Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Warren Vanhetloo’s newsletter “Cogitation.”
A child does not have to know how to read or write to understand the difference between literal and figurative. An older sibling says, “You’re a dumb bunny,” and the little one doesn’t think he has been changed into a small rabbit; he realizes that he is being called “dumb” like a bunny rabbit. If Mother says, “You’re a dirty pig!”, the child will not oink except to be funny; he understands that she means that he’s as dirty as one wallowing in a pig pen. The child does not put a label on the difference. It’s just a normal part of language communication.
For most of what is in Scripture, we have little confusion. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” We do not think that He is different or that we are different. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” We know He speaks of special care of His Own, not of His occupation. When Jesus took bread and offered it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is My body,” surely no one thought He quickly made a change to hand them a piece of His finger! Then Jesus offered them a cup, saying, “This is My blood which is shed for the remission of sins,” and immediately He identified it as “fruit of the vine.” His disciples could have had no concept of transubstantiation or consubstantiation or invisible mystic conveyance.
Jesus Himself declared that this bread and cup was to represent the new covenant. Throughout the present dispensation, this repetition in our observance of the Lord’s Supper is to be a means of remembering His death for our sins. Scripture contains no promise or hint of anything more than approval for obedience as the result of eating and drinking. Any sacramental notion of any kind is contrary to language usage and to recorded Scripture.
Jesus did promise His disciples that He would drink this fruit of the vine with them “new, in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). No doubt, we can all look forward to that occasion of personal communion and fellowship with Him. Some sacramentalists go so far, however, as to suggest that partaking of the communion elements or of the fruit of the Tree of Life in heaven will be an appointed means of conveying some special eternal benefit. The whole concept of God using some means of grace (other than His Word) is not something developed from Scripture but has been forced upon Scripture.
Then different groups debate whether there are seven sacraments or just two. In a sense, holding to seven is no worse than holding to two. A misrepresentation is a mistruth whether asserted just once or over and over. Individuals, however, can invent all sorts of sacred items that they think they can depend on to work some magic for them. For some, it is a cross. For others, an image or likeness. Some engage in vain repetition of “Hail Mary” or “Our Father.” It can be a rabbit’s foot. Or a “lucky coin.” It’s all merely human imagination, but it’s really much more serious than childish imagination. It asserts things directly contrary to Scriptural teaching of the ways of God and twists great truths of the Word that ought to be honored.
As an important reminder, this is not “whip” message that is to be used to force correction on others; this is meant to be a “mirror” reminder that encourages self-examination of some dark corners that we may not realize are offensive to our God. Do we think that certain actions or attitudes when praying are going to be more effective? Genuineness, sincerity, humility—these have to do with us. A special motion of the hands, a special token employed, a secret “key” we have learned which is sure to bring a magical response—any thought of something that might control or stimulate God to act should be avoided. Let God be God. Do not play God or invent special agents to supposedly act as God.
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. At the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it. You may send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.