You are certainly not the first to wonder about those who willingly exclude themselves from the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood. While we can never know about a person’s faith or lack thereof, since we cannot see hearts, pastors have a responsibility to their parishioners and all Christians to the other members of the Body of Christ, to encourage and warn them. Jesus says that He is the Vine and we are the branches; if branches are cut off (or cut themselves off) from the Vine, they cannot live long on their own–in fact, they are already disconnected from the source of life and are already dying. No human being can know for sure when the “point” of death comes for another person, but we should certainly pray for our brothers and sisters and encourage them as we have opportunity.
Luther also wrote about this in the Large Catechism: “…there is also great need to admonish and encourage us so that we do not let this great a treasure, which is daily [!] administered and distributed among Christians, pass by to no purpose. What I mean is that those who want to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently. … Thus you see that are not granted liberty to despise the sacrament. For I call it despising when people, with nothing to hinder them, let a long time elapse without ever desiring the sacrament. If you want such liberty, you may just as well take the further liberty not to be a Christian; then you need not believe or pray, for the one is just as much Christ’s commandment as the other. But if you want to be a Christian, you must from time to time satisfy and obey this commandment. For such a commandment should always move you to examine yourself and think: ‘See, what sort of Christian am I? If I were one, I would surely have at least a little desire to do what my Lord has commanded to do.’ …
“It is certainly true, as I have found in my own experience, and as everyone will find in his or her own case, that if a person stays away from the sacrament, day by day he or she will become more and more callous and cold and will spurn it altogether.” (Large Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar (Kolb/Wengert Ed.), 472:39, 49, 53 [the whole section is worth reading; you can find another translation here].
Faith wants what Jesus gives, and what Jesus gives in the ongoing life of the Christian are the Word, the Absolution, and the Supper. If we do not feel the desire for these things, as with all sin, the only thing to do is to confess it, and then confess what Jesus gives us by gladly receiving these gifts.
Pr. Timothy Winterstein
If this fellow says that to be saved one has to do something — that is, talk to Jesus — it doesn’t sound like he has Law and Gospel down. That’s a massive bait and switch right there — the focus no longer is upon what Christ Jesus has done for all and for you with His death and resurrection. Instead, the focus becomes that I have prayed properly, that I have talked to Jesus.
This is one of the things that happens often in theology – there is the “Oh, and also” error, where someone will say something that sounds really good, really nice… but then there’s just that little twisted added on that brings things crashing down.
As such, yes, I would be very skeptical as well. If someone is shifting the focus off of Christ and onto themselves… that’s not what the prophets did in their preaching, and it’s not what a true “prophet” would be doing today. Especially as this probably tends to discount the Scriptures, Baptism, and the Supper – the places where Jesus has promised to come to us and bring us salvation.
Peace in Christ,
Rev. Eric J. Brown
Zion Lutheran Church – Lahoma, OK
Your instincts/catechesis are serving you well to be concerned about these ministries. If we look at your concerns, we will see you have done an excellent job of answering your own question.
Long-time entertainer Ed Sullivan once said (referring to what television does to get viewers)”If you showed two people engaged in intercourse on tv for 24 hours a day, it would be the highest rated show of all time. That does not mean the show was worthwhile or edifying to the viewers.”
When you see Churches who are willing to abandon the Word and Sacraments in favor of a message of therapy with (maybe) a little cross thrown in here and there, we are faced with what I call “The Ed Sullivan Effect”. People are gathered in large numbers, but to receive what? A Watered down, Sacrament-free message! As we see in the book of Acts, it is not enough to have multitudes gathered, they must also hear the Word of God preached in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments administered according to their institution.
These are the facts. If you are looking for a strong church to be a part of, forget about numbers and focus on proclamation. Be ready to ask “What is being preached?” over “How many are gathered there?” In the end, you will find a richer and more rewarding Church life.
Hope this helped.
In His service and in yours,
–Rev. Brandt Hoffman
Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS)
It’s unfortunate, but many non-Christian terms have worked their way into Lutheran vernacular. For example:
“Conservative” is a loaded word, because it has political implications as well as social ones. Generally, it implies “simplicity”, or “minimalism” or an inability to explore options. While it is true that Lutherans are a “proclaiming” Church, and it is important for us to bring the Word of God to people in a simple way, it’s still not a good term to accurately describe us.
For instance, it is our call to bring “the full counsel of God” to all people. We also believe in showering God’s people with the gifts He has given us to give. Using proper English, that means we preach, teach and administer the Sacraments “LIBERALLY” or “GENEROUSLY”. Of course this use of “Liberal” does not imply that we practice open Communion or are doubtful of the Bible’s veracity as those Lutherans who are often referred to as “Liberal”.
Another term is “Confessional”. This is a loaded term as well. Why? Because those who are using the term, are often trying to point out just “how Lutheran” they really are. While it is good to have an “inerrant” view of the Scriptures and a strong knowledge of the Lutheran Confessions, too often this translates into a groups of people looking down on other people for being “less confessional”. Granted, it should be said that this movement is an answer to those Lutherans who tend to refer to themselves as “MISSIONAL”, or those who are not as interested in the confessions, practices and traditions of the church, as they are with trying to “reach out” to people. The Confessional Lutherans will claim that the missional Lutherans are abandoning the “full counsel of God” in the name of reaching out. It’s all very emotional and confusing.
In the end, what I recommend is that we move away from political/ social and other unhelpful terms. Instead we should look at what the Scriptures call us to be; namely: FAITHFUL. Faith is something given to us by God. God strengthens and maintains this faith. We should guard against anything which threatened to take us away from this faith. In the end, it is easier to discuss “are we being faithful to God’s Word?” than it is to say “Am I conservative enough?” or “Am I confessional enough?” In reality is was our Lord who said “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10).”
I hope this helped.
In His service and in yours,
–Rev. Brandt Hoffman
Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS)