Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Confessional Unity: Part 4

The Evangelical Lutheran Church (not “of America” as in ELCA) stands on the 1580 Book of Concord, 10 confessions of faith that are official explanations and summaries of what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod “subscribes” to all 10 confessional statements of the Book of Concord, most notably the “unaltered” Augsburg Confession of 1530, and stands alongside other Lutheran church bodies with similar doctrine and practice.
At ordination, Missouri Synod pastors take a vow of unconditional subscription with the Lutheran Confessions; in this way pastors, along with laypeople who confess the Small Catechism, are able to say that what they believe is the truth of God’s Word. And Zion Lutheran Church, as a Missouri Synod congregation, follows suit (per Article III of our constitution)—like the Synod, we subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions because they agree with Scripture; some other Lutheran bodies, unfortunately, subscribe insofar as they agree with the Word of God.
Within our congregation and Synod, confessional subscription is the very foundation of confessional unity—and nowhere else in the life of the church are believers united in confession than at the Communion rail; and there is no greater reminder of confessional unity than the chalice, better known as the “common cup,” upon the altar (other than, perhaps, the Cross over it). The doctrine behind this vessel is fundamental. Christ Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper in the close fellowship of His disciples. And He used one cup, not many, at the Last Supper.
In all four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Christ took a single cup, gave thanks, and instructed the disciples to drink from it: Matthew 26:27-28, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25.
Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent, there will be a chalice on the altar during the Lord’s Supper to be used during the Words of Institution, to serve as a reminder of confessional unity. Does this mean, then, that individual cups are incompatible with Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper? Absolutely not. The Sacrament is Christ’s body and blood, given orally together with bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins.
And the Missouri Synod’s policy with regard to the use of either the common cup or individual cups is that in the absence of a specific Scriptural mandate, either method of distribution, when performed in a reverent manner, is acceptable.
When we approach the altar and kneel at the rail together, we are confessing our faith silently (as well as publicly), both vertically to Christ and horizontally to each other, that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament and that through faith we receive His true Body and Blood. Whether in one cup or many cups, the wine is the blood of Christ, poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Until next month, may the Lord bless you and keep you!
Pastor E.B.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Confessional Unity: Part 3

Among Lutherans—nay, among Christians—the very cornerstone of confessional unity is the Sacrament of the Altar. We in the Missouri Synod believe and teach that our doctrine and practice is guided by God’s Word, and when we consider Communion, one question punctuates our understanding of “confessional unity”:
Who is invited to the Lord’s Supper?
Perhaps the answer can be found in a different question: Who is not invited to the Lord’s Supper?
I read a paper by a Lutheran pastor which makes the point that “Jesus nowhere commands the church to invite everyone to this Supper. The gospel, the good news, we are to preach in all the world. And regarding baptism Jesus says, ‘Baptize all nations.’ Never, however, does he say: ‘Give my body and blood to everyone.’ It was instituted in the close fellowship of the twelve. It is not for everyone. The Lord has to tell us under what circumstances or to whom this sacrament is a blessing.” And so He did, through the Apostle Paul, whose exhortation in 1 Corinthians is the law of the Communion rail, so to speak:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ESV)
But how does confessional unity fit into Paul’s exhortation about (un)worthiness? The church in Corinth was not Roman Catholic, nor Lutheran, nor any other denomination or sect. Paul’s letter was addressed to “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 1 ESB), the Christian Church.
Luther wrote that “those who are cold and careless, who use Christian freedom as a cover for their disinterest with respect to God; the impudent and wild, who discount their sins and grace” ought not to approach the altar. Such persons place their soul in peril by drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner.
Faith creates the desire to amend one’s sinful life. The repentant sinner who approaches the Lord’s Table in genuine faith does so, then, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Paul did not intend for the overseers of the church in Corinth to determine who was invited to Communion, but that right administration of the Sacrament requires oversight.
1 Corinthians 11 does not forbid anyone from the Lord’s Table. Communion is to be administered and received in conformity with our Confessions and God’s Word. By diligently ensuring that those who desire to approach the altar have been sufficiently instructed (with regard to Baptism, repentance, faith, self-examination, and confessional unity), our church—and our congregation—finds the answer to a question no longer needed to be asked: Who is invited to the Lord’s Supper?
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 4” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!
Pastor E.B.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Confessional Unity: Part 2

