For the Baptized
(Editor's note: A submission published in the November / December 2008 "Written on the Heart" column ["Sacramental Welcome"] and a Letter to the Editor published in the March / April 2009 issue ["The Same Gift — Differently"] weigh in on this same topic published below.)
Like so many born and bred in the Lutheran church, I have seen dramatic changes in our denomination. When I was growing up, one had to be both baptized and confirmed to be admitted to the Lord's Table. Now, in many of our congregations, not even baptism is required for one to be eligible to commune. Despite this increasingly common practice, there are weighty reasons why only the baptized should be communed.
- Biblical Reasons
The Last Supper, the prototype of the Lord's Supper, was not "all inclusive." Those who argue that Christ ate with sinners and outcasts and "excluded" no one from such meals (hence, everyone, it is reasoned, should be invited to the Lord's Table) need to remember that only the inner circle and the truly committed (save Judas) were present for that last meal. It was not for all.
As the book of Acts makes clear, Baptism always preceded any other participation in the life of the church as was shown with the 3,000 who were baptized on the first Pentecost. After these came the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38), Paul himself (Acts 9:18), Lydia (Acts 16:15), Paul's jailer (Acts16:33), Crispus (Acts 18:8) and others.
The Lord's Supper is an awesome encounter between the divine and human, and those who participate without an awareness of what they do are "guilty" of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27).
- Theological Reasons
We are "born" into the new life in Christ through water and the Spirit (Baptism) as taught in John 3:5. One cannot be spiritually fed by Christ unless that person has been spiritually born into Christ. One cannot be nourished with the body of Christ by the bread of this Supper until that person is made part of the body of Christ, the church, through the Sacrament of Baptism. Before Baptism, there is "nothing" to nourish.
- Liturgical Reasons
How can those who cannot fully participate in worship by honestly confessing in the Nicene Creed, "We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins," logically come to the Lord's Table? It is incongruous!
- Historical Reasons
From the first, the Lord's Supper was reserved to the baptized. The Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), which dates from the second century and is almost contemporary with the Gospel of John, states, "Do not let anyone eat or drink of your eucharist except those who have been baptized.... The 'Sacrament' is for the 'saints.'"
- Canonical Reasons
The Use of the Means Grace, the document approved at the ELCA's churchwide assembly, which puts forth the "official" position of the church with regard to Word and sacraments, states, "Admission to the Sacrament is by the invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized."
James TownsendJust CompensationLutheran Partners
(May / June 2009) arrived today and struck one of my "hot button" issues.
Paul Hanson's response to the letter on seminarian debt by William Dohle does not deal with what is perhaps the most egregious issue: the lack of a just compensation for clergy.
Jesus said, "The laborer deserves to be paid" (Luke 10:7). For a pastor with eight years of university and seminary training to get paid (i.e., a base salary) less than what a public school teacher gets paid for four years of training is a travesty of biblical justice. Yet that is what happens for many of our pastors (some of whom have undergraduate teaching degrees!).
Nor does our current clergy compensation reflect that pastors are on call 24/7, "work" six days a week, and have our compensation totally transparent to the public. Perhaps there should
be more transparency in "worldly" compensation; but the reality is we are the only group whose total compensation is examined annually by the public.
Many years ago I was asked to develop compensation guidelines for the East Coast Synod, Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, which would reflect a just compensation base and allow for local costs of living from Maine to Florida. The document, "The Fruit which Increases to Your Credit," based on Philippians 4:17, suggested:
- Parochial school teachers receive the base pay paid by the local school district.
- Pastors receive compensation equal to the public school teachers' base pay plus housing (parsonage or housing allowance).
- Other church professionals (deaconesses, etc.) should be compensated within the range of guidelines one and two.
That was Plan A. Plan B was more in tune with the (inadequate) compensation of the late 1970s.Constantine's Blight
Perhaps it is time for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to radically rethink clergy compensation. If pastors were paid by the synod or the ELCA, it would alleviate some of the inequities of the current system and would allow highly experienced pastors to minister to congregations in difficult circumstances. This, of course, would not preclude congregational bonuses for excellence in ministry or other circumstances, but would remove compensation as a congregational "weapon" when pastors minister to "Corinth."
While parsonages are becoming less frequent, are houses and housing allowances sufficient for pastors to provide both housing for their families and have adequate space for professional activities (i.e., study, guest room, etc.)? The American Lutheran ran a series of three parsonage designs with professional rationale from November 1962 through January 1964. Those principles and designs would well serve congregations and synods who are seriously contemplating appropriate clergy housing.
Another issue is retirement. The housing (allowance) of urban and suburban congregations can be three or four times what it is in rural situations (relative costs of living). This translates into a significantly higher pension for the retired urban or suburban pastor. Pastors who spend their entire ministry in joyful service to low cost-of-living areas have very few options (both geography and life style) in retirement compared with pastors who ministered in higher cost of living areas. Many are financially precluded from living closer to their children and grandchildren.
