Why the Lord’s Supper

Some years ago, I, as a Lutheran, was invited to write about the Lord’s Supper in Tabletalk, a magazine with mostly Reformed readers, which was doing special issue on the sacraments.  I didn’t want to argue, just explain what Holy Communion means and can mean in the life of a Christian.  I offer it to you, whatever your theology, for Maundy Thursday:

As far as I know, I am the only Lutheran who writes regularly for Tabletalk, so please bear with me. Inviting a Lutheran to write about the Lord’s Supper is like asking a grandmother if she has any pictures of the new baby. So much affection for the subject matter can easily outpace other people’s interest. However, the Lord’s Supper is at the heart of a Lutheran’s piety. Calvinists too, as well as other Protestants, are rediscovering their own sacramental heritage, which has become somewhat forgotten. We Lutherans have never lost the Reformation’s emphasis on the sacrament, so perhaps this description of what it is like might prove helpful.

I do not intend here so much to argue for the Lutheran theological position on the sacrament, but rather to describe — in a way that I hope is helpful for non-Lutherans who are also trying to regain an evangelical sense of the sacrament — what it is like to believe in it. I will then make some cultural connections, showing why the Reformation emphasis on the sacrament is a bracing tonic against today’s highly-internalized pop-Christianity.

At the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, that great debate over the Lord’s Supper between Luther and Zwingli, Dr. Martin took a piece of chalk and wrote on a table: “This is my body.” In answer to Zwingli’s long philosophical discourse, Luther whipped off the tablecloth and pointed to those words. For Luther, the conviction that the bread and wine of Holy Communion are the body and blood of Christ was a matter of trusting God’s Word. Since the Bible says, “This is my body,” he would not countenance any arguments designed to prove “this is not my body.” As at Augsburg, so at Marburg, Luther was saying, “Here I stand” on the Word of God.

Lutherans are puzzled at the resistance from so many other Christians at their conviction that the Lord’s Supper involves “the real presence of Christ.” Calvin had no problem affirming Christ’s true presence in the Lord’s Supper, but he did not understand this in terms of corporeal presence. Luther, who always encouraged Christians to look outside of themselves rather than within themselves to know God, believed in Christ’s objective presence through the objective Word of God that consecrates the elements. Another sticking point was whether an unbeliever receives the corporeal body of Christ. Calvin would say no. Luther, citing 1 Corinthians 11:27–30, would say yes.

By the way, in this ecumenical forum, let it be known that Lutherans, according to their official statements of faith, reject “consubstantiation.” We do not believe that the body and the bread, the blood and the wine, constitute a new and unique substance. We reject all such philosophical attempts to parse this miracle, insisting that we must simply accept the biblical language without interpretation, that the bread and wine are still bread and wine and also the body and blood of Jesus.

But, for Luther, the Lord’s Supper is not just about the real presence of Christ. “The main thing in the Sacrament,” Luther teaches in The Small Catechism, are the words “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Specifically, the words “for you.”

Whereas Rome taught that the rite of Holy Communion was a good work, man’s offering of Christ up to God, the Reformation reversed that. The Lord’s Supper is about Christ offering Himself — His body broken on the cross and the blood that He shed for the forgiveness of sins — to us. That is, the Lord’s Supper embodies the Gospel.

Many Christians look for signs and miracles. But there is no more miraculous sign than what happens during Holy Communion. Many Christians look for a religious experience, but there is no experience as vivid as tasting. Evangelicals talk about receiving Christ, something that happened way back at their conversion. But in the Lord’s Supper, as we are brought back to the Gospel again and again, we can continue to receive Christ.

Contemporary Christianity tends to be all internalized — a matter of my feelings, my inner life, and my personal opinions. People look inward for their salvation, with some health-and-wealth preachers urging the members of their congregation to “have faith in yourself.” But the Reformers — Calvin as well as Luther — stressed how salvation is extra nos, outside ourselves, accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Contemporary Christians tend to be all spiritual. They often scorn the physical realm, even as they indulge their sinful flesh, reasoning like Gnostics that what they do with their bodies does not affect their spirits. They often construe God as a being primarily inside their heads, and they treat Jesus like some imaginary friend. The Reformers rejected such Gnosticism.

