This issue’scover photo is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s“The Last Supper” Panel from Wittenberg Altarpiece (1547), Oil Painting, Stadtkirche, Wittenberg. Notice that Luther is depicted as an apostle receiving communion.
The viewsexpressedinthe articlesreflectthe author(s) opinionsand arenotnecessarilythe viewsofthe publisherand editor.SIMULcannotguaranteeand acceptsnoliabilityforany lossor damageofanykind causedby the errorsandfor theaccuracy ofclaims made by the authors.Allrightsreservedand nothingcan be partiallyor inwholebe reprintedor reproduced withoutwrittenconsentfrom the editor.
Volume 2, Issue 1, Fall 2022 Holy Communion
Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro firstname.lastname@example.org
ADMINSTRATOR Rev. Jon Jensen email@example.com
Administrative Address: St. Paul Lutheran Seminary P.O. Box 251 Midland, GA 31820
ACADEMICDEAN Rev. Julie Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Academics/Student Affairs Address: St. Paul Lutheran Seminary P.O. Box 112 Springfield, MN 56087
Chair: Rev. Dr. Erwin Spruth Rev. Greg Brandvold Rev. Jon Jensen Rev. Dr. Mark Menacher Steve Paula Rev. Julie Smith Charles Hunsaker Rev. Dr. James Cavanah Rev. Jeff Teeples
Dr. James A. Nestingen Rev. Dr. Marney Fritts Rev. Dr. Dennis DiMauro Rev. Julie Smith Rev. Virgil Thompson Rev. Dr. Keith Less Rev. Brad Hales Rev. Dr. Erwin Spruth Rev. Steven King Rev. Dr. Orrey McFarland Rev. Horacio Castillo (Intl) Rev. Amanda Olson de Castillo (Intl) Rev. Dr. Roy Harrisville III Rev. Dr. Henry Corcoran Rev. Dr. Mark Menacher Rev. Dr. Randy Freund
SIMUL Volume 2, Issue 1, Fall 2022 Holy Communion
Table of Contents
Editor’sNote 4 Rev.Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro
Luther,Zwingli,andtheRealPresence intheLord’sSupper:AHermeneutical andChristologicalControversy 7 Rev.Roland Weisbrot
Simul,Spirituality,andtheSacraments 20 Rev.Andrew Weiser
“SocialDistancing”andtheMeansofGrace 34 Rev.Dr. Nathan Yoder and Dr. David Yeago
BookReview: BobBenne’sKeepingthe SoulinChristianHigherEducation:A HistoryofRoanokeCollege 55 Rev.Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro
Welcome to our fifth issue of SIMUL, the journal of St. Paul Lutheran Seminary. This edition will discuss the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In this issue, Roland Weisbrot starts us off with an insightful review of the eucharistic debate between Zwingli and Luther, explaining how their Christological views influenced their beliefs about the sacrament. Andrew Weisner discusses what the Eucharist means to us as embodied, but nonetheless spiritual beings. And David Yeago and Nathan Yoder explore Holy Communion as a means of grace in the era of “social distancing.” I finish out this issue with a review of Bob Benne’s history of Roanoke College.
This edition will discuss the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Our Theological Conference
This past April, we had an amazing conference in Jekyll Island, GA. This year we will stay in the Savannah area, but will be meeting at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, GA, on April 11-12, 2023. Cost is only $50, or $25 for seminarians. The retreat offers refreshing, faith-enriching experiences for pastors, lay leaders and spouses by offering Christian discussions, rewarding comradery and outdoor relaxation. The speakers include Rev. Brad Hales, Rev. Julie Smith, and others to
be announced. For more information and to register, go to https://semlc.org/conference-registration/
Upcoming Issues - We are so excited about this coming year. Our Winter 2023 issue will be on renewal in the local church, responding to Bradley Hales’ very successful class of the same title which had over one hundred students representing twenty-two different churches. Luther’s theology of vocation will be the subject of our Spring 2023 issue, and our Summer 2023 issue will discuss the Office of the Ministry.
Registration for the Spring 2023 Semester is Open – Contact our administrator, Rev. Jon Jensen at email@example.com to enroll.
India Classes – St. Paul Lutheran Seminary has partnered with the Lutheran School of Theology in India to provide education for their pastoral candidates – they had eleven students in their first graduating class! Unfortunately, we have no funding for our American professors, and they have been providing their services pro bono. While their generosity has kept the classes going for the time being, this situation is sadly unsustainable. If you would like to support our commitment to educating Indian pastors for ministry, please consider making a generous contribution at https://semlc.org/support-st-paul-lutheran-seminary/
I hope you enjoy this issue of SIMUL! If you have any questions about the journal or about St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, VA. He teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary and is the editor of SIMUL.
LUTHER, ZWINGLI AND THE REAL PRESENCE IN THE LORD’S SUPPER: A HERMENEUTICAL AND CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSYRev. Roland Weisbrot
The Theological Divide
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther describes the Lord’s Supper in the following way: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”1 Though the words of this confession are simple and easily comprehensible in that they affirm the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, they have proven to be a source of immense conflict within Protestantism.2 Very early in the Reformation, beliefs about the Lord’s Supper among
Protestants were generally split into two camps. The first camp, which Luther and others occupied, was the belief that Christ was truly bodily present in the bread and wine. The second camp, commonly known as the Sacramentarians, was championed by the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli, among others; this camp denied the real presence of Christ in the Supper, opting for a spiritual interpretation of crucial biblical texts.3
This conflict has often been reduced by scholars to a difference in hermeneutical approach between Luther and Zwingli. Such scholars believe that Luther opted for a literal interpretation of the words of institution spoken by Christ at the Last Supper while Zwingli adopted an allegorical interpretation.4 Though a differing hermeneutic between the reformers is certainly one reason for this conflict, it is an oversimplification to make it the sole issue. Using two key texts written by Luther on the matter of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper: The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ –Against the Fanatics and Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, this paper will make the claim that the division between these two camps, embodied by the views of Luther and Zwingli respectively, is not just hermeneutical but also deeply Christological.
The Real Presence as a Hermeneutical Controversy
In the Large Catechism, Luther declares that “it is the
Word… that makes this a sacrament and distinguishes it from ordinary bread and wine, so that it is called and truly is Christ’s body and blood.”5 Luther’s comments on the Lord’s Supper affirm Gordon Jensen’s view that “the Sacrament of the Altar, first and foremost, is a theocentric event. God’s actions are the hermeneutical key to understanding the Sacrament of the Altar from a Lutheran perspective.”6 Norman Nagel therefore concluded that “Luther is, first of all, an exegetical theologian. What Christ says He does, He does. This is Luther’s fortress.”7 This is why Luther, in The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ – Against the Fanatics, appeals to Words of Institution repeatedly: “when we say these words [of institution] over the bread, then he is truly present,” for Christ “has put himself into the Word, and through the Word he puts himself into the bread also.”8
The crucial texts that defined this controversy were Matthew 26:26, Luke 22:19, and 1 Corinthians 11:24.9 Borrowing from the exegetical conclusions of the Dutch humanist Cornelis Hoen, Zwingli argued that since the verb “to be” is used by Jesus metaphorically in other places in scripture, the words of institution should be interpreted the same way.10 Zwingli believed that “to insist, as Luther does, that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ is to commit idolatry, to ascribe to the creature (namely, bread and wine) the glory that belongs only to the Creator (Rom. 1:23)” –the glory of God is at stake here!11 This is why Zwingli
appealed to John 6:63, Exodus 12:11, and Matthew 26:11 as prooftexts.12 Based on John 6:63 in particular, Zwingli makes a body-spirit dualistic argument:
The spiritual nature of a human being cannot be nourished by the body or by the physical objects which the body sees, smells, hears, tastes, and touches. Spiritual goods are communicated immediately to the human spirit by the action of God rather than mediately through physical objects. The human body or flesh is nourished by eating bread and wine. The human soul or spirit is nourished by the invisible and incorporeal activity of the Holy Spirit….
