From the Disk of the Pastor October 2010
Dear Friends in Christ,
We live in a sea of things that make us look in the wrong direction. In our own midst we have the battle for the Bible. This became so intense that I have seen churches that replaced the image of Christ with an image of the Bible on the altar. Such a thing is idolatrous. We don’t worship the Book. We worship the Christ who is revealed in the pages of that Book. Sacramental theology is also suspect in some circles. I knew an LCMS pastor, many years ago, that believed that anyone who was strongly sacramental, was a Seminex liberal. He honestly believed that trust in the Sacraments was a denial of Scripture. This is reinforced by pop evangelicalism that openly denies that God works through the Sacraments.
Yet, the sacraments, rightly administered, are one of the marks of the Church. Bishop Walter Obare Omzuma, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, was the preacher for President Harrison’s installation. In his sermon, Bp. Obare went so far as to call the liturgy a mark of the Church. Our confessions do not list the liturgy as a mark of the Church, but he is essentially correct. The liturgy is about the right administration of the Sacraments. This is a little more complicated than it might seem. Nor is it just about the Lord’s Supper, as you might presume.
Baptism is lived in the Church. We mistakenly think of it as a one time thing. Rather, baptism continues to wash us daily. It is our adoption as sons of God. So we gather as the sons of God and approach His throne. How do we do that? In the baptismal name - that is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the name of God that was placed upon us when we were baptized. We now approach God through that name. This is baptism in action in our lives. The Church gathered is the assembly of the baptized. Otherwise it would be a blasphemous parody of church. The liturgy then, in this way, is the right administration of the sacraments.
The sacrament of Holy Absolution is actually an intrusion into the service. Originally, Lutherans practiced private confession. And people were expected to come to confession before communing. We see a vestige of this in the old practice of having people come and register for communion. Sadly, many pastors did not use this time for confession and absolution. Confession was added to the service, on a regular basis, when there weren’t enough pastors to cover all the pulpits. It has been done both at the beginning of the service and after the sermon. (In the LCMS German service, confession was after the sermon.) But here too we are establishing the terms of coming into God’s presence. We come as beggars, we come as publicans. We come seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, with nothing that is truly ours to offer back to God.
Then we come to the Holy Supper. This is the very body and blood of Christ. Luther once said that if a person is troubled by their sins, they should not look to the cross, but they should look to the supper. Here is where we become actual participants in the death of Christ on the cross. Here we claim this sacrifice as a credit to our account before God the Father. The liturgy is there to teach us what is happening. When we cut short the communion liturgy, we lose the understanding of what is happening. In a Christian world that denies the real presence of Christ, we need these liturgical structures more than ever to remind us that this is indeed the Holy of Holies, the very body and blood of Christ Himself for us to eat and drink.
Each day we are assaulted by all manner of false images of the Christian faith. Much that claims to be Christian in the United States is not. And much that is Christian, is wracked with severe errors that cause many to lose their faith. We must hold precious the structures of the liturgy and the centrality of the Sacraments in our lives. This is what makes us different, and more truly biblical, by God’s grace, than many others.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:104-105