Monday, June 19, 2006

True and Worthy Communicants

From Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation - in the Explanation part (The explanation section in the back was written at a later date, not by Luther) (2005).

306. What is confirmation?

Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.

note: Prior to admission to the Lord's Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith. The rite of confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God's promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.

I can respect this description, because it allows for a lot of room. There are more and more churches that are changing how they do Confirmation and First Communion, and although most require a certain amount of knowledge to go to the table, nowhere in the Book of Concord does it say that it has to be so extensive as what two years of confirmation classes is supposed to the two can be separated (Confirmation as we know it, has NOT always been around in Lutheran circles). It also shies away from the pietistical error that Confirmation is where the child renews his baptismal promise that was made for him by his parents and sponsors. Since God is the one who upholds that promise, it doesn't need to be renewed.

This is what catches my attention:

304 May those who are weak in faith come to the Lord's Table?

Yes, for Christ instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith.

In fact, the Formula of Concord puts it like this:

True and worthy communicants, on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience.

If the rite of Confirmation as defined here, "a lifelong pledge of fidelity," is required before someone goes to the Sacrament, then what we are in effect saying is that a person must be strong of faith to be able to approach the table in the first place. If the oath is required at some point in time, the purpose of Communion is to strengthen their faith so that they can make the oath. Not that they must make the oath in order to partake.

Whenever this discussion comes up, it of course has to come to I Corinthians 11:27-29. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." ...and rightfully so. This is a serious condemnation. But it is used to justify waiting 11-12 years and then for two years of instruction in every aspect of our theology. What does "an unworthy manner" really mean?

According to the Confessions, and according to Luther himself, being worthy means they must have faith. Plain and simple. Those who have faith are worthy. Those who do not, are unworthy and are taking the Sacrament to their detriment.

#8 We believe, teach, and confess that there is only one kind of unworthy guest, namely, those who do not believe. Of such it is written, “He who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18) The unworthy use of the holy sacrament increases, magnifies, and aggravates this condemnation (I Cor. 11:27, 29) (The Formula of Concord - Epitome, The Holy Supper of Christ, Affirmative Theses).

" Now follows: Who are those who lay hold of this benefit? He who believes has baptism and he who does not believe does not have it. Likewise, he who believes that the body, which he receives, is given for him, has the fruit of this sacrament. Therefore, he who believes takes his rightful place at this sacrament.....If you believe, then you take the sacrament on the strength of these words "for you." Luther's Sermons on the Catechism - The Lord's Supper.

It seems to me that we are making all of this too complicated.

“…for thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. So children pray, “I believe in one holy Christian church.” The Smalkald Articles

(go to part 2 on this topic)


Jane said...

Younger doesn't necessarily mean less knowledgable, either. My recently-confirmed 10 year old knows and understands far more than I did after my two years of confirmation ening at age 14.

Great post! Glad to "see" you again!

Yellow said...

Wow. It sounds complicated to me. I'm not familiar with the Lutheran church and the 'Book of Concord' but in our church, we waited until we knew our children could understand what communion is and that we are to remember Christ and His sacrifice for us. We left the decision to each parent for their own child. We always allowed time for examining our own hearts, as well. Your blog is very interesting. Thank you for writing and i hope you get to do it more often.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


Back during the Reformation, the Lutherans were called upon to defend their teachings against various accusations from the Catholic church....the leading theologians came together and wrote several different statements that stated what we truly believed and taught. These were brought together in the Book of Concord, and are still the clearest expressions of our doctrine that we have. They don't have Biblical status, but are taken from the Bible.

In many ways, I think what you describe is a good thing..the parents training the children in the faith, and recognizing that they are ready to commune. Luther wrote the Small Catechism, and each part starts "in which the head of the family shall teach them to his household." The Bible repeatedly makes it clear that it is the family's job, most notably the father, to train the children in the faith.

It used to be commonplace for the parents to bring the children to the pastor to be examined when they thought they were ready to commune. The pastor would examine them privately and then would declare them ready to commune.

