Saturday, March 24, 2007

Roundtable 11: The Holy Supper

“It is taught among us that the true body and blood of Christ are really present in the Supper of our Lord under the form (Gestalt) of bread and wine and are there distributed and received. The contrary doctrine is therefore rejected.”

The Latin text is even more tersely worded: “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the in Supper of the Lord. They disapprove of those who teach otherwise.”

As with Article IX on Baptism, Article X is nuanced carefully to distance the Lutheran reformers from the Zwinglians and other radicals. In the background, of course, is Luther's engagement with Zwingli at Marburg in 1528. The precursor Schwabach article 10 went into much greater detail: “The Eucharist or Sacrament of the Altar also consists of two parts, namely that the actual body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine according to the Word of Christ: “This is my body, this is my blood,” and it is not only bread and wine as the deniers set forth. These words also deliver and bring to faith and also exercise the same in all those who desire the Sacrament and do not contradict it, just as Baptism brings and give faith, as one desires it.”

Melanchthon is clearly avoiding the issue of transubstantiation by saying the body and blood are present “under the form” (unter der Gestalt) of bread and wine. The Latin text says even less. In the Apology, he says, “that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present (vere et substantialiter adsint) and are truly exhibited (exhibeantur) with the things that are seen, bread and wine” (Apology 10.4). Only in the Smalcald Articles, do the Lutheran Confessions directly address the topic of transubstantiation, and then only to dismiss it as “subtle sophistry” for which we have no regard (SA VI.5).

The papal Confutation “finds nothing offensive in the words” of AC X but asks the reformers to affirm that the “whole Christ” in both Body and Blood is present in the bread by concomitance, and that in the consecration, the substance of the bread is changed into the Body of Christ. In Apology X, Melanchthon responds by citing positively the epiklesis of the eastern liturgies to the effect that the bread is “changed” (mutare) and becomes the body of Christ, thereby affirming an actual sacramental “change” without fully embracing the teaching of transubstantiation. The subtlety of this exchange is most instructive.

Melanchthon again takes up the Lord’s Supper in AC XIII (on the sacraments in general), XXII (on receiving both kinds), and XXIV (on the nature of the Mass). Unlike the Schwabach Articles, AC X does not mention the role of faith. In AC XXIV, Melanchthon makes three points regarding the Lord’s Supper: 1) it is not a propitiatory sacrifice of which there is but one, namely Christ on the cross; 2) the blessings and benefits are not received by virtue of the work having been performed (ex opere operato); but 3) they are received through faith, and, therefore, the sacrament requires faith.

Article X says just enough to distance the Lutherans from the Zwinglians and the othe radicals, while at the same time providing enough room to engage the various misunderstanding and abuses of the Mass.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Roundtable 10: Baptism

Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that God's grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God, through Baptism they are received into God's grace. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism. (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, AC Article IX.)

It would appear from the text of the Augsburg Confession that the only reason this article was put in was to clarify that Lutheranism clearly rejects the anti-baptism theology of the Anabaptists, who denied that baptism was a means of grace. This is validated by the way this article is discussed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. There however we find this interesting assertion, "The promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not, however, apply to those who are outside of Christ's Church, where there is neither Word nor Sacraments. Christ's kingdom only exists with the Word and Sacraments." (Concordia, Ap. IX 53). After the Apology indicates that the promise of salvation is for all, therefore all are to be baptized, it moves to an argument to support infant baptism that I do not find terribly strong: namely, that the church exists, thus "proving" the Holy Spirit works through Baptism of infants. It is the one that the Apology goes with, the same one Luther uses in the Large Catechism ten years later when he talks about the subject of infant baptism.

The assertions in AC IX are made very flatly and without any qualification: Baptism is necessary for salvation. God's grace is given through Baptism. I've noticed that often in conversations about Baptism Lutherans seem to want immediately to jump to, "But of course we are not saying Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, look at the thief on the cross." I wonder why it is that so often discussions about Baptism almost immediately run to the exceptions. The Augsburg Confession doesn't offer any such exceptions or qualifications about Baptism at this point. The focus of Article IX of the Augsburg Confession is clearly on what God gives in Baptism and a pointed condemnation of those who teach otherwise.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reflection: Concerning the Name "Lutheran"

A conversation was underway in another topic that deserves to be featured in a separate post. I have asked for the forgiveness of our underpaid and underappreciated authors for deleting their comments on this subject elsewhere. I am trying to keep our discussions on-topic, obviously in a fumbling and hamfisted manner! Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

So, let's open another reflection discussion: concerning the name Lutheran. Why do we use it? What does it mean? Would we be better served to use names such as "Catholic" or "Evangelical" or "Orthodox" or use those terms in lower-case? The name Lutheran nowhere appears in our Book of Concord, but other terms or phrases, such as, "The churches of the Augsburg Confession." Here is what one pastor recently said to me:

The Lutheran Church is the Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Church and that these realities - all three - only meet in her. That that is why the name Lutheran is worth fighting for - because it is the conjunction of these other aspects.

What say you?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reflection: What I Like About the Book of Concord

What impresses me most as I read the Lutheran Confessions is how pastoral, practical and personal they are.

They are pastoral. The constant drum beat throughout them is the goal of comforting and caring for souls. The Lutheran Confessions are not theological speculations or abstractions. The times in which it was written called for pastoral care on a scale that could only be compared to a national emergency. Souls bruised and bullied by legalisms and demands placed on them outside of and beyond the Sacred Scriptures were healed by the healing and life-giving Gospel. Persons who were not healing the comforting promises of the Holy Gospel, the free and full forgiveness of all salvation through Christ, received the love of God as they heard of the Savior who loved them and died and rose for them. The Lutheran Confessions speak to us today because they speak of the most important issues any of us ever face in our life. Who am I? What is life's meaning? Who do I know God? Am I loved? How can I be sure? What am I do to with my life?

