Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Walking Together Sunday" - The Sermon

Below is a paragraph by paragraph summary of the Walking Together Sunday sermon (based on Revelation 14:6) that was sent out from synod office to all WELS pastors. It seemed wiser in the blog format to summarize the sermon, especially since the observations that follow are not meant to "nit-pick" every phrase and thought, but mainly to identify how Law and Gospel are used throughout the sermon. The Second Use of the Law is highlighted in green. The Gospel is highlighted in yellow. The Third Use of the Law is highlighted in blue. (N.B. – talking about Law and Gospel does not count as proclaiming Law and Gospel.)


  • North Carolina has a license plate that claims, “First in flight.”
  • Truly “first in flight” was the gospel, flying to hearts and minds throughout the world.
  • It looks like the gospel isn’t flying anymore. Is it?
  • John’s Revelation assures us that…
    • The Gospel Is Flying
      1. Through God’s People
      2. To All People

Part 1: The gospel is flying through God’s people.
  • The Wright brothers faced challenges when they invented flight.
  • The flight of the gospel faced bigger challenges in John’s Revelation – Satan himself, the secular government and false teachers.
  • John had a nightmare in which he saw the saints dying and the church in a terrible fight.
  • We are living John’s nightmare:
    1. Some missionaries are coming home for financial reasons,
    2. seminary graduates are not all receiving calls on assignment day,
    3. ”WELS membership statistics show slight declines.”
    • “If this isn’t living in a nightmare, I don’t know what is.”

A brief observation: The "nightmarish" vision cast above by the author of the sermon in this paragraph seems awfully contrived in the context of Revelation 14. When compared with the murder and imprisonment of the saints that the Apostle John witnessed, the political and social persecution of the Church and the demonic attacks on the Church's life and doctrine, the three examples mentioned by the author do not seem to have much to do with the "nightmare" John was referring to.

Is the Great Tribulation really to be understood as a slightly declining membership in a visible church organization?

  • But Jesus’ promise to John and us is: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.”
  • The word “gospel” is used only here in Revelation. It means that the angel had “good news to proclaim good news to those on earth.”
  • John is talking about the good news of salvation. For example, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So God says about us in the gospel, “I have written your name in the book of life. I wrote your name in the book with the ink of my Son’s blood. Believe it. You’re mine.”
  • Who is the angel? Lutherans think of Luther, through whom the gospel soared.
  • The angel is more than just Luther. The gospel flies through all God’s people, like
    1. Ms. Betty talking to her class,
    2. the pastor who baptizes in New York City,
    3. professors at our synodical worker training schools.
  • The gospel flies as every single WELS man, woman and child witnesses in their lives, like
    1. Jimmy witnesses to Jamie in Hong Kong,
    2. Timmy studying the Bible with Johnny in Times Square,
    3. Matt praying with Sara in Montana,
    4. Pastor Bob explaining the gospel to Helen in Japan,
    5. Jane telling her friend that death for a Christian means eternal life.

So far, the Law has not been mentioned in any of its three uses. In explaining the term "gospel," the sermon does apply the gospel to the hearers briefly, as highlighted in yellow.

Part 2: The gospel is flying to all people.

  • (This paragraph given word for word) But let’s get personal for a second. Is the gospel flying through you? I am not talking about the person sitting next to you anymore. I am talking about you. Is the gospel flying through you? To find out, take a little quiz: #1) Do you always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others? #2) In your personal budget, what receives the larger share: your offerings or your entertainment? Which number should be bigger? #3) When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church? #4) Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel? It is a question of honesty with yourself and God. If the gospel is not flying on all engines in your life, you have sinned against God.

This paragraph is the only Second Use of the Law in the sermon. In fact, as noted in the post regarding the WT Service, this is the only Second Use of the Law in the whole proposed service for WT Sunday.

But of the four "quiz" questions used to apply the Law's bitterness to the hearer, none of them come from the mouth of God, but instead, are arbitrary condemnations by the sermon writer himself.

#1 – If this were intended as a Third Use of the Law - to encourage God's people to always be looking for opportunities to witness, it would be fine. But as a Second Use, it's inappropriate. To "always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others" is not one of the Commandments. To "always love your neighbor and be a good neighbor" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. To "never be ashamed of Jesus" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. But when it's phrased as in #1, it reduces a Christian's service to God to his opportunities to "witness." Never once did Jesus command his disciples to "always look for opportunities to witness." We are told to "make the most of every opportunity" (even then, in a Third Use context). There's a difference. God commands preachers to preach. That is their vocation. God commands his people to be faithful in their vocation and to love those around them, and even when they're not "looking" for opportunities, opportunities arise.

#2 – Which "number should be bigger"? A Christian's entertainment budget or his/her church offering budget? I don't know. God has never reduced this to an equation, even in the Old Testament. This is another manmade law. The Law condemns me for loving myself more than my neighbor and for not being generous toward God in proportion with what he has given me. The Law does not reduce this percentages of a budget. But what if I answer, "My offering budget is bigger!" Am I then to understand that I am righteous?

#3 – "When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church?" How sad that the sermon condemns God's people for something God's Word does not command. What about the member who has invited all his friends and relatives to come to church, and each one has refused? The way this "Law" is worded, that poor saint has failed in the sight of God. And what of those who are in no position to bring anyone to church? Or who have no unchurched friends or relatives? Have they sinned, too? Worse – if I answer, "I brought someone brand new with me just last week!", am I therefore righteous?

#4 – "Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel?" What an unscriptural guilt trip to send God's people on! How does one even know what's in one's power when it comes to sharing the gospel? When phrased this way, the Christian is under constant obligation to be "evangelizing" from dawn till dusk, and even afterwards, if it's "in his power" to stay awake a little later and continue fulfilling the "sharing the gospel" Law.
  • (This paragraph given word for word) Yet, see the trouble for what is it. We remain the redeemed of God. Our eternity remains secure. Our names are written in the book of life. Your sins are forgiven. So are your neighbor’s sins. Even more, God has made sure that angel after angel after angel has flown into your life to make sure you remain in Jesus. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, and even our children are God’s messengers to us, proclaiming “Jesus has forgiven you for all your sins. Yes, he forgives you for the sins of timidity, fear, and selfishness.” He sends to you angels to personally speak the words of the gospel, just like he did for the shepherds. There were just a few shepherds in the field the night of Jesus’ birth, yet God thought, “It is worth it for me to send thousands of angels to proclaim peace on earth.” Your God loves you and comes to you through angels.

I classified this paragraph as Gospel, but parts of it are questionable. First, there is no call to repentance or mention of it (even though no sins have yet been identified, according to the Scriptures). The thought process goes: "You have sinned, but that sin doesn't harm you or your relationship with God, because your sins are already forgiven, so don't worry about it." This is not the proper application of the Gospel. Christ's atoning death on the cross and satisfaction for sin is mentioned nowhere.

Then it goes on to say, "So are your neighbor's sins." What does this mean? To whom is the Gospel being applied? If he means the person sitting next to me in church, for what purpose does he assure me that his sins are forgiven? If he means my atheist neighbor, then he's simply wrong. My atheist neighbor does not have the status of a forgiven child of God, for my atheist neighbor still rejects the Son of God and remains condemned in the devil's kingdom. If he wanted to say that Jesus died for my atheist neighbor and wants him to be saved, too, then he should have said that.

  • Now that you have the gospel, God makes you an angel so that the gospel may fly to many others – fly, not sleep or walk or stroll or sprint.
  • The angel in Revelation had good visibility, was flying “in midair” so that many people could see him.
  • How can we make it so that everyone hears the gospel? You make it happen because you’re part of a synod that makes it happen. We are “Walking Together,” or maybe it should be “Flying together.”
  • “Together in the Wisconsin Synod, the gospel really is flying to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Example: Sure Foundation Lutheran Church.


  • Just as the Wright brothers faced many nay-sayers, we face Satan. But the gospel will prevail and it’s ours to proclaim. Let’s fly with it! Amen.

Once the Law paragraph and Gospel paragraph are out of the way, the rest of the sermon preaches neither Law nor Gospel, except for two short, guiding encouragements that "we are angels," so "Let's fly with the gospel!" The rest of this part is spent explaining how we are already carrying out God's will simply by being members of a synod that is practicing evangelism.

In summary, any sermon writer can have a bad day – many of them, in fact, in the course of his ministry. But this sermon was prepared, sent out and promoted by synod headquarters as a model sermon for pastors to emulate and even copy and paste portions into their own sermon (although I doubt any did). I don't know who authored the sermon. I doubt that the synod president saw it. But it must have had the opportunity to be reviewed by any number of pastors. If any sermon should reflect solid exegesis and bold, confessional Lutheran Law/Gospel proclamation, it ought to be one that's sponsored by the synod itself.

As with the service, maybe next year? Then again, maybe a sermon doesn't have to be written and sent out to pastors at all. We have been trained to prepare our own sermons for the people God has entrusted to us.


Lisette Anne Lopez said...

I like the last sentence... It is applicable.

Daniel Baker said...

