Questions Listed Under Lord's Supper

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  • This last Easter service was extremely difficult for me as I found out in our WELS church that communicants could choose between wine or grape juice.

    From Luther's Catechism:
    397. What are the earthly elements in this sacrament?

    The earthly elements are bread and wine.

    My understanding from my three years of Catechism at a WELS church, has always been that it was wine that was used at the Lord's Supper.

    When did Scripture change and now grape juice is an acceptable choice?

    Shouldn't we stick to what the Bible states? The cup contained wine. Even Luther states this in defining the sacrament of the Altar. As stated in Luther's Catechism, "under the bread and wine."

    The questions and answers in my Catechism do not line up with yours, but my Catechism (1998 printing) does speak of eating “bread” and drinking “wine.”  It does so even though the accounts of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper use the term “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18) and not “wine.” 

    Historically, we know that wine—often diluted with water—was used at the Passover meal.  The lack of refrigeration at this time also meant that the juice harvested from grapes months earlier would either have spoiled or become fermented. 

    Still, Scripture calls the contents of the cup of that first Lord’s Supper “the fruit of the vine” and not “wine.”  For that reason, the use of non-alcoholic wine or grape juice would be an acceptable practice in ministering to those who might have allergic reactions or other problems with alcohol.  Our regular practice is to use wine in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper because that resembles what Jesus most likely used in the upper room.

    If your congregation’s Communion practice this past Easter troubled you, I hope by now you have addressed your concerns to your pastor and provided him with an opportunity to respond. 

    We can thank God that in the Lord’s Supper he offers and gives us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.



      

  • Not being a member of the WELS/ELS, having been disciplined for unrepentant sin by a pastor/congregation, or having a physical/mental condition which prevents you from properly evaluating yourself seem to be the more common reasons some people abstain from receiving the Lord's Supper. Are there any other reasons a WELS/ELS member of sound mind and body, who has not been asked by a pastor/congregation to refrain from receiving the Lord's Supper, should voluntarily abstain?

    As we are part of a worldwide fellowship, I would add the “Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference” to “WELS/ELS” to the first part of your statement. 

    As far as why an eligible communicant would voluntarily refrain from receiving the sacrament, I would go back to the phrase of “having been disciplined for unrepentant sin by a pastor/congregation.”  If an eligible communicant is impenitent—and the pastor/congregation is unaware of it, resulting in no disciplinary action—that would constitute a reason for the individual to refrain from receiving the sacrament.  The Lord’s Supper is for penitent believers (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 John 1:8-10).  Related to that, if an eligible communicant harbors grudges and withholds forgiveness from others, that would constitute a reason for the individual to refrain from receiving the sacrament (Matthew 5:23-24).  If an eligible communicant denied the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood, that would constitute a reason for the individual to refrain from receiving the sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:29). 

    Your question emphasizes the importance of self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:28).  Driven by the Holy Spirit’s working in our hearts through the word of God, an honest examination of our hearts and lives leads to the realization of and confession that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.  Thankfully, the Lord’s Supper provides that forgiveness.  The Supper is a gracious gift from a gracious God.  And we have reason to be frequent guests at this holy meal.  “Lord Jesus Christ, you have prepared This feast for our salvation; It is your body and your blood, And at your invitation As weary souls, with sin oppressed, We come to you for needed rest, For comfort, and for pardon” (Christian Worship 312:1).

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

     

     

  • I believe in all of WELS teachings, but it bothers me and most newcomers when they use the word" true" in Communion. We know that all four things are present, but now how they are present, that part is the mystery. But, to add a word into what Jesus spoke is confusing and going beyond what is written. It seems to newcomers as I once was that you're implying something entirely different.

    I do hold strong to all fundamentals in Scripture and this day and age it's hard to find truth even in churches. But I feel this is the one place where WELS crosses a line by adding to his words... Please explain and consider just sticking with "This is the body and this is the blood."

    Thanks and God bless.

    It will be helpful for you to distinguish between Jesus’ words of institution and any words that are spoken during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. 

    The words of institution are spoken after the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and you notice that the word “true” is not part of the liturgy. 

    What you are referencing are words spoken during the distribution of the sacrament.  Quite simply, there is Christian freedom when it comes to what is, and what is not, said when communicants are receiving the sacrament.  The Bible does not lay out instructions on what to say during the distribution of the sacrament. 

    Because there is Christian freedom in this matter, we can expect some variety.  I have been at a church of our fellowship where the pastor spoke, “Take and eat…Take and drink...” to the “table” of people receiving the sacrament and then the elements were distributed in silence.  I have been at churches of our fellowship where the pastors distributed the elements and simply said to each person, “The body of the Lord.  The blood of the Lord.”

