Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Sacrament and the Church Under the Cross

After discussing with a friend his options in an area of the country that does not have any orthodox Lutheran churches, I had the following thoughts.

If there was no Lutheran church in the area I live that is not in serious error to one degree or another, I would seek to attend whatever church publicly confesses the most essential doctrine of Christ's saving faith. This might be a church that is not Lutheran, since many Lutheran churches these days are Lutheran in name only.

What matters most is the means of grace. If there were no solid orthodox Lutheran congregation within reach, I would choose to attend a Lutheran church that has the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, even if it is obvious that the members and even the pastor are not in agreement with me on various other issues. What will keep me and my family in the faith is not good preaching or orthodox liturgical niceties, but rather the basic food of the means of grace which creates and strengthens saving faith in me and my family.

This is not an excuse for staying in a heterodox church when an orthodox option exists within a practicable distance.

I could explain to my family (and have in the past) what is wrong with the preaching and teaching (in my own home after church), but I cannot by any means provide Christ's saving body and blood for myself or them in my home. If we did not at least occasionally have access to the public reading of God's Word and to the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, it would potentially have much more serious consequences than any other error I could think of in a church. Even if the pastor is a rotten preacher or a scoundrel, if the reading of God's Word takes place through the Scripture readings, and the Sacrament is administered with confession of the true bodily presence of Christ, the Gospel will still be there in Word and Sacrament, with all of God's intended strength and purpose, to maintain and strengthen us in the true faith.

If I attended a non-Lutheran church because the Gospel is rightly preached there and is not confessed rightly at any local Lutheran church, I still would not "join" that non-Lutheran congregation because doing so would be a false confession. And, I would definitely never partake of "communion" at a church that does not confess the true bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament. If the church does not confess the true bodily presence of Christ, it is only bread and wine that is offered and received, and it also would be wrong to make a false confession by partaking of such a symbolic perversion of Christ's Holy Supper.

But I also must confess that if it was impossible for my family to ever, in the foreseeable future, receive the Lord's Supper in a Lutheran church, I would consider the possibility of communing at a church that confesses the true bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Obviously this would probably be an Eastern Orthodox or a Roman Catholic church. I realize, however, that many such parishes would likely (and rightly) not commune us unless we confessed agreement with them in doctrine.

I'm not saying I would definitely commune at such a church under such dire circumstances. I'm just saying I believe I would at least consider the possibility. Let me explain...

Christ comes to us in the most important, intimate, and faith-sustaining way through his bodily presence in the Sacrament of His body and blood, given for our salvation. Through all the perversions the Church has experienced throughout the centuries, Christ's true bodily presence in the Sacrament was always confessed, and was still given and received. Even when the cup was withheld from the laity, Christ's true body was still given and received. The continued administration of Christ's true body, sacrificed on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of the world, is the one consistent thing for over 2000 years that has always remained to ensure that Christians have been preserved and strengthened in the true faith.

That is quite amazing to me, and I believe it shows Christ's endless love for his bride, the Church. The Church is, and always has been, full of sinners, errors, and faulty preachers. But we must seek Christ were He is most certainly found - that is in the Sacrament of His body and blood, given and shed for our forgiveness. That was Christ's last will and testament, and it is the very food of immortality He continues to provide in endless supply today wherever His true bodily presence in the Sacrament is confessed.

Thanks be to God that this is only a theoretical discussion for me. We attend a truly orthodox Confessional Lutheran church, and I agree with my pastor in doctrine and practice. I am open to correction in anything I have written above.