Recovering the Lord’s Supper can remind all Christians that their faith is grounded in objectivity, in a God who created matter and became incarnate in history, in a Christ who redeemed us by giving His body — not just His “spirit” — in a bloody sacrifice.

What we do in our bodies and in our physical, mundane lives does matter, both for sin and for grace. When we eat the bread of the Lord’s Supper, Christ nourishes us both spiritually and physically, uniting us with His body on the cross and the body that is His church. When we drink the wine, Christ’s cleansing blood courses through our veins, such is the thoroughness and the intimacy of our salvation.

Gene Edward Veith,  This Is My Body, Tabletalk, November 2006.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • kempin04

    Very nice devotion on the Lord’s Supper. Thanks.

  • Phyllis

    Thank you, Dr. Vieth, for an excellent devotion on this Maundy Thursday!

  • fws

    Whoa. That was a grand slam Dr Veith!
    Tone perfect.
    A humble but very clear proclaimation and confession of our Evangelical and Apostolic Faith!

    thanks!

  • helen

    That’s two. :)
    The other focused on the Lord’s Prayer and providentially the news gave him a lede for “Lead us not into temptation”. [But he was a TV news producer in another life, so, of course....]
    Now, I’m off to see what my own Pastor has to say.

  • Rich

    I am of Reformed persuasion, but as of late have found myself turning more and more to Lutheranism. I just finished the Rod Rosenbladt series on Vimeo where he goes through Chemnitz on the two natures of Christ.

    I have a question meant sincerely, not as a challenge. When you say “in, with, and under” are you saying that Christ is actually, physically inside the bread and wine? Or is that just a statement towards the Reformed meant to emphasize that Christ truly is bodily present in the sacrament? Can Christ be truly bodily present in the sacrament without actually being bodily inside the elements themselves? I have seen Lutherans state it both ways. The former seems to be “consubstantiation”, and the latter seems to be the real point Lutherans try to make: that Christ is truly bodily present here on earth in the act of the sacrament, not localized (“stuck”) up in heaven as the Reformed would say.
    Please help me understand this.
    Thanks.

  • Don

    Thanks Dr. Veith. That’s going up on my Facebook for all my Reformed and Evangelical family and friends. That is one of the best presentations I’ve read, without any invective language.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    … and they treat Jesus like some imaginary friend.

    Important words throughout this piece are a reminder to us life-long Lutherans too!

  • tODD

    Rich (@5), I’m just a Lutheran layman, but given that the Lutheran pastors who comment here might be particularly busy this week, I’ll attempt to answer.

    When you say “in, with, and under” are you saying that Christ is actually, physically inside the bread and wine?

    Hmm. Sort of. I’m not entirely sure where that formulation comes from (though it is popular with Lutherans), given that the Lutheran Confessions don’t use that exact phrase:

    “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine…” [Small Catechism]

    “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink.” [Large Catechism]

    “That the true body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Holy Supper under the form of bread and wine, and are there dispensed and received…” [Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord]

    Of course, if you go and read the full context of those passages (a translation — although not the best one — is available at BookOfConcord.org), you may find an answer to your question.

    The reason I hemmed a bit was that your question appears to ask for more detail than Scripture really gives us, or than the Confessions claim to know (necessarily, given the former). Namely, you asked as to the location of Christ’s body in the bread. Now, perhaps the Lutheran formation might appear to claim knowledge of that detail as well, but read them again (for, again, there is no single phrase repeated in all those confessions) and you will see that they don’t — this is particularly true in the Solid Declaration’s statement that Christ’s body and blood are present “under the form of bread and wine”, which is perhaps clearer than merely saying “under” (which might give the uninformed the impression that one only need lift up the bread to see the Body).

