Saturday, September 24, 2022

October Newsletter Article


It's nothing new.
Luther talked about it in the introduction to the Small Catechism.
The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form.  Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it.   Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they do not understand and cannot  recite either the Lord's Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.
October is the Month of Reformation Day, and it is the Reformation which brought us the Catechism and all clear Lutheran teaching.  One might find Luther's language a little sharp, but one cannot say his meaning was not clear.  The freedom of the Gospel often sets people free to ignore the faith.
Now, the people in Luther's time were ignorant largely because their former church held worship in Latin and taught that just being present in the building while the service happened gave one all the benefits the worship service supplied, whether or not one understood what was going on or what it meant.  So, when Lutheranism began, the priests and the lay-people were sadly, but understandably, ignorant.  The freedom of the Gospel was also taken to mean that the people no longer needed to attend worship regularly or take the Lord's Supper when it was offered.
Thankfully, our worship services are in our native tongue, and almost everyone can recite the Ten Commandments after a fashion, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.  We still fall short of knowing or understanding our doctrine (the teachings of the Bible) or comprehending what they have to do with how we live our lives and how we deal with other teachings at large in our society.  Some also struggle with the Lord's Supper: what it is, why we need it, and when it is right to withhold ourselves from receiving it.
Yes and no.  It is personal in the sense that you personally receive the body and blood of the Lord, individually.  If you are wrestling with repentance, unwilling or unable to repent of a sin or anger or hatred, then you personally should withhold yourself from receiving the sacrament while you wrestle with that sin.  If you don't think you need forgiveness for anything, you should also abstain.  In either case, you need to talk to your pastor, or another respected spiritual counselor (like another pastor), to find a resolution to your trouble, for it will stand between you and salvation if you do not resolve the issue.
But NO, the very name "communion" indicates that it is a sharing together in something holy.  It is a group activity, a profound and sacred family event in the family of Christ gathered at the altar.  It brings forgiveness and life to those who partake and it entails a confession of shared faith and doctrine with those with whom you share in this "koinonia."  We should have great and profound reasons to reject the fellowship of the Supper when the body of Christ that gathers at our altar is joining in receiving the gifts of God in the Sacrament and jointly confessing our faith before one another and the Lord.  That shared confession is why we limit access to the Holy Supper to those who share our faith, our doctrine, and our confession.  We do not want to facilitate a false confession by the unwary nor share the judgement of the Lord spoken of in 1 Cor.11:27-29 with those who do not know what we are doing.
For those same reasons, we should not commune anywhere but our home congregation or at any altar where they do not share our faith or where we are not certain that they confess the same faith as we do.
Luther's concern for the ignorance of the people about what the Bible teaches and what we confess should also remind us that we are never too old to learn or to forget.  Anyone under the age of 120 should understand that they need more time in the study of God's Word than the twenty-or-so minutes of the sermon each week.  Some of you may be so disciplined as to undertake regular individual study of the Word of God.  While I am sure that there are those among you who do, I am confident that there are also those who do not and would benefit from joining one of our parish's weekly Bible studies.
In our studies we fellowship in the Word, and we discuss what it means in our daily lives at different times and how God's Word and our faith might inform our thinking on the issues of life and society.  There are times when someone will bring cookies, cake or bars to share as well.  The edibles are not an integral part of Bible Study, but are a welcome addition nonetheless.
The urgent part is the shared study of God's Word and the conversation of the saints around the Word.  This is also a family event; personal and yet corporate – that is, of the body.  Romans 12:4-5,  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Nothing a Christian does is "personal" or "individual," except, perhaps, for sin.  Even that touches the body of Christ and injures the body of Christ.  1 Cor.12:25-27  that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  27 Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.   Let us not take the freedom of the Gospel as license to sin or to other injury, but as our liberty from condemnation.
Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

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