The flesh, that is, the human body and the creaturely elements of bread and wine which it ingests, cannot communicate spiritual life to the human soul.13
Steinmetz has summarized Zwingli’s thinking to mean that “when the human soul has been quickened and nourished by the Holy Spirit, then it is appropriate for the human being to eat the bread and drink the wine as a Eucharist or act of thanksgiving for an invisible work of grace already completed,” thereby reducing the Supper to a mere symbol of an already completed action that the Church can share together in faith.14 Zwingli took this approach because he believed that interpreting the words of institution as literal was contrary to
Here lies a considerable difference between the hermeneutical approaches of Zwingli and Luther. Zwingli felt that the interpretation of Scripture was bound by reason, whereas Luther had no such reservations; rather, he explains “that God reveals himself through actions that seem unreasonable” and as such, we cannot expect that a right interpretation will always appeal to human reason.16 For these reasons, Luther vehemently rejected Zwingli’s exegetical arguments and stood firmly on the belief that “as soon as Christ says: ‘This is my body,’ his body is present through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.”17 Luther’s argument did not come from ignorance about the fact that the words of institution could be interpreted differently, rather, as Steinmetz has noted, he believed that what Zwingli “had failed to demonstrate was not the possibility of such a reading but its necessity.”18 Thus, it is rightly said that “the Sacramentarian controversy was… a controversy over God’s Word. For the sacrament can only be lost when the Word is lost through faulty interpretation or doubt.”19
In his attempt to prove his view, Zwingli effectively argued that scripture was contradictory, something Luther believed to be impossible unless man’s reason blinds him.20 Boehme reveals that what is at stake in Luther’s mind is the authority of Scripture:
[He] tied the Word and sacraments together so tightly that, without God’s Word, there could be no sacrament. To ensure the efficacy of what was promised in the sacrament, God’s Word must be trustworthy and trusted. Luther saw that doubt of any part of the Bible could very easily lead to doubting all of it. Thus, the individual Christian could be led to doubt the forgiveness of sins given in the sacrament of Holy Communion. For if God’s Word were false in any other place, it could also be false here.21
In other words, Christians must acknowledge that scripture is internally coherent and non-contradictory, and the verses should be taken as their plain reading intends.22 As such, any and all contradictions are a result of human reason, and not some fault in the scriptural text. Jensen summarizes Luther’s view by explaining that, “the efficacy of the Sacrament of the Altar rests completely on God’s actions. Jesus says, ‘Take, eat, this is my body’ and ‘Do this.’ Because of these words, Luther could not help but confess that Christ is present, and that the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation and community in the Sacrament of the Altar are made a reality for us.”23
The Real Presence as a Christological Controversy
Luther begins his treatise, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, by asserting the same thing he has always asserted: “God is omnipotent; he can do more than we see; therefore I believe his words as they stand.”24 However, this time he does
not approach the issue hermeneutically, but Christologically. Luther claims he has four reasons for believing what he does about the real presence:
The first is this article of our faith, that Jesus Christ is essential, natural, true, complete God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable. The second, that the right hand of God is everywhere. The third, that the Word of God is not false or deceitful. The fourth, that God has and knows various ways to be present at a certain place, not only the single one of which the fanatics prattle, which the philosophers call ‘local.’25
The first, second, and fourth reasons are inherently Christological, and they will form the basis of this section. Since the third reason has been discussed above, it will not be looked at again here.
Pertaining to the first reason, Luther makes the claim that “since the divinity and humanity are one person in Christ, the scriptures ascribe to the divinity, because of this personal union, all that happens to humanity, and vice versa.”26 As such, he believes that “we should ascribe to the whole person whatever pertains to one part of the person, because both parts constitute one person.”27 On this basis, Luther levels his main accusation against Zwingli,
Luther begins his treatise, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, by asserting the same thing he has always asserted: “God is omnipotent; he can do more than we see; therefore I believe his words as they stand.” However, this time he does not approach the issue hermeneutically, but Christologically.
If Zwingli’s alloeosis stands, then Christ will have to be two persons, one a divine and the other a human person, since Zwingli applies all the texts concerning the passion only to the human nature and completely excludes them from the divine nature. But if the works are divided and separated, the person will also have to be separated, since all the doing and suffering are not ascribed to natures but to persons.28
This for Luther is the central problem, a Nestorian division of the two natures in Christ. Likewise, Zwingli accuses Luther of doing the opposite, combining the two natures in such a way as to make them indistinguishable—essentially charging Luther with the heresy of Monophysitism. As Steinmetz noted, “both Zwingli and Luther perceive[d] that the Eucharist [could not] be discussed for very long without turning to christological issues.”29
Intimately related to the first reason is the second reason. Zwingli had made the claim that the body of Christ was at the right hand of the Father in Heaven since the ascension and therefore could not physically be in the Supper, thus the presence was only spiritual.30 Zwingli grounded this assertion in “the confession that Christ has assumed finite human nature.”31 In fact, Zwingli argued that,
This for Luther is the central problem, a Nestorian division of the two natures in Christ.
there is a soteriological necessity that Christ assumed, bore, and continues to bear finite human nature. Only finite human nature is authentic human nature. Unless human nature remains finite in the hypostatic union (i.e., remains one with us in our finitude), the redemptive significance of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and perpetual intercession at the right hand of God will be undermined. Christ cannot be our Redeemer unless he is one of us. There is, therefore, no real communication of attributes, only a metaphorical ascription to the whole person of Christ of attributes which belong properly to one nature or the other.32
In other words, Zwingli was concerned that the Christological consequences of Luther’s beliefs would ultimately undermine the salvation won for humanity upon the cross. After all, human sinners needed a completely human Jesus to atone for us.
To refute this, Luther’s argument appeals almost entirely to the incarnation: “since the human nature of Christ on earth could not be separated from the divine, neither can there be a separation in the Lord’s Supper.”33 Therefore, he felt that “to separate Christ’s physical presence from his spiritual presence would be akin to separating his divine and human natures, and is contrary to the second article of the NiceneConstantinopolitan creed, and thus a denial of the incarnation.”34 Steinmetz explains that ultimately what this meant was that “‘signifies’ is a fitting description of the Eucharist only if it is an appropriate designation for the
Incarnation as well, for a Jesus who is a sign or symbol or myth of God’s presence but not the presence itself.”35
Given the severity of the situation, Luther felt compelled to make one final argument based on philosophy, his fourth reason for believing in the real presence. Going well beyond his usual argument of basing his belief in Christ’s presence in the Supper on the Word of God, Luther argues here that there are three modes of locality, the second and third of which are the most relevant to this paper.36
Luther claims that “in the second place, an object is in a place definitively, i.e., in an uncircumscribed manner, if the object or body is not palpably in one place and is not measurable according to the dimensions of the place where it is, but can occupy either more room or less.” This “uncircumscribed manner” was the mode in which he believed Christ was to be found in the Supper.37
As for the third mode, Luther states that “an object occupies places completely, i.e., supernaturally, if it is simultaneously present in all places whole and entire, and fills all places, yet without being measured or circumscribed by any place, in terms of the space which it occupies. This mode of existence belongs to God alone.”38 It was in this third mode that Luther took his argument further, claiming that “if you can say, ‘Here is God,’ then you must also say, ‘Christ the man is present too,’”
Luther took his argument further, claiming that “if you can say, ‘Here is God,’ then you must also say, ‘Christ the man is present too,’” because “He is one indivisible person with God, and wherever God is, he must be also, otherwise our faith is false.”
because “He is one indivisible person with God, and wherever God is, he must be also, otherwise our faith is false.”39 In this way, Luther posited that “Christ... acquired a supernatural existence or mode of being whereby he can be everywhere,” and if Christ’s natures are indivisible, then He must be physically present in the Supper according to His human nature as well as spiritually present according to His divine nature.40
It is this argument that Luther employs in a final attempt to refute Zwingli’s position, especially Zwingli’s claim that Christ is only bodily present at the right hand of the Father.41 As such, Luther faults Zwingli for interpreting Christ’s presence at the “right hand of God” literally and not metaphorically: “that Christ is at the right hand of God means that he is the favored one through whom God exercises his rule (Ps. 8:6; Luke 10:22). Since God exercises his rule everywhere, even in hell, the right hand of God is found everywhere.”42 Steinmetz concludes that, “the very expression which Zwingli regards as circumscriptive and local, the Bible itself proves to be uncircumscribed and incorporeal.”43
The result of Luther’s arguments, particularly as found in Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, was the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum, a dogma “developed to show the communion of the two natures in Christ; that is, the divine nature is communicated to the human nature in such a way
that the two natures share the attributes of each other.”44 Though this doctrine is not where Luther intended to base his belief in the real presence, it has become part of orthodox Lutheran Christology and has been a source of both inspiration and deep contention among Lutherans and other Protestants, particularly the Reformed.45 However, the development of this doctrine proves that the fracture between Protestant views of the Supper is not solely hermeneutical but also innately Christological. Thus, Norman Nagel is quite right when he asserts that “the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar is the place where the divisions of Christendom can alone be finally healed.”46 For what keeps us divided is not just varying hermeneutical interpretations, but what we believe and teach about Christ’s person and work.
