You might know that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two sacraments in the Reformed tradition. But do you know how essential they are to the Christian life and how the Reformers believed that they were a sacred moment when we encountered the presence of the living God? Join the Pastors for a deep dive into the Westminster Catechism’s teaching on the sacraments with an eye towards what we can learn from them today.
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Transcript[00:00:00] Michael Gewecke: How beautiful is it to realize there are benefits of being people enveloped in grace? That we’ve been adopted, we’re loved, we’re called. God has named us as one in the fellowship. We’ve been brought into the fold. [00:00:29] Clint Loveall: Hey friends. Welcome back to the Pastor Talk podcast as we continue our series on the Westminster Catechism, getting close to the end. And today we spend a little time focusing on sacraments. And I think, Michael, this is a really interesting. Section, it’s brief, which might surprise people given that a lot of historical church battles are fought over sacraments, it’s also not particularly edgy.
And what I mean by that is it’s not arguing a case. I think it does a really nice job of expressing our own traditions, ideas, and beliefs about the sacrament. Now, having said that, there are some words that. Difference with the Catholic backdrop and we can talk about those, but it, it, it’s not an argument, it’s not an attack on anyone.
It’s a, I think this is a very strong section. It’s, it’s short, it’s concise, but I think there’s a lot of depth. I think this is a really good teaching part of the[00:01:25] Michael Gewecke: catechism. It’s especially, I think, helpful in our modern church experience, Clint, because most of us really don’t have that much invested in.
Arguing over specific theology of the sacraments and as we come. To a conversation like this. In fact, I think we might be tempted to be on the opposite side instead of being caught in the midst of this big turmoil. And the question theologically of what is the right way to conceive of sacraments? We might actually come to this if we’re on us with a far more open slate type experience.
Like why do the sacraments matter and, and what makes the sacraments a particularly useful part of? The tools within the faith family, why have these been given so much? Attention really may be the focus of our own thought as opposed to some of the conversations happening when this was originally drafted.
And you know, Clint, I think. It can be really helpful to find in some of the debates and arguments of former days, places for enrichment and deeper understanding in our present day. And I do think if we’re willing to really open ourselves to it, there’s a lot. To teach us here about what the sacraments are to start, and then we’ll look at them more specifically.
And, you know, maybe even more than the, the learning aspect of this, how we can see them as gifts given and how we should understand the importance that they have in the midst of a Christian life. And if we’re willing to hear that and learn that, then we’re gonna take away a lot from this conversation.[00:03:05] Clint Loveall: I don’t think it’s untrue in history, generally speaking, but I do think it is accurate in our modern church that for most people, if they think much about sacraments, it’s probably when they encounter disagreements over them. So when a Protestant goes to a Catholic church and finds out they’d rather not have.
Come and take communion or when you go to a different, even a different protestant church, say the Wisconsin Senate or Missouri Senate Lutheran Church, that practices. A closed table when a Presbyterian or someone from a tradition that baptizes babies talks to a Baptist who says That’s not a real baptism.
I, I think unfortunately, most of the thinking we do about sacraments is in reaction to a disagreement, and that’s always been to some. I think the way that it has worked, there have been some knock down drag out family battles over the sacraments through the years, but I think that one of the strengths of the catechism here, when we get narrowed down to our own tradition, and this really is.
For people inside the circle. This is a Presbyterian Reformed catechism and, and as such, I think it is intended for those people. When we get down to that vantage point, I think this is really great stuff. I, I think again, we see here this wonderful ability for the authors of this document to take what.
Comprised books and lectures and sermons and battles, and in four or five lines express a very concise, very accessible definition of what it is we believe about these things, and I just, I think this is a very strong. Part of the catechism. And I think because of the way we learn sacraments, which is essentially by practicing them, not by studying them, I, I think this offers us a lot.[00:05:13] Michael Gewecke: Yeah. And I think as we go I won’t add much here. I just say as we go we’re going to try to point out some of those words that may be missed in a, just a cursory reading because there are very carefully chosen words here. And instead of focusing on the ways in which they define us against another faith tradition, if we look at them, And seek in them to see the spiritual lesson being taught.
I, I suspect all of us will find something that will surprise us and we will also find something that enriches our faith. And so, let’s just jump[00:05:49] Clint Loveall: right in. Agreed. So we’re at question 91 here, and we’re going to hit this phrase again. Affectual means of salvation. And remember, we’ve seen this before, but remember what we said when we encountered these.
This does not mean affectual in the sense that. Brings about our salvation, it means that our salvation has an effect on us. That, that these things are tools by which we help understand and experience what it means to be saved. So question 91, how do the sacraments become affectual means of salvation?
