Last time we took a brief look at the history of Baptist views on the Lord’s Supper.
Today we will take a look at two Baptist theologians who hold a Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper. The two theologians are Millard Erickson and James McClendon Jr.
Erickson’s 2nd Edition of Christian Theology is a popular textbook for systematic theology among theological conservatives. This is partly due to the fact that in it Erickson has endeavored to present a user-friendly systematic theology. This user-friendliness is evident in his section on the LS. Acknowledging that the LS is a continuing rite of the Church, Erickson identifies six points of agreement among the most prevalent Christian traditions. The six points of agreement are: that the LS is established by Christ, that it is a necessarily repeated, that it is a form of proclamation, that the partaker
receives spiritual benefits, that it is restricted to followers of Christ, and that there is a horizontal dimension to it. Although these agreements are significant he notes that there are also important disagreements. Disagreements include: who is allowed to administer the LS, who may receive it, and which elements are to be used. However the most important disagreements are about what the LS accomplishes in and for the participant and the nature of Christ’s presence at the LS. Erickson then elaborates upon these differences by examining four major views about the LS. Having done this he presents his own view of the LS. He says that Christ is not literally present. Thus he distances himself from a Roman Catholic and Lutheran view. Regarding a Calvinistic view, he says that indeed Christ is present at the LS. But Jesus is always present with the Church. Thus Christ’s special presence at the LS “is influential rather than metaphysical in nature.” However Erickson makes sure he distances himself from a view that seems to imply a “real absence” of Christ. He concludes by saying that the LS is “a time of relationship and communion with Christ” and that “we should think of the sacrament not so much in terms of Christ’s presence as in terms of his promise and the potential for a closer relationship with him.” In the LS the Spirit makes Christ real in our experience. When it comes to the efficacy of the LS, Erickson says that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol which reminds of Christ’s death and sacrifice, it symbolizes our dependence upon the Lord, it symbolizes the unity of believers within the church, and points towards the second coming.
James McClendon Jr.
James McClendon Jr. also understands the LS as a sort of memorial, however his reasons for viewing the LS in this way are more complex than Erickson’s. McClendon Jr’s views should be understood within the context of his three part systematic theology. Within his theology he stresses the centrality of Scripture for doctrine. Because scripture is central to doctrine, one must deal with hermeneutical questions. How shall the Church interpret the Bible? McClendon suggests that it should be read as a narrative. The Bible
is a narrative with characters, settings, and a plot. As the Church reads scripture as a narrative, it finds its identity within that narrative and it hears the voice of God to the community which lives out that narrative. Thus as the Church formulates its understanding of the Lord’s Supper it must ask itself ‘how is our story connected with the great story found in scripture?’
According to McClendon part of the narrative of God’s people is told through signs. There are various types of signs. First there are “historic signs”. Historic signs are world-historical, once for all, like the burning bush or the empty tomb. There are also “providential signs”, signs in which God makes his presence and power evident through guidance that he himself gives. Finally there are remembering signs. These stand between intimate providential signs and historic signs, “they are distinctive in calling the church back to remembrance of the great story of salvation and expectation of its end.” Among this type of sign is the Lord’s Supper.
Having examined two Baptists we see that both stress that in the Lord Supper we remember Christ and what he has done for the elect. Thus, at the core both of these Baptist’s views on the Lord’s Supper is thoroughly Zwinglian, reaffirming the notion that Baptists are commonly Zwinglian in their Eucharistic theology.