Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The judgment theme in the sacraments

Very strangely, the other day I picked up C. H. Dodd’s festschrift (ed. W. D. Davies and D. Daube, The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology, 1956, Cambridge: CUP) at my library and an article by C. F. D. Moule entitled 'The Judgment Theme in the Sacraments' caught my eye. It was a brilliant article, and I thought I would attempt to sum up briefly what it had to say which has both interested me, and helped me to relate through Christ to the Father.


Moule begins by looking at baptism, and picking up the well known association of the sacrament with dying and rising with Christ, contends that baptism should be seen as 'voluntary death', a 'pleading guilty, an acceptance of the sentence [of death, because of sin]' (p.465). Death, Moule is clear, is 'the ultimate verdict on sin', a verdict that Christ accepted upon himself and referred to in terms of baptism (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50). The Christian by accepting the verdict upon himself, in union with Christ, is also united with Christ's own vindication by the resurrection. So it is in the Christian’s baptism that John the Baptist's prediction that Christ would baptise with both Spirit and fire is fulfilled.

Moule is also at pains to remind us that filial obedience (whether our own or Christ's) will always lead to death in a fallen world, and that it is only by accepting this suffering that the 'gateway to man’s destiny' can be found (p.466). Later he considers Jesus' command to take up our cross in this light, noting that we are not told there to endure suffering, but to 'take it up'! In summary he says:

'Baptism is essentially pleading guilty, accepting the verdict 'setting to one’s seal that God is true' (John 3:33), 'admitting that God is in the right' (Luke 7:29); it is dying, it is rising again; so that by baptism an individual, or indeed the whole Church corporately, is (in a sense) brought past the great assize, past the final judgment of the last day, into the life of the new age' (p. 467)

To avoid the necessity of this death sentence as Peter did at Caeserea Philippi, is to have a human outlook, which in seeking to avoid death actually results in death. In contrast to be baptised is to be past judgment once-for-all, hence baptism is also a once-for-all thing.

The Lord's Supper

However, as any Christian soon realises, the 'absolute' of the birth of a new life, and death of the old is not seen completed in the life of the Church. Some may think that the new creation has already happened, others may think nothing has changed, both would be wrong. Something has changed permanently so it would be wrong to baptise again, however we are not perfect and so constant renewal is needed, and there is a sacrament to go with this – the Eucharist.

Preparation for the Lord’s Supper also involves self-examination or self-judgment (1 Cor 11; Didache 14?), and a fresh acceptance of God’s verdict on sin, and of forgiveness. In fact, Moule shows, self-judgment is a common theme in the NT although it is not always connected with the Eucharist explicitly. But some, like some of the Corinthians, refuse the acceptance of death upon ourselves and so join the 'secular powers in pronouncing a sentence of "Guilty" on Jesus' being blind to his vindication in the resurrection (p. 472). Therefore 'the Eucharist is an occasion of judgment – either of voluntary self-judgment, in acceptance of God's verdict on fallen man, or else of unwilling liability to God’s judgment as it falls upon those who, in the blindness of selfish secularism, side against the Lord Jesus' (p. 472). Thus Paul speaks about disease and death occurring among the Corinthians as a judgment for their lack of discernment in judging themselves. But unlike with baptism here the purpose is to discipline, not to condemn - the once-for-all cannot be denied. Interestingly the reference of Jesus to taking up cross, can be picked up again, except the Lord’s supper finds it parallel more with Luke’s version where we are told to take up the cross daily.


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