CLOSER COMMUNION The Sacraments in Scripture and Tradition by CLIFFORD KEW
D A ND
Thou Shepherd of Israel, and mine, The joy and desire of my heart, For closer communion I pine, I long to reside where Thou art
SALVATIONIST PUBLISHING AND SUPPLIES, LTD, JUDD STREET, KING’S CROSS, LONDON WCIH 9NN
© The Salvation Army 1980 First published 1980 Reprinted 1986 ISBN 0 85412 4810
SUBSTANCE OR SHADOW? . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
MAJOR CLIFFORD W. KEW, MA,
NO CONFIDENCE IN ANYTHING EXTERNAL .
became a Salvation Army officer in 1957. After serving as a corps officer in the United Kingdom he was appointed to the teaching staff of Mazoe Secondary School, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1968, becoming Vice-Principal in 1971. He has served in the Literary Department, International Headquarters, since 1972, as Editor of Bible Manuals, as Secretary for Missionary Literature, as Editor of The Soldier’s Armoury, and as Editor of The Officer magazine. He then served at the officers’ training college of the UK Territory, and retired in 1996.
THE DEAFENING SILENCE—(i) BAPTISM . . .
THE DEAFENING SILENCE—(ii) THE RITUAL MEAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
WHICH BAPTISM? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
THE ‘REAL PRESENCE’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NOT BINDING ON OUR CONSCIENCE . . . . . . .
The Major is author of The Good Life (studies of scriptural holiness), To Tell the Truth (on John’s gospel) and Question Time (Lent studies in Matthew’s gospel co-authored with his wife Maureen). He also edited a collection of essays on Catherine Booth—Her Continuing Relevance. NB An earlier book referred to in this volume is The Salvationist and the Sacraments by William Metcalf, published by the Missionary Literature Section of the International HQ of The Salvation Army, 1965.
1 Substance or Shadow? PERHAPS the most important difference between The Salvation Army’s way of worshipping and that of many other religious denominations is that it does not use certain fixed ceremonies or ‘sacraments’ which others regard as necessary. The Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Church list seven such sacraments— baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, anointing (extreme unction or ‘last rites’), ordination and matrimony. The Protestant Churches, however, recognize as sacraments only two of these—baptism and holy communion (eucharist), though even within Protestantism there is a good deal of disagreement about how they should be used. In this book, our consideration will be limited to the two ‘Protestant’ ceremonies. ‘Sacrament’ is not, of course, a biblical word. Its origin is found in the Latin word sacramentum which referred to a legal oath or solemn promise. It might be used of a soldier taking an ‘oath of allegiance’, or even refer to a deposit paid into court by a litigant who thereby bound himself to abide by the verdict handed down by the court. In the Vulgate—Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, accepted as the ‘authorized version’ of the early Roman Church—this word is used to translate the Greek word musterion, which did not carry the same meaning as the modern English word ‘mystery’, ie something secret to which the key has not been found. In the New Testament musterion had a more restricted meaning— that which was formerly unknown and can now be known only by revelation. (See Ephesians 1:9; 3:3,9; 5:32; Colossians 1:27 and 1 Timothy 3:9,16 for examples of the use of the word.) iv
Thus we may regard the modern use of the word ‘sacrament’ as indicating some mysterious means by which God communicates grace (the blessed and undeserved influence by which He creates and sustains spiritual life in believers). This process cannot be understood by ‘outsiders’, but only through revelation by God and faith on the part of the believer. Traditionally, the word ‘sacrament’ has been applied to outward ceremonies which are deemed to be necessary to the communication of such grace. But are such outward ceremonies essential to grace? The clearest, and perhaps the only, definition of worship given in the Gospels is: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24).* To worship God, we may conclude, the only essentials are that we are aware of His presence in our inner being, and that we want to know all we can about Him because we realize that in Him is the whole truth about life. That is, worship necessarily involves our minds and our spirits; it does not necessarily involve things, including physical symbols or ceremonies. This whole passage (John 4:19-26) shows that true worship is not to be restricted to particular places or particular modes of worship. Nevertheless, human minds are finite and men do find difficulty in understanding theological concepts without using things to represent their spiritual relationship with God. Therefore they have usually used aids to worship which are pictures-in-action of what is happening within themselves. It was Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) who first gave the classic definition of a sacrament as ‘an outward and temporal sign of an inward and enduring grace’. *Scriptural quotations are from The New English Bible unless otherwise stated.
The Salvation Army has never said that it is wrong to use sacraments, nor does it deny that other Christians receive grace from God by using these aids to worship and Christian living. What Salvationists do say is that sacraments can be valuable only so long as their users do not rely on the observance of the ceremonies instead of on the Holy Spirit. The Army itself might be said to have its own ‘sacraments’—eg the public sign of surrender to God when a penitent kneels at the Mercy Seat; the swearingin of a soldier under the flag; or the dedication of a child by its parents. These are all outward signs with inner spiritual meaning, and they also may be dangerous if regarded as anything greater than symbols of the inward acceptance of grace. The Army’s position, then, is: (a) that none of these ways of receiving grace or blessing from God (including those used by The Salvation Army) is essential to salvation or to Christian living; (b) that these are only outward signs of an inward experience, which is the really important thing; (c) that the full measure of Christian experience may be received by other means; and (d) that there are disadvantages to the use of the traditional sacraments which have caused The Salvation Army to cease to use them in its form of worship (see chapter 7). Salvationists feel also that they, with the Society of Friends (the ‘Quakers’), are a reminder to the whole Christian Church that it is possible to live a holy life without the use of particular sacraments. This, however, places upon them the responsibility to prove this claim in their own lives, a responsibility which should save them from adopting a self-righteous stance in their omission of the traditional sacraments from their pattern of worship. Many Christians would argue, however, that the 3
sacraments of baptism and holy communion are essential because Jesus commanded their use, and commanded their use for all time. Had He in fact done so, then Salvationists would have to observe these sacraments, for they claim that the Bible is the ‘rule of Christian faith and practice’. In fact, as will be argued in chapters three and four, there are very few reliable New Testament references to these practices, and even fewer (if any) which show an intention on the part of Jesus, or even of the Early Church leaders, that they should become fixed ceremonies to be used for ever. In this connection, Dr T. R. Glover (Conflicts of Religions in the Early Roman Empire) states: ‘There is a growing consensus of opinion that Jesus instituted no sacraments.’ And the pro-sacramentalist A. J. B. Higgins in his study in biblical theology (The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament) states: ‘We cannot really be certain whether Jesus in so many words enjoined the repetition of what was done at the Last Supper.’ The eminent German theologian Emil Brunner writes: ‘The “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” is still valid and real where there is no celebration of the Lord’s Supper.... The decisive test of one’s belonging to Christ is not reception of baptism, nor partaking in the Lord’s Supper, but solely and exclusively a union with Christ through faith which shows itself active in love.’ The Baptist Professor H. H. Rowley writes: ‘What matters most is not that a man has been voluntarily immersed, any more than that he has been baptized in infancy, but that he has truly died with Christ and been raised again to newness of life in Him.... The symbol is worthless without that which it symbolizes.’ Such statements are typical of many others that could be quoted from scholars who are certainly not seeking to disparage the use of sacraments in the Church.
