The term evangelical is derived from the Greek word for the Gospel. The prefix εὔ means good, and the verb ἀγγέλλω means to announce, or to bring tidings (the related noun, ἄγγελος from which our angel is derived means messenger). Similarly the English word Gospel comes from adding good, which at one time was spelled with a single long o rather than a double o, to the obsolete word “spel” which meant “news” or “tidings.” Thus εὐαγγέλιον and its English counterpart both have the meaning “good news.” While any message that brings gladness to the hearts of its recipients could be described this way, when we speak of “the” Gospel, we mean the Christian Gospel, the message which Christ commanded His Church to take to the world.
The Gospel is about Jesus Christ. It is about Who He is – the eternal Son of God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who came down from Heaven and through the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit took human nature unto Himself and was born of the Virgin Mary, thus eternally uniting in His One Person, full deity and true humanity. It is about what He has done – how He, being without sin, allowed Himself to be unjustly condemned and executed, so that He could take the sins of the whole world upon Himself and satisfy the demands of divine justice with His death on the cross, was buried, and then rose again from the dead on the third day. It is about why He did this and what it means to us – that He has obtained for us, what we, because of our sins, could never obtain for ourselves, God’s favour and acceptance, including the forgiveness of our sins, everlasting life, and entrance into His eternal kingdom, freely given to all who believe in Him.
The Christian Church never fully lost the Gospel. The ancient Creeds which date back to the earliest centuries of the Church – Apostles’, Nicene-Constantinopolitan, and Athanasian - all clearly state the Gospel truths about Who Jesus is and what He has done, and the regular worship of the Church includes the recital of one or another of these Creeds. The significance of the Gospel, however, was seriously compromised by late Medieval theology. In that theology, what Christ accomplished for us on the Cross was not so much a complete and finished salvation, but a second chance, a wipe of the slate, after which we enter a probation period of the rest of our lives in which we are to earn our final salvation by works, in which we are assisted by the grace of God, conceived not so much as God’s freely given and unmerited favour, but a kind of empowering energy dispensed to us, a little bit at a time, through the Sacraments. This kind of theology left people in a state of perpetual doubt and uncertainty as to where they stood with God, running on the treadmill of their own efforts towards the tantalizingly unattainable end of peace with God. By mixing the Gospel with the Law, it robbed the Gospel of the very reason that it is called Good News. This theology, together with an incredible amount of corruption in the ecclesiastical establishment, cried out to heaven for reform. When that reform came in the sixteenth century, those like Dr. Luther, who rediscovered from the Pauline epistles and the Gospel according to St. John that we are justified before God, not by a righteousness we produce with our own works, but by Christ’s righteousness given to us freely through faith on the basis of grace, dubbed themselves “evangelical”.
The events of the Reformation followed a different order in England than they did in continental Europe. On the continent, first the Reformers embraced the evangelical truths, then they were excommunicated by the papacy, after which, the established Churches became Protestant in areas where the Reformation had the support of the civil government. In England, first the established Church was removed from under the papacy by the civil government for political reasons in the reign of Henry VIII, then underwent reforms in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I that included the adoption of an evangelical confession of faith, the Thirty-Nine Articles. In both continental Europe and England, however, trouble arose from extremists who thought the Reformation had not gone far enough. While there were many differences between the continental Anabaptists and the English Puritans both groups held to a low view of the Sacraments. Low Sacramentalism is the view of the Sacraments that had been taught by the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli , i.e., the idea that the Gospel Sacraments – baptism and Holy Communion – are mere signs and symbols, representing the grace of God, but in no way actually conferring it. The more conservative Protestants, the Anglicans in England and the Lutherans on the continent, regarded low Sacramentalism as both heretical in se, and as leading inevitably in the direction of the heresy of enthusiasm, a tendency towards which was shared by the Puritans and Anabaptists. Note that while today the word enthusiasm is generally used in a positive sense, to mean an intense interest in something as opposed to indifference or lukewarmness, it was originally a term that denoted the possession of an individual or group by a pagan divinity. (1) In Christianity, it came to be used to refer to individuals and sects who looked inward to what they believed to be their own personal experience of the Holy Spirit for authoritative divine revelation, placing that experience over both the teaching ministry of the Church and ultimately the Scriptures themselves. The movement within Protestantism that goes by the name evangelical today, overwhelmingly consists of those who hold a Zwinglian low Sacramentalism. It is also characterized by an emphasis on personal, spiritual, experience over Creedal orthodoxy, liturgical tradition, ecclesiastical authority, and often even Scriptural authority. (2)
The earliest Reformers, in both the English and the continental Reformations, were high Sacramentalists, i.e., they held that the Sacraments are not merely symbols but are actual conduits through which the grace of God, purchased for us by Christ, is conveyed to us. Accordingly, the high Sacramental view is enshrined in both the Anglican (3) and Lutheran (4) confessions of faith. As we have noted, these Reformers were also the first to call themselves evangelical, on the grounds of their having recovered a clear understanding of what makes the Gospel Good News, that the favour of God, obtained for us by Christ through His suffering, death and resurrection, is freely promised to all who believe in Him apart from their works. This too is enshrined in the confessions (5)
Many contemporary evangelicals and virtually all of those who continue to identify as fundamentalists, would say that there is a contradiction here. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they would say, are works, and to say that God’s grace is conveyed to us through them is to mix grace with works. The high Sacramentalism of the Lutheran and Anglican Reformers, they would say, was a carry-over from medieval Romanism that ought to be discarded. In their understanding, which is Zwinglianism taken to the nth degree, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances rather than Sacraments – rituals, of a purely symbolic meaning, that are performed by believers because Christ commanded them. If this understanding is correct then, of course, baptism and the Lord’s Supper would fall under the category of good works and it would be wrong to assign them a role in conveying grace. Thus, for example, Campbellism (6), which says that one must be baptized by immersion after one believes the Gospel in order to complete one's salvation, teaches a form of baptismal regeneration that adds works to the Gospel. Ultimately, the question of whether baptism and the Lord’s Supper are works or grace-conveying Sacraments will have to be settled by Scripture, into which we shall shortly inquire. First, let us note that in the Anglican and Lutheran Confessions high Sacramentalism and justification by faith are harmonized. The Sacraments convey grace because through them God produces, confirms and strengthens the faith that receives grace. This is stated explicitly in the Twenty-Fifth of the Anglican Articles of Religion. The Lutheran Confessions explain this in more depth by saying that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are, like the ministry of the spoken Word, forms of proclaiming the Gospel. (7) The following quotation from St. Augustine is helpful in understanding this point:
“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Why does He not say, You are clean through the baptism wherewith you have been washed, but “through the word which I have spoken unto you,” save only that in the water also it is the word that cleanses? Take away the word, and the water is neither more nor less than water. The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word. (8)
To be clear then, the evangelical high Sacramentalist view of the early Reformers was not that salvation is by grace plus the Sacraments, (9) or that salvation is to be found in Christ plus the Sacraments, or that salvation is to be received by faith plus the Sacraments, but that the saving grace by which alone we are saved, is brought to us from our only Saviour Christ, to form the faith by which alone we receive it, by the Holy Spirit through means of the Gospel proclaimed in Word plus the “visible word” of Sacrament.
