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. [Read more...]

Lutheran pastor rejects Baptism, Lord’s Supper

I don’t expect non-Lutherans to believe what Lutherans do.  I do expect Lutherans to believe what Lutherans do.  Especially Lutheran pastors.  Rev. Dan Delzell, the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska,is a regular writer for ChristianPost.com.  As we blogged earlier, last year he wrote a piece denying what Lutherans believe about the Lord’s Supper.  Now he has written another piece denying what Lutherans believe about baptism. [Read more...]

Paul’s rebuke of Peter as argument for open communion

Reformed writer Peter Leithhart argues against the closed communion practices of Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans on the basis of Galatians 2:

The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised. . .

For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.

Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.

I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?

via One Lord, One Table | First Things.

This strikes me as missing the point on many levels, but I’ll let you do the analysis:  What is wrong with this argument?

Vampires vs. the Blood of Christ

James R. Rogers, a Texas A&M professor and board member of the LCSM Texas District, has an intriguing post at First Things about how the vampire craze can become an occasion to help people understand about the Blood of Christ:

Here’s a report [link at the site] about Danish teens using modern Vampire stories as platforms to think of spiritual matters. Given their immense popularity in the U.S., I also think that these stories can be drawn on to consider theological concepts with teens (and teens at heart) such as the Real Presence in the Supper, the relationship between the New and Old Testaments, and the work of Jesus Christ.

Both Vampire stories and the Christ story center on the identification of life with blood. This starts with Noah in the Old Testament. God tells Noah that he can eat animal flesh, but not animal blood, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gn 9.4). Still, even in the OT, fallen humanity desperately needs the life that is in the blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev 17.11, cf., Lev 11.14, Dt 12.23).

While the Old Testament flatly prohibits the eating of blood with the flesh, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament commands the practice, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.53-54).

Vampire stories invert this picture. Rather than the resurrected Lord who willingly offers his own sacrificed body and blood to give humans eternal life, Vampires are resurrected lords who sacrifice unwilling humans to take their blood for eternal life for themselves. The pivot around which both stories turn is the affirmation that the life of the flesh is in the blood.

via Vampire Stories and the Real Presence » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He goes on.  (Also, see comment #2 by Mary.)

Maundy Thursday

The next step in open communion

In an effort to be even more inclusive than they already are, a diocese in the Episcopal Church has dropped baptism as a requirement for someone to receive Holy Communion.  The measure will go before the entire church body this summer.  From a conservative Anglican site:

The latest proposed element to chip away at core Anglican beliefs is the Diocese of East Oregon’s desire to offer Holy Communion to anyone who approaches the altar rail with their hands upraised. Baptism would not be a prerequisite. The Diocese of East Oregon has made it a matter of Communion without Baptism. . . .

Since the earliest of times, it has been the understanding, tradition and practice of the entire Christian Church to see Baptism as the first sacrament to be celebrated in the life of a new Christian. Baptism, therefore, is the foundation upon which the other sacraments and rites, including Holy Communion, are based.

The Episcopal Church already has a generous policy of Open Communion. Any baptized Christian in good standing in their own denomination is welcome to receive Communion at an Episcopal Church. However, there are limitations to that Open Communion rule as outlined in the Disciplinary Rubrics of the Book of Communion Prayer.

Those rubrics include denying Communion to anyone known to live a notoriously evil life, to those who have wronged their neighbors and are a scandal to the congregation, or to those who exhibit hatred and unforgiveness towards another. The priest is solemnly admonished to speak to these persons privately and then report why Communion is being withheld to the bishop within two weeks.

Retired Eau Claire Bishop William Wantland further explained, “although TEC has, by practice, adopted an “open Communion” stance, the Church officially adopted rules that admit to Communion only those who (1) are baptized and admitted to Communion in their own Church, (2) prepared by self examination and are in love and charity toward others, (3) understand the Eucharist to be a reflection of the Heavenly Banquet to come, (4) recognize the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and (5) reception of Communion must not violate the teaching of their own Church.” Not all Christian churches have an Open Communion practice. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, some Baptists, the Amish, a variety of Lutherans comprised of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as other conservative churches reject this broadminded approach to unrestricted reception at the Lord’s Table. Although, it is noted, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in intercommunion (concordat) with The Episcopal Church.

Now the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bent on turning long standing theologically sound liturgical practice on its ear. On March 10, reportedly meeting online, Eastern Oregon’s Diocesan Council and Standing Committee took the bold step of re-doing two basic Anglican Sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion — by ratifying a new resolution.

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s ratified Open Table Resolution reads: “Be in resolved, the House of _______ concurring, that The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” The Resolution also calls for the total deletion of TEC’s Canon I.17.7 which succinctly states: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church,” as a minimum eligibility requirement for Communion. The Resolution also calls for “Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7″ following the deletion of the currently numbered canon.

Eastern Oregon’s resolution is slated to be presented this summer at General Convention 2012 as Resolution C040. The newly filed Resolution is slotted for the legislative committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music after which it is kicked over to the House of Bishops for its initial action. . . .

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon’s explanation for its desire to see a change in the minimum requirements for receiving Holy Communion are that The Episcopal Church has continued to move forward as a more inclusive, open and welcoming religious body and should not to be encumbered by restrictive canons in its drive to be radically hospitable, boldly ecumenical, unconditionally companionate.

“In recent decades the Episcopal Church, with prayerful consideration and deliberation, has consistently moved to being a more inclusive, open and welcoming member of Christ’s Body. Such grace is riveted on the teachings and actions of Jesus and the compassionate embrace he had for all…no matter their creed or race,” the explanation states. “We believe it essential our Liturgy reflect the unconditional hospitality our Lord employed for his mission.”

Those of you who believe in open communion, would you go this far?  Should non-Christians be given the Sacrament?  I know of a group of Episcopalians who took to the streets, giving communion to passersby on the sidewalk.  Thus they considered that they were taking Jesus and the gospel out into the world to those who needed Him.  Is that a good evangelism activity?

The thing is, Episcopalians tend to have a relatively “high” view of baptism and Holy Communion, so this shift is notable.  How about those of you who think baptism and the Lord’s supper don’t really do anything?  You think the sacraments are only symbolic, but you must think they are symbolic of something that gives them meaning.  Would you go as far as these liberal Episcopalians?

I know how we confessional Lutherans react to this sort of thing and I don’t want to necessarily stir up a big argument on this day commemorating our Lord’s institution of this on-going feast, in which (we believe) He gives us His body and blood in a tangible and personal way in the church for the remission of our sins.  Our churches get routinely bashed, including on this blog, for only  communing members and those with whom we are in theological agreement.  I’m curious about those who criticize this practice.  Are there any limits you would place on how open you are willing to be?  And if there are some basic requirements you would insist on, what’s so wrong with requiring complete agreement as confessional Lutherans do?

 


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