It seems that, unfortunately, I spoke all too quickly in saying that I had not had the displeasure of experiencing this "order of service."

My family is in the middle of a 350 mile move to Northern Wisconsin. This week, we are up in that area and subsequently attended the church up here rather than our Milwaukee church. I had pointed out to my father the "Walking Together" analysis here on IL earlier in the week, so when he saw the theme on the bulletin he got a smirk and pointed it out to me.

Suffice it to say, while we followed the service, the Pastor certainly did not copy the suggestions word for word (for example, he added the actual Trinitarian absolution to the end of the passage from Peter's epistle). Also, he definitely did not copy this suggested sermon, as his sermon was based on the gospel text of the Magi visitation.

The sermon the pastor did was much more law-gospel oriented, with appropriate uses of both. The only thing I didn't care for was his infatuation with the Synod (he actually said that the "hundreds of thousands" of WELS members are in complete doctrinal agreement, on every point, through the Holy Spirit. I found that hard to swallow, thinking of my experiences in Appleton). He also ended the sermon by pitching the "special offering" for the synod, which I found inappropriate (though he did make the suggestion in a third use of the law context).

The other major disconcerting feature of the service was the WELS connection, placed directly before the sermon, surrounded by a hymn. Though this particular edition was somewhat interesting, I found it nonetheless inappropriate in the middle of a Service.

All in all, I'd say that the experience was the "right" way to do Walking Together Sunday, at least as close as you could get with the material given.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I imagine that very few pastors use any of the materials "as is," for which I'm glad.

Pastor Spencer said...


Your comment, "his infatuation with the Synod," is a huge part of the problem in the WELS today. This accounts for a great deal of frustration on the part of solid, orthodox, confessional leaders, such as our current synod President and some of the DPs. This infatuation clouds many people's minds, prevents them from supporting swift, decisive action on the part of leaders, and keeps them quiet when they ought to speak up. We as a church body, and each and every individual in it simply MUST get over this reluctance to face the sad truth that "hundreds of thousands" of WELS members are most certainly NOT united in agreement on every doctrinal point. This is false! There, I said it. Now, let's start really and truly dealing with the differences among us. And please, let's do out in the bright light of day for all to see; in an honest, open, mature, Biblical way. Let's stop pretending how wonderful the "emperor's new clothes" are, and admit our bare naked disunity!

Rev. Spencer

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer,
Fantastic, thank you for saying that we are not all in unity. Truer words were never spoken! When do we start dealing with this in "the bright light of day", and how can I help?

Scott E. Jungen

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Scott - and everyone and anyone else reading this blog,

The single best thing we can all do (after praying for the Lord's help, guidance, and blessing on our troubled synod, of course), is to speak up and speak out.

Listen carefully to your Pastor. Take notes on this sermons - good and/or bad. See what's being used in Bible classes. Watch what goes on in your church, neighboring WELS churches, your school, neighboring schools, area high schools, synod schools. Find out what's being taught - exactly, and what's not. Find out what's being done or not done (like the pro-Islamic Roman Catholic entertainer at MLC last week, for example).

Make a list of concerns - as many as necessary. Then, talk to your Pastors. Find out who your Circuit Pastor is and talk to him. Talk to your District President. Send words of support and encouragement to President Schroeder. Speak, speak, speak, speak!

Inform yourselves. Read Luther and the Confessions. Study the Scriptures. Pray and pray some more! There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to be silent anymore! There is simply no excuse.

This goes for all lay members, men and women, young and old. This goes for all teachers in any of our schools. This goes for all Pastors, and especially all Circuit, Conference, District, and Synod officials. Speak up! Call into question unclear or unorthodox words and practices.

And never be satisfied with an answer like, "You wouldn't understand." or "I'll look into that and get back to you." Contact them again, and again, and again, and again. Never rest until you get a satisfactory answer based on the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessional and nothing less! And never, ever, let anyone "pull rank" on you, or try to intimidate you into silence.

You want to know what to do - I'll tell you - FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! Never surrender one iota of orthodox, historic, evangelical, confessional, Lutheran principle. Fight with words. Fight with letters. Fight with phone calls. Fight with emails. Fight in blogs and on facebook pages. Fight in person. Confront people face to face at Council meetings, at Voters' meeting, at Circuit meetings, at Pastor and Teacher conferences, at District and Synod Conventions. Never give in. Never stop. Never rest. Never quit - NEVER, EVER, until God calls you home to heaven! Period!

And THAT'S what you can do to help!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Perhaps all pastors did not use the sermon as a template, but at least in the case of my pastor and the sermon he gave, there was no Law and No Gospel clearly proclaimed. Yes, I took notes. Yes, I wept inside. Satan stands in the way of the Gospel being proclaimed we were told, and how true it was from that sermon. Absolutely no Gospel was proclaimed, just encouragement to support the work of Gospel outreach and a lot of similar thoughts. Law as it did exist was primarlily 3rd use.
Yes, Rev. Rydecki, every pastor has a clunker throughout his career. I would have hoped that this one, while encouraging us to spread the Gospel, would have actually done that.
Sad, Very sad.

William Chase

Anonymous said...

"WELS members are most certainly NOT united in agreement on every doctrinal point"

The most common disagreement that I have run into with talking to other woman is with the Doctrine of Church Fellowship. I can't tell you how many fellow WELS members have told me that "they don't know if they agree with WELS on that" as if our doctrines were man-made and laid out on some kind of buffet table to pick and choose.

The very doctrine that sets WELS apart from most other church bodies and "they don't know if they agree". They usually get the communion application but they don't realize it might apply to other activities such as singing and praying in another church(even though it is the same hymns or prayers that we have in our own WELS church), having a person not in fellowship with WELS sing at a wedding or church service, volunteering at an event like Lifest, participating in a non-denomination Bible Class or MOPS club or scouts or ringing bells for Salvation Army.

Yet some of these same people who "don't know if they agree" are teaching Bible Class and leading others in the church.

I try to point someone who makes such a statement towards The People's Bible Teaching book on Church Fellowship which explains it far better than I could. Not one has come back to me and said I still don't know if I agree. In fact, several come back wondering why they weren't told or instructed when they became members into the church especially if they were LCMS previously and didn't go through a adult confirmation class or why it wasn't brought up in the adult instruction class. I would have assumed that if someone from a different "religion" wanted to become WELS a Pastor would at least talk about their previous religion and CLEARLY point out the scriptural differences and have them understand what "not in fellowship" exactly meant.

One pastor responded to a friend that she was jumping from pre-alegebra to calculus. When and how was she suppose to get to calculus if no one brings up the algebra? Not everyone was lucky enough to have a WELS Christian Doctrine class in High School or beyond or can remember what was taught.

I have yet to hear a Pastor talk on this besides applying it to communion or in a Bible Class where only a small percent of members attend. It's almost like we have a "need to know basis" attitude about this precious doctrine. If you don't bring it up, I won't tell and if I have to tell, I will get it over as quickly as possible.

Tammy Jochman

Anonymous said...


I get that this is what made WELS image of the "snobs" and now we struggle with the idea of putting WELS predominately on our church buildings for fear that people may have a predetermined notion of what WELS is. I get that this doctrine causes alot of personal conflict for those whose extended families aren't WELS, I myself struggle with that. Is this why it feels like it has been shoved under the rug, only to be brought up on occasion in a Bible Class?

I can't help thinking that the devil is hard at work trying to keep this doctrine quiet. The more clueless the members become and they accept that participating in a non-denomination Bible Class isn't harmful, after all they are studying the Bible and everyone is expressing an opinion. They accept that ringing bells for the red kettles is only for a good cause. They accept that Lifest is just another music concert. They don't realize that others see them as approving other churches and organizations that promote false doctrine and could lead others to a false doctrine. They don't realize that the devil is trying to get them to question God's word and accept others opinions and false doctrines.

We are so blessed to have this doctrine in our churches to keep out false doctrine and lead others to the truth. It is not a hindrance to "Go and Make Disciples of all Nations" it is a blessing to us as children of God to keep our church teachings pure. How can our members be on the same page doctrinally if we bury it? How can we treat it as not important if this is what the Lord directs us to do?

Tammy Jochman

Daniel Baker said...

I think that the problem with the Church fellowship issue is the legalistic attitude that many individuals take with regard to it. In other words, telling people they can't privately pray with their non-WELS family members, while at the same time they see certain prominent pastors going out and publicly praying with baptists, is too much for most.

Same goes for the gender roles issue. It kinda sends a double standard when WELS-affiliated colleges have female professors teaching men, the high schools have female student body presidents, and the synod even allows female politicians in its ranks . . . but then the official church doctrine says that there is no distinction between biblical mandates for family and public life. Riiiiight.

When we become the people who doctrinally micromanage every aspect of fellowship and gender roles, but then fail to actually enforce such things - and fail in more important matters (like having pastors that cannot appropriately apply law and gospel in their sermons) - there's a big problem.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...