Zwinglianism, (9) which is by far the majority view among today’s evangelicals, attempts to add another sola to the Reformation five, by insisting that the preaching of the Word is the only means by which the grace of the Gospel is communicated. Romans 10:14-17 is cited in support of this position and some Puritans insisted on the basis of this passage’s use of the word “preach” that only a sermon counted, excluding even the reading of the Scriptures themselves. (10) Evangelical high Sacramentalism, properly understood, does not state that the Word by itself is insufficient for the creation of faith and transmission of grace. (11) The Zwinglian, however, sees it as potentially confusing the Gospel.
Yet how clear is the Gospel that is preached by the contemporary, overwhelmingly Zwinglian, evangelical movement?
The Gospel, preached clearly, in telling about Who Jesus is and what He has done, tells the penitent sinner, i.e., the sinner in whom the Holy Spirit has awakened an awareness of his sin, (12) God’s judgement, his lost condition, and need of forgiveness, that in Christ God has graciously and freely given Him full and complete salvation. Since the promises of the Gospel are addressed to “whosoever believeth” the Gospel assures all who are persuaded of its truth that they have been forgiven of their sins and given everlasting life. When the Gospel is preached properly and clearly, no one can be persuaded by it and left wondering what he needs to do to obtain God’s grace for himself. Someone who is persuaded of the truth of the Gospel in all its clarity – and only the Holy Spirit can so persuade him, the Scriptures are quite clear – knows both a) there is nothing he can do, b) there is nothing he needs to do, and c) he has been saved by God through Jesus Christ and His finished work. To be persuaded of the truth of the Gospel is to believe it and thus to be one to whom its promises apply. The Gospel assures the believing sinner of his salvation by creating in him a faith that looks outward, away from himself, and rests in Jesus Christ and His finished work alone.
Most contemporary evangelicals are Arminians. The way they preach the Gospel it requires an act of the sinner’s will for him to be converted. He can hear the Gospel, be persuaded by it, and yet remain unconverted because he needs to “make a decision for Christ.” Leaving aside the semi-Pelagian implications of this form of theology, consider what it does to the promises of the Gospel. The Gospel says “whosoever believes”, but to believe is to be persuaded, convinced, and Arminian theology says that is not enough. They may say that the act of the will they require is faith, but this is not faith in the ordinary sense of the word – belief, trust, confidence – and the decision is usually described in terms other than believing, like “invite Jesus into your heart.” This makes faith itself into a work. (13)
Other evangelicals are Calvinists. These are strong predestinarians who reject the semi-Pelagianism of Arminian decision theology, but they too present the Gospel as if “whosoever believes” does not mean what it says. This is done differently, by maintaining that Gospel faith is a special kind of faith, not merely in terms of its content (the Gospel) and Object (Christ) but in terms of its psychological composition. Only the elect are given this special kind of faith, although the non-elect can believe the Gospel with ordinary faith in a non-saving way, thus the believer must look to the fruit of faith in his own works for evidence that it is the true, saving kind, rather than the ordinary kind. (14)
The result of both forms of contemporary evangelicalism is to direct one’s gaze inward, at one’s own life, experience, faith and works, rather than outward to the completed work of Christ, as proclaimed to us in the Gospel, through Word and Sacrament. Far from being a clearer picture of the Gospel than sixteenth century evangelical high Sacramentalism, this is the heresy of enthusiasm that the early Reformers fought against. The question that needs answering is whether or not there is, as Luther asserted, an essential connection between this inward-looking enthusiasm and the Zwinglian view of the Sacraments?
To answer this, we need to find which view of the Sacraments is most in line with the Scriptures. If the high Sacramentalist point of view is Scriptural, then by reducing the means of grace to oral preaching the low Sacramentalist has impoverished the believer of the divinely appointed means of confirming and strengthening his faith, which has the natural result of throwing him back on his own resources, i.e., enthusiasm. If the low Sacramentalist point of view is Scriptural, then we will need to search for an explanation for why the contemporary movement dominated by this point of view presents a much fuzzier view of the Gospel than Luther did. We will look at baptism first, then the Lord’s Supper.
The noun τό βάπτισμα occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament. Of the four times in the Gospel of Matthew, two refer to John’s baptism which, as Acts 18-19 demonstrates, was not the same thing as Christian baptism but a precursor to it, and two refer figuratively to Christ’s suffering on the cross. This is also true of the four times the Gospel of Mark uses the noun. The Gospel of Luke also uses the noun four times, three in reference to John’s baptism, one in reference to Christ’s suffering. The noun is absent from the Gospel of John. All of the uses of the noun in Acts refer to John’s baptism, mostly as historical markers (in Acts 19 where the baptism of John is contrasted with Christian baptism, only the verb is used for the latter). There are only three occurrences of the noun in the epistles. One of these, Ephesians 4:5 speaks of the unity of Christian baptism as a sign of the unity of the Christian faith. The other two passages, however, are key passages in the controversy.
St. Peter, in the third chapter of his first epistle, after speaking of Christ’s saving work on the Cross in the eighteenth verse, speaks of the harrowing of Hell in the nineteenth and twentieth, in the context of which he brings up the Deluge saying of Noah’s ark “wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” which he then applies as follows:
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (vv. 21-22)
This direct assertion that baptism saves makes this a rather problematic text for the low Sacramentalist. The use of Noah’s flood and water as typical imagery makes it extremely unlikely that the baptism referred to in this passage is not referring to water baptism. The context in which it occurs – everything from the beginning of the discussion of the harrowing of Hell to “a good conscience toward God” is a parenthesis in a basic summary of the Gospel that begins in verse eighteen and continues into verse twenty-two – makes it extremely unlikely that “save” is being used in a sense other than Gospel salvation. The same context would make it unacceptable to understand the baptism in this verse as being a human work that is necessary for salvation even if we did not have St. Paul’s epistles to tell us that human works contribute nothing to salvation. By process of elimination, the high Sacramental interpretation best fits the passage. The words “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” make it clear that it is not the water in baptism that saves. Therefore it must be the faith-generating Word added to the water in baptism. This keeps with what was said earlier in the same epistle in the first chapter where, after telling his readers that they were redeemed by the blood of the foreordained and now manifested Christ in verses eighteen to twenty, he speaks of their faith and their love for the brethren in verses twenty-one to twenty-two, before saying “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (v. 23)
The final passage is Romans 6 which uses both the noun and the verb βαπτίζω to speak of the means by which the believer is united with Christ in His death and resurrection. Similarly, St. Paul connects the verb with the believer’s being united with Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:7. In Colossians 2:12 he says we are “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead”, using a very similar noun. (15) This close association between the baptism of the believer and the union of the believer with Christ sheds much light on baptism as it is presented in the Gospels and vice-versa.
