Note: I was honored to see that Gene Edward Veith has linked to these posts. You can follow the responses and discussion at Cranach: The Blog of Veith.
• • •
This is now the third in a series of posts detailing some of the ways I have found that the Lutheran tradition provides solid teachings and practices which counter weaknesses in revivalistic evangelical Christianity. I’ve mentioned a few of those ways and explicated others more fully. Here’s what we’ve looked at so far:
- The Lutheran tradition provides a solid historic tradition with roots.
- The Lutheran tradition gives priority to Word and Table liturgical worship.
- The Lutheran tradition places a strong emphasis on pastoral ministry.
- The Lutheran tradition has a healthy emphasis on the vocational callings of all believers.
- The Lutheran tradition is centered on Christ and the Gospel.
- The Lutheran tradition keeps proper distinctions between Law and Gospel.
The next commitment of Lutheranism that addresses what I perceive as evangelicalism’s insufficiencies is that of sacramental theology and worship. When push comes to shove, this is probably the primary difference between revivalistic evangelicals and churches in the historic traditions. This perspective is the one thing evangelicals have the hardest time accepting, and yet what I have found is that the sacramental view magnifies God’s grace and promotes childlike faith much more than anything I experienced under non-sacramental teaching.
Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures , proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence o f the Christian community. By the power of the Spirit active in Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world. We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name “the means of grace.” The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.
Lutherans accept two Sacraments as the means by which God penetrates the lives of people with his grace. Those who take a sacramental view of these practices believe they are God’s works toward people, not the works of people pointing to God.
- In baptism, God makes us his people, by “the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
- At the Lord’s Table, we experience the real presence of Jesus Christ, and his body and blood nourish us with God’s mercy and forgiveness in our union with him and one another. Our risen Lord is “made known to us” when we gather at his Table together (Luke 24:35).
The sacramental perspective takes God’s presence and action in the midst of his creation seriously. Some expressions of faith are essentially world-denying and more akin to forms of Platonism or gnosticism that make radical distinctions between the material and spiritual worlds. From this perspective, God works and we grow “spiritually,” and this world is one we are “passing through” on our way to an ethereal heaven. The Lutheran tradition, on the other hand, rejoices that God is present and working throughout his creation, and that he especially works in and through simple elements like water, bread, wine, paper and ink to communicate his truth and love to his people. He meets us here, and he is leading us to a renewed creation.
Sacramental theology takes the Incarnation seriously. Jesus the Eternal Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Sharing fully in our humanity and the experiences of life in this world, God visited his creation personally, spoke, broke bread with us, wept, touched broken bodies, and even died himself to identify with and redeem all who are in bondage to sin, evil, and death. The Spirit he sent now works through the Word and the Sacraments in the midst of his gathered people to apply the benefits of his saving work.
There is much to learn about the Sacraments, but the primary shift for me, coming from the evangelical world, was simple. It involved coming to understand them as God’s works, not mine.
I no longer see baptism as something I do to profess my faith in Christ. I see it as something done to me through which God acts savingly. I no longer see Communion merely as something I do to remember Jesus. I see it as his Table, to which he invites me and at which he feeds me.
These practices are the means by which God’s grace in Christ is communicated to me, for in them his promises are made real in my life.