Tuesday, April 27, 2010

B'rit Chadasha (New Covenant)

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah 31:31-34
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
Matt. 26:26-29

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
I Corinthians 11:23-27

"Ante-argument" : Setting up the point

How can we build the first, second and third floors of doctrinal clarity without the foundation? If one thing has become clear from recent discussions about the sacrament of Holy Communion, it is that we have seem to have no proper regard for the actual Jewish context in which our Lord said the words, "Do this in remembrance of me." We have busied ourselves about the nature of Christ's presence in the sacrament, to an extent with Scripture and to an extent with mere philosophy and man-made definitions, while neglecting certain and obvious facts that were absolutely clear to the earliest Christians. Since the sixteenth century we have battled over Real Presence, Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation, breathing such extreme words as "heresy" when, in fact, no breach of doctrinal orthodoxy should be asserted, and when it cannot be proved. Indeed, such accusations often mean only that someone's religious taste has been offended.

That is not to say that details of sacramental theology do not matter, nor that we can deny, or should want to deny, that the Universal Church has always treated the Sacrament as having a supernatural and real connection to the Living Christ by which he gives himself to the Church as the food and drink of eternal life, and that this has given the Church every reason to speak of that grace in terms of his Presence among us, and to teach it as an objective fact, though shrouded in mystery. The consensus of the Universal Church has been to read the Scriptures in such a way as to find the presence of the risen Christ in the actual elements themselves. But, in the last several centuries our sacramental theology has become seriously unbalanced in the sense of "this ought ye to have done without leaving the other undone."

Anglicans have inherited an understanding of the sacrament that is easily misrepresented and wrongly defined, generally related to a willingness, exhibited by too many of our own, to throw away the work of our own fathers as if it was an unclean thing. In the name of a sort of pan-catholic ecumenism (an idea peculiar to Anglicans, even though they suffer from the delusion that it is the Two One True Churches who harbor some "agreement" that excludes us, when in fact they exclude each other and disagree intensely) our own people are quick to relent the positions of the English Reformers, usually revealing that they have no genuine idea what that position was.

It would take too much space to go over the same ground again, so I will state simply that I stand by my postion that the Reformers, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, never actually denied that bread and wine change in a mysterious and supernatural way, and that Christ is present in them spiritually and inexplicably. However, faced with the emergencies and errors peculiar to their own time, they emphasized above all else that Christ is present in those who receive Him by faith. But, concerning the idea of Real Presence as we face it today, and as the Church faced it before the Great Schism (1054), they never turned away from faith in that presence as an objective fact; else they would not have condemned by name Zwingli for his doctrine of Memorialism. But, they all did so quite clearly, and as early as the Homilies.

Nonetheless, as Hooker expressed most clearly of all, the exact moment of the service in which bread and wine may be said to undergo their change cannot be known, and neither can the exact manner of that change; and what matters for those who receive with faith is that they participate in Christ, that is, have communion with his Body and Blood, even if the consecration is not complete until they themselves fulfill part of what Christ commanded in the words "do this..." namely, his commands "Take eat...Drink this all of you." We must not forget, as we have seen before, that for the earliest Anglican teachers, the presence of Christ could not be separated in its truest significance, or in any practical way, from grace, which has everything to do with what he gives to each worthy receiver (i.e., made worthy by grace). If we believe that the words "This is my body...This is my blood..." are the only Words of Institution, we need to read the text again, and realize that those words come with words about receiving: "Take, eat...drink this all of you (as in our Prayer Book, "drink ye all of this") also in the Words of institution, placing Hooker's suggestion on firm ground. That is, what matters most about his presence in the sacrament is grace given by means of it.

Yet, the unworthy receiver "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," clearly showing that he violates that holy presence, because he does not have fellowship with Christ by faith. For, as we have seen also in previous essays, the words "participate," "partake," "fellowship" and "communion" (including I Cor. 10:16) all signify, wherever we find them in the English translations of the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer with the Thirty-Nine Articles, or in the Homilies, that the Greek word koinōnia (κοινωνία) best expresses the intended meaning; for all these English words have been used to translate that one Greek word. The unworthy or wicked (Article XXIX) person who presumes to eat or drink has taken the holy elements that are mystically and really the body and blood of Christ, but he cannot partake of (have communion or fellowship with, or participate in) Christ, and therefore cannot be a partaker of the Divine nature (II Pet. 1:4).

(It is tragic that modern Anglicans cannot understand these things when they read Anglican sources; but, as I have argued and proved these points before, I will not dwell on them now; I will refer the reader to my essays on classic Anglicanism, especially those linked above. Suffice to say, the English Reformers, when read carefully and diligently, cannot be charged with any abandonment of the Catholic Tradition of the Universal Church. They restored great pieces of it long neglected.)

The point

But, why do we spend so much time having to prove these things? Is there not a significance to Holy Communion that we have missed in our debates about the unknowable? Is it because we have never accepted the idea of humility as Hooker expressed it, that we ought to admit our ignorance openly as to how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that we have argued so much over mysteries that cannot be resolved to the point of distraction from a Biblical doctrine? That lost doctrine is the relationship between the Sacrament and the New Covenant.

Any reading of Genesis chapter fifteen in light of St. Paul's teaching about the faith of our father Abraham (yes, Christians everywhere, our father, if we believe), especially in his Epistle to the Church in Rome, and in light of what the Epistle to the Hebrews says so clearly about the shedding of blood as it relates to any covenant, shows that God took upon himself the penalty of human sin. He passed between the pieces of the sacrificed animals as Abraham had laid them out, meaning that God chose to accept the penalty if the covenant were to be broken, even though his covenant with all mankind had been broken already. The full weight of this cannot be appreciated unless we consider the words of Jesus as he held that cup in his hands: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

When the New Testament was written, the Greek word that most closely held the same meaning as the word b'rit (בְּרִית) which we translate as covenant, was the word diathēkē (διαθήκη) which we translate as testament. Modern people think of a covenant as merely an agreement or contract; but, like a Last Will and Testament, it requires death.

