Thursday, March 16, 2006

2: In What Manner is Grace Communicated?


I apologize for the lengthy delay of this second post. Even with Spring Break, these past few weeks have been incredibly hectic for me.

In the last post I laid out four basic views of both Baptism and the Eucharist. Emphasis was put on the mysterious reality that grace is in some way communicated through these sacraments. Inevitably the questions arises, "In what manner is this grace communicated?" There are three views I would like to put forth for discussion. I acknowledge the fact that there are other understandings and certain nuances present with each view but for the sake of brevity I have decided to post merely three.

1. Ex opere operato

This view essentially asserts that grace is guaranteed to be communicated through the sacraments. The flow of this grace is not contingent necessarily upon the faith of the individual participating in the specific sacrament but is assumed by the very nature of the sacraments. The sacraments in a sense become channels of constant flow; one must enter into this channel in order to participate in the grace thereby dispersed.

Perhaps the most prominent proponent of this view would be the modern day Roman Catholic Church. However, it can be argued that certain aspects of the praxy of evangelicals carries connotations of this view while redefining the locus of this guaranteed grace. For some evangelicals, if an individual comes to the altar and recites the "sinner's prayer" there is the assumption of the assured communication of grace. The semi-pelagian idea that one can choose to accept Christ at any moment they so delight actually bears striking resemblance to the Catholic understanding of the communication of grace through the sacraments.

2. Ex opere operantis

The basic difference in this view is that the communication of grace through the sacraments is dependent upon the faith of the individual receiving the sacraments. While St. Cyril of Jerusalem may not categorically fall here, he gives stern admonitions to those who would enter the waters of baptism with malignant motives. If one persists in these motives the regenerative effects of baptism do not accompany the person. The motives and faith of the person are paramount. It is Luther who adopts this view and emphasizes the individual aspect of participation in the sacraments. It is the faith of the individual that the efficacy of the sacrament relies in part upon.

While it will have to wait for another discussion, it should be noted that theologians such as Wesley did not believe that grace was guaranteed to be distributed by means of partaking of the sacraments. The same measure of grace is not always given to each person whom receives the Eucharist in the same service. But this digression will have to wait for another post, another day.

3. Ex opere operantis

Do not worry, I realize this is identical with the aforementioned view. However, I have seperated this perspective from the former because of an Augustinian distinction. Augustine held to this specific understanding while placing the emphasis of belief on the community rather than the individual. In other words, while faith had to be present it did not by necessity have to be the faith of the specific individual. The congregation could believe on behalf of the individual partaking of the sacrament. Not that the faith of the individual was not important to Augustine, but equally important was the faith of the accompanying gathering of believers. Faith must be present, but its locus need not solely be that of the individual.

So what do you think?
What additions would you make to these three views?
Is there any particular view not mentioned that you find insightful or important to bring to the discussion?
What might be the varying consequences of each of these views?

2 comments:

Sniper said...

The Augustinian distinctive is a great touch, and one that I am not familiar with but that I like. I can see that view really gaining some force for our generation's cry of true community. The view also seems to fit with the story of the the friends bringing the crippled man to Jesus through the roof of the house. It was their faith that indeed resulted in the communication of healing and salvation to the man. Hmm...I like this Ben. Perhaps I've been a bit harsh on Augustine in past views, but this one, I like.

Keith.Drury said...

Ben, thanks for giving the “altar call” as an example for revivalists of these views. In my upbringing “going to the altar to be saved” was the chief “sacrament” of all. And after that was “devotions.” These two were the central “means of grace” in my revivalist tradition and after them came Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I’m still processing the “Augustinian adaptation” in that light. Often we heard in preaching a comparison of the “formal churches” who also went to the altar [for Comminion]but not to seek to be born again but that they [wrongly it was said] thought they’d be saved by the Eucharist or Baptism but that “Our church believes in the altar call” suggesting that there was a sort of corporate faith in the efficacy of it. Interesting—I’ve never thought of it that way. Thanks for this stimulating post.