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What Luther Says

Why Lutherans Believe Your Beliefs About The Lord's Supper Matters

As a relatively new Lutheran (a.k.a. "Newtheran"), I've often wondered why Martin Luther was so incensed by Ulrich Zwingli's beliefs about the Lord's Supper that he wouldn't shake hands with the man.

I mean, my gosh, really? Could you imagine any Christian having the sheer audacity to act that way today? Yet, as I've come to learn what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess about Holy Communion, the more I've come to appreciate and respect Luther's faithful decision.

The Marburg Colloquey was a meeting between Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and Zwingli's allies Martin Bucer, Oecolampadius, and Capito. They agreed on practically everything except the Lord's Supper. They tried hard to come to agreement, but the biggest problem was that the others denied of the real presence of Christ in the Lord's supper while Luther believed in it. Luther could not get over that Jesus said "This is my body" taught the real presence of Christ. So while Zwingli said "is" meant simply "signifies" in this context, Luther could not agree. At the end, Zwingli tried to shake Luther's hand even though they could not agree. Martin Luther refused to shake the hand of Zwingli or Bucer. Luther later said of Zwingli, "I will not have the devil teaching in my church." Later they wrote opposing pamphlets on the Lord's supper. A key opportunity, to have Calvinist and Lutheran Christians be united, was lost.

That's the backdrop and the historical background.

Fast forward to today. Today, we have other Lutherans who have forgotten Luther's position or, worse, they're well aware of it, but just don't care to maintain it for various reasons.

I read this on Josh Brisby's (Co-Host of LutheranCast) Facebook page and it instantly reminded me of Luther's stance. Check this out...

Recently I was at a staff meeting at my non-denominational school, in which they had their version of communion. I had to sadly decline from partaking, and one of my colleagues asked me why I did not partake. Likewise, there is confusion even among some Lutherans as to who we should commune with, even though our Confessions and our various Synods are clear. (I am part of the Missouri Synod.) I find that, the more I grow in my Lutheranism, the more I always end up embracing exactly what our Confessions state, and the more I end up embracing exactly what the Missouri Synod has always stated with regards to closed Communion. Perhaps the following conversations will prove helpful in this regard:

--- Evangelical friend: "We invite you to holy communion with us." Lutheran: "What do you say we receive in our mouth, and for what purpose?" EF: "Bread and grape juice, as reminders of what Jesus did for us." Lutheran: "I am sorry, but we do not share the same Eucharist. I must regretfully decline."

--- Roman Catholic friend: "My church would not let you commune, but perhaps you could just sneak past and do it anyways." Lutheran: "What do you say we receive in our mouth, and for what purpose?" RCF: "The Body and the Blood of Christ. Which is a sacrifice we offer to God for the forgiveness of our sins, as well as for the sins of those who have died and are still in purgatory. It aids them in their process." Lutheran: "I am sorry, but we do not share the same Eucharist. I must regretfully decline."

--- Eastern Orthodox friend: "You may not commune with us." Lutheran: "That's understandable. How do you understand the Eucharist? For what is its purpose?" EOF: "The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, which heals us from death and grants us life everlasting. It aids us in the process of theosis." Lutheran: "In what sense does it aid us in theosis?" EOF: "It heals our infirmities, forgives our sins, and brings us salvation." Lutheran: "How do you understand sin?" EOF: "Death brings forth sin. The Eucharist brings us back to the correct path of theosis." Lutheran: "Do you believe in original sin?" EOF: "No, people are not guilty for Adam's sin." Lutheran: "Then I am very sorry, as you have correctly stated, we cannot partake of the same Eucharist."

--- Reformed friend: "I invite you to partake with us. We dig Lutherans. They are our cousins." Lutheran: "What do you receive in your mouth at the Eucharist?" RF: "Bread and wine, through which we by faith ascend to the heavenlies to partake of Christ spiritually." Lutheran: "I am very sorry, but we do not share the same Eucharist. I must regretfully decline."

------------------------- So, as we can see from the true understanding of the above conversations and different understandings of the Holy Supper, this is precisely why the Lutheran Confessions and the various Lutheran Synods have always practiced closed Communion. It makes no sense to commune with any of our friends that have a different understanding of the Supper than us. This means they don't have the same Supper that we do. What is the Eucharist? It is the True Body and the True Blood of Christ, given with the bread and wine, for us believers to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all of our sins. It is instituted for those of us who see our need for it. It is faith in the Words, "given for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins," that receives the benefits of this wonderful and Most Blessed Sacrament. It is God coming down to us. This is the biblical understanding of the Holy Supper. Praise God for this wonderful Gift!!!

Friends, this is most certainly true!

And yet, most people (often our dear brothers and sisters in Christ) will criticize us and say things like, "refusing to join in communion for these reasons is just not Biblical," which sounds right, but is anything but.

As one Christian commented...

Yes, and communing with them says that it doesn't really matter if your understanding is correct or not. That it doesn't matter what Jesus meant when He said "This IS my body, This IS my blood." Closed communion is a difficult concept for even many LCMS Lutherans, though, and I cannot by my own conscience commune at a church where the pastor does not even try to protect those from communing unworthily. It's never a perfect process, but a pastor who has that on his conscience is probably a pretty good pastor, in my experience.

I couldn't agree more. Thankfully, there are still many LCMS churches out there that believe this too, and I pray yours is one of them.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, we can never have true unity at the expense of doctrine, and let's remember that our doctrine informs our practice.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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