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Sunday, January 27, 2013

How to punish a Calvinist (1 Corinthians 11:32)

I was recently reminded of a punishing passage from St Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians that led me to write a quick apologetics article about it. The verse is 1 Corinthians 11:32, 
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Paul is speaking of those Christians in Corinth who were abusing the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-34) and as a result God was inflicting punishments on them, such as illnesses and even death (1 Cor. 11:29-30). What is noteworthy about verse 32 is that Paul says God is chastising these Christians precisely to get them to change their ways so that they will "not be condemned along with the world." This teaching poses a serious problem for Protestant theology, particularly Calvinism, because Justification by Faith Alone teaches that the Christian cannot ever be condemned because they say Jesus was already condemned in their place. 

The only two objections I can foresee is for a Protestant to either argue (1) this condemnation somehow does not pertain to Justification, or (b) that this passage is not speaking of true Christians. But these are mere assertions and they do violence to the plain language of the text. For example, Paul uses terms like "judged" and "condemned," which would have to apply to the forensic categories of Justification. In fact, the phrase "condemned along with the world" can only refer to the damning to hell sentence that the unrepentant world will end up receiving. And if Paul is not talking about genuine Christians, then he cannot be using collective terms like "we" and speaking of chastisement, since chastisement pertains only to adopted children of God. So this verse solidly proves that not only are Christians not justified by faith alone, but that God chastises them when they turn to sin for a very grave reason: so that they will correct their ways and not end up getting damned in the end. (cf 1 Tim. 1:19-20; Rev. 3:19)

22 comments:

Jeremy said...

This is yet another passage that would require a presuppositional calvinist lens and as you say, violence to the clear meaning of a passage, in order to explain away the plain meaning and insert some protesting spin. Thanks for all these recent articles on Justification Nick!

De Maria said...

You're on a roll man. Very good.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how this affects the Calvinist position in the least. It just seems that St. Paul is saying that the Christians are judged and disciplined in a certain way so that they may not be condemned, whereas the rest of the world stands condemned already (John 3:16-18). I just don't understand the force of this at all.

Nick said...

Anonymous,

You said: "Christians are judged and disciplined in a certain way so that they may not be condemned"

That's the problem, that would mean their actions plays a part in whether they're saved or not. In this case, God is sending them sufferings so that they will turn from their sins and not be damned. You apparently are not Reformed, but hopefully my posts have helped you understand Reformed theology better.

The rest of the world is on the chopping block already, Christians were taken off of it at their conversion, but according to this verse (and others) Christians can be put back on the chopping block from falling into sin.

Anonymous said...

"That's the problem, that would mean their actions play a part in whether they're saved or not. In this case, God is sending them sufferings so that they will turn from their sins and not be damned."

That is not implied from the text at all. I do not pretend to have extensive knowledge of the Reformed view of God disciplining believers, but it seems you've set up yet another straw man. A Reformed Christian could easily respond in the following way:

(1) God is quite capable of differentiating his discipline, judgment, and condemnation.

(2) In this text, believers are judged and disciplined "so that [they] may not be condemned." You, Nick, seem to interpret this as to mean that if the believers don't do something [e.g. respond to Paul's exhortations] then they will be condemned. However, the text does not necessitate this interpretation at ll.

(3) As Dr. White said in his Justification Debate with Dr. Sungenis, there is a "descriptive way" and a "prescriptive way" to interpret many verses relevant to justification. It seems the Reformed Apologist could easily avoid your criticism by recognizing that THE REASON THAT SOME ARE DISCIPLINED IN A CERTAIN WAY AND ARE NOT CONDEMNED is because they are God's chosen ones, not because of anything they do.

(4) Here is a quote from Calvin interpreting the passage that might shed light into the Reformed position: "God, when he chastises us, has it in view to shake us out of our drowsiness, and arouse us to repentance. If we do this of our own accord, there is no longer any reason, why he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us. If, however, any one, after having begun to feel displeased with himself, and meditate repentance, is, nevertheless, still visited with God's chastisements, let us know that his repentance is not so valid or sure, as not to require some chastisement to be sent upon him, by which it may be helped forward to a fuller development."

