being made holy. That implies more than just looking back to something that happened in the past. It means a present, certainly ongoing, transformation. I am not opposed to saying that a part of sanctification is the application of those benefits conferred in justification. However, those are the foundation upon which real, personal, spiritual change is made.

    Further, I am not surprised that Luther said that. But then again, I am not a Lutheran.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Steven,

    After reading your post and your comment, your view really confuses me. At times you seem to be saying that the sacraments deal only with sanctification. Understanding sanctification as the renewal of the person and remembering justification. Other times you seem to be saying that the sacraments are about both sanctification proper and justification proper. Could you help me out?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Might I propose that we should all change our names to some form of Steven?

    Josh, you can be J-Steve.
    I can be Steve-a
    Jason can be Gabrul-Steve
    Steve can stay Steve.
    Steve Tipton can keep his name, too.
    Finally, Steven will have to change his name altogether to Umberto so that things don't get confusing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Josh writes:

    After reading your post and your comment, your view really confuses me. At times you seem to be saying that the sacraments deal only with sanctification. Understanding sanctification as the renewal of the person and remembering justification. Other times you seem to be saying that the sacraments are about both sanctification proper and justification proper. Could you help me out?

    Ok, I guess this all depends on what "deal with" and "are about" mean.

    To clear the air, the sacraments do not "cause" (barring various Aristotelian distinctions) either justification or sanctification. Both are based on Christ's work and received through faith which is given only by the power of the Spirit.

    But, when it comes to what the sacraments are "all about," the simple answer is Jesus. The sacraments are promises of God's good will. This is also known as Jesus. The sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant. The covenant is also known as Jesus. The sacraments are a picture of the gospel. The gospel is also known as Jesus.

    So, the sacraments picture, promise, proclaim, signify, seal, exhibit, etc. the person of Jesus Christ, and this includes a message about both forgiveness of sins and new holiness.

    So that's all I meant. Baptism is communicating a message about justification as well as sanctification.

    yours,
    Umberto

    ReplyDelete
  11. Adam,

    I was "Esteban" in high school Spanish. This is partly my fault though; when I signed up I didn't use my handle-at-large, which is Zrim. I'll try and manually sign that way for everyone's sake.

    Steve T.,

    The problem is that sanctification is more mysterious than not. So looking to it seems to muddy things inherently. Plus, my Calvinism (depsite the latent Lutheran charge) tells me that when I look at myself it only gets worse, which only producers more despair, for which the only remedy seems to be casting my eyes upon the upraised serpent in the desert.

    How justification was manifest is not so mysterious; the testimony of Jesus is something I can follow. I don't understand very well how it became (watch out, more Luther coming) the "great exchange." That is indeed mysterious. But I believe it. I can hang my hat on it. When I look to how well I've progressed, well, I am left shuffling my feet.

    While sanctification is largely a mysterious work, the law gives it its structure. We abide by it while God does his mysterious work in us; and, if we are being honest as Calvinists, that work is painfully slow and barely perceptible. The law is sufficient for now.

    Just because Luherans say something doesn't mean it's bad (that's the Baptists you're thinking of). Don Matzat said that we are growing as we understand ourselves as shrinking. You know, that I might decrease so that he might increase?


    Zrim

    ReplyDelete
  12. Zrim:

    1. I would not disagree with Luther that the Gospel is outside us. But that is the Gospel. Sanctification is not outside us. It is inside us. It is something that happens TO us, IN us.

    2. I also would not disagree that there is an element of mystery to sanctification. At the same time, that does not mean that because I do not notice every change in me, or because I do not always know how that change is being wrought (have conscience understanding as it is happening), that I must then give it up and not look at it. As John Murray said: "the whole redemptive process, as it has respect to the people of God, is conformity to the image of Christ" (Col Writings vol 2, p 297). Mystery or not, it is something to which we must attend.

    3. You said, "when I look at myself it only gets worse." What gets worse? I was not sure what you meant there.

    4. Our progression may be slow, it may be in fits and starts, but it IS progress. There can be no assurance without that growth, without the fruit of the Spirit being evident in our life. Far from being overly introspective, this is a huge part of the manner in which we can be assured of our salvation.

    5. I would agree that Christ's work for me is the greatest incentive towards good works. That is not the same as saying that I can pass over self-examination to cross-meditation. Both are important.

