Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

A look into the mind of one of the most random, crazy people in all the land.

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Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The State of Our Theology

Today the Lutheran church remembers St. Augustine the Doctor of Grace (St. Monica his mother was celebrated yesterday). He is chiefly remembered for his role in several debates (the Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagians) and his many works on the Christian faith, most notably his "Confessions" and "City of God." While the East sometimes doesn't care for him...he's one of the West's greatest defenders of the faith. With so many fights and battles to be fought, it would be next to impossible if he did not get something wrong some of the time...but those things pale in comparison to what he has given the West and the church catholic in general.

The story of his conversion is a good one, recorded in the "Confessions" and was brought about chiefly by the prayers of his mother and the instruction of St. Ambrose the Bishop of Milan (Dec. 7th). What a team up...and what an excellent type of how we are all brought into the church. The church prays for those who are lost to become her children and know salvation in Christ and the teachers of God's Word instruct and eventually bring in new believers in the Holy Mysteries. I still can't get over how amazing it is that both masculine and feminine work together to create new life, even in the Spiritual realm. Let us remember this story as we pray and weep for those friends and family (and they are innumerable) whom we know that are not in the family of God.

After Summer Greek, I was tired, but now have relaxed somewhat, and begun to read several of my books for the Fall Quarter. I have had the opportunity to return to my home congregation and I have been somewhat troubled by what I have seen and heard. This is not an indictment against Trinity alone, but against most of American Lutheranism. Something so simple as having the Blessed Sacrament every week has been met with such a negative and belabored response. Many of the laymen who have given their reasons why the Sacrament should not be offered at every Divine Service have, to put it bluntly, scared me. The excuses have scared me because they make me fearful for our salvation in times of trial. If the Christian church worries that we are not under persecution for our faith as countries in Africa are, do not worry. The Devil has his teeth sunk in our spoiled and lazy flesh. He has brought us to the point of thinking we don't have it that bad...and we don't need the Sacrament.

Here are the reasons given, my response, and my fear:
1. "I am satisfied." - No you are not! Thinking you are satisfied means you really aren't. This breads complacency and makes us forget that we are the church millitant...the fight isn't over yet.

2. "It will become a law." - To the church body, yes. The Sacraments are to be offered by the church or else it ceases to have the gifts of Christ. But to the believer it is yes and no. The believer is called by the Sacrament, but they choose whether or not to take it. You don't force anyone by offering it...but you can condemn those who need it and do not receive it. Not to mention...if those who say this also push members to read their Bible and pray daily (a worthy goal), how can this be a law but not reception of the Sacrament? Even granting that the Sacrament is a law and not grace (a damnable error), this seems to show a misunderstanding of law and gospel!

3. "I am completely forgiven." - Not if you deny what forgives you your sins and feeds your faith. There is a difference between the forgiveness given freely and you turning your back on one of the means instituted by Christ. You have forgiveness when your will is surrendered to Him and you receive His gifts with faith and repentance. To turn your back on His gifts is a lack of both.

4. "I don't need the church to get grace, it is between me and Jesus." - This one scares me more than the first three, for it shows a complete lack of communion with each other in the ONE body of Christ. This will also play into point 5. Aside from the potential condmenation spoken of in 1 Corinthians 11 for not recognizing the body, it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the means of grace...the means are offered by the priest on behalf of Christ to the congregation...and yes, I'm purposely using the dreaded (yet confessional) term "priest" to get this concept across...the Office of the Holy Ministry is a Divinely instituted office to shepherd God's people with Word and is not the, "we get to wear cool clothes club." This is a misunderstanding of the church, the ministry, and the Sacraments...influenced by Baptiprotestant theology which gets the person and work of Christ wrong. This was also accompanied by "sometimes I don't take it because I don't feel worthy." What?! Such a high view of the Supper one minute and not the next? It is a means of prepare to receive it is to humble one's self and realize that no matter WHAT you do you are unworthy for it...but it is given anyway as long as you have faith that it forgives you your sins because it is the body and blood of Christ.

5. "It is up to the people of God to decide how to worship. If you don't like how we worship you can go to another church." - Ouch...swing and a miss. BTW, this quote just cast the individuals saying it out of the church catholic...the true "people of God" spoken of in the Communion of Saints. To see the the church as a congregation of voting members as in a Democracy is decidedly American and unscriptural. The church is a family and includes many many generations of faithful Christians who worshipped liturgically with Word AND Sacrament for nearly 1600 years before some boob decided to alter the theology behind the Supper and thus downplay its importance.

6. "If we have it too often, it will be taken for granted." - If this is a reflection of how much people read their Bible, then I'd believe it...but the problem is that I have centuries and centuries of the church's witness to tell you that such a situation (while possible) is not guaranteed.

7. "It's a means of grace just like preaching and Scripture is" OR "All we need is the general absolution at the beginning of the service." - you can leave and we can continue to worship as Scripture says...thanks! This shows the Western theological error of simplifying everything down to its substance. Reasoning that all the means of grace are the same because they give grace (or that I only need one and not another) is tantamount to treating a person of the Trinity as more important because they are truly God...they're all why should we mention the Holy Spirit everytime we mention the Father and Jesus?

8. "You can't show me in the Bible where it mandates worship every Sunday." - Yes I can...the Apostles did it and you call yourself an apostolic church in the creeds...either do what they did with the Sacraments or take it out of the creed....easy!

I know I may have seemed harsh above...but I'm tired of being called a legalist for pointing out to people the danger of their mindset. That their direct quotes show what is in their hearts indicates to me that the people running many of our parishes are wilfully ignorant of doctrine. This willful ignorance hurts the Sacramental ministry of our churches and WILL end up condemning people because of their lack of true faith. To treat faith as a purely intellectual or enthusiast understanding of "me and Jesus" and to have no worry of sin and sorrow with repentance which always seeks God's gifts and doesn't despise them is the same as having no faith at all. I say that to be complacent in one's Christian walk will lead to death...Scripture and our Confessions make this abundantly clear (the articles on Justification and Penitence in the AC and Ap spring to mind, as well as Christ's many exhortations to good works and sorrow over sin, such as the Parable of the Publican and the tax collector). True penitence seeks after God's gifts and hopefully is willing to take the pastor's chiding over such spiritual pride apart from where Christ is found.

We preach Christ crucified, and where else do WE (note St. Paul is speaking to a whole congregation, not just the bishop) preach and proclaim this than in the Holy Eucharist?! To say it is not necessary or to say we preach this same thing in the Sermon is to change the number of the one's proclaiming Christ crucified. Am I a legalist? I will gladly take the name if it means I spurn on others to good works, genuine repentance and proclaim the love of God which by faith we should emulate. The problem is we stop short of exhorting our people to good works. Many times we treat confession as mechanical and the lack of private confession as well as the lack of deacons means our pastors are too busy to truly get to know the needs of their members (at least in very large congregations). If I were a pastor of a large church, I would be trembling for fear of God...for their eternal destiny is in my care. Let us shed this antinomian mindset! That we can read Scripture and see the Gospel in every page but still not the law, which rather than fear we should want to do because we have been united to Christ and HE wants to follow the law, should embarrass us. We have cheapened the Gospel by making it about felling good for the next week.

To be forgiven in Christ is a joyful position, for we can call God "Abba." But to be forgiven and treat God's gifts with little or no care, or even contempt is a sure sign of Satanic influence on our Old Adam and a clear example of testing God. Let us remember not just that we are forgiven...but WHERE this forgiveness is made manifest....the Sacraments. Let us shed our pride and arrogance and realize that we are not strong at all spiritually. To be strong in the Spirit is to realize that you are weaker and weaker....therefore those externals which many feel are a crutch are to those who know they are sinners the Gospel, for they constantly bring to mind Christ and Him crucified.

Remember, when we are WEAK, He is strong. "I must decrease so that He may increase" (St. John the Baptist). Take the image of St. Monica and St. Augustine to heart...the church desires to give us the gifts of God...let us take them and become the converted St. Augustine, not the pagan one, so that God may be glorified in our salvation.