Rev. Roland Weisbrot is Lead Pastor at Victory Lutheran Church in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada where he resides with his wife, Rachel, and his cat, Katharina von Bora (Kat). He also has the privilege of serving as the Chair of the Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregation’s Theological Committee. Roland has research interests in historical systematic theology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and, more broadly, the practice of Christianity in post-modern society. His ramblings can be found on his personal blog.
1Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 362.
2David C Steinmetz, “Scripture and the Lord’s Supper in Luther’s Theology,” Interpretation 37, no. 3 (July 1983): 254.
3Armand J Boehme, “Study in Luther’s Anti-Sacramentarian Writings,” Springfielder 38, no. 4 (March 1975): 303.
5Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 468.
6Gordon A. Jensen, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Lutheran Quarterly 31, no. 1 (2017): 3.
7Norman E. Nagel, “Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar According to Luther,” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 4 (April 1968): 236.
8Martin Luther, “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ - Against the Fanatics,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell, Third (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 228–29.
17Luther, “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood,” 228.
21Ibid., 312–13; Steinmetz, 264–65.
24Martin Luther, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell, Third (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 264.
28Ibid., 266; Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, and Paul Jackson, eds., “Alloeosis,” in Christian Cyclopedia (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000). Alloeosis being a “figure of speech by which Zwingli construed all passages of Scripture in which anything is ascribed to the divine nature of Christ or to the entire Christ that properly is property of the human nature. The purpose of the alloeosis, as used by Zwingli, was denial of the communication of attributes.”
30Jensen, 10; Steinmetz, 260.
33Kenneth R Craycraft, “Sign and Word: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Sacraments,” Restoration Quarterly 32, no. 3 (1990): 163.
37Luther, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” 267–68.
39Ibid., 269, 272; Nagel, 235.
40Luther, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” 275.
SIMUL, SPIRITUALITY AND SACRAMENTS
The Rev. Andrew Weisner
Simul.... Simul justus et peccator ... "Simultaneously righteous and a sinner." It is one of the more famous phrases in Lutheranism.1 And the principle, the concept that something can be two things at the same time, is not only a premise of Lutheran anthropology, but an idea that runs through Christian theology prior to Lutheranism, and indeed, is a description of creation.
The Academic Roots of Lutheranism
"The Lutheran Reformation was born in a university." Those words I heard first, as I recall, from Professor (later, Bishop) Michael C.D. McDaniel when I was his student at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, NC. I remember also being inspired by that statement in a lecture by Dr. Herman Steumpfle when he was president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and I have heard or read it various other times and places.
Indeed, while Martin Luther was a priest and monk, his method of biblical exegesis and theological thinking that blossomed into the Reformation were honed when he was a professor at the University of Wittenberg. His co-laborer in the effort, who wrote several of the foundational documents of Lutheranism, Philip Melanchthon, was a classics professor. Yes, Lutheran theology was born in a university, and since then, Lutheran, and German theology in general, has been characterized as rather "heady stuff." For example, the early Lutheran Reformers gave vital importance to the intellectual exercise of making the "proper distinction" between law and gospel2 and seeking precise theological formulations in the Augustana of 1530, the Apology of 1531, and the Formula of Concord (1577). Consider, too, the later period of "Lutheran Orthodoxy" (or "Lutheran Scholasticism"), featuring Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, Georg Calixtus, Johannes Quenstedt, among others, who created theological systems no less complex than Peter Lombard's Sentences, Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, or the treatises and expositiones of William of Ockham. And while many of the most famous German intellectuals are known mainly as philosophers -- Kant, Leibnitz, Hegel, Schelling, Schiller, Schlegel their work was not completely divorced from any concept of God. German explication of God and the Christian faith continued through the 19th and 20th centuries through the work of prominent theologians, such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, F.C. Bauer, Albert Schweitzer, Rudolph Otto,
The point of this list of names is that the intellectual descendants of Martin Luther, who continued his search for the truth undertook this quest through rigorous, exhaustive (and some would say sometimes exhausting) intellectual engagement; a.k.a. "heady stuff." And as a result, Lutheran theology sometimes has been accused of being too "heady," a Christian faith that is all about thinking and intellect – the head rather than the heart. At a recent conference addressing the topic of worship by means of live streaming through the internet, a commentator warned that we must be careful not to form Christians who are "heads on sticks," believers who rely on an intellectual, "heady" kind of Christian faith that is disembodied; a faith that is shaped by sitting at a desk or in an easy-chair and simply watching Christian lectures on a computer. This is far from the fullness of Christian faith. It does not embrace the total person, including the importance of incarnation, i.e., human embodiment, what the broader Christian tradition refers to as spirituality.
The Spirit of Life
How did you feel when you got up this morning? Maybe a
We must be careful not to form Christians who are "heads on sticks," believers who rely on an intellectual, "heady" kind of Christian faith that is disembodied.
slight bit of stiffness - a result of a longer-than-usual walk with a friend yesterday? And how did you think-feel about how your body felt? Did you think, "Hmmm, getting old!" or perhaps, did you feel glad, because you are convinced of the adage "with age comes wisdom," and you value wisdom, even if the body gets a little stiff now and again. Then you walked down the steps (your body slightly stiff) and your dog came along to walk beside you and got in your way. What did you think-feel? Did you think, "Dammit, Dog! You nearly made me trip!" or did you think-feel, "I love that old puppy-dog; we've walked many miles together."
You proceeded to your kitchen to make coffee; the coffee jar is nearing empty. What did you think-feel? "Oh no! We are nearly out of coffee, and the price keeps climbing up-up-up! Can I afford to keep drinking it?" (you wonder with a tinge of fear); "what if the price rises to $5 per pound?!" Or did you think-feel, "Well, I need to go to the grocery to get coffee, and that's good because I like going to the grocery." As the morning progresses, you encountered the members of your family in your home. Did you think-feel joy, hope and optimism upon seeing them, or did you have thoughts of fear and uncertainty because of the world and its dangers that they face? On your way to work, you see signs of increasing gas prices; did this make you think about world political crises and feel fear, questioning the cultural and economic future of the world? Once you arrived
at work and entered the office area, a radio is turned on broadcasting a news report, describing squabbles between Republicans and Democrats. Did you hear this with a mind and heart of curiosity, wondering what will become of it, or with a feeling of doom, because their disagreements seemed to be getting worse with the passing of years. Did you wonder what's becoming of the country and whether this American experiment in democracy will survive?
These are a very, very few instances of the moments and events in the course of a day which evoke our thoughts and feelings. No less significant are the foundational, always present thoughts and feelings previously developed over the course of years that we carry with us when we approach people and events.
We human beings are more than just our thoughts and emotions. We are more than simply physical sensations and biological, anatomical and chemical actions and reactions. We are all those things, yes; but they are bundled along with that gift that God the Creator gives that enlivens all, the spirit of life. Thus, we are physical (embodied) beings, but also spiritual beings. Here again, we see simul.