    6. Finally, I like Luther. Much of what he said was spot on and incredibly helpful. However, he was not a Calvinist (as anachronistic as that is). For Luther, at times it seems that all that mattered to him was justification. Not so for Calvin. For Calvin, the Christian life was not simply about being justified, but a life of self-denial. Not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved. Certainly I decrease even as I am sanctified, but that is because every step I take towards likeness to my savior only highlights how far I have to go. There are deep, deep valleys that I have not even begun to see yet, and high, high mountains which seem may easy from this perspective. Every time I, through the power of the Holy Spirit, overcome sin in my life, my Savior grows from my perspective: my understanding of his grace increases, my understanding of his love, of his sacrifice on my behalf, of his faithfulness to carry out to completion this good work he has begun in me.

    ReplyDelete
  13. 1.Agreed that it is inside us. But it is necessarily tied to justification, which is outside. I see this more organically; it seems to me like you want to parcel up the two as if they can exist without the other. But since there is no such thing as a justified person who is also being sanctified, it seems that sanctification is just as dependent upon justification.

    2. I also would not disagree that there is an element of mystery to sanctification. At the same time, that does not mean that because I do not notice every change in me, or because I do not always know how that change is being wrought (have conscience understanding as it is happening), that I must then give it up and not look at it. As John Murray said: "the whole redemptive process, as it has respect to the people of God, is conformity to the image of Christ" (Col Writings vol 2, p 297). Mystery or not, it is something to which we must attend.

    2.I guess I am lending more to mystery than “an element.” Just as we are more sinful than not, sanctification is more mysterious than not (I think this resistence to mystery is a function of how rationalistic our time really is). I am not giving up on looking at it. That’s my point about it only getting worse (two for one in this bullet!) I keep looking at my sinful nature and despairing, then looking outside myself for relief. From our point of view (versus God’s) this is how sanctification looks. In the meantime, from God’s perspective, we are being conformed into the image of Christ. He knows better than we do what that looks like. For now, we abide by the law, see how short we fall and despair, look again to Christ over and over and over and over.

    3. Yes, it is progress. But looking to sanctification for assurance is backwards. We should be looking to Christ (read: justification) for assurance. Fruit should be evident, of course, but to take assurance in fruit is askew.

    4. I am not saying there is a pass-over at all. Indeed, I am saying that self-examination is absolutely necessary and important. But where you find comfort in it I only find despair. I look to Christ for assurance, not me. I’d rather be found in the company of the tax collector beating his chest than the Pharisee thanking God that he’s less sinful.


    5. Luther gets a bad rap too often. Try this on for size:

    Luther on the Law:

    "...as long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long as the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more on one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. This discipline of the Law is the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, an dour powers and the renewal of our mind (2 Cor 4:16)…There is still need for a custodian to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this discipline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ…Thus, we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside the Ten Commandments, no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the yes of the world…The matter of the Law must be considered carefully, both as to what and as how we ought to think about the Law; otherwise we shall either reject it altogether, after the fashion of the fanatical spirits who prompted the peasant’s revolt a decade ago by saying that the freedom of the Gospel absolves men from all laws, or we shall attribute to the law the power to justify. Both groups sin against the Law: those on the right, who want to be justified through the Law, and those on the left, who want to be altogether free of the Law. Therefore we must travel the royal road, so that we neither reject the law altogether not attribute more to it than we should.”

    Fesko thus says, “Luther saw a place for the law in the life of the believer. When he was explaining the doctrine of justification he said that there was no place for works or the law. In relationship, though, to one’s sanctification and the knowledge of what is pleasing to God, the Decalogue served as guide as well as a tool in the hand of God to confront the remaining sin in the believer. This careful fencing of justification from works, yet at the same time connecting justification to sanctification, is especially evident in the Lutheran confessions.” The Confessional Presbyterian, Volume 3, 2007, 23-24.

    Zrim

    ReplyDelete
  14. Disregard that previous entry, had some screw ups...

    1. Agreed that it is inside us. But it is necessarily tied to justification, which is outside. I see this more organically; it seems to me like you want to parcel up the two as if they can exist without the other. But since there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified, it seems that sanctification is just as dependent upon justification.

    2. I guess I am lending more to mystery than “an element.” Just as we are more sinful than not, sanctification is more mysterious than not (I think this resistence to mystery is a function of how rationalistic our time really is). I am not giving up on looking at it. That’s my point about it only getting worse (two for one in this bullet!) I keep looking at my sinful nature and despairing, then looking outside myself for relief. From our point of view (versus God’s) this is how sanctification looks. In the meantime, from God’s perspective, we are being conformed into the image of Christ. He knows better than we do what that looks like. For now, we abide by the law, see how short we fall and despair, look again to Christ over and over and over and over.

