Monday, November 18, 2013

Holy Hide and Seek. . .

It seems that we find ourselves either believing in a God who is ultimately nowhere because He is everywhere or a God who is hidden and must be discovered, as if we were playing a version of holy hide and seek.  Both points of view stand against the Lutheran understanding of God's presence in the means of grace.  Yet it seems Lutherans are more apt to be influenced by the vagaries of God's presence than they are to influence others with the certainty that the Lord will be found where He has promised.

The "real presence" is neither some Roman Catholic hold over nor is it some sacramental oddity.  It is one of the central pillars upon which Lutheranism rests and, with it, all of evangelical catholicity.  Early in Lutheranism, the real presence was central to the piety as well as doctrine of the Church of the Reformation.  What has happened since has been less than salutary.  Lutherans have been influence too much by the real absence of Protestant sacramental theology (or lack thereof) and gravely tempted to a piety in which God inhabits thoughts more than water or bread or wine or the voice of the absolution.

Too often Lutheran Christians sing "Seek the Lord while He may be found" and then wonder where they will find the Lord today.  We seek the Lord while He may be found but even more importantly where He may  be found.  We did not banish the Lord from everywhere to the somewhere of the earthly forms of the sacraments.  God in His wisdom knew our weakness and need and has bound Himself to His Word, His water, His voice (absolution), and His table.  We do not find Him; He reveals Himself.  He reveals Himself in the places where He has promised to be.  Authentic Lutheran piety is thus formed by and returns to the efficacious Word and the Sacraments of His promise.  Here is the Lord, hidden so that faith recognizes Him but present as He has promised so we are not left wondering.

Lutherans do not content themselves with part of the promise.  If we do, we are not being true to our Confessions.  The Word of God comes to us attached to concrete earthly reality.  Scripture is His voice still calling to repentance, forgiving the penitent, guiding the lost, filling the mind and heart of the hearer.  The water of baptism extends His arms to grasp us for His kingdom and ,mark us as His own.  The bread and wine of His Holy Supper nourish and sustain the faith born in the water by the power of the Spirit.  They are given not to be adored, though we adore Christ in them, nor to be watched as if watching were its own end, but to participate in by feeling the splash of water, hearing the sound of His voice, and eating and drinking the bread and wine He names as His own flesh and blood.  We should not and cannot play a game of holy hide and seek to find the Lord and neither can we console ourselves with part of what God has come to deliver in full measure.

The God who is everywhere is no where accessible.  The God who is somewhere (Word and Sacraments) is accessible to all who receive Him.  That is the mystery.  By being specifically in these places, God makes Himself accessible to all.  Without these means of grace, we have no assurance that He is anywhere at all when we seek Him, when our sin soaked souls cry out for relief and our fragile flesh cries out for life.  The real presence is key to Lutheran piety.

Where is God?  Where He promises.  The predictable places where He has attached Himself -- to water in baptism, to the voice of absolution, to the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Thanks be to God!


Anonymous said...

Love this. I was talking to my Pastor yesterday, and we were discussing the fact that Lutheran doctrine makes God and His presence very real. When my sins overwhelm me and life comes crashing down, I don't need to be told that God is somewhere out there, waiting for me to come to Him, vague and undefined. I need to be embraced by Him and be one with Him by eating the body and drinking the blood.

Dr.D said...

Most protestants teach and firmly believe in the "real absence." To accept that God is really present in His Word and Sacraments would mean then that they would have to believe that He really exists. You can see where that could lead -- if He really exists, then His commandments place real demands on your life. You could not be "free" to live the life you want, having it your own way. That would be just unacceptable to far too many today.

Most find it much easier to simply talk about a God in which they do not really believe, that to accept the reality of God, whether they believe in Him or not.

David Gray said...

"Dr. D"

The US foreign policy establishment may tremble at your opposition but that is a cheap shot. Non-confessional protestants have a lot of problems but it is a false witness to assert they don't believe in God's existence. And most of them are in churches which haven't been in the vanguard of error in the way that Anglicans have for many decades.

Dr.D said...

Dear David,

I have to ask you for some explanation of your comment, please.

How did you connect my comment with what I think (or may not think) about the US foreign policy establishment?

Was it not Christ Himself who said, Matthew 7:20 "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them"?

How many Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, etc. do you know ---

1. who will wholeheartedly agree that the Communion elements are the true Body and Bloods of Jesus Christ? who will not say that the Holy Communion is just a memory jog or re-enactment of something done by Christ long ago?

2. who take seriously the use of the proper unleavened bread and wine? who do not substitute leavened bread, crackers, or grape juice?

3. who show in their lives that they are truly spiritually fed in the Holy Communion? who are committed to regular, frequent attendance at the Lord's Table?

It is not "false witness" to apply the rule given to us by Jesus Himself.

Anglicanism is certainly not without its faults. One of the worst was opening the way to contraception at the 1930 Lambeth Conference. But please, do not confuse the Episcopal Church-USA with all Anglicans. ECUSA went off the rails many years ago with Bp. Pike, Bp. Spong, Bp. Righter, et, al., but that does not reflect Anglicanism as a whole.

David Gray said...

Dr. D,

The first is in reference to your refusal to identify yourself as a man ought and to cloak yourself in anonymity and the excuse given because you are such a formidable opponent of US foreign policy.

1a. Pastor Peters can correct me if I err but Luther taught the concept of the "sacramental union." The bread is bread but when joined with the Word in the sacrament is also Christ's body. Yet as Chemnitz observed we do not masticate Christ, but merely the bread. And as 1st Corinthians 11:27 points out when we eat we are eating bread. This is not transubstantiation.

1b. Any good confessional Presbyterian will disagree with that statement. Not all Presbyterians are good or confessional.

2. Many of us take using wine seriously as opposed to the temperance movement toy of grape juice. Leaved vs unleavened is a subject of disagreement.

3. Many are committed to regular attendance at the Lord's Table. The first part of your question is leaning too introspectively. Communion at the Lord's Table should help me take my eyes off myself and look at Christ.

It most certainly a false witness to accuse those who you accuse of not believing in God's existence.

And regarding Anglicanism you are whistling past the graveyard, which is where most orthodox Anglicans reside. The occasional Anglican church here or there has health but most of the body worldwide is rotten and even the "conservatives" in Africa who won't publicly embrace sodomy still will ordain women.

It is a pity but the truth cannot be denied. The church of Ridley and Latimer is a desolation.