It is not to be assumed, therefore, that the Army’s position is a negative one, merely countering the arguments of others in order to justify its own practice, though, of course, Salvationists may have to clear the ground of false assumptions made by others before they are free to build their own beliefs and practices on that foundation of which 1 Corinthians 3:11 says: ‘There can be no other foundation beyond that which is already laid; I mean Jesus Christ himself.’ As a Movement the Army has rightly been more concerned with what is included in its worship than with what is excluded, but increasing contacts with other denominations make it necessary for its members to be aware of the strong arguments which can be produced in favour of the non-sacramentalist position. Further, The Salvation Army does the Church at large a service when it asserts that no Christian should be satisfied with mere ceremonial observance. To quote the Army’s Handbook of Doctrine: ‘It is certain that the discharge of essential Christian obligations requires more than a ceremonial recognition. Such vital requirements as communion with God in prayer, the constant receiving of His grace, open confession of Christ, the proclamation of His gospel, and the need to demonstrate the unity and fellowship of His disciples, cannot be fulfilled symbolically, nor by activities that are confined to the sanctuary.’ Nevertheless, in stating the reasons for the nonobservance of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist, Salvationists must ensure that they cling all the more tenaciously to the positive spiritual experience which those two ceremonies may be used by others to represent. As The Sacraments—the Salvationist’s Viewpoint puts it, every Salvationist should intensify ‘the search for the substance of which all… symbolism is
but the shadow’. We are to seek a totally sacramental attitude to life: So shall no part of day or night From sacredness be free: But all my life, in every step, Be fellowship with Thee. Horatius Bonar (The Song Book of The Salvation Army, No 4)
2 No Confidence in Anything External THE first chapter stated that this examination of beliefs about, and use of, sacraments is not prompted by a negative or destructive spirit, but is undertaken in order to ‘clear the decks’ of the false assumptions which have historically grown up around this subject. We will then be able to come to positive conclusions which may govern our own thoughts and actions. If this is not done Salvationists may have a subconscious guilt complex about the non-observance of the sacraments, even though they may accept the Army’s position in practice. However, before looking at the two sacraments in detail, we should note the general biblical attitude towards ritual ceremonies. Both Old and New Testaments are agreed that the receiving of grace does not necessarily depend on any type of ceremonial, though ceremonies may be a means of grace. The Bible writings and the subsequent history of the Christian Church prove that such means of grace are subject to abuse, and that there tends to be a gradual drift from their first purpose into a rigid ritualism, in which the symbol comes to be regarded as the reality, the means becomes the end, and the spiritual reality is lost sight of. What was once a meaningful ceremony may easily become a meaningless observance for a later generation which has lost sight of the original spiritual reality. In the Old Testament we can see that this happened repeatedly in such matters as circumcision, the use of the Temple, the Passover meal, and the whole sacrificial system. The people frequently lost touch with the Spirit 7
of God, even though they were rigidly observing the ritual requirements of their faith. The prophets continually challenged the current dependence on outward signs. See, for example, Psalms 40:6-8; 51:17,19; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:21-26; 31:31-34 (where the ‘new covenant’ requires no outward signs); Hosea 6:4-6; Amos 5:21-27 and Micah 6:6-8. Prophecy, however, died out during the Exile, a priestly element in the religious life of the Jews became predominant, and the ritual aspects of religion were reemphasized. Early evidence of this can be seen in chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel, where material symbolism is central, and in the legalism of Ezra. It was the chief contemporary proponents of this ritual and legalistic emphasis with whom Jesus in His day had a head-on confrontation, opposing them whenever He saw legalism and ceremony taking the place of that religious and spiritual reality which the symbolism was intended to represent. For Jesus’ statements on the subject, see Matthew 5:17-48; 12:1-13 (with Mark 2:27,28); 22:34-40; 23:1-39; Mark 7:1-23 and Luke 18:914. It would seem unlikely in the light of these passages (especially Matthew 23) that Jesus would have commanded new ceremonies with similar dangers. Moving on to The Acts of the Apostles, it is worth noting that, when the Jerusalem Church gave judgement on what was to be required of non-Jewish converts to Christianity, no rituals were included in the essentials which ‘it seemed good to the Holy Ghost’ to require (Acts 15, especially verses 11 and 28, Authorized Version). The letters of Paul show how much he endorsed this decision. Though he could claim to be ‘a Hebrew born and bred; in my attitude to the law, a Pharisee’ (Philip-
pians 3:5, ie brought up to observe the Law in its minutest detail), he did not require, or even advise, the use of ritual ceremonies. Indeed, the general tendency of his arguments is against their use—see, for example, Philippians 3:2-11, especially verse 3: ‘We are the circumcised, we whose worship is spiritual, whose pride is in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in anything external.’ Paul has much to say against requiring circumcision (‘the first great sacrament of Judaism’) as a condition of membership of the Church, or as an essential for spiritual life. This may be seen in Romans 2:25-29; 4:1-12; 1 Corinthians 7:17-19; Galatians 5:2-6; 6:12-16; Colossians 2:11,13 (NB the phrase ‘not in a physical sense’) and 3:9-11. Passages of a more general nature which emphasize the importance of spirituality as against ritualism and legalism may be found in Romans 5:1,2; 8:1-16; 14:22,23; 2 Corinthians 3:6-18; Galatians 2:16-21; 3:29,13,14,24-29 (especially verse 3—‘You started with the spiritual; do you now look to the material to make you perfect?’); 4:6-11; 5:18-25 and Colossians 2:6-23. The epistle to the Hebrews clearly teaches that, because of the work of Jesus, much of the Jews’ ceremonial was no longer necessary: (a) The priesthood is replaced by our ‘high priest’— Jesus (7:20-26,28; 10:11-14,19-22). In practice, the administration of the sacraments has usually led to the maintenance of an exclusive priesthood. The Salvation Army does not accept the concept of priesthood in that exclusive sense but believes in ‘the priesthood of all believers’, including women, who are still barred from the administration of the sacraments in many places. (b) The sacrifices on the altar are replaced by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself (7:27; 9:9-15,27,28; 10:1-6).
(c) The ‘old covenant’ is replaced by a ‘new covenant’ written ‘on their hearts’ (8:7-13). (d) The sanctuary in Tabernacle or Temple is replaced by a sanctuary ‘not… made by men’s hands’ (9:1-8,24). (e) What is now required from the worshipper is ‘sincerity of heart’ and ‘assurance of faith’(10:22). On this basis, is there any justification for abolishing circumcision and the Passover meal, only to replace them with baptism and holy communion? There is a further strong argument against any dependence on ritual ceremonies in the silence concerning this matter of sacraments in most other New Testament writings. If sacraments were central to the faith and practice of the Early Church, surely we would expect them to be of central importance throughout the New Testament. Yet so often sacramental ceremonies are not mentioned when one would expect them to be mentioned if Jesus had really commanded their observance. Again and again the most important things in Christian faith and practice are listed, and again and again there is no mention of the sacraments (eg Romans 12:6-16; 2 Timothy 4:1,2,5; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 4:7-11). The silence is deafening!
3 The Deafening Silence—(i) Baptism THE word ‘baptize’ comes from a Greek word (baptidzein) which means ‘to dip’. In many religions bathing has been used as a sign of spiritual cleansing and, in the time of Jesus, gentiles who wanted to become Jews were baptized as a sign of repentance and conversion to the Jewish faith. In the New Testament, at least five other kinds of baptism are mentioned, and it is important to know which verses refer to which type. We shall find that many references have little to do with the ceremony of water baptism as practised in the churches today, and this should help us to avoid unnecessary confusion. 1. John the Baptist’s baptism. This was different from normal Jewish baptism in that he included people who were ‘born’ Jews. He told them that they, as well as the gentiles, needed to repent, and that they should not think that they would enter the coming Kingdom just because they were ‘sons of Abraham’ (see Matthew 3:8,9). 2. The Christian ceremony of physical baptism. This was the baptism of adult believers by dipping them completely under water (total immersion). The accompanying formula was ‘in the name of Jesus’, and only much later ‘in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. We should note here that in various branches of the Church other forms of baptism have been used; for example, by sprinkling with water rather than by immersion, and infant baptism as against adult baptism. These are not found in the New Testament and have been, and to some extent still are, the focus of much argument among Christians. Infant baptism has often 11
been regarded by parents almost as a magical charm to safeguard the child’s place in the Kingdom of God in case of early death, in much the same way as the Jews trusted in being ‘sons of Abraham’. 3. Baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is a spiritual experience rather than an outward sign. 4. Baptism into Christ’s sufferings. In many places ‘baptism’ is used as a figure of speech meaning to undergo a certain experience and emerge ‘a new man’. 5. Proxy baptism for the dead. A believer would be baptized on behalf of someone who had died without being baptized. Paul stated (in 1 Corinthians 15:29) that he believed this to be a misuse of baptism. *
Let us now study the New Testament references to baptism with these different categories in mind.
type 4 above), ie in the sense of undergoing a particular experience (Mark 10;38,39; Luke 12:50). The only places in the synoptic Gospels where Jesus appears to require baptism are: (i) in a late addition to Mark’s Gospel (16:16), not included in early manuscripts and translations; and (ii) in a verse which uses the words ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, which many scholars believe Jesus would not have used at that time (Matthew 28:19). Both these verses may therefore reflect the later customs of the Early Church rather than the thinking of Jesus Himself. There is no evidence in the Acts of the Apostles that the second formula (‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’) was known and used. The words used were ‘in the name of Jesus’ or ‘the Lord’ (eg Acts 10:48). Note further that even if the two commands mentioned above (Mark 16:16 and Matthew 28:19) are the original words of Jesus, water is not specifically mentioned in either. When Jesus sent out ‘the twelve’ (Matthew 10:1 to 11:1) and ‘the seventy-two’ (Luke 10:1-16), He gave no instruction to baptize, nor is there any report of the apostles having done so (Luke 10:17-20).
