de Gruchy oor Calvyn – “Word & Sacrament”

27 03 2010

Hiermee wat ek by prof John W de Gruchy gehoor het tydens dag 2 van die VBO in Port Elizabeth. Weereens is dit slegs my eie interpretasie van wat ek gehoor het.

Word and Sacrament

When tackling this theme, one has to remember that, for Calvin, Word & Spirit is fundamental to everything. Without Word & Spirit there is no sacrament.

Christianity as a sacramental faith

A sacrament makes the word concrete (John 1:1-14 – remember, John can also be called the “Sacramental Gospel”) This directly opposes Gnosticism which spiritualised everything. The Gnostics also believed that all matter is evil. The Bible, however, teached that God made everything good and that redemption happens in the world – the Word became concrete, flesh and blood (John 1:14). In the end the meaasage of the Bible is that redemption is the total renewal of creation.

The thread that we see running through the Bible is:  Incarnation → Cross → Ressurection

The Body of Christ is

  • The church (as historical fleh & blood people)
  • the bread that we break (at communion)
  • and our bodies are also a Temple of the Holy Spirit (The totality of our humanity)

Christ is the sacrament, as He became flesh.

The eucharist – a source of conflict

Within our own Dutch Reformed Church, the source of the 1857 decision to split communion services based on racial grounds, also boils down to a conflict about the Lord’s Supper.


Sees the eucharist as a replica of the Last Supper, a remembrance of the night Jesus was betrayed. For him it is a feast of thanksgiving, but not a sacrament, only a sign.

“The Eucharist was a replica of the Supper shared by the disciples with their Lord on the night before he was crucified. He was present, not in the way he had been then, but through his Spirit, and became known yet again through the “breaking of the bread.””


Sees the eucharist very similar to the Roman Catholic Mass, except he did not see it as a sacrifice. Accepts contranssubstantiation – Jesus is present in the bread and wine. If you accept Luther’s viewpoint, you can say that God was crucified. Not so with Calvin, for him only Christ was crucified.


Writer of the Anglican book of common prayer, seeked unity between Zwingli and Luther. Stressed that the Eucharist should be a token of unity and not division.


Eucharist is a Holy Banquet. Christ is really present in  the eucharist, but it is not transsubstantiation.

“We loudly proclaim the communion of flesh and blood, which is exhibited to believers in the Supper; and we distinctly show that that flesh is truly meat, and that blood truly drink – that the soul not contented with an imaginary conception enjoys them in very truth. That presence of Christ, by which we are ingrafted in him, we by no means exclude from the Supper, nor shroud in darkness, though we hold that there must be no local limitation, that the glorious body of Christ must not be degraded to earthly elements; that there must be no fiction of transubstantiating the bread into Christ, and afterward worshipping it as Christ. “

  • The critical issue for all, whether Catholic, Lutheran, Zwinglian or Calvinist, was how we understand the presence of Christ in the Eucharist specifically in relation to the consecrated bread and wine.
  • Calvin believed that Zwingli had rightly objected to the idea that the Mass was a means of salvation and the danger of superstition. Zwingli was correct in gong back to the New Testament and early church practice in reforming the Eucharist as a real meal or what he called a “holy banquet.”
  • “The trouble was, in Calvin’s eyes, that Zwingli reduced the sacraments to acts by which we attest our faith, whereas they are first and foremost acts of God to strengthen our faith.” The Eucharist, along with Baptism, is a sacrament, and as such a means of grace not just a confession of faith.
  • In eating the bread and drinking the wine we receive the “body and blood of Christ” which was offered once-for-all on the cross. For Zwingli this was unacceptable, largely because for him the bodily presence could never be confused with the spiritual presence of Christ.

Thus we draw life from his flesh and blood, so that they are not undeservedly called our “food.” How it happens, I confess, is far above the measure of my intelligence. Hence I adore the mystery rather than labour to understand it. John Calvin (In a letter to the reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli, * August 1555)


The epiclesis (prayer to the Holy Spirit) is what makes the eucharist the eucharist. Thus the bread and wine can become for us, through faith, the Body of Christ. It helps us to remember what this meal signifies. Therefor we pray for the prescence of the Holy Spirit, because the eucharist is the Spirit’s work, NOT a priest/pastor/minister’s!


Does the symbolism of the eucharist only remind us of something, or does it signify/communicate something to us? Zwingli would go with the first choice, Calvin with the second. The Sacrament always takes place in the community of faith – faith is fundamental for the sacrament.

Calvin and the Anabaptists

Calvin’s wife was an Anabaptist, therefor he took their teachings seriously, and responded to what they said.

The Anabaptists took the Sermon on the Mount very seriously. Luther saw the Sermon on the Mount as only given to make us feel bad, because we can’t reach that ideal. The Anabaptists says it talks about discipleship.

  • The Anabaptists only believe in the “believer’s baptism”, because they say that only disciples can be baptised. Calvin said that their position made baptism into a work, a good deed, something WE did, instead of grace – something God does. Calvin stressed the covenant of grace. Sacraments are firstly about faith, it is the response of faith to the word. Therefor word and sacrament belongs together and always goes together.
  • Calvin saw the Law of God threefold:
    • To show our sin
    • As guide for civil government
    • As guide for Christian discipleship
      • Seeing this wrongly leads to moralism, which turns the Gospel back into a law.