"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission."
(Hebrews 9:15-22)

What we find is that they chose the word we use for testament, because they saw that it had this connection with the meaning of covenant: It required death.

We see in the opening quotation from Jeremiah that the people of Israel broke the covenant, and we must then think in terms of that fifteenth chapter of Genesis and the presence of God walking between the divided body parts of the dead animals. When the Lord said, "this cup is the new covenant/testament in my blood" the disciples thought of Jeremiah's words, foretelling that God would make a new covenant. That covenant has a lists of blessings:

1. The law is written in our hearts
2. God himself is our God (i.e. the true God protects us and provides our every need)
3. We know God
4. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten.

How is this possible? Only through the sacrifice of Christ, and the shedding of his blood. We broke the covenant God made with all mankind many times over. He made it with all people in creation. He made it with Abraham whose faith was credited to him for righteousness. He made it with his chosen and elect people, among whom are counted all Christians as those grafted into the people of Israel, children of Abraham by faith. On that night he made it with us anew, and to establish it he bore the full weight of death, that the New Covenant is his Testament. Our inheritance includes those benefits listed above, as Jeremiah foretold. It includes, as a necessary part of knowing God, eternal life (John 17:3), for God is eternal.

This is why when we "do this" in remembrance of Him, it is the sacrifice re-presented, in that we "show forth the Lord's death," each time we "do this," and will do so "till he come." This is not the double plural "sacrifices of masses." It is the Eucharistic sacrifice. It is the covenant meal that includes the sacrificial thanksgiving or Eucharist (literally good grace, or good thanksgiving). This is why our Canon of Consecration opens,

"All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

This sets the stage for all that follows.

The covenantal meaning has everything to do with why St. Paul says so clearly, "the night in which he was betrayed." He was telling the Corinthian Christians that their evil behavior was like the betrayal of Judas, their mistreatment of their fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, a breaking of the covenant that existed between themselves and God, and therefore between themselves and each other.

"I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (I Cor. 10:15-17)"

That communion, or fellowship (koinōnia, κοινωνία) with the Body and Blood of Christ is communion with one another in the Church, which is also called by the same name, "the Body of Christ" (I Corinthians 12). The unworthy or wicked person who presumes to eat and drink is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, in terms of the whole ancient understanding of what a covenant means. In the context of St. Paul's warning, in that eleventh chapter, the unworthy or wicked person is known by how he mistreats his brothers and sisters, those also in the communion of Christ's Body, those also in the covenant. Like Judas, who ate and drank at the Last Supper, such a one betrays the Lord.

As glad as I am that we believe in the objective and Real presence of Christ, I must ask about the covenantal meaning of the Lord's Supper: Why is this missing from most of our talk about the sacrament? If we cannot see the Body of Christ as His people, what does it matter if we believe in the Real Presence? If you see do not see Christ in the pews, what matters it if you see Him on the altar?


Canon Tallis said...

Why is it that it is missing? Because most of those who raise these issues have never bothered to read the Anglican classics or the fathers upon whom those works are based. And in those cases in which they have read them, they have a predisposition to believe the rulings of a particular see which has historically placed themselves and their bishops above both Holy Scripture and the consensus of the fathers.

As long as we have those who call themselves Anglicans but avoid the long and hard reading for the penny pamphlets of those who from the excommunication of Elizabeth I have consiste4ntly and perhaps maliciously attributed to us and our liturgies motives precisely opposite what the words themselves say, we can expect to have to repeat endlessly the same arguments. I can only hope that you are training your own sons well in these arguments because they or someone is going to be making them again long after we are gone.

Anyone who knows the earliest canons of the Church should recognize that if those were sufficient to do what we believe, then all of those in the classical Anglican prayer books do and say quite the same thing. Indeed the oldest complete canon we have says quite the same things as you find in either 1552, 1550 and 1662 with the exception that it places the invocation after our Lord's words as it is in the canon of the American book of 1928.

I wish it were otherwise, but until all of us who call ourselves Anglicans stop acting as if we were ashamed of same, it is going to continue.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an excellent treatment of "Covenant." If there is any one concept which is central to Biblical theology (I surely believe so), this is it.

There were two Greek words which could serve as equivalent to "Berith." Therese were "syntheke" and "diatheke." The difference being that syntheke (sometimes translated "treaty") indicated a compact or contract between equals but diatheke was an arrangement sovereignly imposed or bestowed by a great king on a vassal.

The NT consistently uses the latter term. I do not find syntheke in my A & G Lexicon or Moulton and Geden Concordance.

Two quick bullet points on a vast and profound subject.

1. The centrality of this term in both testaments proves the necessarily forensic nature of Biblical theology. It is simply ludicrous to complain that the Western Fathers injected Roman law into Christian theology. "This is My Blood of the New Testament" is at the heart of the Gospel. From the lips of our Lord on the night He was betrayed, the Gospel message is inherently forensic. The first prayer of the Mass is "Judica me, Deus, Give sentence with me, O God." The courtroom language sets the tone for the entire liturgy and rightly so.

2. The Biblical doctrine of Covenant is inseparable from the Biblical doctrine of Election. Beginning with Noah, Abraham, the nation of Israel, David, and the remnant "according to the election of grace," the disciples in the Upper Room (a hand-picked group of invited guests!), right down to the "multitude which no man can number," God is absolutely sovereign in His covenant making and covenant giving. The Biblical covenant of grace is not a sign up sheet for volunteers!