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Jesus showed that He supported the call to national repentance, made by John the Baptist, by Himself being baptized, the ceremony of baptism being accompanied in His case by a special sign that He was blessed by the Holy Spirit. However, when John protested that he was unworthy to baptize Jesus, Jesus said, ‘Let it be so for the present; we do well to conform in this way’ (see Matthew 3:13-17), which suggests that baptism was not necessarily to be a permanent practice. However, the important thing was not the use of water, but the experience of the Holy Spirit within Him. John himself suggested that his baptism was not satisfactory and would be replaced by a more spiritual baptism (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). Jesus clearly used the word ‘baptism’ on occasion, not in the sense of water baptism but in a spiritual sense (see
John’s Gospel In John 1:32-34 it is reported that John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit, in contrast with his own baptism in water, and though it is said that Jesus Himself baptized in water at the beginning of His ministry (3:22, 23), this is contradicted (or at least clarified) in the next chapter (4:2), where it is said that only His disciples did so. Even if Jesus did baptize on occasions, He did not always do so. Therefore water baptism was not essential for those who wished to enter His Kingdom. (It should be noted that there is no account of Jesus’ baptism in John’s Gospel.) When John quotes Jesus as speaking of being ‘born
from water and spirit’ (3:5), it is quite possible that by being ‘born from water’ He meant physical birth, especially as this is specifically mentioned in the previous and following verses. Being ‘born from water’ might well be a valid description of physical birth. Yet this text has often been taken as the scriptural foundation of Christian baptism. In another verse of the same passage (verse 8) there is no reference to water—just ‘born from spirit’. In other parts of this Gospel, ‘water’ is obviously used as a figure of speech, eg 4:13,14 and 7:37-39. In the latter passage John clearly states that Jesus is using the phrase ‘streams of living water’ to mean ‘the Spirit’. Even if the interpretation of ‘born from water’ as referring to physical birth were to be rejected, is there any reason for supposing that water is not being used to symbolize spiritual life in chapter 3, even though it is clearly being used in this way in chapters 4 and 7? Thus there seems to be no compelling evidence in this Gospel to require Christians to practise water baptism.
The Acts of the Apostles Even when we come to the practice of the Early Church, there is no strong evidence to prove that it required all Christians to undergo water baptism. The ceremony did take place without doubt, but only as a useful symbol of entering into new life. (The Salvation Army is not against baptism as a sign, but only against regarding it as an essential to becoming a Christian.) It is worth noting that in Acts baptism is clearly shown to be water baptism in only two cases—8:36-38 and 10:47,48 (with 11:16,17). In the latter case, baptism with the Holy Spirit took place before the water baptism (10:44) and therefore cannot depend upon it. In contrast, Simon the Sorcerer was condemned by Peter as unchristian although he had already been baptized (8:9-24). 14
Elsewhere in Acts ‘John’s baptism’ by water is shown to be unacceptable as the mark of a Christian. Only the baptism with the Holy Spirit can make a complete Christian (11:15,16; 18:24-26; 19:1-7). There are other instances where water baptism is probably intended— 2:41; 9:19 (with 22:16); 16:15,33 and 18:8—but wherever ‘baptism’ and ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit’ are mentioned side by side (1:5; 2:38; 8:13-17), either they are regarded as the same or Holy Spirit baptism is clearly seen to be the more important. We may therefore conclude that, though the pre-Christian custom of water baptism did, to some extent, continue in the Early Church, the experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit was not dependent on water baptism and was regarded as of much greater importance than the external ceremony.
The Epistles The practice of water baptism receives even less support in the epistles. The statements concerning baptism in Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12 and 1 Peter 3:21,22 seem certainly to refer primarily to a spiritual experience rather than to an outward ceremony. Even if the outward ceremony took place, the inward experience was what mattered. In Hebrews 6:1-3 there is a reference to ‘cleansing rites’ which may include water baptism, but if so it is included in the ‘rudiments of Christianity’ (6:1) which the writer exhorts the Jewish Christians to ‘stop discussing’ (6:1) and ‘advance towards maturity’ (6:3). In 1 Corinthians Paul seems to be actively discouraging water baptism. Verses 10-16 of chapter 1 show that he considered it a divisive practice which he had used only on rare occasions at Corinth, and verse 17 makes it clear that it was certainly not the main feature, if indeed it was a part at all, of his own ministry. As was
noted earlier, chapter 15 contains a reference (verse 29) to the possibility of the misuse of the rite (proxy baptisms on behalf of the dead) which had already become an actuality at Corinth. *
If, therefore, as is stated in Ephesians 4:5, there is only ‘one baptism’, that surely must be baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is that ‘baptism’ that is the distinguishing mark of the Christian (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13). That divisions and misuse in the matter of baptism have occurred can be seen from the ensuing history of the Church (to which we shall return in chapter 5). If, therefore, there is no firm evidence that Jesus intended all Christians to be baptized in water, or that the Early Church regarded baptism as essential to spiritual experience and church membership, is it not an allowable course to seek the experience of Holy Spirit baptism without being tied to an external sign that can create serious difficulties? One anonymous Salvationist writer put it this way: ‘Baptism without water, but with the Holy Ghost, is far more scriptural than baptism with water, but without the Holy Ghost.’
4 The Deafening Silence—(ii) The Ritual Meal THE sacramental ceremony of the Lord’s Supper is also known in various churches as holy communion, the eucharist and the mass. Its historical foundation is usually thought to be in ‘the last supper’ held by Jesus with His disciples. This, it would seem, was a Passover meal, a pre-Christian Jewish celebration held annually to remind the Jews of the time when their ancestors escaped from slavery in Egypt (the Exodus). In order to understand Jesus’ ‘last supper’ we need to know what the pattern of the Passover meal was: (1) The president of the group (including not less than 10 nor more than 20 men) prayed at length, blessing the first of four cups of diluted red wine, which was then passed round. (2) All present washed their hands. (3) Each person took bitter herbs and dipped them in a dish of vinegar and salt water. (4) The second cup of wine was circulated. (5) One of the young boys asked questions about the meaning of the feast and the president of the group gave the answers (see Exodus 12:26,27; 13:8). (6) Psalms 113 and 114 were sung. (7) The main meal took place, consisting of the roast lamb previously sacrificed at the Temple, unleavened bread, and herbs in a fruit sauce. (8) The third cup of wine was drunk. (9) A prayer of thanksgiving was made. (10) The fourth cup was shared. (11) Psalms 115 to 118 were sung. We can now see how Jesus followed this pattern while emphasizing certain elements of it and thus adding to its significance. He took the place of the father or president of the group. Instead of the washing of hands (2), He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). The handing 17
of a piece of bread to Judas (Mark 14:18-21; John 13:2130) and the reference to the broken bread as a symbol of His body (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) probably refer to (7). Jesus’ reference to His Blood (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:17,18) would come at (8) or (10). The singing of the psalms (11) is referred to in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26. There is, however, some doubt as to whether this was a ‘proper’ Passover meal. Matthew, Mark and Luke firmly suggest that it was, ie that it took place on the Thursday evening (the start of the Passover ‘day’), but John says it was ‘before the Passover’ (13:1), ie probably on Wednesday evening, so that he links the Crucifixion with the killing of the paschal lambs in the Temple on Thursday afternoon (19:14,31). Because of the rather haphazard nature of the Jewish calendar we cannot even be sure on which day the festival began, but the important thing is that the meal followed the Passover pattern.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Compared with Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, Luke’s seems rather muddled. In the passage as given in the Authorized Version the cup of wine is mentioned twice, the first time before the breaking of bread (Luke 22:17,18), and the second time in apparent contradiction of Jesus’ earlier words that He would not drink wine again until the Kingdom came (22:20). Some scholars have concluded that Luke, or more likely a later editor, put alongside each other two traditional accounts of what happened (22:15-19a and 22:19b,20) without harmonizing their inconsistencies. This view is strengthened by the fact that in the oldest manuscripts verse 20 does not appear, nor (in verse 19) do the crucial words, ‘Do this as a memorial of me.’ These words are
therefore omitted from the text of such modern translations as The New English Bible and some editions of The Revised Standard Version. Other editions, and the Good News Bible, have footnotes stating that these words are not included in some manuscripts. As far back as 1881 Westcott and Hort, in their standard text of the Greek New Testament, wrote: ‘The evidence leaves no… doubt that the words in question were absent from the original text of Luke....’ If this command in Luke 22:19 is not part of the original Gospel, it must be very doubtful whether it was actually an original statement of Jesus, especially as it is not found in any other Gospel. If, for example, one remembers that Mark is presumed to have been a ‘ghost writer’ for Peter, it seems most unlikely that the careless omission of what has since been taken to be a crucial command of Jesus would have been permitted in that Gospel. Yet the practice of this sacramental ceremony takes its authorization from these few words in some manuscripts of this Gospel of Luke alone. Even if Jesus did speak these words, He might easily have meant, ‘In future think of Me at the Passover meal, instead of, or in addition to, remembering Moses and the Exodus’ (see Exodus 12:14; 13:3,9). The words may have been directed to the disciples without being intended to be observed by all Christians (Jews and non-Jews) for all time. The Passover was an annual occurrence, and if any command was given it would surely have instituted an annual remembrance. To quote William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew: ‘The Last Supper was a real meal; it was, in fact, the law that the whole lamb and everything else must be eaten.... This was no eating of a cube of bread and drinking of a sip of wine. It was a meal for hungry men.... Jesus is not only Lord of the Communion Table; He must be Lord of the dinner table too.’
