Reformation Day (Transferred)
Words of Institution
October 26, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. While we celebrate the Reformation each last Sunday of October, it’s not as if on November 1, 1517, the Lutheran Church came into existence. It would be another 13 years before there was an official, public confession of faith in the Augsburg Confession. Many of those who would be on board with the Augsburg Confession were initially against Luther, and thought him a heretic. Even Luther himself later said that on October 31, 1517, he didn’t yet know the depth of the Roman error.
Several years after the nailing of the 95 Theses, Luther wrote another essay entitled, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was this writing that won over many to the truth of the Lutheran confession, including Luther’s own pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen (he considered Luther a heretic until reading it). In “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther shows that the sale of indulgences was only a symptom of the greater error of the Roman Church; the entire sacramental system had turned the institution of Christ up on its head. And nowhere was it more obvious than in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Luther identifies three captivities in the Supper by which the medieval Roman Church held the salvation of man captive: withholding the cup from the laity; the doctrine of transubstantiation; and the sacrifice of the mass.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “If you remain in My Word, you are truly My disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth the truth will free you” (vv 31b-32). The medieval church held salvation captive by its abominable doctrines, especially concerning the Lord’s Supper. But the Truth of God’s Word is what sets you free. Let us return again with Luther to the words of Christ to find the freedom the He gives.
The Word of God Frees Us from False Doctrines Concerning the Lord’s Supper
In the 13th session of the Council of Constance in the year 1415 (105 years before Luther would write The Babylonian Captivity), the gathered bishops of the Roman Church condemned communion under both kinds—bread and wine. The reasoning was that it was sufficient for the laity to receive bread only, because the whole body and blood of Christ was received under both kinds. With this sophistry, they conclude that anyone, besides a priest, who communes from the cup, should be subjected to strict punishment by his bishop and the heresy inquisitors. Priests who were caught giving the cup to the laity were under excommunication, and indeed Jan Hus of the Church in Bohemia was burned at the stake for violating this decree. This is the first captivity of the Church, from which this word of God sets us free.
Where the custom of withholding the cup from the laity began, who knows? In the early Church, it’s clear that the custom was to deliver both kinds to the faithful (even the Council of Constance recognizes this in their detestable decree). Luther in his writing recounts the story of the Church Father Cyprian administering the cup to a little girl of about age 7 (by the way, did you know that the reformers admitted children of about 8 years old to the Sacrament?). The point is that it is clear from history that communion under only one kind is an innovation of man, and was not the original practice of the Church.
To defend this practice, some of Luther’s contemporary adversaries rushed to John, chapter 6, where Jesus calls Himself the Bread that’s come down from heaven and that whoever eats this bread will live forever. Therefore, his opponents argued, the laity only need the bread. Never mind that Jesus also in John 6 says that His blood is true drink, and elsewhere in John’s Gospel that He is the True Vine, Luther says that John 6 doesn’t really have to do with the bodily eating of the Sacrament anyway. It talks about faith with eating and drinking as the metaphor. Indeed there are two kinds of eating—the bodily eating of the Sacrament and the spiritual eating of faith. The first kind of eating can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on the second kind of eating.
But if you remain in Christ’s Word, you will know the truth and the truth will free you. We don’t first go to the foggy passages of Scripture to interpret the plain, but the other way around. First we go to the plain and clear institution of this Sacrament to see what Christ says about it. And it is clear from the words of Christ that both the bread and the wine are given to all who partake of the Sacrament. This is My body, given for you; this is My blood, shed for you. What’s more, St. Matthew’s Gospel includes the words, poured out for many, to the institution of the cup. How, then, could anyone conclude that the cup is only for the few, that is, only for the priests and pastors who consecrate it?
The Roman Church still practices this today, though has loosened its threats a bit. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church still holds that both the body and the blood of Jesus are available under both kinds (contrary to our Lord’s own words), and the customary way of the laity to commune is only from the bread, but they do allow the laity to partake of the cup in special circumstances; they call this an unusual way of participating in the Communion.
What about us? The cup is restored. Not only do we have one cup, but we individualized the cups just in case there might be some poison in the cup our Savior gives us. We would never withhold the cup from the laity—it’s our right! Right? Tell me, how would you respond to someone who asks to take communion on the 1st, 3rd, or 5th Sunday of the month? Not only do we withhold the cup, but the bread as well. Well, you can just have it next week. But what about someone who is suffering from a burden of sin who would be freed from their captivity? Well, you have confession and the Word. Why have communion any week, then, if we could just have confession and the Word?
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says that in our churches, the Sacrament is given every Lord’s Day and on festivals, to those who wish to receive it, after they have been examined and absolved. This is the same as the practice of the ancient Church, even in the book of Acts, when the custom of the disciples was to meet on the Lord’s Day for the breaking of the bread. This do, Jesus says, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. If He didn’t intend for you to take the Sacrament often, our Lord wouldn’t have said it. Yet with the same words He leaves it free. The body and blood of Christ are neither forced upon an individual, nor are they forcibly withheld. The Sacrament is a gift, and it’s received by faith, not by force. Abide in the Word—chew on it, meditate on it, consider it, keep it—and the Word will free you.
