Friday, August 7, 2009

"Core Values of the Christian: Using the Sacraments Properly”

NOTE: This "blog" is the length that it is because I have limited myself to preparing these posts first for publication in our parish newsletter. It is my sincerest desire that the members of our congregation will learn to rejoice in the Lutheran Confessions, for these confessions truly present a clear confession of the historic Christian faith to our world today. May you also be blessed, dear reader!

The Augsburg Confession
“Chief Articles of Faith”
Article XIII — The Use of the Sacraments

Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us. They were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

Therefore, they condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify simply by the act of doing them. They condemn those who do not teach that faith, which believes that sins are forgiven, is required in the use of the Sacraments. +

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord . . .

Truly, one of the “core values” of the Christian life is that we learn to realize that God's Sacraments are gifts which He has given to us and which He Himself uses to forgive our sins and thus grow our faith. By these gifts, which are His "visible Gospel," He grows His holy church. Thus, it behooves us use them as God intended them to be used, for their salutary (the good of our souls) purpose.

When the reformers wrote about their “core values” they wrote separate, but short, articles on Confession (to deal with the practice of required Private Confession — more on that in a bit), and on repentance. Since the two really go hand in hand, I will treat of both of them here.

+ + + ARTICLE XIII: The Use of the Sacraments

“Pastor has been bugging me to go to Communion, so I guess I’ll go to get him off of my back.” - W R O N G!

“Well, now that we have a kid, i guess we ought to go and get him baptized. Then maybe everyone will quit pestering us about it.” - W R O N G!

If you do not know why those two statements are wrong, please go read Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession at the very beginning of this blog. Please try to read it closely.

+ + + Ever heard of: “Ex opere operato?”

It’s a Latin phrase. Sorry, sometimes I can’t resist using the Latin because that is how it was taught to me. It roughly translates to mean, “Just because you did something it was good for you.” It’s pronounced: “ex oh-per-eh oh-per-ah-toe.” The reformers decried those who attended the Lord’s Supper, for example, in an “ex opere operato” way. Reflect with me on the problems with it, please.

+ + + BAPTISM “ex opere operato”

BAPTISM “ex opere operato” is like when parents bring their child to the church and have the pastor baptize him. They make a big deal about finding some people to be “sponsors.” Then they take a couple of pictures. Then they leave, never to bring that baby back to the Lord’s house ever again; or, they will only return the child to the Lord’s house in such a haphazard way that the child will learn that worshiping God is not something to be valued. They may rationalize their action in a variety of ways; in fact, they usually rationalize their sinful action in a number of different ways.

They say: “He’ll cry and be distracting to others during church so we’ll just leave him at home until he’s ‘older.’” But then, too often, because the child is never taught about how to act in worship, he is a full grown child (or even young adult) before he is brought back to the Lord’s worship. By then, he knows that if he acts up he probably will not have to stay and learn to worship, so . . . you know the rest of that story.

Sometimes parents say that “While he’s a baby I can’t get anything out of church anyhow, so we’ll all just stay home until he’s older.” It’s a tad more self-centered reason, and the result is the same, of course.

Or, what of the person who, at a certain point in his life, decides to get baptized “just to be sure that I’m ‘covered.’” But, after the baptism, there is given no thought for growing up in Christ our Savior, and the person is never to be seen again.

In all of those cases, if nothing changes, are those persons “saved?” We do NOT presume to answer that question since it is God Who alone searches every heart. Nevertheless, we do know that God does NOT want a person to be baptized ex opere operato. Rather, He wants us to teach our children that their baptism means that they are His children and that they are to grow up in Him. He wants us bring children to His house to learn of Him. He wants parents to have family devotion time in their homes. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) links “baptism” and “teaching;” one should not be done without the other.

+ + + THE LORD’S SUPPER “ex opere operato”

Because we are human, and because we are sinners we always want to “turn the tables” on the Lord it seems. Our motive is not necessarily that we want to maliciously attack our Lord; we just tend to do that until we learn to think quite differently (and one of the reasons for going to Church, attending Bible Classes, having daily devotions, and even reading the church newsletter is that we learn to think differently!). We “turn the tables” on the Lord, as it were, by taking His gifts and turning them into things which we must do rather than receiving them as gifts from His hand of grace.

When we begin to think of Holy Communion as something which we must do for the Lord, we stand in grave danger of turning the Lord’s gift of His body and blood given to us poor sinners for the forgiveness of sins into things which we imagine that we ought to do for Him. Sometimes we get this impression when we misunderstand what our pastor says when he says, “You really ought to go to Communion a lot.” The rest of what the pastor should say is “. . . for you and I are poor, miserable sinners who sin every day, lose sight of God’s mercy and love, and start to believe the devil’s and the world’s lies as our faith in Christ our Savior wanes. Jesus has taught us to receive His body and blood ‘often’ because this is one of the ways in which He forgives our sins again and restores faith to our weary hearts.” Or something like that.

Attending Holy Communion ex opere operato would be, as examples: not examining ourselves prior to coming to the Sacrament but just going to Communon with little thought to either our sinfulness or Christ’s forgiveness; going to Communion “because if I don’t, Pastor might come calling on me;” thinking that we ought to have Communion because we have somehow earned or deserved it; and so on. . . .


Answer: like a grateful beggar receives a wonderful meal. In fact, when Dr. Luther was known to remind people of how they/we stand before God when he would say, “Wir sind alle Bettler.” Translated, “We are all beggars.” Frankly, that is a wonderful picture of how we “do” evangelism: we do not try to manipulate others into believing in God; we do not try to trick them into coming to church; rather, we are like one beggar telling another beggar where the free lunch is!

The right way to receive baptism (for you, if you have not been baptized, or for your child if s/he has not been baptized) is simply in faith to receive what God mysteriously gives. Then, gratefully, spend the rest of your life learning what it means that you have been adopted into the family of God.

The right way to receive Holy Communion (if you are reading this and you are not a Christian or a Lutheran Christian or you are a lapsed Lutheran and you wonder if Baptism and Communion are for you and yours, call me up, it’s what I’m here for!) is to simply receive Christ’s own body and blood given and poured out for you for your forgiveness. Don’t let your questions get in the way. Don’t let your sins get in the way (confess them — see me about that, too :-) ).

As little children gratefully receive wonderful things from their parents (and even come to expect those gifts!), so the Christian receives Christ’s life-giving gifts, and even comes to learn to expect all good things from the Lord’s hand.


May it be that we will so study Scripture that we learn to receive God’s Sacraments in a right way, for our souls’ good. We want to receive His gifts properly since we know that disdaining His gifts or receiving them in some arrogant way can bring harm to our souls (really — but rather than stay way to prevent that, see me!). May the Lord bless you, in Christ, to receive His gifts properly, for your soul’s good!

In Christ, + Pastor Wollenburg

NOTE: In Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, there is this “forward” which is intended to help first time readers of the Augsburg Confession understand the context in which it was written:

“God gives the Sacraments to His people for their forgivgfeness, life, and salvation, and this happens as they call forth trutst and confidence in Christ, the Savior. by the sixteenth century, the Roman Church had developed a complicated sacramental system that had transfoprmed the Sacraments into meritorious works, performed by priests, This was esxpecially evident in the Mass, where priests”sacrificed” Christ again and again on behalf ot he living and the dead. The Bible, however, reveals the key to the Sacraments: the p[romises of Gopd. God attaches His Word of promise ot the element of the Sacrament — water, wine, or bread — and gives and strenthens the fiaoth of those receiving them. (See also Ap XIII).”

(Source: CONCORDIA The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. p. 64. © 2005, CPH, St. Louis, MO.)

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