Trinitarian Theology and the Sacraments

Gordon T. Smith, whose edited volume on eucharist was reviewed several months back, authors a chapter in IVP’s volume Trinitarian Theology for the Churchentitled: “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” Smith bemoans the neglect by many to engage in the broader ecumenical discussion concerning the sacraments, suggesting that this neglect has fostered a “christomonism” rather that a christocentric trinitarianism, which highlights the pneumatological deficit among many traditions and churches.

In mapping the divergent views, Smith suggests two starting assumptions which must be made: first, that the sacraments are the acts of the church rather than merely individual, interior and expressive events; and second, God is sovereign and is not constrained by the sacraments. Building upon these admissions, Smith suggests a trinitarian participation through eucharist: “we give thanks to the Father-Creator (this is a Eucharist), we do this in remembrance of Christ (anamnesis) as we invoke the presence of the Spirit (epiklesis). And the unity of this structure demonstrates that these three are one.” Furthermore:

It is by the Spirit that Christ is present. It is by the Spirit, further, that we are able to see Christ, believe in Christ and then turn from the meal and witness to Christ in the world. Ultimately, it is not we who witness to or for Christ; rather, it is the Spirit who glorifies the Son, and our witness is but participation in the ongoing ministry of the Spirit to make Christ known – in the world” (193).

By invoking epiclesis, Smith believes we salvage a theocentric approach as well as a heavier weight upon sovereignty, that we are not merely enacting this event but come to participate in it. And yet, on the other side, “The sacramental rite is without doubt a human act: we take and eat; we enter the water of baptism. But what is critical is that this is an act of response to the gracious initiative (sic) God in Christ, and our act of response is enabled by the Spirit” (197).

What do we think of this as an overarching framework? Is this helpful, or does it leave the same unanswered questions unanswered? In terms of practice, does your church practice the sacraments in a trinitarian fashion, or does the Spirit get left aside in the whole thing (and, maybe more importantly, is that actually a problem, and is that actually failing to be trinitarian?)?


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