The second captivity from which the Word of God frees us is not as dangerous because it doesn’t actually withhold something from simple faith. It’s really more for theologians and philosophers. The second captivity from which the Word of God frees us is the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Most Lutherans get the actual doctrine of transubstantiation wrong by thinking that the Catholic Church teaches that the bread turns into Jesus’ body, and the wine, His blood. That’s only partially correct. The doctrine of transubstantiation makes a distinction between the substance and the accidents of the bread and wine. The substance is the inherent nature of a thing—that which makes a thing what it is. The accidents are all the qualities that and properties that may change without changing what the thing is. The accidents of bread would be smell, taste, texture, size, etc., These are different for different kinds of bread. But different kinds of bread are still bread; the substance doesn’t change.
The doctrine of transubstantiation is that when the priest consecrates the bread and the wine, the substance of the bread changes to the substance of Christ’s body and blood. The accidents still remain the same. Now you see what sort of philosophical gymnastics you have to do to arrive at this doctrine of transubstantiation. This is the fruit of medieval scholasticism, particularly from the theologian Thomas Aquinas and his application of Aristotle’s philosophy to the Word of God.
In response, Luther brings us back to a plain and simple faith in Christ’s words of institution. This is My body; this is My blood. This bread is at the same time Christ’s body; this wine is at the same time Christ’s blood. The Sacrament is not held captive to philosophy any more than it’s held captive to church decrees. The Word of the Lord frees us to a simple, yet forceful faith in His Word, and His Word alone.
The third captivity is the most dangerous and nefarious of them all. It is the captivity that is called a dragon’s tail and an abomination. The third captivity from which we are freed is the sacrifice of the mass.
Now, many Lutherans believe that the Reformation abolished the mass entirely—that everything was thrown out. Not the case. The Reformation was a conservative Reformation, that is, it kept was good and pure, so long as it upheld the Word of God. What the Lutheran Confession of faith cannot abide is the sacrifice of the mass, also known as the canon of the mass.
The canon of the mass was the set of prayers and ceremonies and customs that accompanied the service of communion. These involved the invocation of the saints, the lifting of the bread and wine as an offering of sacrifice to God, prayers that identified the communion as a re-sacrificed Christ and a work presented toward God. Lost among these layers of prayers and ceremonies were Christ’s words themselves, which were whispered inaudibly over the elements and buried deep within a lengthy prayer.
It wasn’t just a few bad practices, but the entire sacramental system of the medieval Roman Church turned the gift of Christ on its head, turning the Sacrament into a sacrifice, from God’s gift for us to our work for God. In fact, it got to a point where the laity were told they merited favor simply by watching the priests do their things without even participating the Sacrament at all!!
But nothing exemplifies this abominable practice as much as the private masses. Without even one soul to participate in the communion, priests would go into private chapels and offer a mass on behalf of someone else, either living or dead (and always for money). This little, private ceremony was supposed to offer help for someone who was nowhere to be seen!
These private masses are roundly rejected in the Lutheran Reformation and explicitly in the Confessions. (Sometimes, private communion is confused with a pastor communing himself, but these are not the same. Martin Luther, Martin Chemitz, Johann Gerhard, and C. F. W. Walther all say that a pastor—especially a sole pastor of a congregation—is welcome to and expected to administer communion to himself, but in no circumstances is he ever to hold a communion service for himself alone without any other person to commune).
When Luther deals with the sacrifice of the mass, he takes us back to the words of Jesus. “We must turn our eyes and hearts simply to the institution of Christ and this alone, and set nothing before us but the very word of Christ by which he instituted the sacrament, made it perfect, and committed it to us. For in that word, and in that word alone, reside the power, the nature, and the whole substance of the mass. All the rest is the work of man, added to the work of Christ.” Thus far Luther.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He gave to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
First and foremost, the Supper is a testament. A testament is a promise, everyone knows that. But moreover, a testament is a promise that goes into effect when a person dies—like a last will and testament. The first Lord’s Supper is our Lord’s Last Supper. On the night in which He is betrayed, He knows that He will hang on a cross the following day, so He gives His disciples, and all generations to follow, His last will and testament. The words that He speaks are in effect because He is about to die.
This shows us that the one, atoning sacrifice that is able to reconcile God and man, win forgiveness, and defeat the enemies of sin, death, and the devil, is Christ’s death alone. His death on the cross is the one propitiatory sacrifice and no other work, not even the most elaborate mass can earn God’s favor.
Christ’s death is the sacrifice. The Sacrament is the means by which He delivers to us the benefits of that one sacrifice. That’s the difference between a sacrifice and a sacrament. A sacrifice is a work offered to God; a sacrament is God’s work offered to us. Therefore, there are no invocation of saints, only the invocation of the name of God. The bread and wine are not lifted up in sacrifice to God, but lifted up before your eyes—The peace of the Lord be with you always. The prayers that accompany the Sacrament are prayers of thanksgiving for God’s Word and work among us. And above all, the Word of Christ are proclaimed—Luther even wanted them sung out (which I’m going to do today). For His words are the main thing in the Sacrament.
If you abide in Christ’s Word, you are truly His disciple, and you will know the truth and the truth will free you.. There would have been no Lutheran Reformation had Luther not remained in God’s Word; the papacy would have devoured him. But, as Luther said, “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard