Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calvin: The Lord's Supper - the visible gospel...

I recently finished reading the biography Calvin by Bruce Gordon. Gordon gives a very accessible, balanced portrait of the man, his life and theology and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this 16th century reformer.  I want to draw from Gordon's chapter on "Healing Christ's Body" to highlight a theme I've touched on before (herehere, and here), the feeding of God's people in the preaching of the gospel and the Lord's Supper:
  • ... when asked in the Genevan catechism why God had instituted the signs of bread and wine, the response was 'the Lord consulted our weakness, teaching us in a more familiar manner that he is not only food to our souls, but drink also, so that we are not to seek any part of spiritual life anywhere else than in him alone'... Gospel and sacrament, for Calvin, are the same but different, and cannot exist without one another.  Humans, sensuous creatures that they are, require external forms as aid to faith, and this is what God has provided.  Eating the bread and drinking the wine are not simply an act, but together with the Word of God spoken from the pulpit they form the means by which the Christian receives Christ. (p.165)
From A Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper, Calvin wrote:
  • Here, then, is the singular consolation which we derive from the Supper.  It directs and leads us to the cross of Jesus Christ and to his resurrection, to certify that whatever iniquity there may be in us, the Lord nevertheless recognises and accepts us as righteous - whatever materials of death may be in us, he nevertheless gives us life - whatever misery may be in us, he nevertheless fills us with all felicity.  Or to explain the matter more simply - as in ourselves we are devoid of all good, and have not one particle of what might help to procure salvation, the Supper is an attestation that, having been made partakers of the death and passion of Jesus Christ, we have every thing that is useful and salutary to us.
Gordon continues,
  • Through the instruments of bread and wine God gives Christ to the people - to receive the symbols (bread and wine) is to receive what they signify (Christ).  The dynamic in Calvin's teaching is between knowledge and faith.  Through preaching, catechising and schooling the people are taught the nature of God and salvation through Christ.  They are instructed in the Christian life.  This is the knowledge revealed in scripture and it is the duty of ministers to teach and of laity to learn.  But Calvin did not mean mere head learning, as we might call it - facts about religion.  In learning of God and Christ a person begins to hunger for that salvation.  That is the work of faith, which opens eyes to the reality of sin and the goodness of God.  Yet because humans, even the faithful, are weak and sinful, they need to be continually fed.  This is the role of preaching and the Lord's Supper [emphasis mine]. (p.166)

No comments:

Post a Comment