And the answer? The sacraments become a affectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in. Or in him, her that doth administered them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of his spirit in them that by faith receive them. So this is a very interesting place to start and I think the exact right place to start for a conversation about sacraments.
The word sacrament means sacred moment. A sacred mental, sacred thought. It, it is a moment of experiencing righteousness and what the framers of. Catechism want us to know that any righteousness found at the sacrament is not in the sacrament itself, nor is it in the one who presides over the sacrament.
It is not from virtue in them or from the one who administers them, but by the blessing of Christ. This is vintage. 1 0 1 theology From a Presbyterian reform perspective, the sacraments are not magical. They are not mystical. They do not bring us. They do not bring us the gift of salvation. They help us in that sacred moment encounter Christ.
And that’s the power of them, that in the working of Christ’s spirit, we by faith receive them. And so, very typical Michael, even the sacraments as wonderful and beautiful and important as they are, are not in them of themselves. Something that we should be concerned with, but only the way that we experience them in their service to Christ and in our service to Christ.[00:08:19] Michael Gewecke: So to put maybe this within a modern context, we have to understand that this conversation about virtue which we have right here, not from any virtue in them, there is a historical. Conversation surrounding the idea of virtue in the sacraments. There is a pushback here against the Roman tradition that says that something happens in the sacrament that is constitutional to the thing itself.
That the bread and the wine they transform and their elemental status. But instead of us getting fixated on that debate, I think there’s something to teach us here, Clint. That there isn’t anything within these things that makes salvation happen in us because that would be to give them a kind of status or ordering above Jesus Christ.
And as you know in the reform tradition there is nothing that rises above Jesus Christ that when he is raised in the cross, that is the height that is the top, that there is no one who stands above the savior. The the person who took on flesh, the person who bore the weight of sin, the person who lived a righteous life, the person who.
Receive that in a sacrificial moment of death for the sake of all I, as we, in the reform tradition, frame that Clint, we will never allow any of our theological conceptions as we understand the scriptural account to raise above the status of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. And I think that we see that later here as it goes.
That talks about the blessing of Christ and the working of the Spirit. It, it speaks innately to that work that Jesus did and now the work that the Spirit continues to do in the midst of the community. I, I just think there is some real wisdom here to remind us that even in the great gifts to the church, we are not to.
To these things for salvation. Rather, we in all things turn our eyes and our attention on the author and perfector of our faith.[00:10:22] Clint Loveall: Yeah. The, the sacraments are not partners with Jesus in saving us. The, the church language there, the jargon is salic. They do not contribute to our salvation. We can be. We are not saved through them.
So for Presbyterians, there’s not a, a, a deep theological concern about a person who dies before they’re baptized. The, the we, they’re not, they’re not. A means of righteousness in that ultimate sense. They are for us building blocks of faith. They are for us ways to encounter Christ. They are for us ways to grow, but, but they are not that because of the things themselves, but because of the way Christ uses.
Among his people, and I think the authors of this document are concerned that there are two primary mistakes that we make when we come to the sacraments. Historically, the first. is to overestimate them, to give them too much power, and the second is to treat them as if they don’t have any real meaning, if they are just symbolic or ritual.
So as we move to the next question, what is a sacrament having spoken to the first mistake? That we, we know that these things are not sacred in virtue of themselves or the ones who minister them. We also don’t want to say that they aren’t real. So listen to question 92. What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ wherein by sensible signs Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represe.
Sealed and applied to believers. Michael, I think the glaring word that is not present here, and the word that has sort of always been a bur in the saddle of the reform tradition is symbolic. Mm-hmm. , the, the, the authors want us to. Make sure that the authors want to make sure that we understand that we do not consider the sacraments symbolic.
They’re not something that just reminds us. There is a spiritual reality. There is something that happens. They are signs and the benefits of the new covenant are represented. They are sealed and applied. They are not just. That they do something to us. The sacraments have a real effect on the life of the believer, but it’s not a saving effect.
It’s a growing effect. It’s an understanding effect. It is a spiritual effect, and it is within those two mistakes that, that the reformers want to send us as we enter this conversation about sacraments.[00:13:27] Michael Gewecke: A phrase that is essential to this answer though may quickly be missed by us or easily missed by us, is this idea of instituted by Christ.
It is essential to the framers here, the divines, as they were called, that we understand that they didn’t come up with the sacraments, they didn’t pull out of thin air, and that it can’t be added to that. You can’t just pick a thing and say, now this too will be a sacrament. The. That Jesus instituted these.
In the case of baptism, Jesus was baptized. And then in the case of the, the Lord Supper, Jesus commands the disciples to do this practice. And, and he gives them language to understand what’s happening there. And then of course, at the end of Matthew Jesus gives the command to, to go do that baptizing in the name of the Father, son and the Spirit.
