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381 1213 통계카운터 보기   관리자 접속 --+
Name   Martha L. Moore-Keish
Subject   CALVIN, SACRAMENTS, AND ECCLESIOLOGY:
CALVIN, SACRAMENTS, AND ECCLESIOLOGY:
WHAT MAKES A CHURCH A CHURCH?
Martha L. Moore-Keish
Lecture, Institute for Reformed Theology
November 5, 2001

INTRODUCTION: SACRAMENTS AS MARKS OF THE CHURCH

It is commonplace for people to observe today that the church is in a very different position than it was forty or fifty years ago. Gone are the days when the church was the center of every community, when the biggest choice people had to make on a Sunday morning was whether to go to the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or perhaps Catholic service. Gone are the days when everyone knew what a church building looked like and had a pretty good idea of what went on inside. Churches-or at least mainline churches such as ours-are moving to the margins of society, and fewer and fewer people have a clear picture of who we are and what we do.
This changed position gives us a good opportunity to take a step back and ask some basic questions about who we are and what we do. What is a church, anyway? What makes a church a church?

In the 16th century, John Calvin wrestled with this very question in another situation of social and religious change. Up until that point, in the West, the church meant pretty much one thing: the Roman Catholic church. There was plenty of variation within the Roman church, but everyone assumed they knew what a church was and what it did. But then Luther and Zwingli came along with their serious challenges to sacramental practice and papal authority, and suddenly there was a question about what really constituted a legitimate church. Calvin, in the next generation, modified a statement of Luther to give us in the Reformed tradition our definitive statement on how to recognize a church: "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists."1 Note that this is not a formal definition, but a "hermeneutical key," a way of discerning where a church is. There may be a lot of other stuff going on, says Calvin, but as long as there is faithful preaching and hearing of the Word of God and administration of the sacraments, that's a church. He might have said, conversely, that there may be a lot of other stuff going on, but if either Word or sacraments are absent, then that's not a church.


A more recent writer, Lutheran theologian Gordon Lathrop, says that at its most basic level, the church is the gathered people, the congregation, or what some folks call the assembly, doing certain things: reading and hearing the Word and celebrating the sacraments. That's what the church is. When you start talking about the church, in this view, you have to begin with the gathered people and their central actions of proclaiming, hearing, washing, and breaking bread. This is a contemporary formulation of Luther's and Calvin's statement, but it challenges much of what we say when we describe a church today.

How do we describe the functional marks of the church today? What do we in fact look for when we try to discern where a faithful church is present? Word and sacraments? Number of programs, size of budget, number of people in the pew?


For instance, is the communal life of a church defined by baptism or the ongoing life of the church? That is, do we define a church by who is baptized, or by who is there week after week? "Baptism and the Unity of the Church,"an ecumenical study document from the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, says, "the communion realized in the daily life of the church often is constituted by a different set of people than the communion constituted by the bond of baptism. When this difference is simply a function of the fact that some will always fall away, fundamental questions are not raised. When, however, the difference between the communion defined by baptism and the communion defined by the regular life of the church comes to be a difference in principle or a difference of large proportions, the status of baptism as a fundamental bond of communion is placed in question." In other words, if there is a big difference between those who regularly participate in church life and those who are baptized, this raises questions about what baptism is really all about. This problem can arise in at least three ways: 1) regarding baptized children as less than full members of the church (as, for instance, with a practice of downplaying baptism and emphasizing confirmation as the point of "joining the church"); 2) massive nonparticipation of the baptized (as when children are baptized as a rite of passage without continuing participation in the life of the church), or 3) large-scale participation of the nonbaptized (as in places where active congregations include many who are not baptized or being prepared for baptism). All of these jeopardize the status of baptism as bond of communion.2


Do we define the church by who is baptized, or by who is an "active member"? You are all probably well aware that per capita giving to the Presbyterian Church (USA) is tied to "active membership" rather than baptized membership. Churches contribute to the General Assembly according to the number of people who are active members, not according to the number of baptized members. This is different from some other churches, such as the ELCA, and it undermines the notion that baptism, not age or cognitive ability or financial status, is what makes us members of the body of Christ. Our budgetary structure suggests that we discern a church where people are active attenders, serving on committees, engaged in evangelism and outreach. Such active participation is to be encouraged, but when it is made the criterion of true membership, the status of baptism is undermined..


