November 24, 2017

Sacramental Thoughts for Sundays: “The Visible, Tangible Prop”

Sacramental Thoughts for Sundays
Sunday, October 21, 2012

“The Visible, Tangible Prop,” from Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, by Heiko Oberman

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Trust in the alien Word determined the way Luther experienced, interpreted, and defended the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. The Devil, that master of subjectivity, lurks in the heart and the conscience, but he is powerless in the face of the alien Word. Baptism and communion are the pledge that God is present in the turmoil of the fight for survival against the Devil. These two sacraments constitute the visible, tangible prop that makes it possible to resist the Devil in God’s name. Thus baptism and holy communion are the solid ground on which the certainty of a Christian’s faith rests. It is therefore clear that there can be no greater danger than the undermining of these two sacraments. Making baptism and communion into the work of man destroys the foundation of Christian life because it makes God’s truth and reality dependent on the powers of persuasion of the individual, subjective conscience.

Comments

  1. I agree, but als believe the same can be said of the other five…..

    • “but ALSO….”

      CM….are we ever gonna get an edit or at least “preview” function? Pretty please with sugar on top??

    • As you know, Pattie, Lutheran arithmetic differs in this regard.

    • If your tradition does not distinguish between justification and sanctification, then yes, marriage is a sacrament.
      If forgiveness is dependent upon a thorough confession, then penance is a sacrament.
      If man-made rites can have salvific power, then confirmation is a sacrament.
      If God requires us to die with a clean conscience, then unction is a sacrament.
      If formal institutional membership is synonymous with being “in Christ,” then ordination is a sacrament.
      Since non of the above goes for Protestants, then we have a different category for these things. But they are all still very well worth doing, and shame on us where we have let them go.

      • I think you’re straw-maning the RCC/EO view point. I don’t think they believe that all the sacraments are necessary (though they would believe some are), but rather that the sacraments confer grace to the partaker. For instance the sacrament of marriage isn’t required for the forgiveness of sins, but nonetheless it is a means of God’s grace.

        As a Protestant my knowledge in this is limited.

        • I figured there was a little hay in my construct, but in order to be straw-manning, you have to knock it down. I was just explaining the reason we categorize the rites differently, but obviously I don’t understand their view as well as my own. I would say that with marriage, God does give grace, but it is a common grace that unbelievers are free to partake of.

  2. I am definitely becoming sacramental (guess that goes with the whole Anglican thing) but I have a large problem with this quote:

    It is therefore clear that there can be no greater danger than the undermining of these two sacraments. Making baptism and communion into the work of man destroys the foundation of Christian life because it makes God’s truth and reality dependent on the powers of persuasion of the individual, subjective conscience.

    I don’t buy that as true in all cases. In essence it appears to say that the Christian Faith would be crippled without a sacramental view. I’m sure for some people they need the sacraments, but I think the existence of the Salvation Army may argue to the contrary. Again, I’m not disparaging sacramentalism, I just think this statement reaches a bit too far.

    I’m sure Michael Bell would agree with me.

    • Brendan, remember, this is Oberman’s interpretation of Luther and not Luther’s words themselves. I think it is generally accurate, but may be stated overly strong.

      • Didn’t Luther say something about how God could manifest himself sacramentally in a bowl of cabbage soup if he chooses to do so? Baptism and Eucharist are the two normative means (and normative in this context doesn’t have to mean prevailing) that God uses sacramentally, but his options outside the norms are possibly infinite. Hence the Salvation Army and Evangelical Friends.

    • I’m sure for some people they need the sacraments…

      This assumes an understanding that they don’t actually do anything. I propose the sacraments aren’t just for my personal encouragement, but that they actually deliver what they picture. In our Baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ to new life. Obviously God doesn’t need the water, but he promises to be there working in it. Traditions who do not baptize may still get to heaven, but they are refusing to look for God where he promises to be found, and instead looking into their emotions for an experience of God. I really hope it works out for them, but I’m not rolling those dice.
      I don’t use the sacraments because I need sacraments to help me along in my faith, as if I would crumble without them but others are strong enough to get by without. Everybody needs what God gives through them: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

      I believe that Anglicans are open to embrace nearly any view on the sacraments.

      • What I meant by “need” is their faith will cease to exist without the sacraments. I was not disputing the efficacy of the sacraments.

        • Right. But doesn’t that sort of imply that some people just have such strong faith they don’t need sacraments? Personally, I think those who think that of themselves are just living in denial. You could just as easily say, “I’ve been born again! So what on earth would I need the Bible for anymore?” My faith is weak, and I am wholly dependent upon receiving grace from God to keep me going.

          • Again, I would refer you the existence of the Salvation Army, a sacrament-free church. I’m sure some criticisms could be launched their way for the failure to observe the sacraments but I hardly doubt one would label them “living in denial”.