    What one often hears in our churches, as you pointed out, is “Take and eat.  This is the true body… Take and drink.  This is the true blood…”  The insertion of that word true reminds communicants what they are receiving.  To counter the prevalent heretical idea that the bread and wine merely represent Jesus’ body and blood, the words our communicants hear (“This is the true body…This is the true blood.”) reinforce the Bible’s teaching of the real presence (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:27).

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.



     

  • I've been a lifelong Lutheran. My faith predates the formation of the ELCA. I am frankly becoming very confused with the ELCA's practices. One such practice is the denial of absolution during Lent. During Lent, as stated, absolution is withheld until Maundy Thursday. Yet, Communion is served. If I am not mistaken, in accordance to the teachings of Luther and the Scriptures, no man has the authority to withhold God's forgiveness being it Pastor, Bishop, Pope, etc. Am I mistaken? Also, doesn't one have to ask forgiveness of their sins and be "sort of" right with God before taking Communion? I'm becoming disillusioned.

    I have heard of people giving up many things for Lent but never the absolution.  This is a practice with which I was not familiar—as were several of my colleagues in the ministry whom I consulted.  I did find the practice online in a worship resource, but I’m with you in that this practice is puzzling.  The stated purpose of that practice is “to underscore the entire season of Lent as a time of repentance” and to underscore “the brokenness of our relationship with God.” 

    I can understand why you felt empty when, after speaking the confession of sins, there was no spoken absolution.  It would be comparable to King David saying in Psalm 32:5 – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and then omitting the end of that verse: “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  Luther’s Catechism explains on the basis of God’s Word that “Confession has two parts.  The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.” 

    Acknowledging that Lent is a time of repentance and a season that underscores “the brokenness of our relationship with God” is accurate, but there is more to Lent’s message than that.  The season of Lent holds up the gospel message in great detail, showing that God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  Lent demonstrates how “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

    Yes, Scripture does speak of unworthily reception of the sacrament and the need for self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).  At least speaking the confession in the worship service aided you in self-examination, and that confession was followed up with the message of forgiveness in the sacrament. 

    I hope you are addressing your concerns to your pastor.  That is the person who really needs to hear them.  God guide you in those conversations.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.


  • I am new to the Lutheran Faith. I was at one time Baptist but after spending time in the Lutheran Church and going through BIC I have come to believe that many of the doctrines I was taught (implied teaching I might add) were off. The sacraments were sacred in my church but they were more something I was doing for God not what God was doing for me. Shortly after becoming a member and being in fellowship with the WELS I was moved to a remote area of Alaska. I do not have a church nearby to participate in worship
    I accomplish this via internet services, devotions on WELS church sites, and this site. One of my concerns is that I do not receive Communion that often. My question is:

    1. Does this put me in jeopardy of falling away from God permanently if I were to pass?
    2. How do I or can I overcompensate for the loss of God's blessings I get through Communion just in my daily life? I sometimes feel like I do more reading and devotions to try and accomplish this but feel sometimes like I am spinning my wheels.

    Additionally, I have been tempted a few times to go to other church services or attend Bible studies that embrace my Christian faith but have not done so. I fear that being out of fellowship with those faiths puts me at more risk to fall away from God's true teachings, thus allowing Satan to confuse me or put doubt in me. So if you could add thoughts in your answer to this as well it would be appreciated.

    Thank you in advance for the answer and thank you for this resource that is available.

    I can appreciate your desire to receive the Lord’s Supper.  The new self in us says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).  We look to the Lord’s Supper as a wonderful gift from our Savior.  It is a gift in which he gives us his body and blood—under the form of bread and wine—to forgive our sins, to strengthen our faith and to fortify us for more faithful Christian living.  Not receiving the sacrament as frequently as you are able because of your circumstances does not “put you in jeopardy of falling away from God if you were to pass.”  The infrequency (whatever it may be) of your reception of the sacrament sounds like it is due to logistical circumstances and not to any despising of the sacrament.

    I think you answered your second question well.  You are “compensating” for the infrequent reception of the sacrament by more contact with the word of God.  You may recall from your Bible Information Class instruction that we speak of the “means of grace” being the gospel in word and sacraments.  That means that God works through the Bible and the sacraments (the word connected to earthly elements) to call people to faith and strengthen them in the faith.  And so while you currently may not be able to receive the Lord’s Supper as frequently as you would like, God is giving you the same blessings through his written word.  I say this not to minimize the importance of the Lord’s Supper but to remind you that God is giving you the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through the Bible—just as he does in a very personal way through the Lord’s Supper.  

