Communing the Young

In a resent survey I distributed (see the post below), there were some who said that they do not wish to bring younger children to the Sacrament. I assume, given the survey and those to whom it was sent (mainly LCMS pastors), that “younger children” are children who are not yet of confirmation age (13 to 14 years old). My question is, why? Why not desire to bring younger children to the Sacrament?

Didn’t our Lord say to His disciples, “Let the little children come unto me”? I know, this is associated with Baptism, but our Lord doesn’t make this distinction, we do. Why do His words apply to Baptism and not to the Holy Supper? Shouldn’t His words, “Baptize all nations” refer to children (as indeed they do), and His words, “Come unto me …” refer to those who believe, which includes baptized children? It seems to me we’ve spilled too much ink on why children can’t come to Jesus in the Sacrament rather than spilling ink on why they should, as Luther pens in the Large Catechism. He writes, “Since children are baptized and received into the Chrisitan Church, they too should enjoy this communion of the Sacrament” (LC, V, 87). Oh, no! Sounds like Infant Communion! What are you afraid of? I’m not advocating communing infants, I’m saying that children can confess the faith and therefore should be allowed to receive what they are confessing. Or are we God, able to know what is in their hearts? Are we not commanded to love them, to beleive all things? If they lie, what is that to us, we are not the judge. Our theology is too general, too blanketing (nice adjective, eh?).

We try too hard to make general rules and assumptions, forgetting that we are dealing with specific people in specific times in specific ways. I wonder, are our Lord’s words, “For you” generic? If so, then you have no reason to think He means you.

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Communion Practice

The survey: Communion Practice (click on the link to view the survey and results (PDF)).

This post is for mainly for those who completed the survey “Communion Practice” though anyone may certianly read it. The attatched link is a PDF of the survey and the responses.

First of all, thank you for your responses to the survey. I sent it via email and facebook, so I double invited some, but it was limited to only one response per computer, so even if you got a double invite, you could have only filled the survey out once. Of course, it was a very limited survey (I would have to have paid quite a bit of money to expand it), so I realize that some of the questions and/or responses were somewhat limiting. However, the survey served its purpose.

Of the 60 or so I sent, I – to date – have received back 31 (I’m closing it today). And I found that the responses were favorable to bringing young children to the Sacrament (68% said they’d like to have young children receive the Sacrament – question 7); 55% understand St. Paul’s use of the word “body” in 1 Cor. 11:29 to refer to both the host and the Church (question 9); and 55% understand St. Paul’s caution to “examine one’s self” to mean that one must discern what he is eating (the body and blood of Christ) as well as with whom he is eating and drinking (the church, the Body of Christ). (For some reason question 10’s responses didn’t print, and I can’t get them to. Sorry.) The survey was sent to a great variety of people, some with whom I strongly disagree. In particular, 22% understand that St. Paul’s words “examine one’s self” means to examine his or her cleanliness or uncleanliness. I don’t think this answer can be exegetically supported.

Therefore, the biggest thing the survey may have done, though, is to show us that our church is not in agreement in this matter. We shouldn’t point fingers and accuse, but should engage in dialog, exegetical dialog. Our practice is a reflection, a living out of our doctrine. We need to study the Scritpures to remain true to Christ and His Church in practice. I submit that perhaps our practice has become the doctrine so that we defend our practice, ignoring what is actually written. Just a thought.

