FiveTwo’s Wordless, Bloodless, and Christless Theory of Sacrament

FiveTwo recently published an article by Jim Marriot titled, “The Sacramental Nature of Music.” At the outset he claims: “I believe music has a sacramental nature and efficaciousness.” He next says, “There is no way, within one blog post, to wade through the swamp of sacramental theology in a sufficient manner.”

That phrase, “the swamp of sacramental theology,” is curious, especially coming from someone with his online bio: “Jim Marriott serves as the Director of Worship at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, Illinois. Jim is a candidate for the Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, where his research primarily attends to inculturation in suburban U.S. worship patterns.”Sodoma_-_Pietà_-_WGA21554

Having called the field a swamp he is going to avoid, he next wades straight into it. He says, “Paul Tillich offers a multi-tiered depiction of sacramentality which helps to nuance this sacramental understanding.” Why Paul Tillich and not the Small Catechism? Is Paul Tillich’s existentialism and “method of correlation” now the confessional position of Lutherans about what a sacrament is?

Wading further into the swamp, he next defines those “multi-tiers”: “First, a sacrament is the presence of God in all of creation—the propensity for any and all of creation to depict God. Second, sacraments are particular objects designated by the community to bear the presence of God. Third are the ‘great’ sacraments, those of divine institution, by which the Christian faith is actualized.” Let’s quickly look at these one at a time.

Paul Tillich’s claim about the sacramental nature of all creation is plainly wrong according to that other Paul, the Apostle. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul shows the value of the revelation of God in creation. It has great value. The trouble is, though, that it’s all Law. It gives us notice so that we are without excuse. It shows us our sin. In it, “the wrath of God is revealed.” There is no Gospel there, no access to the death and resurrection of Christ, no delivery of the forgiveness of sins, and therefore no sacrament.

Where in creation and nature would we ever get the idea of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, or Justification as a free gift of grace and faith? These are not revealed in creation or nature, and they are not revealed in the Law. They are revealed only in the Gospel.

The second tier collapses from its own internal inconsistency. Marriot cites Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Among other things, there Luther rejects the power of the Church to designate added sacraments. The Roman church had done so, bringing the total number of supposed sacraments to seven. Having cited the Babylonian Captivity, Marriott next accepts Tillich’s second tier in which the Church is supposed to continue doing just what Luther rejected: designating sacraments. The Church does not designate sacraments. Christ gives them, and in them, gives himself. In the words of Jack D. Kilcrease, it is the self-donation of God.

Marriot explains that Luther and the Lutheran Church failed to give enough emphasis to Tillich’s first two tiers, where music could have a sacramental nature. He says:

Albert Blackwell (The Sacred in Music) suggests that in the Reformation, the under-emphasis of the first two of Tillich’s categories led to the impoverished practice of the third in subsequent Christian generations. Thus, Blackwell suggests, music is sacramental in the sense of the first two categories in a manner that enriches the third category. Music, for Blackwell, is sacramental in both its transcendent nature and its immanent nature.

That presupposes that Luther and the theologians of the Augsburg Confession ever had even one thought of those two imaginary tiers of sacrament. So far as I know, they’d never heard of those two tiers or any complex, multi-tiered swamp of sacraments, and never said one word about it. Tillich invented the swamp in the 20th century.

From the Small Catechism, we know some things about true sacraments, and these things would be missing from music.

First, the Word of God. “What is Baptism? Baptism is not simply water, but it is the water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” “How can water do such great things” as working forgiveness of sins, delivering from death and the devil, and giving everlasting salvation to all who believe? “It is not the water, indeed, that does such great things, but the Word of God, connected with the water, and our faith that relies on that Word of God.”

Of Communion, “How can the bodily eating and drinking produce such great benefits” as delivering the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation? “The eating and drinking, indeed, do not produce them, but the words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ … These words are the chief thing in the sacrament.”

Where in the Word is there a promise of these great benefits to be delivered through music? Since the Word is the chief thing in both Baptism and Communion, what kind of sacrament would have no Word? It would be missing its chief part.

Second, delivering forgiveness. True sacraments do not merely bring one into contact with God, like Moses at the burning bush, as Marriot claims. He says:

A sacrament, in its most basic (and perhaps most contemporary) understanding, is that which enacts an encounter with God in tangible or perceptible fashion. A sacrament is a point of convergence between God and humanity in discernible form.

Rather, true sacraments work forgiveness of sins, deliver from death and the devil, giving salvation and everlasting life. Does music do that?

Third, the death and resurrection of Jesus. True sacraments bring us into the death and resurrection of Christ. See both in Baptism.“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4. “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Colossians 2:12 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21 Does music do that?

See both in Communion. “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:27b-28 “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:54-56 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:25 Does music do that?