We are simultaneously physical, psychological, emotional, thinking, feeling, nous, and spirit, all that makes us individual human beings: remembering the past, anticipating the future, recognizing around us each moment in the present. It is the thoughts and feelings that we carry with us, that fill us, that shape our perspective on life that constitute our spirituality.
We are physical (embodied) beings, but also spiritual beings. Here again, we see simul.
Spirituality is not simply about how one prays or worships or thinks about church. Spirituality is how we look at, how we go about life; i.e., how we approach, respond to, and interpret our lives in this world. And if spirituality is that allencompassing, it must include a perspective upon which it is based that informs a person how to make sense of the world. That perspective, that which undergirds one's spirituality (i.e., one's view of the world and oneself in it) we might call one's metaphysics, one's view of what is real. And because a vast history of western philosophy is a story of competing claims as to what is real, then one's own reality is a matter of faith. The Christian faith is a claim as to what is real, how the world came to be and how it continues to operate, as well as what kinds of beings live and move within this reality, this world. These knowledge-claims are based on faith as a way of knowing; and it is this reality that we know through faith upon which, and by which, we determine and make judgments about what is good, true and beautiful in the world.
In this world created by God, one of our faith-based sources, the Bible, informs us that the world was created by God's word and spirit; and that God is word and spirit.3 Thus, there could be, indeed, there are, realities in this world, God's created world, other than just what we see, touch, and physically examine. There are spiritual realities. There are realities that we do not immediately perceive, but are present,
and are quite real, nonetheless.
For example, have you ever observed stones singing? If not, that does not mean that such a phenomenon could not happen. When some Pharisees rebuked Jesus for some of his followers shouting his praises, he replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”4 This comes as the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 55) describes the people of Israel, who have been absent from their homeland for approximately fifty years in exile. If they will return home, says the prophet, they "... shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before [them] shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Another example of nature breaking out in praise is Psalm 96, which reads, "Tell it out among the nations: 'The LORD is king!' Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein. Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the LORD when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth."“Singing Stone”
The prophet Isaiah, the author of Psalm 96, and the Lord Jesus seem to have some common experience or expectation that rocks and stones, mountains and hills, are capable of realities that many people would think impossible, or, at least, we have never experienced. Yet, just because we think we have never experienced it, does not mean that such events -mountains breaking forth into song, trees clapping their hands cannot, or never have, happened.
Let us ponder for a moment this description in the Bible: What would it look like for the "earth to be glad”? for the "field to be joyful”? What does - what would - that look like? Can we imagine it? Maybe we have, indeed, actually seen it! And might we have also actually seen (to quote from Ps. 96) "the trees of the wood shout[ing] for joy before the Lord"? ... We may have, and didn't know it.
Let’s take another example from Psalm 98: "Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD, when he comes to judge the earth. In righteousness shall he judge the world and the peoples with equity."
What does this mean"Let the rivers clap their hands”? I did not know that rivers have hands that will clap! However, could it be that rivers actually have hands of some sort to clap that I don't know about?
Now, one might respond that this language was never intended to be literal! It is simply the language of the Psalms, a language of metaphor and myth. Yes, or could it be that, in a world in which a crucified, dead man has been raised and now is alive in a new life, and is still living in this world, that there is a genuine way that "rivers can clap their hands" and "mountains ring out for joy" - in ways that I (or the rest of us) do not perceive or understand, but despite our lack of recognition or understanding, might happen anyway? And could it be that this language of metaphor and myth describes actual (physical) realities deeper than our ability to grasp or articulate?
The Psalms also remind us of God's mighty works which
liberated the Hebrew slaves out of their centuries of bondage in Egypt. Do we wish to consider these historical references in praise of God's actual, mighty, saving work as metaphor and myth? For example, here, from Ps. 78: "Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. ....We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, and the wonderful works he has done. ... He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He split open the sea and let them pass through; he made the waters stand up like walls. He led them with a cloud by day, and all the night through with a glow of fire. He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as from the great deep. He brought streams out of the cliff, and the waters gushed out like rivers. ...So he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough." While some of us may prefer to say that described, purported realities such as we have never seen (rivers clapping their hands, hills singing for joy) are simply metaphorical and mythical language, not references to actual events, do we want to say the same regarding the power of God operative in moments and events of salvation history, such as described here in Psalm 78?
There are, or course, other references in scripture which describe events that are not at all familiar to our everyday
experience, that we would nevertheless vociferously defend. For example, Luke's chapter 1 recounts that the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee to a young virgin named Mary, and he (an angel!) encountered and announced to her that she would conceive and bear a son who would be son of the most high God, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
Such an event is not, for most of us, a (so-called) "normal" occurrence in our daily routines of going up and down the steps, doing the laundry, or jumping in-and-out of the car going to get groceries. Yet, the verity that such a significant, well-known salvation event could have happened in this world, is a claim that most of us would tenaciously embrace. There are at least twenty instances in the New Testament of angels announcing to, protecting, or interacting with humans. These references describe realities that we usually do not see every day, yet, nonetheless, they really happened.
So, how can it be that there is such "cross-over" interaction, an "entrance and exit" between two worlds, e.g., the world of angels making appearances, or the reality of water gushing out of a rock in a hot, dry desert, vis-a-vis our more familiar world of houses, cars, soccer balls, dishwashers, and pets? There is an unseen world, a spiritual world, which is a part of the life and experience of Christian spirituality that connects to, interfaces with, and permeates the physical, material day-today world in which we live. The world is indeed simul,
The world is indeed simul, simultaneously material, physical, tangible, and spiritual and unseen.
simultaneously material, physical, tangible, and spiritual and unseen. We find attestation to this reality in sacred scripture (as noted above), and in the life of Church throughout history.
The greatest and most significant simul in the Bible is revealed in the opening of John's gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.“5 The scriptures provide clear support for this most significant simul:6 that Jesus, was simultaneously fully God and fully human. When this claim came under question and attack during the early centuries of the Church, the Council of Nicaea began a series of synods which clarified the relationship of the man, Jesus the Nazarene carpenter and rabbi, who is also Jesus, the true presence of God in the midst of material, limited, and vulnerable humanity. The almighty, holy, creator God chose to become, in Jesus, a human being; and in doing so, human embodiment became holy in Christ. God was born as a child and grew into a man. He, in Christ, walked upon this soil of the earth; and the ground has been made hallowed. God, i.e., Jesus-God-incarnate, ate and drank; and thereby the acts of eating and drinking have become sacred acts. God - made flesh
- had friends; and now friendship has been touched by godliness and is holy. Every aspect of what it is and means to be human has been intimately touched by almighty God through the incarnation, including this world with its air, populated with flora and fauna and wildlife; every aspect of this earth has been touched by the incarnation. All of life is now godly, holy, and sacred.
"Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father, endless is your mercy and eternal your reign. You have filled all creation with light and life, heaven and earth are full of your glory," reads the Eucharistic prayer in the Lutheran Book of Worship, 7 echoing (among other Bible passages) Psalm 19 and Psalm 104.8 Indeed, all of creation, every material aspect, has been blessed by God, has been touched by Him through the incarnation. Further, this physical world interfaces with, and is permeated with spiritual realities, even "angels and archangels and all the hosts of heaven.”9 Yet there are certain, specific places where the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, calls us to meet him, and the opening liturgy of this section alludes to it: it is the Eucharist.
The sacrament of the altar is, for both Lutherans and the Western catholic tradition, the next great simul. Just as God the Word became flesh in the man Jesus, such that he is fully God and fully human, so the bread and wine of the Eucharistic meal become simultaneously "things" of this world, fully bread and fully the body, the carne, of Jesus. To give us His true
grace-filled presence, God the incarnate Word uses actual material reality (the bread and wine), in and with another genuine material reality, His own body and blood. While his presence is not at all merely symbolic, the event and substance of the Eucharistic meal is symbolic of God's simul presence in every aspect of creation. There is no thing or any event of creation or history that is somehow separated from the presence and power of God.
