Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reformed Sacerdotalism (in Practice)?

Despite the fact that Christians of the Reformed (and broadly Protestant) persuasion insist that they (we) are non- or anti-sacerdotal, a closer look into Reformed (and Protestant) practices will reveal otherwise.

Since the time of the Reformation, most Protestant churches have shifted the aesthetics of their sanctuaries. Roman Catholic churches have always placed the Eucharist at the visual center of the sanctuary. Since the Reformation, however, most Protestants replaced the Eucharist with the pulpit. This had the effect of elevating (both spatially and psychologically) the preaching of the Word over the sacraments. Peter Leithart refers to this as making the sacraments "appendixes" to the preaching of the Word. This has, according to Leithart, forced Protestants to view the Sacraments as "expendable." In Against Christianity Leithart explains:

"So long as baptism and the Supper are seen as "appendixes," they will be seen as expendable. Characterizing baptism and the Supper as "appendixes" to the Word, further, is part and parcel of a Protestant tendency toward the "primacy of the intellect." It is rationalism, in that it reduces baptism and the Supper to a means of communicating information. But that is not what rituals are for."

Generally I agree with Leithart. Protestant churches (including Reformed churches) have not walked away from the Reformation unaffected by Enlightenment categories: The material realm is unnecessary, while the immaterial realm is all we need. "Faith" is all that matters; the ancient practices of the church mean little, if nothing at all. The "noumenal" and the "phenomenal" (to use Kantian terms) cannot interact on any level. (The Apostle Paul was diametrically opposed to this Kantian/Enlightenment/(even) Reformed reality! He saw that the truth of the gospel dispelled this Hellenistic heresy.) But the truth is, Protestant practices reveal something a little different (especially Reformed Protestants!).

While most Protestants will allow their center-stage pulpits to be filled by any Tom, Dick or Harry preacher (even if just once), they WILL NOT allow anyone except a duly ordained minister to preside over the sacraments! In other words, Protestants are sacerdotal in practice as opposed to their rhetoric. Therefore, it's safe to say that Protestant churches (especially Reformed ones) may need to rethink the place (and effect) of their sacramental theology (and the ministers who administer them) in the life of the church based on the fact that we don't preach what we practice!

1 comment:

JD said...

wow Matt! I didn't know you rejoined the blogosphere. Looks very nice; keep up the good work.