I sympathize with the Dohles and I do not think Paul Hanson addressed the core issue: inadequate clergy compensation.
J. Jeffrey Zetto
I have read with great interest the ministry performed by our chaplains in the military, and I must honor them for the comfort and support they provide for the men and women who serve in uniform (see May / June 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners
, both print and online, for articles and submissions to "Written on the Heart" by military chaplains).
But it seems to this pastor, a late-to-enter veteran of World War II (the war ended when I was in boot camp) that individual Christians need to rethink their participation in any nation's military ventures.
Such participation goes back to the fourth century when Emperor Constantine became a Christian, stopped the persecution of Christians and eventually declared that Christianity was the only religion of the Roman Empire. The issues are more complicated, but, simply put, there was the quite reasonable expectation that since the church, as an institution, was no longer threatened by the state — indeed, enjoyed its protection — then if Caesar and the state are threatened, the church must support its protector, even if it means going to war. This has been modified by theologians throughout the years to advise believers that they can only participate in "just wars." Criteria, of course, have been developed to indicate exactly what a "just war" is. With the development of modern weapons which provide for the indiscriminate killing of populations, for Christians there is no such thing as a 'just war," even if a Christian once believed that there were. The result of Constantine's conversion, and Luther's endorsement of the "just war," is that a historic blight has descended upon the church.
Picture, if you will, Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace who enjoined each follower to take up his or her cross and follow him (a cross that culminated in his giving up of his life nonviolently); picture him who said that his followers are to love their enemies; picture him who said that if your enemy hungers, feed him, if he thirsts, give him drink; picture him who called his followers to be peace makers, who said that they were blessed if they suffered abuse for his name and could rejoice if they were persecuted because of him; picture this Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior and Lord, bombing, killing, torturing and destroying human beings. No, I think we of the "just war" persuasion have it wrong in these latter years. I challenge anyone, man or woman, on the basis of the New Testament, to justify a Christian killing in war.
Notice, I put that in the singular. This is so personal, so much the result of an individual's personal commitment to following the way of Jesus, that it cannot be made by a religious institution or by one person for another. It must be the result of the Word speaking to an individual. It can only be made by the impact of Jesus' words coming from the Word.
What we can do in our Lutheran communities, as a very minimum, is to provide the opportunity for our young people to hear Jesus speak his message out of the New Testament to them, as individuals, and allow that Spirit to move in the hearts of the faithful. The faithful work of a chaplain who serves in the military would then be to give the words of Jesus the opportunity to be heard, regardless of the consequences.
It is easy for me, now in my 80s, to suggest beliefs and a life style for which others must pay the price. It is not my "suggestion," however; it shouts from the Word itself.
What Is Progressive?
Mark Graham makes a few comments about Progressive Christianity that are not fair nor accurate (Letters, May / June 2009). He notes that the movement "includes the belief that all faiths lead to God apart from... Jesus Christ." What the belief really says is that "Jesus is our approach to God... and we recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are also true... "
Secondly, he notes that the movement claims that "the historic, biblical doctrines of Christianity are, in large part, no longer helpful or necessary." Whereas, the movement states that "we find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty... (and) that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe."
Finally, what does Mark Graham imply by "apostolic Christianity"? History has shown that there never has been one single, historic, catholic, and apostolic church, but that from the very beginning there has been a great diversity. We have four very different Gospels in the New Testament canon that verify some of this diversity, plus the hundreds of other gospels, some of which have been recently uncovered, that offer a variety of testimony. Thus, it is quite possible that Progressive Christianity is closer to the first century experience than the Christian version we have inherited since the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) and other councils of the historic church. To label Progressive Christianity as heresy and "false prophets" is to imitate the mistake of the church fathers who in the early centuries fought wars over the unending debate about the divinity of Jesus — an issue that was never really resolved in spite of many wars and church councils.
So who are the real false prophets here? Let God be the judge of that. Meanwhile, the work of dedicated biblical scholars and archaeologists during the past few decades cannot be denied. Progressive Christianity is an attempt to take this recent scholarship seriously, and not limit the discussion to the hallowed halls of seminaries.
M. Laurel Gray
El Cajon, California
Thanks for "God and Nation"
This is, in my mind, unquestionably the best issue (God and Nation, May / June 2009) yet published (going back to the beginning).
Especially worth reading are "Written on the Heart" (stimulating, without evident cultural or ideological slant), and "Loving God and Country: Foundational Insights" [by Eric Gritsch]. Dr. Gritsch, as always, wants to take us a step beyond "mere" justification.
This is a first! An issue that appears as a real professional journal instead of a grammar school level presentation of the "party line." Congratulations, and keep it up.
This article appeared in the September / October 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 5).