Taking Hold of Him
We human beings live in a world today filled not only with the glory of God, but simultaneously (simul) connected with the world through the technology of the internet. These connections, while often visible (through a screen), are from "head-to-head," thought-tothought. Yet, simultaneously, we have feelings attached to those thoughts. And, also simultaneously, we have physical bodies that can (and do) affect our thoughts and feelings. All of this is related to, and interfaced with, spiritual realities. God, using His means and servants who perform His purposes, moves creation along toward His intended glorious fulfillment. As God's creatures (yes, also beloved), we are a part of that movement toward fulfillment, now in this world but simultaneously citizens of
God embraces us with a physical, tangible, and life-sustaining world and simultaneously enfolds us with his spiritual realities. And there are moments when we intentionally, knowingly, and physically touch and take hold of him in the sacrament of the altar.
another place, a world to come. As we continue this journey, we live and move and have our being.10 We live in a world that is simultaneously profane, fallen and marked by sin, but also holy, created and touched by the incarnate God (simul justus et peccator). God embraces us with a physical, tangible, and life-sustaining world and simultaneously enfolds us with his spiritual realities. And there are moments when we intentionally, knowingly, and physically touch and take hold of him in the sacrament of the altar.
1See Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 242 n.82 on where this formula appears in Luther's writings.
2Philip Melanchthon, Apology to the Augsburg Confession (AP), Art. IV.5; Formula of Concord/ Solid Declaration (FC/SD) Art. V.25, in The Book of Concord, Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and editor (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959).
3Genesis 1:1-2; John 1:1; John 4:24.
5John 1:1-4, 14.
6Cf. Matthew 1:18-23; John 10:30; John 8:58; Colossians 1:15 ff.
7Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1978), 69, 89, or 110.
8Ps. 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork;" Ps. 104:25, "O Lord, how manifold are your works! in splendor you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures;" LBW 223, 265.
9Ministers Desk Edition of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1978), 213.
10Acts of the Apostles 17:28
“SOCIAL DISTANCING” AND THE MEANS OF GRACERev. Dr. Nathan Yoder and Dr. David Yeago
The challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented – not in the church catholic, which has faced widespread sickness across the centuries, but in the life of our congregations. Aside from the prevalent threats of deadly illness, economic uncertainty, and pervasive anxiety, the preventive measures supported by medical professionals and imposed by civil authorities have the discouraging effect of keeping us from gathering together in worship, sharing desperately needed fellowship, and visiting one other in our homes.
These deprivations are serious. The gathering (ecclesia) of the faithful around the Word in proclamation and the sacraments is the heart of what it means to be Christcentered. Properly grasped, however, this moratorium on assemblies may become a self-emptying act of Christian love in keeping with our theology of vocation. While the assembly
in the Word is the “heart” of discipleship – where the branches meet the vine (John 15:5) – the holy calling of the Body within their “varieties of service” (1 Cor. 12:5) is the circulation of Christ’s abundant life pumped into the world. In light of the New Commandment of Love (John 13:34), the privations of “social distancing” may become a prayerful offering for the protection and wellbeing of the neighbor and the assistance of those with medical callings who tirelessly work to heal and make an end to this outbreak.
The Flexibility of the Spoken Word
In spite of – because of – this crisis, the task of preaching the gospel remains paramount. Observations comparing the 21st-century communications revolution to the advent of the 16th-century printing press are appropriate. Now as then, the church has a newfound vehicle for the widespread circulation of the gospel. Now, however, transmission can be “live,” immediately accessible. Legible, audible, and visible options are at our fingertips behind our desks and pulpits, with no additional personnel required. None of these methods is a proper substitute for the personal gathering of the faithful in worship, of course. (We will all need a gentle reminder or two on that score before all this is over.) They can, however, convey the external Word of God as a means of grace. This is because the promise of Christ
The holy calling of the Body within their “varieties of service” (1 Cor. 12:5) is the circulation of Christ’s abundant life pumped into the world.
in preaching is bound to the message of the gospel communication itself.1 As Jesus explains to the disciples, “Whoever hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). St. Paul repeats this promise: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In this continuous teaching, the Lord promises to “be with [us] always” (Matt. 28:20) – he enters into fellowship with those who hear his Word. “For the preaching of the gospel,” Luther reasons, “is nothing else than Christ being brought to us or we being brought to him.”2 And again in the Large Catechism: “God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation. Therefore to sanctify is nothing else than to bring us to the Lord Christ to receive this blessing, which we could not obtain by ourselves.”3 One may therefore rightly speak of the real presence of Christ with respect to gospel speech, alone.4
In addition to its prevalence, the direction of our preaching is also important. The radical accessibility of online streaming has already proven to be a blessed means of evangelism, and it may very well be that many more folks will watch and hear the Word in a video than would sit in the pews on any given Sunday. But first and foremost, a pastor’s proclamation is directed to his or her flock: the particular congregation that he or she may address as no one else can.5 This is the task Paul lifts up to Timothy – to proclaim the gospel in and out of season (2 Tim. 4:4), or in our case, in person and, as necessary, from afar. During this pandemic, the separation, isolation, and frustration of the people engender a variety of temptations,
and the baptized need the external Word of Christ to be convicted and comforted. This necessity (1 Cor. 9:16) is not lifted by any stay-at-home order; and in a pinch, the feet that bring good news (Rom. 10:15) are no less beautiful for appearing on a screen.
The Specificity of Christ’s Command
The same necessity of the external Word of the gospel that allows for its flexible proliferation in this season, however, also requires its careful discretion with respect to the sacraments. As the Large Catechism explains, the “chief thing to be considered” in Lutheran theology with respect to the sacraments is “God’s Word and ordinance or command.”6 This consideration is not some human attempt to bind the Word to the bread and wine and somehow limit the power of the gospel. It is faithful recognition of the Lord’s own attachment of his promise to a specific action with particular objects, “without man’s counsel or deliberation.”7 Just as Christ directed the apostles to baptize and to speak the good news – and so promised to be with them – he also commanded them to share in the Supper, and he anchored his personal, bodily fellowship to its celebration. Jesus thereby establishes the chief avenue of his availability to the church, and he gives our faith something objective to grasp.8
The church is the people whose Lord is Jesus Christ. He has
Just as Christ directed the apostles to baptize and to speak the good news – and so promised to be with them – he also commanded them to share in the Supper, and he anchored his personal, bodily fellowship to its celebration.
accomplished our salvation. It belongs to him (Rev. 7:10), and he has decided how to share it with us in the power of the Spirit. We cannot acknowledge Jesus as Lord and then invent our own ways of sharing in salvation. For our Lutheran tradition, therefore, nothing is more important for the church than the commands and promises of Christ by which he has given form to our life and ministry.
As far as the sacraments are concerned, this means that Christ’s words instituting the sacraments are central and binding to the church. Luther and the Reformers could not compromise on the practice of communing the laity with the consecrated bread alone, because Jesus took the cup and said, “All of you drink this” (Matt. 26:27).9 The argument that the laity did not receive a lesser blessing than the clergy was irrelevant; the issue was the authority of the command of Christ, which theological theory, pastoral considerations, or the decisions of church leadership could not override.
The upshot of is that Jesus said to “do this.” If what we “do” is recognizable as the whole action he specified, then our faith can be certain of his promise. If we do not follow the Lord’s direction and elect to do something – anything – else, then assurance of this particular promise evaporates.10 As to what the biblical mandate is, the Lutheran Confessions are clear.