    In short, words are used to give a sense of what Scripture teaches, but the words are ultimately lacking because, frankly, it is a mystery.

    I’m rambling here, but I feel the best way to understand the Lutheran position vis-a-vis others’ (and this is not my own idea) is to ask, “What is it that is placed in your mouth at the Lord’s Supper?” Catholics will answer that it is only Christ’s body and blood (ignoring the parts of 1 Cor. 11 that teach that we “eat the bread and drink the cup”). Most other Protestants will answer that it is only bread and wine (ignoring the words of Jesus in that same passage). And Lutherans answer that it is both — typically, without the need to really explain it more than that.

    If I were to guess as to why the words “in” and “under” seem preferred, it is because the Lord’s body is hidden, after a fashion. Our senses only tell us that we are consuming bread and wine. Catholics call these as “accidents”. But just as “we live by faith, not by sight”, so we also do not merely rely on our other senses — smell and taste — to tell us what we receive at the Lord’s supper, but we also trust, by faith, what (or, rather, Whom) God tells us we receive.

    As a side note, there appears to be some confusion regarding the term “consubstantiation”, perhaps due to the fact that not everyone who uses the terms defines it the same. Personally, I avoid the term for just that reason.

    So did that help?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I used to know where this phrase “In, with, and under” came from. It was a later formulation used as emphasis over and against the reformed, if I remember right. (Don’t trust me for my memory ) In any case, the under really does imply the other two as Luther uses it. The in and the with more or less meaning, don’t expect to see flesh under the wafer if you happen to look there. It is Christ’s body because he says it is. It is his blood because he says it is. The how is a mystery, but you don’t find it apart from the consecrated bread and wine. So it isn’t so much a question of how, but where. Not locked in heaven sitting at the right hand of God (As if that was bound to time and space) but present where he is. Given for us under the forms of bread and wine, which according to Christ’s own words are still bread and still wine, even if now they are not mere symbols but also truly his body and blood. So yeah, what tODD said.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    BTW, Rod is awesome.

  • kempin04

    Rich, #5,

    I’ll chime in, even though both tODD and Bror have answered.

    The key for Luther and lutherans is the word of Christ, “This [bread] is my body.” We stand on those words. That is the core of our understanding–receiving with faith what the Lord says.

    tODD’s summary statement is right on when he says that we lutherans confess the presence of both the bread and the body of Christ (as with the wine and the blood, of course), “without the need to really explain it more than that.” That is really very true. The lutheran understanding is not a finely balanced and sophisticated syllogism, but is in fact very simplistic. Say “in,” say “with,” say “under.’ Whatever. We won’t even try to explain it. Just make sure you acknowledge the “is” of Christ.

    It is, as Bror said, “[not] so much a question of how, but where.” Yes. In, with, under the bread. Without explanation, but with location–the bread, and therefore the mouth. It is physical, and yet not discernible. Spiritual, and yet tangible. It is not tied to the imagery of a symbol, but to this particular piece of bread–willingly admitted that we can in no way explain it–because of the force of Christ’s word: “This is my body.”

  • Jon

    And the consubtantiation thing, I think Dr. Veith’s article touched on already.

    It’s not like we are saying that the consecrated elements become some new, blended, reconstituted ragu-like substance of body-bread and wine-blood.

    Rather, we say that in the Supper, we receive in our mouths 4 things: Bread, Wine, Body, Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Wonderfully simple and mind-blowing at the same time.

  • fws

    Rich @ 5
    I.
    “This wine, this is my blood. This bread, this is my body.”
    Bread is STILL bread.
    Wine is STILL wine.
    Where the bread is, THERE is where the body is.
    Where the wine is , THERE is where the blood is.
    II.
    How and in what manner?
    The text does not explain that for us. It merely asks us to believe what it says.
    III.
    (This is the EXACT point where the difference with the Reformed becomes apparent):
    In what way is this true? It is REALLY true. It is a REAL presence.
    What does REAL mean to Lutherans?
    It means, exactly This:
    It is REALLY true for whoever takes the bread and wine, whether they believe it or not!
    Unbelievers , also, receive the body and blood of Christ THERE in the bread and wine.
    It is how you answer THIS question which tells you if you are really Reformed or Lutheran.

