November 20, 2017

The Great Divide

early-christian-communities

To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the word,
I call every seeking soul.

– Inscribed on a church bell in Wisconsin

* * *

I did a couple of talks at my church recently, discussing my transition from evangelicalism to the Lutheran tradition. As I talked, words from several iMonk commenters came into my mind. A number of you have observed that perhaps the greatest divide in Christendom is between those who take a sacramental view of life, faith, and worship, and those who take a non-sacramental view. This struck me with new force as I explained my journey.

Gordon Lathrop writes,

This fact [that we need “things” to worship] has often disturbed and offended some Christians. It seems as if we ought to be above such material crutches, as if a gathering come together to speak of God ought to be more spiritual. But that is just the point: for the great Christian tradition, the spiritual is intimately involved with the material, the truth about God inseparable from the ordinary, as inseparable as God was from humanity in Jesus. If these things are crutches, so be it. They will then be for us the very “ford, bridge, door, ship, and stretcher” that Luther said we need. These things will show us something about all things.

Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology

Once, when I was visiting a woman who had come from an evangelical church to our Lutheran congregation, she complained that we didn’t talk more about the Holy Spirit. On one level she was probably correct. But her concern was not that we failed to name the Third Person of the Trinity often enough. Rather, she was saying we didn’t sufficiently emphasize the supernatural work of the Spirit in our midst. Having lived in both worlds, I understood her point. My answer was, “But remember friend, we experience the supernatural every time we come together for worship. God literally speaks to us from the word. Jesus is present and real when we receive the bread and wine. When we celebrate baptism we are literally witnessing a new birth!” No church believes in the supernatural more than one that truly practices the sacraments.

Stuff of Life

Lathrop observes that the material things around which the church gathers not only provide a center for our community of faith, they also represent things that have long had a “centering power” among human beings. For example, he speaks of the rich imagery of bread: “…bread unites the fruitful goodness of the earth with the ancient history of human cultivation. Bread represents the earth and the rain, growing grains, sowing and reaping, milling and baking, together with the mystery of yeast, all presented in a single object. This loaf invites the participation of more than one person. In its most usual form, it is food for a group. It implies a community gathered around to eat together, to share in the breaking open of this compressed goodness.”

Bread is the staple food, the fundamental provision that keeps us alive and enables us to overcome famine and death. We pray in humble dependence, “Give us this day our daily bread,” to remember that, despite the affluence many of us enjoy, in the end we live by grace from God’s hands. So with wine, around which we gather in festive joy. And water for washing. And a book filled with words. All invite us to contemplate the essentials of life through the utmost simplicity.

Doorway into the Story

However, there is more. Lathrop, again:

… the business of this assembly will look more than a little silly to us unless we know that the bread and wine, water and words are used here with historical intent. Bread and wine are ancient foods in Israel, figuring in many of the ancient stories and coming to frame the Jewish festive meal in the time of Jesus. Water for washing is important in Israel from the time of the crossing of the Red Sea and the washing and appointing of the newly constituted priests down to the apocalyptic expectations of the Qumran community and of the early Christians. And Israel was a community of the word from the time of the exile, when collecting, writing, and reading the stories and poems, oracles and laws became immensely important to Israel’s very existence. These things at the center of our assembly connect us to that history. The very choice of these things as the communal central symbols arises from that history.

By these means we enter the Story. Simple objects engage our senses and stimulate our imaginations and we find ourselves as though we had picked our way the through the wood, fur, and fabric in Lewis’s wardrobe and entered Narnia. There we remain ourselves and yet we are more, since we are breathing new air, experiencing new adventures, learning new lessons, and becoming what we never thought possible, under the tutelage of that land’s true Ruler.

Where God Meets Us

Thus, the sacramental elements are those “thin places,” those sites in the world where heaven and earth intersect and God himself meets us, inviting us to receive forgiveness and renewal. For these elements all focus on Christ and introduce us to Christ. Where we hear the words, “for you,” from our Host’s mouth, faith awakens within us, faith that reaches out to Jesus to receive a tangible gift of mercy and promise. In the sacraments, God washes us, God feeds us, God’s promises bring us life. They are not our works to be performed, but his gracious gifts to be received because of the work Jesus already did.