So: do we really look to Word and sacraments as marks of the church? Or do we count as the marks of the church: profession of faith in Jesus Christ, authority of scripture, holiness of life? Don't get me wrong; I am not going to stand up here and argue against any of these things. Calvin certainly called for faithfulness to the Word of God as embodied in Jesus Christ and revealed in scripture, and he understood holiness of life to follow from faithfulness to God's Word. But I do want to point out that there is a difference between judging the authenticity of a church by the presence of Word and sacrament and judging it by its assent to a set of theological principles. In several ways, then, though our tradition affirms that Word and Sacrament are the marks by which we know where the church is, our practice does not reflect this affirmation.


We Reformed have usually been pretty good about insisting on the centrality of the Word in our churches. Biblical scholarship, strong preaching, regular Bible study-historically, these have been strong suits for us. The centrality of the Word was clearly demonstrated to me during the year my husband Chris and I served as seminary interns in East Kilbride, on the west coast of Scotland. Each and every Sunday, worship began with a procession into the church: the pastor, Mr. Gilfillan, Chris, and I would march solemnly behind Archie the beadle, who carried the enormous pulpit Bible. Archie staggered up the ten steps into the pulpit, set down the Bible and opened it, then made his way back down to ground level. Worship had begun. Yes, we Reformed have done well at proclaiming in word and ritual the centrality of the Word in our churches.


But what about sacraments? Have we always focused as much time and energy in our consideration of baptism and the Lord's Supper as marks of the church? What difference does it make to insist that celebration of the sacraments "according to Christ's institution" is a fundamental way of describing the church? That is the question I lift up for us today. I will begin by considering Calvin and his understanding of the sacraments. I will then reflect on how his understanding of sacraments shaped his understanding of the church, and how our own ecclesiology might be affected if we take seriously sacraments as marks of the church.

CALVIN
We began with Calvin's words on the sacraments as marks of the church: "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there . . . a church of God exists."3 This statement came out of the Reformation problem of distinguishing the true church, once the Roman Catholic church no longer seemed to hold that status. The church had long had four "creedal marks": one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. This language comes from the Nicene Creed, and when medieval theologians talked about the "marks of the church," this is what they meant. But at the Reformation, these creedal marks no longer worked as visible signs of where the true church was. Reformers might have argued that there continued to be "one true church," but it was not easily recognizable once that one true church was no longer identified with Rome. So, beginning with Martin Luther, Word and sacraments were held up as visible marks of the church.4 Calvin later amended Luther's formulation to say that the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution constituted the marks of the church. The change was to emphasize the importance of people actually hearing what was preached; it was not enough for the Word to be preached if it was not heard by someone. But the two marks of Word and sacrament remained in place.


At another point, Calvin said that we cannot know "God's secret predestination," but we have been given certain ways to recognize members of the church: "those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us."5 What an odd statement this sounds today! To think that sacramental participation would be a marker by which we could discern members of Christ's body.


If either Word or sacrament was removed, according to Calvin, the Church is compromised: "For there is nothing that Satan plots more than to remove and do away with one or both of these. Sometimes he tries by effacing and destroying the marks to remove the true and genuine distinction of the church. Sometimes he tries by heaping contempt upon them to drag us away from the church in open rebellion."6 Listen to the force of that statement: if Word or sacraments are effaced, destroyed, held in contempt, then this is Satan's work! Surely we would agree that if the Word of God were removed from the life of the church, that would no longer be a church. If the Bible or the pulpit were set aside or covered in extraneous objects, no one would stand for it. But if there are no baptisms, if the font is kept in a back closet because there is no need for it on a regular basis, if communion is not a regular part of the worship of the people and they think of the table as more of a place for flowers and offering plates than for food and drink, do we think this undermines the life of the church? Would Calvin call this "Satan's work"?


Word and sacraments are equally marks of the church, claimed Calvin. In one section of the Institutes, he chided those who insisted on holiness of life as a primary mark of the church, since the church is always composed of good and bad. He said, "There have always been those who, imbued with a false conviction of their own perfect sanctity, as if they had already become a sort of airy spirits, spurned association with all men in whom they discern any remnant of human nature. . . . There are others who sin more out of ill-advised zeal for righteousness than out of that insane pride. When they do not see a quality of life corresponding to the doctrine of the gospel among those to whom it is announced, they immediately judge that no church exists in that place." Calvin went on to acknowledge the problem and the importance of holy living to follow from the gospel. But, he argued, no one should leave a church because it does not have "perfect purity and integrity of life." The true church is marked by the Word of God and the sacraments; holiness of life is the proper human response to these gifts, but such holiness is not itself a mark of the church.7 The point for Calvin was that Christ really does work through the Word and sacraments, and so even if we ourselves cannot see the effect of this working, as long as the gifts are there, we should regard the assembly as a true church.