    It is the Words of Christ that make it so. Faith does not make it so.
    Faith merely trusts the Words of Christ that it is REALLY so.

    IV.
    Why does this point matter SO much to Lutherans?
    Christ REALLY gives ME his Body and Blood shed FOR ME! for the forgiveness of my sins.
    This REALITY does in no way depend upon my Faith.
    I can hold God to his Promise even if I see in my own heart an utter lack Faith and repentence.
    For this IS most certainly true:
    God´s Word indeed judges us and tells us that in our hearts we lack ALL fear, love and trust in God.
    “ALL our righteousness, including our Faith and repentence as believers are as a used tampon” (Isaiah)
    Faith accepts this judgement of God.
    Rather than flee this judgement by doing more spiritual pushups to manifest Faith and repentence,……… Faith simply holds God to his Word of Promise.
    “He is truly worthy and well prepared to receive the Sacrament who has Faith in these words:
    Given and Shed, FOR YOU! for the forgiveness of sins!” (Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar)

    Then: Faith gets busy with the Law and voluntarily places himself in it, to kill his Old Adam so he can be of use to others who need him.
    “Luther: In the blessed sacrament, …we learn to be horrified at our sin”.
    (Christian Questions and Answers, Small Catechism.)

  • fws

    Rich @ 5
    I.
    “This wine, this is my blood. This bread, this is my body.”
    Bread is STILL bread.
    Wine is STILL wine.
    Where the bread is, THERE is where the body is.
    Where the wine is , THERE is where the blood is.
    II.
    How and in what manner?
    The text does not explain that for us. It merely asks us to believe what it says.
    III.
    (This is the EXACT point where the difference with the Reformed becomes apparent):
    In what way is this true? It is REALLY true. It is a REAL presence.
    What does REAL mean to Lutherans?
    It means, exactly This:
    It is REALLY true for whoever takes the bread and wine, whether they believe it or not!
    Unbelievers , also, receive the body and blood of Christ THERE in the bread and wine.
    It is how you answer THIS question which tells you if you are really Reformed or Lutheran.

    It is the Words of Christ that make it so. Faith does not make it so.
    Faith merely trusts the Words of Christ that it is REALLY so.

    IV.
    Why does this point matter SO much to Lutherans?
    Christ REALLY gives ME his Body and Blood shed FOR ME! for the forgiveness of my sins.
    This REALITY does in no way depend upon my Faith.
    I can hold God to his Promise even if I see in my own heart an utter lack Faith and repentence.
    For this IS most certainly true:
    God´s Word indeed judges us and tells us that in our hearts we lack ALL fear, love and trust in God.
    “ALL our righteousness, including our Faith and repentence as believers are as a used tampon” (Isaiah)
    Faith accepts this judgement of God.
    Rather than flee this judgement by doing more spiritual pushups to manifest Faith and repentence,……… Faith simply holds God to his Word of Promise.
    “He is truly worthy and well prepared to receive the Sacrament who has Faith in these words:
    Given and Shed, FOR YOU! for the forgiveness of sins!” (Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar)

    Then: Faith gets busy with the Law and voluntarily places himself in it, to kill his Old Adam so he can be of use to others who need him.
    “Luther: In the blessed sacrament, …we learn to be horrified at our sin”.
    (Christian Questions and Answers, Small Catechism.)

    We are faithless, but God is true and faithful.
    Faith doesnt self reference therefore.
    Faith simply holds God to his Word of Promise.