John’s Gospel When we come to the much later Gospel of John we find a noticeably different account. It seems as if John has deliberately diversified the symbolism regarding the efficacy of Jesus’ life and death, perhaps to counter a ritual concentration on bread and wine already evident in the Church at the time when he wrote. Instead of the Passover bread, he speaks of ‘the bread of life’ in connection with the feeding of a multitude (chapter 6). Instead of the wine, he speaks of Jesus as ‘the real vine’ (chapter 15). Instead of the Passover bread and wine, he gives a lengthy account of Jesus’ discourse with the disciples about the spiritual life (chapters 13-16), in which the symbolic act (13:3-17) is feet-washing, and the only reference to bread is when Jesus hands the sop to Judas. Jesus says quite clearly, ‘You ought to wash one another’s feet’ (see 13:14,15,17). Why do Christians not observe this command, and make of it a perpetual necessity for Church members, if they do that with a command that is less likely to be part of the original words of Jesus (ie ‘Do this as a memorial of me’)? It is as if John is acknowledging the need for symbolism, but after much reflection is saying, ‘Use as many symbols as possible, so that you may avoid a ritual concentration on one or two. And don’t take any of them literally. It is their spiritual meaning which is of paramount importance’ (see John 6:63). If we interpret literally passages like John 6:26-35,48-58 or 7:37,38 we completely miss the writer’s point. Perhaps we should adopt an approach similar to John’s in reading the synoptic accounts of ‘the last supper’. The Acts of the Apostles Furthermore in the Acts of the Apostles we find no reference to instructions for, or observance of, a ritual remembrance—not in the appearances of the Risen 20
Christ, nor at His Ascension, nor in the genesis of the Christian Church at Pentecost. The community of Christians did meet together (2:42) ‘to break bread’ (New English Bible) or have ‘fellowship meals’ (Good News Bible), no doubt as part of their sharing of all their possessions (2:44-46; 4:32). These meetings took place in private houses (2:46) and there is no suggestion of ceremonial (20:7,11; 27:33-38), or of the use of wine. ‘It was not a symbolic meal at which a mouthful of bread and a sip of wine were taken, but a real meal’ (Maurice Goguel—The Primitive Church). All that is recorded in Acts is a statement that they sometimes ate together in fellowship. Is it not remarkable that in the records of the Church in Peter’s time there is not one reference to the observance of the ceremony that Jesus is supposed to have instituted so recently? Is it not remarkable that in all the accounts of Paul’s travels we have no record of an observance of the ceremony? The only possible, but by no means certain, exception is in Acts 20:7, but there is nothing in the description to preclude the possibility that this was a simple common meal, preceded by a grace. Remember too that this book is by the same writer (Luke) who wrote the only Gospel which has ever included the words, ‘Do this as a memorial of me.’ If Luke had in fact quoted a clear command of Jesus in his Gospel, would he not have recorded its being obeyed in Acts?
The Epistles Next we must look at 1 Corinthians, which also includes the ‘Do this’ sentence (11:24). We need to remember that this letter was almost certainly written before the Gospels, and that the late inclusion of these words in Luke may in fact derive from Paul’s use here.
Passover bread is spoken of in 5:6-8, but purely as a figure of speech. Then in chapter 10 there is more vividly figurative language which refers to those Israelites under Moses who were involved sacramentally in God’s chosen people and yet ‘God was not pleased with most of them’ (verse 5, Good News Bible). In 10:16,17,21,22 there are undoubted references to a sacramental remembrance of ‘the last supper’, but these verses teach that such observances must not, as they easily can, lead to spiritual arrogance and false confidence. We must not ‘sit down to a feast, and rise up to revel’ (see verse 7) in the belief that our sacramental observance safeguards us from judgement. ‘You will not escape because you have been duly baptized and have partaken of the eucharist. There is no magical power in the sacraments’(A. J. B. Higgins). In the latter part of chapter 11 (verses 17-34), Paul continues to warn against the dangers of the sacramental meal. In Corinth the common meal had become an eating occasion rather than a worshipping occasion. Each believer brought his own food with the result that some were having a ‘slap-up’ meal while others were almost starving (verses 20,21). The concept of sharing all things had been forgotten, and there is nothing worse than a common meal where it is not ensured that everybody gets the same. Some even became drunk (verse 21) at the meal. This brought into disrepute the whole idea of the common meal. It should be noted here that in his description of the Lord’s Supper (verses 24-26), which differs in some respects from that in the Gospels, Paul says that his teaching on the subject came to him ‘from the Lord Himself’, but he also states that it was a ‘tradition’ which he had received and passed on (verse 23). Oscar Cullmann suggests that Paul is not speaking here of a direct revelation, but of a formula current in the Early
Church, a formula which Paul believed had the authority of Jesus. Cullmann goes on to say that in other similarly worded statements where instructions ‘from the Lord’ are mentioned (l Corinthians 7:10,25; 9:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:15) Paul is in fact referring to the accepted teaching of ‘the body of Christ’, ie the Church. It may well be that to correct the abuses mentioned earlier, Paul is here trying to bring about a new attitude to the common meal, an attitude which will ensure that the food value of the meal becomes minimal and that its spiritual value is emphasized. If so, this is a move away from the material towards the spiritual, a move which we non-sacramentalists have carried to its logical conclusion. Therefore, the present observance of the Lord’s Supper may well owe more to the interpretation of Paul in this particular situation at Corinth than to any intention of Jesus that it should be observed for all time. Note the warning (1 Corinthians 11:29) that, if anyone fails to recognize the meaning of the ceremony, he is condemned by his own attitude, ie the symbolism must not be separated from the significance, whatever happens. ‘Paul orders that the common meal is to cease being a satisfaction of hunger.... He thus initiated a process which ended in the separation of the eucharistic celebration from the community meal’ (A. J. B. Higgins).
