Someone needs to explain this to me

What is this? How could this happen? What does this mean about and for Lutheran and Methodist Eucharistic and sacramental theologies? I only know 2 Methodists who have a eucharistic theology remotely close to a Lutheran one; one comments here, the other is his teacher. Seriously, people, I’m all for people getting together but this move towards church unity through fuzzy/misleading theology has got to stop…

34 Replies to “Someone needs to explain this to me”

  1. i know an episcopal bishop who says what we believe doesn’t matter as long as we’re all still willing to hold hands and sing kumbayah…I mean gather at the eucharist and pray together.

  2. Well–common worship *ought* to result in common theology. We all know it’s not that easy, of course–but Methodist and Lutheran worship and theology are *nothing* like one another…

  3. I’ll get on board with this little movement when Methodists can say (without their fingers crossed) that “Of the Sacrament of the Altar we hold that bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ, and are given and received not only by the godly, but also by wicked Christians.” SA VI

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t like Methodists, I do…it just means we don’t agree…and that is ok!

    Side note:
    I would be a lot happier if Lutherans started believing in the Real Presence again.

  4. I don’t know anything about theology anymore. I mean, I really thought at one time that Episcopalians had a theology but I can’t see it here anymore. I think that the church I belong to is really Baptist with a Eucharist. So everybody else might as well get along.

  5. Annie – I feel your pain. I’ve been in Lutheran churches that I thought were just Baptist with a liturgy.

    I think that what irks me is when we say we agree, even though we don’t (the current Lutheran model of ecumenism). It is intellectually dishonest. Let’s just admit we don’t agree about some things and be ok with that, even if the matter is church dividing. Luther didn’t think the sacraments were adiaphora (Derek, feel free to correct me if I my Lutheran hermeneutical lens is a bit out of focus). The Real Presence is essential and central to Lutheran theology, and I don’t see how we can be in union with churches who cannot accept this basic premise (I am not picking on the Methodists here, because I also have a serious issue with the Reformed formulas of agreement).

  6. CA 7 says it plain and clear:

    Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

    And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4,

    I’m not saying that Methodists aren’t Christians, of course–I’m just saying they’re not Lutherans. There may be agreement on the Gospel but on the administration of the sacraments?–huh uh.

  7. I wonder if Article VII of the Augsburg Confession – “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people,” has anything to say about this situation. Regardless of our sin or our theology – bad, misdirected, etc. – isn’t the sacrament a sacrament regardless of the beliefs, practices, nature of the person presiding or the congregation’s denominational affiliation? Isn’t the sacrament a sacrament because of the presence of God’s Word, an earthly element and God’s people? When I attend a Methodist church or a Baptist church, do I believe the Holy Communion celebrated there is NOT the body and blood of Jesus because of the denomination listed on the church sign? Jesus said “this is my body,” even if the presider doesn’t really believe it.

    I know that Luther and the Confessions talk about agreement regarding Word and sacrament as essential to church unity, but what does “agreement” mean, anyway? Agreement in belief, in practice, in the music or prayers that adorn the sacrament? I don’t want to just throw my hands up in the air, give up, and go around chomping on crackers and grape juice and call it all Communion, but I am still left with the question – if Jesus promises to be in, with and under the bread, – if this sacrament is ultimately an act of God – then what does it care what the presider believes or what church ordained her?

    (there’s a “good order” argument to be had, of course, and perhaps that’s what it boils down to?)

    Well, sorry for what might be sloppy theology. Looking forward to reading your responses . . .

  8. I would advise you to read a document from a couple of years ago from the UMC concerning Holy Communion in which the UMC basically admits that their sloppy sacramental praxis stems from the inability to put enough clergy in enough places during the 19th century. Moreover, the document comes in the neighborhood affirming consubstantiation. (or at least that’s how I read it, I’ll let the better-educated opine here. Now, I suspect these facts haven’t filtered down to the ground. But at a high level, there are changes going on in Methodist sacramental theology, which may have emboldened some ELCA hearts who should know better.

