Thursday, August 07, 2014

Magic hair

i) Sacramentalists believe there's something special about the communion elements that makes them a means of grace. The communion elements become Jesus. Or Jesus is physically present in the communion elements.

By parity of logic, what makes the baptismal water efficacious is that it becomes the Holy Spirit. Or the Holy Spirit is somehow "in" the water (like an eye-drop of dye dispersed in water). But sacramentarians don't argue for the nature of the baptismal water in the same way they argue for the nature of the communion elements. Why the lack of consistent explanation? 

If the "presence" or identity of Jesus with the bread and wine is what makes it efficacious, doesn't that require a parallel in the case of water baptism? 

ii) There's another problem with the sacramentalist inference. Because the Bible ascribes certain effects to communion and (especially) baptism, sacramentalists infer that there's an intrinsic link between the two, where the baptismal water or communion bread and/or communion wine causes a spiritual effect. 

(This also depends on whether you think their prooftexts actually refer to baptism and communion.)

But let's take a couple of comparisons:

a) Samson's superhuman might is associated with his long, uncut hair (Judges 13:5; 16:17,22). But does that mean the narrator thought his hair was the actual source of his strength? Did he have magic hair?

But surely ancients Jews were aware of the fact that long hair didn't automatically confer superhuman strength on men. Indeed, not even Nazirites in general had superhuman strength. 

So the hair wasn't what caused his superhuman strength. The hair was only emblematic. God assigned an arbitrary link between his hair and his strength. But his superhuman might came from direct divine empowerment.

b) Take the case of Uzzah, who was struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant (2 Sam 6:6-7). Is that because the ark was electrified? Like people who are electrocuted if they touch a live power line? 

No, the ark was made of wood. The wood wasn't fatal on contact. You could use the same kind of wood to make many other harmless artifacts. It's not like death from eating a poisonous mushroom. 

Rather, the ark was ritually sacrosanct object. It symbolized God's unapproachable holiness. It wasn't the ark that caused his death, but God. 


  1. Romanism has a really odd mix of wooden literalism, and fanciful allegory.

    It's also notable how ridiculously easy it is for the deathbed cultural Catholic to receive last rites and be assured entry to heaven after living an utterly debauched life, yet how ludicrously difficult it is for the observant, practicing Catholic to be assured of heaven, regardless of how hard, fast, or long they run on Rome's good works treadmill.

  2. This may have some bite against RCCs but I don't think it makes any bones against Lutherans.

    I'm not a Lutheran, but I've heard a some Lutherans speak on this topic. I think that they would agree with your final sentence, but they would disagree with the assumptions undergirding the bulk of your assessment.

    The objection might go something like this:

    "I, a Lutheran, agree that the water, bread and wine aren't like magic beans. There is nothing inherent to them that makes them efficacious, rather God has promised to meet with us through them, so He is the one doing the work through the elements. This is in agreement with your other examples of Samson's hair and the ark of the covenant. The same is true of Jesus' death on the cross. There is nothing inherent to crucifixion on a wooden cross that puts to death the sin of men, but that execution did because God made it efficacious for that work. Things are what God says they are and they do what God says they do."

    1. But where communion is concerned, Lutherans take a stronger position than the claim that God is working through the sacrament. It's more than a promised blessing. Rather, God must be *in* the sacrament to work *through* the sacrament. What *makes* it efficacious is the "real presence" (divine ubiquity united to human corporality).

    2. I guess that isn't the impression that I've gotten from what I have heard. I would agree that "real presence" is something that is asserted, but I haven't heard that it is in the driver's seat.

      Do happen to have a reference?

      What I have heard has come from people like Jeremy Rhode in Capistrano Beach, CA and Bryan Wolfmueller in Aurora, CO.

  3. "Divine ubiquity united to human corporality" sounds too Chalcedonian as in "Inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union."

    Make the Nestorians squirm eh?

    1. To suggest a ubiquitous human body definitely confuses the natures.