They are practical. They go right to the heart of the key issues and, even in spite of the length of some articlees in them, never wander off on side paths. It is a book on a mission and that is to deliver the Gospel: purely, cleanly, correctly and practically, again, for the care of souls. They are not journal articles indulging in scholarly pursuits, or the pet interests of their authors in the pursuit of credibility and respect in the academic community. The Confessions are practical resources for people's faith and life, as they live and especially, as they die. Why? Because the golden thread running throughout them is the chief and most important teaching of the Christian faith: justification by God's grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, the teaching drawn from Scripture, alone: the Gospel.

They are personal. The Book of Concord was written by people who had deep and long first-hand experience with the various theological ills they are decrying and had first-hand knowledge of just how powerfully comforting and consoling the Gospel is. Therefore, for example, when you read about monasticism in this book, always behind these discussions stands the man who spent well over a decade of his life in this lifestyle, tortured and tormented no end by the lack of Gospel: Martin Luther. The book could almost be said to be a spiritual autobiography of all those who contributed to it. They are not dispassionate scientific essays. They are not mystical and obscure texts. They are personal statements of faith expressed on behalf of the Church, and for the Church, in order to gather more and more into the Church.

Those are three reasons why I am so passionate about the Book of Concord. Why do you like the Book of Concord? What have you found helpful in it? What do you keep coming back to in it that has been of particular help and meaning to you?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Roundtable 9: What the Church Is

Strictly speaking (proprie), the church is the congregation of saints and true believers. However, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons (German text adds “open sinners”) are mingled with believers, it is allowable to use the sacraments even when they are administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,” etc (Matt. 23:2). Both the sacraments and the Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ (propter ordinationem et mandatum Christi) even if they are administered by evil men.

Our churches condemn the Donatists and others like them who have denied that the ministry of evil men may be used in the church and who have thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and without effect.
(Augsburg Confession, Article VIII; Tappert, 33)

Men of the Round Table:

Article VIII guards against the charge of Donatism, which the confessors at Augsburg were well aware was being whispered by the papal representatives who intentionally sought to lump the “evangelicals” with the radical reformation. This article flows out of the dynamic understanding of the church confessed in AC VII. If the church is infallibly recognized by the divine activities of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, and these activities are going on concretely in the world, one can reasonably expect that false Christians, unbelievers, and evil men will also be found in the vicinity of these activities, even though they are not part of the church proper. Lief Grane states, “The means of grace certainly constitute the church, as through them the Holy Spirit creates faith. Nevertheless, the do not visibly mark the boundaries of the church over against the rest of humanity” (Grane, 100). As Christ's parable of the weedy wheat field indicates (Mt 13:24-30, cited in Concordia), the church as it is in this life is always a mixed body of believers and unbelievers associated with the sacramental Word in all its forms.

The stated purpose of this article is not to endorse the ecclesiology of Augustine, who posited a true “church of the elect” hidden within the “congregation of the called,” but simply to state explicitly that the Word and sacraments are not compromised in their efficacy when they are administered by evil and wicked men. The Latin text is helpful in locating the basis of this confidence in the “institution and mandate of Christ.”

The confessors follow Augustine’s solution in his engagement with the Donatist party, rigorists who held as invalid the sacramental acts of the “traditors,” pastors and bishops who had surrendered their sacred books and office in the persecution under Diocletian and subsequently returned to office and resumed their ministry under Constantine. Augustine argued the divine monergism of the Word over and against the personal worthiness of the officient. We need to remember that the Donatist controversy dealt with the worthiness of the men ordained to hold the office of the holy ministry. It did not, and does not, speak to such modern novelties as female ordination and “lay ministry,” as is sometimes alleged.

As a sidenote, Augustine’s struggle with the Donatists brought the language of “ex opere operato” into the church, and, in this context, the terminology can be understood properly and rightly. The Donatists argued that the sacraments were valid “ex opere operantis” (by the work of the one working), while Augustine argued that they were valid “ex opere operato” (by the work having been worked), that is, independent of the worthiness of the one administering it. This objectivity of the divine Word over and against the worthiness of the administrant reflects the understanding that the sacraments are Christ’s work and not the church’s or the ministers’. Where this is denied or compromised, the worthiness of the minister, or even the congregation, becomes a criterion for the sacraments’ validity and efficacy.

The papal Confutation accepted this article without controversy; therefore Melanchthon has little to add in the Apology except to underscore the objectivity of the holy ministry by stating that the pastor does not represent his own person but speaks in persona Christi: “...for ministers act in Christ’s stead (vice Christi) and do not represent their own persons, according to the word (Luke 10:16), ‘He who hears you hears me.’” (Apology VII/VIII.47)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Roundtable 8: The Church

Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites and ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere. As St. Paul says, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Ephesians 4:5-6)
[The Augsburg Confession, Article VII, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (CPH: 2006, p. 34)].

With these words the Lutheran confessors provide what can rightly be referred to as the evangelical Magna Carta of the Lutheran Church. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession cuts through the clutter of man-made ceremonies and rites that had accumulated by the sixteenth century and focuses on the very heart of the matte, defining the Church with eloquent, powerful precision and grace. Outward unity in the Church is shaped, defined, and normed by Biblical truth (teaching), not the other way around. But note carefully: it is not just any old "Gospel" and "sacraments" here referred to, but the Gospel purely taught and the Sacraments correctly administered. The German version of the Augsburg Confessions makes this point very clear.

The beauty of this definition of Church lies in its focus on the Lord's gracious ongoing work among us through His Word and Sacraments, just defined previously in Article V.