Karl Barth stressed that grace comes first, then the law. Grace brings about faith, because grace prompts/demands a response!

It is Armenian to preach doubt, in order to make people afraid, and then to preach redemption as a means to save you from what you are afraid of.

Calvin said that doubt is the temptation of faith, doubt follows faith.

Reactions to Calvin

Many later Calvinists thought Calvin’s language was far too close to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass and preferred Zwingli’s position.

But neither the Lutherans nor the Catholics felt that Calvin’s position was adequate.

At stake was the objectivity of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine. For Calvin this came about not through priestly action, but solely through the Word of promise and the action of the Spirit awakening faith in the believer to whom the bread and wine thereby became the body and blood of Christ.

Grace and gratitude

The Eucharist is a means of grace – It is always God’s work. This is true of Baptism as well.

The proper response to grace is gratitude/responsibility. This means to live as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2) The only sacrifice present in the eucharist is our own one, our lives as living sacrifices to God.

This is fundamental to the formation of a Christian congregation in the image of the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ (Bonhoeffer – Ethics) Worship must shape / form / transform us into the image of God. In the eucharist we symbolically tranforms into the image of Christ.

Christian Liturgy

Liturgy is our service to God. A common life of prayer, scripture reading and teaching, breaking bread together. Liturgy is also our response to God’s grace.  (cf. Acts 2:42; Romans 12:1-2)

Worship is then  remembering , celebrating, anticipating,  a prelude to and a preparation for mission

The Structure of Liturgy

Act 2:42 is the basis for our Liturgy. It is based on what happened in the Synagogue, and christians added what happened at the Last Supper. The Word and Sacrament together always sends us out into the world, to carry on with the “worship after the worship”.

Calvin’s Genevan Liturgy

  • The basic structure and some elements of the Mass were retained in simplified form.
  • The congregation was not made up of observers watching the Mass but a community actively engaged in the service through appropriate responses and psalm singing.
  • The preaching of the Word was sacramental, that is, a means of grace
  • The celebration of the Lord’s Supper was equally important because it had been instituted by Jesus himself.

Calvin wrote: ” the Communion of the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ” should, “as a rule” be held “every Sunday”. He continues: “it was not instituted by Jesus for making a commemoration two or three times a year, but for a frequent exercise of our faith and charity, of which the congregation of Christians should make use as often as they be assembled…” (Articles Concerning the Organization of the Church and of Worship at Geneva (1537))

In the same vein Karl Barth wrote: ” Reformed churches no “longer even realise that a service without sacraments is one which is outwardly incomplete. As a rule we hold such outwardly incomplete services as if it were perfectly natural to do so.”  “Why do the numerous movements and attempts to bring the liturgy of the Reformed church up to date … prove without exception so unfruitful? Is it not just because they do not fix their attention on this fundamental defect, the incompleteness of our usual service, i.e. the lack of sacraments?”

This seperates Word and Sacraments. The only church that has communion every time they meet, are the Catholics.

(Recommended reading: Andrew Murray‘s views on communion)

Liturgical Renewal

The renewal of Reformed worship will not come about by an uncritical borrowing of liturgical elements from other traditions. The Reformed tradition has a liturgical integrity that is worth affirming both for our own sake and for the sake of enriching the ecumenical church as a whole. The liturgy it is primarily God who acts in Word and Sacrament, and we who respond in faith, thanksgiving and mission. But there is no reason we should not learn from other liturgical traditions and practices within the framework of what we regard as important.

Calvin said that the elements of renewal are inherent in Scripture.

Before doing any renewal, we must ask our selves the following questions:

  • What do we want to do and be??
  • What are the resources within the Reformed tradition?

Remember, Liturgy is predominantly God who acts in Word and Sacraments

We must also remember our own context:

  • The Reformed tradition has always recognised the importance of the historical context within which the church exists.
  • There is a particular need for the churches of the Reformed tradition within the South African context to recognise that the renewal of liturgical life cannot be considered apart from our multi-cultural diversity
  • Liturgical renewal is also a challenge to recognise that such renewal is not unrelated to the struggles for justice and reconciliation in the world. Through renewal we must also seek to address the unjustness of the world.

Liturgy and aesthetics

Where worship is given it’s correct place, the form, images, beauty comes to the fore. Don’t focus on tecniques, not on liturgical correctness – what is important is the sharing of the word and grace.

  • There must awake an aesthetic sensibility within the church which is able to appreciate form texture and colour, to appreciate beauty with all our senses
  • “The artistic impoverishment and aesthetic starkness of Reformed liturgy is a natural consequence” of the separation of the Word from the Sacrament.
  • “By contrast,” where proclamation is not allowed to overwhelm the liturgy, where the dimension of worship is given its rightful place, there the richness of life will put in its appearance. There colour and gesture and movement and peace and sound will enter in as vehicles of praise and gratitude. (Wolterstorff)

Mission, the worship after the worship, is our liturgy after the liturgy, our response to God’s grace.