According to Calvin, the main point of the sacraments was to unite Christians with Jesus Christ. As Ronald Wallace put it, "Calvin looks on both sacraments as having the same end-to testify, and to assist in effecting our union with the body of Christ. Baptism, however, mainly bears witness to our initiation into this union, while the Lord's Supper is a sign of our continuation in this union."8 Calvin talked about being received into the church and being engrafted into Christ interchangeably in his description of baptism. It is the same for eucharist. Both sacraments, when administered in the context of ordered ministry, were for Calvin real means of grace, accomplishing union with Christ's body, the church.

Calvin's view of baptism
Before addressing directly the question of how Calvin's understanding of the sacraments shaped his understanding of the church, I want to take a little time to talk about his baptismal theology and his eucharistic theology. First, baptism. According to Calvin, baptism accomplishes four things:


1. Forgiveness: Baptism is "token and proof of our cleansing, confirming forgiveness of sins".9 In baptism, our sins are "so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to [God's] sight, be recalled, or charged against us." This is always corporate, not individual. Calvin emphasized that it is the church that is sanctified, cleansed, saved, by Christ. In support of this, he cited Ephesians 5:26, which says that Christ gave himself up for the church "in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word." The symbolism of water makes it clear that baptism is about washing, cleansing, and by extension, forgiving sins.
2. Regeneration: In baptism, we die and are reborn in Christ. Calvin called this "mortification and renewal in Christ".10 This was not only a call to die to our desires by Christ's example, but a call to participate in Christ's death and resurrection. "Baptism is a sign that we enter into life in Christ only through death, that there is a gulf between the realm of nature and the realm of grace, that what is new in Christ is indeed a new creation, and not simply a reshaping and improving and heightening of the old."11 Baptism is the death, or mortification, of the old, and the birth of the new Christian.
3. Union with Christ: According to Calvin, "[w]e are not only engrafted into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ himself that we become sharers in all his blessings."12 This is the basic meaning of both sacraments that we mentioned already. In baptism, we "put on Christ," receiving new life and new identity in him.
These are the three "meanings of baptism" that Calvin presented at the beginning of his baptismal discussion in the Institutes. But later, in his discussion of infant baptism,
4. Covenant theology came to the fore. In this context, birth into a Christian family is continuous with new birth in baptism. Baptism is adoption into the covenant by God's free grace. Children of believers are welcomed into the covenant because of their parents' faith. If the children of believers are born into the covenant, why withhold the sign? asked Calvin.13 The church is a covenant community established by God. Just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, so baptism is the sign of the new covenant, and it has the added bonus that girl babies as well as boy babies are visibly included in that covenant.


Although covenant theology has continued to be a strong theme in Reformed baptismal theology and practice, we should recognize that there is some tension between the understanding of baptism as repentance or regeneration and baptism as incorporation into covenant community. In talking about baptism as act of repentance and token of mortification and renewal in Christ, Calvin implied that coming to baptism is a conscious act; yet discussion of baptism as engrafting into the covenant implies that new birth is continuous with natural birth in the Christian community. Although Calvin himself did not resolve this tension, we may be able to hold these together with the observation that in our practice, "Adults are to be baptized as children, and children as adults." In adult baptism, we must always remember that the conscious decision to come to baptism is not a work, but a response to God's free gift of grace. Adults become infants again in the waters of baptism. And, on the other hand, infant baptism marks a new beginning, a death and new birth just as much as it would for one coming to baptism as an adult.


Throughout Calvin's discussions of baptism, the reformer described baptism as both an unmerited gift of grace and a call to ever-increasing holiness of life. In talking about forgiveness, regeneration, union, and covenant, he focused on both the event-character of God's gift in baptism and the ongoing claim that such a gift places on human life. So on the one hand, we can do nothing to earn God's grace; as Calvin explained in the Institutes, "We are initiated into the society of the church by the sign of baptism, which teaches us that entrance into God's family is not open to us unless we first are cleansed of our filth by his goodness."14 On the other hand, we do respond to the gift of baptism. Holiness of life is our response of gratitude for God's goodness. This is something the baptized continue to seek throughout their lives. Baptism does not mean that we are reborn to pure angelic life (argued Calvin against the Anabaptists), because we continue to pray "forgive us our debts" all our days. This is one unifying theme throughout Calvin's baptismal theology.