    That said, I found the Eucharistic celebration at the Lutheran church I attended in Texas to be somewhat defective. (No epiclesis of any kind). And with ECUSA, it has become “how many rubrics can we violate this week”?

  9. I read the document you refer to, caelius, and it is not a bad document. Here is my issue: when speaking with my UMC clergy friends, no one seems to know anything about it. I told one friend serving in North Carolina about it this summer, and he was astounded about what I told him it contained, and responded by saying that it didn’t sound really Methodist.

    So here is where I struggle…a document that people don’t know much about or don’t agree with isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

    Further, I think we encounter very sloppy Eucharistic theology in ALL parish churches of different denominations. Maybe we need some catechesis locally before we start signing all these agreements.

    I do want to back up and offer this word about the whole thing:

    I am grateful for the education I received at a UMC theological school. I have many friendships that I value greatly with UMC pastors. I would love us to enter into a full communion agreement, but not this way. There are several things we need to work through, including local practice. There are a lot of ELCA practices I object to, but I have been to some UMC parishes where I would not receive because I was not really sure that what they had done constituted a sacramental action.

  10. I appreciate and find a lot of beauty in Liturgy, I think it can be a positive thing, but do not think that liturgy = good theology. If that were the case then many of the Catholic teachings would be considered OK. There can be a lot of argument made in either direction as to the nature of the eucharist. And just because a person’s understanding of it may be different or a little fuzzy does not draw away from the power of the act.

  11. good liturgy reinforces and instructs the laity in good theology. i don’t think the laity need to individually have a really good grasp of all theological concepts, but I think with something like the eucharist, a proper liturgy clarifies things for them.

    what really frightens me is how little the leadership seems to know about theology. i say that as a graduate of a methodist theology school.

  12. I do think good liturgical practice emphasizes good theology, but it clearly does not protect a church at any level (local or otherwise) from the danger of heresy. It just leads to a certain amount of liturgical dishonesty.

    Still, I think emphasizing the orthodoxy of the liturgy is a first level priority for those who want to protect the orthodoxy of their respective church.

  13. waitaminute… my big rant didn’t come through…

    okay–short version of big rant

    1. The Lutheran Confessions have no liturgical protection built into them. The historic liturgy is nowhere upheld. It’s implied, but not upheld and therefore is purely adiaphora. Lutheran unity is predicated on what people *say* that they *think*. The reason I’m Episcopal is because our unity is based on what we *do* together. Yes, this is abused; yes, it means the prayer book must be protected.

    2. Lutheran Zephyr, I think there’s a fundamental distinction between individual acts of hospitality and ecclesial ones. I’ve received from Methodists, Presbyterians, UCC, etc. on an occassional basis in seminary and in other contexts. That’s about personal discernment *and* not transgressing the community’s rules. I will not receive in RC or LCMS circles because that would be a betrayal of their hospitality. So–personal reception is one thing. This is what I see you referring to.

    Denomination intercommunion is a much bigger, deeperm, and broader issue because it essentialy signals mutual recognition of orders and therefore fundamental agreement on theology. And that’s where the problem lies… These agreements are drawn up by small groups in rooms with a unity agenda. Surprise! they find common ground… ‘Cause they’re working real hard to find it… When these documents see the light of day a lot of laity and clergy are really surprised to see what some guy in a room thinks that they think.

    I’ve read the Methodist statement; I read it when it came out. And I know of exactly two Methodist clergy who are 1) aware of it and 2) go along with it. (and that’s ’cause they’re married to each other…) It in NO WAY reflects the beliefs of most Methodists.

    Which returns me to the Lutherans. How can one body be in full communion with Episcopalians, Moravians, Presbyterians, and Methodists and say that they have a consistent Eucharistic theology? I don’t mean that as a slam–it’s just an honest question. I see it as fall out from the guys-in-a-small-room-desperately-seeking-unity syndrome. It starts as a hope–it ends as a distortion of the beliefs of the denomination as a whole and of the people who constitute it.

