The other day, Pr. Petersen asked what the next big issue would be in the LCMS. On what would future generations, he wondered, look back and ask, “What could they have been thinking?” He proposed infant communion.
I am opposed to that practice for a few reasons. One, I think that it is impossible for infants to recognize the Body of the Lord in the Supper. Most of the arguments seem to revolve around paralleling the reception of the Supper by an infant to reception of baptism. But Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not the same. We should not start from the premise that they are both “sacraments” and then elucidate the similarities. We should treat them as what they are in themselves–related, to be sure, but not the same. I am, however, in favor of a lowering of the age of first communion.
But that’s not the point of this post. I do not think infant communion will be the major issue of my or my children’s generation. Whatever we decide about that particular practice pales in comparison to the faultline that is buried under the LCMS currently. We’re simply waiting for the Big One to shake the whole thing to pieces. Some other issues that people listed were women’s ordination and (closed) communion practice. These are symptoms of what I think actually will be the issue, if the LCMS will survive as a vehicle of the Gospel. (Churches survive past their usefulness all the time; it’s whether they remain Christian that’s important.)
What will be the issue? It will be Law and Gospel. You would think that a church body which has as a primary text Walther’s Proper Distinction would have no problem distinguishing them. And yet, I see nearly all of our current problems and disagreements stemming from a fundamental failure to distinguish Law and Gospel correctly. You can trace this problem back prior to Seminex. We seem to have thought that kicking out those ungodly Bible-deniers would solve the problem. I contend that we won a battle, but ultimately lost the war (or we will lose if we do not figure this out).
Here’s the issue as clearly as I can articulate it: Simplistically, the Scriptures contain Law and Gospel. The Gospel–that sinners are forgiven for Jesus’ sake–is, as everyone knows, an unquestionable good. The Law is what condemns us (sinners) before God. Therefore, in Christ, the Gospel overcomes the Law’s verdict about us. Without much alteration, this outline became the Gospel overcomes the Law. The dialogue became a polarity: Law vs. Gospel. Thus my professors in college could utter nonsense like “God’s Gospel contradicts God’s Law.” Even “the Gospel trumps the Law” is incorrect. All of this makes the Law the problem. It is the Law versus the Gospel. Which side are you on?
Which is stupid. I’m on God’s side. Both are God’s Words. The Gospel doesn’t trump the Law, as if there were some inner battle going on in God between His Law–which, in the reductionist’s schema, eventually stops being God’s at all–and His Gospel. What happened to the sinner? Basically irrelevant. No, the Law kills the sinner and the Gospel raises him to life. They work on the sinner, not each other. Let’s put it clearly for the sake of the reductionists: Law=good; sinner=bad.
The Gospel is what puts us into the same relationship with the Father that the Son has. In fact, here’s something to really get your reductionistic Lutheran knickers in a knot: it is the Gospel, not the Law, that will pass away at the eschaton. We will rejoice fully in the Law for eternity, because the Law, broadly understood, is simply how God set things up. It is how God made things to work in the beginning, and it is life in right relationship with God for which we were made and for which we wait in eager expectation.