Local News: This coming Wednesday, December 5, renowned singers/songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty will be performing a free concert, “Joy: An Irish Christmas”, at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. The Gettys are known for composing popular modern day hymns, such as “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross.” The concert will begin at 6:30 p.m. For more information, click here.
This week, we will explore Article 20 of the 25 Methodist Articles of Religion, which is titled, “The one oblation of Christ, finished upon the cross”. The article says:
“The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in which it is commonly said that the priest offers Christ for the living and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.”
1. Christ’s sacrifice sufficient for all people for all time
To put this article in context, it should be seen in connection with Articles 18 and 19, both of which discuss the Lord’s Supper. The focus of this article is that Christ on the cross provided a once-for-all atonement to cover all the sins of the entire world. The Eucharist, then, must not be seen as a sacrifice which in any way supplements the one sacrifice of Christ. The medieval church in the West had taught that Christ’s atonement atoned for original sin, the sin nature we inherit from Adam, but that for day to day sins, we are to find atonement in the sacrifice of the mass. When the priest celebrated mass, a real sacrifice was taking place in which forgiveness of sins was to be sought.
Contrary to all of this, John Wesley is saying that Christ’s work on the cross is the only source of forgiveness for all times. The Lord’s Supper celebrates Christ’s work on the cross, but it must not be seen in any way as a supplement to it. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Calvary secured for all time all the forgiveness we could ever need.
2. A caution about polemics
Striking a particularly polemical note, which is uncharacteristic of the 25 Methodist Articles in general, Wesley retained the terminology of the original 39 Articles of Religion, calling the Western Catholic Church’s view “blasphemous” and “dangerous deceit”.
To be sure, Wesley was not saying that any time a layperson in the Catholic Church participates in Mass, he or she is committing blasphemy. Millions of Catholic communicants over the years have partaken of the Lord’s Supper for the simple reason that they know God has commanded them to, and they seek the benefit and blessing of participating in the blessed meal. They are not to be “blamed” for any of the unorthodox conclusions their church has made, just as modern-day Presbyterian shouldn’t be “blamed” for John Calvin having heretics burned at the stake. We must treat people as individuals and not just “lump them in” with the worst caricature we can make of their denomination.
We must keep a distinction between calling a doctrine “blasphemous” and calling every individual who is a part of an organization which teaches the doctrine a “blasphemer”. Blasphemy implies dishonoring God with full knowledge, blatantly, deliberately. People who knowingly distort the truth and spread error may be guilty of blasphemy, but those who are deceived and succumb to false notions are victims of error, not perpetrators of it. It would be uncharitable to accuse the average Catholic of willingly derogating Christ’s atonement on the cross, as if it were insufficient.
Presbyterians and Methodists agree with the main point of this article—that Christ’s work on the cross is the only and eternal source of all forgiveness. This truth is captured especially well in the lyrics to Charles Wesley’s classic hymn:
“Jesus, the name that charms our fears
That bids our sorrows cease
Tis music in the sinner’s ear
Tis life and health and peace
He breaks the power of canceled sin
He sets the prisoner free
His blood can make the foulest
His blood availed for me”