So in. Institutions, we are then finding the definition of what is a sacrament. In other words, because this was actually done and practiced by Jesus and commanded by Jesus, then therefore we find in these things something that is not in what we would call the common or the normal. And, you know, Clint, to your.
What follows then is this very specific and intentionally chosen language to point us away from just nice things that we should look towards as a happy reminder of things that happened in the past because in that the, the Reformed tradition’s going to say, We’re essentially not giving the spirit enough credit for what the spirit is going to do to through, with and in us by these things.
That these things are unique, that they are given special status, though not Salic status and you know, You may feel like we are splitting hairs. I don’t know that that would be fair. I do think we are being very specific. There’s a, there’s a middle road that’s trying to be walked. There are ways on both sides that people tend to want to go different directions, ways.
That the reformers would say, we fall off the road. And in order to make that path there, there requires some specificity. There requires the willingness to slow down and admit we tend to make these things, things that they were not intended to be, but they yet remain as gifts. And if we are willing to submit humbly and spiritually to understanding what Christ is doing through and in these things, then we are going to underst.
They are important, even if they are not the means to salvation itself. Yeah,[00:16:00] Clint Loveall: and I think there’s a connection in the two statements that matter. Michael, you know, at the end of question 91, it says that in them that by faith receive them, and this is very important, the idea that the sacraments are received by faith.
Without faith, all we are doing is going forward, taking some. Taking some juice, putting some water on a child’s head absent of faith. The sacraments are not sacred moments, but in faith we are encountering again the story of the one at the table who said, this is my body broken for you and my bloodshed for the sins of the world and for the new covenant.
And we are claim. With our church family, a child of God in the name of Christ, and by faith, those are sacred spiritual moments. And Jesus is present without faith. They’re just things they’re, they’re just church rituals. But they were always intended for the church to be more than that. Now they are not a substitute for.
They are an opportunity to, again, encounter what Christ has done and is doing and promises to do in the church. And so this, this language of sign and seal is very important as we understand. What it means to partake of a sacrament.[00:17:42] Michael Gewecke: Yeah. And I think it’s worth noting here that especially if you come from a different church family or spiritual tradition, that maybe the exactness of this language may seem to you to be a little unnecessary.
But I wanna point out a thing I think is very important that we understand this language at the end of 92. The benefits of the new Covenant of Christ and the benefits of the new Covenant are represented, sealed and applied. The exactness of those three words are important, represented, sealed, and applied.
And what we come to know in this is that we recognize that after the representation and the ceiling and the applying of these sacraments, We are experiencing salvation by the grace of Jesus Christ by faith. But we in the reform tradition continue to recognize the fallenness of humanity, the brokenness of our lived experience in the world.
We know on the other side of celebrating these gift. These helps in the salic journey that we are still going to sin. We’re still going to miss the mark. We’re still going to need to repent. We do that every Sunday in our worship, and the point of that is to remind us that even when we receive these gifts, even though.
Jesus Christ and his gift of salvation is sufficient for us and for all who receive it. That fundamentally we are still on the, on the path, on the road. We’re still being called ahead towards that ultimate completion, and so it’s not that these signs and seals aren’t good enough. Some come from a tradition that once you’re baptized, the idea is it’s.
It, that that is salvation. It’s eternal that, that it has transformed the person. Heart is made clean and of course we believe that there is something happening here. This real representation ceiling and applying, happening, it’s real. We want that to be clear. But we also recognize that it is not unto itself the moment or the transformation.
It is the mystery of Christ at work in our human lives and the awareness that we yet will have more to go and, and this is the mysterious center. That we are going to insist upon within the reform tradition that, that this is all true and that we seek to see Christ above it all.[00:20:10] Clint Loveall: Yeah, and like most traditions, we’ve given a great deal of thought to sacraments, to what they mean to what they don’t mean to what they are, and they are not.
And we see that now with increasing specificity as we look at the sacraments particularly. And so question 93. What are the sacraments of the New Testament? The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord Supper, so right here. This separates us from some of the church family though though not.
Not many in terms of denominations. The, the Catholic church would recognize more sacraments, a couple of others may as well. But for the bulk of, and I don’t mean the, the sheer number of Christians on the earth for the num, for the bulk of the traditions of our Christian family. This would be in keeping.
Now having said that, we would have some sign. Disagreements. If you went to a Missouri Senate or a Wisconsin Senate Lutheran church, there would be a closed table. Those not of those fellowships typically wouldn’t take communion. That’s also true in the Catholic church. If we went to a Baptist church and you said, I was baptized as a baby, they’d say, no, that’s not really baptism.
So ha though we agree on the. There is significant difference of practice and there is some disagreement about the way in which those two sacraments are lived out in the life of the church. And so as we move into this next section, again, I think though they’re not long, they give us a very good glimpse of where we are and where we stand in this regard.