  • fws

    Rich

    Lutherans use a variety of phases,”, really present, real presence, in , with, under, under the form of” .
    We do this precisely to avoid any and all questions as to HOW or IN WHAT WAY.
    We invite a focus on WHAT and WHERE.

    Why?

    We believe the very words of Christ place the focus there and ONLY there.

    Question Rich: IF the Christ, creator of the Universe REALLY wanted us to read the words of institution in a super literal sense, how would our Lord have to had said those words in order to ONLY have a Reformed persons Reading them, inescapably understand them in the Lutheran way?

    “This REALLY really IS my body!” ? “This is, truly and awesomely my real body. No foolin!” ?

    “I am not kidding. I am serious…..” ?

    How would the words have to look?

  • Rich

    Thanks guys. I was only really after what Lutherans mean and don’t mean in their language. I have no desire to actually try and understand the mystery of the sacrament itself.
    Is their a place online where I can interact with Lutherans regarding all the questions I have. I am really in a mode of “seeking” right now, and am not interested in defensive polemics. I have no desire to argue the Reformed view I am coming out of, but only the desire to understand what Lutherans actually do believe (because some time the langauge needs explaining).
    You have given me some food for thought. Thanks everyone.

  • Rich

    Thanks guys. I was only really after what Lutherans mean and don’t mean in their language. I have no desire to actually try and understand the mystery of the sacrament itself.
    Is there a place online where I can interact with Lutherans regarding all the questions I have. I am really in a mode of “seeking” right now, and am not interested in defensive polemics. I have no desire to argue the Reformed view I am coming out of, but only the desire to understand what Lutherans actually do believe (because some time the langauge needs explaining).
    You have given me some food for thought. Thanks everyone.

  • tODD

    Rich (@17), I would hope that this blog would be such a place. We’re not all Lutherans here (though obviously our gracious host is), but many of us are, including not a few helpful pastors.

  • Rich

    Bror Erickson, tODD, and kempino4:
    That truly does help. Your answer confirmed for me what Lutherans are NOT saying. That is, you are not saying that somehow Christ is part of the substance (interpreting “in” to mean “inside the bread itself”) of the bread. It is actually a statement to affirm that Christ is truly present bodily in the sacramental act, and in that sense connected to the physical elements, but not in the sense of mixing with the elements. So in a sense “in, with, and under” is a figurative way of affirming a literal truth. That is, it is literally true that Christ is bodily present in the sacramental union/act, but since we can’t explain exactly how that is, we affirm that it is true by using a figurative way of speaking that drives home the literal reality.
    Sort of like saying, “John is behind all this mess.” Clearly “mess” is not a wall or object that John is literally standing behind. But it is a strong figurative way of stating that John is literally, truly involved.
    So “in, with and under” is not a statement of location or mixing substances, but rather a figurative statement to drive home that He IS literally, truly, bodily present in the sacramental act, with the elements, and hidden under the mystery.
    Am I getting this right?

  • helen

    So “in, with and under” is not a statement of location or mixing substances, but rather a figurative statement to drive home that He IS literally, truly, bodily present in the sacramental act, with the elements, and hidden under the mystery.

    Mostly right. :) It’s not “mixing substances” but when the bread is consecrated, it is no longer only bread but ‘bread and body’ and the wine after the words of institution (consecration) is no longer only wine but ‘wine and blood’. So you receive both with your mouth.

    We used to sing a hymn with distribution which said,
    “Thy Body and Thy Blood, once slain and shed for me,
    are taken at Thy table here, O wondrous mystery!
    Ask not how this takes place, or whether it can be.
    God can accomplish vastly more than seemeth plain to thee.”

    That was the answer I learned with my catechism and it’s still
    (a “few” decades later) as good as it’s going to get.

  • tODD

    Rich (@19), I would probably agree with your comment, though I think you’re running up against the Lutheran tendency (at least in my case) not to want to over-explain things.