Thanks for another fine post, full of potent observations. The now sainted WELS pastor who brought my wife and I into confessional Lutheranism referred to the doctrine of Church Fellowship as the immune system of the Church. It was definitely a doctrine that he covered with us in Bible Information class, along with many other "hard teachings," and one which my wife and I were compelled to apply in our lives with family members, friends and ministries we were involved with, before we joined the WELS and for some time thereafter. It continues to be a doctrine which requires reflection and application.

So how is it that we, and many others, were brought out of heterodoxy or faithlessness by this pastor -- even though he brought everyone through the "strong meat" of Scripture teaching right along with the "baby's milk?" How is it that we, and many others, could find Confessional Lutheranism so compelling that we would completely agree with it, not as a mere membership formality, but genuinely as a matter of Christian conscience -- even though the "mean old doctrine of Church Fellowship" was completely laid out for us? Why weren't we "turned off?" The answer: the unalloyed Truth of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit's work through this Means to teach and remind, and to strengthen our faith. The full and pure Truth layed out before us, the Holy Spirit used it to convince us of its certainty. We are Lutherans today for only one reason: we are convinced as a matter of Christian conscience that Lutheran theology is fully correct theology. We have rejected the errors of our heterodox past, along with the practices that follow from them. We are not going back to it.

Pastor's who whitewash the Truth, and skip over the hard teachings of Scriptures just to score another member, don't do anyone any favors. And I know that they are out there. I know of WELS congregations which entirely skip instruction, instead inviting groups of prospects to an "orientation meeting" on a Saturday afternoon and receiving them into membership the following day: "They will learn the doctrine over time," we're told after inquiring with concern. I've personally met WELS laymen brought in as adult confirmands who, I've told myself, if I ever met the man who catechized them I would need to leave the room lest self-restraint would fail me...

The unfortunate thing about the "Walking Together Sunday" sermon, and the entire event, is that Evangelism is the only emphasis. Yet, our "walking together" is predicated on our standing together. Despite this, there was no emphasis given to our full agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice, nor any mention of our Confessions or Confessional Unity. No explanation or celebration of our "togetherness" as fundamental to our walking in this togetherness. The clear and sole emphasis was the command of Evangelism followed by an appeal for money. This is entirely the wrong emphasis, in my opinion, leading to the wrong notion that our working rather than our confessing is the essence of our togetherness.

My Opinion...

Anonymous said...

Hi, guys.

I agree, there isn’t perfect unity in the WELS. But is that achievable? Maybe someone could provide deeper insight into Ephesians 4.

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Is it possible to attain that perfect “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”? Or, since we’re a synod of some 400,000 sinners, will there always be a disagreement about some things? And if there is a disagreement about some points of doctrine or practice, that isn’t reason to panic yet, I don’t think. But it is a reason to work towards unity. I guess that is what concerns me more than anything else – not that there are slightly different theological views, but that I don’t see a ton of effort to discuss and rectify them.

Further complicating things, in my opinion… differences in application of principles can be perceived as different principles themselves. For example, this blog frequently talks about the frequency of the Sacrament. Are there some pastors who have communion infrequently because they don’t appreciate the Sacrament? Perhaps. But are there some who appreciate the Sacrament greatly, but have pastoral reasons for not offering it on Easter Sunday… or even for not offering it every week? I would think so. Yet, there is a danger for someone like myself, who likes weekly communion, to think of such pastors as non-Sacramental, i.e. a danger to believe that the pastor doesn’t understand the principles. The fact is, they do. But in their pastoral judgment, they feel they have a reason to apply them differently than perhaps I would. That doesn’t mean we are in doctrinal disagreement. It might mean we have a different view of what “wise” is.

In summary... yes… there seems to be some doctrinal disagreement in the WELS. However, a) I think what some perceive as “doctrinal disagreement” is actually just a different applications, and b) to a degree, I think disagreement is to be expected. But we must WORK at that unity. And pastors, that’s where your efforts are vital (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Your brother in Christ,
Daniel Kastens

Intrepid Lutherans said...


No, "perfect" unity is not achievable - at least not on this side of eternity. Good point. You'll get no disagreement from us there.

However, that is not the point. St. Paul doesn't hold out that as the goal for this world there in Ephesians. And yes, I for one believe that as long as matters are being dealt with, and issues discussed and resolved, and unity really worked at, openly and honestly, this is probably the best we can hope for.

My point - and the broader point of Intrepid Lutherans - is that this even mere "nearly perfect" unity is quite often assumed in the WELS when and where it does not, in fact, exist, and thus, disagreements are more often than not ignored under the guise of "we're all one big happy family."

I would also say that quite often the doctrinal disagrements are not, in point of fact, just "different applications," but actual disunity in beliefs. For example, WELS Pastors and churches using - often "stealing" as we have proven - sectarian material for sermons, Bible studies, and worship is most certainly and absolutely NOT merely a different application, it is using, supporting, defending, and accepting different doctrines!

Your point, of course, should always be kept in mind, and we thank you for making it. "Perfect" unity is a goal that will only finally and completely be realized in heaven. However, the differences that now exist within our synod are real, they are important, they are damaging, they need to be brought out into the open, and to the best of our ability as mere mortals, and with the help of the Lord of the Church, they need to be removed - either they, or those that hold them! It is way past time to do the first, and to prepare to do the second, if need be.

Pastor Spencer

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


I see that Pastor Spencer responded regarding unity. I'll respond regarding Communion frequency.

I grant that there are sometimes good pastoral reasons for not offering the Sacrament weekly in some situations. But those should be the exceptions, not the norm.

We have to be honest with ourselves, I think. Sometimes, the "pastoral" reasons are: "I don't want to offend non-members." "It takes too long." "The people won't like it." "It might confuse people into thinking we have to have the Sacrament." "We need to prove to the world that we're not Catholic." Pastorally speaking, these reasons may pose temporary obstacles to be overcome through education and evangelical exhortation, but they really shouldn't become permanent excuses for maintaining the status quo, when the status quo is a deviation from the practice advocated in our own Confessions.

My own personal history speaks to one who did not always value the Sacrament or its place in the life of the Church. I don't think I was the exception.

I'm not saying a pastor should just reinstitute the practice "over night." But if the pastors were preaching with conviction about the value of the Sacrament, and even the value of offering the Sacrament weekly, I don't think it would take 30 years to convince the laity. In fact, if the pastors were convinced that weekly Communion is a more beneficial practice and one worth encouraging, I think their members would follow their lead rather quickly, for the most part. There would always be exceptions.

At least if one decides for pastoral reasons not to offer the Sacrament every week, one should be honest about it and admit that it's not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice. That doesn't make them heretics. It's just the objective truth.

m00tpoint said...

Pastor Rydecki,

While I believe that more frequent celebration of the Supper would be a worthy improvement in the practice of many WELS congregations, I believe you have rather badly overstated your case here.

You say, "If one decides for pastoral reasons not to offer the Sacrament every week, one should be honest about it and admit that it's not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice." That simply isn't true.

First of all, in my quite extensive reading about Lutheran Pietism, I was surprised to learn that a few early pietists complained about infrequent communion in some German Lutheran congregations in the later 1600's. This was before the pietistic movement had its own negative impact on Lutheran sacramental practice. In some (most or all??) cases, it was because of the time commitment for chronically overworked (and sometimes not overly spiritual) pastors to hear confession. (As I'm sure you know, appearing in the confessional booth was required by church regulations in most Lutheran territorial churches before one was permitted to attend the Lord's Supper.)

One reason some pietists wanted to abolish this requirement (or at least one argument they sometimes used) was actually to encourage more frequent communion attendance, especially by those who had qualms of conscience about mandated private confession. If I'm not mistaken, the old Confessional Service in TLH originated during that time frame, as a compromise between private confession and no formal confessional preparation for communion.

So I'd note that every-Sunday communion was not necessarily universal in 17th century orthodoxy. Also, it was certainly not usual for parishioners to attend the Supper whenever it was offered, which is fairly normal in our congregations today, at least in my experience. Members of most of our congregations may well receive the Supper more frequently than was typical for Lutheran parishioners in the 17th century.

In addition, "confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice" mandated that one attend private confession with one's pastor on a day prior to receiving the Supper. Wouldn't consistency on your part compel you either to repristinate the confessional, or at least to admit that not doing so is not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice?

I bring up the first to buttress the second point: Never in the history of Lutheranism in America has any Lutheran church body of any size ever had the practice you describe. There's a reason the page 5 liturgy in TLH was there! Yes, pietism is the primary historical cause of that. But you say, "If one decides for pastoral reasons not to offer the Sacrament every week, one should be honest about it and admit that it's not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice."

The only two possible conclusions, then, are

1) There has never been a confessional Lutheran church body, in doctrine and practice, anywhere in America, ever, and still would not be if your recommendation were universally adopted, since it lacks the mandate for private confession.

2) Your conclusion is both selective and overstated.


Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Rardin (wanted to include your last name for those who thought you were posting anonymously),

Thanks for your comment. First of all, I'm not attributing non-weekly Communion to Pietism alone. I realize that other factors have historically played a part, as Pr. Buelow commented under "The Service."

