CWOB: Sacraments are…

This next few blog posts will address a tendency in some ELCA congregations to view the Lord’s Supper as open to everyone, as an act of hospitality, whether baptized or not, and baptism as initiation into the community.

In order to talk about the implications of this tendency we must first look at what a sacrament is and then address the specific nature of each sacrament. In the next post we will then address the relationship between the sacraments and why order is important.  Finally we will discuss the pros and cons of  “hospitality” and its implications to mission, outreach, and discipleship.

1. Sacraments are…

According to the Book of Concord sacraments are, “signs of God’s will toward us, …and so it is right to define the New Testament sacraments as signs of grace.”[1]  These signs of grace are then performed with two necessary conditions.  The first is the elements that are being used and the second is the Word of God.  These two things create a picture showing the “Visible Word” of God.[2]  Yet, they also point to the one true sacrament of God, Jesus, who is the visible Word of God given for our sins.  The importance of recognizing that Jesus is the true sacrament of God is necessary for understanding the two sacraments that He gave to us: baptism and communion.  Gritsch and Jenson write, “About the gospel, the doctrine of justification claims that the gospel does what it says; about each sacrament of Lutheranism makes the same point in a way appropriate to that each sacrament as particular embodiment of some part of the gospel.”  So let us now look at how each sacrament embodies some part of the gospel.

2. Baptism

When we baptize anyone we put water over his or her heads and we say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] Arthur Just writes, “Baptism is the ‘frontier’ sacrament upon which all Christian life is founded.”[4] Baptisms are performed on both infants and adults who are entering into the Body of Christ.

There are a variety of biblical images that provide differing but complementary understandings of what baptism does.  The Johannine tradition shows baptism to be a rebirth.  Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”[5] We must be born again through the water and Spirit.  I appreciate this image because this imagery provides a good look at what baptism is doing.  We are taken from our old lives and given a new one in Christ.

The second biblical image that I appreciate comes from the Pauline tradition.  Paul’s image is of death and resurrection.  Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[6] In the Pauline tradition baptism is something that kills us and then resurrects us into a new life with Christ. Christ has recreated us by making us new creations in baptism.

Although rebirth and resurrection are different metaphors for speaking of the reality of what baptism does there is a common element in that we are removed from the old life and move into communion with God through baptism. Whether operating under the image of being born anew or one of death and resurrection they show that life is radically different after one has been baptized-it’s new life![7]

3. Communion

There are many things that could be said about what the Lord’s Supper does but I will only examine two of them for the sake of space.  Ultimately, I will show how the Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith.

In the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Since Christ is present in the meal and it’s proclamation message is sure, we can believe that it actually is the forgiveness of sins.  We say the words of Christ in the liturgy during the Words of Institution, “…shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”[8]  The Large Catechism says, “[W]e go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why?  Because the words are there, and they impart it to us!”[9] These words have the power to create what they say. We receive forgiveness because we are promised it in the meal.

The Lord’s Supper also strengthens our faith.  Since we are given a meal that was instituted and continues to be instituted by Christ we can be sure that the promises that he gives us are real.  The Apology says, “Thus in the church the Lord’s Supper was instituted that our faith might be strengthened by the remembrance of the promises of Christ-of which this sign reminds us-and that we might publicly confess our faith and proclaim the benefits of Christ…”[10] In both the content and the remembrance of the meal our faith is strengthened because of Christ’s promise.

[1] “Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” Eds. Robert Kolb et al. The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 270:69.

[2] Apology, 220:5

[3] There are variations to this but the words but, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” were commanded by Jesus himself in Matthew 28:19.  See Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition for the variations, 590.

[4] Arthur A. Just. Jr., Heaven On Earth (Saint Louis: Concordia Press, 2008), 150.

[5] John 3:5

[6] Romans 6:3-4

[7] I also think Luther’s flood prayer provides good imagery of God saving through water changing the lives of those whom God has saved.

[8] ELW Leaders Desk Edition, 238.

[9] The Large Catechism, 469:22.

[10] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 142:210.

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Filed under Communion Without Baptism, Ministry Reflections

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