Thursday, May 12, 2005

On the signs and seals

After a nice long discussion with a Lutheran friend, I find it needful to write on the error of making too much of the signs and seals of Christ. The signs and seals of the new covenant are definitely meant to assure us in our faith. As physical signs they point to spiritual realities. It is absolutely imperative though that we don't mistake the signs themselves for Christ because that will bring Christ down out of Heaven. Those who would subscribe to something more than that (i.e. the Lutherans and Catholics) would appeal to some of the following verses in defense.
John 6:53-58 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Well, it is settled then right? Christ has said that we are to physically eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Since we aren't cannibals we should therefore interpret this in light of the Lord's supper right? The Lord's supper must really be the body and blood of Christ that we physically feast on. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what side you're on) the scriptures interpret themselves and they clarify this right afterword.
John 6:60-66 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

This is a hard saying, they said. They thought he was speaking to them about physical realities; not so says Christ. His words are *spirit*; the flesh doesn't profit us anything! To eat the broken body and shed blood of Christ is to believe on him. It is a spiritual feeding of our souls—not of our bodies. Those who say that Christ is in, around, under, and through the elements make the same error that Jesus' disciples did here, but they don't take his correction! Consider the Heidelberg's questions on the subject—they are VERY good.
78. Do then the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

No: but as the water, in Baptism, is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof, so also, in the Lord's Supper, the sacred bread does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.

79. Why then doth Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the New Testament in His blood; and St. Paul, the communion of the body and blood of Christ?

Christ speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby, that, like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us, that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we had ourselves suffered and done all in our own person.

I stand in awe of the wisdom of the Reformed fathers. They understood the temptation to become obsessed with physical ceremonies.

The argument against baptism actually being the washing away of sins itself is pretty much the same. Consider what John the Baptist said:
Matthew 3:11-12 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit; baptism with water definitely signify this and it points to it, BUT it is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit ITSELF. Those who say that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit itself have made to much of it and are dangerously close to idolatry in confusing the ceremony with the Creator himself. On the other hand, those that say it has no significance at all, that it doesn't even point to Christ, have made too little of it. Truth very often has errors on both sides that should be avoided. I hope the different ditches on the sides of the sacraments are a little more clear now. I'll end with the Heidelberg again:
72. Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?

No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

73. Why, then, doth the Holy Ghost call Baptism the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins?

God speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins also are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us, that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually, as our bodies are washed with water.


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