Nothing could be more simple, more earthly, more unexpectedly heavenly. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:16-17)

Comments

  1. I think the sacramental is a deep urge in human kind. Every time there is some appalling disaster — recently Newtown, now Boston — people turn to candles, flowers, vigils, and other rituals that many of them might reject in their everyday turning to God.

    Has anyone read For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann? I haven’t read all of it, but what I did read was the best explanation of the sacramental point of view that I’ve come across.

    • +1

      We humans are hybrids (I believe CS Lewis used the term ‘bipedal amphibians’ coming from a the mouth of a demon in Screwtape). We are spirit and we are mammalian body. Sacraments were created by God to give us some specific places where we can worship with both parts our nature, involving both and denying neither.

  2. Great post, Chaplain Mike. I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond and he talks about all of creation being permeated with God. Not that creation IS God, but that God is in everything. Something I was taught as a wee little Catholic girl. I also liked learning that the Franciscans (he is a Franciscan friar/priest) has a slightly different take on original sin/Jesus’ work on the cross than the “mainline” Catholic teaching. He says they are not unorthodox, but emphasize those matters in a different way. It’s more like the Eastern Orthodox, I think. Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

  3. Sacramentalism is the main bulwark against the gnostic heresy.

    Robert Capon does a beautiful turn by expressing the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus as the greatest sacrament, embodying the love and forgiveness of God. I have always found that to be one of my favorite theories of atonement — although I think it is never listed with the common ones.

    Let’s order our worship with sacraments that remind and re-embody that one true sacrifice.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Because without any sacramental tie to the physical, “pure spirituality” becomes nothing more than an intellectual exercise divorced from reality.

      Same thing with a holy book divorced from any historical trace (such as the Saudis have done in bulldozing away any artifact of Mohammed’s life from Mecca in the name of anti-Idolatry); without a historical trace, the holy book becomes nothing more than a mythological “holy history”, no different than any other fairy tale.

      • “without any sacramental tie to the physical, “pure spirituality” becomes nothing more than an intellectual exercise divorced from reality”

        Exactly right. I would say this explains the emphasis put on other physical things that aren’t very central biblically, like reforming government, speaking in tongues, and yes, even 6 day 24 hour creationism. None of those things are central teachings like baptism and communion are.

      • I think for many people the Bible already occupies a position of mythological ‘holy history’ in their minds, even while they defend the truth of every sentence. Here’s an exchange I’ve had often enough and with sufficient numbers of different people to regard as symptomatic:

        Me: So when Peter/Paul were executed in Rome–
        Interlocutor: Wait, that’s not in the Bible.

        It’s as though the Apostles occupy a history separate from Julius Caesar or Nero which doesn’t obey the rules of historical inquiry (the deaths of Peter & Paul in Rome under Nero are as well attested historically as one could ask) but some other rules entirely. Nero may exist in history but Peter & Paul belong in the Bible and should stay there!

        What’s worrying is I find the same kinds of thinking in myself on occasion. It’s a very deep-seated mindset. For example, I watched a documentary a while ago done by a couple of archaeologists (agnostics both) who were doing some work in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and eventually came to the conlusion that it was built around what it claimed to be built around- a first century rock-cut tomb that had been outside the city walls at the time. They weren’t converted or anything by the experience- it wasn’t a Christian propaganda piece- but I thought when I saw it, ‘Wow, it really is all true! The actual empty tomb is actually there and you can even go see it if you want!’ But then I stopped myself and thought, ‘Why am I surprised by this?’ I’ve never had serious doubts about the resurrection. So I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. But I was. Because up till then, the resurrection had, in my mind, been placed under ‘Religious Stuff/Biblical Stuff’ (the truth of which I would defend vehemently of course) and suddenly it had made a jump to ‘Historical Stuff’ (equally true, but not as importantly so, and obeying different rules).

  4. Great post! It struck me that even non-sacramental churches may be more sacramental than they’re willing to admit in that they regard the Bible, a physical object, in a similar way that sacramental churches see the Bread and Wine.