    As far as receiving the sacrament more frequently, I trust you have talked to your pastor about this. You say you live in a remote area of Alaska.  I wonder if it is possible for your pastor to alert other WELS pastors of your situation, so that they might serve you with the sacrament if their travels take them anywhere near your location.

    Regarding worshiping at churches beyond our fellowship, you do well to continue to recognize biblical fellowship principles, understand the dangers of false teachings, and supplement your devotional life with the online resources you mentioned. 

    Probably more than others who might be reading this question and answer, you—because of your circumstances—can appreciate the Lord’s promise of his continual presence in your life (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5b).  How wonderful it is for God to come to us through word and sacrament, and for us to be able to approach him through prayer.  God bless you as you use his gospel to stay connected to him in faith!

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.


     

  • As we approach another national election, I realize there are Christians on both political sides of the fence who support candidates that are accepting of a woman's right to choose and gay marriage. Although we can speak to them out of love and respect for their right to vote their conscience, the question remains, are they fit to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar? The second part to this is for those who oppose these blatant violations of Biblical Principles, are we showing acceptance of their sin when we join them at the Lord's table and do we become unworthy to receive His Body and Blood because of the pain in our hearts?

    The section of the Bible I see reflected in both your questions is 1 Corinthians 11:27-28:  “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”  It is possible for communicants to have sinful attitudes and wrong motives in their hearts by being fully knowledgeable of a candidate’s immoral positions and still actively support that person.  Hearts need to be examined and sins confessed to God.  It is also possible for communicants to have sinful attitudes in their hearts by harboring ill will toward fellow church members who might vote differently than they do.  Hearts need to be examined and sins confessed to God.  In this context, impenitent attitudes would lead people to receive the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner.”

    Since the subject matter under consideration is the attitude of the heart, we have to recognize that we cannot look into the hearts of others; we can examine only our own hearts. 

    You questions certainly underscore the dilemma Christians can face when they cast a ballot.  There are other moral issues, in addition to abortion and gay marriage, on which candidates take a stand in varying degrees.  Sometimes Christians find themselves in a position in which they seem to be voting for the lesser of two evils—looking to vote for the candidate who will have a lesser negative impact on society.  Your questions are also a reminder that when people vote, they are empowering an individual to act in their behalf—also in issues of morality. 

    Your questions remind me of a prayer that is sometimes used in chapel services at Martin Luther College:  “Lord God, we praise you for our fellowship in Christ.  Keep us kind in judgment and ready to help in need.”  Our fellowship with Christians on earth is far from perfect.  When I receive the Lord’s Supper, I do so with sinners, and when they commune with me, they are communing with a sinner.  I need to remember the petition in that prayer so that I do not rush to judgment about other people or assign false motives to their actions.

    There is much information on this Web site and the Web site of Christian Life Resources regarding Christians and their privilege and responsibility to vote.  I commend that information to you and others so that, also in this part of our lives, we may do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.


     

     

  • I recently went to church with my parents when I was visiting a while back. I was confirmed at that church and wanted to do Communion there with my parents. My mom told me not to, as I haven't been to that church in years. I didn't realize that was an issue. I thought I could do Communion at whatever church I happened to be at. Could you explain this for me, please?

    It sounds from your question that you were confirmed in a WELS congregation and had membership there at one point, but now you do not belong to a congregation of our synod.  It is with that understanding that I proceed.

    In your confirmation classes at the WELS congregation where you were confirmed, you learned that a person’s reception of the Lord’s Supper is a confession of unity in faith with others who are receiving the sacrament (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  In other words, you learned that when you receive the Lord’s Supper, your actions say that you are expressing agreement with the confession of that church and its members.  When you were a member of that WELS congregation, your reception of the Lord’s Supper was an accurate expression of agreement with fellow members.  What I do not know is where you currently have membership.  I assume that you belong to a church outside our fellowship.  If that is the case, your reception of the Lord’s Supper in one of our churches would have sent the false signal that your current church and our churches are united in doctrine and practice.   

    What is also not clear to me from your question is what you mean by thinking you could receive Communion at “whatever” church you happened to be at.  If “whatever” means “any, regardless of denomination,” I hope you would recognize that your reception of the sacrament in any church would indicate that you express agreement with that church’s confession.  For one thing, you would have to ask yourself if you know entirely what that church confesses and, secondly, would you want to express agreement with a church that has a false confession?

    It seems to me that the church where you were confirmed has been consistent in practicing what you learned in your confirmation classes.  The historic practice of “closed communion” has the intent of expressing a genuine picture of unity in the faith (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), not one that is false or forced, and ensuring, as far as humanly possible, that those receiving the sacrament will do so to their benefit and not their harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

    If you were not able to receive the Lord’s Supper when you attended your former church, you were able to receive food for your soul through the reading and proclamation of God’s word.

