Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Without preparation. . .

While I rejoice at the more frequent celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar and the more frequent communion than the practice of Lutherans in my childhood, I fear sometimes that communion has become routine, even casual.  In other words, though we receive it more often, and joyfully so, we are less prepared than those of generations before to receive this Sacrament to our benefit and use.

The demise of private confession and the corporate confessional services once well known among us Lutherans has left us with only the general confession and absolution to prepare us for the Lord/s Table.  I do not mean to demean this at all but to suggest that even this act of confession and absolution can become as routine as the reception of the Lord's Supper itself.  In particular, the commonplace nature of cohabitation, children outside of wedlock, and promiscuity raise the issue of whether or not we are communing in repentance or as a people who no longer acknowledge these sins.  While this is but one area of sin, there are others that could be listed here.

The lack of personal disciplines of fasting and prayer has become the norm of those who commune.  I grew up with the idea that breakfast was eaten after Church on Sunday morning and I still find it hard to approach the Lord's Table without fasting.  Again, I am not saying we need to impose a rule or that we should reduce the frequency of the Sacrament being offered.  No, not at all, but what we should be doing is preaching and teaching more of the godly preparation for the Lord's Supper which helps us receive to our benefit what the Lord has promised.

Before people jump to the idea that a new Pharisaism is being born, I am encouraging the faithful to do this on their own and Pastors to proclaim the benefits and blessing of such godly preparation.  At bare minimum I recommend a devotional review of the Christian Questions and Answers conveniently printed out in the hymnal as a great first step.  We routinely print out prayers from the hymnal to be prayed before and after receiving the Lord's Supper.  Again, these are good first steps toward the goal of a more fruitful reception of the Lord's body and blood by discerning that body and being ready in faith to receive this gift, to proclaim the mystery, and to rejoicing in the blessing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When is a snack more than a snack?

"Worshippers at the St Michael and All Angels Church in Uffington, Lincolnshire, wanted their oak altar to double up as
a place to 'serve refreshments' ".  Photo: Alamy
Truth IS stranger than fiction. . .
Friendly service with Coffee (see 'Services and Events' here).

Worshippers at St Michael and All Angels Church in Uffington, Lincolnshire, wanted their oak altar to double up as a place to “serve refreshments” but Mark Bishop, chancellor for Lincoln, and a judge of the Church of England's Consistory Court, decided the altar could only be used for worship, not to serve snacks. Read the report here. Putting the request for a faculty in a slightly different but no better light, another account here reveals that the application was part of the church’s refurbishment project "which has included a revamp of the Casrewick (sic) Chapel and a new roof".

Read it all here. . .

But is it all that strange. . .  When the ritual exists alone, apart from the Sacramental reality that delivers what the Word proclaims, what really is the difference between the fellowship rituals of coffee and donuts (or, in this case, tea and biscuits) and bread and wine?  Yes, it is the Lord's Word, to be sure, but if we empty that Word of its power to deliver what it promises, why can't we substitute the relevant rituals of the moment for the Biblical imagery of the past?  If the Word is not telling us the truth straight up, if we are not receiving Christ's flesh (the same flesh of His incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection) and His blood (the same blood shed upon that cross), then the ritual has only the meaning we attach to it and nothing more.

These are the same issues with those confessions that fail to attach Christ presence to bread and wine and to define that presence as corporeal, the same reality that was incarnate in Mary's womb, suffered and died on the cross, and rose again.  Christ cannot be really present unless that presence is accessible and unless that presence has a promise attached to it -- the forgiveness of sins.

LCMS worries about a diversity of views communing together is not simply a "purity" issue as some complain but about the essence of the very Sacrament itself.  We do not read into the words of Christ what we want to here and we do not receive what we think those words mean.  The Word delivers what it promises or not.  The issues here go to the depths of what it means to believe, to have confidence in the Word of the Lord, and to know where and how to meet the Lord and receive the gifts of His promise.

Apart from the confession of what His Word says and the faith that trusts and receives what He has promised, the Sacrament of the Altar is just a snack with more (with a memory).  But that is precisely NOT what it is according to the Scriptures (especially Paul in First Corinthians).  It IS the memorial, the participation in His body and blood through our faithful eating and drinking at His bidding.  We are not left with a memory but are given the memorial in which we enter the mystery whereby the passover fulfilled is made present in the Holy Supper and the future anticipated and glimpsed -- all by eating and drinking!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The devil's lies. . .