As to private confession being required before every Communion, while that may have been true in some cases, unless I am misunderstanding something here, it seems that Luther's own understanding was not that such was required:

But I think it enough for the applicants for communion to be examined or explored once a year. Indeed, a man may be so understanding that he needs to be questioned only once in his lifetime or not at all. For, by this practice, we want to guard lest the worthy and unworthy alike rush to the Lord’s Supper, as we have hitherto seen done in the Roman church (LW:53:33).

That said, I think private confession should be encouraged, and perhaps it would be beneficial to "examine" our members more than once in a lifetime at Confirmation.

I naturally encourage all my members to commune when it is offered, and most do, but no one under compulsion. I refer back to Pr. Webber's essay mentioned on "The Service" post for more historical and confessional background on the practice of offering it whenever there are some present who desire it. Whether or not churches always did this in Germany is not my point.

I am mainly referring to "confessional Lutheranism" not as it has been manifested since the Confessions were written, but as the Confessions present it. One could say that since the WELS, as a confessional Lutheran church body, has never in its history widely celebrated weekly Communion, that therefore, confessional Lutheran practice is whatever WELS has done. But that wouldn't be very helpful as we seek to be true to those documents to which we have subscribed. Just because Lutheran Churches have done something does not automatically make it a "confessional Lutheran" practice.

Finally, I'm not implying that a church or a church body is not a confessional Lutheran church body for non-weekly Communion. I'm merely suggesting that we recognize the aberration in this area and strive to be true to our confession in all that we teach and in all that we do, and AC and Apology XXIV are part of that. And I suggest this, not out of some blind allegiance to human tradition, but for the same theological reasons espoused by the Reformers.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

(By the way, sorry if it should have been "Pastor Rardin." I wasn't sure!)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer,

As I've looked into things a bit more closely in recent months (thanks, in part, to you guys!) I agree with you. Sometimes we do put our heads in the sand in regards to doctrinal disagreements.

Pastor Rydecki, what Dennis brings up regarding frequency of Communion is something that I've heard regularily. Frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper doesn't seem to produce frequent reception. Not that that in and of itself is a reason NOT to offer the Sacrament more regularily.

Have you read the papers from the most recent Seminary conference? I've now worked my way through all three of them. The final one seems to address the topic of communion (as well as many other practical issues) in a very balanced way. I'd love to hear the thoughts of the IL guys on these papers.

Yours in Christ,
Daniel Kastens

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

To add another quote from Luther to my comment above regarding private confession:

Now concerning private confession before communion, I still think as I have held heretofore, namely, that it neither is necessary nor should be demanded. Nevertheless, it is useful and should not be despised; for the Lord did not even require the Supper itself as necessary or establish it by law, but left it free to everyone when he said, “As often as you do this,” etc. (LW:53:34)

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


First, as I said, in my experience at my congregation, we had roughly 50 people communing every two weeks when that was our practice. Now that we've had weekly communion for a year and a half, our average is still around 50 - per week. We have thus doubled the frequency of reception!

Not only that, but members who are physically unable to attend every week no longer have to worry about "missing" a Communion Sunday when they are able to attend.

But that's not even the point. The point is, if there are even two or three souls who wish for the comfort of the Sacrament on a given Sunday, it should not be withheld from them by the majority who "don't feel the need" for the Sacrament that day. And they ought not be forced to approach the pastor for private communion after the service "if they really, really desire it," as if such a desire were an abnormality in the Church. It would be better to include Communion in the public service for the sake of only those two or three (think how fast that would go!) than to relegate our Lord's Supper to a postscript.

Where the congregation is slow to permit the inclusion of the Sacrament in the regular service on a weekly basis, I know of pastors who still offer it after every service to all who desire it. They always seem to have "(par)takers."

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Oh, and I plan to work through the symposium essays soon!

m00tpoint said...

Hello Pastor Rydecki,

I served as a WELS pastor for 8 years, and resigned in 1997 for health reasons. "Dennis" is fine!

Regarding the requirement for attending confession, thank you for reminding us of [one of] Luther's take[s] on the matter. However, AC XXV,1 says, "Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved." In the Lutheran territorial churches, this worked out as a requirement. God's people were, in practice, mandated to attend confession before communing. No private confession, no Supper. The evangelical reasoning behind the AC XXV was, in practical reality, a law for the laity.

My point is that if you wish to say that less than 52 communion Sundays (plus all High Feasts) is "not in line with confessional Lutheran practice," you must, to be consistent, also not commune anyone who has not attended private confession earlier that week. The confessions' language regarding both practices is much the same.


Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


Glad to have your thoughts here on the blog!

You seemed to imply by your use of [brackets] that Luther had more than one position regarding the requirement of private confession before someone would be permitted to the Sacrament. I have searched, but I am unable to find anywhere where Luther states a contrary opinion to the one he expressed in the writing I quoted earlier from his "ORDER OF MASS AND COMMUNION FOR THE CHURCH AT WITTENBERG."

Are you aware of something he wrote to the contrary?

Again, I'm not really concerned with the way things "worked out" in the territorial churches, as little as I'm concerned with the way things "worked out" in American Lutheranism. I'm concerned with what actually ended up in the Confessions, and with the evangelical reasoning given therein (as you mentioned).

If there is any question as to what AC XXV means when it speaks of "them that have been previously examined and absolved," I think Luther's position on it makes it clear that they didn't mean to confess that it was required "before every Communion."

And even though the following quote from the FC refers to another article of the AC, it references Dr. Luther as the chief teacher of the entire AC:

"From these explanations, and especially from that of Dr. Luther as the leading teacher of the Augsburg Confession, any intelligent person who loves truth and peace can undoubtedly see what has always been the proper meaning and understanding of the Augsburg Confession on this article." (FC:SD:VII:34)

Peace to you,

Anonymous said...

As a layman who has been to many pastor's conferences, I was amazed to hear that in other districts the pastors did not read papers and contend for the truth as we do in the Michigan District. In the Michigan District papers are given and then the discussion starts. When I first experienced this I thought that maybe some of the pastors were being a little too harsh, but after several conferences, conventions and meetings I grew to enjoy and look forward to them. This give and take between the pastors leads to a better understanding by all who are blessed to be a part of this.
It was not that pastors are mean or are trying to attack each other it is that they are trying to clearly explain and define doctrinal positions.
At some of the synod conventions that I attended I had the opportunity to talk with many laymen and pastors and some told me that they did not follow this practice since it was considered devisive or too time consuming. If we do not have the time to properly discuss doctrinal points then we will lose the Gospel.

Mark Bannan

Rev. Dale M. Reckzin said...

Intrepid Lutherans:

Thank you for the excellent blog.

My name is Pastor Dale Reckzin. I've served St. John's in Oak Creek, WI (South 27th St) since 2000.

In January 2001 St. John's began offering the Sacrament at every worship service. The only exceptions are: mid-week Advent/Lent services (But Sacrament is offered on Ash Wed) and Christmas Eve and Good Friday.

Before introducing the practice of every week Holy Communion we went through an extensive Bible study. This also included many bulletin inserts and newsletter articles on the Lord's Supper.

In January of 2001 we had a series of sermons/services on Holy Communion, conveniently using the four parts of the small catechism as the outline. During this time it only seemed logical to offer the Sacrament in all the services in which we were focusing on the Sacrament.

When the series finished, we basically said, "well, unless there's a real necessary reason to stop offering Communion weekly, let's keep doing it." Almost ten years later we are still receiving this gift from Christ every week.

Furthermore, our attendance at the altar has consitently been almost 100% of eligible communicants. We certainly do not force anyone or "guilt trip" anyone into attending Communion. However, as one sweet lady said to me, "If the Lord is setting his table for me, how can I say 'no'?" I would say that is the overall attitude among our members regarding Holy Communion.

In the past ten years, when people have transferred out of our parish, some (but certainly not all) have said, "One thing I am really going to miss about St. John's is every Sunday Communion."

Certainly, not every congregation is like St. John's. However, I am fairly confident that when our people are "preached and instructed toward the Sacrament," it will be natural for them to crave this priceless treasure frequently.

Thanks again for an excellent blog.

In Christ,

Rev. Dale Reckzin.

Pastor Spencer said...

Mr. Bannan,

You are absolutely right on! It used to be that every WELS District and Conference had great and even fiery discussions after the paper or presentation was finished. That all came to an end in the late 70s and early 80s, pretty much everywhere except the Michigan District, and there mostly in the Northern Conference.

I remember in the late 60s and early 70s very heated debates raging here at various meetings in the AZ-CA District. In fact, the custom was that when a paper was finished and the time for discussion came to an end, the motion would be that "we accept this paper as a correct exposition of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions." Very often, that motion itself would start off a whole new round of debate!

Now, those in charge of the "history" tell me I'm all wet, and that nothing of the kind ever happened. Well, I know it did, because I was there, and I made a couple of those motions - yes, even as a lowly public high school or college freshman lay-person! They can re-write history all they want, but I remember those days well.

