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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Practice of Weekly Communion

I was quickly browsing an article on Lutherische Beitraege last night (and wondering if my copy was in the mail -- today it arrived from Germany with a bonus: a copy of Martti Vaahtoranta's ,,Mission der Liebe" [Mission of Love]). The article is by Gottfried Martens and is called ,,The Practice of Weekly Communionion in the SELK". Here is a link the the original German and a Google translation into English. The english translation is not great, but it allows you to get the basic gist of Martens' essay.

Martens' second through fourth paragraphs focus on a practical issue regarding the Lord's Supper. How does a Lutheran pastor/church bring communion frequency into compliance with Apology XXIV.1 (For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.)? Martens notes that in the SELK there are a number of Lutheran churches which only offer the Lord's Supper once a month, usually on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of the month. I find the same in the LCMS: many churches do not offer the Lord's Supper each Sunday.

It is a long and patient process to move a congregation from its current practice to the confessional practice of every Sunday communion. At my church, the process has been going on for at least twenty years and by three different pastors. It involves lots of teaching and dealing with misconceptions and straw men arguments.

I suspect that the modern disdain for every Sunday communion comes from a latent Pietism among Lutherans. Most, but not all, pietistic Lutherans emphasized a knowledge of Jesus based on subjective experiences over objective doctrine and tended to demphasize the Sacraments, especially the Lord's Supper. As such, Pietism encouraged infrequent communion. This lead to some churches only celebrating the Sacrament at Christmas and Easter, while others celebrated it quarterly or once a month. The one person who bucked this trend was The Rev. Wilhelm Loehe. He held Pietism and Confessional Lutheranism in balance. He probably isn't the only Lutheran to have done so, and I suspect it was not an easy balance to maintain at times.

In the LCMS, pastors, theologians, and lay people have been trying for the past 30 years to steer attitudes back to the proper and confessional understanding of the frequency of the Lord's Supper. At times it seems to be like molasses rolling up a hill in January, but it is a task that is worth undertaking. Like the SELK, previous LCMS conventions have passed resolutions that commend congregations to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. I commend Dr. Martens for his insightful and hard-hitting article about the frequency of the Lord's Supper.

For more, check out:

St. James the Hoosier

The Blessings of Weekly Communion, The Rev. James Woelmer

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your insights and research into weekly communion. Although our ELCA church has had weekly communion for several years now, we still receive a few comments that some members still want to go back to communion once or twice a month. I was curious as to when and why the practice of "less than weekly" communion started - your article answered that for me. I write a monthly newsletter for our church and it's purpose is to educate our members about the Lutheran religion. Thanks again.

Sue Voss
Music Minister
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
Durant, IA

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