Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Zero-Sum Approach to the Eucharist

In James Jordan's article, 'Doing the Lord's Supper', he writes
"Paul says that Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He does not say to "set apart the elements from common use." He does not say to "invoke the Holy Spirit upon the elements." He knows nothing of any "consecration of the elements." There is no act of consecration of bread and wine. This means that there is no change in the status of the bread and wine. Just as God gives us life when we eat dead meat and vegetables — food that will rot if we don’t eat it — so He gives us New Kingdom Life when we eat bread and wine in the liturgy. By refusing to consecrate the bread and wine, we affirm that the grace of the sacrament comes from the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life."
It is an interesting move to suggest that refusal to consecrate the bread and wine affirms that the grace of the sacrament comes from the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Matthew and Mark explicitly say that Christ blessed the bread. Did he bless it with something other than the Spirit?

Jordan goes on to say, 
"Asking the blessing before we eat at church is no different from asking the blessing before we eat at home. There is no other 'setting apart' involved."
I haven't read enough of Jordan's theology to situate his remarks in a larger doctrinal framework, but taken on the surface this seems indicative of a deeply unsacramental mentality which has much in common with modern evangelicalism but little resonance with the historic understanding of the church.

I wonder whether this is just another example of the zero-sum type of thinking that I identified in my article, 'A Critical Absence of the Divine: How a ‘Zero-Sum’ Theology Destroys Sacred Space.' I recalled how
Earlier in the month I asked a young theological student if he thought that asking God to bless our meal made any actual difference to the food. He said that it couldn’t possibly make a difference because then a human work would be achieving something. His words echoed Arthur Pink’s discussion of prayer in The Sovereignty of God, in which he took violent exception to an article on prayer where the author had declared that “prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray.” This also echoes Jeffrey Meyers‘ approach to prayer in his lecture on the Eucharist in the 2010 Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference: “The Necessity of the Reformation”. Significantly almost Meyers’ entire argument against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist rested on the fact that it involved manipulating God through a human work. If carried to its logical extension, this approach comes very close to Jonathan Edwards’ complete elimination of secondary causality. If human work cannot achieve anything, if human work cannot be the instrumental means of causing God to do certain things (‘manipulation’ is simply a pejorative way of talking about secondary causality), then I am left wondering what the purpose of supplicatory prayers even is. Even though the reformed tradition has the categories for a robust theology of secondary causation (how many times have you heard that if God wills an end, He also wills the means to that end?), we tend to be uncomfortable with God working through means. Our default modus operandi is to think we are giving more to God by granting less to creation. The notion that God can be manipulated by human works is deeply problematic, even though the doctrine of God’s sovereign decrees ought to immediately situate such works in a context that renders them compatible with, rather than in competition to, our understanding of Providence.

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