So, 2094. And the next question we move right onto baptism. What is baptism? Baptism is a sacrament wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Ghost signifies and seals are engrafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace and our engagement to be the Lords.
Beautifully written. The washing with water signifies and seals, again, notice the word that’s being avoided. This is not symbol. This is real. It is a sign. It signifies and it seals are engrafting into Christ. Baptism is the entry, the doorway into the Church of Christ to the. To the people of faith and partaking in the benefits of the Covenant of Grace and our engagement.
So it is a sign of grace. It is an announcement. It is the seal of the grace of Christ to be at work in the life of the believer. It it is. The covenant of forgiveness. Forgiveness comes through Jesus, not through baptism, but baptism expresses that covenant for us in a very real and powerful way. It is the spiritual reality.
The, the image of being washed, of being made clean is vitally important for us to underst. The work of Christ. And it is this wonderful word in grafting. It is our connection in baptiz, in baptism with all those who have been baptized and that too happens through Christ. So, very interesting that here in only a couple of lines, we get it spoken very clearly that once again this is about Jesus and not[00:24:01] Michael Gewecke: us.
You know, Clint, I. Astonished by the real gift and appreciation, which is represented here. You know, our tradition, the reform tradition doesn’t always get a reputation for being filled with gratitude or recognizing the gift that Jesus gives us. But I think we see something really beautiful on display here, particularly with this language that we hear.
Signifying ceiling are en grafting into Christ. And for a moment, if you could put away the, the church vocabulary, you know, we know that Jesus, that Christ is the anointed one the Messiah, the one who’s sent to save. Imagine for a moment what it would mean to be engrafted into right to be in. This is very Pauline language.
We see it throughout the New Testament, but, . It just strikes me, Clint, that in baptism we are physically having a thing that happened to Jesus, happen to us. Jesus. We know fully human, fully God. The, the fully human, fully God experience of Jesus, of being baptized is something in our own baptism that we share with him physically and what we see in that we have this language then of signifying.
Ceiling is that in the same way that we see in scripture, that claiming of God, of Jesus, that speaking from heaven, we recognize in our own human fallible way we are sealed, that God has chosen us and it is grace. And if you read it through that lens, this is. Overflowing with joy and gratitude. It, it follows in just a few short words with this idea of the benefits of the covenant of grace.
How beautiful is it to realize there are benefits of being people enveloped in grace? That we’ve been adopted, we’re loved, we’re called. God has named us as one in the fellowship. We’ve been brought into the fold. We’ve been engrafted in all of this. Language is pointing us to a gift that we have literally been given and that we do benefit from in the most whole and life giving sense.
This is a beautiful description of a way in which we participate in the very. Jesus experienced and that Jesus has left for us to hand off generation to the next. This is some of our theology at our best, and yes, there’s some distinctives and yes, there there’s some. Pushing it back against other ways of understanding it.
Yes, that’s all true. But if you just read it for what we might learn from it. Clint, I think that this is inspiring in the invitation of the gift given.[00:26:44] Clint Loveall: Yes. Beautifully written. And my favorite part is the culmination, this word engagement, Michael, the, at the very end here, our engagement to be the Lord’s.
If you think very carefully about the word engaged, what does it mean on one hand? It means involved. To be engaged is not to be passive, it is to be working. It is to give effort, to be engaged, is to be included in the effort in the work. So we are engaged. To be the Lords we are working to be the people of Christ.
On the other hand, what does the word engaged mean? It means promised as in marriage, we are promised to be the Lords. We are the bride of Christ as the church, and the promise is one day Christ will come to reclaim the bride and to welcome us. So the, the, the duality that the two sides of this word are.
They could not, literally could not have picked a better word to finish this thought. We are grafted into Christ. We partake the benefits of the covenant of grace, and then we are engaged both in the sense that we are promised as Jesus’s people and that we have work to do as Jesus’ people who are baptized and.
Now to do his mission to be of his work in the world. This is outstanding language and it’s just incredibly well written.[00:28:11] Michael Gewecke: This is often the case, I think, Clint, when you read some of the historical reform theological tradition, we start with these formulations of the faith that are remarkably deep, while yet being very concise.
And what’s striking is. W it’s often followed by a thing that we debate to in amenity. Sure. And that’s exactly what happens here. We start with this beautiful theological statement. Of baptism and what it means. And now we’re gonna move to the question of to whom baptism should be administered. And that’s the thing that people get fixated on.[00:28:48] Clint Loveall: Sure. Question 95. So who, who should be baptized and our ancestors couldn’t resist the temptation to start with. Well, I’ll tell you who shouldn’t be. baptism is, To be administered to any that are out of the visible church till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him. But the infants of, such as our members of the visible church are to be baptized.