    • In our Lutheran churches, we might way that we actually regard them the same way: Our doctrine teaches that the Word of God comes in three forms: the incarnate Word (Christ), the written Word (Scripture), and the visible Word (sacraments). They are three forms of the same substance, kind of. Christ sends His words into our ears that we might receive them through our mouths. This is the nourishment that He gives us.

  5. The use of holy things in worship not only aid us in encountering God in the worship gathering, they help us to see the true nature and purpose of all created things. All of creation is a sacrament. Great post Chaplain Mike.

  6. I adhere to the sacramental approach to faith and life…It allows room for mystery. I can’t tell you how Christ is present in bread and wine, but I can tell you that I’m absolutely sure he’s there. I can’t really explain how God uses water to channel grace to us in baptism, but I’m completely convinced that He does. God meets us in the ordinary and mundane…a pinch of bread, a sip of wine, a cup of water. In these simple elements, God binds us together, and brings Himself to us. That, in the words of CS Lewis, is the deep magic.

    I’ll close with a couple of great quotes from Henri Nouwen…

    “ Water, bread, and wine are not simple reminders of God’s love; they bring God to us.”

    “The two main sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, are the spiritual pillars of the Church. They are not simply instruments by which the Church exercises its ministry. They are not just means by which we become and remain members of the Church but belong to the essence of the Church. Without these sacraments there is no Church. The Church is the body of Christ fashioned by baptism and the Eucharist. When people are baptised in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and when they gather around the table of Christ and receive his Body and Blood, they become the people of God, called the Church.”

    • Adrienne says:

      Lee ~ you hit upon something that explains the basic difference between my Evangelical/Fundamental teaching and my new love for and appreciation of liturgical worship and living. You used the words, “I can’t tell you” and “I can’t explain. The very hallmark of Evangelical life is the fact that I CAN EXPLAIN. It is the certainty and the sense of being in control, having all the answers. It is smug and arrogant now that I have stepped away and can see that. I have ALL the answers. One of the first Bibles I ever owned was “The Self-Help Living Bible” – is that an oxymoron or what?

      I remember one of the first times I attended a service in the Lutheran Church which I eventually joined. I was sitting waiting for the service to begin and looking around at the stained glass windows, the altar cloth, banners, candles and so on. And I realized that all of them were telling me about Jesus – and not a word had been spoken yet! I chuckled as I thought how my church friends would have reacted. I would immediately be on the grapevine and added to emergency prayer lists. Sola Scriptura. Adrienne of all people – the devil is deceiving her. But the really wonderful thing was I found I was being comforted and given joy by these items. Since then as I have read and continued to learn I realize that the Scriptures tell the story of Jesus who used very familiar “stuff” of everyday life to teach his listeners. Bread, wine, flowers, fish, sheep and so on. Things that people in an agrarian culture would be so familiar with. How different from the Evangelical Mantra – get out of your COMFORT ZONE. As if God isn’t pleased with what you are doing unless you are always uncomfortable!

      Now I have come to love and look forward to liturgical worship and the fact that I live within a great mystery and that makes me feel secure because I am no longer certain – I am free.

      Thanks Chaplain Mike for another great post. I would love to be able to have heard you as you shared some of your journey with the congregation. Was it recorded?

  7. Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt

    John Scotus Eriugena

  8. I love this quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

    “Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God,
    But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
    The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

    For me, the great shift has both paralleled yours, Mike, and diverged from it. It has paralleled it in that I too have moved away from a view of the ‘spiritual’ being opposed to, or at least above, the ‘physical’. I increasingly see God manifested through nature (perhaps primarily) but also through art, music, food, and other physical pleasures. I also see him working (in ways I did not recognize before) through the everyday acts of love that people do.

    But the divergence comes from this fact: As I see more and more how ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places’ my mind is less focused on what are usually called ‘the sacraments’ as channels of His grace. Of course, I partake of them, and they are deeply meaningful; in fact, they are a significant way that God has mediated his grace to me. But a sacramental view of life means that ALL of the world becomes a way of seeing His beauty and receiving his grace.