Having looked at those verses of Scripture which may be regarded as relevant to this sacrament, we should note also the very large proportion of the New Testament in which there is no reference whatever to this ceremony, which is so often thought to have been commanded by
Christ and to have been central to the Church’s worship from the earliest times. The four letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians; the three letters to Timothy and Titus (all of which are about Church procedure); the seven letters written by James, Peter, John and Jude; the letter to the Hebrews; and the Revelation are all silent on this matter. They must together heavily outweigh the evidence of one passage in 1 Corinthians which, as we have seen, may have had only a local and temporary application. It is also notable that in Romans, which sets out to give the essence of the gospel, there is no mention of the Lord’s Supper. We may therefore conclude that those who regard the sacraments as essential are looking back at Early Church practice through centuries of tradition, and may well be reading back into ancient writings practices about which they are already convinced and which they are already practising, rather than trying to discover with fresh eyes and unbiased minds what actually happened. ‘The heart-searching question to which Salvationists have always had to submit their lives is not: “Ought I regularly to participate in the Lord’s Supper as a religious ceremony?” It has always been and is: “Is there a real communion between myself and my Lord? Do I possess His Spirit and do His will?”’ (The Sacraments— The Salvationist’s Viewpoint). This Salvationist attitude is well expressed in one of General Albert Orsborn’s songs, which begins: My life must be Christ’s broken bread, My love His outpoured wine, A cup o’erfilled, a table spread Beneath His name and sign, That other souls, refreshed and fed, May share His life through mine. (The Song Book of The Salvation Army, No 462)
5 Which Baptism? WE have already referred to Paul’s unenthusiastic passage concerning baptism in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (see page 15) where baptism is linked to divisions in the Church. He said that a Christian’s loyalty should be to Jesus and not to any Christian leader, and in retrospect rejoiced that he had baptized only a very few Corinthians. His comments were made probably about AD 55, but similar statements about the divisive effects of baptismal practices could have been made at many stages of the history of the Church, as we shall see. There was, however, a profitable by-product of baptismal procedures in the Early Church in that they led to the development of creeds. From an early date baptism was accompanied by the making of baptismal vows which included ‘a renunciation of sin and everything associated with demonic powers, idols, astrology and magic; and a declaration of belief in God the Father, in the redemptive acts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit active in the Church’ (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church). The ‘declaration of belief’ was often made in answer to doctrinal questions, and often there was a threefold baptism, each immersion being preceded by a question about one member of the Trinity. As time went on, the period of preparation for baptism was gradually extended (to as much as three years in many cases) and more thorough instruction in doctrine took place. Thus the doctrinal questioning led to a crystallizing of Christian beliefs into creeds, and the Apostles’ Creed, for example, originated in a baptismal creed used in Rome late in the second century. By the
fourth century it was the only baptismal confession in use in the Western Church. (Converts who were martyred before their preparation for baptism was completed were deemed to have had an effective ‘baptism in blood’.) Nevertheless, differences concerning the details of the conduct of, and beliefs about, baptismal ceremonies soon assumed an importance disproportionate to the real value of the ceremony, and thus became the cause of many divisions in the Church. Originally, total immersion was required (often out of doors in a river or lake), but from early in the second century baptism by sprinkling was allowed in an emergency or in case of sickness. By the end of that century some people had come to believe that baptism had a magical effect, automatically washing away sins irrespective of the state of heart of the person to be baptized. Also at this period exorcism and anointing with oil found place in the baptism ceremony in some areas. In the third century the ‘laying-on of hands’ by a bishop was included in the service of baptism, together with prayer that the believer would receive the Holy Spirit. Child baptism (with faith supplied by an adult sponsor) was common by the middle of the century, though Tertullian of Carthage had earlier criticized it in his On Baptism, the earliest surviving book about baptism. In later life Tertullian joined the ascetic and adventist sect known as the Montanists, who believed that serious sin committed after a believer had been baptized could not be forgiven (thus limiting the universal application of the gospel). Other sections of the Church, in return, refused to acknowledge baptisms carried out by Montanists. Callistus, an emancipated slave who became Bishop of Rome from 217 to 222, took a more moderate line, arguing that no sin is unforgivable if the sinner sincerely
repents. This teaching was widely accepted, but was later opposed by Novatian, a presbyter at Rome who split the Church by his belief that those who had recanted under persecution could not be forgiven and received back into the Church. This schism, dating from 251, lasted until the seventh century. The Novatianists regarded sacraments administered by anyone other than members of their own sect as invalid, and so they rebaptized those who wanted to join them from other sections of the Church. They called themselves the Cathari (pure ones), a term which was used also of a heretical sect in the 12th and 13th centuries. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in North Africa from 249 to 258, took a firm line on the matter of those who had abandoned their Christian vows during persecution being readmitted to the Church (though he himself went into hiding during the persecution). Later he came into confrontation with Bishop Stephen of Rome (254-257) on the question of whether those who had belonged to separatist sects could be readmitted to the Church. Cyprian insisted that rebaptism was necessary, but Stephen’s view was that baptism was valid whoever administered it (so long as it was in the name of the Trinity), the value of the ceremony lying not in the person who administered it, but in itself. To this Cyprian retorted, ‘How can he who lacks the Spirit confer the Spirit’s gifts?’ Stephen argued that schismatics need not be rebaptized but should be reconciled by the ‘laying-on of hands’. ‘The sacrament is not the Church’s but Christ’s,’ he said. The controversy reached such a heat that Stephen denounced Cyprian as the Antichrist. Stephen died in 257 and Cyprian was martyred in 258, but a similar dispute arose in the Donatist crisis 55 years later, when the Donatists refused to acknowledge the Catholic Bishop of Carthage because he had been consecrated by
one who had later failed under persecution. Like the Novationists, the Donatists consistently rejected the validity of sacraments other than their own. From 313 the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the favoured religion of the Roman Empire. He determined that the Church must be united and orthodox, and therefore made an attempt to suppress the Donatists, an attempt which proved unsuccessful. Constantine himself refused to be baptized until near the end of his life (337), though he regarded himself as a Christian from 313 onwards. This delay in baptism was a common custom up to the beginning of the fifth century, its purpose being to avoid mortal sin, since many believed, with the earlier Montanists, that there could be no forgiveness of serious sin committed after baptism. The step of baptism was therefore taken with great seriousness. During the fourth century baptismal ceremonies gradually became more rigid in form. At Rome, for example, all baptisms came to be conducted by the bishop, who now reached that position by a ladder which had to possess certain rungs: reader, acolyte (or assistant), subdeacon, deacon (not before the age of 30), priest (after five years as deacon), bishop (after 10 years as priest—and therefore at least 45 years of age). Also in the fourth century the system of preparation for baptism reached its peak. Instruction classes were held each year before Easter in the 40-day period later known as Lent. Those who were to be baptized spent Holy Week in a vigil and fast, and post-baptismal instruction took place in the week following Easter. There were many local variations in custom, however. In Milan, for example, ceremonial foot-washing was part of the baptismal ceremony. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa from 396 to 430, was a spiritual successor of Stephen of Rome in
teaching that rebaptism of those originally baptized by separatist sects was unnecessary since it was in fact Christ who really ministered to believers in the sacraments, even if the human ministers were unworthy men. However, he believed that the sacraments did not benefit those who received them if they themselves remained outside the Spirit’s unity and love. Augustine also set out the doctrine of original sin, which at this stage included the idea that a man could be so evil that his will was unable to obey God’s commands. The only way the will could be freed to obey was by the grace which came through baptism. This logically resulted in the belief that baptism was essential to salvation and entrance into Heaven. Thus unbaptized people, even infants, must go to Hell. This belief led to an emphasis on infant baptism, especially as infant mortality rates were extremely high. Baptism was often carried out within minutes of birth, often by midwives and usually at a private ceremony rather than in a church building. ‘Confirmation’ by laying-on of a bishop’s hands was delayed till later in the child’s life, and often neglected completely. Therefore, the normal baptismal custom from the fifth century onwards became infant baptism, and adult believer’s baptism declined (in fact the Syrian Church made infant baptism obligatory), so that the practice of the Early Church was completely reversed, almost the only similarity being the use of water. Pelagius, a British monk, and even more his disciple Celestius, opposed Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. They believed that there can be no sin without personal choice, and where there was no personal choice there could be no sin. Adam’s sin was just a fatally bad example of disobedience, but did not bring sin or death automatically to men. So there was, he thought, no evil in newborn children. Therefore, children were baptized