So there are really two things being said here, and this language of the visible church is important. And maybe just a, a very brief summary, the idea. Westminster is that there is the church. You can see. Now, we would not presume to say that everyone in the church you can see everyone who calls themselves Christian or Presbyterian is really a person of faith that is up to God, not up to us.
Having said that, there is this idea. That one should at least be involved in the visible church. And so who should not be baptized are people that have nothing to do with the church if they’re not part of the church. If they’re not inside the family, then they shouldn’t have this experience. Who’s very essence is being engrafted into the family.
If, if they choose to stand outside of the faith, then baptism. It is, it’s not that, it’s not that they’re not welcome to it, it’s that it doesn’t fit. It, it does, it’s, it doesn’t apply. It is the very sign of being inside the faith. And so it should not be lessened to include those who choose not to be.
That, and I, you know, that sounds harsh, Michael, but I, I. On one hand it’s practical. I think on one hand it’s sort of common sense. We, we don’t, again, we don’t baptize people in the idea that, well, at least this way, they’ll be saved no matter what happens to them. You know, oh, they have a dangerous month ahead of them.
We better, oh, they have a disease, we better get them. It. It isn’t that. It is the expression of faith and the claiming. Of faith upon their life. And if they don’t have that, then then baptism doesn’t fit and it can’t really be what we understand it to be because it, it is it, it is incumbent upon those being baptized to understand that.
that they are proclaiming their faith in that moment, at least those who come as adults.[00:31:32] Michael Gewecke: Yeah. I think that there are two key words here that we shouldn’t pass by. The first is faith in Christ and obedience to him. The, that sometimes we get fixated on, you know, is salvation just what you believe or is it what you do?
And here they are, some together. That is our faith in Jesus Christ. We’re proclaiming in baptism and also our commitment to be obedient, to do. What Jesus Christ calls us to do and who we are called to be. And in some ways it’s interesting here, Clint, because the Divines are setting up a problem for themself.
Yes. Because they know that the infants who are being baptized do not fit either of these categories. They are not expressing their faith and they have no way to be obedient. Because their, their children, they, they, they’re not yet at a place where that is possible and, They do affirm for us here that if they are within the family of those in the visible church who have made these promises, then this is a grace that is given to those infants.
It is a quite frankly what is this? I mean, maybe 12 words, 15 words, something like that. I mean, it’s a fraction of a part of this catechism. And the brevity of it is to name a practice which has been happening, which has a lot of theological foundation. I mean, you can go read a lot of things that have been written even in the confession itself.
But the point here is simple. We have a practice of doing this for a reason within this group, but they’re not fixated on the why or the how for them that is immaterial. What matters is we don’t do this for those outside the practicing church. This is a gift for those within and to anyone who makes this profession of faith and this commitment to obedience, even those in their family.
Are found to be in the circle of grace given[00:33:22] Clint Loveall: here. Yeah. And I just wanna point out, when this says members, it doesn’t mean membership role. It means those. Who profess their faith in Word, and indeed they proclaim their faith and they live in obedience to Christ. So when the Divines say the word member here, it doesn’t just mean, oh, I belong to that church that I never go to.
It means that they actively demonstrate their faith in both profession and living. And as such, they have the opportunity. , yeah. To present their children. To that church, through that church and in the name of Christ within that church for baptism. And so I, I think that’s an important distinction. The idea is not simply Oh, yep, they’re members, they can do that.
The idea is they are in the visible church and they are active in the visible church. Their life gives signs of being obedient to Christ. And so as an extension of their faith, we receive their children. For the sacrament of baptism. And I, I do wanna point out, and, and maybe this is a little bit shallow, Michael, but I, I do think it matters.
So those outside of the visible church are not to be baptized, but don’t miss the last part till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him. In other words, there is the hope in the church that every. Could and will become an insider and notice that is totally open ended it. It has no mention of race or creed or social status or any of the dividing lines that humans so often use.
When a person professes their faith in Christ and shows obedience to him, then they are welcome. To that moment of baptism in the visible church. They are welcome. They are wholeheartedly received into that engrafting sacred moment of the baptismal font. And I, I wish they had gone. I think we have to sort of read it in reverse to get there, but I do think it’s there and I think it represents a, a really powerful part of our tradition and the promise of our faith that it, that baptism.
In a very statement, acknowledging there are outsiders at heart is for everyone. We, we proclaim. It is for all, but it is for all as they come to faith in Christ.[00:36:04] Michael Gewecke: Yeah, and a very quick word of. The practical implication for this, you know, if you are seeking to have a child baptized within a Reformed tradition, you know, a Reformed church or a Presbyterian church, I, if you bring that conversation to a pastor, it’s likely that they’re struggling a little bit if you aren’t a regular member of that congregation.
