21 March 2012
What Is It that I Want You to Do?
Since giving my presentation on "Consecrationism vs. Receptionism" at the Indiana District Church Workers' Conference this past October, I've been gratified by the feedback that I've received. Responses from various quarters have encouraged me in my good intentions to develop my outline and expand my notes into a proper article, blog post, or paper. I've actually managed to make some good progress on that project, but it will almost certainly have to stay on the back burner until we're well into Eastertide. Duty calls. For now, some other, preliminary thoughts.
Not all of the feedback on my presentation has been positive, though most of it has been. I've appreciated the many positive comments, of course, but I have been as much or more grateful for the few brothers who have made the effort to address their concerns and differences of opinion with me. It's a lot harder, and less fun for most of us, to express disagreement, and it's even more challenging to do so in a cordial and friendly manner. So, my sincere thanks goes out to those brothers who have showed me the courtesy of entering into fraternal discussion and debate with me. I would like to believe that those conversations have been mutually beneficial and edifying. I hope so. I know they have helped me to gain a better understanding of my colleagues, as well as greater clarity in my own thinking.
No doubt there are more brothers out there who did not like what I had to say in my presentation. I anticipated as much, and I'm not offended by the thought of it. The presentation was called for precisely because of disagreements concerning the consecration and corresponding conduct of the Sacrament, and I harbored no expectation that I would resolve the situation with a sectional presentation. What I was hoping to accomplish was the beginnings of a conversation among the brethren. Perhaps, in that respect, it has been somewhat successful so far. God grant it, for Jesus' sake.
If most of those brothers who disagree with me have not engaged me in discussion and debate, I understand. I hope they will at least be prompted to do some reading and studying of the evidence, and to engage their closer colleagues in conversation of the topic. To the glory of Christ, that is the goal.
I learned, earlier this week, that some conversation of my presentation occurred at one circuit pastors' conference. Nobody's been speaking out of school, so I don't know any details, but the gist of a concern that was passed on to me, indirectly, is that it's not feasible or practical for pastors to do what I want them to do.
That sort of response piques my interest, and gives me pause, and causes me to think: What have others perceived me to be saying and asking? What is it that my colleagues think I want them to do? And what is it that I actually do want them to do?
I'm somewhat puzzled by the comment and concern, since my presentation was basically, and almost entirely, a summary and assessment of historic Lutheran positions and practices. For the most part, I simply shared what our Confessions say, and what Luther and Chemnitz said, in contrast to Melanchthon and the later Lutheran scholastics. I also described particular practices of the 16th-century Lutherans, and the way that certain circumstances were addressed and dealt with in that day and age. Admittedly, I did also offer my own candid appraisal of these positions and practices, on the basis of my reading of the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions.
But it's certainly not as though I, Rick Stuckwisch, were presuming to say: Here's what I want the rest of you to do. Well, okay, I was intending to say, and hopefully I did say, that I want my fellow Lutheran pastors to be "consecrationists" rather than "receptionists" in their preaching and teaching, catechesis and conduct of the Sacrament. That's true. I do want that. And I pray that it shall be so.
As far as the various pointed examples that I gave of 16th-century Lutheran practices, however, that isn't me but our fathers in the faith commending appropriate conduct and handling of the Lord's Supper. The fact that it is the Lord's Supper is an even more important point, and, I suppose, the key to what I do want and hope and pray for. I begin with myself in that regard, and seek to be faithful and above reproach in my stewardship of the Mysteries of God. Do I want my fellow stewards of those Mysteries also to be faithful? Of course! Should I not do and say what I can to help and encourage such faithfulness? Shame on me if I do not.
Faithfulness in the administration of the Holy Communion certainly includes reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ. That is at the heart of the topic, and, again, the reason for the presentation in the first place. As there is disagreement regarding where, when, and how the Body and Blood of Christ are present in the Supper, that obviously makes a difference with respect to appropriate reverence. But that isn't determined by me, nor by anyone else but our Lord Jesus Christ. Regardless of whatever other bowing may or may not be done, we must all bow our hearts and minds and consciences before His Holy Word. So, that, too, is what I want myself and everyone else to do.
