Gnostics and Sacramentards

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“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #105

“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4).

For many evangelical Christians, we have come to a section of Corinthians that is very challenging indeed. This is because we have a tendency to draw contrasts between the Old and New Testaments in the very places where the New Testament draws parallels.

We can begin with the fact that Paul calls the Gentile Corinthian believers brothers, and in the next breath tells them that “our fathers” passed through the sea. Paul, a Jew, identifies with them, and immediately draws a connection between them and the fathers of Israel.

The second thing is that it was the Corinthians who had started to put on airs, saying that they had spiritual privileges that the Jews did not have. Paul refutes this idea sharply, telling them that the Jews were baptized also, the Jews had a spiritual food also, and that the Jews had spiritual drink also. The trajectory of this line of thought finishes in the next verse. God was displeased with them anyway (v. 5), and the implication is that He could just as easily be displeased with the Corinthians (v. 6). Take heed—the root supports you, not the other way around.

The third thing is that being baptized into Moses gave the Jews access to Christ. Their baptism was Mosaic, and their sacramental drink was Christ. The Mosaic economy was an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster Confession puts it.

And then last, it is plain from this account that Scripture has a category of objective partaking of the covenant. Someone can partake of Christ objectively (in a true sacrament) without partaking of Him subjectively (in true regeneration). The idolaters of v. 7 were the communicants of vv. 3-4. But the fact that it is possible does not make it okay. But the fact that it is possible does mean—follow me closely—that it is not impossible.

So Pauline theology here refutes two common mistakes. The first, the Gnostic Calvinist evangelical, cannot account for how people could actually drink Christ and still fall under God’s displeasure as idolaters. The second, the formalist sacramentard, cannot account for how they could drink Christ and actually fall under judgment.

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