It happened again. A family asked to commune. They were Baptists visiting my parish with friends from the congregation. I asked what they believed. They said rather confidently that they believed the Bible. I asked if they believed that baptism saves you. No, that is not Biblical, they said. When I pointed it out in Scripture, along with the clear parallel to the ark that actually and not symbolically saved Noah and his family, they insisted that if it says that they must believe it. But I reminded them that their church did not believe or teach this. When it came to the real presence, they insisted that they believed what Jesus said. This is My body...this is My blood. So I asked if an unbeliever communed would they receive Jesus flesh and blood, they said no. But if it is Christ's flesh and blood as He says, it does not matter who receives, all who receive receive the very body and blood of Christ. When I asked if the host were dropped during the distribution, was the body of Christ dropped. They said no, bread was dropped. Eventually it became clear. They were not going to commune because they saw we did not believe and confess the same things. But now they had a doubt whether or not they actually did believe the Bible like they thought they did. That was probably the first good thing that came out of the conversation.
Christians, do not be fools. Do not join a church because the music fits your style or the worship makes you feel good or the location has lots of parking and programs for your kids or you. Do not join a church because the pastor's personality is engaging or all the right kind of people attend. Do not join a church because they say they believe the Bible and you took them at their word. Dig. Look. Investigate. Find out if the church to which you belong or the one you are considering really does believe the Scriptures. Find out if YOU actually know and believe the Word or if you are your own little sect that has picked and chosen from Scripture to fashion your own version of the faith. Find out if the words they say (either informally in conversation or formally in confession and creed) are confessed as words or honest expressions of their faith. Better to be part of an unwelcoming and dull household of faith that believes, teaches, and confesses rightly than to belong to one that is somewhat or mostly wrong but has a great cup of coffee, small group, warm welcome, deep friendships, and a riveting worship production. Even worse, better to belong to a small and poor congregation where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution than to watch something online and pass that off as being in the House of the Lord.
Just in case you might be Lutheran and thinking rather smugly that this is not you, think again. There are plenty of Lutherans who do not know or care what their Lutheran jurisdiction believes but you have an allegiance to a place or a history or a cemetery or a legacy. You will not last long before whatever heresy or apostasy or error the church holds will corrupt your own faith. Christ is not looking for passive members whose silence confirms whatever falsehood of the moment the culture espoused and the church mimicked but informed disciples who know the Word, believe it, and are bounded by that Word as once and always confessed. Do not be enticed by new understandings of this or that. Novelty is cute but dangerous and nearly always is the first door through which heresy enters into the household of God. God does not speak a new and different Word to different people, places, and times. He speaks with one voice the Christ, yesterday, today, and forever the same. Protestant churches are often in the same boat as Rome -- they hold other sources and norms of revelation besides the Word of God and they see doctrine as an evolutionary process of change and adjustment which may even have to conflict with Scripture in order to be faithful. Do not believe the lie. The Bible does not say what you think it says or apply as you decide it applies or do what you decide it should or you want it to do. Scripture is best interpreted by a hermeneutic of continuity as the creed confesses -- one holy catholic and apostolic faith.
So make sure you know what your church teaches, what you believe, and what Scripture said, says, and will always say. Your calling is not to reform the wrongs but to make sure you are not deceived by them or live on the fringe of error instead of the center of truth.
Your post hits home with me. I've told my children, friends, and acquaintances the most important thing when searching for a church is what do they believe. And I will point them to the ancient creeds and fathers of the church as a benchmark. And this has been difficult for me as well. I love beauty in the church but not at the expense of correct doctrine. Thanks for the reminder.
By the way, if I wanted to commune at your church and you asked if I believed baptism saves, I would have answered with a resounding yes. Likewise, I would have said we do partake of the very body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. Treat it as such with reverence and awe. And yes, the unbeliever also partakes of Christ's body and blood. I believe we are in total agreement on these important theological points. But I am a member of an Anglican Province of America (APA) parish- not the LCMS. And I believe that is what the APA believes and not my personal opinion. I doubt you would allow me to commune. I understand and even respect that. But I could go to a LCMS church on the other side of town where open communion is practiced and anyone can commune. I personally believe our APA parishes have more in common with confessional Lutherans like yourself than many fellow LCMS churches. Puzzling to me.
Thank you for your edifying blog.
"Likewise, I would have said we do partake of the very body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. Treat it as such with reverence and awe. And yes, the unbeliever also partakes of Christ's body and blood."
Great! However, Article 29 of the 39 Articles reads:
"XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper.
The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing."
which seems to put you at odds with the official confession of the APA, insofar as the APA "confesses" the 39 Articles and the beliefs proclaimed in them. I include this qualifier, as I am aware that various Continuing Anglican bodies adhere to those Articles with different degrees, some being (in Lutheran terms) quia and others quatenus. The United Episcopal Church, for instance, adheres to the 39 Articles without qualification, and to other doctrinal confessions, such as the 1978 Affirmation of St. Louis, only insofar as they are compatible with the 39 Articles, while the Anglican Catholic Church, by contrast, adheres to the Affirmation of St. Louis without qualification as its primary doctrinal (or "confessional") statement, and to the 39 Articles only insofar as they are compatible with the Affirmation. It would not be an easy task to vindicate the thesis that the Articles and the Affirmation are totally compatible with one another - and Article 29 (which seems to have been directed against Lutheran eucharistic doctrine, not Catholic doctrine) is a good example of this difficulty.
I know of Article XXIX and it does cause confusion for those not cradle Anglicans (like myself). However, the APA is not in union with the United Episcopal Church. We are in communion with the Anglican Catholic Church. Per our Bishop, Chandler Jones, the articles are to be read through the prism of the early church fathers - not reformed theology prevalent in parts of Anglicanism. I don't feel I am at odds with the APA or my bishop. But I will agree the Articles are a source of confusion for the APA. If I was "king for the day," I would remove them from the Book of Common Prayer or footnote the Articles merely as historical.
I don't want to flood Pastor Peters' blog with Anglican theological debate. My point was APA theology on the Eucharist is basically the same as LCMS Eucharistic theology. You and Pastor Peters may disagree.
I believe you are/were a college history professor in PA. And you affiliate with an Eastern Catholic Church. I've had the pleasure of attending several different Eastern Catholic churches. Even had one rent space at our APA parish for several years.
I don't want to get into a deep theological debate with you (college professor) or Pastor Peters (ordained pastor). I'd likely lose the debate. I am a mere layman who struggled with the decision to join an APA parish (I was part of the LCMS.) But I did my best to understand what they believed before joining. That was the main context of Pastor Peters' post and it's wise advice. What is believed trumps all other considerations.
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