We in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod consider ourselves orthodox Lutherans, as we accept the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and we subscribe unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. There are other Lutherans in America who claim the same stance (such as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the 3rd largest Lutheran body), but other issues, such as type of hymnal, gender identity, roles of men and women in church, and form of church government, keep us apart. Why?
Lutherans in America grew to be the third-largest Protestant church group from 600,000 baptized in 1875 to more than 2 million by 1900, segregated mostly by ethnicity, rather than doctrine. But that would change as not only doctrine, but semantics would create a chasm between the two largest Lutheran church bodies in the U.S. in the 1920s, the more liberal United Lutheran Church of America (ULCA), with its roots in the Pennsylvania Ministerium of 1748 (and created through a series of mergers; through more mergers, it would eventually become a shadow of today’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA), and the Missouri Synod.
While there had been great hope and enthusiasm for a united Lutheran front in America, at least on the part of the ULCA, the controversy over doctrinal subscription would keep the notion of one united American Lutheran Church body beyond arm’s reach. Most of the midwestern Lutherans agreed to the use of the terms inerrant and infallible, both because they believed it correctly expressed the nature of biblical authority and because it brought them into harmony with the Missouri Synod on the issue. The ULCA and others resisted using these terms, and another Lutheran body at the time, the American Lutheran Church, used one, but not the other. The ULCA tried again in 1949 for national unity among the numerous Lutheran bodies, but to no avail.
A vivid example of the fence between the Missouri Synod and the largest American Lutheran body, the ELCA, comes directly from its website in these statements which they contend justifies their altar fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, The Moravian Church, and United Methodist Church:
“Full communion is when two denominations develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean the two denominations merge; rather, in reaching agreements, denominations also respect differences.”
I know, all of this perhaps presents our Synod as proprietary among other Lutherans, even among other Christian denominations; however, when the very confessional documents that were presented during the Reformation by Luther and his colleagues and followers to defend God’s Word are altered, ignored, or simply forgotten because popular culture and society deem them legalistic or no longer relevant…well, there can never be unity as long as the world, not God, influence the direction of the Church.
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 3” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!
Pastor E.B.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Confessional Unity: Part 1

Have you ever wondered about the label “Lutheran” (and why/how, if you are reading this in a Lutheran church newsletter, it most likely applies to you)? Have you ever wondered about why of our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, is so named? Have you ever wondered—or perhaps you were never told—why there are nearly three dozen strands (for lack of a better word) of practicing Lutherans nationwide (that’s more than 8 million Americans), rather than just one post-Reformation, American brand of Lutheranism?
Surely, even the least frequent church-going Lutheran knows where the designation comes from—Dr. Martin Luther hated that any new form of church should carry his brand, so to speak; Luther meant, at least at the onset 500 years ago, to merely make his beloved Roman Catholic Church aware that its improprieties, excesses, and false doctrine obscured the Gospel message and, therefore, its primary mission. (I think the last thing he meant to do was foment a Protestant insurrection that would result in suffering, death, and the fracturing of believers into squabbling sects of differing Christian doctrine.)
Honestly, it’s very difficult to translate the label “Lutheran” into a specific description. Of the 30 or so bodies in America, it’s also very difficult to decipher why one operates to the exclusion of others; in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, altar and pulpit fellowship (who is invited to the Lord’s Supper, who is allowed to preach) is based predominately upon “confessional unity.” Is the communicant confessionally sound? Does he or she agree with the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord? Or even know what the Book of Concord is? Does he or she agree with the teachings of our Synod? Can any ordained Lutheran pastor preach from our pulpit?
It was this Protestant Reformation that tempered those followers of Luther into the first Lutherans, those who agreed with Luther’s teaching, doctrine, and practice, the basis for our Lutheran Confessions, the 1580 Book of Concord. This compendium of 10 confessional documents is the backbone of orthodox Lutheranism and is still upheld by The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod as “the true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and serve as authoritative texts for all pastors [and] congregations”; however, and unfortunately, not all Lutheran church bodies in America share such an unconditional subscription. And, ironically, the very book that was meant to keep Lutherans together (concordia is Latin for “one heart”), is at the very “heart” of what would divide the first Lutherans to call themselves American in the early- to mid-19th century.
A fledgling Lutheran presence in the 17th century of Dutch (New York), Swedish (Delaware), and German (Pennsylvania) settlers would eventually give rise in the next century to the first permanent Lutheran “synod” in America, the ethnically German Ministerium of Pennsylvania in 1748. The Latin word ministerium (a group of ministers), would soon give way to a more regular use of the anglicized form of the Greek word synodos, from syn- (together) + hodos (way), meaning assembly or meeting. (Thus The Luther Church – Missouri Synod.)
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 2” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!
Pastor E.B.