    My point is not to argue the nature of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. I realize I am a minority voice here, so no need to pile on, friends. My point is that, in my own experience, the adopting of a more sacramental view of life has made all of life ‘the thin places’.

    • Adrienne says:

      +1

    • A philosophy prof I had once described this kind of view as “pan-sacramentalism.” I think it definitely holds water, with the parallel being that all of creation is part of divine revelation. However, in Christ, we have something a bit more concrete and specific, and this is the difference that the official sacraments of the church hold over the rest of the physical realm, imo. But I would certainly agree, in the words of Heretic Rob Bell, that everything is spiritual. For me though, the sacraments are more than a practice of spirituality: they are a source of strength, nourishment, and comfort.

      • Off topic, but what exactly makes Bell a heretic. I’ve read all of his books, and despite what the internet says, I don’t find him to be outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

        • I’ve learned a few things from him myself. He does, though, affirm universalism and gay marriage. This earns him the wrath of those who care about orthodoxy, whether or not if violates the ecumenical creeds. But I meant it partially tongue-in-cheek.

      • I think we can affirm the sacramental nature of creation and still distinguish those sacramental elements that are means of grace, delivering God’s promises in Christ.

        • Kinda of what I meant to say. Except that I’d distinguish that in Lutheranism the term “sacrament” is only applied to that which is instituted by Christ and contains the promise of salvation. That leaves us with two and a half. But I’d affirm the practice of the remaining 4.5 sacraments as good and salutary, and that God delivers common grace to us in a general sense throughout creation.

    • + 1

    • I think that a lot of Lutherans would tell you that our church music is one of the principal ways of experiencing mystery, awe and a sense of the holy.

      At least, that has been true for me, from early childhood onward. I took a significant detour through some of the less kind/friendly parts of evangelicalism for several decades, and am very relieved to be back in a place where I feel accepted and loved – by God – for who I am, not for who someone else thinks I ought to be. (I was in churches where perceived behavior was all, and there was *constant* preaching about striving to be better and more Christlike – problem is, we never heard anything about God’s grace and love… I case anyone wonders, NO, these places were not neo-Cal or Calvinist in any way at all!)

  9. “But remember friend, we experience the supernatural every time we come together for worship. God literally speaks to us from the word. Jesus is present and real when we receive the bread and wine. When we celebrate baptism we are literally witnessing a new birth!” No church believes in the supernatural more than one that truly practices the sacraments.

    My problem is that I don’t believe that most people in these churches actually believe this. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, I will admit that, but I’ve met many people from these traditions, and most of them haven’t described their church experience in these terms. Some of them do. Those are usually the people who are more theologically educated and often times clergy. But I feel there’s a divide between the way the average person in a sacramental church views things and the way a pastor or priest in these traditions views things.

    • I would agree – and sometimes it’s tough going to help them understand!

    • You may be right. I hope to be useful in a small way to improve the situation.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      I think that can be true in most all Christian traditions. Most folks in the pews are just there to worship in their given tradition. They might be there because they feel obligated. They might be there because they feel closer to God through going to church. But most can’t explain why that is. It just is. That’s true even when the clergy and teachers do a good job of explaining things.

      My sister is Anglican. Her fiance is Baptist-like-non-denominational. She wants communion at the wedding. He is admittedly irrationally uncomfortable with communion period. She’s very sacramental, but can’t really explain why. He’s hostile to the sacraments but can’t explain why. She asked me if I’d administer Communion at the wedding (I’m an Anglican priest as of… about a week ago lol). I said that she and her fiance would have to figure out what they really want and what they mean, because canonically I cannot just pass out bread and grape juice and call it Communion; there are some liturgical patterns that I would need to observe if I’m to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. And I’m not sure her fiance would be down with that. I told her that I’d be happy to explain the sacramental perspective to him, but that I wasn’t interested in an argument or debate.

      • Congratulations on your ordination, Isaac! You’ve been working for that a long time. May you be a blessing to your flock.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          Thanks, Damaris! I still giggle every time they call me “Father Isaac;” I’m still not used to this and it sounds funny to me!

      • Congrats on receiving Holy Orders. I’m still a postulant (though a full time pastor in a non-denom). What diocese are you with?