    Also, there’s something of a visceral reaction on my part against anything being called “figurative” with regards to the Lord’s Supper — you can probably imagine where that reaction comes from. But as I was replying to you, I, too, considered that these attempts to convey the Scriptural truth of Christ’s bodily presence at the Lord’s supper were figurative, after a fashion, even if they professed a very literal truth.

    Language: not always perfect in describing the ineffable. By definition, I suppose.

    Okay, up next, let’s tackle the Trinity vis-a-vis the Athanasian Creed! ;-)

  • Larry

    Rich having come a similar path you seem to be on myself I would heartedly agree with all the above. I’ve just finely picked Chemnitz, the book, back up some years now post moving to Lutheranism. It’s great book but a fairly slow read because it takes a bit to digest (worth it thus far).

    It really does ultimately boil down to the words saying what they say. Luther makes this point on all articles of faith saying that (paraphrasing Luther) “…I don’t know how a Virgin conceives or Christ was incarnate…”. We don’t understand any article of faith trinity, creation (let there be…how does that happen?). Luther points out that this is necessary so that room is made for faith. I.e. faith alone hears this otherwise absurd thing by God spoken so that only faith, faith alone, receives it. It is hidden as it were under its opposite so that as Luther points out “room is made for faith”. This goes for every article of faith without exception from creation, to the trinity, to the incarnation, to the church itself, to resurrection, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, justification, etc… At the end of the day faith under trial will always look like the fool saying, “Thus saith the Lord”.

    This might also help to think about: It’s not that reason is bad, but that like all our pre-fallen creatures, post fall they become the worst enemies of God. The higher the creature before the fall, in fact, the worse the enemy of God and faith post fall. We even see this with Satan himself as being one of the highest of the angels with the greatest of gifts but now the singular point enemy of God and Christ. Reason, thus, becomes a problem when it tries to lord over articles of faith. Reason serving faith, in the ministerial capacity, though is returned to its greatness and gift. That one was a tough one for me personally, being both reformed and a scientist who put high value on reason, because it sounded like “casting reason aside” which gets one into all the charismatic crazy stuff. The irony is – is that it is reason usurping articles of faith that actually goes that way. I.e. fundamentally the scientist needing verification of “god” through metrics is principally no different than the high end spiritualist barking some charismatic language. Both use a variety of fallen reason needing a “touch stone” verification of “here God is acting and for me”.

    But only faith has access to God and only via the Word alone (the true essence of sola scriptura). Faith via the Word penetrates the wrath of God in Christ where the love and forgiveness of God are spoken and given, and via Christ we have both the God hidden otherwise in wrath and revealed as Luther said. Put negatively, reason in no way can penetrate the wrath of God, and the wrath of God includes that God is not found through even pious speculation. God has forsaken the light of reason and it only can blindly grasp around for “God/god” never finding him.

    Reason cannot even aid faith in a leader position and penetrate. We see this most starkly in baptism arguments. The standard argument for not baptizing infants is that they cannot understand (i.e. reason). Luther points out that they, (the Anabaptist his day, Baptist our day) thus prove that they believe that even faith needs “the light of reason” to grasp baptism as it where. Here he shows again reason as the bitter enemy of God, Christ and faith and maidservant of Satan. It thus in such baptismal arguments asserts itself as necessary (i.e. the infant cannot UNDERSTAND). It makes faith take a “back seat” as it were.

    This truly the crux and central point in Bondage of the Will concerning what IS the true bondage of the will. A doctrinal assertion for example that asserts an infant cannot be baptized because they cannot understand is precisely a statement coming from the bound will and reason of man. It is itself the voice of the bound will speaking such. It’s precisely the same form of argument made in denying the resurrection by others, the incarnation, the two natures, the trinity and creation by various and other groups, sects, schools of thought, religions, etc…