At the beginning of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus we find the ministry of John the Baptist. As we have seen, John’s baptism was clearly distinguished from Christian baptism in Acts 18-19 in which some, who had been baptized with John’s baptism but had not heard of Jesus, were baptized again in Jesus’ name. John’s baptism is repeatedly spoken of in Acts as a baptism of repentance and in the brief accounts of his ministry in the Gospels it is evident that his role, as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Matt. 3:3) was to call the covenant nation of Israel to repentance. Jesus, however, Who had no sin of His own to repent of, came to John to be baptized. John himself was confused by this, saying to Him “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” but Jesus answered Him by saying “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:14-15)
This does not mean that Jesus needed to be baptized in order to be fully righteous Himself. He already was fully righteous. It therefore must mean that His baptism was necessary for Him to fulfil God’s righteous requirements on our behalf. In His Incarnation, Jesus took our nature upon Himself and identified Himself with us as a human. By undergoing the baptism of John – a baptism of repentance – He identified Himself with us as sinners as a necessary, preparatory, step to bearing our sins in our place in dying on the Cross. At His baptism, the Holy Trinity was manifested publicly with the Father speaking from Heaven and the Holy Spirit visibly descending upon Christ. Christ’s own baptism marked the beginning of the transition from John’s baptism to Christian baptism, for Jesus had His own disciples performing baptisms from the beginning of His earthly ministry, (John 4:2), although the Sacrament as such was not formally instituted until the Great Commission prior to His Ascension when, He pointed back to the manifestation of the Trinity in His own baptism and commanded His disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19), promising that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). The latter verse (16) connects baptism with saving faith in a general but not an absolute way, (17) while the former points back to Christ’s own baptism in the institution of the Christian Sacrament. As Christ united Himself with sinners by participating in John’s baptism of repentance, so we are invited to be united to and identify ourselves with Him in our baptism.
Our union with Christ is also very closely tied to the other Gospel Sacrament in the writings of St. Paul. In the tenth chapter of his first epistle to the Church in Corinth he wrote:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (vv. 16-17)
The identification of the bread of the Lord’s Supper with the body of Christ goes back to the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself. It is found in the words of institution pronounced at the Last Supper as recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 26: 26-28, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20) and also by St. Paul in the next chapter (vv. 23-25). Later in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul placed a great deal of emphasis on the Church itself being the body of Christ (12:12-27), stressing the unity of the body, a major theme in this epistle due to a problem with schismatic personality cults that the Corinthians were facing (1:10-13). In this passage in chapter ten, the Church’s identification with the body of Christ and its unity are both said to derive from their participation in the bread of Communion. If baptism, which occurs once, is the Sacrament in which the unity of the believer with Christ – and with other believers - is established, Communion, which was originally celebrated daily is the Sacrament in which this unity is sustained.
As the early Church developed its understanding of the Sacraments this connection to the unity of believers with Christ and each other was a key interpretive concept. An obvious parallel can be seen between the individual and collective indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit in the Church as the body of Christ and the Incarnation, in which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) and the Church Fathers drew the equally obvious parallel with the rites that St. Paul connected with the union of believers and Christ. “And without controversy”, St. Paul wrote, “great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). In Ephesians he said of the union of husband and wife which he was using as a metaphor for the union of Christ and His Church that “this is a great mystery” (Eph. 5:32). It is no coincidence that μυστήριον, the word used in these verses was the word chosen by the Greek Fathers to refer to the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through which the union of believers with Him in Whom full deity and true humanity are forever united, is effected. (18) It is very appropriate, therefore, that in the words from St. Augustine that we have already quoted, he explains the Sacraments in the language of incarnation “The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word.”
The efficacy of the Word as the means by which the Holy Spirit produces the faith that receives grace is stated repeatedly in the New Testament. It is illustrated in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15) and is the plain meaning of Romans 10:17. Regeneration, the miracle in which a sinner, spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins is brought alive with the eternal life of Jesus Christ, is described as a Sovereign work of God, wrought through the means of the seed of the Word (1 Peter 1:23, James 1:18). (19) If a Sacrament is a “kind of visible word” as St. Augustine said, then its efficacy is to be found in the Word rather than the physical element, which was, in fact, the point St. Augustine was making. Thus the error of a mechanical Sacramentalism, in which the physical elements convey grace in themselves apart from the Word, must be avoided, warned against, and rebuked wherever it rears its head. It is not, however, be a coincidence that the heresy of Nestorianism can so often be found among Zwinglians. When the Son took our nature unto Himself and became Man in His One Person the two natures were forever united and while they can be distinguished they cannot be separated. This is Chalcedonian orthodoxy, Nestorianism is the heresy that separates the divine and human natures so as to divide the One Person of Jesus Christ, as when Nestorius denied that Mary should be called the Mother of God, i.e., of the divine Person Jesus Christ, because she was the source of His human but not His divine nature. The efficacy of the Sacraments comes from the Word within them, but it is Christ who united the Word with the elements in the institution of baptism and His Supper, and what Christ has united we ought not to separate.
That the Sacraments convey grace by producing and strengthening the faith that receives it is the simplest way of understanding the two chapters in the Gospel according to St. John in which the subjects of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are interwoven with extended discussions of the Gospel promise of everlasting life to believers. This Gospel, it has frequently been observed, stands out in the New Testament canon as explicitly stating the conversion of unbelievers as its purpose (20:31). Most of the other New Testament writings are addressed to those who are already believers, even St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans which lays out the plan of salvation in a logical, orderly, fashion. From beginning to end the fourth Gospel is full of Jesus’ promises that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.
A famous example occurs in the third chapter of John. This chapter features two conversations. In the first, the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and is told that in order to see and enter the Kingdom of God he would need to be born again. In the second, the disciples of John the Baptist come to John to tell him that now more people were going to Jesus and His disciples to be baptized than were coming to him. In the first interview, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that He was talking about a spiritual birth and uses the physical wind as an illustration of the working of the Holy Spirit – both are invisible although their effects can be seen. (20) Nicodemus does not understand, and Jesus asks him how, if he does not believe Jesus about earthly things, he can believe Him when He speaks of heavenly things. The point of the question is that apart from the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit this is utterly impossible – hence the need for the new birth. (21) Jesus then goes on to tell of the heavenly things of which He spoke in the most well-loved statement of the Gospel of all time:
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (vv. 14-18)
John the Baptist, in his discussion with his disciples, makes many of the same points that Jesus made to Nicodemus (see verses 31-32), and concludes with the same Gospel promise:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (v. 36)
It is evident that these conversations are recorded together, back-to-back, because of the similarity in content. It follows, therefore, that since there is no other mention of water in the account of the first conversation, the first place that we ought to look in order to understand Jesus’ statement in John 3:5, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”, is in the account of the second conversation. The account of the second conversation begins by saying that Jesus and His disciples went to Judea and were baptizing, and John was baptizing in Aenon near Salim “because there was much water there.” Due to this a false perception developed among some of John’s disciples of a rivalry between John and Jesus and this became the springboard that launched the second conversation. It is not surprising, therefore, that the oldest interpretation of John 3:5, one which became the consensus view of the orthodox Church Fathers, (22) and which met with little in the way of serious opposition prior to Calvin, being upheld by Dr. Luther, (23) was that the water of baptism is in reference in this verse. There is no conflict between this interpretation and the clear teaching of Scripture that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our works. The spiritual birth described in this verse is clearly a work of God not of man.
In the third chapter of John the Gospel promises pertain to receiving and entering into everlasting life. In the sixth chapter of John we find a set of Gospel promises that pertain to the believer’s preservation in everlasting life. Preservation, like initial regeneration, is presented as being God’s work rather than ours. This is a very important truth because if our initial salvation were by grace but the responsibility for keeping us saved fell upon us our faith could hardly rest on Christ and His finished work. The context is the immediate aftermath of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (vv. 1-13). After the miracle Jesus had gone up into a mountain to escape the multitude (v. 15) and in the evening, while His disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee to Capernaum in a boat, walked on the water to join them (vv. 16-21). The next day, the people who had witnessed the miracle and had been left on the other side of the sea, crossed over to Capernaum looking for Him. Jesus told them that it was because they had eaten of the loaves and been filled that they sought Him, but that they should “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.” (v. 27) They ask what they must do that they might work the works of God and are told “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (v. 29) They then ask Him for a sign that they might believe, strongly hinting for a repeat of the previous day’s miracle by mentioning the manna with which the Israelites had been fed in the wilderness. Jesus responded by contrasting the manna of old with the true bread from heaven which His Father gives, and when they ask for that bread, He says “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (v. 35). He then rebuked them for their unbelief and said the following:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (vv. 37-40) (24)
His unbelieving audience then began to murmur over His having said that He was the bread from heaven and Jesus reiterated that apart from the Father’s drawing no one can come to Him, (vv. 44-46), promised everlasting life to all that believe in Him (v. 47), and then said:
I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (vv. 48-51)
When this too was met with an unbelieving response Jesus added:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (vv. 53-58)
Not only the unbelievers in the audience but Jesus’ own disciples had difficulty with these words, calling them “a hard saying.” (v. 60) Later, of course, at the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Communion by breaking the Passover matzot and saying “Take eat, this is my body” and then blessed the cup saying “Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” the meaning of these words became clear, much as His prediction that He would raise up “this Temple” after three days became clear after His Resurrection. (2:18-22) The reference to the Lord’s Supper in these verses is now as obvious as the reference to the Resurrection in His Temple raising prediction so that it is only willful blindness that stubbornly refuses to see it there. (25) Earlier in the chapter, when Jesus first identified Himself as the “true bread from heaven” and the “bread of life” in contrast with the manna of the Old Testament, He was speaking figuratively, and to eat that bread was to believe in Him. When He adds that the bread that He “will give” is His flesh and speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood He has segued into a discussion of the yet-to-be-instituted Sacrament of Communion. The Gospel promises attached to this Sacrament (6:54) are the same promises of preservation stated earlier in the chapter (v. 40). Note how the statement that the one who partakes of His flesh and blood “dwelleth in me, and I in him” parallels the thought of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:17.
The attachment of the Gospel promises of spiritual rebirth and preservation to the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in these chapters can be misconstrued. It would be wrong to read these verses in such a way as to set the necessity of the Sacraments – “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit”, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood” – against the promises in the same chapters to “whosoever believeth” so as to nullify the latter promises for someone who believes the Gospel but for some reason has not taken part in the Sacraments. This would be the error of “faith plus the Sacraments.” It would also be wrong to read these verses as saying that baptism and the Lord’s Supper convey everlasting life mechanically to all who formally partake of them independently of their faith in the Gospel. It is just as wrong, however, to explain away what they are saying. The key to understanding how the teaching of these passages is consistent with the Gospel promises of free salvation to all who believe in Jesus is found in the First Epistle of St. John.
In the fifth chapter of the epistle we read “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” For many people the verb “came” is the stumbling block to understanding this verse. They assume that this is a reference to His having come into the world, His Incarnation. If that is what St. John was talking about then what on earth do “by water and blood” and “not by water only, but by water and blood” mean? His baptism and crucifixion, the beginning and end of His earthly ministry? These happened thirty years plus after His entry into the world and were hardly the means by which it took place. Indeed, if the coming of Jesus referred to in this verse is His miraculous conception and Virgin Birth, it is difficult to think of any meaning of “water and blood” that would make the verse make sense. The difficulty vanishes when we realize that what the Apostle is talking about here is not Jesus’ coming in the sense of His coming into the world in His Incarnation but His coming to the believer. The previous two verses were talking about how the person who is born of God overcomes the world by believing in Jesus Christ. If it is Jesus’ coming to the believer that St. John is talking about then “by water and blood” make perfect sense. Water is the water of baptism and blood is the “blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” as offered in the cup of Holy Communion. Here and in verse eight, these are linked to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The witness of the Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word – it is the ministry by which He speaks to our hearts, whenever we hear the Word of the Gospel, telling us that this Word is truth.