A great quote from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:

Before the sin, Satan assure us that it is of no consequence; after the sin, he persuades us that it is unforgivable.

The devil can only lie and God can only tell the truth.  Even when the devil speaks the truth, he speaks the truth in such a way that it acts as a  lie.

Such is the power of the devil to undo God's work in conscience before the sin and to magnify its guilt afterward so that we are left alone, helpless, and in despair.  Yet this apparent lock that the devil has over us is undone by Christ.  His is the truth to shatter all the devil's lies.  He does not lie to us and tell us that the devil was correct -- the sin is no big deal.  No, our Lord addresses the sin for what it is, in all its sordid ugliness and shame; He calls it out of us and calls us out for the sin. But He does do in order to address us with the power stronger than sin -- the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin.

The Church is not being cruel when it insists that sins count, that evil matters, and that our guiltiness is nothing to be trifled with.  No, it is the truest form of love to admit what sin is and to hold us accountable for that sin. But the Lord does not leave us with despair nor does He gloat over our shame.  He is wounded for us, bearing the weight of our sin upon His shoulders upon the cross.  He addresses us with forgiveness and restores us fallen sinners by grace.  Faith clings to the merciful hand of God who reaches down into our shame and rescues us from our lost condition.  This is the greatest joy of all. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Can it get any crazier?

Can it get any crazier?  Wait, don't answer that.  At least not until you have read this:

A new Danish law may force pastors in the nominally Lutheran state church (Folkekirken) to perform same-sex weddings in some instances. Folkekirken is ruled directly by the Danish parliament. By law, Folkekirken members have a legal right to have their pastor conduct their wedding. Folkekirken pastors may not refuse, but the 2012 law authorizing same-sex marriage contains a ‘conscience clause’ allowing pastors who consider same-sex marriage unbiblical to decline. A newly enacted Danish law apparently creates an exception to this exception.

The new law permits any person to change his legal gender by simply filing a form stating that he now considers himself of the opposite sex. This person is thereafter considered by the government to have changed gender. No surgical alterations or hormone treatments are required, only the filing of the form. The Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad reports that in the first five days the law was in effect 123 persons filed for a change of legal gender identity.

The government’s Minister for Church Affairs, Marianne Jelved, has stated that if a person in a homosexual partnership files as being of the opposite gender and then wishes to marry the partner, this is now legally a heterosexual wedding. “The right to decline to perform homosexual weddings does not apply,” she stated. “Pastors must respect the civil authority’s determination.” Thus, in the opinion of the Minister, a Folkekirken pastor must perform the wedding in this situation.

“If [following the new law] goes against their consciences,” Jelved told Kristeligt Dagblad, her view is “they can resign.”

My Comments

Read it and weep Weep not only for the immorality and scandal of it all but for the sheer foolishness and stupidity that parades as social justice and enlightenment.  Weep not only for those in the churches who are caught between God and conscience on one hand and law and society on the other but also for the naive and willing who accept without thinking through this strangeness.  Weep not only for the offense to Christian morality and to Scripture itself but also for the way that such radicals have hijacked the agenda, the initiative, and the official channels of religion in pursuit of that which will undo church and state.  For surely God is weeping at what sinful rebellion has done to His greatest work of creation on which alone He placed His image and likeness.  Soiled, cracked, and distorted by sin, the image of God is surrendered even more to the whims of feeling, preference, and desire.  It is not only that we are no closer to God for all this tomfoolery but that we are further from being the people God created us to be -- a spiral of decay that leads us further and further from our divinely appointed place in creation and ever more in need of Him who alone can save us from ourselves.

The land that produced Nicholas Grundtvig has trashed his memory and made the singing of his mighty hymn even more urgent in his own country.  "Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand"

Too Much Preaching. . .

I heard one more rant by someone from the pew (not in my own parish, mind you) complaining about too much preaching.  In this case the preacher had the audacity to preach nearly 20 minutes.  The rebuke he received was quick and hard.  Get into the pulpit and get it done and get out.  That was the advice to the naysayer who found the preacher taking too long.

As I thought about it, I wondered first of all who might be saying this of me.  Once I got over that, I thought of the times I might have thought this while sitting on the receiving end of the sermon.  But that soon gave way and I began to think instead of just how little preaching the average Christian (you may insert Lutheran) actually receives.