Because this is built into our dna, our, our belief is, You are practicing your faith and you are practicing your obedience to Christ in the midst of a community of faith. And so, you know, we are hesitant since we don’t think of baptism as a symbol. We don’t think of it as just a thing that’s a nice reminder or a thing that you might repeat.
We think of this as a very. A very beautiful, a, a very pointed moment in which all of the grace of Jesus Christ is put on display. And in that moment, you know, we very much take seriously the fact that this should be a committed act. And you know, it’s not to say that we don’t navigate that pastorally.
Not to say that our congregations don’t try to be gracious in how we, we think through who is baptized, but there is a beautiful gift. In this thing that we have, baptism and the church, I think at its best is seeking to give that gift at the right time, in the right way, the right place, and. To your point, Clint, the hope is that all would come, but the hope isn’t that we would do that out of order, or that we would just sure, you know, try catch people unaware or that we would disperse it as if it was cheap or free.
It’s not. We think that this is unbelievably important and so we try to, as best as we can, make that clear in the way that we practice. .[00:37:59] Clint Loveall: Yeah, agreed. And I think one of the things we see on a regular basis, you know, Presbyterians, baptize adults, though not as often as we could and, and maybe should, but one of the, one of the benefits of baptizing children, Michael, is that it, it’s very clear the child doesn’t do anything.
Yeah. Right. It, it, it’s not about the child in the sense. This child has earned this right? Or this child has made this proclamation or said this thing. The the child is there only because we believe they are loved by God and welcomed by Christ, and we proclaim that on their behalf. And I, I think there is a, there’s a certain, there’s a certain power in that.[00:38:46] Michael Gewecke: Yeah. And I think that it is a recognition, Clint, that baptism. It is not either for the adult or for the child. The doorway that leaves behind everything else I it, it is. . It is one moment of washing. It is the passing through and it is all grace. And I think that that’s fundamentally the contribution from the Reformed perspective.
It is not that we’re somehow obsessed with children and baptism, but rather that we are obsessed with how radical. God’s grace is in the equation of salvation, that it is to the full extent that it is effective for the life of a child who cannot make this profession of faith or obedience. And yet we believe that it is God’s desire and will to give this great good gift.
And then by the way, we expect and hope and dream and pray and work for the future in which that child will live into the promises of that Baptist We don. Act as if that somehow magically transforms them into the disciple who they’re called to be. We take that as the first step in our commitment and our, quite frankly, our responsibility to, to pass that baton of faith as best as we know.[00:40:07] Clint Loveall: Yeah, maybe it’s a tough comparison in this moment, but so often, too often we have treated baptism as some kind of vaccination. We, we bring this child in and we do this thing to them in the hopes that nothing bad will happen in the future, and that that really couldn’t be further from a Presbyterian understand of baptism.
Baptism is to a promise to the child that Jesus Christ loves you and wants to share grace with you. It is a challenge to the. To raise that child to understand that, and it is a commitment on the part of the church to do what it can to be a part of that process and facilitate to whatever extent it’s able, that understanding in that child and family’s life.
It’s, it’s a wonderful covenant moment and when it is practiced. It is one of the most significant things I think the church has at its disposal to really understand both the grace of Jesus and the calling of Jesus. And so, clearly in, in it at its best, it is very much a sacred moment, which then brings us to the other sacrament.
Question 96, what is the Lord’s Supper? The Lord’s Supper is a sacra. Where in, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth and the worthy receivers are not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith made partakers of his body and blood with all his benefits to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.
So a little bit of jargon here and sort of. A veiled pushback. Yep. Not that veiled actually a a little bit of pushback on the Catholic church. So, let’s start there so we can get that out of the way and then we can go into the more positive aspects of this. The receivers are not after a corporal and carnal manner.
So what are we saying there? We’re saying that unlike those traditions that hold, that the elements become something else, that they transform and become literal. And literal blood. They, we don’t believe that to be true, that it’s not just as we saw in baptism, just as we saw in the introduction to this section.
It’s not the thing in itself. It’s not the water, it’s not the presider, it’s the presence of Jesus Christ. So it’s, it’s a sacrament of bread and wine by Christ’s appointment in which his death is showed forth. And the worthy receivers, we talk more about that in a minute, not after corporal and Carnell, not by the elements themselves, but by faith are made partakers of his body and blood with all the benefits and spiritual nourishment and growth and grace.
So when we come to the table, , we come not to the physical Jesus. We come to the spiritual Christ. By and through our own faith, Christ is present Again. We are not talking symbol. We’re not talking that Jesus isn’t there and that we’re just doing this in memory and ritual. Christ is present in the sacrament, but not as the elements, as the Spirit through which we are Nurture.
in our faith and strengthened for our life of faith in the name of Jesus.[00:43:46] Michael Gewecke: Yeah, there’s some really important words in here. It would be brief with that notice this idea that his death is showed forth. Once again, the word symbol is not used there. It’s not that his death is symbolized, it’s that his death is shown.
