Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity provides something not often seen in the polemics of our day: a call for Christian unity even over those things which are of most import. Here, the issue of the sacraments is evaluated regarding what they may have to do with Christian unity. A number of from scholars in various denominations (from what I can tell, included are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran writers, though there may have been more represented) present essays reflecting on ecumenism and the sacraments.
Topics in these various essays go across a wide range. Whether it is ecumenism presented through the arts or the notion of closed communion in some Baptist churches (something I didn’t realize existed anywhere in the Baptist tradition), any reader will find something of interest to them related to the Sacraments.
I found a few essays of particular interest. First, “A Way Forward: A Catholic-Anabaptist Ecclesiology” by D. Stephen Long caught my eye simply for the title. Few theological systems could be more at odds than that of the Roman Catholic and that of the Anabaptist. In the essay, we find a few broad steps that can be taken to see some areas of agreement between these divergent strands of theology. Second, “Visual Ecumenism: The Coy Communion of Art” by Matthew J. Milliner invites readers to see the Lutheran view of Law-Gospel distinction in other denominational perspectives as well. Multiple essays that focused more exclusively on ecumenism as a possibility were quite interesting. I already mentioned in passing Marc Cortez’s “Who Invited the Baptist?” for its introducing me to the idea that some Baptists practice closed communion. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why a Baptist would do so, but had I not read this book I’m not sure when I would have been exposed to this differing and unexpected practice in the Baptist community.
As a Lutheran in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a body that practices open communion while also affirming baptismal regeneration and Christ’s “real presence” in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, I found a number of points of agreement and disagreement here. That is, of course, exactly what this collection of essays (originally lectures) is all about: finding those points of division and seeking to heal–or at least address–them. It’s a fascinating work.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
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The debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.
In the Place of Christ
One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).
The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:
Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.
The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.
The Levitical Priesthood
Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:
[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.
He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.
A Lutheran Appeal
The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments
From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.
The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”
Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.
Responses to the Argument Above
The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.
No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.
Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.
If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.
There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.
We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.
Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at http://juniaproject.com/women-leadership-in-sacramental-churches/.
All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:
The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).
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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Sam Harris recently debated William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Good from God?” See my comments on the debate here. During the debate, Harris argued that the rituals of Christianity can be seen as a kind of lunacy. Harris said, “[Religion] allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.”
Consider what Harris is claiming here. Basically, he’s saying that to believe a cracker becomes the body of Jesus is a kind of lunacy. Interestingly, throughout the debate he issued these veiled (or not so veiled) insults to Christians at large, and quickly retreated from them when he was called out. But that’s neither here nor there.
My contention is that Harris’ implicit argument against the rationality of the Sacraments (and Christian rituals at large) contains an implicit assumption. Once that assumption is exposed, his argument fails. The implicit assumption is this:
1) Christianity is false
Yeah, I’m serious. The reason is because the only way Harris’ argument makes sense is if one assumes a priori that Christianity is false. For consider his objection if Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then God exists, Jesus was God, Jesus told us what would happen in Communion/the Eucharist, etc., etc. But then if Christianity is true, it is perfectly rational to hold that the uttering of certain words as part of a ritual would be causative in the sense that God said it would be. So Harris’ argument turns on the assumption that Christianity is false.
But perhaps I’m missing Harris’ point. Perhaps he is instead trying to say “Look at what you guys do! It’s crazy if it’s something else!” But again the only way this would make sense is by assuming Christianity is false. If I believe Christianity is true, then I have no reason to think the rituals involved therein are lunacy or anything other than perfectly rational worship of our God.
But it could be pressed that it does seem as though Harris’ assertion that Holy Communion would be viewed as lunacy in other contexts is in some sense correct. For were I to do the same with pancakes and Elvis, I would be seen as a lunatic. Why not the Christian too? Well, then the question would have to be what kind of evidence do we have for thinking Christianity is true as opposed to other beliefs? In short, if the Christian is epistemically justified in believing Christianity to be true, then Harris’ argument is exposed for what it is: a facile argument which shows how deeply Harris and the other “New Atheists” fail to understand the position they attack.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.