    I would encourage you to strike up a conversation with the pastor of your former church the next time you visit.  He could address this matter more thoroughly or explain the route to membership in one of our congregations if that is your wish.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

     



       

  • HELLO! First of all, thank you for all you do! Please help me to understand differing thoughts on the Last Supper. Who was present? Was there a female present? In advance, thank you!

    You are very welcome.  The evangelist Matthew tells us that Jesus and “the Twelve” were in the upper room celebrating the Passover meal (Matthew 26:20).  Mark describes Jesus and “the Twelve” reclining at the table (Mark 14:17).  Luke speaks of “Jesus and his apostles” reclining at the table (Luke 22:14).  The three narratives point out that only Jesus and his twelve disciples, also called apostles, were in the upper room on Maundy Thursday evening when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

  • I am a member of an ELCA church, but we are looking for a new congregation to worship with that has families with children closer to our own children's age range. If we attend a WELS service, will we be allowed to partake in the sacrament of Communion?

    When you attend a Holy Communion service in a WELS church, you may or may not read something like the following in the church bulletin:

    “The Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, will be celebrated in today’s service. The Bible teaches us that Jesus offers us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins in the Lord’s Supper. The Bible also instructs us that receiving the Lord’s Supper together is a public expression of our complete ‘oneness,’ or unity of faith.

    “Because the Lord’s Supper is an expression of our unity in faith, we invite to the Lord’s Supper only those who have expressed that unity with us through membership in our congregation or one of our sister congregations in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), or our sister denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).

    “If you are a guest from another Christian church, we kindly ask that you refrain from participation in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper today. We don’t want to be presumptuous and put you in the position of declaring your agreement with our beliefs before you have had a chance to learn more.

    “We would like you to be able to join us for the Lord’s Supper in the future. If you would like more information, please speak to our pastor after the service.  We look forward to any opportunity to discuss the Christian faith with you and to work toward a common confession of faith! “

    If the WELS church you attend does not have that much detail in their bulletin regarding Holy Communion attendance, their practice will be the same.  So, while you will not be able to receive Holy Communion, you will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed.  And the gospel in Word brings the same blessings as the gospel in the sacrament.  Please do contact the pastor of the church you visit.  He will be happy to explain in person the historic and scriptural practice of closed communion.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.





     

  • In the answer to the WELS Q & A Question "Communion," it is stated: "In cases where there are no pastors available, however, due to persecution or some other circumstances, a congregation could arrange for a man from their midst to serve as their minister of Word and Sacraments."

    I believe that I am correct in asserting that it is not an uncommon practice for WELS congregations to authorize a layman, such as an elder, to administer the Sacrament of the Altar for a regularly-scheduled Communion Service in any absence of the/a pastor, including pastoral vacations, if the services of another pastor cannot be secured for that Communion Service.

    Since the answer to the WELS Q & A quoted above does not make mention of this circumstance, I would like to ask if such a "non-emergency" practice of a lay-administered Sacrament of the Altar is to be considered an "abuse" of the "emergency provision" mentioned in the answer, and is to be discouraged if not discontinued. Thank you!

    I am not sure which particular question and answer you are referencing, but the first paragraph of your quotation looks to be in the context of extraordinary circumstances in which public ministers are not available at all, and Christians elect a layman from their midst to serve them in the capacity of a pastor.  In dire circumstances, that can be done.

    Your question though involves the occasional absence of a pastor (e.g., away on vacation) when Holy Communion would normally be celebrated.  Let me pass along an answer from a previous question that deals with this situation: 

    “It is quite common in our congregations for elders or male teachers to assist the pastor in the distribution to the members or to give Communion to the pastor, if they are properly instructed and called by the congregation to do so.

    “Vicars and seminarians who have received sufficient training may administer the Sacrament in the absence of the supervising pastor, if the congregation has approved of this practice.

    “Although ordination and seminary training are not an absolute prerequisite for administering the Sacrament (to be rightly called is a requirement), under normal circumstances it should not be necessary to ask a layman to administer Communion in the absence of the pastor. If the pastor's absence is extended, the congregation should be served by a vacancy pastor. If the pastor's absence is brief, a ‘reading service’ in which the pastor is responsible for the contents can be held during his absence. Except in cases of extreme necessity, preaching and administration of the sacraments should be conducted only by men who have been both thoroughly trained and properly called.

    “This subject is discussed in considerable detail in Volume III of Our Great Heritage, a set of doctrinal essays available from Northwestern Publishing House, which is recommended for laypeople who want to undertake a more thorough study of Christian doctrine.”

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

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