Truly, fervent and passionate discussion and debate used to be the hallmark of WELS' conferences and conventions. But then things changed. We will probably never know who started this or who got to whom, but the conference officers began the practice of merely "thanking the essayist." That effectively put to an end any real debate as to whether or not the paper was really Biblical and Confessional. I was told early on after I graduated from seminary, that we are to "put the best construction" on our brother's work. While it was OK to question a translation from the original language or a grammatical form of some kind, any suggestion that what our "brother" presented was in any way un-confessional, would be slapped down as overly harsh and judgmental - bordering on treason!

From that time to this, debate and confrontation of heretics has been sacrificed on the altar of the show of outward unity. And we are in the trouble we're in today because of this.

Pastor Spencer

m00tpoint said...


My reference to Luther's "take[s]" isn't due to a specific reference. I just mean that Dr. Luther wasn't slavishly consistent about questions like how often one should go to Confession. If it tweaked the appropriate noses, calmed a troubled conscience, or got his dinner guests talking and thinking, he was content.

I think it's a bit too convenient to quote Dr. Luther's comment over against AC XXV and Ap. XXIV, "Among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved." It's quite an ahistorical straining at words to make this say, "... the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved at some point in the last year."

That's not what they were doing in 1530, in Wittenberg or anywhere else. What they were doing in 1530, and continued to do for the next 150+ years, is exactly the point, because AC XXV,1 and Ap. XXIV,1 describe the actual practice of the Lutheran churches at the time. It's not what they were *confessing,* it's not what they were *prescribing,* it's what they were *doing.*

Expecting someone to go to confession once a year would be no defense at all against Roman accusations of abolishing Confession and the Mass. Had the Lutherans been telling people "Once a year in Confession is enough," the Roman Confutation would also have been full of accusation on the matter ... but it's not.

The clear meaning of AC XXV and Ap. XXIV is that the Lutheran churches retained the universal practice of the day -- you go to Confession before you go to the Supper. You are no longer expected to list all your sins, punishments are no longer imposed, and the practice now has an evangelical spirit and purpose. But the outward practice -- go to Confession before you go to the Supper -- hasn't changed. You get a pass on your deathbed and so forth, as Rome also understood and practiced.

My larger point is to ask whether every description in the Confessions articulates a matter of doctrine and practice. Are we bound to practice every-Sunday-and-other-festival Communion? Are we bound to commune those who have previously been examined and absolved? Is every descriptive statement in the Confessions also prescriptive?

I say no. The historical practice of the Lutheran churches, as the AC and Ap. say, was to offer the Sacrament at every Mass to those who'd gone to Confession, which meant the priest knew they were properly examined and prepared.

For historical reasons, including but not limited to Pietism, that has changed. We inherited a different practice than they did. Trying to retain or regain confessional Lutheranism via these descriptive statements misses the forest for the trees, and lapses into legalism.

To put it succinctly: If you want to say, "This is a great idea," I'm on board. But if you want to say, "The confessions talk about communion every Sunday; not doing that is not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine," that's quite a different matter.


Daniel Baker said...

With regard to what Dennis posted above, I completely agree with his closing point. If it's about legalism and "doing it because the confessions say so," then it is quite a different matter indeed.

However, if it is about not neglecting one of the precious Means of Grace that the Holy Spirit utilizes to strengthen the Church (as I believe it is at IL), then like Dennis "I'm on board."

In my opinion, the majority in our synod (myself included until very recently) do not even understand the importance and application of the Sacrament in our daily lives. And how can we, when we brush it off as a cumbersome, time-consuming thing we do every other week (unless it's a fifth Sunday! HEAVEN forbid we have the Holy Supper THREE TIMES in a month).

Anonymous said...


You make some good points regarding the use of the Confessions. My take on it is that the Confessions are describing the then current practices - not mandating them.

That said, it would seem to me wise to consider those practices and if one is going to deviate from them, to do so consciously for well thought out reasons. Thus one should ask what theological reasons exist for weekly communion and compare those to the reasons for bi- weekly communion. From my perspective I've not found the theological reasons for bi-weekly communion to be nearly as compelling as those for weekly communion.

And as an aside, lest we forget, we do currently have cofession and absolution before the sacrament - it's just now takes place during the service as opposed to private confession and absolution.

But again, that's not the point. The point rather is and should be that we consider whether the issue - if we truly believe that communion is a means of grace, why would we as a matter of practice offer it every Sunday? (If nothing else, it precludes the question from a visitor along the following lines: "You say the sacrament is special and that God actually strengthens faith through it and yet you don't offer it to those who desire it every week? When expressed that way, our practice does seem a bit inconsistent with what we teach - at least to me.

Anyway. Just some musings on a Monday night.

With best regards
Harvey Dunn

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

First, "This is a great idea."

Second, the Reformers knew it was a great idea, just as the Church had known for 1500 years before them that it was a great idea.

It's not a great idea because the law demands it (so there's nothing legalistic about it). It's a great idea because of the very reasons the Reformers outlined in AC XXIV, and Luther outlined in the Large Catechism and in countless other places: we are terrible, rotten sinners who always need the "medicine" of the Sacrament. The Church has always offered the Sacrament for the consolation of souls - every day at some points in history, not because it was a law, but because it was a great idea.

The Reformers were content with once a week and on festivals because it wasn't practical for mass to be celebrated every day for the common people (as Luther says somewhere), although if there were communicants who asked for it, mass was celebrated during the week as well.

This is one of those examples where the doctrine forms the practice. Why wouldn't the Church offer this Means of Grace to needy souls every Lord's Day when she gathers? This was a no-brainer to the Reformers.

Has anything changed in man's utter neediness before God? Has the devil let up on his attacks? Or our sinful nature become weaker through the centuries? Or the Sacrament less potent a gift?

The very reasons that the Confessors cited for their practice remain applicable today.

So no one here at IL is insinuating that someone is sinning who doesn't offer the Sacrament every week. But the theology of the Confessions suggests and indeed inspires the very pastoral practice of offering the Sacrament more often than we generally do.

And I know from personal experience that our every-other paradigm influences a very different view of the Sacrament than what the Confessions confess.

Anonymous said...

Argh... the hazards of typing on an iphone... let me try the last couple of paragraphs again:

And as an aside, lest we forget, we do currently have confession and absolution before the sacrament - it's just that it now takes place during the service as opposed to in private confession and absolution. But again, that's not the point. The point rather is and should be that we consciously consider the issue - and if we truly believe that communion is a means of grace (which we do), ask ourselves the question: "Why would we as a matter of practice not offer it every Sunday?" (If nothing else, offering it every Sunday precludes the question from a visitor along the following lines: "You say the sacrament is special and that God actually strengthens faith through it and yet you don't offer it to those who desire it every week? When expressed that way, our practice does seem a bit inconsistent with what we teach - at least to me.)

With best regards,
Harvey Dunn

m00tpoint said...


I agree with much of what you say. It's different from what I initially reacted to: your statement, "If one decides for pastoral reasons not to offer the Sacrament every week, one should be honest about it and admit that it's not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice." "Not being in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice" is sin, especially considering the ordination vows all WELS pastors swore. I'd be quite surprised if you disagree. So I'm happy to hear the more moderate language in your last post.

I will say again, I agree with much of what you say. Just because we don't "have to" doesn't mean it's a good idea not to. But also allow me to offer some other points:

1) As outlined above, offering the Supper every Mass was not an indication people were communing every Sunday.

2) *Private* confession before communion gave the priest good reason to believe someone was adequately prepared to receive the Supper to his harm. Current practice does very, very little to protect dumb sheep from themselves when they fail to examine themselves as St. Paul commands.

3) Given today's utter absence of safeguards the Reformers took for granted against receiving the Supper to one's harm, perhaps the old "if we do it every Sunday it isn't as special" argument could be rephrased, "If we do it every Sunday, are we also at the same time being sufficiently careful with it?" (Of course, that begs the question of whether we're any more careful on the odd numbered Sundays ...) The Supper has special warnings against misuse which the preached Word and Baptism do not. Frankly, I wonder if the warnings seem fewer and less starkly worded in our day because we think it sounds too superstitious. I hope not.

Please keep up the good work on the blog -- and please be careful with that "not in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice" talk. Them's fightin' words! ;-)


Joseph Schmidt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Christopher S. Doerr said...

Dear Intrepid Lutherans,

A few questions about the continued assertion that less-than-weekly communion equals unfaithfulness to the Lutheran confessions...

1) Is this indeed still your position?

2) Have you read the refutation of this position from the 1953 WLQ, reprinted and reaffirmed by Prof. John Brug in his Summer, 2010, WLQ article "Historical Postscript on Every Sunday Communion"? If so, why do you continue in this position?

3) Would you agree that, according to the logic by which the descriptions of weekly communion in the Confessions are turned into requirements, one could also say that to be faithful to the Confessions every pastor must begin and end every day by blessing himself with the holy cross and then repeating the Creed and the Lord's Prayer and must say the Lord's Prayer before and after every meal, as the Small Catechism says? These are not simply descriptions of 16th century practice, but are stated as commands for every Lutheran head of household, what they should (German, "soll") do. One would then add the same kind of caveat that IL adds when talking about weekly communion: we are not imposing new laws on anyone, just asking people to be honest about whether they are being faithful to the Confessions or ignoring them.