Finally, as I have repeated several times, baptism for Calvin had a corporate, not an individual focus. The language of repentance, regeneration, union, and covenant all focus on the community of faith, not individual salvation. When he drew parallels between baptism and the Old Testament images of crossing the Red Sea and being baptized in the cloud, he was describing the salvation of the community of faith, not salvation of discrete individuals. "One baptism" for Calvin meant that baptism is "common to all: so that by means of it we begin to form one body and soul."15 Though Calvin's baptismal theology had some unresolved tensions, then, there were recurring themes which bound it together: baptism as gift and call, and baptism as corporate reality.

Calvin's view of eucharist
Now we turn briefly to Calvin's eucharistic theology. The movement of "grace and gratitude" was Calvin's basic eucharistic pattern, which also described the shape of the Christian life. In communion, God provides everything that we need for life, even though we have done nothing to earn this gift. We respond to God's grace with lives of grateful praise.


Although this is the basic movement of the eucharist, more can be said about Calvin's understanding of what the eucharist is and does. In the "Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper," he listed three purposes of the eucharist:
1) spiritual nourishment, in which we are united with Christ. In the Lord's Supper, God lifts us up and feeds us with the body and blood of Christ, engrafting us into Christ's very body.
2) incitement to gratitude for all God's goodness to us. The eucharist displays God's bountiful goodness to us, evoking our response of gratitude for all of God's grace.
3) exhortation to holy living and mutual love. As we break bread and share the cup together, we are united and are nourished for lives of faithfulness.


In other words, considering all three of these purposes together, the Lord's Supper establishes right relations among participants and between participants and God.


As with his baptismal theology, so also in his eucharistic theology, Calvin focused on the communal dimension of the sacrament. In discussing the way in which Christ is present in the eucharist, Calvin focused on the presence of Christ in the gathered community, not in the material elements alone. Rather than arguing for transubstantiation of the elements, Calvin asserted a kind of transubstantiation of the community: through participation in the holy supper, we are gathered into the presence of Christ and transformed into his body for the world. Again, this is no individual act of piety, but a communal event. 16


How does this transformation, this "transubstantiation of the community," happen? Two things are necessary, according to Calvin: first, God's grace, and second, our faith. Of primary importance is God's action in promising to act in and through the Lord's Supper, through the juxtaposition of words and symbols, to bring us to Christ. But Calvin acknowledged that in order for the Supper to unite us with Christ, we must have faith. We must have the vision to perceive what is going on around the table, that this is no ordinary meal, but the wedding feast of the Lamb. Both objective gift and our faith are necessary for this action, and Calvin argued strongly for both, depending on which misunderstanding he was addressing at the moment. Always remember, however, that for Calvin, faith itself was a gift and not our own work. So even though he argued that the sacraments are ineffective without faith, we cannot regard our own faith as something that we summoned up out of our own will power. God alone gives us the power to believe, the ability to perceive Jesus Christ as the host of the heavenly banquet. Faith is as much of a gift of grace as the presence of Jesus Christ in communion.


When both grace and faith are present, the Lord's Supper feeds us with and engrafts us into the body of Christ, and by that engrafting, binds us together into one. As with baptism, eucharist in Calvin's theology is both gift and call. As first and foremost God's gracious gift, the Supper nourishes us with Christ's body and blood. As call, this same Supper "exhorts" us to holy living, calling us to increased faithfulness. Both baptism and eucharist, then, come to us from beyond ourselves and draw us beyond our own narrow boundaries, toward the reign of God.

SEVEN WAYS SACRAMENTAL THEOLOGY SHAPES ECCLESIOLOGY
So how does Calvin's sacramental theology influence his understanding of the church? How do we gain a new perspective on ecclesiology by starting with an examination of sacraments? Calvin did not talk about the church without talking about the sacraments. What he said about the sacraments, therefore, is intimately linked with what he said about the church. To push this just a little further, we might say that when Calvin described what sacraments are and what they do, he was describing what the church is and does. Assuming this inextricable link between church and sacrament in Calvin's thought, then, I propose that Calvin's sacramental theology shapes his ecclesiology in seven ways. These same ways are fruitful for our own consideration of what makes a church in our present situation.


