Why Refuse the Lord’s Gifts?

Posted: 16 October 2010 in Christianity, Church, Liturgy, Lord's Supper, Lutheran, Lutheranism, Lutherans, Pastors, Scriptures, Theology, Worship

I try as hard as I can to understand where people are coming from with whom I disagree.  I really do (most of the time) want to know why they hold the positions they do and how they came to hold them.  But I have a difficult time understanding why people would not want to receive the Lord’s Supper every time they gather for the Divine Service (i.e., on Sundays and feast days, at the least).  I find it even harder to understand why pastors in previous generations (and we’re probably going back 150-200 years) decided to withhold the Supper from their people.  I mean, simply read the Small Catechism, and Luther’s Christian Questions (let alone the book of Acts, esp. 2:42!) and I find it hard to see how anyone could think that having the Lord’s Supper less often was a good idea.  And today, there’s simply no excuse, when Presbyterians put Lutherans to shame with their weekly communions. 

What reasons could people possibly have to say ‘no, thanks’ when the Lord would offer His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith in Him and our love toward other people?  Here are some possibilities:

  • They don’t really believe it’s the Lord’s Body and Blood.  If it’s just a remembrance ceremony, no matter how special, then it can’t be as important as hearing the sermon or gathering with other Christians. 
  • They think they’ve had enough forgiveness.  You hear statements like this: why do I need to take the Lord’s Supper when I just received the absolution?  The answer is that they have not yet realized the depth of their own sinfulness.  Sin is not just the bad actions you do, it is who you are outside of Christ, and the battle between the Holy Spirit and your sinful nature can still go to your sinful nature.  And because we are completely sinful, though completely righteous before God in Christ, there is not a moment that goes by where we cease to be sinful.  Hence, St. Ambrose: “Because I always sin, I ought always to take the medicine.”  (cf. Augsburg Confession XXIV:33 [Latin])  Or, hear Luther: “If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment [by the devil], you would be glad to come to the sacrament [of the Altar] as often as you can.  The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil” (LC V:82). 
  • It will make the Lord’s Supper “less special” to take it more often.  People seriously need to think before they say this.  They are implying that a gift of Jesus Christ Himself can be made less special, less significant by how we treat it.  What they may be saying is that they would treat it as less special, but there the problem is, as always, not with the gift but with the sinner.  The gifts of the Lord cannot be made less special the more He gives them out.  They are not like having the same holiday every year, which would render the holiday irrelevant.  The logical conclusion of this thinking is fairly obvious to me: why does no one ever suggest having the sermon only twice a month?  Then: why not have the services of the Lord’s House twice a month?  Then: you know, it would be really special if we only did the whole thing once a year.  No one says such things.  To use an analogy, no one would says it would make the times you kiss your wife or tell her you love her really special if you only did it once in a while.  Nor does anyone say that meals would be really special if we had them only once a day, or once a week.  On the contrary, the more the Lord gives us His gifts, the more we learn to treasure them, because they are as necessary as love and food.  Those who say that having the Supper more often will make it less special have not yet recognized the depth of their sin, nor the greatness of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Supper.
  • I think the most common, though unspoken, objection is that it simply takes too much time.  People like the shorter services, because they view the services of the Lord’s House as a chore to be completed, rather than the occasion of the Lord’s visitation to His people.  If we really believed that God Himself was present in Jesus Christ to deliver His Word and Sacraments every week, we would….  Finish that sentence, and you have the foundation of a very good theology of the Divine Service.   

Those are the ones I can think of.  I find none of them even remotely convincing.  That is not to insult you if you have one of those reasons for not wanting the Lord’s Supper more often, but I think you should reconsider, and maybe confess.  When we use unscriptural and anti-theological arguments as reasons for not having the Lord’s Supper as often as His people gather around Jesus and His means of forgiveness, we are not only harming ourselves, but anyone who may need that medicine that day.  We deprive them of the gifts Jesus wants to give.  If you, for whatever reason, don’t want to receive the gifts He wants to give you, don’t, please, deny others the chance to receive them. 

Timotheos

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Comments
  1. Matt says:

    Brother Timotheos,

    Same thing I wrestled with in my previous call and now look to take up here. The conclusion I’ve come to–and this is putting the best construction on things–is that hundreds of years of pietism in the Lutheran Church can take a loooooong time to undo.

    Blessings, Brother!
    MDR

  2. Matt says:

    My grandfather was the pastor of my home congregation back in northern Michigan for 17 years. When he died, my younger brother was about to start confirmation. The new pastor ordered copies of Luther’s Small Catechism from CPH…he ordered the 1986 edition, rather than the 1941 edition my grandpa always used. People actually threatened to leave the church over that.

    It seems people who have the noblest intentions of being “traditional” and “conservative” don’t do things based on what’s historic and biblical…they do it because they know that’s the way it’s been. Like you said, “It was good enough for my parents and grandparents. Why shouldn’t it be good enough for me?” I’m sure for many people, pastors who are trying to introduce weekly communion seem like “liberals”…they’re “trying to change things.” I guess the tactic I’m taking, going into this for the second time, is to preach, teach, and give example to…not why they should have communion every Sunday…but why the Lord’s Supper is the most precious gift Christ has given us on earth. And I hope that if I can embody that love for this gift in the way I conduct my ministry, that others will follow my lead.

    Anyway, that’s my ramblings. Blessings to you brother as you continue as an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd for God’s people in the place you’ve been called!

    I know you’ve spent a LOT of time in discussion and study of this issue with your congregation. I’m gearing up for that study and discussion myself. It’s hard because the greatest joy I know is a Divine Service that goes an hour and twenty minutes because the Word is rightly preached and the Lord’s people have received His body and blood.

  3. Mark Opheim says:

    What does the Loci of the Lord’s Supper entail? We already know that pastors/congregations refuse the Lord’s supper from certain other groups, so this is an instance of showing that there is “more there than meets the catechism.” Perhaps there are similar issues going on “in house?”

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