26 April 2009


Dr. Stuckwisch and Rev. McCain continue to have a profitable discussion below - and I'd encourage our readers to keep up with it. I don't want to muddle in that specific discussion (which has, indeed, gotten very specific) - but their discussion has brought to the fore of my mind a couple of points that have occurred to me concerning the appropriate age for communion. I offer them here for the brethren to digest.

1. We (Confessional Lutherans) seem to be assuming that the practice at the time of the Reformation was good, right, and salutary. What if it wasn't? What if the Lutherans inherited a less than ideal practice? There's a lot of reading to be done here - but is it fair to say that since the practice of increasing the age of communion past the "age of reason" came out of the Lateran IV mindset that perhaps it bears some rethinking that goes beyond "what our Lutheran fathers did"? We've done that with notions like the
semper virgo - why not this?

2. We (Confessional Lutherans) are hanging an awfully heavy hat on I Cor. 11:28. Perhaps this bears some careful reconsideration. Maybe we shou
ld start by reconsidering the comments of the foremost interpreter of the Augsburg Confession:

...When in I Corinthians [11:28] Paul said that a man should examine himself [and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup], he spoke only of adults because he was speaking about those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn’t here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to children. (Martin Luther, Table Talk #365; Luther’s Works, Vol. 54 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967], p. 58) "



Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am pondering how to put this in a way that is not overtly belligerent or inflammatory - but I think too often Confessional Lutheranism can display a traditional legalism that hinders theological thought. When a new idea is introduced on theological grounds, we default to established practice and demand proof. We say not only prove to me that ________ is allowable, but that this is the most ideal practice whatsoever. Moreoever, prove to me that the folks of the past did this and that you are simply restoring a better past practice.

Now, the benefit of this approach is that it should (in theory) keep foolish practices from being introduced. . . but I worry about how it moves a pastoral/practical question merely into the realm of history. History becomes the ultimate trump. Do not get me wrong, I love Historical Theology (it was my focus at the Sem)- but while our doctrine and practice is informed by history, it is to be based on the Scriptures.

If a person says, "On the basis of Scripture, I would submit that _______ is a fine practice" - the focus needs to be on the practical, systematic, and exegetical implications. Once the contention has been made, the burden falls upon others to show where the proposed practice itself is flawed - where Scripture is abused, where systematical implications are overlooked, where practice becomes messy. There needs to be response - but things need to be theological, not simply historical.

As Christians, we have freedom. This is true even within the Church. While we have an obligation to be moderate in our practice until an idea has been discussed and shown to be safe and proper, when a theological idea is introduced, it becomes the burden of those who would oppose or prevent it to say, "This is why your position is wrong." Now, history can inform that - I can look at Walther or Loy on the New Measures for their approach to matters of worship - but to simply say, "Walther didn't" falls into legalism.

Sometimes it is not a matter of something being FORBIDDEN, but rather of not being as wise or as beneficial a practice. We want to default to saying that something is FORBIDDEN because it hasn't been done within the last ____ years.

We are the Church of the Reformation - that means we are always in Reform, that we are always to be ready to be critical of what we are doing, and when Scripture and reason show us that what we are doing is not the best practice we must be ready to reform. Tradition does not trump scripture, nor does it force our practice. Everything must be tied to Scripture - and if it is not Scriptural, it is a matter of freedom.

Sometimes we forget that where Scripture is silent we must, if not remain silent, at least not out right condemn, but rather debate the merits of an idea.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I've argued this before, but just because Scripture is silent on something doesn't mean that "anything goes."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Silence doesn't mean "anything goes" as though all options are equal - but the debate then doesn't hinge on whether something is permissible but rather or not it is profitable.

I cannot condemn what Scripture (or what clear reason shows as a logical extension) does not condemn -- but I can show why such a thing may be neither wise nor loving and hence a poor use of Christian freedom.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Exactly what I meant Eric.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I thought so - I just wanted to clarify myself.

