The Lord’s Supper
Similarly, our practice regarding the Sacrament of the Altar has seen a shift away from the Lutheran Confessions. The most obvious way this is happening is in how we are acting during worship. We do not see the Consecrated Elements elevated at any point and pastors can’t seem to be bothered to genuflect even once. “It’s just style” people are telling me. But I wonder what we are saying with these so called stylistic changes. With our actions we are demonstrating the importance we place on the Lord’s Supper.
Our Confessions call us to be reverent, saying that “the elements . . . of the consecrated bread and wine must be adored . . . no one can deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth . . . especially where His congregation is assembled” (SD VII: 126). In short, the Consecrated Elements ARE our Lord Jesus Christ and deserve to be treated with the reverence He is due. What are we doing instead? We are treating it like something casual. What passes for the Service of the Sacrament in many of our parishes more closely resembles a Reformed view of the Eucharist in form and practice than it does a Lutheran one.
This irreverence towards the Lord’s Supper is bad enough, in my opinion, but the real problem I see has manifested itself in the widespread use of Open Communion in our Synod; we are allowing people who do not believe as we do to commune at our altars. I find our history to be particularly relevant here as the reason our Lutheran forefathers sold their land and homes, got onto three ships, and came to the United States was so that they could practice Confessional Lutheranism. The reason they had to do all of this: the Prussian Union.
In 1817 the King of Prussia decided that the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism were not significant. So he took it upon himself to forcibly unite the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of his domain into one church body. Chief among the things the King thought was insignificant was the Sacramental Union view of the Lord’s Supper held by Lutherans. In this new church body Lutherans would be forced to commune with those who taught and confessed a symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper. The King also came down harshly on all those who refused to bow to his will in this matter. He closed Lutheran parishes and universities throughout Germany that sought to confess orthodox Lutheranism.
These actions, so named the Prussian Union, created the birth of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and eventually the LCC. So strong were our forefathers in their conviction that their Confession was true and authentic Christianity, that they were willing to risk everything to preserve it rather than have it mixed up in beliefs and practices of the Reformed Churches. How would they regard their theological descendants in the LCC today? What would they think of us if they knew that we gave into the pressures of the Reformed sects around us and allowed them to commune at our altars? What would they say if they knew that no one (certainly not King or government) forced us into this, but that we freely did it, because we were ashamed to stand up for our doctrines?
Pr. Jeremy Rhode said in one of his sermons that when a pastor allows people to commune at our altars who do not share our confession of faith, he has taken the Lord’s Supper and made it his supper. He has deigned to assume the role of master rather than steward. The Holy Eucharist is not a means to an end (as is the Reformed view), it is the end; sharing the Eucharist demonstrates our unity. When we share the Lord’s Supper we confess that we are in full accord and of one mind, as St. Paul bids us to be. Viewing the Lord’s Supper simply as a means to an end is consistent with the (Reformed) symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper, which Confessional Lutheranism completely rejects.
Why should I or anyone in our synod care about these things? Because we have compromised too much. I am a Lutheran because I am convinced that Confessional Lutheranism completely adheres to Holy Scripture. I am convinced that this Confession is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and that is why I must contend for it. If you believe, as I do, that Lutheranism is nothing less than the Historic Christian Faith, I invite you also to contend for it. Fight for the continuation of our true beliefs, and do not give up or bend what we believe to make others happy or comfortable.
As a Lutheran, I am proud to say that I confess the same faith of the blessed prophets and apostles. I am proud to say that I belong to the same Church as St. Polycarp, St. Athanasius, St. Patrick, St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose. I am also proud to say what our Lutheran fathers said of this Confession: that it is “based on the Holy Word of God, and that it is impossible to refute it. We consider it as the very truth of God, and we hope by it to stand one day before the judgment seat of the Lord.” This is the Confession I want to pass on to my children. This is the Church I want to raise them in.
As Lutherans, we are catholic, though not Roman; orthodox, though not Eastern; and evangelical, though not American. Pr. Will Weedon eloquently summarizes the way the Lutheran Church has always viewed itself in light of what was recovered during the Reformation, namely the Gospel:
I want no part in a church that began in 1517. I am not interested in it. Why would I be? I want the Church that began with Jesus Christ. Which was founded by His Apostles and in which the teachers of the Church continued to teach for centuries. I want to be a part of that Church. And the self-understanding of the Lutheran Church is that, we are the Catholic Church of the West, purified by the Word of God from errors that had accumulated during the Middle Ages. Let me say that again, if you are a Lutheran, you are a Catholic Christian of the West.
– Issues, Etc. Making the Case Conference, “A Lutheran Approach to the Church Fathers”
So how do we begin to find out way back home? As always the answer is repentance and forgiveness. We must confess to almighty God that we have sinned most grievously in thought, word and deed by forsaking the purity and truth of our Lutheran doctrines and receive Christ’s forgiveness. In this year when we are looking to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, let us not do so superficially, but instead let us boldly believe, teach and confess the fullness of our Lutheran Confession. Let us recover the identity we have lost by remembering the motto of the Reformation, Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (VDMA) – “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.” Let us once again be of one accord and truly walk together in this Confession. Let us dare to be Lutheran.
Soli Deo Gloria.