Let’s avoid the swamp. Let’s believe, teach, and confess the sacraments according to the Small Catechism because it is a correct and pure exposition of the Word of God.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of


FiveTwo’s Wordless, Bloodless, and Christless Theory of Sacrament — 9 Comments

  1. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This is a great analysis by Mr. Halvorson of a theological perspective that is quite different from ours, though often uses the same language.

    Mr. Halvorson asks “Why Paul Tillich?” I think I know the answer to that one. I attended Union Theological Seminary for my doctoral degree in Church History (M.Phil, 1990; Ph.D., 1996). If I had decided to take a degree in systematic theology, I had basically four choices: 1) “Yale School of Theology,” with Dr. Christopher Morse, which is close to a Barthian perspective, but really “post-liberal” (read George Lindbeck or Stanley Hauerwas); 2) “Liberation Theology,” with the majority of the systematics faculty (James Cone, Beverly Harrison, Kosuke Koyama, Larry Rasmussen, Dorothee Solle, Delores Williams); 3) “Philosophy of Religion”, with Peter van Ness; 4) “Theology of Ritual,” with Dr. Tom Driver, who was a student of Paul Tillich, and held the “Paul Tillich” chair.

    It is the last theology that seems to have affected Mr. Jim Marriott and his teachers, at least from what I can tell from this article. I remember that Garrett-Evangelical Seminary had a number of UTS graduates there, so a Tom Driver/Paul Tillich influence could be expected.

    To get a sense for Driver’s theology, which is really just an anthropological approach to religion, see this book: The web-page has links that let you read parts of the book (click on Table of Contents, then scroll down).

    This is not saying that Mr. Marriott realizes what he has gotten into. Like many people from an orthodox church body, they hear terms being used that they recognize, so they think the theology being taught is orthodox. They don’t have the training to question whether or not the terms are being used in the same sense that the orthodox use them. This was the great deceit of neo-orthodox theology, and it still continues today. Just remember that “neo-orthodox” means “new use of orthodox terms.”

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. Interesting that Paul Tillich is the “go-to” guy. John Warwick Montgomery – a man far more learned, articulate, and credentialed than I am – claims that Tillich fired the fourth suicidal round into theology ( after the Modernists, Barths ineffective first aid, and then Bultmann and the post-Bultmannians firing rounds two and three.

    Tillich’s stream of thought is far from where we ought to be swimming.

  3. @Rev. M Dent #3

    Pr. Dent: Indeed– the last time I read Tillich, I felt like my brain needed heavy detergent and a shower. I think I opted rather for strong beer.

    Pr. Noland: “Just remember that “neo-orthodox” means “new use of orthodox terms.”” I think I will borrow/steal that excellent shorthand phrase for my students– with all deference to the good doctor who coined it. 😉

  4. Yeah… all you had to say was “Paul Tillich” and that told me enough. Tillich’s theology does more to harm the church than help it.

  5. Here’s the “Lingering Tillichian Paraphrase of Lord’s Prayer” courtesy of Robert McAfee Brown, “The Hereticus Papers, Volume II, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1979”

    “Ground of Being,
    No object among other objects,
    In history as well as beyond history.
    Support our finite freedom,
    And sustain us when our dreaming innocence
    Becomes Zeitgebund.
    For with you alone
    Are autonomy and heteronomy
    Eternally theonomous.”

  6. “Paul Tillich (1886-1965) of Harvard Divinity School was one of the outstanding neo-orthodox theologians. A student related to me that when Tillich was asked just before his death in Santa Barbara, California, ‘Sir, do you pray?’ he answered, ‘No, but I meditate.’ He was left only with the word God, with no certainty that there was anything more than just the word or that the word equaled anything more than the pantheistic pan-everythingism. The God-is-dead theology which followed Tillich concluded logically that if we are left only with the word God, there is no reason not to cross out the word itself.” — Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, p. 178.

  7. From my viewpoint Sacramental Entrepreneurs have a propensity to be overly focussed on the emotional. It is as if they think that if something moves you emotions it is most likely from God. When I go to charismatic “Lutheran” praise services my emotions are usually moved to anger which I do not think comes from God.

    To put the best construction on Mr. Marriott’s post at least he rightly stated that “in our sacramental theology and practice, music cannot supercede the Lord’s Supper.”

  8. The Missouri Synod is an house divided between the Confessional Lurherans and heterodox Lutherans who are eclectic in doctrine. Jim Marriot of 52 is an example of this eclecticism in choosing of all persons Paul Tillich to define the meaning of sacraments. I am concerned that when the District and Synod fail to discipline and even remove clergy and congregations from the Synod when they refuse to repent of doctrinal error the body of Christ is harmed and open schism becomes a reality. What is wrong with the ecclesiastical structure of the Synod that Matthew Becker along with the clergy of 52 are permitted to teach false doctrine?

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