    If one sums up every single article of faith in the Christian faith one will find that to reason alone, and we all see this even as believers, every single bit of it appears as foolishness. Not like a clown bouncing around beeping a horn, but logically, rationally, as we see, hear, measure and metric things out…absurd because what can be seen, heard, measured, rationalized, speculated about arrives at another entirely other conclusion. It’s not that in most cases ALL articles of faith by a singly entity are rejected, rather reason through various groups, sects, religions, science “line item” strikes through various articles of faith depending on the group or school of thought. E.g. (speaking as reason from various thoughts and groups rejecting various articles of faith) the triumphant church, foolish, look how it looks today. Forgiven sinners, are you serious, have you seen the sinners in the church…surely they are not real Christians. Justified by trust alone, who ever heard of such an absurdity. A trinity of a single God…no logic can distill that as true. God begotten from eternity born in time, God walking, God dying, the very words are a complete mix of irrationality. How can water do such great things…indeed! Body/bread and blood/wine, what? Let there be, where’s the process, how’s that work? Even internally we hear our own reason wrestle with these things, the worst enemy is always the old faithless man within.

    Luther keys this in with the very essence of the fall itself in which he brilliantly highlights that in the fall faith was first put on trial, he doesn’t rush past the words “hath God really SAID”. There, says Luther, faith was put on trial, unhinged if you will, from the Word. Once that was done man was already fallen before the next action was even uttered. Like a trail disconnected from its truck and now wildly careening about. The very next thing was enthusiasm and via the highest creature gift God gave man, his reason. “Surely you will not die, eating fruit?” And then reason asserted itself connecting with the voice/word of Satan (the serpent), “and it looked good for food and to make one WISE”.

    That fallen episode, the first, is repeated over and over again throughout Christian history both corporately in groups and individually in our own wrestle against ourselves. “Hath God really said” echoes in many and various ways on all the articles of faith. Reason is always trying to hear the serpent again and get back in the saddle of leadership over the Word of God and faith. This is what Paul shows that God condemns in Romans 1:18-ff. Not some negative sin list, but “thinking themselves to be wise” his wrath made impenetrable Himself to reason and not only that, as Luther observed this wrath creates such a black and utter darkness to man and his wisdom that EVEN the wrath has to be revealed to them: “The wrath of God is REVEALED from heaven…” (I.e. the fear of God then begins the REAL wisdom, hence from this revelation of the wrath of God, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”.). The negative sins, often highlighted and focused on by false teachers later are merely the effects of this great sin and in essence trivial by comparison.

    This is why Luther advises even personally when going to the sacrament, for the devil and our flesh never really tire of usurping, that we have to silence reason’s voice and walk to the sacrament believing the Words, “This is My body…this is My blood…”. Even in baptism, in the case of adults, the adult has to go forth and silence reason and not knowing how this may work (how can water wash away sin, forgiven sin, give the Holy Spirit, etc…) and believe only the Words concerning baptism. The same thing with absolution, the trinity, the incarnation, the two natures, the church, creation, etc… Follow the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds they nicely summarize all the articles of faith and they say “I believe in…” (Lat. credo) not I figured out, reasoned, it makes sense, I’ve synthesized from the bible and reason or charismatic/scientific observations, etc…but I believe.

    It’s not reasonable nor wise to just blindly believe anything, this is how all false religions and such arise through reason and false beliefs. But it is absolutely reasonable to believe in what God Himself has spoken and revealed in Christ even if that very reason cannot understand it a bit, it would be in fact utter folly to not believe in God’s Words – this is axiomatic. It has been said that when the atheist over took what use to be the USSR they used all kinds of reasoned arguments and experiments to show “God is not real”. Ultimately the poor laity could only respond in what appeared to be foolishness (of the Cross), “…but He is risen”. Yes, that is an infant faith response and right. It was also said recently that a fairly well known atheist was debating a theologian, and the theologian asked, “But what if Jesus DID rise from the dead” (hypothetically from the atheist’s perspective). The atheist in a moment of stark naked honesty said, “Well that would change everything.” Indeed, see how important the resurrection is, even unto “this is My body” really means “this is My (Christ’s) real and true body”.