Please note that I am not speaking either for or against weekly communion. I am simply addressing what seems to be the ongoing assertion of Intrepid Lutherans that I and my congregation are being unfaithful to the Lutheran confessions because we don't at this time have weekly communion. I look forward to your reply.

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr
Grace Evangelical Lutheran (?) Church, Waupun, WI

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr said...

Just a note on the Walking Together sermon--I think part of the difficulty was preaching on only Rev. 14:6. I used the same theme "The Gospel Is Flying" but included 14:7 as well. Under the words "give him glory" from 14:7 I had good opportunity, I thought, to address and apply sola gratia to my people. (i.e., any thinking that we contribute at all to our salvation is not giving God all the glory) Not saying that my sermon was perfect, but I surely have a good conscience about it.

Also, I understand there are downsides to showing the video between verses of the sermon hymn: one advantage was that it enabled me to refer back to the video several times in my sermon. My members said that we presented it all in a way that it definitely did not come across as a "Go Synod!" commercial or a "Give money!" commercial.

C. Doerr

Anonymous said...

I think it says a lot about the sorry state of Lutheranism in America that Lutheran pastors feel the need to defend the practice of less than weekly Communion. It's almost as if they're saying, "I withhold Christ's body and blood from my people every other week, and I'm proud of it! Don't you dare criticize me."

Frankly, it doesn't matter a whole lot to me what the Reformers did or didn't do. What matters to me is that Christ offers me his own body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins. Why in the world would I not want to receive such a wondrous thing every week?

Mr. Adam Peeler

Daniel Baker said...

I think the better question is, Mr. Peeler, why would our pastors want to withhold this Means of Grace every week? Of what benefit to the Body of Christ is not receiving the Sacrament as often as possible?

Unless, of course, our pastors - like I fear is true of much of the laity - are beginning to not see the meaning, importance, and application of the Sacrament in "modern" life.

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Daniel wrote, "...why would our pastors want to withhold the Means of Grace every week?"

Be careful in assigning ALL blame here to the pastors. Pastors are not to be tyrants who dictate every decision to their people. We are brothers who speak the truth in love, sometimes forcefully, yes, but sometimes also in a winsome and wooing way, properly attempting to apply Law and Gospel to the situation.

Is it true that in some places it's the pastor who is the driving force behind a less frequent celebration of the Supper? Yes.

Is it also true that in some places it's the congregation that is the driving force behind a less frequent celebration of the Supper? Yes.

I take to heart Luther's words in the Catechism about avoiding a new slaughter of souls by making laws about the Sacrament. Is it pastoral to just say, "Hey, we're having the Lord's Supper every week whether you want it or not." Maybe in some places, yes, that is the way to handle it. And maybe at some times if the motivation for not having it is clearly stubborn, prideful, or sinful.

On the other hand, it's also good to make haste slowly. Didn't Luther himself allow the practice of distributing the sacrament in one kind to remain for a short time in Wittenberg for the sake of consciences? (Note the phrase, "short time," I am aware that a day came when he said, "Enough.")

On the other hand, I also take to heart the truth that the Sacrament is a precious gift of life to us, food that nourishes, and I eat physical food often (three or more times a day!). Here is my Savior, given for me, for the forgiveness of sins, how can I say no to this gift?

And so, in my heart of hearts, I desire to receive and to distribute the Sacrament more frequently.

So I preach it and teach it and encourage it and discuss it. I find opportunities to make it more available (we have made it a part of Christmas Day and Easter in recent years; also on our Festival of the Augsburg Confession, Confirmation, any midweek Lent/Advent services in which it falls in the normal schedule).

In a brief ministry, this has yielded more and greater frequency. Some who came just once a month, now come twice or more. More services throughout the year offer the Lord's Supper. More people, more often ask for it privately when they miss an offering.

Trees grow slowly, but they do grow when nurtured with the food and water of life.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Doerr,

I'll only respond briefly to your questions now, and will comment further in the very near future in a post on this subject.

For now, please don't become defensive. No one has asserted that you or your congregation are being unfaithful, or that you are not Lutherans or confessional Lutherans.

You seem to think that the WLQ article you quoted is a refutation of our position. On the contrary, the essay by Pr. Wegner summarizes beautifully our position and will be the subject of one of those future posts. We agree with both his reasoning and with his spirit, both throughout the original essay and in his subsequent postscript.

Although he says it better, I don't think we've said anything different, for example, than what Pr. Wegner said,

"How tragically far we have fallen away from that practice which our confessional writings set forth as the normal Lutheran practice! Is it not time to ask ourselves whether we are doing all that our Lord expected of us when He gave us the Sacrament and said: 'This do'? Can you think of any reason even remotely suggested in the Bible why our congregations should not celebrate the Lord's Supper at each regular service?..." (emphasis in the original)

As you say, Prof. Brug reprinted and reaffirmed Pr. Wegner's essay.

There is, of course, much more to his argument and to his plea to the pastors of our synod than is included in that quote. More on that soon.

Joe Krohn said...

All of the discussion about Lord's Supper is good. I think it can be summed up in two questions as it is with most things we do as Confessional Lutherans in the area of adiophora. I call it that because Communion is not necessary for salvation. We must remember that. But the two questions I refer to are: "Why would you...?" or "Why wouldn't you...?" I think these questions apply here and I don't think anyone is pointing fingers. It comes down to what the motivation is.

I would like to see more discussion on the sermon. Especially the statements: "Your sins are forgiven. So are your neighbor’s sins."

If I and my neighbor are Christians and have asked for forgiveness, I don't have a problem with these statements. However if one or neither of us are Christians nor are we repentant and the sermon writer believes the statements to still be true, we are in trouble as a synod. NOWHERE in the Bible does it say that sin is forgiven aside from repentance.

Joe Krohn

Rev Dale M. Reckzin said...

An illustration in favor of weekly Communion for your consideration.

Let's say there is a family in your congregation that comes to church every other week. They never deviate from this practice. You ask them, "So, why don't you come to church every Sunday? Are you out of town?"

They reply, "No, we're at home. We just sleep in or sometimes we watch TV."

You ask them, "Why don't you come to church every weekend?"

They reply, "Well, pastor, don't get all legalistic on us. There is no passage in the New Testament that commands us to come to church every Sunday."

They're right. There is no NT command to gather for worship every Sunday. They are stll members in good standing. They are not subjects of discipline.

But wouldn't you really want them in church every Sunday?

So, by analogy, while we certainly wouldn't say any parish that had bi-weekly communion was less than Confessional Lutheran, why wouldn't a Confessional Lutheran parish want to celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly?

Just something more to think about.


Rev. Dale M. Reckzin

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

You know, if we went back to requiring private confession and absolution before communion, we'd never have to worry about explaining our closed communion practices again! ;)

(We'd just have to explain our requirement of private confession …)

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Joe Krohn:

[Please forgive me if I err in understanding your comments above; but I'd rather err by saying something you already know than err by leaving it unsaid.]

You said: "If I and my neighbor are Christians and have asked for forgiveness, I don't have a problem with these statements. However if one or neither of us are Christians nor are we repentant and the sermon writer believes the statements to still be true, we are in trouble as a synod. NOWHERE in the Bible does it say that sin is forgiven aside from repentance."

This is perhaps not the thread for this kind of discussion, but what you're talking about here is the distinction between objective and subjective justification. We always need to tread very carefully here, because if we deny the objective (or universal, or general) effect and significance of Christ's work, we diminish the gospel in a horrible way. [This issue has a long -- and not entirely pleasant -- history in American confessional Lutheranism, especially in the WELS.]
[Ask your pastor or a trusted WELS source for more information. Most definitely do not ask for or trust the answers of someone who only wishes to bash the WELS.]

But this isn't the place for a drawn-out discussion of the issue. Just consider one verse: John 1:29 -- "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Maybe John the Baptist didn't use the word "forgive" here, but he clearly connects Christ with the removal of all the world's sins. So yes, that means my sins are forgiven, your sins are forgiven, and my neighbor's sins are forgiven in Christ.

But that forgiveness doesn't do me, you, or my neighbor any good without faith -- and with faith, there will, of course, be repentance.

Now … all that being said … the lines from the sermon Pastor Rydecki and you draw attention to … blur the distinction between objective and subjective justification. To speak in one sentence of having our names written in the book of life and then, with just one sentence in-between, to say that your neighbor's sins are forgiven is going to confuse people at best.

I think the author was just being sloppy -- I doubt that he personally has any misunderstanding on justification and forgiveness. But the sermon, as written, does indeed jump from "You have the assurance of forgiveness because you are a chosen and redeemed child of God" to "Forgiveness is a gift God wants everyone to have, so he has entrusted it to his messengers to share with you and your neighbor and the whole world" without pause or qualification.