But the command of Christ, ‘Do this,’ which comprehends the whole action or administration of this sacrament (namely, that in a Christian assembly we take bread and wine, consecrate it, distribute it, receive it, eat and drink it, and therewith proclaim
the Lord’s death), must be kept integrally and inviolately, just as St. Paul sets the whole action of the breaking of bread, or of the distribution and reception, before our eyes in 1 Cor. 10:16.11
This language of distribution and reception recurs often in the Confessions. It presumes a common source of bread and wine with a gathering of the faithful to receive, eat, and drink it. Here again, Jesus makes himself specifically available in a set space at a particular time within the participation (koinonia) of the assembled body around the “one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). Adherence to his command, in his Word, is what makes this fellowship the Lord’s Supper – not “our” supper, or even the church’s supper to adapt on demand.12 “Distribution” does not refer to the individual’s reception of Christ’s benefits, but to Christ’s ‘giving’ the elements to the disciples to eat and drink, which the church is commanded to do also. The Reformers were adamant that the church has no authority to alter this foundational form of the Supper, for whatever reason. So the Formula of Concord: “Nothing has the character of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ, or apart from the divinely instituted action (that is, if one does not observe Christ’s institution as he ordained it, it is no sacrament). This rule dare not in any way be rejected, but it can and should be profitably urged and retained in the church of God.”13 This criterion is simply the application of Sola Scriptura to sacramental theology.
Both the mandate and promise of Holy Communion depend on the perspicuity or clear meaning of the biblical text. The promise follows the plain sense of the words of institution: This is my body, given for you. The Lutheran understanding holds to this straightforward meaning: What I am holding in my hand and giving to you now is my body.14 Article 10 of the Augsburg Confession summarizes the point: “That in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with the things that are seen, bread and wine.”15 Christ establishes his presence –consecrates the elements – by his own declaration. The promise itself forms the sacramental union between the bread and wine and his body and blood.
The Reformers rejected the notion that the mere utterance of the words of institution brought about this sacramental union, along with the accompanying fallacy that the priesthood possessed a special power to “perform” the sacrament. The words do not serve as some kind of incantation, and the person, character, or belief of the presider does not affect the efficacy of the sacrament. Rather, it is the proclamation of the words of institution according to Jesus’ command – and thus within the entire action of “do this” – that is performative and constitutive of Holy Communion.16
The actions of hearing/receiving the Word and consuming the bread and wine are inseparable with respect to the sacrament’s efficacy. Nevertheless, the two actions are not the same. The Formula of Concord draws an essential distinction between the “spiritual” eating of the Word as the
“Bread of Life” (John 6:48-58) and the “sacramental,” oral eating of the Supper. Spiritual eating “is precisely faith –namely, that we hear, accept with faith, and appropriate to ourselves the Word of God” and its promise of “the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and everlasting life.”17
There is significant flexibility apparent in “spiritual eating” – it is the same action as receiving the Word in preaching, and also in the life-to-life sharing of the Word that Luther calls “the mutual conversation and consolation” of the faithful.18 It is also what enables us to receive the gospel from afar through various means of communication.
Sacramental eating in Holy Communion depends on this spiritual eating, but it is also different from it. “The other eating of the body of Christ is oral or sacramental, when all who eat and drink the blessed bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper receive and partake of the true, essential body and blood of Christ orally. Believers receive it as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are truly forgiven, that Christ dwells and is efficacious in them.”19 The key point in sacramental eating is Christ’s objective availability on the occasion and in the way he has ordained, despite my unworthiness. In following the action of his command and in hearing his Word, I am assured of his forgiving embrace that provides “strength and refreshment” in faith and life.20
This clear objectivity of the Lord’s presence in sacramental eating underscores why a definite time and place is central to
Believers receive it as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are truly forgiven, that Christ dwells and is efficacious in them.
the Sacrament of the Altar. In this unique mode of availability, everyone who receives the outstretched bread receives Christ, himself. Whether they are baptized or unbaptized, believing or non-believing is irrelevant with respect to the Lord’s bodily presence. “The Word by which it was constituted a sacrament is not rendered false because of an individual’s unworthiness or belief.”21 Jesus is there in his body, regardless of the recipient’s condition or frame of mind. This is why proper oversight of the distribution is so important, as those who partake in non-belief are eating and drinking to their condemnation.22
The concreteness of “sacramental eating” speaks to the justifying grace of the external Word. I bring nothing to the altar except my sin in repentance. When I receive the bread and wine in the assembly, Christ joins me to himself in body and Spirit. I hear the promise, and then my bodily eating and drinking is also “spiritual”: when I receive Christ’s body and blood with faith in the promise, I receive with them “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”23 It is the Supper as a whole, Word and element, which is an external proclamation of the gospel.24 On the one hand, the “entire action” of the Supper must accompany this promise, or else the Supper’s specific promise does not apply and Christ is not present. On the other hand, it is the word of promise that both presents me with the body and blood of Christ and proclaims that they are given ‘for me,” for my salvation.25
The Question of “Tele-communion”
The practice of “virtual” or “tele-communion,” in which a
pastor invites the members of a congregation to present their own bread and wine in their homes and presides from a remote location through A/V technology, is a marked departure from the recognizable form of the sacrament. Taken as a whole event, there is no clear sense of an “assembly.” If a true gathering is being filmed or otherwise recorded, then the bread and wine consecrated in the assembly is decisively other than the various portions of bread and wine furnished by parishioners in their homes.
An attempt to extend the assembly by virtual means and consecrate the elements from a remote location dismisses the clear sense of the words of institution. The confessional witness makes no allowance for such a departure. “We reject… the assertion that the words of institution are not to be simply understood in their strict sense… but through tropes or a figurative interpretation are to be given a different, new, and strange sense. We reject all such Sacramentarian opinions and mutually contradictory views, no matter how manifold and various they may be.”26 To put it simply, “this is my body” –not “whatever you have in front of you across town,” which would decisively qualify as a “new” and “strange” interpretation. Luther speaks to the circumstance almost directly in his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528):
Here, too, if I were to say over all the bread there is, “This is the body of Christ,’ nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Lord’s Supper and say, “This is my body,’ then it is his body, not because of our speaking or of our
efficacious work, but because of his command in which he has told us to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking.27
The words of institution are not enough. Without the full context of Christ’s command, including a recognizable gathering, a distribution of a common meal, and a proclamation of the gospel, there is a fundamental breakdown of sacramental integrity. The Formula of Concord deserves another look on this score: “But this blessing or recitation of Christ’s words of institution by itself, if the entire action of the Lord’s Supper as Christ ordained it is not observed (if, for instance, the blessed bread is not distributed, received, and eaten but is locked up, offered up, or carried about, does not make a sacrament.28 That Holy Communion may be practiced in any and all places, in different times and circumstances, is certainly the case; and thanks be to God for that! But there is a solid cohesion to each celebration – what the Confessions refer to as the “entire action” of the Meal. “Tele-communion’s” attempt at remote consecration fractions the celebration rather than the elements, and thus abandons this sacramental coherence.
The argument that “distance preaching” and “distance communion” must be mutually efficacious or not fails to consider both the flexibility of the spoken Word – the freedom of the gospel – and the specificity of Jesus’ directive
concerning the sacrament. There is no general or uniform mode to the means of grace. All of them are modalities of the external Word. According to that same Word of Christ, however, they do not come to us in exactly the same manner. Again, the “chief thing to be considered” is Christ’s Word and command,29 and the church has no authority to alter the Word.
Recognition of the differentiation among the means of grace does not imply a difference in efficacy, but of method. It is not a separation of the Word from the sacraments, but a faithful acknowledgement of Christ’s commands concerning them. Ignoring the modalities of the external Word amounts to reducing the sacraments to the spoken Word, alone. This in turn ignores the confessional distinction between “spiritual” and “sacramental” eating, and thereby attenuates the objectivity of Christ’s particular promise in Holy Communion.
In terms of ecclesiology, “tele-communion” damages the unity of the body in doctrine and practice. This matter extends beyond arguments of adiaphora, as it concerns fundamental tenets of sacramental theology. The church is where “the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.”30 “Tele-communion” ignores the clear biblical sense of “do this,” and many members of the NALC would therefore find themselves unable to participate for reasons of conscience. The yield will be a dysfunctional congregationalism in which members of one parish regard another’s sacramental practice as unfaithful. With respect to broader Christian unity, any legitimization of “tele-communion” will cause extensive ecumenical barriers.
Moreover, just as a great number of faulty interpretations will arise, so will a thousand different ways in which the elements are chosen and featured. This is a real breach of good order since it allows people to arrange Communion in whatever subjective way they want. Those without bread and wine at hand will simply be excluded by default, or else tempted to provide “symbolic” substitutes out of expediency.