Private and Public Sin and Matthew 18

What is a private sin? Well, let’s first consider what the word “private” means. It means, “not pubic.” Private property is not public property. A private beach is not a public beach. A private ceremony is not a public ceremony. But private is not secret. A couple may very well have a private moment in public, but it is nigh impossible to have a secret moment in public. Again, a private beach is not a secret beach; people do know about it. A private ceremony is announced: “This is a private ceremony.” A secret ceremony would not be announced.
So what is a private sin? It is not a public one. But this doesn’t really answer what a private sin is, it only clarifies what it is not. So to be clear: a private sin is a sin committed against an individual. If I steal my neighbor’s mail, I have commited a private sin even though it will be made public at my arraignment. If I shoot the bird to someone in the mall, it is a private sin – a sin committed agaisnt the person I shot the bird at – even though it is done in public. So a private sin can be done in public. And a public sin can be done in private.
A public sin is a sin committed againt the public. To draw an analogy, if the United States is attacked by an enemy, foreign or domestic, this is a public sin (the sin being used as an act agaisnt someone). It is a sin against the entire United States, and so the United States goes to war. But if a foreigner slaps me upside the head it is not a sin against the United States but against me. Now even if the attack is done in private (such as poisioning the water supply of major cities) it is still a public sin. But if I am slapped on national television, it is still a private sin.
Where am I going with all this? Here: Matthew 18 is dealing with public sins, not private ones. Jesus is here concerened with sins committed against the Body of Christ, public sins, not sins committed against a person, private sins.
In fact, when someone sins against us – a private sin – we are supposed to forgive immediately without them even asking for it. Thus St. Peter writes, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” If we exegete Matthew 18 to mean that when someone sins against us personally we are to go and show them their fault, what possible purpose would this serve? Rather, when we are maligned, mistreated, sinned against, we are to remain silent (1 Peter 5). We are to be as sheep to the slaughter. We are to love our enemy and so count no record of wrong against him. If we count no record of wrong, then why do we go and show him his fault?
Now someone will say, “Yes but Jesus is here speaking of our brother, not our enemy.” So much the worse! If we are to cover our enemy’s sin with our love for him, how much more are we to do this for our brother? This is what St. Paul writes to the Corinthians.
In Matthew 18, Jesus is saying to His disciples, if someone sins against you, go and show him his fault. That is, if someone sins against the Body of Christ, the disciples, namely, the ministers of reconciliation are to go and show him his fault. If the sinner repents, they have reconciled him to the Body of Christ and gained their brother. If he does not listen to them, they bring 2 or 3 witness to establish that he has sinned against the Body of Christ (not them personally). Once again, if the sinner repents, having been rebuked by many, then they have gained their brother, but if he refuses to listen again then it is told to the church. Now why in God’s name (pun intented) would Jesus say for us to tell the whole church when someone has sinned against us personally? Rather, is He not saying that in sinning agaisnt the Body and refusing to be reconciled then the Body must reject him? Again, this is what St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth about the immoral man.
So to use Matthew 18 in matters of personal sin is to misuse Matthew 18. If someone sins against you, be wronged. Better to suffer for doing good if that is God’s will (1 Peter). After all, what are you that you can be sinned against? But if someone sins against the Body, show him his fault that he may be reconciled to the Body of Christ and be saved.

Let a Person Examine Himself (1 Corinthians 11:28) – again

We are all familiar with the apostle Paul’s admonition concerning receiving the Lord’s Supper that a person ought to examine himself before he eats and drinks so that he doesn’t eat and drink to his judgment. But what does the apostle mean, examine yourself? What exactly are we to examine about ourselves? Well, to begin, here are St. Paul’s words:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, ESV)