1. Sacraments present and join us to Christ. Both communion and baptism for Calvin signified and accomplished the union of the faithful with Christ. "Union with Christ" was both the content of the sacraments and a description of the Christian life. If the sacraments unite the faithful with Christ, then the church, the gathering of the faithful, is the body of Christ, called to be a witness of God's love for the world. And indeed Calvin often described the church as "body of Christ." This means that our identity is grounded outside of ourselves, in the person of Jesus Christ.
This may all sound a bit abstract, a bit disconnected from the real practice of sacraments in our churches, so let us think for a moment about baptism and communion as we know them. At baptism, we remember that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, and we also remember that he talked about his death as a baptism. When we ourselves hear these words and then are washed (or at least moistened) with water, we identify ourselves with the baptism and the death of Christ. Likewise, when we come to the table, we hear or recite the words "Take, eat. This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins." And we take the bread and beverage, and we eat and drink. And whatever we think is going on there, when we are gathered together around those words and symbols, we are inserting ourselves into the story of Jesus Christ. It is like the Passover narrative, in which our Jewish friends and neighbors recite the story of Israel's salvation as their own story. We gather with Christ around the communion table. We meet Christ in the washing at the font. That is how we learn who we are.
Sacraments, along with the Word, present Christ. By facing them regularly and in their fullness, we learn who we are. Gordon Lathrop says, "the church begins to know itself not by contemplating its own identity, but by beholding the face of Christ in that word, bath and table that manifest God's identity."17 The Swiss Reformed theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen similarly said, "It is not by looking at itself, even washed clean, that the Church learns what it is. What makes the Church first glimpse, and then see clearly, its true face is meeting with Christ . . . It is on Christ's face that the Church learns who it is."18 Sacraments join us with Christ, and therefore the church receives its identity from meeting Christ in the Word, at the font, and around the table.


2. Sacraments draw us into community. In uniting us with Christ, the sacraments also unite us with one another. Calvin consistently portrayed baptism in communal terms: the community as a whole is forgiven and washed, the community is regenerated, the community is engrafted into the body of Christ, the community is welcomed into one covenant. Through baptism, a people is chosen to be in relationship to God in the same way that the people of Israel were chosen. It is not that individuals are chosen, but a people are chosen. In his eucharistic theology, too, he stressed the corporate dimension of the sacrament: union with the body of Christ at communion is not individual, but corporate. At this point it is particularly difficult to talk about the sacraments and the church separately, for the sacraments constitute the church, and the church nourishes its members through the sacraments. As Calvin put it, the church conceives and gives us birth and then nourishes us at her breast; the actions of the church are the sacraments.
The 20th century Scottish theologian Donald Baillie observed that one of the great gifts of the Reformed practice of serving communion was the passing of the bread and wine down the pews, because this emphasizes the priesthood of all believers and the communal nature of the meal. This may not always be true in practice today (much of the time pew communion can be an exercise in individual piety) but the impulse is right: this is a communal meal, not an individual snack.
Going beyond Calvin for a moment, we can also say not only that the sacraments draw us into community, but that the sacraments presuppose community. It is the community of faith that allows for baptism, and it is this community that shares the Lord's Supper. Without the context of the faithful community, baptism would be just an odd ritual of dripping water on someone's head, and the Supper would be a poor excuse for a meal. The church provides the frame for the sacraments, and the sacraments provide the life-giving symbols for the church. This view of sacraments and of church criticizes any understanding of sacraments as individual experiences and any understanding of the church as a random collection of individuals.


3. Sacraments call us to acknowledgment of sin. When Calvin described baptism in terms of forgiveness and regeneration, he was acknowledging that we humans are corrupted and in need of cleansing and rebirth. Though our sins are forgiven at baptism, we are not utterly converted to the "angelic life," affirmed Calvin, and so we pray "forgive us our sins" throughout our lives. In this way, Calvin connected the sacrament of baptism with ongoing acknowledgment of sin.
We can also see the acknowledgment of sin in our baptismal liturgy, which calls us to turn from sin and turn to Jesus Christ. Even if you do not use this classic language of the baptismal renunciations, each service of baptism includes some reference to our need for forgiveness and cleansing as well as our need for the ongoing "nurture and admonition" of the church. Each time we celebrate a baptism, and each time we remember our own baptism, we remember the ways in which we are new creations in Christ and yet still sinful people.
So also we acknowledge human sinfulness at the Lord's Supper. Each celebration of communion confronts us with the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he was arrested and put to death. While it is, on one level, a joyful feast, it is also a reminder of the fact that it was for our sins that our Lord suffered torture and death. In coming to the table, we are reminded of the reality of human sin-individual and corporate-and the need for forgiveness.
This point criticizes the view that sacraments and church are either occasions for pure happiness OR affirmations of the status quo. Baptism is a joyful welcoming of a new life into the life of Christ, but it is also a kind of death, and the first step into a new life of demanding discipleship. Baptism sets us apart from the old life and turns us to the new life. Communion, too, is an occasion of joy but also reminds us of the effects of sin and the source of our forgiveness.
If the sacraments call us to acknowledgment of sin, then so also the church is called to a frank admission of its own corruption. This point balances the preceding one; even as the church is the body of Christ, it is also a sinful human institution, and so it is always called to confess its chronically narrow and self-serving tendencies.


