Friday, April 29, 2011

“Given and shed for you..”:The Sacrament of the Altar

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread,
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples
and said:'Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. This do in
remembrance of Me.' In the same way He also took the cup after supper,
and when he had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying:'Drink of it, all
of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for
the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'”

These words are recorded for us by the Apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 11:23-25, an institution made by Jesus Christ himself, for all of Christendom. They are of great comfort for us as Christians and the Lord's Supper is described as a means of grace or a sacrament. A sacrament is simply a sacred institution of God for the purpose of grace to those in reception of it. The names given to the Lord's Supper would be communion, Holy communion, the Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, etc. The big question surrounding the Sacrament is “Is Christ's body and blood truly present in the bread and wine or did he institute this for us for symbolic use only?” Most of the Christian world would say that this institution of Christ is merely a symbol, nothing more. They would say that we receive no benefit from the Lord's Supper other than partaking of the elements and in so doing we remember Christ. Some other explanations would be more simplified namely: “This is what Christians do.” And with little to no self investigation of Scripture and the beliefs of the Church throughout history the idea of Christ's body and blood being truly present in the Lord's Supper is thrown out the window. Seemingly our Lord and Savior would simply institute something of this magnitude on the night of His betrayal for no reason and when He says “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” evidently he was just using word play of some sort.

Despite Christ's clear words, “this is my body, this is my blood”, most of the modern Christian world choose to accept the teachings of men on this issue of communion. Man in his blind reason cannot fathom why we would need to partake of the very body and blood of Christ. “Faith in Christ is sufficient enough!” they would proclaim in all their excellence, and I would agree but if you have faith in Christ than you should have faith in Christ's words and make your reason subservient to the Scriptures. The reason I partake in the Eucharist with the hope of being strengthened in faith through the Holy Spirit is directly correlated with faith in Christ and should not be separated by any means. If we apply the same logic of the deniers of the sacrament to the Scripture we can say the same thing. “Faith in Christ is sufficient enough! So why do I need the Scriptures? All I need is faith in Jesus!.” But you see that the Word is a means of grace just as the Sacrament is. The Word brings to us faith, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life, and salvation. For through the Word we hear of Christ and there the Holy Spirit is present to create faith in the heart's of men as it is written:
Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

In the same way the Holy Spirit must be present in the Eucharist because not only was it established by Jesus, attached with it is God's Word. And if Christ tells us that forgiveness of sins comes through the Supper that he instituted then surely strength in faith, life, and salvation follow. If we step out of Christ's own word when instituting Holy Communion, which in itself is sufficient enough, we can see that the apostle Paul testifies to what Christ said, we see Christ confirming His words early on in the book of John, and there are Old Testament foreshadows of the Lord's Supper as well.
John 6:53-56
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food an my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

In these verses we hear Christ talk in bold terms and this is exampled in the reactions of the Jews and the very disciples of Christ who were present when he said this. Some people would refute that in this area Christ is speaking about the Lord's Supper but rather he is speaking about faith in Him in general because Christ was comparing himself in the beginning part of the chapter to the manna that came down from heaven to the Israelites. But it is an interesting note that not only the Jews became very disgruntled with Christ's word after Jesus says in verse 51 “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” but also his disciples did as well for we hear their response in verse 60:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

The reason I want to point this out is that it seems whenever Christ's disciples misunderstand something that Christ says figuratively He addresses it with them instead of having them continue in their misunderstanding. We see this in Matthew when Jesus warns his disciples against the “yeast” of the Pharisees.

Matthew 16:5-12
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn't bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

So we see that with a sharp rebuke Jesus gets His disciples thinking on the right track about the message he is trying to convey. Now there are other places where Jesus talks in potentially confusing terms of His body and does not explain. In the case of John chapter 2 when Jesus is speaking with the Jews about the temple. Christ says:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

We learn of course that Jesus is speaking of His very body not the actual Jewish temple and here he doesn't go into an explanation. But if we examine the attitudes of the people in each account we see that Jesus' disciples were acting in ignorance where as the Jews were speaking in arrogance and demanding that Jesus would give them a sign and for Christ to speak plainly to the Jews wouldn't have served his purpose because we know that Jesus was speaking to unbelievers in parables instead of literal terms so that they might ponder what Jesus was trying to say instead of hearing Him plainly and rebuking Him on the spot, as they do when Jesus is speaking of his body and blood in this account in John. We know that these Jews didn't have faith in Christ but the disciples did and we also know that Jesus tells his disciples that they will have the secrets of the Kingdom of God revealed to them. Furthermore we see some of Jesus' disciples leaving Him because of this issue and if he was speaking in figurative terms we would have to assume that Jesus wouldn't just let those who had faith in Him walk away because of the misunderstanding of words.