In the eighth verse of the chapter the Apostle writes “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” The Spirit speaking through the Word, the water of baptism, and the “blood of the new testament”, i.e., Holy Communion, are three witnesses with a common testimony. The next two verses explain that their testimony is the witness of God concerning His Son, which witness is greater than the witness of man, a witness that becomes internal when we believe in the Son, and not to believe which makes God out to be a liar. The Apostle then goes on to state the content of the testimony born by the Spirit, water, and blood:
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (vv. 11-12)
This is the Gospel which brings a salvation of which we can be certain to all who believe it, which certainty St. John explains was the whole point of his having brought the matter up (v. 13). (26) The Sacraments are part of the Gospel, not as additional objects of faith (Christ plus the Sacraments) nor as requirements added on to faith (faith plus the Sacraments) but as additional witnesses to the truth of the Gospel spoken by the Spirit through the Word. Word plus Sacraments is the right formula, based upon the very Scriptural principle that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1) As His witnesses, these are the means which God has appointed to bring us to faith in the Gospel to which they all testify. (27)
To reduce those witnesses to one, as did Zwingli, Calvin, and those who followed after them, including the majority of today’s evangelicals, violates the Scriptural principle that nothing is to be established by a single witness. To reject two of the three appointed means of grace is to assert that you can and will come to faith on your own terms – the dangerous and blasphemous assertion of the heresy of enthusiasm. The two that are rejected are those that are closely associated in Scripture with the union of believers with Christ in His body the Church. Here again we find the enthusiastic idea that the individual can and should meet God on his own outside of the community of faith. Is it any wonder that contemporary evangelicalism speaks the language of enthusiasm in which spirituality is good, and religion is bad, in which God is spoken of in familiar rather than reverent terms, in which an experience-based “personal relationship with Jesus” replaces faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than the language of orthodoxy? What passes for evangelical today is not more consistent with the Scriptural Gospel than the Sacramentalism of the Lutheran Confessions and the Anglican Articles of Religion but rather far less so. Fallen man, because of his sin, is incapable of earning God’s favour, and so it had to be given to him freely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The same sinful rebellion that makes man incapable of earning God’s favour, also prevents him from coming to Christ to receive the freely given grace. Christ and His grace must therefore be brought to sinful man from the Cross, through the instrumental means of the Gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacrament whereby God Himself creates the faith necessary to receive His grace. To reach sinners with the Gospel of God’s grace, we need to rely much less on anthropocentric, man-made, “seeker sensitive” gimmickry, and more on God’s appointed means of proclaiming His Gospel – the Word and Sacraments.
(1) Eurpides’ best-known play, The Bacchae, illustrates this. The Maenads in the play, female adherents of the cult of Dionysius, possessed by the god of wine, terrorize the countryside with their supernaturally enhanced chaotic and lawless behaviour, at one point tearing to pieces a herd of cattle with their own hands.
(2) This will seem strange to those who use the term “evangelical” to mean “theologically conservative Protestant”, i.e., someone who believes the doctrines of Protestant orthodoxy and accepts the Scriptures as authoritative, inspired, revelation over a liberal, i.e., someone who does not. However, when theologically conservative Protestants in the 1950s abandoned the term “fundamentalist” for “evangelical”, claiming for themselves the heritage of the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, and the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth, while disavowing, to a certain degree, that of the men who fought against the inroads rationalistic modernism had been making into the Churches in the early twentieth century, this led inevitably, despite the protestations of E. J. Carnell, Ronald H. Nash, Carl F. H. Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and the other apologists of the “new evangelicalism” that it would not, to a weakening of the new movement’s view of Scriptural authority. See Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) and The Bible in the Balance, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), or, if you are more interested in the history than the theological polemics, George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987, 1995).
(3) “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (italics added) from Article XXV. Of the Sacraments. Similarly, Articles XXVII and XXVIII on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper respectively, begin by asserting that the sacrament in question “is not only a sign.” John Jewel, the sixteenth century Bishop of Salisbury, in his Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, written in Latin to defend the English Church against the Romanist charge that the English Reformers had set up a new Church and published in 1562, wrote “For we affirm, that Christ doth truly and presently give His own self in His Sacraments; in Baptism, that we may put Him on; and in His Supper, that we may eat Him by faith and spirit, and may have everlasting life by His cross and blood. And we say not, this is done slightly and coldly, but effectually and truly.” (from the 1564 English translation by Lady Ann Bacon)
(4) Augsburg Confession, Articles IX, X, XIII. Smacald Articles, Part III, Articles V and VI. See also the second part, Free Will, in the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, as well as Luther’s treatment of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Small and Large Catechisms.
(5) “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.” Article XI. Of the Justification of Man. Also Augsburg Confession Article IV, Smacald Articles Part III, Article XIII, Part III of the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord.
(6) Named after Thomas and Alexander Campbell, leaders of the Restoration Movement, a nineteenth century revival movement in the United States that started with the preaching of Barton W. Stone, and eventually produced the various Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ denominations.
(7) See the Smacald Articles, Part III, Article IV. This also identifies Absolution as a form of the Gospel.
(8) St. Augustine, In Evangelium Joannis Tractatus CXXIV, 80:3 as translated by Rev. John Gibb D.D. and Rev. John Innes.
(9) Zwinglianism is the proper term here because, although most who consider themselves to be Calvinists today would hold to the Zwinglian view of the Sacraments, most who hold that view of the Sacraments are not Calvinists but Arminians. John Calvin himself, who like Zwingli became a leader in the Swiss Reformation, tried to find a middle ground between Luther and Zwingli.
(10) Richard Hooker addressed and answered this extreme Puritan view in Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, Book V, chapters 21-22. I pointed out in an earlier essay, “The Sermon is Not the Point of Going to Church”, that the verb translated preach in this passage does not mean getting behind a pulpit and giving a sermon but rather to “proclaim” to do the work of a herald.
(11) The answer to the first question about the Sacraments in the Anglican catechism is “Christ has ordained two Sacraments, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord, which is the Holy Communion.” Generally necessary, as opposed to absolutely necessary, means that it is the norm that the Holy Spirit works through both Word and Sacrament to create, confirm, and strengthen faith in the believer, not that this can never be done through the Word alone. Dr. Luther, in the Smacald Articles, Part III, Article IV, said that the many ways in which the Gospel “gives us council and aid against sin” – the Word, Sacrament, and Absolution – demonstrate how God is “superabundantly rich and liberal in His grace and goodness.”
(12) The verb “repent” is most often used in English with the sense of “to feel sorry for one’s actions.” The verb most often translated “repent” in the New Testament, μετανοέω, means “to change one’s mind” or more literally “to have an afterthought.” The word that most closely matches the English meaning is the less common μεταμέλομαι which means “to regret” or “to be sorry.” The noun forms of these two verbs are associated with each but not equated in 2 Corinthians 7:10 where the latter is said to lead to the former. Repentance is sometimes defined and explained as a turning around, which is the literal meaning of the word conversion. In Roman Catholic theology penitence is a Sacrament consisting of several elements including contrition, confession, penance, and absolution. In the theology of the early Reformers repentance can be both a synonym for conversion and also for contrition. Contrition is the breaking of the proud, haughty, self-righteous spirit of man by the realization of his sinfulness and lost estate. The Gospel promises are only for the penitent sinner – the sinner in whom contrition has taken place – the Reformers maintained, because faith can only be formed in a contrite heart. It is a psychological pre-condition not, as in later Reformed theology, an extra condition that must be performed to make faith valid. Indeed, in early Reformation theology – see Dr. Martin Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church – it is faith that makes contrition into saving repentance not the other way around. The decision to stop doing what is wrong and start doing what is right is a result that can be reasonably expected to occur in a heart that has experienced contrition and faith but it is not itself a part of either contrition or faith. That would be a form of salvation by works. That such a result can be reasonably expected from contrition is due to the fact that contrition breaks down the pride that says “I may not be perfect but I am good enough.” This pride stands in the way of both believing the Gospel (someone who is “good enough” cannot see the need for the Gospel) and changing one’s ways (someone who is “good enough” does not need to change).
