Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Lord's Supper

I just started reading The Lord's Supper by Martin Chemnitz. I have to say that it is truly amazing (and on sale, as well! can get it here at Concordia Publishing House, if you don't have a pastor's library to raid, like I do)

This was on the first page of the Introduction:

The Son of God commended to His church the words of institution of the Supper in the form of a last will and testament -- at a time of high emotion, with most fervent prayer, and under the most serious circumstances on the night in which He was betrayed. Therefore these words should be observed with the greatest reverence and piety in the fear of the Lord by all people, for they are the words of the testament of the Son of God. But some evil genius has brought these most holy words into controversy like an apple of discord, so that what ought to be a bond of unity and agreement has become the cause of the most tragic differences and arguments.

Chemnitz goes on to talk about how theologians who will contend with all passion over most matters of doctrine will treat the disagreement over the words of institution as if they don't matter to salvation at all. And this attitude then extends all the way down to our youth, who then exert the logical extension of the theory that how we view Christ's words doesn't the idea that Holy Communion doesn't matter, so they don't seek it, don't partake often, and when they do, do not think about what they are doing.

I have barely started, but from my perusing, it is clear that Chemnitz keeps reiterating the point, chapter by chapter, that "Take eat, this IS my body" and "Drink of it all of you, this is the cup of the new testament in MY BLOOD, given for you FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS" is Christ's last will and testament before He was arrested and put to death. And a last will and testament is to be taken VERY seriously. Even in the case of a common man, if we doubt the meaning of the words, we are to go with the literal meaning of the words, with extreme conscience, follow the letter of what was stated in those words. Yet with Christ's words, in instituting a completely new practice in His Church, we have been arguing for almost 600 years on whether or not He meant that His body and blood are truly present, and whether Holy Communion is symbolic of the gift He gave us in His death, and whether we truly receive the forgiveness of sins.

It calls to mind a plot twist in my favorite book of all time, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Elizabeth eagerly hears Mr. Wickham's list of complaints against Mr. Darcy...the chief being that Mr. Darcy denied him a living as a vicar on his father's estate, that was specified in Darcy's father's will. Although Elizabeth was a little too eager to believe anything negative about Mr. Darcy, she stated something like this (I've loaned out my copy) "I knew him to be cold and unfeeling, but I did not believe him to be dishonorable."

Chemnitz argues that if we would have such strong tendencies to honor the will of a mere man, shouldn't we so much more so take seriously the will of the Son of God?

I have to admit I skipped ahead a bit. I am sure there will be more to report, but I found fascinating his argument about how doctrine is formed...or is NOT formed.

The main premise is a quote from Augustine "We must draw nothing from obscure passages which is not found written elsewhere in clear language."

Whether we believe that the Lord's Supper is truly the body and blood of Christ or if it is symbolic, the main source of doctrine comes from the words of institution themselves, reported in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. In every account, Christ says "IS" yet by most Protestant denominations, this is dismissed as being figurative. Yet we cannot build doctrine on figurative language. There must be a clear statement elsewhere which makes known the intention of Christ for this to be merely symbolic. And if it is not right where Christ instituted it, when He was specifically before His disciples, instituting something that has never been done before, why would He not make it clear, when He has always made it a point to teach and clarify His teachings to His disciples? And nowhere else is it stated that it is symbolic. Instead, Paul also clearly teaches that this is Christ's body and blood, given to each of us for the forgiveness of sins, and if we do not recognize it as such, we are eating and drinking to our judgement. (I Corinthians 11:23-27)

Doctrine can only be established using "proper, clear, and commonly known and used words," not "soley on figures of speech and allegories."

He states:

Further, there is no doubt that Christ willed that both this ceremony and this dogma be correctly understood, not only by the erudite who by rason of the gift of interpretation are able to penetrate into the depths of obscure points which are hidden in Scripture, but also by the whole church, the greater part of which are those who need to be fed on the milk of the Word. Therefore He is undoubtedly speaking about this new dogma, not previously known, so that it can be understood by all; for He fully realized that attached to it is the guilt of judgement if the proper discernment does not take place.

I'm really looking forward to reading this. The chapters are short, so I think I probably Iam going to be doing this on a chapter a day basis, as much as I can.


Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

Chemnitz is a favorite of mine even though I find prolonged reading of his work to be a cure for insomnia. You just can't ask for a better laid out argument for theological positions.

J said...

I'm looking further into the Lord's Supper and have a quick question. Which translation states Matthew, Mark, or Luke as "Drink of it all of you, this is the cup of the new testament in my blood, given to you for the forgiveness of sins" (emphasis mine)

The versions I have (NIV, KJV) both say "poured out for the forgiveness of sins" not "given to you for the forgiveness of sins". The different words have very different ideas - one saying the consumption forgives sins, the other saying the shedding forgives sins.

I'm not Lutheran, so I'm not familiar with the Lutheran reasoning, though I agree with the Real Presence.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Hi J,

Actually, I was working off of memory, which isn't a good idea at 1 in the morning. I have a tendency to like NASB, and you are right - Matthew, Mark, and Luke say poured out. I Corinthians 11:25 says This cup is the new covenant in My blood, do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

So I changed the "to" to "for"

The Words in our Small Catechism, which are NIV (I believe...most are, but it may fall from an RSV tradition.)

"Drink of it, all of you; this cup is te new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

I'm not sure whether that is one of the NIV texts or comes from an older translation.

J said...

Thank you very much. I've gotten differing positions from Lutherans with whom I've talked of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Some hold that partaking of the LS forgives sins, while a others don't. Likewise for Baptism, with most saying it is absolutely necessary for salvation, while other don't hold it as absolutely necessary.

All of a sudden I thought I might have seen a reason for the disagreement! Oh well, I guess not.