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          Thanks! I’m with the International Diocese under Bp. Bill Atwood.

          • So you could be anywhere. I’m under +Kevin Allen here in the NW (Diocese of Cascadia). But I’m really fortunate that he lives 20 mins from me, and most of our parishes are in W. WA. It’s nice to have a close knit group.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

            So true! Not at all a geographic diocese. I’m in Texas, FWIW. Bishop is about 5 hours away. Not great, but could be worse. Our closest sister congregation is about the same distance.

          • We’re a VERY regional diocese. While geographically we cover OR, WA, MT, AK. Right now an overwhelming majority of our parishes are in Western WA (Within 90 miles of Seattle). Being so close geographically to my Bishop has also been a personal (pastoral) advantage.

      • Congratulations Isaac! Blessings on your continued ministry.

      • Congratulations, Isaac!

      • It just is.

        Agreed – and I’m not sure that having lots of ready explanations is the point, really.

        We are. He is.

      • Congratulations, Father Isaac!

      • Blessings on you, in you, and through you, Isaac!

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          Thanks, Chaplain Mike! I tell ya, I’ve filed a lot of your chaplain advice in my head. It’s been good stuff.

  10. The trouble with non-sacramental churches is that it (faith) has to land somewhere. It has to touch down.

    If there is no true presence of Christ in Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, then it will inevitable will all revolve around and return to….’you’.

    • You’re painting with way too broad a brush. I know plenty of Christians from non-sacramental churches who are some of the most selfless people I know. This is the problem with trying to divide Christians by “isms” and the like. There are a lot of people who don’t fit into these easily drawn categories.

      • How do you know that they are selfless? You cannot know their motives.

        And I didn’t necessarily mean ‘selfish’…but that they must look to themselves to see if they really are in Christ, or not…because they have no tangible, external thing to grab hold of where God has acted for them in a physical, concrete way that they can trust in…no matter how they are feeling…or no matter how they are doing.

        • How do you know that they are selfless? You cannot know their motives.

          Sure, but I can see their actions…

          I would say that most of them would say the “external thing” they cling to for assurance of salvation is Scripture.

          I do not see sacramentalism and a strong assurance of salvation as being that closely tied together in the real world. To be honest, from perspective, it seems to be almost the opposite. The phrase “Catholic guilt” exists for a reason.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

            I’ve seen ’em on both ends. I’ve seen folks of all stripes of Christianity that take a moralistic approach to the faith and act like God’s gonna kick ’em out of the family if they don’t tow the line just so. I’ve also seen folks from all stripes who have a good assurance of their salvation based on the promises of Scripture, the Sacraments, or both. I’ve seen folks from all stripes who presume they’re saved because they checked the “Christian” box on the census and go to Church a couple times a year but really have no use for God in their daily lives. As the restaurant owner in “Muppets Take Manhattan” said, “Peoples is peoples. Frogs is frogs.”

          • Without casting aspersions, I do think taking the sacramental approach can provide a great help in maintaining the law/grace distinction. As an evangelical, I never understood that and tended to look at the sacramental approach as the epitome of “works.” Now I think just the opposite.

  11. Another thing I’d add to the conversation is that the ability to deny people access to the sacraments is something that has often been used a tool of exclusion in these churches. I’m thinking specifically of some the origins of African American churches in the US. The people that began these churches were literally not allowed to have access to sacraments, so they started their own churches. The same goes for many Pentecostal churches. If you look into the origins of many of these movements, it often goes back to people who were outcasts from “good” society.

    I truly believe that Jesus likes to hang around the people that society has forgotten. I think that’s one reason I still hold out hope for my Pentecostal brothers and sisters in the faith. Apart from perhaps the Catholic church, I just don’t see any other churches where the poor and destitute are truly accepted.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      Good reminder. There should only be two reasons for folks to be excluded from Communion: 1) if you’re not a baptized Christian, you should not partake. 2) there is a major issue that needs to be addressed such as open notorious hostility between you and another Christian or open and notorious unrepentant serious public sin. Both of these are relatively easy to rectify!