(13) Making faith itself into a work is, perhaps, the most subtle perversion of the Gospel out there. Justification by faith does not mean substituting the self-righteousness of “God accepts me because I believe A, B, and C” for the self-righteousness of “God accepts me because I do A, B, and C.” It means believing God’s promise that although I am totally unworthy, He accepts me as righteous, not because of anything I have done, but because of what Jesus has done. Faith receives and rests in God’s favour, freely given in Christ, it does not earn it or contribute to it or in any other way form part of the basis or grounds for it.
(14) The way they do this is by dividing faith into three elements – notitia (knowledge and understanding), assensus (acceptance), and fiducia (personal trust). Ordinary believing, they say, is “head faith” and consists of the former two, but saving faith, or “heart faith” includes all three. This is absolute nonsense. John M. Drickamer put it well “What is faith? Faith is belief and faith is trust. Faith is believing the facts of the Gospel: God the Son, died for my sin and rose again from the dead; for His sake God has forgiven all my sins, so that I will not be damned to hell but welcomed into heaven forever. Faith is trusting God that this forgiveness is real because of Christ. There is no difference between faith as belief and faith as trust. Trusting a person to drive safely is the same as believing that he is a safe driver.” What is the Gospel? It is Finished. (published by the author, 1991) p. 2. While the three-fold division of saving faith is taught in all the standard Calvinist Systematic Theologies it was a Calvinist – a very strict Calvinist at that – the philosopher Gordon H. Clark, who wrote the most devastating critique of this perspective. His Faith and Saving Faith, (Jefferson, Md: Trinity Foundation, 1983), tears to shreds the head-heart distinction, which is completely unbiblical (believing in your heart is contrasted with confessing with your mouth – not with believing in your head), and based upon a modern elevation of feeling over thinking, that is the exact opposite of what the wisest minds of the past thought, and points out that the tripartite division is tautological, making faith – fiducia or trust – into one of its own components. John W. Robbins in his introduction wrote: “Statements such as these about the head and the heart and trusting a person, not believing a creed, are not only false, they have created the conditions for the emergence of all sorts of religious subjectivism, from modernism to the charismatic movement and beyond. No one will miss heaven by twelve inches, for there is no distance between the head and the heart: ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.’ The head/heart contrast is a figment of modern secular psychology, not a doctrine of divine revelation. St. Sigmund, not St. John, controls the pulpit in all too many churches.” This book came out towards the very end of Clark’s life and career, which had been spent defending above all other things, the propositional nature of truth and the truth of the propositions of Christianity. A much better treatment of the makeup of faith than the standard Calvinist position can be found in the Christian Dogmatics of Lutheran theologians Francis Pieper and John Theodore Mueller (both were published by Concordia Publishing House of St. Louis, Missouri, Pieper’s three volumes in the original German from 1917-1924, Mueller’s one-volume in 1934, then a full English translation of Pieper from 1950 to 1953). Notitia and assensus are not enough to form saving faith, they argue, if their content is merely the historical elements of the Gospel – that Jesus died and rose again – and not the promise of the Gospel. This, following Luther, they dub “historical faith.” If, however, the Gospel is understood not just as a description of events that took place long ago and far away but as the promise of full and complete salvation to the believer, then notitia and assensus together comprise fiducia. The Lutheran terminology of “historical faith” better describes an insufficient faith than the Calvinist terminology of “intellectual assent,” for the former identifies the insufficiency in the content of what is believed – historical events that can be believed in a detached way as opposed to a personal promise which cannot – rather than in the psychology of belief. The greatest of Anglican divines, Richard Hooker, concurred with the position of the Lutherans and the dissenting Calvinists Clark and Robbins, writing “In belief there being but these two operations, apprehension and assent”, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, Book V, chapter 22, section 8. He brings this up in the context of his argument, referred to earlier in these notes, against the Puritan position that sermons are necessary and Scripture readings insufficient for the production of faith.
(15) It is virtually identical except that it is Second Declension Masculine in form, the main noun being Third Declension Neuter. It occurs four other times in in Mark 7:4, 8 and Hebrews 6:2 and 9:10 in most of which it is translated “washing.”
(16) The favourite translation of the enthusiasts, the New International Version, inserts a note after Mark 16:8 that says “The most reliable early manuscripts omit Mark 16:9-20.” This is nonsense. Codex א and Codex B, while certainly early (both are fourth century), are not the most reliable manuscripts. Both come from fourth century Egypt and the handful of other manuscripts that display the same text type come from the same area – hence it’s being called the Alexandrian Text Type. The autographs of the New Testament books were not addressed to locations in Egypt but to locations in Greece, Italy and Asia Minor. The vast majority of manuscripts contain a text type that is called Byzantine because these manuscripts came from areas in the Byzantine Empire, which contained most of the places to which the original autographs were sent. While most of these manuscripts are later than the Alexandrian manuscripts, the theory that the latter represent an early regional variation while the large number of later Byzantine manuscripts point to a large number of no-longer-extant ancestors going back to the original autographs makes more sense than the theory that the Alexandrian manuscripts are closest to the autographs due to age and the agreement of the majority of later manuscripts points to some sort of official redaction that took place after the fourth century. See Dean John William Burgon’s The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark: Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objections and Established, (Oxford and London: James Parker and Company, 1871) and The Revision Revised, (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1883). Mercifully, fundamentalist Baptists, whatever one may think of the use to which they put them, have kept these classic texts from the nineteenth century High Anglican Dean of Chichester Cathedral in print. The case he made against the theories of modern textual critics who assume the superiority of the Alexandrian manuscripts because of their age has been ignored, dismissed, mocked, and written off but not so much answered and refuted. For a good look at just how lousy a translation the NIV actually is see Earl D. Radmacher and Zane C. Hodges, The NIV Reconsidered: A Fresh Look at a Proper Translation, (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1994)
(17) v.s. note 11.