into sanctification and not for the remission of sins, and unbaptized children went, not to Hell, but to a ‘limbo’, a place of vague happiness. Pelagius was much misunderstood and much misrepresented by his followers and, at the Council of Ephesus (431), Augustine’s doctrine and practice therefore won the day. However, agreement on baptismal doctrine and practice was still not universal in the Church. When, for instance, a later Augustine was made Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the sixth century and tried to reconcile the Celtic Church to Rome, one of the three stumbling-blocks was differing baptismal customs. At the end of the Dark Ages, during which there was little change in the situation, Peter Lombard (1100-1160) reduced the number of sacraments from the 30 enumerated by Hugh of St Victor, earlier in the 12th century, to seven which were deemed to have been instituted by Christ, and were not only, he said, ‘visible signs of invisible grace’, but also ‘the cause of the grace they signify’. This scheme of seven sacraments was confirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Later in the 13th century each of the sacraments was systematically defined by Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), who taught that the only requirement for the receiving of grace was for the sacrament to be performed. Baptism was believed to be permanently indelible on the soul and therefore unrepeatable. Aquinas’s definition was restated, in the face of the Protestant reformers, by the Council of Trent (1545-63), and in essence remains the Roman Catholic position to this day. The Cathar heretics of the 12th and 13th centuries practised spiritual baptism, signified by a laying-on of hands, believing this to be the baptism instituted by Christ. This, they believed, imparted the Holy Spirit, removed original sin, and ensured eternal life. Most
Cathars delayed receiving this baptism till near death, as the way of life demanded after baptism was exceptionally rigorous. There was still, however, as far as they were concerned, an essential sign of spiritual baptism (ie the laying-on of hands). The doctrine of baptism was not one of the main targets of the Reformation. Luther (1483-1546) remained close to the Roman Catholic position, though he reduced the number of sacraments to three (including confession). He emphasized infant baptism, though he admitted that in the New Testament adult baptism was regarded as normal. He regarded total immersion as usual, though not essential, and believed that baptism conferred forgiveness of sins and regeneration, even in infants. The position of Anglican reformers also showed quite a large measure of continuity with the Roman Catholic position in this matter. In Zürich, Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531) pursued a more extreme course than Luther. He reduced the number of sacraments to two and questioned the Roman definition of the sacrament of baptism and even its necessity, thus reducing it to a sign not essential to salvation. Thus he is one of the forebears of present-day non-sacramentalists. John Calvin (1509-64), of Geneva, did not go so far, though, like Zwingli, he restricted himself to two sacraments. He held to the belief that baptism (even of infants) brought about regeneration and the individual’s entrance into the new community of Christ, but limited this, as in all his teaching, to those who were predestined to enjoy salvation. Meanwhile, inhabitants of Zürich, for whom even Zwingli was too conservative, formed the ‘first free church of modern times’. In them originated the loose but self-disciplined movement known by the nickname of ‘Anabaptists’ or ‘rebaptizers’. This name reflected their
rejection of infant baptism and their custom of being rebaptized as adult believers by total immersion. This practice of ‘rebaptism’ gave opportunity to the authorities to persecute them under the 1,000-year-old laws against the very different rebaptism by Donatists of converts from other sects. Even other reformers joined the Roman Catholics in the persecution of Anabaptists, yet Anabaptism spread throughout Europe and eventually led to the formation of the English Baptist Churches. These English Baptists were all opposed to infant baptism and practised a congregational form of church government. Some (the ‘Particular’ Baptists) were Calvinists while others believed that all could be saved (‘General’ Baptists). The latter stemmed from a congregation of refugees in Amsterdam which was led by John Smyth, who baptized himself in 1608, presumably because he could not trust anybody else to do it properly. Part of this congregation later returned to England and formed the first English Baptist congregation at Spitalfields in 1612. The first ‘Particular’ congregation in England was formed at Southwark in 1638. The Civil War and Commonwealth period marked the ascendancy of Baptist influence (especially the ‘Particular’ form). Up to this time baptism by pouring on water (affusion) was often used, but in 1641 the ‘Particulars’ readopted the rite of immersion, which thereafter became predominant. By the 20th century, however, their Calvinistic outlook had been largely replaced, within the Baptist Union, by Evangelical influences. In the 17th century ‘Quakers’ (originally a term of abuse like ‘Anabaptists’, and for that matter ‘Christians’) formed a Society of Friends under the leadership of George Fox. Fox had a deep suspicion of the external
forms of religion and abandoned the use of the two sacraments. Thus Salvationists may trace a slow movement, through the centuries, away from an interpretation of baptism as an essential and causal means of regeneration and entry to membership of the body of Christ, towards a more spiritual understanding of it as a sign that is not essential to salvation. Like the Quakers we have abandoned even the sign, since, as Donald M. Lake writes: ‘More often than not it has been the sacraments that have provided one of the greatest hindrances to achieving ecumenicity in spirit and form.’ Does not the history of baptismal beliefs and practices as traced in this chapter amply bear this out?
6 The ‘Real Presence’ IN his Pelican history of The Early Church, Henry Chadwick states that ‘the form and pattern of the actual rites used in the period before Constantine… can be known only imperfectly from… fragments of evidence often contained in casual passing allusions’. However, it is clear, as we have seen, that even in Paul’s time misuse of the ‘common meal’, such as that referred to in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, led to a separation of the sacramental and fellowship functions of the meal. The sacramental function then began to develop into a ritual, something which possibly neither Jesus nor Paul intended. The German biblical scholar Adolph von Harnack commented: ‘Paul was the first and almost the last theologian of the Early Church with whom sacramental theology was held in check by clear ideas and strictly spiritual considerations.’ Since Sunday did not become a holiday until the Emperor Constantine decreed it as such in AD 321, Christian Sunday services had to be held at first in the early morning or in the evening. About AD 112 Pliny, the Roman Governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan, explaining that the Christians ‘were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath (sacramentum)... after which it was their custom to separate and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind’. Thus the main service in the morning culminated in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or ‘eucharist’ 34
(thanksgiving). This steadily became more formal in ensuing centuries, partly under the influence of the ‘mystery religions’ of the first and second centuries, which were marked by the use of secret symbols and rites. The fellowship meal (‘agape’ or ‘love feast’) was held on Sunday evenings but gradually disappeared from use during the third and fourth centuries, one fifthcentury Church council actually prohibiting its use. This hardening in ritualistic observance of the eucharist probably coincided with the move from ‘house meetings’ to meetings in public buildings provided for the purpose of worship. The morning service fell into two parts, the first open to all, but the eucharist being restricted to baptized believers. The Didache (a teaching tract which probably dates from between AD 70 and AD 110) shows that set prayers and a two-tiered ministry (presbyter-bishops and deacons) had already begun to develop at that early stage. This division is also seen in the first letter of Clement of Rome (at the end of the first century), who was of the opinion that the celebration of the eucharist was worthy only when conducted by a bishop. Ignatius of Antioch, who died about the year AD 115, placed high value on the eucharist as a means of promoting unity in the Church. He also taught that it must be presided over by the local bishop. (At this time a bishop was just the superintendent minister in one town.) The eucharistic ritual was often misunderstood. During the second century there were rumours that Christians were cannibals because they ‘ate the body’ of Jesus. Sacramental worship could also expose Christians to danger of another kind. A pagan writer—Celsus (probably about AD 180)—spoke of Christians worshipping in secret, and mentioned the fact that even the 35
smell of a sip of insufficiently diluted wine at the eucharist might lead to a Christian’s arrest. By the middle of the second century, then, the common meal had been transformed into a ritual. ‘A century and a quarter were sufficient to transform the spontaneous act of Jesus at His last meal… into a rite in which the primitive Church expressed its faith, its services, its discipline’(Maurice Goguel). About AD 150 Justin of Rome described the ceremony (‘a memorial of the Passion’) in detail: ‘Then the president of the brethren is brought bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he takes them, and offers up praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and gives thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at his hands.... Then those whom we call deacons give to each of those present the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and carry away a portion to those who are absent.... For we do not receive them as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation.’ Origen (185-254) insisted that the ‘union with Christ’ which took place was spiritual, yet there arose the belief that the elements became a sacramental food by which worshippers could share the essence of God. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons about AD 180, concerned to counter the Gnostic heresy that Jesus was not fully man, taught ‘that the eucharist contains an earthly and a divine reality’, and that there was ‘an altar in heaven’, thus in effect over-emphasizing the ritual aspects of the Lord’s Supper. For the same reason he laid stress on the Church’s ‘tradition’. These ideas were developed in the third century. Old Testament ideas of a priesthood were
used by some who interpreted the eucharist as a ‘Christian sacrifice’ in which an offering was made to God to gain forgiveness of sins. The emphasis on a ritual presided over by a stratified priesthood gradually separated clergy and laymen. In the third century bishops began to be addressed as ‘Your holiness’. In the fourth century the Greek Church started to veil the altar so that the congregation could not see it. Next the congregation was deprived of the wine, receiving bread only. The use of candles and special clothes for the priesthood then developed, and by the eighth century the wording of the mass (always in Latin) came to be recited in a low voice which was inaudible to the congregation. The pomp of worldly government became reflected in the liturgy of the Church, and sometimes even doctrine and ritual became offensive weapons to be used in the battles of Church politics. During the fourth century there began to arise a belief that an actual change took place in the bread and wine. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (about AD 315-86), wrote: ‘I adjure you no longer to consider the elements as ordinary bread and wine, for in accordance with the very words of Christ they have become His body and His blood.’ Thus was born the doctrine which was later identified by the term ‘transubstantiation’ (the belief that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ when the priest consecrated them). This doctrine was even more clearly stated in the ninth century by Paschasius Radbertus, who declared that the real presence of Christ’s body and Blood were present in the eucharist. This belief was officially accepted by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, in spite of the insistence of Berengar of Tours and others that the change was spiritual and the bread and wine remained ‘of the same substance’. As we have seen (page 30), Peter Lombard and