There’s a kind of reenact. There not what is thought of from the Reformed sorry from the, the Catholic church’s perspective, but there’s, there’s a sense in which we see the death of Christ in this. And but then critically we’re made partakers of his body and blood. We, we are able to be spiritually nourished.
We’re able to grow in grace. There is a real emphasis here, Clint, upon. The real effective, once again, we began with that. Were the effectual there. There’s. A make a difference to the table that before you go and after you go, by virtue of faith and participation in the spiritual gift of Jesus Christ, you are nourished your.
Blessed in a way that you weren’t before you arrived to the table. It is a great gift and blessing to come, and it is transformative in that encounter each and every time. And once again, you see the reform tradition walking. A middle way between many other ways. You know, one way that says that these things are physically changed at their base level.
That would be the, the Catholic perspective. And then on the other that we are somehow just calling to mind or bringing to memory. Something that happened before and that this is just a moment in time. Both of these are resisted in this definition, and we could, you know, two pastors, we could wax along on that.
The point of this is not to get theologically in the weeds. The point of this, I think is to be very clear that we should not forsake the sacrament. We should not forsake the table because in doing so, we leave. An effective gift, a blessing and grace, a thing given to us by faith that will help us in our journey of salvation, will enable us to see that showing of Christ’s death in a way that we couldn’t have seen before.
That we are brought up into the presence of Christ in such a way that this really matters and so therefore we hold the table in high esteem.[00:46:08] Clint Loveall: Yeah. You know, and I think what’s interesting Michael is. The Presbyterians, the Reformed Christians and the Catholics would get to the same place. Notice we are made partakers of his body and blood with all the benefits and spiritual nourishment.
The Catholics would say yes to that. The Protestants and Presbyterians would say yes to that. What would differ is how we get there. Do does. Does it happen through the elements and what happens to the elements or does it happen to the believers as they encounter the elements and, and we would fall on that side of the fence, but the result, at least the idea is the same, that through the sacrament in our participation in it, we encounter again the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
His giving, his giving of body and blood, his being broken. On our behalf, and we are spiritually nurtured by those elements, but not because of the elements themselves, but because of what the elements. Call to mind what they help us remember what we encounter again and again and again as we come to the story, which is why we come to the table frequently in, in our tradition, typically it’s monthly.
There are Presbyterian churches. That do that more often. There are Presbyterian churches that do that less often. But unlike baptism, which is done one time in the life of the believer, at least in our tradition the, the practice of communion of Lord Supper should be a regular occurrence for the Christian.
It is, it is a thing we return to again and again, not to receive grace. , but to understand what it means that we have received and are receiving grace. And so it is essential in the life of the church.[00:47:57] Michael Gewecke: And you know, there’s some interesting openness to the theology being put forth here. Uh, If you have read from other Christian traditions, you might be surprised as we turn to the final question.
The fact that as we come to the table, we are expected in the midst of that process to bring to. Jesus Christ, our own state, our own soul, to recognize that as we come, we’re encountering something beyond us in that moment. And it should, by way, our tradition cause us to, the word we’re gonna find is examine ourselves.
We, we should treat this Holy Supper with a seriousness. It’s a gift, but it is a. Gift, and I think that that is unbelievably important as we make our way into the final[00:48:48] Clint Loveall: question. Yeah. We encountered this word worthy about halfway through the answer of 96, and it becomes the focus of question 97, what is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper?
It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body of their. To feed upon him of their repentance, love, and new obedience. Less coming unworthily they eat and drink judgment to themselves. Now, just the elephant in the room here, Michael, is the, the word worthy is tricky because it implies a worth of the people who are coming to communion.
I, I think maybe in our language a more accessible word would be ready. Not the question maybe. Isn’t, are you worthy to have communion? Are you ready? Are you prepared? Are you in the right place to have communion? And what does it take to get there? Self-examination, so that they discern the Lord’s body.
In other words, that they know the meaning of the sacrament, that they examine, their faith, their readiness to feed upon. Their repentance, their sorrow over the times they have failed their love and their new obedience so that they don’t come unworthily unready and eat and drink judgment to themselves.
In other words, that they don’t abuse the sacrament. And so it, it is interesting that in the church we, we make a significant. To extend the invitation to the table to say that all are welcome, but all are welcome and all already are very different questions. Mm-hmm. . So the, again, the question is not who is, who is able, who is welcome, all are welcome and all are able, provided that we should come to the sac.