It seems that Calvin said that the Lord disciplines his people to arouse repentance, and perhaps "to make their calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10).

And yes I do find your blog interesting and always enjoy the dialog.

Nick said...

Here's my response to your 4 points:

(1) Agreed, but differentiating between discipline, judgment, and condemnation does not affect my argument, in fact it's part of it.

(2) You're doing what the Reformed are forced to do here, which is do violence to the plain reading of the verse. The text says God does X (after justification) so that Y won't END UP happening to them. There is a direct/causal relationship here: God disciplines *so that* they wont be condemned.

If you're going to say this is a theoretical threat, meaning it can happen but God would never let it happen, then I would respond as follows: (1) you're assuming theoretical, and (2) even if it's theoretical it doesn't affect the very heart of my argument which is that Christians are not beyond condemnation but rather God must continue to do things to keep them from being condemned.

(3) This is ad hoc. My argument remains as firm and as solid as originally espoused because all you're doing is shifting one irrelevant detail, namely whether God would actually let it happen or not. God chooses to chastise precisely so that they wont END UP condemned. What you're saying is that God chastises because Christians (at least theoretically) already cannot ever be condemned, but that's not what the text says.

(4) Your Calvin quote merely confirms what I'm saying: God chastises to arouse us to repentance! This makes no sense if Christians are in a state where they never need to repent, as the Reformed teach. The Reformed teach that the *REASON* why a Christian can never even be THREATENED with condemnation is because all God looks at is Jesus' righteousness imputed once and for all time. To even *suggest* that Christians need to repent or be chastised IN ORDER TO avoid a future condemnation is to say Christ's Righteousness is not enough or is not the basis by which God justifies.

Consider the example of a Race: you must finish the race in order to get a gold medal. The Reformed teach that upon conversion, the moment you're justified, you're already entitled to the gold medal because Jesus ran the race for you. You're in a position where disqualification no longer applies. But what Paul is saying is that when Christians running the race get sluggish, God chastises them to get them motivated to move on and complete the race so as not to be disqualified. This makes no sense if Jesus already secured gold for you; it makes no sense to say God is pushing you forward to avoid disqualification.

This conforms to Paul's own reality check in 1 Cor 9 where he says: "I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." This is ridiculous if Paul is in no danger of disqualification.

Anonymous said...

Nick, thanks for the response, here is mine:

You say, "The text says God does X (after justification) so that Y won't END UP happening to them. There is a direct/causal relationship here: God disciplines *so that* they wont be condemned."

A Reformed Christian might point out that you seem to emphasize that God does X, yet downplay that it is God who also does Y. It's not that Y just "ends up happening" but rather God is sovereign and can freely do X OR freely do Y. So, God doing X reflects the choice he has made to treat some differently than others. The context is compatible with this interpretation that St. Paul is DESCRIBING [rather than prescribing] the way in which God's chosen ones are treated; after all, he is speaking to the Corinthian Church about the Lord's Supper.

I don't think the Reformed Christian would see any need to interpret this as a "theoretical threat" so I will not reply to your comments there.

Nick said...

I fail to see what you're getting at.

I could just as easily have said "God does X so that God will not end up doing Y to Christians."

The result is largely unchanged since this isn't about emphasizing who acts and to what degree, if any. What the Reformed are saying is that Christians are outside the realm of being condemned because of Christ's Imputed Righteousness, where as Paul is saying Christians are avoiding condemnation for a completely different reason, namely God's chastising them to correct their path. Even if the Christian is 100% passive, God is still chastising them so that He wont end up condemning them along with the unbelievers.

I realize that this can be hard to visualize since few people understand Reformed theology in it's fullest and most consistent expression.

It's like saying all your sins are forgiven the moment you converted, but if you ever fall into sin from here on out you need to repent to get them forgiven. It cannot be both. In the same way, our basis for non-condemnation cannot be both Christ's Alien Righteousness and our Chastisement.