Thomas Aquinas taught that the sacraments automatically conferred grace simply by being performed, and the withholding of the cup of wine from the congregation was justified by the fear that the transubstantiated wine (ie ‘the Blood of Christ’) might be spilled and cause a scandal. The practice of holding masses for the dead also spread. In the 14th century the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. John Wycliffe (about 1329-84) argued that Christ was only spiritually present in the elements, and Jan Huss (about 1370-1415) and his followers criticized the withholding of the cup of wine from the congregation. He went to the Council of Constance in 1415 to explain his views but was burnt at the stake for them. Then came the Reformation. The Reformers generally rejected ‘the medieval idea of the Church as a hierarchical institution… administering salvation through sacraments’ (J. I. Packer). They reduced the list of seven sacraments to two or three, which alone, they argued, could be deemed to have been instituted by Christ. Salvationists may well claim that, if five sacraments could be dropped by earlier reformers because they could not be shown to have been instituted by Jesus, surely they may cease to use the two remaining sacraments on the same grounds. The Reformers were also united in their rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation, but there the agreement among them ends. Erasmus (1466-1536) wrote: ‘Read the New Testament as a whole, and you will find no commandment referring to these ceremonies. Ceremonies cause differences.’ He is said to have ‘made the Reformation inevitable’ and to have ‘laid the egg which Luther hatched’. But Luther, who was in fact one of the more moderate Reformers, was unwilling to go as far as Erasmus, wishing to retain much medieval
ceremony in worship. He believed the real presence of Christ to be present in the eucharist and coined the word ‘consubstantiation’. His successor, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), continued to claim that the Scriptures showed that communion was more than just a memorial. Zwingli, on the other hand, ‘shrank from the idea that physical objects might be vehicles of spiritual gifts’ and ‘preferred to treat the sacraments rather as symbols and signs… than as a means of grace’ (Owen Chadwick). Only faith could receive grace. With puritan-like zeal he cleared the churches of Zürich of medieval pomp and ritual. In a great debate at Marburg (1529) Luther and Zwingli were found to be irreconcilably and bitterly deadlocked on the matter of the meaning and administration of this sacrament. John Calvin, ‘the great systematizer’, tried to bring reconciliation. He ‘rejected Zwingli’s idea that the sacrament of communion was merely a symbol; but he also warned against a magical belief in the real presence of Christ’ (Andreas Lindt). He taught that there is a ‘real participation’ of Christ but that He ‘is not affixed to the elements’. In 1547 the Council of Trent gave the Roman answer. Transubstantiation and the established medieval practices were upheld and the Council proclaimed that ‘the sacraments of the New Testament contain the grace that they signify’ and are not ‘merely outward signs’. The third mainstream of Protestant activity was Anglicanism. Here the reforms were more conservative than those of Calvin, but the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer (1552) was simplified and the wording of the communion service suggested a memorial celebration rather than one which actually communicated Christ to the believer. On the other hand, among Puritans, Separatists and Baptists ‘there was a
Babel of dissenting schisms and mutual excommunications’. As we saw in the last chapter (page 32), the Quakers or Society of Friends ceased to observe the formal sacraments. ‘They would say that in meetings for worship and in their silent pause before meals they have known the real presence of Christ and that, though these may be heightened moments, the whole of life is sacramental’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The 19th-century Brethren opted for a simple communion service to emphasize Christian fellowship and express the priesthood of all believers. If, therefore, Salvationists are called to justify their abstinence from the communion service they may justifiably ask, ‘Which service?’ for there has never been universal agreement on a liturgy and each group of Christians has clung to its own observance in the belief that it was the only right one. These attitudes have produced many of the divisions in the Church which the ecumenical movement has lately tried to heal. In the words of General Frederick Coutts (No Discharge in This War): ‘The witness of the Salvationist is simply that the presence of the risen Christ may be fully realized, and divine grace freely received, without the use of any material element. The Salvationist believes most ardently in the Real Presence.’
7 Not Binding on our Conscience IN discussing The Salvation Army’s position regarding the sacraments, we should first note that it did not originate in any ingrained prejudice against them, nor from any desire just to be ‘different’. The decision to discontinue their use was the result of a gradual process in the minds of the Army’s founders, to which practical difficulties and growing conviction both contributed. We should remember that William Booth was baptized in the Church of England when only two days old. He partook of communion as a member of a Wesley chapel and administered the sacraments as an ordained Methodist minister. His first son (William Bramwell) was born in Halifax in 1856 while the Booths were on an evangelistic tour. They moved on to conduct meetings in Macclesfield, and it was there that William himself baptized their baby with over 30 other infants. This was done deliberately so that the evangelist’s child might not be made to seem ‘special’ by being given a separate ceremony. Further, William Booth was rather conservative by nature, and after breaking away from Methodism he did not at first intend to found another denomination but only an evangelistic agency. The observance of the sacraments was continued throughout the lifetime of The Christian Mission. In his Echoes and Memories Bramwell Booth described the situation following 1874: ‘For some years we followed the practice of many Churches and baptized infants. I have in some cases myself “sprinkled” as many as 30 in one service! … This practice, however, died down gradually, chiefly because it had no very strong conviction behind it; and
in place of it the Army introduced a service of Dedication.’ Regarding communion, he says: ‘When I came on the scene as a responsible official of the Mission, in 1874, the Lord’s Supper was administered monthly at all our stations to all members of the Mission and… Christian friends.’ The 1870 Constitution had laid down that unfermented wine should be used for these monthly celebrations, but there are records which suggest that water was sometimes used. This position continued in the early days of the Army. ‘Numerous instances of the administration of the sacrament by officers, men and women, are to be found in reports till well into 1881. A correspondent of the Nonconformist and Independent (9 February 1882) called attention to the fact that in The Salvation Army the sacrament had for the first time in the history of the Church been administered by women’ (The History of The Salvation Army, Volume II). There had been, however, no reference to sacramental doctrine or practice in the articles of doctrine which were legally enshrined in the Deed Poll of 1878, and gradually the leaders began to have misgivings about their continued use. The ‘Army Mother’, Catherine Booth, was probably the first to experience these doubts. She felt very strongly about the dangers of anything that might make Christians rely on ritual rather than on a change in heart and life. She was also a champion of the ministry of women within the Church, and for women to administer the sacraments was quite unthinkable in most church circles. George Scott Railton, Booth’s chief assistant from 1873-82, also argued the dangers of all ritualism, which he declared to be part of the ‘old dispensation’ rather than Christian principle and practice. If such ceremonies were not necessary, he thought, they should
be abandoned. In fact, he was of the opinion that the impotence of the Church in reaching the masses might be put down to formalized religion. The Founder, on the other hand, was swayed much more by practical considerations. He had one overriding concern—that evangelistic enterprise should be completely unhindered by anything that was unnecessary. Alongside this priority, the sacramental traditions of the Church were secondary. ‘The central necessity of conversion… was the heart and soul of his teaching’(Harold Begbie). According to Begbie (William Booth—Founder of The Salvation Army), William Booth came to believe towards the end of Christian Mission days that, though ‘the Church teaches that an infant is cleansed from original sin by the sprinkling of water in baptism’, as far as he was concerned ‘the sprinkling… could not by any possible means be anything more than a symbol; it could not make the smallest difference to the character and temperament of the child.... Human personality is neither to be regenerated by a ceremony nor to be transformed by logic.’ For William Booth it was ‘a detail of symbolism, and he left it freely to his followers whether they would be baptized or not’. Bramwell Booth testified to the spiritual help he had received from the Lord’s Supper and to his great reluctance to accept the views of the other leaders. ‘I believe that I was the last officer… to administer the Lord’s Supper,’ he wrote. Eventually, however, he came to the same conclusions about the sacraments as other leaders, though it would seem that for a time his father had given him a special dispensation, which he did not grant to others, to continue to administer the sacraments. It appears that celebrations of the Lord’s Supper went on routinely until about 1882. There is a record, for
example, that in 1879 an observance took place in an officers’ meeting led by an aide of William Booth at Mountain Ash in Wales, and a report of the 1878 War Congress indicates that both the sacramental ceremony and the love feast (common meal) were observed at that date: ‘After sacrament only a quarter of an hour remained for the love feast.’ In 1881 Booth issued a statement, drafted by Railton, that: ‘There must be no baptismal service that can delude anyone into a vain hope of getting to Heaven without being “born again”. There must be no Lord’s Supper “administered” by anybody in such a way as to show anything like a priestly superiority of one over another— every saved person being a “priest unto God”.... There must never be a sacramental service at the end of a meeting so as to prevent the possibility of inviting sinners to the Mercy Seat.’ Begbie concludes: ‘He deliberately rejected the sacrament; but it was not until he had studied the matter with care and with anxiety, not until he had weighed with a grave deliberation all the consequences of that rejection.’ The final break with the sacramental tradition was brought about, strangely, by overtures from the Church of England. In February 1882, 500 uniformed Salvationists had, by invitation, attended a service at St Paul’s Church, York, at 8 am where the sacrament was administered by two Anglican clergymen. The service was timed so that ‘as our soldiers marched out, the ordinary congregation was waiting to go in’ (The War Cry, 16 March 1882). This in itself was not an uncommon event, but it sparked off an approach to the Founder by the Archbishop of York to see how far the Army could be recognized by the Church of England. In his letter he mentioned that ‘bodies of The Salvation Army’ had ‘been admitted to holy communion at their request’ at two of his churches.
