Many of you have expressed interest in some of the specifics of Lutheran teaching. And really, I can hardly restrain myself. I feel like I’ve just found out that Dillard’s is giving out free IPODS to everyone who visits the shoe counter…..that’s how much this teaching has wowed me. There are two teachings in particular that are very different than what’s taught in most American Evangelical churches today; those that surround Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I’ll attempt to tackle the Lord’s Supper in two parts over the next few days.
In part I, I will explain what Lutherans believe the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Supper and in part II, I will present common arguments against the ‘real presence’ and how we Lutherans answer those arguments. Let me say first that I am no Bible scholar and though I have listened to and read many Lutheran scholars for hours and hours on this subject, I realize I have serious limitations. I do not speak Greek or Hebrew or Latin and I have not been to seminary. (But I know a few people who do and have and I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night). I pray for God’s mercy that I will explain things clearly, with humility, and with the sincerity that His teachings deserve. I will refer you to my favorite Lutheran pastor if this discussion gets over my head. I’ve heard before that you don’t really understand a subject unless you can explain it to someone else. This is my attempt at that. And we should be able to defend our faith and practices. I’m working on that one too.
Let’s dig in.
Lutherans teach the ‘real presence’ in the Lord’s Supper. That the true body and blood of Christ is present ‘in, with, and under’ the bread and wine. There are several scriptures which can be used, but they all have similiar language: “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take eat; this IS my body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this IS my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I could stop there I guess. We take Jesus at His word. And since as far back as the time of the apostles, the blessing and giving of the Lord’s Supper has been central to the church’s gathering. In Lutheran churches, it is THE central event of the worship service. Worship is literally the receiving of God’s gifts (His word and sacrament) and returning thanks to Him for those gifts. The Lord’s table is positioned centrally with the pulpit off to the side. These guys are serious about Christ-centered, cross-focused worship.
Most Lutheran churches serve communion every Sunday……taking advantage of every opportunity to receive the blessings promised with the sacrament; namely, the forgiveness of sins. I have to admit that I struggled with this when becoming Lutheran. ‘Eating the Lord’s body….drinking His blood’…..how can this be? Surely He meant a ‘spiritual’ type eating. It just didn’t sound right. At least not to my rational mind. Lutherans don’t attempt to explain how it is this happens. It still looks like bread and wine…..it tastes like bread and wine, and yet Christ says ‘This IS my body and blood’. Jesus’ words have always been powerful like that though. He spoke the worlds into being, he spoke and turned water into wine, he spoke and food multiplied, he spoke and people were healed. Miracles are part and parcel of the christian life, so why is this one so hard for us? Because we’re reasonable and rational and because this teaching doesn’t fit into a nice little box that we can easily explain. We serve a God who thinks and works outside the box. And we can try to twist His words to fit our rational or we can simply take Him at His word.
Why did God choose bread and wine? Maybe He intended for us to see the sacrament as the very sustenance of life. We literally live by the body and blood of Christ. It is likely not a coincidence that just as God used manna in the desert and fed the 5000 and instituted the Passover supper , he also feeds us now…Himself, his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us….. for the forgiveness of sins. He gives us this sacrament in the form of eating and drinking because it’s a concept we understand. We must have food to live. Even more so, we must have His food to truly live.
Almost all churches, I suspect, observe the Lord’s Supper in some form. In the churches where I grew up, it was called an ordinance—-a fancy word meaning law. In the Lutheran church, the sacrament is pure gospel. The unmerited grace of God given to us freely. In my prior experience, it was a ‘representation’ of something Christ did. Lutherans believe it is the means by which Christ’s forgiveness is granted to us…..over and over again. Previously, I was taught that I needed to be ‘right’ with God in order to take communion. Lutherans teach God makes me right with Him in His supper as He imparts His grace to me. To ‘discern His body’ in the Supper, properly understood, I think, means to acknowledge His true presence there.
Lutherans do not believe the scripture teaches transubstantiation as Catholics teach. Of all denominations, Lutherans tend to hold one of the highest views of the sacrament. It is not an ordinance or a representation. It is pure, free, powerful gift from God. A concrete, physical means by which I can know I have received God’s forgiveness and grace…..rather than looking for concrete evidence in myself…in how much I am improving in the christian life. I am so thankful for this tangible gift that Christ gives. We are doubting physical beings who need physical sustenance and reassurance. His supper is His means of giving us both.
For an audio clip on this teaching, click here. Or try this article , written by Todd Wilken. In the next couple of days, I’ll post part II. I welcome your thoughts, your church’s practice, even your questions….which I may or may not be able to answer. Some scripture references include Matt. 26: 26-28 and I. Cor. 11:23. May God bless the reading and studying of His word.
Winners for the giveaway posted on Monday. Yes, I said winnerZ. My family insisted on more than one. You lucky blog friends-a-mine.