I'm not saying I've never written or said something without proper precision, but that's what I see going on here. It's just that this is a point of doctrine on which precision is particularly important.

Daniel Baker said...

Pastor Samelson,

I am no expert, so I don't claim to have all the answers. But I wonder, wouldn't it be better to use confessional/biblical terms for objective justification (like atonement), rather than the current terminology that obviously leaves room for confusion? Scripture clearly talks of "receiving" the forgiveness of sins through the Holy Spirit's work of faith. I think it would be better to stick with that definition of forgiveness, rather than speaking in language that sounds like blanket pardon.

But like I said, I do not have extensive training in these matters. I have much more studying to do before I draw any lines in the sand, as it were. Just my current thoughts on the matter.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...


You're correct when you say of the Sacraments that "they are not necessary for salvation," but I would like to offer some qualification and clarification of that statement -- not to pick on you, since I see that Rev. Samelson has already addressed another point you made, but to use this statement as reason for discussing the necessity of the sacraments. As the question of communion frequency began heating up in this thread, I started rereading some of Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent, focusing on some of the sections dealing with the sacraments. Martin Chemnitz, as I'm sure you know, rose to leadership in the generation of Lutherans immediately following Luther, serving as chief author of the Formula of Concord, compiling the Book of Concord, and returning unity to Lutheranism under common public confession, which had become fractured after the death of Luther. As you may also know, the Roman Catholic counter-reformation began in earnest with the convening of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), just shortly before Luther's death, which addressed the doctrinal claims of the Reformation Lutherans and other protestants, by issuing sweeping condemnation of practically every non-Roman distinctive of Reformation Christianity. Martin Chemnitz's Examen was the detailed Lutheran rebuttal to the Council's Cannon's and decrees, and to this day serves as the starting point for discussion between Rome and confessional Lutheranism, should genuine doctrinal discussion ever be entertained.

Anyway, in Volume 2 of Chemnitz's Examen, he admits that the Sacraments are not necessary for obtaining salvation, but are necessary for maintaining it. I quote (at length, so please bear with me...):

The things which are necessary for salvation must be distinguished, as Christ meriting it, the Father governing, the instruments of sacraments of the Word and of the sacraments through which the Holy Spirit offers, conveys, seals, increases, and confirms those benefits of the New Testament in the believers, and finally faith, which lays hold of those benefits. Each of these is ordained in its own way and in its own place for our salvation. And just as it does not follow: The sacraments are necessary salvation, therefore Christ has not alone acquired it for us by His merit; so also it does not follow: The sacraments are necessary for salvation, therefore we do not receive the grace of justification by faith alone. Neither has any sane man ever understood justification by faith alone in such a way, as if God, the merit of Christ, and the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments were excluded from justification. No, on the contrary, in justification faith seeks, lays hold of, and accepts the grace of God on account of the merit of the Son, the Mediator; and these things it seeks and accepts through the Ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, and it knows that through these means the Holy spirit will to work effectively. However, Scripture asserts that to seek, to apprehend, and to accept these benefits belongs solely to faith. It is therefore manifest how sophistical it is to set the necessity of the sacraments in opposition to justification by faith alone...

Continued in next post...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous post

When the issue is shaped this way, the explanation will not be difficult, and it will profitably remind us of many things that excite in our minds true reverence for the sacraments. However, it depends on a consideration of the teaching as to why God added sacraments to the promise of the Gospel. For God, who ordained the satisfaction of His Son, the Mediator, that it should merit and obtain our salvation; who also ordained that faith should be our hand, as it were, by which we may reach for, lay hold of, and accept the grace of God in Christ -- the same God also ordained a certain means or instrument by which He wills to offer and confer the benefits of the Son, the Mediator, for our salvation, in order that faith may have and know a certain means in which it can seek and obtain grace and salvation.

Such a means or instrument of God is the Word of the Gospel when it is preached, heard, meditated upon, and apprehended by faith... Now, surely, since God through the Word offers and conveys, faith in the word also apprehends and receives, not something that is only a half, and insufficient, but the grace which is necessary for salvation, so that the Gospel may be "the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." There arises then the question what the use of the sacraments is, or for what reasons God by His own institution added the external rites of the sacraments to the promise of the Gospel. And indeed there are many men, some fanatics, some wicked, who both think and proclaim that the use of the sacraments is superfluous and not necessary. The souls also of the godly are often tried by thoughts like these: "Since God through the Word offers and conveys all things that are necessary for salvation, and since faith can find and lay hold of them in the Word, what need is there of sacraments? Therefore the use of the sacraments could be neglected without the loss of salvation."

Rightly do we reply from the Word of God in opposition to such temptations or clamors of the fanatics that the sacraments, which God Himself instituted that they should be aids to our salvation, are by no means to be judged either as useless of superfluous, so that they could be safely neglected or despised. For Augustine rightly says, ..."The power of the sacraments is unspeakable great, and therefore it makes those who despise them guilty of sacrilege. For something is being wickedly despised without which godliness cannot be perfected."

...[W]hen faith declares that the promise of God is true in general, it is worried chiefly about the question of whether it also pertians to me personally. Therefore God, who is rich in mercy, that He might show and commend to us the riches of His goodness, did not want to exhibit His grace to us in one way only, namely by the bare Word, but He willed to assist our infirmity through certain aids, namely through the sacraments which He instituted and joined to the promise of the Gospel, that is, through certain signs, rites, or ceremonies which meet the senses, that by means of them He might impress upon us, instruct, and make certain that what we perceive as being done outwardly in a visible manner in inwardly effected in us by the strength and power of God; for as the Word enters our ears and toughes the hearts, so the rite of the sacrament enters the eyes that it may move the hearts, that we may not doubt that God is dealing with us and wills to be efficacious in us for salvation according to His Word. For through the Word, and through the external signs instituted by Himself, He is wont to deal with men... Therefore God instituted the sacraments to be external and visible signs and pledges of the grace and will of God toward us, by which, as through a glorious visible testimony, He testifies that the promise belongs to those individuals who embrace it by faith as they use the sacraments...

Continued in next post...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous post

In this way the sacraments are for us signs strengthening our faith in the promise of the Gospel; with respect to God they are instruments or means through which God in the Word, by His power and working, conveys, applies, seals, confirms, increases, and preserves the grace of the Gospel promise to those who believe... This teaching extols the dignity of the sacraments and kindles true reverence for their use. It is from these bases that the explanation of the question which is before us is taken. For how could pious ears bear or give heed to those profane statements that the sacraments are superfluous, and that they can safely be despised and neglected without the loss of salvation, when it is certain from the Word of God that God instituted them to aid our weakness and that, in order that He might show the riches of His goodness for procuring our salvation, He himself instituted sacraments or means that through them, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, our faith, no matter how feeble and infirm, might be able to lay hold of grace and retain it, sealed to salvation and eternal life? The sacraments are therefore necessary both by reason of the weakness of our faith, for which aids of this kind are necessary, and by reason of the divine institution, because God instituted them for this purpose and to this end, that He might through them convey, apply, and seal the Mediator's benefits to believers for salvation. These things are neither useless nor superfluous, but necessary.

In this sense we gladly grant that the sacraments are necessary for salvation, namely, as the instrumental cause. Nevertheless, this declaration must be added, that the sacraments are not so absolutely necessary for salvation as are faith and the Word. For without faith no one can be saved; and without the Word there can be no true faith. Therefore, he who does not have the Word of God cannot be saved, because he cannot receive faith. But whoever already has the true and justifying faith through the hearing of the Word, though he has by faith accepted the reconciliation, will not in any way despise the use of the sacraments for the above reasons. Or if he despises it, his faith is not true, for it does not retain its essential quality, which consists in the mutual relation of the Word and faith, namely, that faith seeks and apprehends the word of promise wherever God sets it forth by His institution.

Chemnitz, M. (1978). Examination of the Council of Trent (Vol. 2; F. Kramer, Trans.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishiing House. (Original work published in sections, 1565-1573). pp. 61-68.

In the last paragraph quoted above, Chemnitz distinguishes between the necessity of the sacraments and the absolute necessity of the Word. C.P. Krauth uses this same language in a discussion of Baptism, referring to the preaching of the Word as necessary in the absolute sense, and baptism (or the sacraments) as necessary in the ordinary sense. Chemnitz also follows from this point to discuss those with faith who nevertheless remained without opportunity to use the sacraments before death, in which case they cannot be said to have despised the sacraments no have their faith held up to question. For those with the opportunity, the same cannot be said.

Without dictating frequency, or fixing times and places, as the SC and LC would caution us from doing, I will offer the following observation: it seems to me to be the product of a "Theology of Glory" which is rampant in pop-Christianity today, if not preached among us on occasion, that would cause us to think that our faith is so strong that we don't need the regular and frequent aid of the sacraments, as Chemnitz describes. With respect to our faith, we are weaklings, as Christ reminded His disciples frequently, even if we don't realize it.

Just trying to help...

Douglas Lindee

WELS church lady said...

"Just trying to help." Yes, Thank you Mr. Lindee.