In May of the same year the Convocation of Canterbury appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of attaching the Army to the Anglican Church. The chairman was the Bishop of Truro (Dr E. W. Benson) who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. In the discussions with the Founder which followed, one of the main problems concerned the sacraments. In June, Dr Benson wrote to William Booth: ‘One thing I do look to with great anxiety—namely, that the church people who follow with you, or others who… may desire to communicate in church, should not be debarred by compulsory arrangements of your own from the partaking of the communion with their brethren.’ The Founder felt that he could not give this guarantee, and other difficult questions presented themselves. Would Army officers have to be ordained by a bishop before they could administer the sacraments? Would women be acceptable as ministers? Would the Army have to accept the use of fermented wine? Would all Salvationists have to be baptized and ‘confirmed’ before receiving communion? Would the very roughly ‘converted’ Army buildings be recognized as consecrated buildings? Would the proposal that each corps should be asked to attend the parish church for communion at regular intervals mean that the observances which had been taking place within corps would become invalid? The discussions took place in a friendly atmosphere, but it soon became clear that both sides would have to sacrifice principles which they regarded as essential and that there would be many practical difficulties. Both sides, therefore, began a hasty if dignified retreat. On the Army side, Railton and Bramwell Booth thought it essential that the Army should retain its military structure and freedom of action, and the Founder was concerned about ‘The Salvation Army’s essential unity’, believing that the proposed arrange-
ments would be tantamount to an admission that Army procedures lacked an essential of salvation, an essential which its soldiers would have to seek elsewhere. On the Anglican side, there were emotive protests from some who did not want to have the Salvationists inside their fold. The thought of having these rough soldiers in their pews, with timbrel and voice at full volume, was something of a nightmare. The Dean of St Paul’s (R. W. Church), for instance, when Bramwell Booth tried to arrange a service in the cathedral for Salvationists, did not wish any Salvationist to take part, although Anglican clergymen favourable to the Army would be included. However, the arrangements were finally aborted on the grounds that the dean was afraid that the hobnailed boots of the Salvationists might damage the recently relaid marble floor of the cathedral. In other cases, as we have seen already, services were arranged in such a way that Salvationists and regular parishioners would not be in church together. So the negotiations for union faded out, though William Booth described them as ‘for ever a pleasant memory’. The Convocation of 1883 dissolved the committee set up the previous year, but not before some speakers had made ludicrous accusations against the Army, such as that it was contributing to the rate of illegitimate births by holding late-night meetings. Thereafter the only Anglican clergyman to make serious attempts to persuade the Army (through Bramwell Booth) to reintroduce communion was Dean Farrar, but Bramwell was unimpressed by his arguments. It would seem that at this time there was still some doubt in William Booth’s mind as to whether the Army was a church with the right of determining its own sacramental position, or an evangelistic agency looking to the churches for this aspect of worship. In 1881 a
clergyman, who had interviewed the Founder, quoted him as saying that, ‘some of his people on their own responsibility had had a very simple “breaking of bread” together, but that this was no part of the Army—as an evangelistic agency’. The History of The Salvation Army, Volume II, states: ‘For a time individual Salvationists went to church communion services, but eventually this ceased, it being accepted that divided loyalty could naturally not be anything but a source of weakness.’ Begbie (William Booth) quotes the case (date unspecified) of Lady Henry Somerset, who ‘was willing to join the Army... but she could not give up the rite.... She asked… if she might be allowed to go for holy communion to the Church of England. The answer was a negative.’ On the other hand, Bramwell Booth wrote (in Echoes and Memories): ‘Any soldier who declared a serious conviction in the matter and desired to participate… could receive a recommendation to go to some other body for the purpose of partaking.’ Perhaps ‘circumstances altered cases’ for other reasons. The Salvation Army, therefore, went on its course without fixed ritual. Salvation Army Ceremonies gives some suggestions concerning certain ordinances, but the introduction makes it clear that no leader is restricted to a set form of words but must be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We may therefore summarize the reasons for the Army’s abandonment of the traditional sacramental practices thus: 1. The fear of ritualism. Catherine Booth and Railton especially regarded formalism as potentially very dangerous. So many Christians relied on the signs of spiritual grace rather than on the grace itself, but Catherine believed that salvation came solely by the grace of God personally received by faith. Much that passed for Christianity was primarily an observance of
outward ritual. In Popular Christianity she wrote of “‘a mock salvation” as distinct from “a real deliverance from sin”‘. ‘Another mock salvation is presented in the shape of ceremonies and sacraments… men are taught that by going through them, or partaking of them, they are to be saved.... What an inveterate tendency there is in the human heart to trust in outward forms, instead of seeking the inward grace!’ 2. The belief that there was no scriptural basis for regarding the sacraments as essential to salvation or Christian living. William Booth, in a statement to officers on 2 January 1883, said: ‘I cannot accept any obligation as binding upon my conscience, neither will I seek to bind any upon yours, to do, or believe, or teach anything for which authority cannot be furnished from the word of God, or which God Himself does not reveal to us by His Spirit, as our present duty.’ Again he writes: ‘If I believed that my Lord Jesus Christ required of me that I should take so many pieces of bread and so much wine every day of my life, I should unhesitatingly carry out His commands. There is nothing that I am conscious of that He requires me to do that I leave undone.’ For it was the baptism with the Holy Spirit and constant spiritual communion with our Lord through His Spirit that was of prime importance. Each meal should be sacramental—in fact the whole of life should be. As William Temple (Christus Veritas) wrote: ‘It is possible to make a “spiritual communion” which is in every way as real as a sacramental communion.... Everywhere and always we can have communion with Him.’ 3. The fact that the sacraments had been a divisive influence in the body of Christ throughout Christian history. ‘Holy Communion has notoriously been the storm-centre of bitter controversy and division throughout Christendom. No truth of Christianity has under-
gone more strange perversions or has been more grievously deflected and distorted.... If you wish to know how Christians can hate one another, you have only to read the later history of the sacraments’ (Bishop Jayne). 4. The conflict between the ‘separate priesthood’ required by sacramentalists and the ‘priesthood of all believers’ to which the Army was committed, ie that any Christian may minister to others. This could not be reconciled with episcopal ordination. 5. The position of women. They were already established in the Army on equal terms with men, but would not be recognized by sacramentalists as qualified to administer the sacraments. Women’s ministry was more important to Army leaders than the sacraments. As Mrs General Minnie Carpenter wrote: ‘William Booth was not willing to surrender the principle of the perfect equality of men and women in every activity of the Kingdom of Christ.’ Even the Church might well prefer the Army to cease to use the sacraments altogether rather than for it to have ‘women priests’ administering them. 6. The fact that the Quakers lived obviously holy lives without the use of the sacraments showed that they were not essential to Christian life. Multitudes unquestionably have become ‘new Christians in Christ Jesus’ and continued ‘steadfast in the faith’ without outward baptism. In his Exeter Hall address on 16 April 1883, the Founder declared: ‘If it were proved [that the sacraments are conditions of salvation] you would shut out of heaven some of the best and holiest that ever walked the face of the earth.’ On the other hand, it is clear that many baptized communicants do not show evidence of holy living. ‘You will recognize them by the fruits they bear’ (Matthew 7:16). 7. Many Salvationists had been alcoholics or drunkards
and would have been tempted by the fermented wine in common use in churches, unfermented being difficult or impossible to obtain. Even unfermented wine could cause problems. 8. William Booth had not wanted to form a church, and the question of the administration of the sacraments within the Army might well have brought it into collision with the existing churches, which he strongly wished to avoid. *
Finally, here are four apt summaries of the Army’s position: (a) A reporter in India: ‘The Salvationists never for a moment lay aside their consciousness that they are in the immediate presence of the Deity. They never quit it. They are as close to His feet while singing a song, beating a drum, or talking to a crowd, as when prostrate in prayer.’ (b) Professor John McQuarrie (Principles of Christian Theology): ‘Although it [The Salvation Army] has no sacraments, we could not for a moment deny that it receives and transmits divine grace.’ (c) Paul to the Colossians (2:16,17): ‘Allow no one therefore to take you to task about what you eat or drink, or over the observance of festival, new moon or sabbath. These are no more than a shadow of what was to come; the solid reality is Christ’s.’ (d) William Booth at an Exeter Hall meeting on 13 March 1889: ‘Neither water, sacraments, church services nor Salvation Army methods will save you without a living, inward change of heart and a living, active faith and communion with God....’
Closer Communion The Sacraments in Scripture and Tradition By Clifford Kew