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Forgotten Power: The Lord’s Supper and the Biblical Pattern of Revival

 

Besides being a revivalist, the Chronicler was also a sacramentalist.

Also critical for the Chronicler’s understanding of revival and restoration was the role of royal leadership. The spiritual orientation of the king set the course of loyalty to the Lord and his temple worship on the one hand, or apostasy and idolatry on the other. This makes sense in an age of absolute kings. The Chronicler would have been surprised by the course of events in America and the United Kingdom, where revivals have occurred under ungodly kings or presidents. Cane Ridge and the Second Great Awakening, for example, began under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a Deist and possibly the least religious president of the United States in the nineteenth century (see ch. 7).

But after all is said and done, it is the covenant acts—the feasts (especially Passover and the Feast of Booths), the covenant renewals, and the daily temple sacrifices mandated by the law—that are for the Chronicler the “means of grace” to strengthen the Jewish community and clear the channel to heaven for God’s blessings. Nevertheless, it is fair to admit that nowhere does the Chronicler use the word “sacrament” (a word that does not appear anywhere in Scripture) or “means of grace” or other such phrases. In fact, the understanding of the Old Testament rites and ordinances as true sacraments—covenant signs that mediate grace—goes against centuries of Christian theology, an issue we need now to deal with more closely.

 

Were the Old Testament Covenant Rites True Sacraments?11

Although the word “sacrament” does not occur, in regard to its mandated feasts, the Old Testament does use the word “ordinance” (which in church history has become a synonym for “sacrament”):

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days…. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month.’” (Lev. 23:33, 41)

A similar passage is found in Exodus in reference to Passover:

You shall observe this rite [Passover] as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever. And when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. (Ex. 12:24–25 RSV)

The problem for many contemporary Christians in accepting the Passover, the Feast of Booths, or the other Israelite feasts as true sacraments lies in theological instruction and assumptions derived from early Christian theology. The issue goes back to the anti-Judaic prejudices of certain patristic writers, especially St. Augustine (354–430). Although Christianity began as a Jewish sect, relations between synagogue and church soon took an acrimonious turn. By the end of the second century it was no longer possible to be both a Jew and a Christian.12 The rabbis excommunicated all Christians from the synagogue, and Christians retaliated by using harsh terms to describe the Jews’ rejection of the gospel.13

St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, laid the foundations of Western Christianity’s sacramental theology with his prolific writings. Unfortunately he also accepted the anti-Judaic beliefs of the early church.14 Moreover, he spent part of his adulthood among the Manicheans, a religious sect that believed the Old Testament was written by an evil god of vengeance and only the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit. When Augustine became a Christian, he discarded that extreme view but continued to have problems in appreciating the Old Testament. Thus, in Augustine’s view the Old Testament sacramental feasts, temple service, and rites were “types,” foreshadowings of the Christian sacraments, but were not valid, grace-giving actions in themselves.15 Thus illogically, the rites and festivals gave no blessings to those who obeyed and performed them in the Old Testament times, but they were “instructional” for New Testament Christians (who had not yet been born!). For Augustine the only valid sacraments are those directly instituted by Christ and performed through the church.

Augustine’s debasement of the Old Testament sacraments was hotly disputed by theologians in the Middle Ages.16 For example, St. Bonaventure totally disagreed and saw the Old Testament festivals (especially Passover) as sacraments and truly grace-giving. In his view, “the sacraments were instituted [by God] from the beginning to cure the sickness of sin, and they will endure until the end of time.”17 Although Bonaventure understood the primacy that Jesus played in establishing the church’s sacramental ministry, he also understood that the sacraments had their origins in the Father’s love and nature. For instance, Bonaventure believed that God established the sacrament of matrimony at the Garden of Eden, that it continued after the Fall among all peoples, and that it continues as a valid sacrament even among the heathen. Similarly, God established the sacrament of repentance (penance) as a spiritual universal. This can be seen as active in the ministries of the Old Testament prophets, who called the people of Israel to repentance and reconciliation with the Lord.

Unfortunately, St. Thomas Aquinas, who developed what became the official Roman Catholic theology of the sacraments, sided with Augustine. True sacraments were restricted to those sacred actions found in the New Testament and to those that could be linked to Jesus. For instance, St. Thomas claimed that baptism was instituted by Jesus when he received John’s baptism.18 The opinion that Jesus directly instituted sacraments of the church became the orthodox opinion of Roman Catholicism and later influenced Protestant theology as well.

Significantly, several of the Reformers battled this theological opinion and credited the Old Testament feasts (notably, the rite of circumcision and especially the Passover) as valid sacramental acts—in effect following the tradition of St. Bonaventure. John Calvin especially held to a high view of the Old Testament covenant rites, including circumcision, as valid sacraments.19 Puritan writers, including Solomon Stoddard (ch. 4), shared this more generous view of the Old Testament. However, as evangelical Protestantism drifted into the Zwinglian view of the sacraments as merely memorial, the high view of Old Testament covenant rites as true sacramental acts became irrelevant. Thus, most Protestant theologians aligned themselves with St. Augustine’s opinion that the Old Testament rites were merely “types” or shadows of New Testament sacraments and disregarded Calvin’s opinion.

A reading of Luke 7:28–30 indicates that St. Bonaventure and John Calvin were correct and that St. Augustine and St. Thomas were wrong. In these verses Jesus is talking about the ministry of John the Baptist, and Luke adds a significant comment.

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

In these verses, Jesus locates John the Baptist as an old-covenant prophet, and yet (as the comment by Luke demonstrates) his baptism contained an effective grace. It opened the ears of its participants to the gospel of Jesus.20 When a person accepted baptism and entered into this God-inspired rite, that person received a specific grace. Those persons who refused baptism did not get it. In other words, Old Testament covenant acts are sacraments and do have a grace-mediating capacity, just as the New Testament sacraments.

 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2003

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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