  14. My turn to rant:

    Derek, it should be a slam. The ELCA has really gone so far off track with its agenda of unity at all costs that it does leave some of us scratching our heads and asking what we are supposed to do. You’ve been involved in conversations with me over that for how many years now?

    There is a clear sacramental theology contained in the confessions. People can speak badly all they want of the LCMS, but in this regard they do a better job.

    Further, I read a statement made by some nameless drone in Chicago (ELCA HQ) that basically said that the ELCA wanted to be the bridge church between all the Protestants and the RC. Yeah, that is likely! All we’ve managed to do is dilute and delude ourselves. It is all a bunch of bullshit and some of us are getting very tired of it.

    I was at a conference of first call pastors this week, and I was astounded at some of the drivel I heard from my colleagues. I honestly couldn’t figure out if we served in the same church body. This whole idea that, “I’m ok and you’re ok so let’s stand around a fire and sing camp songs” is costing us our very soul. Whatever happened to ideas like, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”?

    It is interesting that while all the other mainline bodies were in decline, Lutherans were enjoying gains. Guess when all of that ended…when we decided to enter into union with all the other declining churches! Now we too are enjoying our own slow death. And the supposed benefits of our unions? I haven’t seen any yet. Reintroduction of the Historic Episcopate was supposed to help safguard us, since the HE worked so well in guarding Anglican orthodoxy. We didn’t even get the good stuff from the BCP. We adopted some prayer that sounds like a litany from Star Trek. I guess from the UCC we inherited a heightened sense of our own PC attitude, and followed their lead by systematically hunting down and destryoing masculine references to God in our upcoming hymnal. Come on, the UCC doesn’t even require its churches to believe ANYTHING. Nothing against any of the other Reformed and Presbyterian folks, but I am yet to see the advantage of our union for either party. God knows permission to include that Eucharistic prayer from the BCW doesn’t qualify.

    I once made the mistake during the ordination process of saying I was opposed to some of these actions. I was told that if I wanted to be ordained I had better not bring it up again. This from a committee member who tried to get me to espouse this wierd form of universalism. I sometimes marvel that I made it through the process at all. But here I am. What next?

    Sorry to vent on your blog, Derek.

  15. No problem–that’s what we’re here for…

    My question is this: how do we properly navigate between dissolving into the theological equivalent of slush without becoming doctrine nazis? Where’s the space between the dogmatic and the dog-baptizing that allows room for integrity, authenticity, and hospitality?

  16. Hey Derek,

    Thanks for your response. Yes, you are right – there is a difference between one community’s celebration of the sacrament (and, by extension, one believer’s reception of that sacrament) and inter-communion agreements between denominations. In that sense, the “good-order” clause – if it were set nicely in a clause – comes into play. And of course, we are called to honor our hosts “rules” and not receive if receiving would violate their piety or practice.

    You wrote: “Lutheran unity is predicated on what people *say* that they *think*.” Well then, that’s a problem, isn’t it? If that’s the case, do we really have any unity in the Lutheran church? We’ve all seen and commented upon the varied practices, beliefs, etc. that exist in the Lutheran church.

    It’s messy, but our only hope for unity is faith in Christ Jesus and not any of this other stuff which is indeed important today but less important in the view of the Kingdom/eschaton. Unity is in Christ, and a Christ-based unity is not quantifiable and not easy for our modern denominational structures to embrace. Unity has so damn little to do with what is says on your church signs or denominations or liturgies or whatever. These interim symbols of unity, though important to our conscience and our witness, are just that – interim.

    I was impressed by Wengert & Lathrop’s book “Christian Assembly,” because in it they speak so much of Jesus, Word, Christ, and so little of the liturgical and theological technicalities that define our eucharistic sharing concords. In the end, Christ will be present in, with, and under various words, various pieces of bread, various cups of wine/juice, in the midst of faithful celebrations of all kinds. I don’t say this to diminish the need for denominations or for crisp, clear theology (especially in ordering relations between two denominations), but in the end I guess I don’t see the problem with such things – God is bigger and can act in, with and under our eucharistic agreements.