    3. Yes, it is progress. But looking to sanctification for assurance is backwards. We should be looking to Christ (read: justification) for assurance. Fruit should be evident, of course, but to take assurance in fruit is askew.

    4. I am not saying there is a pass-over at all. Indeed, I am saying that self-examination is absolutely necessary and important. But where you find comfort in it I only find despair. I look to Christ for assurance, not me. I’d rather be found in the company of the tax collector beating his chest than the Pharisee thanking God that he’s less sinful.


    5. Luther gets a bad rap too often. Try this on for size:

    Luther on the Law:

    "...as long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long as the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more on one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. This discipline of the Law is the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, an dour powers and the renewal of our mind (2 Cor 4:16)…There is still need for a custodian to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this discipline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ…Thus, we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside the Ten Commandments, no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the yes of the world…The matter of the Law must be considered carefully, both as to what and as how we ought to think about the Law; otherwise we shall either reject it altogether, after the fashion of the fanatical spirits who prompted the peasant’s revolt a decade ago by saying that the freedom of the Gospel absolves men from all laws, or we shall attribute to the law the power to justify. Both groups sin against the Law: those on the right, who want to be justified through the Law, and those on the left, who want to be altogether free of the Law. Therefore we must travel the royal road, so that we neither reject the law altogether not attribute more to it than we should.”

    Fesko thus says, “Luther saw a place for the law in the life of the believer. When he was explaining the doctrine of justification he said that there was no place for works or the law. In relationship, though, to one’s sanctification and the knowledge of what is pleasing to God, the Decalogue served as guide as well as a tool in the hand of God to confront the remaining sin in the believer. This careful fencing of justification from works, yet at the same time connecting justification to sanctification, is especially evident in the Lutheran confessions.” The Confessional Presbyterian, Volume 3, 2007, 23-24.

    ReplyDelete
  15. 1. These two cannot exist separately. However, in my opinion, this is because they are organically tied to union with Christ. There is no partial offering of benefits; union with Christ conveys ALL of the benefits of salvation (Justification, Adoption, Sanctification and Glorification). Because I see them flowing from union with Christ, it may have seemed like I separate them from one another, but hopefully this helps.

    2. I doubt that we are that far off here. You want to focus on the mystery, I want to focus on what has been revealed. Your second point worries me somewhat. As humans, we are created in the image of God. While that image has been defaced by sin, through salvation that image is (being) restored in us. Herman Bavinck has this great line, “Grace restores Nature.” I don’t want to have a pessimistic view of sanctification where when I look inside ALL that I see causes despair. Instead, I want to look inside and see that good work God is doing inside me. I want to see the fruit of the Spirit, which is the sure product of saving faith. As the WCF put it:

    An infallible assurance of faith [is] founded upon

    1. the divine truth of the promises of salvation,

    2. the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,

    3. the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: (etc.)

    To just have the promises leaves me asking, “How do I know those promises are for ME?” Even better, “How do I know that the redemption accomplished by Christ has been APPLIED to me?” I have to look for inward evidence and the testimony of the Spirit.
    There are times where you will look inside yourself and see nothing but a fallen sinner and at that point the only thing to do is to look to Christ. However, if that is the extent of your Christian life, you need more than just a discussion with me on a Blog!

    4. The parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee is one of justification, not of sanctification. He went home justified. The only way to go home justified is to throw yourself on God’s promise and mercy. So, with respect to justification, there is no other company than that of the Tax Collector. However, we must distinguish between things that differ.

    5. I was too harsh on Luther. I like Marty, I just try to be aware of those places where our traditions have split.

    BTW, thanks for the interaction!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Steve,

    I don't see those things flowing from union with Christ but rather union in Christ being the result of them.

    I prefer "grace renews nature (versus the Roman "perfects," the Anabaptist "obliterates," or the pantheist and liberal equation of grace and nature).

    Besides looking to Christ, I also consider mine is a more churchly assurance. I look to my right standing in the true, visible church. I think we anymore lack an ecclesiology that can say this.

    I think we can be uncomfortable with discomfort. Ours seems to be an existence that is mixed with faith and doubt. Many say that the opposite of faith is doubt, but it's really sight. Faith seems to co-exist with doubt. Nobody likes doubt but it is a necssary part of faith, not its nemisis. The clamor to know exactly if those promises are for me might be subdued by knowing proximately. Again, I sense rationalism encourages us to know things way too precisely.

    Zrim

    ReplyDelete

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!