"For without faith no one can be be saved; and without the Word there can be no true faith. Therefore, he who does not have the Word of God cannot be saved, because he cannot receive faith. But who ever already has true and justifying faith through the hearing of the Word, though he has by faith accepted the reconciliation...."

In response to Pastor Samelson, you CANNOT seperate the Word from the Holy Spirit. It is called Enthusiam(look into it!) Enthusiast(s)-From Greek for "one possessed by a god." The Lutheran Confessions use this term to describe fanatics who believed that god spoke to them without the Holy Scriptures and would save them without the means of grace.(definition taken from Comcordia The Lutheran Confessions-2005 CPH)

Pastor Samelson requests that Joe Krohn ask a WELS Pastor. Let me tell you, "I have been there and done that." I asked one Pastor about UOJ and he said, "Where did you hear something like that?" This same pastor only used the term 'universal justfication' and acted like he never heard of UOJ.(hum?) A second pastor laughed, shook his head, and said that there are too many takes on this doctrine within the WELS. He laughed at a 'certain' 2005 WELS Convention essay. The essay refered to 'other' teachings of this doctrine within the WELS, as a "mishmash." How about some of the other things that I have read about? Kokomo!!(aka guilt free saints in hell) Worse, is that my aunt is seeking membership to a Community Church that calls Communion an ordinance. Like her, non-Lutherans do not understand the means of grace.

So yes, Mr. Lindee's Chemnitz quote discusses the sacrement of communion and justification by faith. That being said, I do admire Pastor Samelson's confessional stance. He has commented on some of the other confessional Lutheran blogs. Like all the other Intrepids, he is standing against apostasy. Just seeing all these WELS pastors positively comeenting on this blog, I say, "Praise be to God!"

One more thing. I am asking pastor "Garland TX" to get out of the Real-Time Feed Jet and start commenting on the blog. You told me that you were sleeping, so get some coffee because I'm sure everyone would like to hear from you. Pastor Tomczak, Harvey Dunn, and I did not sign-on as official Intrepid delegates from the DFW circuit. Toss in Joe Krohn and we have district representation.

In Christ,
Rebecca Quam

Joe Krohn said...


If you got the impression that I was downplaying the sacrament, I apologize. As I said...whether you increase or decrease the frequency you need to question the motive. Personally, I go whenever I can because I know I need it. My church does not offer it every week. If they did, I would go every week.

Pastor Samuelson,

I don't deny the objective work of Jesus on the cross. But let's call it what it is. There is a reason that the two justifications have a bad history. When we use words to describe that work such as justification, righteousness or forgiveness, we are trying to put a round peg in a square hole. That is why Wycliffe invented the word atonement because there was no word in English that accurately describes the work of the cross. Those words don't work separately or in combination. There is no maybe about what words John the Baptist chose. What he said fits with atonement. Jesus takes away the sin of the world. He died that all would be saved and his death makes salvation possible for all men. But none are forgiven unless they receive faith through hearing the word and repent of their sin. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus sets aside salvation for those who believe in his promises. How can anyone with a straight face say that the souls in hell have their sins forgiven and are justified? This is why the sin against the Holy Spirit is so damning. The hard heart denies the word and the messenger (Holy Spirit) that brings the good news of salvation. The Ministry of the Keys shows us how repentance and forgiveness work.

I have to disagree about this being the right place. It needs to be discussed and as long as the Intrepid Lutherans provide a platform for discussion and call attention to these matters, we should take advantage of it. There should be no sloppiness when it comes to a sermon coming from synod. I think it exposes symptoms of a bigger problem. To me this notion of an objective justification on all of mankind hints at universalism.

Respectfully Submitted,

Joe Krohn

Joe Krohn said...

My apologies, Pastor Samelson for misspelling your name.

Joe Krohn

Joel said...

Have you shut down comments because of an argument about UOJ?!?!?! To my mind, this is the dumbest debate that has ever raged in Lutherandom. I say that because what the opponents of UOJ say is the "truth" (universal atonement vs. universal objective justification) is so close to UOJ that it is a distinction without a difference. Have the Intrepid Lutherans grown tepid over this stupid argument?
--Joel Lillo

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Lillo,

Nice to have you back!

I'm not sure what you mean about shutting down comments. It's been ages since we rejected any comments. We're putting through the ones that come and allowing the discussion to continue.

Brett Meyer said...

Joel Lillo, please post a link to where the (W)ELS' official confession concerning the doctrine of Universal Objective Justification can be found. This way the specific doctrinal details can be discussed without reservation. Hopefully it is a confession in the style of the Lutheran Confessions with, this we believe and this we reject. It is the (W)ELS' cental doctrine after all.
If such a confessional document doesn't exist, please link the universally accepted essay from the Lutheran church fathers detailing UOJ.
If there isn't one that is universally accepted, please link the modern equivalent that is universally accepted.
If that doesn't exist please link the confessional UOJ document that you accept without reservation.

Thank you,
Brett Meyer

Joel Lillo said...


I don't want to get into an argument with you. Frankly, I don't think it's worth arguing about. From all I've read about this debate, you and I are in agreement about this issue. We both agree that when Jesus died on the cross, he paid for all of the sins of the world. I just think that it is not unbiblical to refer to it in terms of justification and you do think it is unbiblical. I trust that you are a believer in Jesus and have this justification as a posession because of Jesus' work and I hope you can think of me as a brother in Christ because God has led me to believe in this through holy Baptism and has sustained this faith through his Word. That's really the important thing. What theologians call this is secondary.

--Joel Lillo
Retiring from I.L. once again!

Brett Meyer said...

Joel, thanks for your reply. I was just looking for confessional documentation for UOJ in order to have a fruitful discussion and not an argument. After years of study on the doctrine of Justification, the doctrine of Universal Objective Justification and discussions with laity and clergy of the ELS, WELS, CLC, LCMS I am convinced that there is a chasm between Justification as declared by Scripture and the Confessions and the doctrine of UOJ in all it's forms and expressions. I would like to say we are brothers in Christ, but unless we exchange words which clarify each others confession concerning the ultimate clarity of God's Word, the one true doctrine, I cannot determine if we are brothers in Christ. As a member of the (W)ELS you stand by the (W)ELS confession of Justification in This We Believe then I can say we are not. I see that Pastor Spencer has posted that document as the universally accepted (W)ELS confession of UOJ and will hopefully continue the discussion there. I would urge you not to retire from these discussions. They are an opportunity to discuss the efficacy and clarity of God's pure Word in the Words and doctrines that He has given His Church and in His gracious mercy and loving kindness He promises to always work through these Words alone to the benefit of anyone who by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, reads, marks, learns and inwardly digests them.

Joel Lillo said...

In the words of George H.W. Bush (as immitated by Dana Carvey): "Na ga do!"

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.
Revelation 22:21.(NIV)

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Rebecca Quam, aka "WELS Church Lady":

I apologize for my tardiness in responding to this point (I don't visit this site regularly, and don't have time for engaging in these discussions).

You did say something that I wanted to respond to, however - and it's not about (U)OJ.

You said:
"Pastor Samelson requests that Joe Krohn ask a WELS Pastor. Let me tell you, "I have been there and done that." I asked one Pastor about UOJ and he said, "Where did you hear something like that?" This same pastor only used the term 'universal justfication' and acted like he never heard of UOJ.(hum?) A second pastor laughed, shook his head, and said that there are too many takes on this doctrine within the WELS. He laughed at a 'certain' 2005 WELS Convention essay. "

What happened after this? I ask, because as a pastor I'll tell you what I would want you to have done: Say something to the effect of "That's not helping me much, Pastor X. I really want to know about this, because it seems like an important issue and if it's not, I need to know why it's not. Could you please do some more research and get back to me?"

I bring this up because there is a problem in the church at large, even within the WELS -- a problem which has been exponentially exacerbated by the internet -- of accepting the unacceptable from one's pastor and using that as an excuse to go pastor-shopping (if not actual church-shopping).

For a pastor to laugh off, minimize, or otherwise duck a serious doctrinal inquiry from one of his members is unacceptable, and it is good an proper for the sheep to hold their pastor accountable for such. In most cases all it takes is a request for more seriousness (as in my example above), but to simply treat it as "I guess going to my pastor here is a waste of time" is also unacceptable (I'm not saying that's what you did in this particular case, but it happens too often). The pastor's call to shepherd his flock is a divine call, with responsibilities incumbent both upon him and upon the members of the church.

What happens when church members "pastor-shop"? Something about "itching ears" comes to mind, but even the most sincere and well-intentioned "shoppers" can be taken in by men (who might themselves be sincere and well-intentioned) who are all too willing to say, "Oh, you were mistreated. Oh, the reason you didn't get a straight answer is because there is none, and they're trying to hide it. Here's what's really going on, and what the truth really is …" and the errant sheep is seduced by the erring shepherd.

Again, I'm not saying this is what happened in your specific case, but your comments brought this problem to mind and I felt it worth addressing. There's much more to say here, but I don't think I have time to say it! :)

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