When St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth concerning the Holy Supper of our Lord, he was concerned because they were so divided among themselves. There were such sharp factions and divisions that even at the Lord’s Supper there was fighting, betrayal, and neglect. The rich came early and ate their fill, even getting drunk, while their poorer brothers, who had nothing, received nothing (11:21). Because of this wicked division, the apostle goes so far as to say that those who caused this division were despisers of the Church of God. And because they despised the Church of God, it was not the Lord’s Supper they ate and drank.
To correct the abuses and mend the brokenness of the Corinthian’s gathering, St. Paul repeats again from them what he had received and passed on. That our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you …” In the same way, He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” By giving the Lord’s words again to the church in Corinth, Paul is doing two things: 1) He is reminding the Corinthians whose supper it is as well as what it is (the body and blood of Jesus), and, 2) he is reminding them that our Lord has given His Supper it to His Body, the Church, without distinction to class, race, or sex. After all, the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe. But despising the Church by their divisions, the Corinthians were not celebrating the Lord’s Supper. They were sinning against the body and blood of Christ and against the Church of God, itself!
The amount of bread and wine does not matter (that is, the amount you receive, cf. 11:22). The place and time does not matter. The paraments and vestments don’t matter. Only two things matter: that you gather in Jesus’ name and that Jesus’ words are spoken. So, for example, if you sat down at table and ate bread and drank wine with a group of atheists, even if the words of Jesus were spoken over the bread and wine, it would not be the Lord’s Supper because atheists don’t gather in the name of Jesus. Gathering with atheists, you would not have gathered with the Body of Christ. How do you know you are gathering with the Body of Christ? Because where two or three gather in His name, He is there. Atheists don’t gather in the name of Jesus! And whoever does not gather to Him scatters and does not have the Lord’s Supper, even if they were to repeat Jesus’ words ad infinitum. To illustrate further, let’s say Hollywood puts out another movie about Jesus. When the actors gather together to enact the scene of the Lord’s Supper, they say the words, they eat and drink, but they do not actually celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s not because they’re not in a church building that they do not have the Lord’s Supper, but because they are not gathered in Jesus’ name. They are gathered in the name of the maker of the movie. Since they have not gathered in Jesus’ name, Jesus is not there to give them His Supper.
It matters that you understand with whom you gather to eat and drink — the Church, who gathers to her Lord to receive from His hand. Therefore, St. Paul says to the Corinthians, since you despise the Church of God by shunning and shaming your brothers, since you do not gather in Jesus’ name but your own, you do not eat the Lord’s Supper. Instead, you profane the body and blood of Christ, which is not given to just some Christians, but to the entire Church. Since the local congregation is the Church gathered in the name of Jesus, she doesn’t have the right to discriminate, receiving some and shunning other who rightly belong to her (no matter their wealth, class, race, age, or sex).
But that is exactly what the Corinthian congregation did; they discriminated against their brothers and sisters. So the apostle continues, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy matter will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Therefore, let a person examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup, for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (vv. 27-29). Take note: no less than four times the apostle writes “body and blood” or “eats and drinks,” never separating the two until he writes that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body (singularly) eats and drinks judgment on himself.” No mention of discerning the blood even though the apostle nowhere else separates the two elements or actions. Why does St. Paul do this? What does it mean?
It means that the apostle’s admonition to “discern the body” is not merely an admonition to believe that the bread is the body of Christ. He has already cleared this matter up in chapter 10, when he writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16). So the bread is the body of Jesus and the cup is His blood. But then Paul writes that because we eat of the one bread, we are one body. Our unity is in our eating the Lord’s body together. So unless we discern the body (11:29), that is, unless we discern what we are eating and with whom we are eating, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves.
Therefore, examine yourself. Not to make sure you’re aware of all your sins or to make sure you’re not angry with anyone or that no one is angry with you (the Bible itself says you are unable to do this!), but rather examine yourself so that you confess what you are eating and with whom you are eating it. This is why during the distribution of the Sacrament, many pastors simply say, “Body of Christ.” This reinforces that you are eating the body of Christ, that you are the Body of Christ, and that you eat with the Body of Christ, thus fulfilling the apostle’s admonition to examine oneself and so discern the body.
Now understand, it is not by knowledge or wisdom or understanding that one discerns the body. It is by and through faith. Thus the Small Catechism, “That person is truly worthy [to receive the Sacrament] who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’” Luther, like St. Paul, says one must discern the body, for in the words “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we have the words and will of Christ. What is given and shed? Jesus’ body and blood. To whom is it given? To those who gather in His name, hearing His words, “For you.” Why is it given? To grant pardon and peace (forgiveness) to the one who eats and drinks. Thus, the words of Jesus along with the bodily eating and drinking are the main thing in the Sacrament. To discern the body is to have faith in Jesus’ words.
By the by, Luther ends the Large Catechism with these words: “Since the children are baptized and received into the Christian Church (the Body of Christ), they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us. They must all certainly help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.” Even a child know what the Church is.