(18) The parallels between the Incarnation and the Sacraments are also an important part of the Sacramental theology of St. Thomas Aquinas in the fourth part of his Summa Contra Gentiles. Richard Hooker, who quotes heavily from the Church Fathers, makes the union of the believer with Christ central to his understanding of the Sacraments in the fifth book of his Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie. After introducing the subject in the fiftieth chapter, he builds his case starting with the Trinity and the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation in chapter fifty-one, defending the orthodox doctrine against both the Nestorian and Eutychian heretical deviations in chapters fifty-two to fifty-four, leading into the omnipresence of Christ in chapter fifty-five, the mutual participation between Christ and his Church in this world in chapter fifty-six, to which participation the Sacraments are necessary, his argument in chapter fifty-seven. After this follows multi-chapter discussions of both Sacraments.
(19) A chicken-and-egg argument often occurs between Reformed theologians and other evangelicals over which comes first faith or the new birth. Arminians take the position that the Gospel offers us the new birth, we respond with faith, and in consequence are born again – faith first, new birth second. Calvinists take the position that because our fallen condition is one of being “dead in our trespasses and sins” we are incapable of faith until God has first put spiritual life in us through the new birth. Both are wrong because both are partially right. The Gospel promises everlasting life to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Since faith is the means of receiving everlasting life it must logically precede the possession of everlasting life. To logically precede is not the same as to temporally precede – faith and the reception of everlasting spiritual life occur simultaneously – but to make faith the result of the reception of everlasting life when it is clearly stated to be the means through which everlasting life is received is wrong. However, it is right to say that our fallen condition is such that we cannot believe apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is true of any belief that it is the result of persuasion on the part of the believed rather than the will of the believer but in the case of the Gospel it is stated quite clearly that this is heavenly, spiritual truth, which requires a special act of the Holy Spirit above and beyond ordinary persuasion. The whole Scriptural picture of regeneration is that it is a single act, in which God is the sole actor (monergism), using the means of the Gospel – whether in the form of the Word, (1 Peter 1:23-25, James 1:18) or in the form of the water of baptism to which the life-giving Word has been added (John 3:5, Eph. 5:26, Titus 3:5) – to form faith, through which everlasting life is received. Faith and everlasting life are both, therefore, results of the act of God that is the new birth – the Calvinists are right about this – but of these results, faith is logically prior to everlasting life – the Calvinists are wrong about this.
(20) There is a double play on words in this passage. The word ἄνωθεν translated “again” in “born again” means both “again, a second time” and “from above”, indicating the spiritual, heavenly nature of the second birth. The word πνεῦμα means both “spirit” and “wind” and is used for both in the passage.
(21) Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-14.
(22) Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61, St. Irenaeus, Fragment, 34, Tertullian, Baptism, 12:1, Recognitions of Clement, 6:9, St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letters, 71:1, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 3:4, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 3:26, St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, The Holy Spirit, 15:35, St. Ambrose of Milan, The Mysteries, 4:20, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 2:8, St. John Chrysostom, The Priesthood, 3:5-6, St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration on Holy Baptism, 7-8. St. Augustine of Hippo, Letters, 98:2.
(23) See Dr. Luther’s sermon on this text for Trinity Sunday, 1526.
(24) In this passage the preservation of the believer is associated with the believer’s having been given to Jesus by the Father. In the Gospel of John Jesus speaks both of His having been given by the Father (3:16) and of those whom the Father has given Him. When Jesus is the One spoken of as having been given by the Father the recipient is identified as “the world”, i.e., everybody. This is the doctrine of universal grace. When Jesus is spoken of as the recipient of others that the Father has given these others are limited to those who believe in Him. This is the doctrine of election, which is also associated with the doctrine of preservation in John 10 and Romans 8. The two belong together as parts of the doctrine of sola gratia – that salvation, from its beginning in God’s eternal design to its end in future glory is entirely the work of God’s grace alone. Universal grace and sola gratia are both affirmed by the Scriptures but universalism, the idea that everyone will eventually be saved, is not. This has led to many theological disputes, beginning with the controversy over Pelagianism in the early Church. Pelagius, by denying Original Sin and teaching that the potential for perfection remained in human free will after the Fall, denied sola gratia. St. Augustine defended sola gratia against Pelagius and the orthodox, Apostolic, Church formally agreed with St. Augustine by upholding, in the third ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in 431 AD, the condemnation of Pelagianism as heresy by the regional Synod of Carthage thirteen years earlier. The Reformers believed that the late medieval works-righteousness they were fighting was due to semi-Pelagianism creeping back into the Church despite the official condemnation and took a strong Augustinian position. For this reason, the Protestant Confessions of the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches all affirm election/predestination. In the Reformed Churches that followed Calvin, however, this is joined with a doctrine of reprobation (predestination to damnation) that is not found in the Anglican Articles (Article XVII deals with election/predestination) and which is firmly rejected by the Lutheran Confessions. Double predestination (election and reprobation) was taught by Calvin himself but his followers went much further in their rejection of the doctrine of universal grace. Theodore Beza developed the doctrine of supralapsarianism in which the decree of reprobation is made to be prior to the decree to permit the Fall. Any attempt to inquire into God’s eternal decrees is both foolish and forbidden but supralapsarianism is even worse than just that because in this doctrine reprobation is not God choosing to reject sinners qua sinners, as in ordinary Calvinism, but God rejecting X number of people first and then allowing the Fall into sin in order to have grounds to condemn them. This is blasphemous in the extreme and it was this doctrine that prompted Jacob Arminius to go in the opposite direction of an almost semi-Pelagian synergism. In response to Arminius, or more specifically to the five-point Remonstrance that his followers drew up after his death, the Reformed Churches held the Synod of Dort, the five canons of which, each a response to a corresponding point in the Remonstrance, became known as the Five Points of Calvinism. While the Canons of Dort do not affirm supralapsarianism, one of the Five Points is “Limited Atonement”, the idea that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the elect and only of the elect not for the sins of the whole world. This goes way further than Calvin was willing to go and completes Calvinism’s rejection of universal grace. The Lutherans also saw synergism arise in their circles, including for a time in Luther’s right-hand Philip Melanchthon, but it was a smaller problem than Arminianism perhaps because Lutheranism had never taught reprobation and had always affirmed universal grace alongside sola gratia. In the Formula of Concord they rejected both synergism as violating sola gratia and reprobation as violating universal grace, taking the position that God alone is responsible for salvation without any human cooperation and that man bears the full responsibility for his own damnation. Whereas Calvinism says that what ultimately divides the saved from the lost is God’s eternal decree and Arminianism says that what ultimately divides them is man’s free will, orthodox Lutherans say that there is no answer to the question of cur alii, alii non (why some, not others). Francis