Saturday, September 24, 2011

Communion Exhortations from the Lutheran Confessions

Pastor Webber's recent quotation of St. Ambrose from the Lutheran Confessions reminded me of another of his quotes that I use to encourage our members in their attendance of the Lord's Supper. The quotes below run in rotation each Sunday in the bulletin. Yes, each Sunday, because we celebrate the blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion every Lord's Day and on each Feast Day of the Christian Church, as has been the historic and consistent practice in Christ's Church since Apostolic times. More about that next week. Enjoy!

Pastor Spencer

Communion Exhortations from the Lutheran Confessions

“The Holy Sacrament was not instituted to make provision for a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has already taken place – but to awaken our faith and comfort our consciences, when we perceive that through the Sacrament grace and forgiveness of sin are promised us by Christ. Accordingly, the Sacrament requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain. Consequently, the Mass is to be used to this end, that the Sacrament is administered to those who have need of consolation. So St. Ambrose said, ‘Because I always sin, I ought always take this medicine.’” (Book of Concord, Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, The Mass, paragraph 30 of the Latin and 31 of the German)

“The remembrance of Christ is not the vain celebration of a show or a celebration for the sake of example, the way plays celebrate the memory of Hercules or Ulysses. It is rather the remembrance of Christ’s blessings and the acceptance of them by faith, so that they make us alive. A faith that acknowledges mercy makes alive. The principle use of the sacrament is to make clear that terrified consciences are the ones worthy of it, and how they ought to use it.” (Book of Concord, Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV – The Mass, paragraphs 72 & 73)

“Who, then, receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are a good external discipline, but he is truly worthy and well prepared who believes these words: ‘for you,’ and ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’On the other hand, he who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require truly believing hearts.” Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Part VI – The Sacrament of the Altar, Question Four)

“We must never regard the Sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Here in the Sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.” (Book of Concord, Dr. Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, Part V – The Sacrament of the Altar, paragraphs 68 & 70)

“We believe, teach, and confess that the entire worthiness of the guests at this heavenly feast is and consists solely and alone in the most holy obedience and complete merit of Christ, which we make our own through genuine faith and of which we are assured through the Sacrament. Worthiness consists not at all in our own virtues or in our internal and external preparations." (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article VII – The Holy Supper of Christ, Affirmative Statement #10)

“True and worthy communicants are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity who perceive their weakness in faith; deplore it, and heartily wish they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience. This most venerable Sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” (Book of Concord, Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article VII – The Holy Supper, paragraphs 69 & 70)


Anonymous said...

Pastor Webber: What should a person do whose been denied the Sacrament by his pastor (and the local DP) for objecting to the notion that 'all people are forgiven before they are born"?

Pastor Spencer: Do you believe that if a WELS pastor denies a WELS member communion he is, in effect, saying that the person is outside of Grace, and unrepentant of sin, and without repentance for the sin in question, is damned?

Pastor Rydecki: According to Lutheran Orthodox teaching, what is the effect or result on a Pastor who misuses the office of the keys--namely, one who declares someone to be outside of grace and withholds the Sacrament from someone-- when that someone did nothing wrong, but rather proclaimed and defended truth.

I would like your opinion of the Joe Krohn situation, because we are not only talking about the dreadful shame that is the Krohns leaving the WELS, but we are also talking about a few pastors and laymen at Holy Word who I believe should be approached and encouraged to repent.

David Kreuter

Pastor Spencer said...

Thanks for your questions, David. You asked me -

"Do you believe that if a WELS pastor denies a WELS member communion he is, in effect, saying that the person is outside of Grace, and unrepentant of sin, and without repentance for the sin in question, is damned?"

In a word, no.

But I should explain. I said no because, in most cases I have observed or been told about, the WELS Pastor freely allows and often actually encourages the person they no longer wish to commune to go to another WELS or ELS (or LCMS) church down the road for spiritual care, including the reception of the Lord's Supper. Now, how could a WELS Pastor encourage or even allow such an action on the part of the person they no longer wish to commune, if they believed that such a person was, to quote you, "outside of Grace, and unrepentant of sin, and without repentance for the sin in question, is damned?"!? Such would be inconsistent in the extreme, and even make them wolves instead of shepherds. I'm sure that's not true.

The fact is, from my experience of 30 years in the WELS ministry, excommunications like you describe are more rare than hen's teeth in our synod. We simply don't do that very much at all, anywhere, ever. Whether we should do more of such is not the issue. The issue is that some WELS Pastors remove members, or have them removed, or force them out, or invite them to leave, etc..., for reasons clearly less serious than those requiring true excommunication in the classic Scriptural historic sense.

So, I'm not really sure if my reply truly "answered" your question. Perhaps it’s a good thing that some WELS Pastors aren't actually consigning people to hell when they refuse them communion. On the other hand, it's certainly not a good thing when WELS Pastors, or any Pastors for that matter, shoo away their own sheep, sometimes for no other reason than to get them to stop "bothering" them with questions about their doctrine and practice. I'd hate to think that my brother WELS Pastors are that thin-skinned and unresponsive, but such may just be the case.

Thanks again for your questions.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Thank you Pastor Spencer. In truth I asked a question in a confusing way. Lemme try to do better.

