A Theological Reflection of the Evangelical Covenant Church Perspective concerning the Eucharist as a Sacrament

Evangelical Covenant Church

 

 

 

 

January 31, 2015

 

The purpose of this reflection is to affirm and present the Evangelical Covenant Church’s theological framework for understanding the Eucharist as a Sacrament. The ECC embraces the perspective of the reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, in their emphasis concerning the active presence of Christ as the esse, or essence of the Church in the church, thus, affirming the statement: “The Church is where the Word is faithfully preached and the Sacrament rightly administered.”[1] This agreement has the clear understanding that the Word is the living, active Christ who is present through the Holy Spirit in the biblical witness concerning himself.[2] The functional identification of the Church is wherever Christ is present through the proclamation of the Gospel and where he is heard and responded to in the Holy Spirit, the Church is called into being.[3] It is within the starting point of the ECC’s ecclesiology that the church is a steward of the sacraments; personal experience will not become the primary focus above the objective veracity of the Good News that is proclaimed concerning the work of Jesus Christ who has died for all sinners and was raised for their justification.[4] It is within this tension that the ECC rejects the notion of any type of intellectual polemic or relational practice that would create an elitism or a theological transcendence with other streams within the Universal Body of Christ. The ECC cherishes “the reality of a fellowship of believers which recognizes but transcends theological differences.”[5]

The ECC views the sacraments as signs or symbols that point beyond themselves.[6] These point to the gracious actions of God in His Son, Jesus Christ that is the power of our redemption. The foundation of the ECC’s understanding is grounded in history with Augustine’s verbum visible, that is, the Word made visible in the action of the church, just as the Word is made audible in the preaching of the Church.[7] It is in this piety that the sacraments are not understood in an institutional sense such as the Roman Catholic tradition that would translate the church as being the source of grace. It is in the tradition of the reformers that the Church is a steward of grace as being the active presence of Christ that works wherever believers are proclaiming the Good News!

Therefore, the ECC, like Augustine, does not view the Eucharist as a scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation nor do they have the perspective that it is simply symbolism. The grace of the Eucharist is the mystery of the presence of Christ that is active among the community of faith as they participate in the Lord’s Table. The Greek word anamnesis connotes the recalling or re-presenting of a past event so that it becomes a powerful and effective reality in the present.[8] It is in this moment that each participant needs to discern in faith the reality of the living Christ in His full humanity and deity at the Table. Not to do is to fail to recognize the gracious condescension of the divine love (agape), which comes to us where we are – at the point of our deepest need.[9] The focus of the Lord’s Table as Sacrament is on a grace that has already been given to which the participant responds.

The ECC does not define the “True Presence of Christ” in the way that the Lutheran viewpoint of consubstantiation denoting that the action of presence is “with” the elements. Because the emphasis of the ECC in its ecclesiology is very much attached to the work of grace toward the believer and that sacraments do not have redemptive data* it would be more accurate to understand “True Presence” as a grace that is dynamically present toward the people. There is a grace that transforms in this moment as participants at the Lord’s Table once more engage in the Amazing Grace of the death and resurrection of Christ that is a historical act and continues the work of active grace every time believers engage in the act of worship by remembering. Inherently, this is not an act of petition, which is the action of the participant making a plea for grace, but instead, it is an act of worship in which the participant is responding to a grace that has already been given because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul declares in I Corinthians that one should not dishonor this table and the warning is given that so many are even sick as a result of not discerning this moment properly. Why? Because the act of remembrance is the ‘bringing of Christ crucified out of the past into the present, for the recalling of His sacrifice before God.’[10] There is no greater opportunity to celebrate one’s new citizenship of the kingdom of God and its ultimate promise of its consummation in human history as at the Lord’s Table.