We forget that there are two different debates. You can't simply say, "Oh, you can't do that and be Lutheran" because to say that requires clear Scriptural proof - and if you can't nail something down Scripturally a person can just write you off. Without Scripture, you cannot bind - and any attempt to bind will be ignored.

The question of "is this wise" or "is this the best idea" is harder, takes longer, doesn't give a quick knockout - but may win a brother in the end.

Paul McCain said...

This is precisely what makes conversations about earlier first age of communion extremely, if not impossible, for many of us. There are always those eager to turn the conversation into a conversation about infant communion. And so it goes.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Interestingly, the conversation of these things does seem to slip rather easily into a discussion of infant communion. I think that is true because of historical precedents and because of the inevitable question of infant faith, which is obviously a factor as one moves from infancy into early childhood and beyond.

As I've tried to suggest elsewhere, the affirmation of infant faith is important and beneficial to a discussion of First Communion at very young ages, because it underscores our confidence in the very young child's confession. We don't begin with the assumption that faith has been absent, so that we're now wondering whether it has yet "arrived." Rather, we simply rejoice in the work of the Word of God in the child's heart and life, as it begins then also to emerge in a verbal confession of the same Word and faith already given to the child in infancy.

Along those same lines, I would want to argue -- not for infant communion among us Lutherans -- but that our reason for not communing infants is NOT due to a lack of confidence in the faith or worthiness of an infant to receive the Supper. While I do not advocate infant communion among us, I would not be willing to say that a baptized infant receives the Sacrament unto judgment. The rationale for not communing an infant is attached to other concerns than that, in my opinion: ecclesial and fellowship concerns, for one thing, but, more important, the necessary connection between catechesis, confession and the Holy Communion, which belong together in the interest of an ongoing faithful reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh.

But even saying that much may open up a bigger can of worms than a blog post thread can adequately address.

I do believe that Pastor Curtis has raised legitimate questions in this post, which are significant, not only with respect to the recent particulars at hand, but to a general hermeneutic or methodology of doctrine and practice. We want to have our standards, rules and norms firmly grounded, lest we lose our barings.

I agree with Pastor McCain that we have to be careful with Dr. Luther's Table Talks. That doesn't mean they are of not interest, but, if we are wanting to make a case for Luther's studied and thoughtful opinion on something, we need to look for something more than a table quip.

In light of other recent discussions, it does make me curious how Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg, for example, may have dealt with any Bohemians who moved to that city and sought to share the fellowship of the Church in that place. Hypothetical "what-ifs" get us nowhere, but if anyone were aware of any particular cases, that would surely be of interest.

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. McCain,

I don't come to this with an axe to grind. I mean what I said: I find it interesting, think there is stuff here for us to reconsider, and come to the debate with an open mind. No quote from Luther's extra-confessional writings is a Debate Ender: but many our fine debate starters.

For my part, I have found peace on these matters with an ingenious thought that Pr. Cwirla mentioned over on Cyberstones a long while back. He pointed us to the Passover and asked: would an Israelite father feed Passover lamb to a nursing infant?

That's a great response. The Lord institutes his Supper under the forms of bread and wine, not under infant's milk.

But again back to that Israelite father: when does he start dishing up Passover lamb for the children. . . I think this brings us back to Rick's comments on three year olds pretty quickly. . .


Paul McCain said...

Heath, yes, I remember Bill saying that a while back. I thought it was very interesting.

I think the major problem whenever people start talking about infant communion is what Norman Nagel taught me years back in a class on Luther and the sacraments.

We go wrong when we speak of "sacraments" as if there actually is such a thing, in a Biblical sense.

I was impressed when Dr. Nagel drummed into our noggins that we do well to let each gift what it is, how it is given, and for whom it is intended and stop trying to force square pegs through round dogmatic categories to fit some kind of "grand scheme" known as "sacraments."

Lest we get too carried away about comparisons with the Passover, the Passover was not a sacrament.

