The Lutheran Confessions Resoundingly Support Virtual Communion

The Lutheran Confessions Resoundingly Support Virtual Communion April 3, 2020

Let’s go point by point through the Lutheran confessional documents in order to see what they actually have to say about communion.

The Small Catechism: the head of household has the responsibility for teaching the portions of the small catechism in the home. On the topic communion, there is no mention of who should preside, or where communion should take place, or how many people need to be present.

It does say, “It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does [everything], but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and those that believe these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”

There is no solid theological way to distinguish various communication mediums for the hearing of such words, and certainly no argument to be made based on the confessional texts.

The Large Catechism: This catechism focuses on three points. What is communion? What are its benefits? Who should receive it? Notice the large catechism does not concern itself with who should preside at it, where it should take place, or how many people need to be there. It is focused on reception, not administration. This is a common thread through the entirety of the confessions.

The Large Catechism goes to great lengths to disabuse of any notions that prioritize something else in the sacrament other than the word itself. In their time, some worried over whether the sacrament was real if somebody unworthy presided at it.

“Hence it is easy to reply to all manner of questions about which people are troubled at the present time, such as this one: Whether even a wicked priest can minister at, and dispense, the Sacrament, and whatever other questions like this there may be. For here we conclude and say: Even though a knave takes or distributes the Sacrament, they receive the true Sacrament, that is, the true body and blood of Christ, just as truly as they who [receive or] administers it in the most worthy manner. For it is not founded upon the holiness of humans, but upon the Word of God.”

One could insert into “whatever other questions like this there may be” questions that would not haver occurred to the author of the large catechism, questions like, “What if the word that accompanies the meal arrives and is heard through an audio system, or a radio, or a television broadcast, or a live stream?” Answer: For it is not founded on the media through which the word is delivered, but upon the Word of God itself.

Next, Luther emphasizes communion is given “for a daily pasture and sustenance.” Fasting from the Eucharist is therefore out of the question. That’s not a thing. Quite the opposite, since the devil is prowling around and attacking, communion is “the consolation [that] is here given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, that it may here obtain new power and refreshment.”

Luther’s strongest words in this portion of the Large Catechism are against those who argue that fasting from the Eucharistic is acceptable or justified:

“In conclusion, since we have now the true understanding and doctrine of the Sacrament, there is indeed need of some admonition and exhortation, that people may not let so great a treasure which is daily administered and distributed among Christians pass by unheeded, that is, that those who would be Christians make ready to receive this venerable Sacrament often. 40] For we see that people seem weary and lazy with respect to it; and there is a great multitude of such as hear the Gospel, and, because the nonsense of the Pope has been abolished, and we are freed from his laws and coercion, go one, two, three years, or even longer without the Sacrament, as though they were such strong Christians that they have no need of it; 41] and some allow themselves to be prevented and deterred by the pretense that we have taught that no one should approach it except those who feel hunger and thirst, which urge them to it. Some pretend that it is a matter of liberty and not necessary, and that it is sufficient to believe without it; and thus for the most part they go so far that they become quite brutish, and finally despise both the Sacrament and the Word of God. It must be known that such people as deprive themselves of, and withdraw from, the Sacrament for so long a time are not to be considered Christians. And, indeed, those who are true Christians and esteem the Sacrament precious and holy will urge and impel themselves unto it.”

Some theologians in this moment are calling on us to examine our worthiness while we observe this forced fast. But here again this runs counter to the catechism itself: “Therefore such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness.”

Or again, those arguing that somehow virtual communion is dangerous or injurious, we have this: “We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, is it that we act as if it were a poison, the eating of which would bring death?”

The Large Catechism ends in this way, words that might just as readily apply to the present moment: “For the old are now well-nigh done for, so that these and other things cannot be attained, unless we train the people who are to come after us and succeed us in our office and work, in order that they also may bring up their children successfully, that the Word of God and the Christian Church may be preserved. 87]Therefore let every head of a family know that it is their duty, by the injunction and command of God, to teach these things to their children, or have them learn what they ought to know. For since they are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us; for they must all indeed help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.”

Is not the greater threat, much greater than virtual communion, the failure of the church and families to be teaching these things in the home. And is not this moment just such an opportunity to expand and strengthen the teaching role of the head of each household as they administer communion in place?

Smalcald Articles: The entry on the Lord’s Supper in these articles focus on two things, the real presence, and communion in both kinds. However, there is another entry, on ordination, which applies in this moment when all of us who wish to have the Lord’s Supper available to our people, will need to ordain everyone as priests in each location. They write:

“If the bishops would be true bishops [would rightly discharge their office], and would devote themselves to the Church and the Gospel, it might be granted to them for the sake of love and unity, but not from necessity, to ordain and confirm us and our preachers; omitting, however, all comedies and spectacular display [deceptions, absurdities, and appearances] of unchristian [heathenish] parade and pomp. 2] But because they neither are, nor wish to be, true bishops, but worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the Church, and, moreover, persecute and condemn those who discharge these functions, having been called to do so, the Church ought not on their account to remain without ministers [to be forsaken by or deprived of ministers for the sharing of the Lord’s Supper].

3] Therefore, as the ancient examples of the Church and the Fathers teach us, we ourselves will and ought to ordain suitable persons to this office; and, even according to their own laws, they have not the right to forbid or prevent us. For their laws say that those ordained even by heretics should be declared [truly] ordained and stay ordained [and that such ordination must not be changed], as St. Jerome writes of the Church at Alexandria, that at first it was governed in common by priests and preachers, without bishops.”

The Augsburg Confession: Article X of the AC is very brief: “1] Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed 2] to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.”

From this we can conclude rather simply that Christ is truly present in the meal, and second, the emphasis is not on who distributes it, or how it is distributed, but who eats it.

This is huge. The emphasis is on reception, not distribution, presidency, or media for the word to be delivered.

In other words, any emphasis on the “virtual” aspect of communion is itself a distraction. The focus is completely on reception. “Take, and eat. This is for you.”

 

 


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