The Question of “Household Communion”
Some have also raised the question of “household communion” – celebrating the Supper in the home, with an appeal to the “priesthood of all believers.” This is also problematic, but for different reasons. The Reformers were well acquainted with this phenomenon. Luther consistently denied that the common priesthood shared in Holy Baptism authorized heads of household to preside at Holy Communion, or for families to celebrate the Supper in their homes apart from the assembly.
The calling to priesthood entails representing other people in the sight of God.31 The priesthood of all believers therefore consists in obedience to the Great Commission through teaching/ catechesis and prayer: interceding for one another and sharing the gospel in what Luther calls “the mutual conversation and consolation” of Christian
Luther consistently denied that the common priesthood shared in Holy Baptism authorized heads of household to preside at Holy Communion, or for families to celebrate the Supper in their homes apart from the assembly.
fellowship.32 Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains the importance of this mutual conversation in his Life Together: “The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth… The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”33 Such consolation is no small thing. When what we share together is the apostolic, external Word of Christ, then it is a means of grace. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers also encompasses the many ways that believers support one another in Christian love – the “varieties of service” (1 Cor. 12:5) referenced earlier with respect to vocation. This is the private, “life-to-life” ministry in which all Christians share.34
But once again: while the means of grace are all various forms of the one external Word of Christ, they are not all cut from the same mandate. Holy Communion is public –entrusted not to the household, but to the church, the community of disciples “called out” of the world (ecclesia) over-against the nations to be the Body of Christ. Only in coming together publicly can the church celebrate the Supper. And only one who has been called by the church for public ministry and assigned to the “Office of Preaching” may preside at the Supper.35 So again Luther: “This is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ that… make the bread the body and the wine the blood that are daily
distributed through our ministry and office.”36
The means of grace have different emergency provisions with respect to the priesthood of all believers. Because Christ has given us no other way by which to enter into the fellowship of salvation, Baptism may be celebrated privately when death is at hand. The Office of the Keys is a public office because it may be exercised not only to comfort the conscience but also to bar “manifest and impenitent sinners” from the Lord’s Table.37 Every Christian, however, may participate in the Office of the Keys by speaking a private word of the assurance of forgiveness to a troubled fellow-believer for the sake of Christ – a return to the promise of Baptism. The Lord’s Supper, by contrast, has no emergency, private provision. Though it conveys “a certain pledge and assurance” of forgiveness and of Christ’s bodily fellowship,38 it is neither the doorway to salvation that Baptism alone is, nor is it the only appointed way for Christians to be strengthened in their journey. There is thus no “emergency Holy Communion,” because there is no emergency in which Christians cannot receive full assurance of God’s promise in Christ by the spoken word and the return to Baptism.
In the biblical witness, the logic of 1 Corinthians 11 applies to the question of household communion, but in reverse. Paul is admonishing the Corinthians for bringing the cliques of their household groups into the assembly – i.e., for not discerning the body. By the same token, that which belongs integrally to the body of the assembly – the Supper – should remain in its keeping, not taken and co-opted by the household. While whole families can be baptized (Acts 10:48, 16:33), they
receive the sacrament as individuals. Just as their Baptism calls them out of the world and out of the nations, it also calls them out the household and into the holy community of the church. The historic practice of “christening,” giving a new name in Baptism, reflects this reality, as does the current practice of omitting the surname during the baptismal liturgy. The baptized return to their households and to their other “posts” of service in the world with the obligation to mold these vocations according to the Word and will of God. Parental attention to the vows made at their children’s Baptism is a prime example of this obligation. It also illuminates a crucial distinction: parents are to “faithfully bring [their children] to the service of God’s house.”39 The household remains distinct from the church, and it cannot assimilate the latter’s singular task and invitation to do this in remembrance of me.
The Way Forward: Pastoral Freedom and Confessional Responsibility
God willing, the duration of this pandemic and its interruption of the church’s worship life will be fleeting – may it be so! In the meantime, questions remain concerning proper sacramental practice. On one level, the answer is clear. If we cannot gather as the church at all, then we wait in prayerful patience until we can do so again. Christ’s own deep desire to be with us and bless us is demonstrated by his gift of Holy
The household remains distinct from the church, and it cannot assimilate the latter’s singular task and invitation to do this in remembrance of me.
Communion itself. We can therefore be confident that he will bless those who desire the Lord’s Supper even though they are prevented from celebrating it. Trusting in Christ’s assurance, we share in the Word of God, "preached, believed, professed, and lived,“40 and in the mutual conversation and consolation of the priesthood of all believers. This should become an intentional time for catechesis in the home – for reflection upon what the Supper means to us as the church, and how the assembly is integral to what it means to be disciples of our Lord.
Some have termed this response an intentional sacrifice of “Eucharistic fasting” in the context of the self-emptying love described earlier.41 It is important to understand that this is not a case of the church intentionally withholding Christ’s Supper from the people, nor of the people abstaining from Holy Communion in the sense of refusing or despising it.42 What we are facing is a circumstance of deprivation that has been imposed upon us, and there are manifest biblical and confessional boundaries that we must respect as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).
A return to “normality” will undoubtedly occur in gradual stages. Provinces, states, and cities are shifting in and out of lockdown at different paces and different times. “Stay at home” orders will end, but various degrees of “social distancing,” whether formal or informal, will persist. In this developing situation, there is no uniform answer to the question, “When – and how – should we commune?” Given these shifting circumstances, our pastors have the responsibility and the freedom to alter their standard practices
for the sake of spiritual care, provided any decisions fall within the brackets of sound doctrine and liturgical practice.43
On one level, the biblical and confessional witness outlined above clearly demarcates the scope of these boundaries. In a Christian assembly we take bread and wine, consecrate it, distribute it, receive it, eat and drink it, and therewith proclaim the Lord’s death. There must be a public, bodily assembly of those whom Christ has brought into his body by Baptism. There must be shared bread and wine, which are distributed and received, eaten and drunk. On the other hand, variations in the size of the assembly and the extent of the distribution lie within the boundaries of Christ’s institution and are left open by Scripture. Throughout the history of the church, these have been adapted and varied in Christian freedom. For example, to distribute the bread and wine shared according to Christ’s command to those who are genuinely unable to gather with the congregation is not the same thing as foregoing altogether the eating of the “one bread” and the drinking from “this cup” according to Christ’s commandment. The variables are therefore somewhat open to the freedom of pastoral care.
In locations where authorities have lifted or relaxed social restrictions, parishes may decide to hold services of smaller size, in adherence to the laws and guidelines of their respective areas. For those who are truly unable to attend under the rubrics of those same guidelines, another possibility would be some variation of an extended distribution within a specified timeframe by the pastor or trained lay Communion ministers using a rite similar to the “Distribution in Special
Circumstances” from the LBW Occasional Services. Out of concern for the protection and wellbeing of the neighbor, adherence to strict social distancing guidelines would need to be observed for this to be viable. Where stay-at-home laws remain categorically in force, for instance, congregations will need to continue to refrain from Holy Communion. These respective models of smaller services, extensions of a single assembly in the same category as a typical distribution to the sick or home bound, or refraining from the sacrament altogether, are recognizable, orthodox alternatives for those parishes currently practicing “virtual” communion. They do not engage in or profess an act of remote consecration, so they do not employ the words of institution in “a different, new, and strange sense.”44 They are also obvious interim measures, acceptable exceptions with little to no chance of challenging the norm of the gathered church in the long run.
An abiding principle of the Reformation is the admonition that we in the Lutheran movement “are not minded to manufacture anything new” in doctrine or practice.45 This obligation underscores the biblical, traditional grounding that keeps our congregational focus on the person and Word of Christ. The practice of “virtual” or “tele-communion” in terms of remote consecration is a clear departure from this principle; and the church has no authority to diverge from the Lord’s command in the administration of the sacraments, whether for reasons pragmatic or pastoral. Obedience to the gospel therefore affords us no compromise in the matter.