I've always been more taken with the comparison between the sacrifices offered in Tabernacle and Temple and the command to eat of the sacrifices and the parallels to be found here, with the Lord's Supper.

I don't know how old the children were who ate of the sacrifices.

I suppose if you wanted to try to build a case for communing any child who is weaned, you could say that surely weaned children ate the "bread of heaven" in the wilderness and drank of the Rock, which was Christ.

Oh, egads. Now I've gone and done it. Offered up more "proof" for VERY early communion.

: )

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Yea, Paul, that's a good one.

Thanks! ;-)

I like Pastor Cwirla's observation, too. It also fits, in a more "narrative" way, with some of my own instincts on the matter. Of course, Pastor McCain's point re: the Passover not being a Sacrament, also makes the benefit of the Lord's Supper a weightier matter than the Passover.

And, to play devil's advocate just a little bit (risky, I realize), the Lord didn't institute His Supper under the form of lamb, either, but under bread and wine. My point being that nursing infants do begin to eat some things before they are weaned.

Speaking of the good Dr. Nagel, I'm with him in wondering whether there was a lamb at the Last Supper. I'm not convinced it was the Passover, but go back and forth on whether it was the meal of unleavened bread that preceeded the Passover on the night before. Different topic, I know, but does anyone else have any thoughts or notions on that prospect?

(For the sake of clarification, my wondering about the lamb comes from Dr. Nagel, but my pondering the possibility of a different meal than the Passover does not.)

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I just got done being schooled today on this very subject Rick, by a fellow instructor at the community college at which I teach: he explained to me that in Luke's account of the "Last Supper," the third cup is mentioned, during which Christ institutes the Sacrament, but then they depart, singing a hymn, and Jesus saying that he will not drink of the fruit of the wine again with them until he "drinks it anew in my Father's kingdom." The fourth cup (The Cup of Elijah/Completion) is not mentioned...until he is on the cross, and seeing that all things had been completed, drinks the wine offered to him on a hyssop branch, and then says: "It is finished/completed." The Passover is thus fulfilled by Jesus on the Cross. It is completed there.

But I'll have to consider your theory about the Meal of Unleavened Bread, which is equally intriguing.

Anonymous said...

This is an aspect to our theological understanding that has raised questions in my mind for a long time. I don't know if I'm resurrecting the dead horse just to pound on it again, but...

Under what pretense do we assume that the mentally incapacitated and/or the demented have the ability to examine themselves as St. Paul urges the Corinthians to do? At some point in the aging process, do we begin withholding the Sacrament from those who may no longer be able to evaluate their condition or even understand? How is that discerned?

Or my son. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son who has mild autism. He is unable to string together a cogent sentence on most days. He communicates with us utilizing single words and short phrases that are difficult to understand. He may never have full command of speech or even his cognitive abilities. Yet, I do not deny that he has faith, for he is baptized and comes to the Divine Service with my family and is present during instruction here in my home. Indeed, the sanctuary of our church is his favorite place to be. At what point do we require of him recitation of the chief parts or a declaration/profession of his understanding of these truths? And if we don't, at what age or point do we throw up our hands and decide to leave his admission to the table to the gracious mercy of the Holy Spirit, working within him?

I have long struggled with where the line is drawn in these cases. At worst, I view it as a curious inconsistency.

Pr. H. R. said...

FWIW, I don't think that Pastor Cwirla's point depends on the exact historical circumstances of the Institution of the Supper. It's clear that the Passover is one of those Old Testament shadows which finds (one of) its fulfillment(s) in the Lord's Supper.

This is also why the Lutheran Dogmaticians call circumcision and Passover the "sacraments of the Old Testament." For example:

Quentstedt: "By the Sacraments of the New Testament, the grace of Christ is more clearly, fully, perfectly, and abundantly dispensed to believers; but from this it does not follow, as the Romanists maintain, that by the Sacraments in the Old Testament divine grace and remission of sins were not clearly presented nor conferred to believers. For now, the work of redemption being consummated, truth succeeds to figures, substance to shadows."