There are so many examples I could give. I cannot say Bob paid for my movie ticket but I enter into the theater because Jim paid for my movie ticket. It cannot be both. Either I enter the theater because of what Bob did for me or I enter because of what Jim did for me. The Reformed are saying Christians are not condemned because of what Jesus already did, while the Bible is saying Christians are not going to be condemned because of what the Father is doing right now.

Anonymous said...

I feel as if we are talking past each other, and that you are knocking down a straw man. Not in that you have set up a blatant straw man, but in that it is not nearly as difficult to harmonize this verse with Reformed theology as you are making it sound [an implicit straw man perhaps]. It's not that I don't understand your analogies or the concept of imputed righteousness; it's just that you are forcing this passage to have a very specific meaning in order to force the Reformed position into inconsistency.

Let me try again to provide a clear interpretation that a Reformed Christian could easily use to explain the passage:

"But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:32)

(1) St. Paul is giving instruction to the Corinthian Church on how to celebrate the Lord's supper. He is describing how several among them are sick and have died because they are not examining themselves and discerning properly before partaking in the Lord's Supper.

(2) St. Paul explains that God judges His church and treats the body of Christ differently: disciplining and judging them, but not judging them unto condemnation.

(3) St. Paul associates himself with the the group he is talking to, further emphasizing that he is DESCRIBING how God interacts with His own: (a)"WE are judged" (b)"WE are disciplined" (c)"WE may not be condemned"

(4) You are forcing this passage to PRESCRIBE that Christians must change their ways IN ORDER TO avoid condemnation.

It just seems like a classic case of what Dr. White calls the "Prescriptive way" and "Descriptive way" to read certain passages.

Nick said...

Anonymous,

I think we are talking past eachother, so I'm not sure what more can be said.

I think the issue hinges on how you read the clause "so that" in the phrase "we are disciplined SO THAT we may not be condemned".

As I've said, my argument does not hinge on who is acting; my argument works if it is "describing" how God does 100% of the acting.

What you appear to be saying is that Paul's lesson in 11:32 is that God chastises Christians where as God lets the rest of the world wallow in their condemned state. The problem here is that it doesn't take into account the "so that" clause.

I see no way a Reformed person can explain Paul saying "we may not be condemned" if everyone is aware there is already no sense in which condemnation is possible.

My argument doesn't try to do anything fancy with the text, it just lets the text speak. And my argument conforms to the way the Greek term "chastise" is used elsewhere in the NT, e.g. 1 Tim 1:19-20 and Rev 3:19.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

I do see what you are saying, but the Reformed Christian is not stuck in inconsistency as you say.

God judges and punishes them SO THAT they may not be condemned along with the world. Let's take the "so that" as implying that if God did not judge or punish them, then they would be condemned along with the world.

The Reformed Christian could certainly affirm that. In other words if God did not do X [judge and punish them], then God would do Y [condemn them along with the world].

It just seems like you are trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill that isn't even a mole hill to begin with.

Anonymous said...

"I see no way a Reformed person can explain Paul saying "we may not be condemned" if everyone is aware there is already no sense in which condemnation is possible."

First, on the Reformed view, not everyone is aware that there is already no sense in which condemnation is possible. In fact, there are apostates among the Church who may seem to be part of the group, yet later they will leave(1 John 2:19).

Second, it's actually quite easily for a Reformed Christian to explain Paul saying "we may not be condemned." It is a description of the treatment that God's chosen ones will not receive.

Anonymous said...

"I see no way a Reformed person can explain Paul saying "we may not be condemned" if everyone is aware there is already no sense in which condemnation is possible."

First, on the Reformed view, not everyone is aware that there is already no sense in which condemnation is possible. In fact, there are apostates among the Church who may seem to be part of the group, yet later they will leave(1 John 2:19).

Second, it's actually quite easily for a Reformed Christian to explain Paul saying "we may not be condemned." It is a description of the treatment that God's chosen ones will not receive.

Nick said...

Ok, this is good. I like how you phrased things in your last post.

Now you just need to take a step back and see the Christians' non-condemnation is due to chastisement, it is not due to Christ's imputed righteousness.