    (BTW, perhaps God is blessing these agreements and the decline in Lutheran attendance as a way to return the church to its minority, persecuted status . . . . )

  17. stupid question…why shouldn’t there be a doctrine nazi? stopping short of excommunication for heresy and the inquistition, shouldn’t we insist on orthodoxy or at least assent to official teaching?

  18. A doctrine nazi? It seems to me that we are speaking here of something similar to what was wrong with the orthodox teachings among the Jews, where the Pharisees, the doctors of the law and Saducees stuck so rigidly to doctrine and Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching against it–to the point of being crucified.
    If it is worth doing, it is worth knowing and understanding. I’ve noticed and lamented and complained about how I do not see people doing a self-examination and apparently coming up short. Recently when I refused the sacraments myself, my priest reeled backward two steps. My problem with open communion to the point of allowing even the unbaptised is similar. Certain standards must be maintained but rigid adherence can lose the richness and beauty of the intent. It is sort of like *Christopher reminding us that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life today. If it is empty because there is no faith to back it up, then there is no use in doing it. It becomes simply law.

    I do understand Derek’s concerns. I want unity almost more than anything because Christ prayed for it and I believe in it. But for us this is precious. Let others do as they please, but we cannot share their lack of reverence.

  19. Okay,

    I’ll weigh in a couple of 2 cents.

    First not having an epiclesis is not necessarily defective, after all the Roman Canon does not have an epiclesis.

    Second, I have a range of comfort with regard to Eucharistic theologies, but some are beyond the pale: Zwinglianism. Wrong. And to be very honest, and I love the Methodists in my life dearly, most come closest to Zwinglian memorialism than anything else (which is very far from the Wesley’s own very Augustinian understanding).

    I think Luther got it quite correct to defend the Real Presence if without philosophical underpinnings of the Scholastics. We can speak of a variety of ways from E Orthodox high emphasis on the Holy Spirit to Transubstantiation, but if our Eucharistic theology does not admit Real Presence, I with Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons offer a very loud “Nay!” By the same token, if our understanding of Real Presence does not move us to better treat the real bodies in the Body with dignity and respect, we give a lie to our upholding of the doctrine in the first place.

    Third, annie, why did you refuse the sacraments?

    Fourth, on the other hand, I’m weary of doctrine Nazis as well because they too often forget the closing caveat in my second point.

  20. That being said, I’m still scratching my head at this latest agreement, and so did C: “We’ve forgotten our own Lutheran theology,” he chastized at Churchwide.

  21. *Christopher,
    This is a difficult thing to explain. I could no longer free myself from my anger, my judgements, my unforgiveness and it had polluted me. I did try. In fact, I thought I was successful until one night when I was reading James 3,4 and it convicted me. I could confess, but I wasn’t relying on God to help me. I stubbornly continued to try to do it all by myself, that’s all. The change, once I remembered and did something about it, was quite a relief.

  22. Well, I want to see more emphasis put on upholding the creeds and a creedally based theology. Seminarians need to hear something other than what we heard–that believing the creeds is optional.

    I don’t believe that Jesus’s comment necessarily means that denominations shouldn’t exist… I know that flies in the face of protestant ecumenical interpretations of the last hundred years, however, Since I believe that the Spirit is at work in the divided Church I have to belive that the division is for some good. I think that the good is that various denominations help remind one another of aspects that other traditions have minimized. We need Lutherans to remind us of justification by grace; we need Methodists to remind us of a Spirit-filled call to holiness; we need Episcopalians to properly pair wine and cheese. What unity movements like this do is to proclaim a false union by muddling those things that are–I think–the Spirit’s witness through our brokenness.

  23. O but derek, don’t you know, as Dr. Aune recently presented with a wonderful line I’ll post soon but to this effect though his is more eloquent: “Some Christian doctrines have become optional to a growing number of Christians.” I personally never bought that the Creeds were optional, though I was heavily encouraged to rethink.

  24. *Christopher: Point taken. The epiclesis for me is a brief look at the veil of the world torn asunder and its continual recreation into being. Thus, its absence always needles me. I will have to be careful not to call non-epicletic prayers defective in future.