And this is difficult because we do it often and it becomes routine. We should come to the sacrament with a measure of self examination and with a measure of seriousness. Not somberness necessarily cuz it is to be joyful feast, but a measure of serious in which we have taken seriously our place in our life and in our faith, in our relationships, so that we come to the table.
To receive and ready to celebrate again, this grace rather than coming as those who aren’t trying aren’t. Making much effort to live out what we’re called in the very sacrament we are celebrating. You[00:51:48] Michael Gewecke: know, Clint, some who, you know, may have some historical learning about the sacraments may be a little surprised by this language here of faith to feed upon him.
And you know, the way that we understand that is outside of the context of the idea that, that, going back to question 96 here, this. That it’s not a carnal matter, right? You’re not feeding upon the carnal body of Christ, not some kind of, you know, religious cannibalism or something like that. No.
This is an understanding of nourishment that we recognize that in the spiritual encounter with Christ, we are given the thing that our human soul so desperately needs to survive. Like food, like water that we discover the ground of being upon which our. Become whole, become full, become saved, that this is a rich sort of spiritual imagery that the Christian tradition has passed on.
The reformers are drawing from it. They’ve already provided some nuance for it, and I think that’s part of what makes the table so beautiful. Clint, is this openness you speak of? It is both wide in its invitation, but it is immeasurably. In its meaning and its implication. So no matter how many times you return to the table or how many years of practice you put into the discernment and readiness for the table you will always find more there because who you will find is the.
The foundation of all being. Who you will find is Jesus. And because you will find Jesus there, not in the thing itself, but in the grace of Jesus present in that meal, that sacred moment is transformative at every turn because you, you find yourself once again in the presence of the risen Christ.[00:53:35] Clint Loveall: Yeah, to some extent, Michael, I think it’s a matter of openness or closedness.
If I come to the table saying, I know that I am a. I know that I struggle to forgive my neighbor and to love my neighbor. I know that there are grudges I carry and things that I’m unwilling to. And then I let the scripture speak into those, and I, I let the sacrament speak into those deficiencies in my life.
That’s one thing if I come to the table closed and say, I’m, I’m not forgiving. That person. I’m not changing my behavior in that area of my life. I, I’m not letting go of that sin or whatever it may be. If I bring that stubbornness to the table, it’s better that I’m not there because now my faith is pretending to be something it’s not, and the table loses its genuineness, it loses its sacredness, and it becomes church ritual.
it. And the danger in that is that we never then are confronted by this idea of deeper love, of new obedience. And we’re, we, we think that, we think that we are in charge of ourselves rather than submitting again and again to the will of Christ. And so, it’s interesting because all the things we do in church, regular.
Have the danger of becoming done by rote. And so I think this is a good challenge to us because these are the sacraments of the church because they’re practiced often. Particularly communion I think is a wonderful challenge to us, Michael, to to sort of refresh our understanding and to take them seriously and to think deeply.
What it is and what it means that we do regularly, monthly in some cases. What, what is the challenge in that for us and how does it inform our[00:55:33] Michael Gewecke: faith? You know, Clint, seven questions. Seven questions here On a, a central practice of the church and quite frankly, a place of. An amazing amount of contention and theological conversation.
Seven questions is all it takes for them to explain for us the ground of what the sacraments are and the unique nature of these two baptism in the Lord Supper. And I think in that brevity, in that simplicity is almost a nod to. The value of the practicing church learning as it goes. In other words, there’s something in the doing in the baptizing and in the celebrating at the table where we will learn.
The richness of it. We don’t need a huge textbook. Once again, this document was intended for the instruction of each generation that, you know, this is handed to us as a tool that we might know the faith. And there’s something I think deeply wise in this functional wisdom that if you practice these things and you do so with discern, You’ll learn it, it will grow upon you.
The sacred moments will add up and anyone who’s been in church for some time will know the truth of that, that these do the, the mystery of the spirit at work in the midst of this engrafted community. Does more than what the human mind can do by itself. And it’s real, it it’s mystical and it’s physical.
It is it’s yesterday. It’s today, and it anticipates tomorrow. It’s beautiful and it’s lived and this is a, a core part of our Christian understanding.[00:57:16] Clint Loveall: Yeah. And certainly the opportunity of something like Westminster is not to beat the mystery out of the sacraments or to explain them. In studying them, the idea is to help us encounter the truth of them and the meaning of them so that we can deeper appreciate the presence of Christ as we practice them and as as we live into.
Th that reality of, of Jesus in our midst. And so hope there’s been something in this discussion that has been thought provoking challenging. If there’s something that isn’t clear, follow up with us. We’d love to continue the conversation. We’re grateful to have you. Listen, thanks for being here and hope you’ll join us for what we think will be our last version of Westminster next week.[00:58:00] Michael Gewecke: Thanks everyone.