Friday, January 25, 2013

Leithart on the two witnesses and a major deficiency in Protestantism

Peter Leithart's entry on his blog today is a punch in the gut to anti-sacramental Protestantism and an indictment against the American church in general, which has long been enslaved by such a limited, and limiting, ecclesiology.
James Jordan points out that the two witnesses correspond to two cities and to two forms of judgment (Revelation 11). One weapon of the witnesses is fire, and this corresponds to Sodom, destroyed by fire (vv. 5, 8). Another weapon is turning water to blood and bringing plagues, and this corresponds to Egypt (vv. 6, 8). The first is an Elijah judgment, the second a Moses judgment; the first is royal, the second priestly.

Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire, but the associated cities are spared, though given a dramatic warning. The blood judgment is more complete: Egypt is completely devastated by the plagues and the exodus.

These two clusters of ideas correspond to the larger sequence of Revelation. The trumpets generally bring fire judgments that are partial (8-15). The bowls of wrath-blood bring a final end to the city (chs. 16-18).

We can abstract from this a more general pattern. Trumpet and bowl correspond to Word and Sacrament. Proclaiming the word brings a partial judgment of fire; but it’s the chalice of blood consumed by the saints that brings down cities. Here is the Achilles heel of many forms of Protestantism: Its power to transform is limited insofar as it knows only the weapon of fire and not the weapon of blood, insofar as it has Word without Sacrament.

Change key and the pattern emerges elsewhere: Trumpet is witness in word, blood is witness in death. Witness in word is crucial. It is essential preparation for epochal transformations. But the fire-witness doesn’t shake the city of man to its roots. Only martyrdom, witness in blood, does that.
On a personal level, I am glad to see Leithart, and (presumably) Jordan, agreeing that the "two witnesses" in Revelation 11 are, in fact, Moses and Elijah, as opposed to Enoch and Elijah (as some traditions hold). Following after my old seminary professor M. Robert Mulholland, I have long believed the former to be the correct interpretation.