Pieper, the leading theologian of the Missouri Synod, argued this point quite vehemently in his Christian Dogmatics, although he also points to the means of grace – Word and Sacrament – as the explanation of why grace that is universal in scope and which saves without the cooperation of men does not automatically result in the salvation of all (when God wills to do something through means His will is resistible). Pieper’s extensive discussion of the means of grace can be found in Volume III, pages 104-219, his discussion of election on pages 473-503 of the same volume. The Anglican Articles affirm only election, making no mention of reprobation. Archbishop Whitgift attempted to move the Church to a more explicitly Calvinist position with his 1595 Lambeth Articles, the first of which affirms reprobation, but this move was disapproved by Queen Elizabeth I. The Articles of Religion had been part of the Settlement aimed at ending religious strife in her realm and she recognized in radical Calvinism a potential threat to the established order and peace. This threat would be actualized in the reigns of her successors. The increasingly extreme Calvinists of the Jacobean and Caroline eras accused men like Bishop Lancelot Andrewes and Archbishop William Laud of “Arminianism” but there is no evidence of any deviation from the Thirty-Nine Articles in the direction of the doctrines of the Remonstrants, merely opposition to the extreme views of the Lambeth Articles. Benjamin Guyer dismisses the accusations of Arminianism, noting that the works of Arminius, the Remonstrant Confession, and the leading Remonstrant theologians, far from being promoted during the reign of Charles I, were not published in English until after the English Civil War. The Beauty of Holiness: The Caroline Divines and Their Writings, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012), pp. 22-23. After the Restoration there was an exodus of many Calvinists from the Church of England into the dissenting sects, with the Calvinists who remained within the Church referring to themselves as “Evangelicals” in contradistinction to the “Orthodox” who followed in the footsteps of Andrewes and Laud. These labels were somewhat misleading, as both groups affirmed the Thirty-Nine Articles which included both the orthodoxy of the early Church (Articles I-VIII), and the evangelical doctrine of justification (Article XI). At this time, before Latitudinarianism went to seed in the Church, the Articles were taken seriously. While the Evangelicals or “Low Churchmen” frequently accused the Orthodox or “High Churchmen” of holding the Articles lightly it is arguable that there was a greater tendency to deviate from the high Sacramentalism of the Articles in the direction of Zwinglianism among the Calvinists than there was a tendency to deviate in the other direction among the Orthodox, at least until the Oxford Movement introduced a new, more Romeward oriented, High Churchmanship in the nineteenth century. See Peter B. Nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760–1857, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
(25) John Calvin would be an example of that willful blindness. He wrote in regards to verse 53: “for this discourse does not relate to the Lord's Supper, but to the uninterrupted communication of the flesh of Christ, which we obtain apart from the use of the Lord's Supper.” In commenting on the verse that follows he says “From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation” after which he makes one of the most obtuse statements in his entire corpus of writing “And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord's Supper, before he had instituted it” by which reasoning Jesus’ prediction that He would raise up “this temple” in three days would have been “foolish and unreasonable” as, for that matter, would be the entire predictive aspect of prophetic writings in the Scriptures. As for his argument against this passage applying to the Lord’s Supper he has taken an argument against the ex opera operato view of the Sacrament, in which it conveys grace in itself apart from its role in producing/confirming/strengthening the faith that receives that grace, and used it to dismiss the reference in the passage to the Sacrament altogether. Those who partake of the Sacrament to their condemnation (1 Cor. 11:29) do so by “not discerning the Lord’s body”, i.e., by not receiving it in faith. This does not qualify as eating His flesh and drinking His blood in the sense of John 6:54 but it does not follow that the Sacrament is not in view here. Calvin, as a leading figure in the Swiss Reformation, was essentially Zwinglian in his views, although he frequently tried to find a middle ground between Zwingli and Luther when they disagreed. Accordingly, on this too he tries to both have his cake and eat it, writing shortly after the previously quoted words “And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord's Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon.” I have been quoting from Calvin’s Commentary on John as translated by the Rev. William Pringle (1847).
(26) “These things have I written unto you” in 1 John 5:13 refers to the immediately previous passage about God’s testimony, through Spirit, water, and blood, to His having given everlasting life in His Son to all who believe, and not to the epistle in its entirety as the popular, but erroneous, “tests of life” interpretation of this epistle says. The same expression “these things have I written unto you” or one equivalent to it occurs elsewhere in the epistle, each time with a different purpose, each time referring to the immediate context. 1 John 2:1 uses the expression with regards to what he has just written at the end of the previous chapter about walking in light and darkness and confessing ones sins, whereas 2:26 uses it to refer to the discussion of the antichrists which begins at verse eighteen in the same chapter. While these are the most directly parallel verses compare also 2:12, 13, and 14. The purpose of the epistle as a whole is found in the first four verses of the first chapter.
(27) Kurt E. Marquart included an excellent discussion of this under the heading “The Gospel and the Space-Time Gap” in his essay “Law, Gospel, and Means of Grace”, the fifth chapter in The Saving Truth: Doctrine for Laypeople, (Luther Academy, 2016), the first volume in the Truth, Salvatory and Churchly: Works of Kurt E. Marquart series edited by Ken Schurb and Robert Paul. Most of the chapters in this particular volume were written by Marquart for a book on basic doctrines for laypeople that he had been working on but had not completed by his death in 2006. “Salvation has happened to the human race in Christ. In Him is all of God, and all of His grace. Whoever does not find God in Christ will never find Him anywhere else – even if he were to go over heaven, under hell, or into space, as Luther was fond of repeating” Marquart writes. However “The problem arises when we go on to ask: How does all this come to us now? It happened two thousand years ago and, for North Americans, several thousand miles away. How is this space-time gap to be bridged? How does the salvation in Jesus there and then get to us here and now?” Marquart contrasts the “usual answer in popular Protestantism (of the conservative kind)” which is “that we must pray, or wrestle, or make a decision or commitment, or in some other way ‘come to Calvary’”, an answer in which we are the ones who must bridge the gap by our faith, with his and Luther’s answer that “The space-time barrier between the cross and us cannot be pierced from our side. God Himself penetrates it with His holy means of grace.” He illustrates this with a diagram containing two funnels, one indicating God’s grace coming down from heaven at the cross, the second extending sidewise from “then and there” to “here and now” which represents “Gospel: Word and Sacraments” and points to 1 John 5:6-8 as the passage where “the two poles or ‘funnels” come together beautifully.” The quotations and diagram are from pages 82-84. In the context of the larger chapter, Marquart notes what a radical difference these two answers make to our understanding of faith. “It is not an exercise in spiritual ingenuity or religious heroics. Faith is from beginning to end a gracious gift of God. It has no existence apart from the Word of God which creates it and which it embraces (Rom. 10:17). It is not as though God had done His part in providing salvation in Christ and now it were up to us to do our part in response. Even the response – that is, the reception of God’s gift-is itself a gift (Phil. 1:29) from the Father Who through His Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) draws people to His Son (John 6:44).” (pp. 85-86)
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