Walther and Luther on Open Altars

“[The itinerant (e.g., Methodist) preacher] uses the holy Supper as bait, as a means of luring the people into the net of his fanaticism and sectarianism. But do not many so-called ‘Lutheran’ preachers follow a similar practice! We have sadly experienced that not a few of the preachers who call themselves Lutherans, when they have prepared the holy table for the Sacrament, invite to this means of grace anyone who wants to come and admit them without any examination of their faith and life (in the opinion that this is truly evangelical). It is to be feared that many act this way for impure reasons, to be considered really ‘nice, broad-minded’ men and to be praised… There is hardly anything in all pastoral care [lit. “care of souls”] that gives a faithful minister of the church more trouble than if he wants to act conscientiously in admitting people to the holy Supper. If an orthodox Lutheran pastor takes over a new congregation and wants to admit no member to the Lord’s Table until he has spoken to each individual and learned from his mouth that he knows what the holy Supper is; that he acknowledges that he is a miserable sinner; that he in his heart believes in God’s Word; that he desires grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s Blood; also that he earnestly intends to follow Christ in a holy life, unspotted by the world, and the like; what harsh resistance he usually meets right away! How many enemies he usually makes right away! How seldom it proceeds without divisions arising! How often he sees himself required to travel on right away and to hear it said that he wanted to lord it over the congregation” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, transl. John M. Drickamer [New Haven, Missouri: Lutheran News, Inc., 1995]), 108.

“Christendom should remain united, should have the same faith and doctrine. To assure this unity among Christians, these must not only congregate for the preaching service—in which they hear the same Word, whereby they are called to the same faith and all together adhere to the same Head—but they must also congregate at one table and eat and drink with one another. It may well happen that someone who is listening to my sermon is nevertheless my enemy at heart. Therefore although also the Gospel holds Christians together, the Lord’s Supper does so still more. By attending it every Christian confesses publicly and for himself what he believes. There those who have a different faith part ways, and those meet who have the same faith, whose hope and heart toward the Lord are one.

“This is also the reason why the Sacrament has been called Communio in Latin, a communion. And those who do not want to be of the same faith, doctrine, and life, as other Christians are, are called excommunicatis, people who are dissimilar in doctrine, words, understanding, and life. Therefore these should not be tolerated in the group that has the same understanding; they would divide it and split it up. The Holy Sacrament, then, serves as a means whereby Christ holds His little flock together” (What Luther Says 812:2521).

“It terrifies me to hear that in one and the same church or at one and the same altar both parties are to find and to receive one and the same Sacrament and one party is to believe that it receives nothing but bread and wine, while the other is to believe that it receives the true body and blood of Christ. And I often wonder whether it is credible that preacher or shepherd of souls can be so hardened and malicious as to say nothing about this and to let both parties go on in this way, receive one and the same Sacrament, everyone according to his own faith, etc. If such a person exists, he must have a heart harder than any stone, steel or adamant; he must, in fact, be an apostle of wrath….Whoever, therefore, has such preachers or suspects them to be such, let him be warned against them as against the devil incarnate himself” (WLS 813:2522).

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