4. Sacraments remind us of our dependence. In his sacramental discussions, Calvin described the church as mother of believers and the sacraments as the nourishment a mother gives her children: "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels."19 This image recalls for us the way in which the church is not merely a human institution, but a divine gift-a "means of grace" which God has given to lead us to more faithful living.
Sacraments are gifts from God which point out our radical dependence. We do not give birth to ourselves or feed ourselves. In our tradition of infant baptism, the act of bathing the infant in (or sprinkling the infant with) the waters of the font reminds us that God claims us before we ever know who or what God is. Even in the baptism of adults or older children, baptism is a new birth, an act which you cannot do to yourself (although people have tried: in 1609, a charismatic Reformed leader named John Smyth rebaptized himself in Amsterdam, inaugurating what we now know as the Baptist movement). Baptism is something done to you by another person, mirroring, of course, the action of God.
Communion, likewise, is not an act which we do of our own accord. It is an act given to us by Jesus Christ, and he is the one who welcomes us to his table. Brian Gerrish points out that in Calvin's theology, this gift of Christ at communion, this act of utter grace, leads to our gratitude out of the realization that everything we have and everything we are we owe to God. This is the movement of the entire Christian life.
To put it another way, sacraments give us give us something outside of ourselves to believe in. Gerhard Forde, in a 1993 article on baptism in Interpretation, says "Baptism is the revelation of the will of God, something that comes to us from without, an 'external' thing. Without the external thing, faith has nothing to believe except, perchance, some ancient religious history. Faith then simply collapses inward upon itself. . . . Because of its irreducible externality, baptism is a preeminent sign of the priority and therefore the offense of pure grace."20 Even our act of believing does not come first. God's acts of choosing, washing, feeding, precede us, come to us from outside of ourselves, prompting a response of gratitude and faith.
The sacraments point to our dependence as individuals, but if we take the sacraments as a starting point for understanding the church, we realize that the church, too, is a dependent reality, not self-generated. The church is, to be sure, always a human institution, but it is also a gift of God. "Baptism and the Unity of the Church" says, "the church is not self-constituting. Its fundamental character is given to it by God. The church is thus a dependent reality, dependent upon the institution of its essential actions by Christ and upon the activity of the Spirit within these actions. We receive the communion which the church is."21 The community of faith is founded outside of itself, in the gifts and actions of God. Gordon Lathrop says that the church is "genuine community not by immediate access to each other's souls but by shared participation in the signs of God's great mercy."22 It is the external things that show us who God is, and therefore who we are. Only by shared participation in these gifts of God will our cultures and our lives be transformed.