  12. There are but two lessons for the Christian to learn:
    the one is to enjoy God in every thing;
    the other is to enjoy every thing in God.
    – Charles Simeon (1759-1836)

  13. Off-topic, but a genuine query: who is Tim Challies and why should I care?

    Because of this link and a bit of fluttering in Catholic blog dovecotes, and I have to admit, I’m rolling my eyes a teeny bit myself at this part:

    “Yet Roman Catholic doctrine, and especially doctrine related to the papacy, steals from the honor, rights, prerogatives and authority of Jesus Christ and attributes them instead to the Pope”.

    Even at our screwiest, no Catholic ever thought any pope died for our sins or was the Second Person of the Trinity. I can see the reasons for different views of spiritual leadership and headship and goverance, and I get that. But this kind of missing the point by a country mile just prompts the question I asked above.

    Don’t want to and not looking to start any denominational fights. Don’t want to jump all over Tim Challies since I know nothing about the guy. And the dear Lord knows, growing up sharing an island with the Rev. Ian Paisley should have knocked any tendencies to being a delicate little flower when it comes to such views out of me. But is this guy representative, ploughing his own furrow, considered authoritative, what?

    Personal opinion? I think Pope Francis is not going to be so easily pigeon-holed as both those on the right and the left within Catholicism and outside it want to do; patting him on the head as some kind of fluffy humble Precious Moments pope is going to give everyone a shock when he starts putting his foot down (and he’s already done it, in his own quiet but stubborn way). Some things he’s done I’ve liked, some things less so – but I still don’t think I worship him instead of Christ.

  14. Thanks, Chaplain Mike, for this excellent, thoughtful post. I became a Lutheran about ten years ago after being in evangelicalism for almost three decades. I appreciate both but wouldn’t “go back.”

    And Damaris, I’ve read “For the Life of the World.” It’s excellent!

    Another great book is “Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical,” by ELCA pastor Frank Senn of Chicago. It’s kinda pricey, but great stuff. He has a great introduction about the significance of liturgy and ritual.

  15. I’m Episcopalian. I spend a lot of times with Lutherans. I was raised nominally Roman Catholic. On the few occasions I’ve been in evangelical churches, mega or otherwise, or pentecostal churches, I felt extremely ill at ease and out of place; I could barely recognize it as church. But as I grow in my Christianity, I find myself more and more unable to deny that the sacraments as I’ve known them throughout my life, Baptism and Holy Communion, depend on the Word for their efficacy and derive from the Word as their origin. The Word is primary, the Scriptures are primary, and the story they tell is primary and the essentially sacramental and material. The Word is embodiment, not abstract cogitation, and though it may work through the elements employed in Baptism and Holy Communion at the Episcopal church I worship in, it works just as powerfully down the street in the Salvation Army chapel where Baptism is not practiced with water and Communion is not practiced with bread and wine. God is present and active and recognized and sacramentally alive in both places.

    The Word overflows all the sacramental channels of traditional church practice to flood the arid lands around liberally and prodigally, neither asking our permission or dependent on traditions. Let us by all means continue our practices as liturgical Christians practicing the traditional sacraments, but let us not demean the movement of God outside the walls of our holy enclosures and practices.

    • Robert, I’ve been reflecting on your post.

      I think you’re on to something quite profound. it resonates well with my experiences in evangelicalism and as a Lutheran.

      My only question is, what you do you mean by the Word? Is it Jesus? Is it the sacraments? Is it God’s Word in Jesus proclaimed? Is it the reading/taking in of Scripture?

      I guess I would vote for “all the above.” My position is that however the Word gets out is efficacious.

      Luther commented, “The church is not a pen-house, but a mouth-house,”

      So however the Word goes forth — whether reading the Scripture, the sacraments or orally in preaching — that’s all the Word.

      I’d love to get comments from others.