Condemnation is a forensic category, applying to the realm of Justification. So if I ask how are you not condemned? The Reformed would answer, I'm 100% free from any condemnation, past, present, future, because Jesus was condemned in my place. The Bible says you are not condemned because God's chastisement keeps you out of the condemned category the world is in.

Vocab Malone said...

Here is how a Catholic punishes a Calvinist - http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/St_Bartholomew,_Massacre_of

De Maria said...

Anonymous said...
I don't understand how this affects the Calvinist position in the least. It just seems that St. Paul is saying that the Christians are judged and disciplined in a certain way so that they may not be condemned, whereas the rest of the world stands condemned already (John 3:16-18). I just don't understand the force of this at all.


You are having trouble because you've abandoned the context of the verse.

Is it true that justification by faith alone teaches that a Christian cannot ever be condemned?

Here, let's read a bit more of the context to this verse then::

1 Corinthians 11:29
King James Version (KJV)
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

Here, it says that a Christian who eats and drinks unworthily IS CONDEMNED.

Does Justification by faith alone teach that a Christian cannot be condemned? Or not?

Therefore, unless you claim that these are not Christians, then this verse is saying that Christians can be condemned. And your assertion that " It just seems that St. Paul is saying that the Christians are judged and disciplined in a certain way so that they may not be condemned," is null and void. Because in the preceding verse (29), St. Paul has just explained that Christians can be condemned and therefore in the following verses (30-32), he prescribes how a Christian may avoid this condemnation.


De Maria said...

Anonymous said:
(1) God is quite capable of differentiating his discipline, judgment, and condemnation.

Correct.

(2) In this text, believers are judged and disciplined "so that [they] may not be condemned." You, Nick, seem to interpret this as to mean that if the believers don't do something [e.g. respond to Paul's exhortations] then they will be condemned. However, the text does not necessitate this interpretation at ll.

It does, in fact. Because you are leaving v 29 and 34 out of consideration. In v 29, the Christian who eats unworthily has already brought condemnation upon himself. The way to avoid this happening is prescribed in v.31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

And v 34 comes from the other way. 34.... that ye come not together unto condemnation. ... Which is another prescription for the Christian to avoid condemnation.

Therefore, v 32 is either a PRESCRIPTION as Nick has stated, that Paul says God is chastising these Christians precisely to get them to change their ways so that they will "not be condemned along with the world."

Or it is a description of Purgatory. There is a chastisement here which is applied to the believer in order that he be saved.

(3) As Dr. White said in his Justification Debate with Dr. Sungenis, there is a "descriptive way" and a "prescriptive way" to interpret many verses relevant to justification. It seems the Reformed Apologist could easily avoid your criticism by recognizing that THE REASON THAT SOME ARE DISCIPLINED IN A CERTAIN WAY AND ARE NOT CONDEMNED is because they are God's chosen ones, not because of anything they do.

1. He could only do so by ignoring the context.
2. Because the condemnation of the Christian has already been admitted in v 29, it could not apply to the Calvinist doctrine.
3. Otherwise, the argument he is making actually supports Purgatory. Because all who go through Purgatory are believing Christians who die in an imperfect state of grace.

(4) Here is a quote from Calvin interpreting the passage that might shed light into the Reformed position: "God, when he chastises us, has it in view to shake us out of our drowsiness, and arouse us to repentance. If we do this of our own accord, there is no longer any reason, why he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us.

And if we don't? What then? Follow the logic to its conclusion. If we do not do this of our own accord, he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us.

If, however, any one, after having begun to feel displeased with himself, and meditate repentance, is, nevertheless, still visited with God's chastisements, let us know that his repentance is not so valid or sure, as not to require some chastisement to be sent upon him, by which it may be helped forward to a fuller development."

This is Catholic doctrine. We believe in the Purgative Way.

It seems that Calvin said that the Lord disciplines his people to arouse repentance, and perhaps "to make their calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10).

