VI. The Churh Well Lost (Continued)

F. Sacramentalism

It is because of the place we have assigned to the sacraments, and the use we have made of them, that Christianity has been reduced to Judaism. And it is very true--probably the truest statement about Christendom--that, as Pascal says, it is a union of people who, by means of the sacraments, excuse themselves from their duty to love God.1
Christendom's Christianity takes Christianity merely as a gift. That is why it makes so much ado about the sacraments (in the superstitious sense), and pretends not to know that the sacrament carries an obligatzon.2

To demonstrate that S.K.'s sacramental theory was sectarian rather than churchly in viewpoint involves something of a problem in that the churchly tradition itself shows so much divergency on this point. Thus, although there is no difficulty whatever in distinguishing between the sacramental thought of sectarianism and Lutheranism, it is very difficult to establish any significant difference between that of sectarianism and Calvinism. However, because S.K. came out of a Lutheran background, it is of some value to our study to see just how far from his churchly tradition he had come.

Neither S.K. nor the Brethren gave any detailed attention to sacramental theory, yet some aspects of their thought are plain. Both treasured the sacraments as a vital and valuable part of the Christian faith. To a large degree, the very separation of the Brethren sect from out of the Radical Pietist milieu was motivated by the desire to regain and reestablish the sacraments that Radical Pietism had dropped. And the "filling out" of the Lord's Supper, making it a reenactment of the upper room occasion by putting the eucharist into the context of a full evening's service with a period of self-examination, the feetwashing, and the agape meal--this certainly points toward a high evaluation of the sacraments.

Likewise with S.K.: his works include fifteen separate discourses that are designated as meditations relating to the communion and/or the service of confession that accompanied it. Nowhere does S.K. say anything that could be interpreted as derogatory of the sacraments themselves, although--as in the epigraph above--he could be very harsh on the church for the way it used (i.e. misused) them.

Thus, although in both the Brethren and S.K. we find a high respect for the sacraments per se (which is not unsectarian), we also find a highly anti-sacramental interpretation (which is notably sectarian). Regarding baptism, we already have seen that the Brethren explicitly rejected anything suggestive of baptismal regeneration or the spiritual efficacy of the water. They understood baptism, rather, as being primarily a work of obedience, an external, human sign witnessing to an inner operation of the Spirit. And although eighteenth century writings do not treat the issue, all the evidence suggests that the Brethren interpretation of the eucharist must have followed the same pattern. The Brethren impulse to drop the term "sacrament" and refer to these signs as "ordinances" is an accurate reflection of the ideological shift involved.

As to S.K., the evidence is anything but voluminous, hut it points to the fact that he was anti-sacramental in the same sense that the Brethren were. Indeed, Louis Dupre says, "It should be obvious that sacraments in the Catholic, or even in the orthodox Lutheran, sense of the word are incompatible with Kierkegaard's theory."3 And S.K. did, in fact, explicitly renounce the orthodox Lutheran concept "People have put these words (Jn. 6:35ff.) in conjunction with the Lord's Supper, they have developed a doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body, and with that they have in Christendom a fantastic notion of Christ."4

However, S.K.'s most significant statement was a positive one. It is nothing more than a hint, but a hint that gets to the heart of the matter:

Hence the Lord's Supper is called Communion with Him; it is not merely in remembrance of Him, not merely a pledge that thou hast communion with Him, but it is the communion, the communion which thou shalt endeavour to maintain in thy daily life by more and more living thyself out of thyself and living thyself into Him.5

The sacraments involve (or are intended to involve) an absolutely real communion with God. In this sense the Kierkegaard sectarian view is truly a high one; and given the powerful sectarian stress on devotional immediacy, the oft-repeated churchly charge that the sectaries reduced the sacraments to mere memorials" is patently not the case.

But the sense in which S.K. was truly anti-sacramental shows up in his identification of the communion of the altar with "the communion which thou shalt endeavour to maintain in thy daily life." In short, there is ultimately but one mode of man's relationship to God den Enkelte existing before God in the venture of faith. The so-called sacraments are instruments divinely instituted and designed to intensify and focus this one relationship that must constantly constitute and control the Christian life. In the taking of the sacraments, then, the experience of the communicant may be different in degree but not in kind from what it is normally. And thus would seem to be excluded the special sacramental relationship of Christ's corporeal body being received orally by anyone who partakes. This is the basic distinction between churchly "sacraments" and sectarian "ordinances"; S.K. stood on the sectarian side.

Copyright (c) 1968