Once the key point of disagreement over "Consecrationism vs. Receptionism" is taken into account, reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ may take a variety of different forms. While I have my own decided preferences and recommendations, in so far as ceremonies are concerned, I do not judge my brothers or condemn them for having more or fewer godly ceremonies than I do. Such things are free, though not insignificant; they are subject to pastoral discernment, discretion, and care. Whether another pastor elevates the Sacrament and genuflects before it, or not, does not in itself make or break our fellowship in Christ. Likewise, whether he wears a chasuble or not is neither decisive or divisive. These are things we can discuss in a fraternal spirit as Christian gentlemen, as brothers in office. Indeed, I welcome the opportunity to talk about the benefits of these and other similar ceremonies, and I'm certainly willing to hear the arguments of others, pro and con. But I have no desire or intention to press these practices upon my brothers.
What I did commend in my presentation, and I do so here and now, as well, on the basis of historic Lutheran precedent — but chiefly with respect for the Word of Christ, our Lord, and in reverence for His Body and His Blood — is a carefully considered preparation, handling, and disposition of the elements, before, during and after the consecration and distribution of the Sacrament. Such care was expected and insisted upon by our Lutheran fathers, as being of a piece with our confession of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Thus, to begin with, only as much bread and wine should be prepared upon the Altar for the consecration as may reasonably be expected to be necessary for the distribution. Exactness is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, but close approximation should not be hard: certainly not where regular pastoral care of the congregation is being exercised. In any event, deliberately preparing and consecrating far more bread and wine than will be needed for the distribution is irreverent and inexcusable. Better to estimate too low on occasion, and then to consecrate additional elements as needed, than deliberately to aim too high.
Following the Word of Christ Jesus, "This is My Body," and "This is My Blood," then, whatever a pastor's particular ceremonial may be, let his posture, movement, demeanor and conduct confess the truth of that Word! Please, dear brothers in Christ, do act like you believe it. Not only for the sake of a clear confession and consistent catechesis, but, above all, because it is true. Not as though the Lord would punish you for any frailties or mishaps, but because it is "truly meet, right, and salutary" that you should take care, and behave with dignity and decorum, as you handle and administer the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ.
The third specific thing that I do want my colleagues to do is really nothing more nor less than what our Lord Jesus Christ has given us Christians to do, namely, to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood. That seems so simple, and so obvious, and yet it isn't followed when it comes to the reliquae. Questions concerning what to do with the consecrated elements that remain at the conclusion of the distribution — which is to speak of the Body and Blood of Christ, as He Himself has declared, also concerning this bread and wine — are easily answered with the same Verba: "Take, eat." "Drink." Either immediately at the Altar, before concluding the Divine Service with the Post-Communion, or as soon after the Service as reasonable possible. For Luther and his followers in the 16th-century, the Sacrament extended from the consecration to the consumption of all the consecrated elements.
This practice, in harmony with our doctrine, rests solidly and simply on the Word of Jesus. So, yes, brothers, I do want you to do that. Because I want you to do what Jesus says. "Do whatever He tells you," the Blessed Virgin Mary also spoke to the servants of the feast. If care is taken in the quantities of bread and wine that are prepared for the consecration, it isn't difficult to consume whatever may remain. If, on any given occasion, more of the precious Blood of Christ remains than a pastor should consume by himself — since it is also wine, which is intoxicating — then he should enlist the assistance of other communicants (as the early Lutheran Church Orders also instruct).
This is that I want you to do. Not as a matter of ceremonial preference, but as a faithful and reverent administration of the Lord's Supper. Let's talk about ceremonies, too, as belonging to the catechesis and confession of the Sacrament. But do not suppose that I'm attempting to lay any weight upon your conscience concerning adiaphora. What God has left free, is free. But my real concern is with a more fundamental stewardship of this sacred Mystery of God. Test the spirit of what I am saying, then, and examine whether or not it is in harmony with the sure and certain Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. If it is not, then, I beg you by the mercies of God, show me my fault and correct me in brotherly love. But if what I advocate is in harmony with the Verba Testamenti Christi, I would simply urge you to honor our Lord and His gifts by bringing your practice into conformity with His Word.