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June 01, 2006


Brian Penney

I like this better than the dispensational charts I was raised on. I suppose you could break it down even further like different points of a compass...church polity, liturgics, etc. But then again, maybe its better to keep it simple.



The word / sacrament continuums could almost be replaced with individual / corporate continuums - which would speak to liturgics, etc. Many things are connotated by the use of the terms, "word" and "sacrament."


The Native Tourist

Where would you put the Puritans on your grid? They had a very high regard for the sacraments and yet they hardly looked like "reformed catholics".


Hard to say because there was no monolithic unity among the Puritans...

Keep in mind that this grid gives you capability for scatter-plotting along continuums. So for example, I might but PCA in the "rationalistic pietist" quadrant - perhaps higher and to the right, whereas, I would put a Rick Warren church in the same quadrant on the low left part...

Your thoughts?



That's a good way to categorize most contemporary denominations and traditions, and I agree with your analysis as far as it goes, but you have selected the axes based on what you (actually we) already hold to be important. Before we get too self-congratulatory, imagine that the third axis, coming "out of the page" is something like "charity" or "missions."

You can also imagine the charts the Baptists might make, with "Word" and "Missions" being the only two axes, therefore flattering themselves, since after all, sacraments aren't that important in their worldview.

The Romans might hold themselves in a positive light by making the two-dimensional plot of "Charity" and "Sacraments," with themselves being the lone residents in the upper-right quadrant.

I agree that "Word" and "Sacraments" are two of the most relevant dimensions to examine, but if "Word" is so important, we should see what the Word tells us about what else is important, and see where we lie on those continua as well.


Of course, you could go 3-D on this with some "missional" continuum, but I tend to think this is a function of sacrament insofar as it is outward looking and communal, rather than inward and rational (word).

The goal here isn't to be self-congratulatory... If I were to plot myself in this, I wouldn't be high enough up or far enough to the right. I would be just over the line from rationalism, moving slowly upward...

That is the power of this model for me. You can almost plot an area and a trajectory of certain traditions.


The Native Tourist

I hear what you are saying about the continuum. I would argue that most of the Puritans had as high a view of the sacraments as any "reformed catholic", they just had a very different practice of use of the sacraments.


I guess you would need to flesh that out a bit for me...

I generally associate Puritanism with a high emphasis on experimental affections largely disconnected from liturgical / sacramental underpinnings. There is a very strong commitment to "word" at an individual / ethical level, but a strong suspicion of anything that involved "communal rites" as a normal course of business.

Isn't this why some Puritans only celebrated the Lord's Supper once per annum? On the one hand, this seems to be a "high view" of the sacrament, but to my mind, a very "wrong" practice that de facto pushes you into rationalistic pietism.

Perhaps someone with greater historical chops can correct me here.



Yeah, I'm not so sure about Puritan sacramentalism. Of all the reformed confessions, the WCF is the most rationalistic and "low sacraments" but I also think this was a higher sacramental sampling (the divines) than the Puritan norm. Also, note the trajectories. The continental trajectory has given us presumptive regeneration and a high view of the table whereas Puritanism has given us reformed baptist theology in its vearious expressions.

BJ Mora

How about proper church discipline, or even more broadly ecclesiology, on the third axis? That oughta make for interesting diagrams.


Yes, if we were going to add a third dimension, discipline would be the one to add. However, I wonder if discipline is implicit to the sacraments because the church is de facto demarcated by the administration of the sacraments...

Trying to keep it simple. Simple theories are beautiful theories.


Foolish Sage

All the models proposed are, of course, possibilities for plotting churches. I think, though, that the Bonemean was looking to plot churches in relation to how they fare in terms of the central themes of the Reformation.


Foolish Sage is correct, however I am not sure I would restrict this to Reformational themes. It seems to me that Word & Sacrament (Discipline) are very helpful categories for identifying the "church visible" according to Scripture.



Interesting graph!
Was wondering why Word and Sacraments were the only relevant (important and/or determinant) classically orthodox reformed means of grace? What about Prayer?

From Scripture, imo, there seems to be a hierarchy with the Word being primary while Sacraments and Prayer are secondary (say the bases of a triangle even). The Communion of the Saints may also be a secondary means.

All-in-all, it appears to only further an agenda or desired way of looking at certain issues. Ie: as seen from man's perspective rather than from a high view.


Witsius, what agenda might that be? And what are you referring to as a "high view?" Please clarify.

My analysis is tied directly to the WCF 25.4. In the Scriptures and the WS, word and sacrament work TOGETHER. While the conceptual categories of "primary" and "secondary" may have their place, Reformed churches have taken this abstraction too far and relegated sacraments to the level of a theological footnote to our life in Christ. That is a mistake that needs to be corrected.


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