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.