Briefly, another account in John where Jesus goes to raise Lazarus from the dead we hear:

John 11:11-15
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

I moved away from the issue of the Lord's Supper but I think these serve as good examples for the point I'm trying to make. When Christ speaks of His body and blood in this account in John, I have no reason to believe He is speaking figuratively. Clearly he would have set His disciples on level ground so that they could understand that this hard teaching wasn't meant to be taken literally.

Now lets see what Paul has to say concerning this issue. I already wrote the words of Christ's institution of the Lord's Supper so what does Paul have to say after he records these words of Christ. We hear in 1Corinthians 11:27-29:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.

Paul tells us that if we eat of the bread and drink of the cup unworthily we will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ! Now how can that be if the only thing contained in the supper is merely bread and wine. How can we sin against Christ's body and blood if they are not truly present. And how is that we drink in an unworthy manner? Paul talks about self examination which makes me believe that we should be repenting of sin and recognizing that we are sinful. He also says that if we do not discern the body of the Lord we eat and drink judgement on ourselves! So Christ wants us to be repentant and trust in his words “this is my body, this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

My question to those who would deny this blessed sacrament is, if God can create from nothing what we see today, if he can drown the sinful world in a flood and save Noah and his family in an ark, if he can keep Jonah in the belly of large fish for three days, if he can heal the sick and cast out demons, walk on water and be raised from the dead, then why on Earth could you not believe the words that He speaks during the Passover meal with his disciples? Nothing that I write can convince the unbelieving Christian of this merciful reality but I will say that I find pardon and peace in this sacrament. And its not because I trust in the ceremony or the bread and wine its because of Christ's own words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I don't share these things out of boastful pride but rather out of love. I would have all Christians experience this institution of our Lord. Christ has left this behind for us as a visible means of grace, along with the Scripture and Holy Baptism. The Triune God is present in these things to bring us to faith and keep us strengthened in that same faith.
Again, like every other useful tradition or legitimate institution of God, the modern Christian world has abandon God's own word on this issue because of its perceived association, namely, the Church of Rome. Christians today want so badly to flee from anything that appears Roman Catholic that they manage to throw out things that aren't Roman Catholic but Scriptural. And a lot of these Churches like to quote ancient Church fathers such as Augustine, Ambrose, Irenaeus, Justin, and Polycarp as well as Martin Luther all the while ignoring the fact that these men believed in the very bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For in Justin's own words:

“This we receive not as common bread and common drink. We receive them as Jesus Christ, our Savior, who through the Word of God became flesh. For the sake of our salvation he also had flesh and blood. So we believe that the food blessed by Him through the Word and prayer is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don't write this to suggest Justin Words are above Christ's or Paul's but to show that they are in agreement with them. So if the words of Christ, “this is my body, this is my blood”, are to be understood literally by the ancient Church all throughout her history then why would we stray from the agreement of the Church? Again I say it is to separate ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church and this is ignorance because Martin Luther himself recognized the false teachings of Rome even to the point of excommunication and the fear of death but held onto the sacraments because of Christ's Word.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?:

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words, which are given here, “Given...and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” These words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, the chief thing in the Sacrament. The person who believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”

-Martin Luther
Small Catechism
VI. The Sacrament of the Altar

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Power of the Word:Defending the Liturgy

A verse in Romans comes to mind when I think of how a person comes to the knowledge of Christ.

Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

All people are dead in their sins and transgressions and have no opportunity to be cleansed and brought to faith in Christ except through the Word. There is where the Holy Spirit is present to create the faith which clings to the cross and justifies us before God. I want to address the issue of pushing the liturgy out of the Church. The same liturgy that contains the very Words to bring the dead in sin to life in Christ. It seems that a figurative towel is being thrown in, concerning the liturgy, because of a decline in the Church.

