So over the next few weeks you will see some important discussion of “sacramentology.” I would imagine the appearance of Francis Chan, a TMS graduate, with Hank Hanegraaff, convert to Eastern Orthodoxy (better known formerly as the Bible Answer Man), on his webcast, promoting an Eastern Orthodox view of the Eucharist, will result in a lot of talk. How much of that talk will be useful, I cannot say. The current state of “Christian discussion” on the web does not encourage me at that point.
What I do find somewhat encouraging is that just as we were able to really help a lot of people think through gospel issues back when Norman Geisler put out Chosen But Free, so too in this context we hope to see the saints edified. Most “Bible” church type folks are truly ignorant of the history of the church. This is not even arguable. While certain aspects of what is broadly called Protestantism have always emphasized church history and our connection thereto, most “revivalistic” forms have seen no reason to be concerned about what has taken place in the past or how we are connected to it. This is much to the detriment of the continuation of such groups. As a result, most people have not read in patristic sources and do not even know where to begin. As a result, they are easily swayed by those who give them a partial, or traditional, reading.
But here is a truth you need to understand and wrestle with: your doctrine of atonement will determine your doctrine of the Supper. Since the Supper is intimately reflective of the self-giving of the Savior, what you believe about that seminal event will determine how you interpret its representation in the Supper.
But just here we have to recognize two more realities: first, there is an amazing lack of clarity in the specific theological formulations of “the atonement” in many ostensibly Christian churches. I firmly believe that in most US churches I am familiar with the doctrine of the cross is primarily derived from emotion, sentimentality, and old hymns. The connection between the cross, the nature of Christ as the God-man, the fulfillment of God’s law, God’s eternal purpose, the nature and foundation of the church, all of these things come together to form a coherent doctrine of the atonement. Secondly, this reality is not new. Centuries passed in the early church before a full-length treatise appeared on the subject of the atonement. It was not the locus of the kind of attention and thought that was given to Trinitarian and Christological issues.
Why is this important? Because we are being told we must “stand with the early church” and hold to traditions and beliefs that were not derived from consistent, coherent exegesis of divine revelation. As a result, you will hear about the need for the church, for her tradition, etc., just as you will hear the same regarding Popes or councils or Mary or any number of other things. We will once again be driven to sola scriptura and the recognition of the nature of Scripture as unique, self-authenticating and self-sufficient. And in the process of diving deeply into those divine words, we will find the apostolic testimony that is so much earlier, so much more important than anything that came thereafter.