5. Sacraments acknowledge our full humanity and Christ's full humanity. Not only do sacraments remind us of our dependence, but they remind us of our humanity, with all of its blessings and limitations. In his discussion of sacraments, Calvin frequently employed the notion of accommodation: in the sacraments, God accommodates God's very self to our limitations. For instance, he said at one point, "Shut up as we are in the prison house of our flesh, we have not yet attained angelic rank. God, therefore, in his wonderful providence accommodating himself to our capacity, has prescribed a way for us, though still far off, to draw near to him."23 We need not embrace Calvin's negative view of embodied humanity as a "prison house of flesh" to affirm with him that God's action of using physical means to communicate with us is a gracious acknowledgment of our particular creaturely capacities. In the sacraments, God works through physical means to unite us with Christ.
In both sacraments, we are dealing with physical realities that involve our bodies: in baptism, we are washed in water; in communion, we are fed with bread and wine/juice. These symbols remind us that Jesus Christ was incarnate, that he too was washed and fed. And they remind us that we as human beings require food and drink, and that we are cleansed by water. Symbols like these communicate with our embodied selves in a way that words alone cannot do.
If we disregard or downplay the physical realities of the sacraments, we imply that the physical dimension of our being and of Christ's being is less important than some disembodied "spiritual" dimension of who we are. And this verges on the popular heresy of Docetism, which turns up its nose at the real embodied humanity of Jesus. We are bodies, and we participate in Christ's body.
The church as the body of Christ has to do with our bodies, our concrete physical selves, and this has implications both for moral life and for political involvement. Christ did not stand apart from the world in an otherworldly realm, and neither is the church called to separate itself from the embodied world. You might say that the church as body of Christ criticizes both those who would restrict religious life to private morality AND those who restrict it to public political activism. If we have been engrafted into the body of Christ, then all of our lives are claimed and changed-inner and outer, public and private, body, mind, and will.


6. Sacraments are ethical acts. If the sacraments have to do with our whole selves, then clearly full sacramental participation requires-even constitutes-ethical living. In Calvin's terms, sacraments precede and nourish holiness of life. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are at once utterly unmerited gifts of grace and calls to increasing sanctification. In baptism, we are forgiven and made new so that we can live as God's faithful covenant people in the world. At communion, we are nourished, and we respond with gratitude through our holy living.
When we are baptized, we become part of a community in which "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female." We have a new identity in Christ, and this new identity is not for our individual gratification. It sets us apart from some of the values and practices of this world. Baptismal identity criticizes all other identity markers. The "politics of baptism" establishes identity in a way that critiques all other ways of establishing identity.24 In talking about the "politics of baptism," Gordon Lathrop points out that baptism makes us unclean, not ritually pure. It unites us to the unclean death of Jesus and it unites us with the unclean and profane ones of the world.25 When we become one with Jesus in baptism, we throw out all of our old ways of discerning purity and class distinction.
Likewise, the eucharistic table recalls Jesus' practice of feeding the multitudes, providing for all who did not have enough to eat. It also recalls his practice of dining with those who were regarded as inappropriate dinner guests in his society: tax collectors and other sinners. Communion is not just a private meal for the comfort of Jesus' chosen few. The "economy of the eucharist" is in critical dialogue with all other means of distributing food.
In his groundbreaking book Torture and Eucharist, William Cavanaugh examines the church in Chile under the brutal Pinochet regime. At the beginning of the Pinochet years, the church was paralyzed, both by fear and by its old perception that it was responsible for people's souls while the state was responsible for their bodies. As the years went on and the numbers of the "disappeared" grew, the church gradually changed course, and through its vibrant practice of celebrating the eucharist, it forged communities of the faithful who were eventually able to voice their opposition to the torture of the state. This is a gripping book, and I encourage you all to read it. But what I want to point out here is that it was through the celebration of communion that Christians in Chile were able to form strong communities of resistance to the oppression of the government. This is a flesh and blood example of the way sacraments themselves can constitute communities of ethical action.


7. Sacraments point toward God's coming reign. According to Calvin, the sacraments do not only fit us for holy living or ethical action in this world; they anticipate the world to come. They are eschatological signs. In the Institutes, he stated that the church cares for us through the sacraments until we put off mortal flesh and become like the angels.26 They are provisional means which point beyond themselves to our ultimate union with Christ. With regard to baptism, Calvin made it clear that baptism does not immediately grant us entrance to pure angelic life, but it does anticipate that angelic life. The waters give us new birth, anticipating the final resurrection of our bodies. In talking about the flood as a type of baptism, Calvin suggested the eschatological significance of that sacrament: just as the flood in the time of Noah washed away the sin of the world, so our baptism washes away our sin, and so also will God eventually wash away all sin and make the world new. In his eucharistic theology, Calvin also struck an eschatological note: at communion, if both God's grace and our faith are present, we are caught up and united with the risen Christ in a way that anticipates the final wedding feast of the Lamb.
The main point is that the sacraments are the church being itself-rehearsing the reign of God. In an essay on the eucharist as a mark of the body of Christ, historical theologian Richard Norris says, "The eucharist, then, is God's taking us on in Christ, assigning us a participation in his body as our destiny and calling. . . [I]t is the real thing, but in the form, if you please, of a preliminary rehearsal, like a tentative performance of the last act of Hamlet. Yet it is no small thing to stage, in liturgy and in life: a sign, a dress rehearsal, of the reign of God. Everyone knows it is only a rehearsal. The full reality is yet to come. Such a rehearsal, however, is more than a 'mark' of the church. It is what the church is."27 The church is an eschatological community, a community of those who look for Christ's reign and who try to embody that reign here and now.

