Lydia McGrew10/24/2015 5:14 PM
One could argue that the Old Testament is significantly more sacramental than this analysis suggests. For example, the Shekinah and the Ark were *not* only symbols of the presence of God. They had actual effects in the real world. Contrast the import of the Ark of the Covenant with that of, say, the word "God" in the English language. The latter is a symbol, but we have no orders from God that we have to write that word only in a particular way or that anyone will die if he doesn't handle it specially. The Shekinah actually moved ahead of the Children of Israel and was clearly miraculous, providing light by night and direct, divine guidance by day.
Similarly, priests really did die in the Holy of Holies if they "did it wrong," and the people really did have to sacrifice in order to have their sins forgiven.
All of this stands in contrast to contemporary Protestant memorialism. If, for example, my kid takes home the cracker from a Baptist Communion unbeknownst to me and I, upon discovering this, put it in the bird feeder or toss it in the garbage, I don't expect to be struck dead.
So there is in fact precedent in Scripture in the OT for some, yes, more mystical sense to God's being "present" in particular physical locations and things on earth in some sense beyond his omnipresence. There is not, and cannot be, something inherently heretical or idolatrous about such a concept.
I assume Lydia's statement was directed at another commenter rather than me, although my post might be a secondary target.
1. I don't object in principle to God assigning certain blessings to certain cultic rituals, or punishing the profanation of ritually holy objects. Yes, we have examples of that in the OT.
2. At the same time, as Hebrews makes clear, animal sacrifices (to take a prominent example) had no inherent efficacy. They were just forward-looking symbols and placeholders (Heb 10:4).
3. With respect to sacramental realism, it makes two specific claims: baptism and communion are channels of saving grace.
Over and above that, a communicant physically encounters the Risen Christ. Jesus and the communicant coincide or intersect in real time and real space. That's the frame of reference.
When I say "merely symbolic" or "just a symbol," I mean they don't convey saving grace, much less that communion bread and wine instantiate the physical body and blood of Christ.
i) I don't think Jn 6 even refers to the Eucharist.
ii) With respect to communion, much could be said. For starters:
a) In 1 Cor 11:24-25, the so-called "words of consecration" are not a formula or incantation by which the priest turns bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but Paul's historical narration of what took place at the Last Supper. The language is descriptive, not performative.
b) Like the Synoptic Gospels, Paul presents the Eucharist as a new Passover, including the memorial motif (cf. Exod 12:14; Deut 16:3). But the Eucharist is prospective as well as retrospective.
c) There's a double entendre in 1 Cor, where "body" alternates between a synonym for the church and a synonym for the communion bread, which, in turn, stands for the sacrificial death of Christ at Calvary. I think Paul trades on that double entendre.
d) As Anglican scholar Rober Beckwith has noted:
To understand such feasts, it is necessary to remember the Biblical attitude to meals in general...Meals were...used to inaugurate covenants...the animals to be eaten were first offered in sacrifice to God, with the result that he became the Host, inviting men to his table, and that the sins of men were taken away by the shedding of blood before they approached (Heb 9:16-22)...Those who neglected the annual Passover meal were rejected by God and became liable to the visitation of death (Exod 12:15,19; Num 9:13). Now, in 1 Cor 10:14-22, St. Paul compares such feasts with their pagan counterparts and with the Holy Communion, and he dwells upon the function of all of these in cementing koinonia (communion, fellowship, partnership) not just between worshiper and worshiper, but more especially between the worshippers and the deity (vv. 16f.,20), R. Beckwith, Priesthood and Sacraments, Latimer Monographs 1 (Marchman Manor, 1964), 91.
The sin of 'not distinguishing the body,' and the physical judgments which it is liable to bring (1 Cor 11:29-31), can be paralleled from the corresponding judgments incurred by profaning the sacred feasts of the OT, in which no one imagines there to be a bodily presence of the Lord in the elements (Lev 7:20f.; 22:3), The Service of Holy Communion and its Revision. Latimer Monographs 3 (Marchman Manor, 1972), 33.
4. If you accept classical theism, there is also the metaphysical question of how a timeless spaceless God is "present" in the universe. We can speak of God's "presence" in popular, picturesque language, but then there's the issue of how to cash that out in more philosophically exacting terms, consistent with the transcendent nature of God.
Since I think God is timeless and spaceless, I don't believe he is directly or physically present in time and space. Rather, God is indirectly present through his effects. To take some comparisons:
There's a sense in which a letter writer is indirectly present to the recipient. Reading the letter puts you in touch with what he was thinking at the time. It was written to and for you, with you in mind, as if he was talking to you face-to-face.
A phone call is a bit more "present" than a letter, because you can hear the recognizable voice of somebody you know, even though the caller is offsite. And a videophone takes this one step further, because you can see as well as hear him. Another example would be holographic projection, where a person appears to you in your living room, in a stimulated 3D image.
5. There is, of course, a sense in which God is "present" via the Incarnation. However, I don't think the hypostatic union means the human nature bleeds into the divine nature. These remain distinct domains.
6. I think profanation can apply to merely religious symbols, including traditional religious symbols that have no express divine authorization.
Take a cross in church. I don't think the Bible either prescribes or proscribes a display of the cross in church, and I don't have any objection to such displays.
Suppose an atheist breaks into the church and spraypaints the cross with obscenities. I'd say that's profanation, not because the object is intrinsically holy, or even holy by divine ascription, but because the vandal intended to commit sacrilege.