The sacrament of the Eucharist connects each participant with the very nature of Jesus Christ in both His transcendence and immanence; the humanity of Christ which speaks of His condescension and the deity of Christ to which speaks of His glory. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Table:

• Transcends time

• Transcends culture

• Transcends the actions and nature of humanity

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Table:

• Reminds us and Re-engages us with the grace that positions us “in Christ”

• Reminds us and Re-engages us with a grace that has empowered us to be a “new creation.”

• Reminds us and Re-engages us with a grace that one must honor sacredly in “the context of the church being the New Community.”

This pastor deeply appreciates the ECC’s theological perspective concerning the Eucharist that embraces the tension of not becoming elitists and at the same time giving the reverence the Presence of Christ greatly deserves. The ECC avoids the defining of different practices of how the Eucharist is celebrated and instead intentionally focuses on what is essentially mandated by Scripture. I am reminded, that where there is no theological framework for the practice of the sacraments one is vulnerable to remain stuck in debating methods or style. The ECC’s perspective concerning the Eucharist is one that is non-institutional in its understanding of grace in which the Church becomes the primary vehicle for people to become recipients of both a grace that regenerates as well as a grace that sustains. It is the theological conviction of the ECC concerning the “Priesthood of all Believers” that understands that regeneration and one being transformed by grace is a work of each person not having to go through any institution or clergy of an institution to have direct access to this grace in Jesus Christ. The ECC celebrates that all people who are “in Christ” can celebrate the Eucharist.

In some traditions such as the Roman Catholic Church “Sacramental Union” is viewed as the literal body and blood of Christ being in the elements. Luther defined “Sacramental Union” of the literal body and blood of Jesus being with the elements. Because of one of the Central Affirmations of the ECC is embracing an understanding of the Church as a fellowship of believers, which is functionally defined as the Church being a gathered community that is set apart for involvement in Christ’s mission to the world. The emphasis is not on hierarchical structures, but upon a grace-filled fellowship and active participation, through the Holy Spirit, in the life and mission of Christ. [11] Therefore, the affirmation of the “True Presence” of Christ is upon the people and the elements of the bread and the cup is not what is being transformed nor is it the direct vehicle of a believer being united with Christ. Christ has already done that work at His death and Resurrection. As believers celebrate the Eucharist it is the presence of Christ via the Holy Spirit that is actively at work in the community of faith by confirming a regenerative grace that has already been given as believers exercise the gift of remembrance; affirming an ongoing work that is presently active in believers as they express their gratitude in the act of worship: and finally, empowering each believer to become fully enlivened to be a recipient of grace whom becomes evidence of Good News to an un-graced world. _____________________________________________________

 

Footnotes & Notes:

[1] (Frisk 1981) p 127.

[2] (Frisk 1981) p 127.

[3] (Frisk 1981) p 127.

[4] (Frisk 1981) p 134.

[5] (Frisk 1981) p 134

[6] (Frisk 1981) p 134. Note: Sacraments point to the very actions of the Gospel.

[7] (Pelikan 1971) p.302. Note: This created the theological notion that grace was not earned by the merits of man but instead it “proceeded man’s action.

[8] (Frisk 1981) p 138. [*] Note: The term redemptive data denotes that a practice becomes the vehicle for one to receive regeneration.

[9] (Frisk 1981) p 139.

[10] (Martin 1974) p 126.

[11] (Frisk 1981) p 14. Note: The sacramental union is distinguished from the other “unions” in theology like the “personal union” of the two natures in Jesus Christ, the “mystical union” of Christ and his Church, and the “natural union” in the human person of body and soul. It is seen as similar to the personal union in the analogue of the uniting of the two perfect natures in the person of Jesus Christ in which both natures remain distinct: the integrity of the bread and wine remain though united with the body and the blood of Christ ______________________________________________________________References:

Frisk, Donald C. 1981. Covenant Affirmations: This We Believe. Covenant Publications Chicago: Covenant Press.

Martin, Ralph P. 1974. Worship in the early church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 1971. The Christian Tradition, vol. 1. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971):304-6.

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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