CONCLUSION
Calvin has given us a sacramental theology that is thoroughly integrated with his ecclesiology. He could not talk about one without talking about the other. In Book IV of the Institutes, the section dealing with the church, Calvin discussed the following: Word, sacraments, and the structures required to uphold these things (ministry and discipline). These are the vital aspects of the church, in his estimation. At the outset of his discussion of the visible church, he talked about sacraments: "By baptism we are initiated into faith in [Christ]; by partaking in the Lord's Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and in the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved."28 When he described the functions of ministers, he said that we are "to proclaim the gospel and to administer the sacraments."29 That's it! And the second function is not in fine print somewhere, but held equally alongside the first.


Beginning with his integration of ecclesiology and sacramental theology, I have suggested seven ways in which our understanding of the church might be enriched by beginning with the sacraments:
1. Sacraments present and join us to Christ, and therefore the church is the body of Christ.
2. Sacraments draw us into community, and the church is this community, this covenant people, this new creation.
3. Sacraments call us to acknowledgment of sin, and so also the church is called to confess its sinfulness and shortcomings.
4. Sacraments remind us of our dependence, and so too we remember that the church is a dependent reality, founded on the gifts and actions of God.
5. Sacraments acknowledge our full humanity and Christ's full humanity, and so the church too is a fully human institution with responsibilities for the bodies as well as the souls of its members.
6. Sacraments are ethical acts, and so the church is a community of holy living, both in the private and in the public arena.
7. Sacraments point toward God's coming reign, and likewise the church is an eschatological community, a living dress rehearsal for the reign of God.

For Calvin, sacraments consist of divine gift and human reception: Jesus Christ comes to us in and through the bread and wine and water, but we must have faith to receive that gift. In parallel fashion, the church is both divine and human: God's means of grace combined with our human faults and failings. Calvin attended to the divine and the human dimensions of both sacraments and church, but his emphasis was squarely on God's initiative. God works in and through the sacraments to unite us to Christ, and God gives us the faith to receive Christ. Likewise, God works in and through the church, the body of Christ, and draws us into the church even when we do not deserve such grace. This may be the most valuable and the most challenging thing we can learn from Calvin's ecclesiology today: that the church is not something that we form of our own accord. It is not a product of our reaching out to God, but a gift of God reaching out to us.


ENDNOTES

1 Institutes IV.i.9. (back to text)
2 See Baptism and the Unity of the Church, 28ff. (back to text)
3 Institutes IV.i.9. (back to text)
4 See Charles Wiley, excerpt on Calvin and the marks of the church, unpublished dissertation. (back to text)
5 Institutes IV.i.8 (back to text)
6 Ibid., IV.i.11. (back to text)
7 Ibid., IV.i.13. (back to text)
8 R. S. Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, 150; cf. Institutes IV.xviii.19. (back to text)
9 Institutes IV.15.1. (back to text)
10 IV.15.5. (back to text)
11 Wallace, 177. (back to text)
12 IV.15.6. (back to text)
13 IV.16.5. (back to text)
14 IV.i.20.(back to text)
15 Commentary on Ephesians 4:5, CR 51:191. Cited in Wallace, 176. (back to text)
16 See dissertation, 49 and Alisdair Heron, 127. (back to text)
17 Lathrop, Holy People, 9. (back to text)
18 See Lathrop, 9, for full reference. (back to text)
19 Institutes IV.i.4. (back to text)
20 Gerhard O. Forde, "Something to Believe: A Theological Perspective on Infant Baptism." Interpretation XLVII, no. 3 (July 1993): 233f. (back to text)
21 Baptism and Unity of the Church, 17f. (back to text)
22 Lathrop, 47. (back to text)
23 Institutes IV.i.1. (back to text)
24 Gordon Lathrop, Holy People, 165. (back to text)
25 Lathrop, 182. (back to text)
26 Institutes IV.i.4. (back to text)
27 Richard A. Norris, Jr., "The Eucharist in the Church," in Marks of the Body of Christ, 94. (back to text)
28 Institutes IV.i.7. (back to text)
29 Ibid.., IV.iii.6. (back to text)
 



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