  25. But *Christopher, is that the way it ought to be? I do think that Christianity is going through a major identity crisis right now. I want to make sure that its substance is not lost and I find its substance rooted in the creeds.

  26. derek,

    Is that a “rhetorical question”? Tongue-in-cheek. You know me well enough by now, I think, to know that I don’t think it’s the way it ought to be but it is. When faced with blahblahblah about how bad the Creeds are in conversation, I’m always up for a teaching moment. It seems this is often in seminaries these days though I’m proud to say that the faculty I work with are on my page!

  27. I wasn’t questioning your stance but the way that seminaries teach. We want people to question and think critically yet we also want them to hold the line–so how best to accomplish it?

  28. I’m with you on that…and I do think some sems do it better than others, but those that jump into critical thinking (or most often just a hermeneutic of paranoid suspicion without a modifying hermeneutic of generosity) without giving the historical and theological background for certain dogmas often are the ones with which I’ve found myself having the biggest beef. Then social issues of the day, whatever they are, are conflated with the worst of church behavior and the dogmas themselves are then automatically suspect. You can almost hear the baby Jesus being thrown out, instead of draining some dirty water. And it would appear that this is cross denominational?

    The sem I went to was one in which I was one of a very few who confessed the Incarnation and Trinity. Ironically, I, considered elsewhere a flaming radical, was there the curmudgeon traditionalist who just hadn’t seen the light. Actually, both were two sides of the same coin–in both cases, I was concerned with roots. Thank God, my most important classes were at the Episcopal sem across the street. At any rate, this gave me ample opportunity to work out methods of engaging folks who were mostly Socinian, unitarian, even deist or oppositely, monistic. This was a “Christian” seminary btw.

    The best way that I’ve found to accomplish this with those who almost knee-jerk throw out the baby Jesus with the bathwater is to help folks understand the context of the Creeds, the language used in them, what were the fathers of the Councils trying to prevent and protect in their formulations. When I start there I can find a great deal of common ground that makes folks rethink. It seems many folks, for example, are concerned about the body. Good. So were the Council fathers. Now, let’s talk about Incarnation, Resurrection, Creation, etc. as discussed in the Creeds. What does it mean that we confess we will be resurrected? Or that God became human? Or that God created all that is? That bodies matter a great deal more than any mere immortality of the soul alternative…

  29. Maybe all the denominational Christians who insist that their denomination is the most pure will get a denominational room in Heaven, no windows, sound proof, so they can’t hear the other Christians praising God. The people who put Christ first will get to see Him.

    In light of all the inter denominatinal talk, it is interesting to note that the ELCA website still says that, basically, the Lutheran church is the true church. And that there may be Christians in other denominations as well.

  30. *Sigh* This is really Cyprian’s fault: “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” Now we’re all wrestling to decide who gets to be the Church…

  31. So… I don’t know if anyone will read this, since this conversation is so old, but I just had to speak up as a UMC minister… I find Wesley’s approach to Eucharist fairly prevalent and incredibly powerful. The reason he advocated an open table was that he believed the Eucharist to be so powerful that it could allow the Holy Spirit to work in ANYONE’s heart, no matter what. I personally know plenty of people who decided to become baptized Methodists because they appreciated the open communion table so much, it led them to a deeper faith.
    I have nothing whatsoever against Lutherans, either, but I would never want to unite the UMC with the Lutheran church. Not because of Eucharist, but because I would not want to be part of a confessional church, where you have to sign a bunch of doctrines, creeds, dogmas, whatever. Again, no offense, but I am so incredibly impressed with the Wesleyan quadrilateral approach and the room it gives for discussion and dialogue… again, it stems from a very deep trust and faith in the incredible power of the Holy Spirit to give discernment. I don’t want a rule book, I would rather have the Holy Spirit.
    So… yeah, in the end, I put no limits on the power of the Holy Spirit (very Wesleyan of me, I know), which means I will dispute anything – any limiting doctrine or liturgy – that does.
    Interesting site, interesting discussion, best wishes to you all.

Comments are closed.