Monday, April 23, 2012

Avoiding Incurvatus In Se

I was listening to a well known non-Lutheran preacher speaking the other day. He was saying something about the life of the Church, and Christ's presence, and it sounded empty. Since large chunks of Christianity deny the physical presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, and they deny the power of Baptism and the means of grace, they're left with an empty shell. Claiming, at best, a spiritual presence of Christ is like saying He's not really here. Not really. You've got to go looking for him - climb a ladder to the right hand of God to actually see Him. And if He is not here, but He's just up there, His blessings aren't here either.  And if His blessings aren't here, something else will fill the void.  What fills the void?  Often it's sermons on moralism, your best life now, and purpose.  But Christ wants us to have an abundant life, which comes by living in His physical presence, right here and now, as he draws us to Him in the forgiveness of sins found in His Word and Sacraments. We daily celebrate the forgiveness won for us on the cross by remembering our Baptism and the promise it contains.  We celebrate as we hear Christ's words of absolution spoken by the pastor each Sunday, and as Christ comes to us bodily in Communion.  It is in this sacramental life that the fullness of Christ is found and lived out, in repentance and forgiveness.  This is the blessing that I wish people of other denominations would come to know.  Without it, the Christian life is empty and loses its vitality, curving inward on itself.

Last month Pastor Larry Peters, on his blog Pastoral Meanderings said much the same thing in his post titled "All theology is Christology and all heresy/error begins with Christology...".  His post is reprinted here in its entirety with permission.
To refine my title, someone once said to me that all heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation. While I fear exaggeration often precludes the very clarity it seeks to provide, this is one case in which the statement is truth. All heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation. So, on this Annunciation of Our Lord day, it is good to read reflect upon the full measure of our incarnational theology.

 I was reading in Bo Giertz the other day: (in the book Christ's Church
God is in our midst! Just as Jesus once entered the world as God's outstretched hand, as a visible revelation of God's invisible being, and as an audible message of that which no ear has heard, so God's hand is still stretched out at the baptismal font and the communion rails, and so the Word still sounds, not as a mechanical repetition of what the Master once said but as continually repeated message from the mouth of our Savior... It is the same way with the sacraments. They are not symbols and metaphors but Christ's way of to deal with us today, just as real and tangible as He once dealt with people on the fields of Galilee and the streets in Capernaum... 

The miracle that took place in the incarnation when the Word became flesh continues in the church and the sacraments. He who does not understand the incarnation will not understand the sacraments and he who does not understand the sacraments will not understand what Christ has done for us... Living and genuine Christianity is in its innermost essence faith in the incarnation and the atonement. It is in its innermost essence sacramental... 
Bo Giertz certainly has hit the nail on the head. Failure to acknowledge the incarnation is the seedbed to disavowing the sacramental presence of Christ in the means of grace. You cannot confess the incarnation and reject the Sacraments (means of grace). They go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other and the other defines the first. It is meaningless to confess God's presence unless you can confess that presence HERE in baptismal water, in absolution's voice, in bread and wine. To put it as I often do when teaching parents, stop pointing to the sky when you teach your children where God is and point instead to the Word and Sacraments, for these are the places where God has attached Himself, made Himself present and available for us. We do not need a God out there. We need a located God -- in the incarnation and in the means of grace (sacraments). We are not imposing this upon God but He has bound Himself to these external forms out of love for us and to deliver to us the full measure of what Christ accomplished for us and our salvation.

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