Monday, December 01, 2008

Leggo My Bible!

After interacting with Calvin’s view of holy orders in which the Geneva reformer admits the sacramental nature of “true and lawful ordinations,” the President of the Upper Crust Theological Society writes:

I wonder what implications might follow for the Protestant (Reformed) Church today if it recovered this sentiment of Calvin.... How might the Protestant (Reformed) Church view differently its ministers if it understood Ordination to constitute a sacrament in some “true and lawful” sense? The egalitarianism which plagues the Protestant Church today is unlikely to accommodate itself to such an obvious distinction among the members of the Church (the distinction, that is, between those who have and those who have not received this “spiritual grace”).... But taking the time to do exactly that might foster a bit of appreciation for what ministers do, and what we (as lay members of the Church) can get from them—something which we can’t get from, say, our personal devotions, or any other number of the various sacraments we create for ourselves (in our dogged determination to be sanctified by sight rather than faith).
This sentiment is expressed more strongly by Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas who suggests that “No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.”

As confessional and Reformed Protestants our position has always been that the Bible is the church’s book and must be read and interpreted within the community of God’s people. The Westminster Confession states: “Unto this catholic and visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God...” (XXV.3).

While the Reformed Protestant would surely agree that “all sorts of people are bound to read the Word of God apart by themselves,” it is also true that “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word” an effectual means of salvation (Westminster Larger Catechism 155-56). As I hope to bring up in subsequent posts, properly interpreting Holy Scripture is anything but child’s play.

Some questions for further discussion, then, include: (1) Is Hauerwas overstating the remedy for the individualism and egalitarianism of the American church? (2) How can Protestant churches instill in believers a due appreciation for the unique gifts and calling of their ministers? (3) If true and lawful ordination is a sacrament as Calvin seems to admit, how can this be put into practice given the unfortunate fact that very few of Protestantism’s denominations actually recognize one another in an official capacity? And lastly, (4) Do Reformed churches need some Protestant version of Rome’s Magisterium in order to avoid functioning individualistically? And if so, on what basis may we demand to be heard by Christians outside the jurisdiction of our churches?