1See David S. Yeago, “Quarantine, Word, and Sacrament,” LocalPrayers, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, April 8, 2020, https://www.localprayers.com/US/Monroe/892797130753775/St.-Luke%27s-Lutheran-Church (accessed April 9, 2020).
2Martin Luther, A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, in Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols., eds. J. Pelikan and H. Lehmann (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955ff.) [hereafter cited as LW], 35:121.
3Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism” [hereafter cited as LC], Part II:38-39, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert and others (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959) [hereafter cited as BC], 415-416. Emphasis added.
4See Paul Hinlicky, “Why Virtual Communion is Not Nearly Radical Enough,” Let’s Talk: 20 Years of Living Theology in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod since 1966, April 2, 2020, http://mcsletstalk.org/communion-andcommunity/why-virtual-communion-is-not-nearly-radical-enough/ (accessed April 9, 2020).
5See Yeago, “Quarantine.”
6LC V:4, in BC, 447.
7LC V:4, in BC, 447.
8See Robert W. Jenson, A Large Catechism, 2nd ed. (Delhi, New York: ALPB, 1999), 53.
9See Martin Luther, “The Smalcald Articles” [hereafter cited as SA], Part III, Art. VI:2-3, in BC, 311.
10See Yeago, “Quarantine.”
11“Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration” [hereafter cited as FC:SD], Art. VII:83-84, in BC, 584. Emphasis added.
12See Hinlicky, “Virtual Communion.”
13FC:SD, Art. VII:85, in BC, 584.
14See Yeago, “Quarantine.”
15Philip Melancthon, “The Augsburg Confession” [hereafter cited as AC], Art. VII, in BC, 32.
FC:SD, Art. VII:74-75, in BC, 583.
FC:SD, Art. VII:62, in BC, 581.
18SA III, Art. IV, in BC, 310.
19FC:SD, Art. VII:63, in BC, 581.
20LC V:27, in BC, 449.
21LC V:17, in BC, 448.
22LC V:69, in BC, 454.
23Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” Part VI:6, in BC, 352.
24See Robert W. Jenson, Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1978), 107.
25LC V:9, in BC, 447.
FC:SD, Art. VII:113, in BC, 589
(This position paper was written for the Commission on Theology and Doctrine of the North American Lutheran Church in April 2020.)
The Rev. Dr. Nathan H. Yoder STS is Pastor of St. Martin's Lutheran Church (Maiden, NC) and Dr. David S. Yeago, is professor emeritus at the North American Lutheran Seminary (Ambridge, PA).
27Martin Luther, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” in LW 37:184. Emphasis added.
FC:SD, Art. VII:83-84, in BC, 584. Emphasis added.
29LC V:4, in BC, 447.
30AC, Art. VII, in BC, 32.
31See Robert W. Jenson, Lutheran Slogans: Use and Abuse (Delhi, New York: ALPB, 2011), 23.
32SA III, Art. IV, in BC, 310.
33Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 2223.
34See Gerhard Forde, Theology is for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 184.
35See Forde, 183-184.
36FC:SD, Art. VII:77, in BC, 583.
37SA III, Art. VII and IX, in BC, 311-312 and 314.
38FC:SD, Art. VII:63, in BC, 581.
39Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978), 121.
40Martin Luther, “On the Councils and the Church,” in LW 41:150.
41See Hinlicky, “Virtual Communion.”
42LC V:49, in BC, 452.
43See Hinlicky, “Virtual Communion.”
44FC:SD, Art. VII:113, in BC, 589.
45Preface to BC, 13.
Benne, Robert. Keeping the Soul in Christian Higher Education: A History of Roanoke College. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017, 284 pp.
How can a Christian college retain its religious identity and mission in an increasingly secularized world? This is the question Bob Benne poses in this insightful history of Roanoke College, which is a continuation of his work on the topic started in 2001 with the publication of Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions.
Benne, an emeritus professor at the college and founder of the Benne Center for Religion and Society, traces the history of Roanoke College by chronicling each of its presidents from its founder, David Bittle, to Michael Maxey, who retired just last year. Benne provides the highlights of each administration, along with an analysis of each president’s inaugural address and with other noteworthy speeches. He reveals the college’s Lutheran roots and how its first president was an avid evangelical supporter of revival and an energetic advocate of moral formation for his students. But Benne also shows how the latest president’s inaugural address makes “no mention of vocation, the importance of grace, or faith and learning engagement,” not to mention any reference to Jesus Christ himself. Furthermore, Benne explains that as the college grew, mandatory religious curricula were removed and the
emphasis on moral formation became almost nonexistent.
Benne did recap some progress that he and others made during President Fintel’s and later tenures in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s which increased the dialog between faith and culture through well-attended lectures delivered by such Christian lights as Wolfhart Pannenburg, Martin Marty, John Richard Neuhaus, and N.T. Wright, and others. However, what is troubling here is how almost every succeeding administration after Bittle’s has become more and more secularized.
So what is the solution to this slow decline in the faithful mission of Roanoke College and Christian colleges in general? To answer this question, Benne outlines four types of church-related colleges: orthodox, critical mass, intentional pluralist, and accidental pluralist. The first class, orthodox, invites “fellow believers to an intentional Christian enterprise.” The second kind of Christian college, critical mass, presents itself “as a Christian school, but includes others.” The third type, intentional pluralist, presents itself “as a liberal arts school with a Christian heritage.” And the fourth kind, accidental pluralist, is “a secular school with scarcely an allusion to Christian heritage.” Benne seems to think that Roanoke is in the fourth category, accidental pluralist, and should strive to become an intentional pluralist school, stressing its Christian heritage and seeking to
hire Lutheran scholars. Benne writes that “the point of such a strategy would be to have an unabashed Christian presence in every fact of the college that would make Christian intellectual and moral commitments publicly relevant to the college.”
But one wonders if this is enough. An intentional pluralist Christian school, the category Roanoke College was likely in seventy years ago, even if attained today, would inevitably slip back into becoming an accidental pluralist school as it follows the secularizing stream of American culture. Might the critical mass status be needed, at the very least, to have any hope for real staying power as a genuine Christian institution? Perhaps Benne believes there is no hope of even reaching critical mass these days, due to the forceful and organized opposition of the faculty at the college. But leaving aside the debate over Benne’s strategies, it is nonetheless indisputable that Keeping the Soul in Christian Higher Education opens the dialog for understanding what it might take to save our Christian universities from becoming indistinguishable from the public universities which surround them. The question is this: are we willing to struggle against entrenched opposition to preserve our precious Christian institutions of higher learning for the benefit of future generations of the Church?
(Cover, pp. 3, 60) Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “The Last Supper” Panel from Wittenberg Altarpiece (1547), Oil Painting, Stadtkirche, Wittenberg, accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://en.buypopart.com/BuyPopArt.nsf/A?Open&A=8XYG47 Notice that Luther is depicted as an apostle receiving communion.
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(Page 8) Lucas Cranach the Elder, “Martin Luther,” 1533, accessed Sept. 22, 2022, https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/martin-luthers-message-still-relevant-500-years
(Page 9) “Dr. Gordon Jensen,” accessed Dec. 15, 2022, http://www. lutherantheological.org/about-us/people/faculty/2
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Image Credits, cont.
(Page 38) “German Cover of the Book of Concord,” 1580, accessed Sept. 22, 2022, https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/lutheran-history
(Page 44) “German Cover of the Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528),” accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://gruber.lstc.edu/luthers_works/1528.php
(Page 47) “Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” accessed Dec. 15, 2022, https://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2015/04/70th-anniversary-of-the-martyrdom-ofdietrich-bonhoeffer/
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“But the command of Christ, ‘Do this,’ which comprehends the whole action or administration of this sacrament (namely, that in a Christian assembly we take bread and wine, consecrate it, distribute it, receive it, eat and drink it, and therewith proclaimthe Lord’s death), must be kept integrally and inviolately, just as St. Paul sets the whole action of the breaking of bread, or of the distribution and reception, before our eyes in 1 Cor. 10:16.”Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1529).