    I hope that may be helpful, I know how I personally wrestled with it and if this is helpful then great.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Matt Jamison

    Great discussion!

    Rich: It helps me to think about this in terms of God’s efficacious word, that is, when Christ says something is true, that speaking has the power to make the thing true. Such as “she is not dead, she is sleeping” changes the reality of death to life. Only the God who says “let there be light” has this kind of power. Also: “I forgive you all your sins” along with “This is my body, this is my blood.”

  • Larry

    Matt,

    That is spot on. The real issue at Marburg was not just the sacrament but the Word of God and the Gospel itself. As Sasse said the Luther (and issue) at Wittenburg was the Luther at Marburg. And thus the issue at Wittenburg was the issue at Marburg one and the same. Put another way to reject Luther at Marburg is to reject Luther at Wittenburg. More to the point, to despise the sacrament (as confessed in the “Lutheran” confession, which is the Gospel, is to really despise the Gospel. However, the Holy Spirit in the hearts of many Christians not adhering to the Lutheran confessions does not necessitate that they reject the Gospel, but rather their minds and reason fighting within is battling the Holy Spirit in their hearts. This happens even in the hearts/minds of those officially confessing the orthodoxy in the BOC. Our reason battles with us all the way up to the altar. That’s why Luther said WHEN this happens, not IF, you must silence reason and follow the Words in faith. The main difference in those many outside in heterodoxy is that in this particular battle between faith and reason, Word and sight, reason still has a greater upper hand. Hearing the sweetness of the Gospel should awaken a hunger and thirst for the sacrament eventually. This does not always happen over night.

  • Larry

    Matt,

    That was actually THE turning point for me, the efficacy of the Word. I.e. if God says something it must of necessity be true for He cannot lie or deceive. Not just that it is true as in a promise but His Words extend to create the reality they speak (different from our words that simply identify a thing, God’s speak a thing into existence.) She is not dead, she is sleeping, THAT is a GREAT example I’d never thought of.

    Another turning point was when I was discussing this with a Reformed pastor who kept telling me when I’d point out how the sacraments say basically for our assurance this is so, I was still Reformed at the time, he kept replying, “but only the elect are saved”. Finally, it hit me and I told him, “Yes but they are FOR the elect.” It struck me that the “elect” in a lot of reformed minds is only this hypothetical grouping to which one in particular based on another persons judgment may or may not be within, even though somehow they themselves thought they themselves were in that kind of hypothetical abstract group. I.e. the “elect” is kept in abstract and thus never touches in concrete the particular YOU, and so neither can the sacraments so to speak so that assurance is had by them in utter boldness. It struck me that in Hebrews faith was not described this way and neither in many of the Psalm prayers which are rather “in your face” bold. The side on God’s will toward me was always in question this way, thus it was up to me to muster up a faith based on the offer (only) of a promise – not a promise that calls into being what it states (the creative Word – “let there be…”).

    This is a crafty trick of the devil’s to get around the Word itself which is also Christ (the Logos and Word) and seeking God around the revealed Word both Word and incarnate Word. To do this is in a way denying the Trinity, particularly THE Word Himself Who says “Take eat/drink…” and speaks the revelation to one. This is precisely the essence of original sin. The Word (incarnate) says and speaks into existence “Take eat…drink…for you…for the forgiveness of sin”, same with Baptism, but then we say where then is my election? See how tricky, around the Word to get at God = original sin.

    It finally hit me less than a year ago why Luther kept quoting his mentor Staupitz so much on this concerning divine election. He said to Luther “look for your election in the wounds of Christ”, that’s what he meant IN the Word, IN the sacraments. To look elsewhere for this assurance pro me is to commit original sin by by-passing the Word Himself and thus by-passing, in reality, God Himself. This narrows God down eventually from a Trinity Who is God alone, to something that eventually gets around to monotheisms such as Allah and others.

    The connection to the sacraments and Who God reveals Himself as He is and the Word is all the same issue.


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