Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Sacramental Theology

Quoting from Pastor David H. Petersen’s article “A Sacramental Church: A Call for Reformation” in the Trinity 2009 issue of Gottesdienst:

Dr. Norman Nagel is reported to have once quipped that the LCMS is not truly a liturgical church, but simply a church with a liturgy. We might say the same thing of the Sacraments. We aren’t so much a sacramental church as we are a church with various means of grace, with Sacraments. Our theology isn’t sacramental. It is scholastic, a collections [sic] of lists and categories and ways that God might work or interact with us.

This sort of confusion abuses the gifts of God by trying to hold them equal. In communist style we equalize by lowering everything to the lowest common denominator and running after bare minimums. Christians who come to the Mass “for the sermon” miss the point of the sermon, which should, ideally, lead to the Sacrament. This is not to say that one gift is better or more necessary than another. Each gift has its place and time. Each stands in relation to the other. None is a substitute for another or stands alone. They all serve together to bestow the fullness of grace. For all the gifts of God flow from Christ, and Christ, our Lord, is one. To divide the Sacraments is tantamount to dividing Christ.

The Lord creates faith and makes for Himself a people by Holy Baptism. He absolves the baptized in the Holy Absolution and preaching. He then gives Himself to them and joins them to Himself in the Sacrament of the Altar. We misunderstand and misappropriate these things when we try to understand them separately or as avenues of grace rather than as grace itself. When they are seen together, as our life in Christ, the Holy Communion is obviously the center of our faith. This is not because it is greater than the other gifts God bestows, but because it is where the Lord Incarnate comes to us and enters our flesh in His flesh.

The ceremonies of the Mass indicate something of high points and distinctions. The Lord comes to us in the reading of the Bible, preaching, and in the Absolution. So also does He come to us in His crucified and risen flesh in the Holy Communion. We stand for the reading of the Holy Gospel because the Gospels contain the very words and actions of our Incarnate Lord. This is not a confession against the rest of the Bible. Instead it is a confession of the significance and centrality of the Incarnation. To place the Lord’s Supper in the highest position ceremonially and theologically is like standing for the reading of the Gospel. It is not a confession against the other gifts. It does not lower them or dismiss them. It simply recognizes and confesses the centrality of the Incarnation. This is how God has loved and saved us in the Son. This is the fulfillment of all prophecy, the culmination of history and creation. Thus does the Holy Communion have more elaborate ceremonies than preaching or the reading of the Scriptures. So also it should have a more central place in our theology and piety.

photo credit: Loci Lenar


kari said...

Great post, Scott!
Look Forward to meeting you at the ACL Conference in Bloomington!

Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks Kari. I'll see you there!