(Found in: Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran church, Sec. 53)


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I agree that Pastor Cwirla's comment is apropos. As I said, I like it; I appreciate the way he is able to think and speak so narratively and concretely. Yet, it remains the case that Jesus does not give us His Body under the form of lamb, but under the form of bread. And where a father would hesitate to give his nursing infant a piece of roasted lamb, he might well be inclined to give a nursing infant of the sop. When you have children nursing until two or three years of age, I doubt that they were surviving solely on breast milk that whole time. Two year old boys are generally ravenous and insatiable.

I also agree, Pastor Curtis, that the term "Sacrament" can appropriately be used of the Old Testament means of grace. I do this myself, for the sake of making a positive comparison between those gracious institutions of God and His New Testament means. "Sacrament," as our Confesions indicate and demonstrate, has an elasticity to it, that allows for broader and narrower usages, but therefore requires that one define and clarify the way it is being used in a given case.

While positive comparisons can be made between Old Testament and New Testament means of grace, at some point one also has to indicate the contrast between them. The New exceed the Old in the same way, and to the extent, that Christ fufills and supercedes all of the Old Testament types and shadows that anticipated His coming in the flesh for our salvation.

When I point to the Lord's Supper as a weightier matter than the Passover, it is not simply a word of caution about how the Supper is to be handled; it is mainly to say that, because the gift and benefit is that much greater, so also the receiving or not receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ is of greater consequence than receiving or not receiving the Passover lamb. Handling the Supper with great care means that we neither give it nor withhold it lightly.

Pastor Beisel, I like what your colleague says about the sour wine that Jesus received on the Cross. I would agree, in any case, that the Kingdom of God is fulfilled in His Cross and Passion; so that He now drinks the fruit of the vine anew in that Kingdom with us. Pastor Grobien also recently had some salutary thoughts on the sour wine, which he posted here a few weeks ago; worth checking out, for those who may have missed it.

Brother Markel, the situation you describe in the case of your son is the sort of thing that has compelled me, as a steward of the mysteries of God, to reconsider the role of memorization in the "examination and absolution" of my members. The frailties of the flesh afflict the people of God in a variety of ways; yet, the Lord in His mercy condescends to our level, to dwell with us in love. With your son, I would be looking for his confession of the faith in the ways that he is able to verbalize it, even if only in a simple fashion. If he is praying and confessing the Word of God with his family and congregation, and demonstrating a love for the Church and desire for the Body and Blood of Christ, then I would not hesitate to bring him to the point of receiving the Supper in the context of that ongoing catechesis and confession. I'm assuming that you've followed the discussion of these things in previous posts, so I'll not elaborate further here. But that is the short answer to your immediate question. Fathers and pastors exercise discernment and discretion in caring for each of the children entrusted to them.

Regarding the elderly (or others) who suffer dementia, or other such afflictions, there, too, a pastor has to exercise discernment and discretion. If a person reaches a point at which he or she is no longer able to perceive the difference between one kind of food and another; and if he or she is no longer able to communicate or convey an awareness of what is being done or given; then I would certainly hesitate to administer the Sacrament. I cannot fathom every possible circumstance, though, so I am always reluctant to lay down blanket rules. A related concern that I have enountered in several cases over the years, is a deterioration of the mind to the point where the person no longer knows how to swallow food. The ravages of sin upon our mortal flesh are sometimes quite heinous, but we receive the gifts to the extent that we are able to receive them in our frailty; beyond that, we rejoice in the rich providence of God, who is merciful to us, and who gives us the Gospel in many and various ways and means.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm hoping that Pastor Grobien, whether here or elsewhere, perhaps in a separate post of his own, will share with us more of the research he has done on the history of admittance to the Holy Communion in relation to Holy Baptism. I've been privileged to read some of what he's written on this topic in his coursework at Notre Dame, as well as some very helpful translating that he has done of other writings, and it seems to me that it contributes profitably to our theological and historical understanding of these practices.