Which would agree with Catholic doctrine. But Calvin says nothing there to disprove Nick's argument.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

The text does not say that the "non-condemnation is due to chastisement." The Reformed Christian would hold that the non-condemnation is due to being unconditionally elected to salvation. While the doctrine of unconditional election is not the focus, the fact that God treats some of his people differently is the focus of 11:32.

De Maria,

The Reformed Christian could point out several holes in your arguments:

(1) You make an unwarranted assumption in your point that St. Paul teaches that Christians can be condemned. You say regarding verse 1 Corinthians 11:29, "Therefore, unless you claim that these are not Christians, then this verse is saying that Christians can be condemned." However, you are not recognizing that St. Paul's letter to Corinth is addressed to the gathered church, and specifically this portion about their worship at the Lord's Supper. Reformed Christians readily recognize that not all who are physically in the church are true Christians (1 John 2:19). So, anyone who "drinks condemnation among themselves" is not one of God's chosen ones. This can apply to verse 34 as well, where St. Paul exhorts those who are hungry to eat at home first, so that it will not result in judgment/condemnation for them when they eat the Lord's Supper.

(2) The words "judgment" "damnation" and "condemnation" are used several times throughout the passage (1 Corinthians 11:17-33). It also appears that St. Paul uses them in different ways depending on the verse. So, whether or not you interpret each of them to mean a "final condemnation" or "an edifying judgment" will likely be based on your presuppositions.

(3)In your discussion of the Calvin quote, you say, "And if we don't? What then? Follow the logic to its conclusion. If we do not do this of our own accord, he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us." I think this is a category error. Calvin is speaking to God's edifying judgment of the elect, not a final judgment unto condemnation.

Nick said...

Anonymous,

You said: The text does not say that the "non-condemnation is due to chastisement." The Reformed Christian would hold that the non-condemnation is due to being unconditionally elected to salvation.

I think we're beating a dead horse at this point. The text says the non-condemnation is due to chastisement precisely due to the "so that" clause. The Reformed do not say the non-condemantion is based on unconditional election, otherwise there'd be no point in Justification by Faith. Unconditional election is why Jesus was condemned in your place, but the unconditional election is not the basis for why God Justifies you.

I realize the bigger issue here is that Reformed theology is completely refuted if my interpretation of 1 Cor 11:32 is correct, so I would expect proponents of Reformed theology to "resist" agreeing with me at all costs. The good news is, there are plenty of similar verses in my arsenal.

I'll let you have the last word.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

You have been very fair in the discussion. I don't want to beat a dead horse too much haha (though I will respond if De Maria responds).

As a last word I'll just reiterate two things:

(1) The Reformed Christian can AFFIRM the "so that" clause of the verse. If we interpret the structure as God does X to M so that Y doesn't happen to M, the Reformed could affirm that. If we interpret this to imply that Y would happen to M if God didn't do X to M, then the Reformed Christian could affirm that as well [if God did not treat M specially then they would be condemned with the rest].

2. The only thing in your interpretation that the Reformed would deny is that true Christians can become those condemned along with the world. Remember, St. Paul is addressing the gathered church so it is evident that some of the "we" that are physically with him might end up falling away, even into apostasy (1 John 2:19).

Anonymous said...

I understand that the reformed can answer just about anything with their presuppostions, but there are many things that Paul writes that a reformed person would never have written.

For instance, when Jesus says that those who persevere to the end will be saved, the reformed will say this means that those who are saved will persevere to the end.

While the Catholic cannot completely deny the logic, the necessity to rearrange the text of scripture over and over again (as in 1Cor 11:32 is based on their presuppositions.

Why is it that Catholics don't have to rearrange the texts to make sense of them?
The context of a Christian being condemned for receiving the Eucharist unworthily makes the reformed position untenable while the straight forward reading flows right into Paul's statement in 11:32.

Barbara said...

I find it very interesting When Anonymous quotes (2 Peter 1:10). "Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble". and then he argues in favor of ("Descriptive way") where the elect has nothing to do
it seems to be he is all over the place. I think he only sees " your call and election" in 2Pt1:10 and throws the rest of the verse out of the window not to mention the verses proceeding that says we should make very efforts to supplement our faith. …….