Lutherans are very careful with Communion because we do believe something about it that most other Protestant Churches do not. We believe in the real presence. When Christ said "Take eat, this IS My body given for you" and "This IS My blood of the new covenant given for you" He didn't say "this represents." So we believe that when the bread and wine are combined with the Word...that Christ's body and blood are really there with the bread and the wine through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the three ways that God bestows forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). The other two are through Scripture and through Holy Baptism.

Take that in context with I Corinthians 11:29 "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly." then our pastors, as undershepherds in charge of our Lord's flock until He returns, take it seriously that they not cause anyone to sin against the body of protect them. So our pastors need to make sure that those who come to the table believe that they are receiving Christ's body and blood as well as the bread and the wine, as the Bible teaches.

The problem is, that there is a viscious cycle in the church. Sunday School and confirmation classes were started because the children were not getting taught. Then, the parents come to believe that it isn't their job, it's the church's, because they have Sunday School and confirmation class. I'm not against the classes in and of themselves, because learning in the context of the congregation has its place....I just would like to see the parents take their rightful place as the primary teachers of their children and see children who do have faith come to Communion, regardless of their age.

Greg said...

Some good thoughts here--thoughts that surely acknowledge the perocial aspect of the LC-MS, and the freedom which it affords.

Here some thoughts to consider:
As a part of a synod, what impact might there be on other congregations (community, circuit, district, etc.) when the decision is made to welcome children to the table on an individual basis? Might some "peripheral vision" be in order?

Consider this example: Currently I am teaching an 11-week new-member class. One of the students, a woman who was baptized years ago, asked me after our first class whether or not she should commune. She said that she had asked an Elder at a service a few weeks before, and he had told her that as long as she was baptized and had faith, she could go. Now, what am I to do? As a part of a "confirmation class," albeit adult, if I allowed her to commune while having the rest of the class wait until they are "ready" (in this case, upon their confirmation and welcoming into the visible church), I risk denying the horizontal element involved in communion-the confession of a common faith. For the sake of good order, might it be helpful to ask her to refrain until she is confirmed with her class?

*This doesn't even address the fact that the Elder's questions were probably insufficient.*

So often, when using 1 Corinthians 11 to "stretch" the agreed upon understanding of "close" communion, people ignore the fact that Paul is writing to a specific congregation, and that those individuals he is addressing have been previously taught. So, if Paul sees it fit to withhold the Supper from members of a congregation, might it follow that we may need to do the same-youth or adult?

Finally, assuming you haven't gotten tired of me yet, we must be careful not to take our confessions out of their context. What did Luther, Melancthon, and the other reformers mean when they confessed that "he who believes" takes his rightful place at the Sacrament? Did they commune children before they had received proper, sometimes years, of instruction? No, in fact, those who had not received sufficienct instruction left the sanctuary just prior to the "Service of Holy Communion."

These are just some thoughts. Take them for what they are worth.

God bless!

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


You brought up some interesting points that I would love to discuss. I looked on your blog but there was no email. You brought up enough that it is really kind of difficult for me to answer in the comments section (this little narrow format gets to me). Would you mind if I did it as a main post?

Greg said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond. I had stumbled on to your blog, and had not returned. Then, I was on vacation for a week. I'm impressed that you took the time to formulate such a thoughtful response. Thanks. That is the sort of dialogue that is helpful in the Church.

I like what you had to say in your response. I do think some of my comments were taken out of context, or misunderstood. Most likely, I wasn't as clear as I should have been. I'll respond to your newest post.

solarblogger said...

Greg's "peripheral vision" concern is an important category in many discussions. But if withholding the Sacrament from children is really wrongheaded, I wonder if we should be taking it into consideration.

In the fourth century, when delaying baptism till the deathbed was common, would baptizing at conversion not have presented the same kind of problem? I'm sure some would have regarded following normative Biblical practice destructive of churchly order.

Gunfighter said...

"It seems to me that we are making all of this too complicated."

I have always thought so. In our congregation, too many people have the otion (in my opinion, anyway) that confirmation and communion MUST be connected to a set of years, not what the confirmand or communicant believes or knows.