Let's take the case of Joe Krohn, who is no longer welcome to commune at his church. Now, it was not his choice, but the churches choice to "unwelcome" him from the Sacrament. Now, whatever you call that, or however it came about, the Pastor and Elders have made a judgment, and according to Orthodox Lutheran Doctrine, the only reason to make that judgment is because of unrepentant sin. So, regardless of whether they call it "excommunication" or "breaking fellowship", if the communicant has no choice in the matter, or is pressured into leaving, it IS a statement of judgment. And what does it mean to be unrepentant, except outside Grace, and therefore damned?

A similar case happened to my grandmother. She objected to her pastor's divorce and remarriage, claiming that a overseer oughta be a man of one wife. After much conversation ...her pastor... played the same card as Joe's pastor. He didn't excommunicate her, but he refused to give her communion. He went so far as to blacklist my grandmother from all the conservative LCMS churches in the area. That's when she joined the WELS.

Isn't the pastor making a de facto judgment of a person's eternal state in such circumstances? I thought that Lutheran Doctrine teaches us that we deny someone the Sacraments out of love--because we want them to repent and return to grace.

David Kreuter

Pastor Spencer said...

Hello again David,

You wrote -

". . . according to Orthodox Lutheran Doctrine, the only reason to make that judgment (no longer welcome to commune) is because of unrepentant sin."

Again, that may well be. But my point was and remains that Pastors and churches "unwelcome" members from communion for other reasons. I'm not saying those reasons are correct or proper or justified, etc...., only that they exist, both in the minds of such Pastors and their Elders/Council, and in the minds of the people.

Obviously, you have a narrow - and in my opinion, correct - understanding of when and why members should be excluded from the Lord's Supper. That speaks well of you and your Lutheran catechization. However, others, both Pastors and Elders/Councilmen, unfortunately do not always have such an understanding.

Now, if the Pastor actually says or writes publicly that in their view the person is guilty of unrepentant sin, then that is another matter. There I would wholeheartedly agree that the Pastor is indeed saying that such a person is no longer in a state of grace and is going to hell. But, again, I am personally unaware of such statements being made very often, if at all, in recent years.

Thus, I stand by my previous answer that those Pastors and churchmen who exclude members from Holy Communion do not always intend to convey the idea to them or to anyone else that such people are unrepentant sinners and outside God's grace.

This is one reason, among others, why Circuit Pastors may need to be brought into such situations, and also why they need to constantly monitor the practices of the Pastors and churches in their Circuits.

I lament what certainly looks like Pastors and their churchmen wielding attendance at our Lord's Supper as a kind of weapon with which to strike at those they seek to silence. That such instances should not happen in an otherwise orthodox confessional Lutheran Church, should go without saying. Sadly, however, they do happen. More's the pity. We must ever strive to reduce and hopefully eliminate such events!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Okay, I get ya. Before, I didn't understand that you were delineating between how it oughta be and how it is.

But I think, going beyond my initial question, that if we discover a pastor who withholds the Sacrament for reasons other than unrepentance, that pastor oughta be censured himself, and held accountable. The Ministry of the Keys is not some abstract concept and it's use is not inconsequential. I'm no theological expert and even I know that throughout Christian History withholding the Sacrament has been a statement of someone's eternal un-wellbeing. (to put it mildly)
David Kreuter

Pastor Spencer said...


You'll get no argument from me that Pastors who engage in improper practice should be "held accountable." I've been arguing for this since 1980! Sometimes such is carried out. But far too seldom in my opinion.

Take care and God bless!

Pastor Spencer

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Actually, I'll interject here that I think there are legitimate times when a WELS pastor would not commune a WELS member besides reasons of clear impenitence.

Our Confessions speak of admitting people to the Sacrament after they have been "examined." That doesn't necessarily mean just once in their life, nor does it mean an examination before every communion. If we remove all pastoral oversight of the Sacrament by insisting that "once confirmed, always prepared" to commune, then we are doing a disservice to the pastoral office.

So, David, without referring to the specific situation you mentioned, I would say that there could very likely arise a situation in which a pastor was not ready to accuse a soul under his care of impenitence, but in which there arose some question of the person's confession or a question of the person's repentance that caused the pastor to seek a reexamination of the person before admitting him/her to the Sacrament.

I think we've done ourselves and our members a great disservice by our practice of once-in-a-lifetime examination. As Luther said, that may well be sufficient for some people. But it's not sufficient for everyone, yet it has become so standard that few pastors could get away with insisting on a reexamination - under any circumstances.

What's happened in Joe's case is that a real doctrinal dispute had arisen between him and his pastors. I wouldn't fault his pastors for telling him that, for a limited time period, he may not commune while this issue was being discussed, since his confession seems to be at odds with that of his pastors. But that would then have to be followed up with urgent, frequent, deep and substantial doctrinal discussions of the issue at hand. It seems like Joe was more than willing to discuss things, both privately and publicly.

Post a Comment

Comments will be accepted or rejected based on the sound Christian judgment of the moderators.

Since anonymous comments are not allowed on this blog, please sign your full name at the bottom of every comment, unless it already appears in your identity profile.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License