This begs the question, what is a better option? Seemingly for certain LCMS churches it is to do away with the organ, the hymns, the rites throughout the liturgy, and the reverence necessary to focus on Christ and Him crucified. We envision it being a problem that our service, in all its richness, doesn't appeal to the ever popular “secular Christianity” which demands a band on the stage in all THEIR glory. What can be more attractive to the flesh than focusing our attention off of the cross and onto the keyboard, guitar, drums, and vocalist who are supposedly leading worship when in actuality this “worship service” appears to be more of a concert than a place to confess our failings before the Lord. And through this confession the glory of the true passover Lamb is brought in its fullness.

Why do we want to replace the liturgy with a contemporary service? What are the reasons for this quick abandonment of something that has been in place for more than a thousand years? With reckless abandon we choose to “liven” up the service. And in my own mind I've discovered the answer to why we are choosing to throw the liturgy out. Sin. I'm not saying that contemporary churches are sinners. That isn't the issue here, what I am saying is the folks who propose heading in the direction of contemporary Christianity are afraid that if the LCMS doesn't change her ways than the attraction to such a traditional church would be slim to none by our upcoming youth. We've begun to notice that the youth are more interested in the secular world rather then the church and this, without surprise, forces us to make these drastic decisions. If a band brings kids in the church then lets do it! But there is a problem. We are bringing kids into the church by using something that wasn't designed for conversion or the creation of faith. And its obvious that a quick rebuttal is at hand, namely: “If we can get youth in the church with music then they will be exposed to God's Word.” But I say you're fishing without a hook. In the hopes for our youth to become and maintain their pilgrimage on Earth we turn to a desperate attempt to get them in the Church using something other then God's Word! If this is the direction we are headed, which I'm convinced it is, then we have a problem on our hands. There is nothing special about the liturgy, in the sense of excitement but there is something unique about it which is God's Word. From confession and absolution all the way to the end of the Service of the Sacrament God's word is infused everywhere! The last thing we hear in the service before the last hymn is the benediction that goes:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

This benediction comes from Numbers 6:24-26

In the verses that come before and after this blessing God says to Moses:

“The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron and his sons, this is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

This blessing is thousands of years old and it is still used today in the LCMS. God says His name is being put on the Israelites and so they will be blessed and I believe the same can be said today. But would you find such richness when you ditch the liturgy? Certainly not, in fact the non denominational Churches don't even say the Lord's Prayer which strikes me because Christ said “when you pray, pray like this” and he gave us this prayer. In the two accounts where the Lord's Prayer was recorded, one in Matthew chapter 6 and the other in Luke chapter 11, Christ talks about forgiveness (Matthew account) and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Luke account) so through this prayer we are receiving again the Holy Spirit and forgiveness from God. So why isn't it being prayed?

As another example of the infusion of God's Word in the service, before the Gospel reading of the day is read the congregation rises and sings together:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia.

This comes from John 6:68 and the context is many of Christ's disciples deserted him and he says to the twelve:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Appropriately this is placed before the Gospel reading because here we are hearing what Christ has to teach to us and we know that he is the Holy One of God. These are just a few examples of how the liturgy is rich in God's Word. I want it to be clear that I am not speaking down on contemporary worship for no reason, as I believe others would speak down the liturgy because its “Catholic” or whatever other erroneous thought they can conjure about it. I've been in both places, contemporary and Lutheran alike that is so my opinions and thoughts aren't stemming from being raised in a traditional Lutheran Church. Nor was I lead to believe that the liturgy is rich and awesome but I realized it through experiencing it and being taught about it.