In effect the Devil is preaching to us all the time.  He preaches through media in which our values our trashed, faith is ridiculed, and sin is justified.  He preaches through the culture in which God's place is diminished and our own places enhanced so that everything is judged by our desires, delights, and disappointments.  The Devil preaches to us through temptation, secret and hidden, and through public pressure, open and obvious.  He preaches to us all the time and our own sinful self is happy to hear and to listen to everything the Devil preaches.

One lousy sermon a week, perhaps 15-17 minutes at that, is hardly enough to counter the Devil's preaching which we hear day in and day out, in the darkness of our dreams, and in the witness of the world around us.  We complain about too much preaching, about sermons too long, but we hear hardly enough to make any real difference!  We need to hear more preaching!

As I have written before, the participation in the Daily Offices has subsided and our people hear sermons basically one day a week.  It is a far cry from other eras in which people heard a handful or more sermons a week and yet we live in an age in which the assaults of the evil one are more seductive, the influence more pervasive, and the presence more subtle.

If our people are supplementing the preaching with books like 40 Days of Purpose or Your Best Life Now, little will help them endure the onslaught of a world and a mindset so acutely focused upon the moment and upon feelings as the present day.  No, we need meat.  We need something to be chewed over and wrestled with -- not a nice word or sentiment.  We need preaching.  For this reason the task of the preacher remains even more urgent, the press upon the preacher more powerful, and the faithfulness of the preacher more essential than ever before.  The preacher dare not waste his time in the pulpit with anything less than the full counsel of God's Word faithfully applied and the people who hear him must not begrudge him the time to preach the Word in and out of season, faithfully, and forcefully.  Our lives are literally hanging in the balance.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cross Pollination

A while ago, folks in the ELCA sent around an invitation to do some thinking about who is welcome at the Lord's Table.  While it could have been directed to infant communion, an up and coming movement in the ELCA, this invitation rather asks questions about the necessity or wisdom of requiring baptism of those who commune at the Lord's Table (in the ELCA at least).

For most Lutherans this would be a confusing issue.  While certainly there have been and remain broad differences between Lutherans of various stripes about who is welcome to commune, it was generally assumed that baptism was the minimal requirement of entrance to the Lord's Table.  Now it appears that the communion statements of many ELCA congregations have omitted the requirement of baptism and either in print or verbally welcomed any and all present to receive the Sacrament at their altar.

Why would this become an issue now?  Is it an issue of radical hospitality and fear of offending anyone, especially the unbaptized?  Apparently not.  The issue has arisen because of the consequences of the Eucharistic fellowship agreements the ELCA has had with other Christian bodies, especially those who have not confessed clearly or at all the Real Presence of Christ in any way familiar to or reflective of the Lutheran and catholic expression of this essential teaching and doctrine of Scripture.  In particular, it has a source in the relationship between the ELCA and the United Methodist Church.

The author of the original request for such study has outlined his intention in detail here.  It is summarized below in a portion of his own explanation:

"The guiding documents of the ELCA stipulate that Baptism precedes Communion. Those documents were written for a different time in the life of the ELCA. We have since entered into a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church, a body that has no requirements for admission to Communion and welcomes anyone who presents themselves to receive the Sacrament."
The point is that we are told over and over again a Lutheran can be in fellowship with people who do not believe exactly as we do, a Lutheran can use worship formats that have no basis in our Confessions, a Lutheran can sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs written from vantage points vastly different than our Confessions (including here the Creeds) and it does not dilute or diminish the Lutheran distinctives at all.  But how can this be?  How can it be that we practice a communion discipline at odds with our own Confessions, we worship like people of other confessions, and we sing hymns and songs that do not adhere to the Lutheran practice of singing the Gospel and the faith, and NOT be affected by it all??? 

Cross pollination is not always a good thing.  In this case, the Lutheran angst about requiring baptism (at least) of those who commune is occasioned not by a dispute with Lutheran doctrine and practice but a queasiness over how it goes down with ecumenical partners who do not have such a requirement.  In other words, our acceptance of a diversity of confessions that do not parallel or agree with our own is okay but not practicing a different requirement for admission to the Lord's Table.  The inevitable conclusion is that what is always on the table for discussion and review is NOT the stance of others but our own historic and confessional identity -- one that seems ever ready for surrender by those who care more about a supposed conflict with the Methodists rather than conflict and disconnect with our own theological tradition and historic practice (and that of the church catholic we claim to preserve in our Confessions).