      • I think what I’m trying to get at is that the distinctions we make between the spiritual and the physical, word and sacrament, are ultimately baseless; to hear Jesus proclaimed is to be involved in a sacramental encounter that occurs through the material creation. The gospel narratives themselves arise before us as physical reality on printed page or characters in some other medium, over the internet or spoken into our ears from a lectern. Thoughts themselves are created things, physical and material; they exist in creation. Both Baptism and Holy Communion derive whatever potency they have from the words that Jesus Christ spoke in his own lifetime, which are conveyed to us in Scripture; at the same time, my experience of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper as celebrated among Mennonites I’ve worshiped with, who don’t use the words of institution but engage together in a spontaneous memory of Christ’s sacrifice for us at the time they celebrate communion, has taught me that Jesus does not limit himself to any traditional practice in filling his creation with his sacramental presence.

    • +1 to what Robert F. has written.

      I was born into a family whose faith tradition was within the Salvation Army church. I grew up and participated in that faith tradition during the first 20 years of my life. As such I was never baptized as an infant (I was “dedicated” by my parents as that is what is traditionally done with babies by their believing Christian parents). I have never pursued baptism as an adult. I consider myself a Christian, one who is forgiven, loved and accepted as child of God.

      In the past 30 years I have participated in two other churches (one non-denominational evangelical, the other C&MA). I enjoyed and benefitted in my involvement there but have recently been drawn back to something more traditional, more liturgical.

      About 8 months ago I started going to an LCMS church. I have found a lot of what I had been looking for, and I and my wife plan on continuing to make this our church home in this period of our life. Unfortunately, because I have not been baptized, it is deemed not acceptable for me to participate in communion with other church members, something I would really like to be able to do.

      I have nothing against baptism. In fact I think it is wonderful thing. I believe it is a sacramental gift of God that gives people an objective means and reminder of his love and grace.

      I have considered getting baptized, but at this point in my life I really have no sense of a need to do so, as I feel fully accepted as an adopted son of God who has received his gift of love and grace to me. I don’t doubt that in any way and don’t feel a need of the “objective” means of baptism to increase or sustain my faith. The “objective” word of God I find in my heart, in scripture, through the spirit I hear speaking to me is more than enough.

      At this point, for me, it seems that getting baptized would only be to do it to satisfy human religious “requirements” so that I could more fully participate in the practices of my new church family.

      So I am really torn on how to proceed.

      It would be very easy for me to go ahead and get baptized. But I feel I would really be doing it for the wrong reasons.

      Any thoughts?

  16. I can tell you that as someone baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic church, who has no memory of my baptism and has to trust that it was indeed done as testified to in my baptismal certificate (though for all I know the whole thing may have been a fraud perpetrated for some inscrutable reason), which I still have among my personal documents, I don’t believe I’m in a different spiritual position than you. If it were up to me, I would allow anyone who professes Jesus as Lord and Savior to receive Holy Communion, regardless of water baptism.

    Having said that, I think there nevertheless may be good warrant for you to go ahead and receive water baptism on your way to the Communion table shared by your new church family, if you are willing, in the spirit of charity, to surrender your own views of exactly what God may or may not do through your water baptism, and if you are willing to recognize that this church’s requirements may not be merely human religious requirements but, in the specific case of this body of believers and the communion and confession it belongs to, a faithful response to the call of God into the body of Christ, part of the dance of intimacy that God involves himself in when relating to any specific people.

    I will pray that you clearly discern the way that the Lord would have you go in this matter.

    • Robert F:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and sensitive response. I especially appreciate and will take into consideration this part:

      “to surrender your own views of exactly what God may or may not do through your water baptism, and if you are willing to recognize that this church’s requirements may not be merely human religious requirements but, in the specific case of this body of believers and the communion and confession it belongs to, a faithful response to the call of God into the body of Christ, part of the dance of intimacy that God involves himself in when relating to any specific people.”

  17. DougC,

    Have you received any catechetical instruction from the Lutheran pastor? Have you spoken to him about this?

    Because my understanding (and I’m a layperson so I don’t know all the ins and outs), is that if you’ve been baptized in the name of the Triune God, then at least in the LCMS, it “counts.” Therefore, I don’t see why you’d need to get baptized again.

    My understanding is that the Holy Supper is given on the basis of what you believe, teach and confess; if it’s in “Concord” with the Lutheran Confessions. I don’t see what baptism has to do with it.