Further more the Lutheran understanding of worship is being dumbed down to a loud projection to a God that is evidently so far away. This is wrong! We believe, teach, and confess that where Christ is present he is there with both his divine and human nature. To divide the person of Christ is to make him something that he is not. When first studying the issue of the Person of Christ I thought it insignificant but by the end I truly appreciated this article of faith because it shapes the way we worship. If Christ is truly present with us in the service we are not going to be singing loud praises to him as if he is way up in the sky seated at God's right hand (he is seated there but its a position of power not a fixed box that he can't leave). Worship isn't about us doing things for God, it is about God coming to us with mercy and grace in hand to strengthen us. But the contemporary worship style forces our understanding to shift. It fools us into believing that the Service is our work for God, which in fact even in its name, Divine Service, we see that this isn't true. And then begins the trickle affect. If the Service is our work for God then so is everything else. Baptism is now our work of confessing publicly our decision for Christ, communion becomes our work of remembering Christ, sharing Christ is now our work instead of it being the work of the Spirit through us. And the preaching we receive is no longer an explanation of God's Word, which reveals his work of redemption through Christ but its about crushing the parishioners with the third use of the law. The third use of the law is as a guide. So while the Pastor should be preaching Christ and Him crucified he is spending more time telling his parishioners how they should live to be better Christians. I already do a good enough job beating myself up with the third use of the law so I don't need to hear it preached from the pulpit. I need grace, mercy, forgiveness, absolution, and Christ. I believe the style in which we worship ultimately dictates how we understand everything else. Don't believe me? You don't have to throw a stone very far to find a contemporary church preaching the “good Christian life” and creating the works righteousness mindset. The Roman Catholic church explicitly says we need good works to be saved, the evangelicals don't come right out and say it but its strongly suggested and this puts an overwhelming amount of weight on the congregation. Now of course there are exceptions to every rule and I'm not suggesting that where the liturgy is present problems don't exist, I'm just conveying what I've seen and the reasonable thought process of both sides.

I want to reiterate the point that I am not approaching this from ignorance. I have shared the experience of contemporary Christianity. I may offend some who read this but ultimately that is not my goal. My goal is to show that God's word and the glorification of the risen Christ is greatest through the liturgy. If we think about God's name being hallowed among us, which just means to be regarded as holy or sacred, then what better way can there be then to have the Word infused into every part of the service. And again I say if true conversion takes place where God's Word is being heard by the people then why should we remove something that is busting at the seams with God's Word. As I said before I believe the negativity against such a liturgical service is attributed to modern day Christianity's fear of appearing Roman Catholic. My thoughts on this is that the modern Christian world believes if they strip the Church of candles, hymnals, an organ, the liturgy, and the overall reverence that seems to them as being Roman Catholic and overload the Church with projection screens, lights, a band and whatever else the modern world can conjure up for the Church, then things will be better. If we can just be to the world a hip church that presents itself as laid back and cool, non judgemental and fun then we as Christians will be perceived better. I believe the desire to form the Church to fit the age that we're in is ultimately screaming disaster. We shouldn't be afraid to be traditional and “boring” to the world and if a Christian proposes that a traditional Church is boring then they are not looking at the liturgy, they are not paying attention to all aspects of God's Word that are right there in plain view. They are wanting something more, something that I don't believe God intends for us. They are searching for a way to make Church more fun and limiting the sufficiency of God's Word and Jesus Christ, this might be a drastic thing to say but I can think of no other explanation. We don't go to Church to be entertained, we are not there to hear the latest in rock n roll Christian music we are there to confess that we are sinners and in turn receive the absolution from God that we crave. Sure an upbeat song warms us for the time being but it ultimately holds no light to the forgiveness God gives to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus didn't come to this world in a flashy fun and hip way and I don't believe the the Church needs to present herself to the world in this way. But unfortunately this is what the world demands, they've had enough of that boring service that contains God's Word and gives Him the highest praise so we've said to the world “If these aspects of the service aren't bringing you in the doors then we will change for you to make you feel more comfortable and “free” as a Christian.” This is where I take my stand, I cannot believe that the liturgy is insignificant and should be replaced with a contemporary style of Christianity.

This last paragraph is for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and her Pastors, district Presidents, and Matthew Harrison. We need to teach the liturgy! I'm sure that Pastors coming out of the Seminary know the liturgy well and it has to be their duty, if we are to show the richness of the liturgy, to teach it so the congregations will understand it. It comes as no surprise to me that people don't care for the liturgy when they are not understanding it. This was my problem with attending a Lutheran Church growing up. I had no idea what this repetitive script could possibly be doing for me so I ran away from it only to be brought back and taught the meaning of it all by my Pastor which opened my eyes to the strength of God's Word through the liturgy. How can we expect people to not ditch the liturgy if we aren't explaining why we should keep it? To all interested in learning about the liturgy I encourage you to ask a Lutheran Pastor instead of raising your nose at such a “Catholic” practice. This is exactly what I did and I'm sad to say I missed it in my life for eighteen years.