The True Altar Call – A Jesus Coming to You Moment

Rev. John A. Frahm III

Jesus says to the church at Laodicea:   “Look, I stand at the door and am knocking.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will enter for the sake of him and sup with him and he with Me.”   It is the altar call.  The members of the church at Laodicea thought they were so rich, didn’t need anything, they didn’t want to make too much of the altar call, and didn’t want it too often so that it wouldn’t be special to them anymore.

Not the kind of altar call some have in mind, eh?   Well, I know the Four Spiritual Laws evangelism pamphlet uses Revelation 3:20 as some kind of proof text for a poor attempt to show that individuals need to make an original-sin defying, spiritual death ignoring, and natural-born enemy-of-God overcoming decision for Jesus in a convenient little prayer at one of those Arminian synergistic revivals – oh yes, they do also call those “altar calls.”  (All those new methods are synergistic.)  But we’re not talking about that, and neither is St. John nor our Lord in the letter to Laodicea.  This is Divine Service (Luke 22:27).   These are the green pastures where the sheep who follow the voice of the Good Shepherd are nourished.

No the altar call the Lord is making in this seventh of the seven letters is a call for the branches to abide in the Vine.   It is a call for the virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom to fill their lamps with the oil of the anointed one.  It is expressive of the Third Article – that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.    It is the call to realize that we are beggars, those left to death except for Christ who rescues, heals, forgives, restores, and cleanses us and makes us rich in eternal things, the holy things for the holy people of God.

There is nearly a note of sarcasm to the rebuke of the letter.  Ha!  So, you think you are so rich, well-supplied, got the stuff on the shelf – but you don’t realize how wretched, poor, blind, naked you are.  Ha!  You think you are so rich.  Alright, then buy it – gold refined in fire and so be rich, white robes of righteousness to be truly clothed, christen, chrismate your eyes with salve that you may see the kingly rule of God at work.

“He who craves a precious treasure,

Neither cost nor pain will measure;

But the priceless gifts of heaven

God to us has freely given.

Though the wealth of earth were proffered,

None could buy the gifts here offered:

Christ’s true body, for you riven,

And His blood, for you once given.”  (LSB 636 v.3)

“But this is a loving rebuke.  As many as I love (or we could even translate as “kiss”) I rebuke and I chasten.  Be eager therefore and change your mind.”   Then is the line about standing at the door and knocking.  But this is written to the Church at wealthy Laodicea, even though it is lukewarm and disgustingly so.  This knocking at the door is not about conversion to faith, but about abiding in the faith, remaining church, understanding that faith is to be at the receiving end of all of God’s gifts, not just to have them on paper.   This was the wisdom in that 1995 resolution of the LCMS to commend a study of Scripture, the Confessions, and church history with an eye toward recovering the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, as the Augustana and Apology commend it.  The Scriptures can hardly speak of church without also connoting the Lord’s Supper.   It’s the only place where it is really true – you are what you eat.

The Lord comes to us by His ministers and takes the holy from the altar of the once-for-all sacrifice and cleanses our unclean lips.  We gather around the throne of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives.  The peace of the resurrected Christ is ours as we proclaim the Pax Domini – “the peace of the Lord be with you always.”  For us in the office, we are reminded also of the bestowal of the office of the keys after Christ spoke that peace in His glorified wounds.  For it is not only about “me and Jesus” but in the fellowship of “angels, archangels and all the company of heaven,” as we join in the Sanctus.

A word to pastors:  As we gather, and as we call the flock of our people to the Lord’s House, we recognize that we pastors are God’s instruments, for Jesus service to the people, as the Word of Truth, God’s law and gospel are rightly distinguished, and as the Holy Eucharist is delivered, according to Christ’s institution.  And that forgiveness, that Gospel is for you too.   You preach to yourself first, and yet not you, but the Lord – the office is distinguished, though not separated from the man.   But in the assembly of the Divine Service, Jesus is among us as the One who serves.  We can be so quick to draw the moral directive and example that we miss the gospel point.  Jesus is and continues to be among us in the Supper as the One who serves.   What utter contrast to the Roman sacrifice of the Mass, to the Reformed mere remembrance.  But what an altar call.  What a tremendous invitation to find our life, our identity, our nourishment in that simple bread and wine that the Lord has taken to His use, and invests His very body and blood there and puts it into our hands, our mouths, so that He is with us always to the very end of the age.

That’s the interesting thing, too, about the Confessions.  The Augustana and Apology declare clearly that Lutherans celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and on festival days.  And yet also in the preface to the Small Catechism, Luther is clear that we make no laws about how often it is received – except he doubts the presence of faith where someone doesn’t come three or four times a year (early twentieth century curmudgeon Lutherans took that and ran with it to only offer it 4 times a year).   But what gospel perspective!   Keep it available for the communicants, but make no laws about how often they have to come.  We don’t every other week.   We are not ashamed of that sacramental gospel.  It is a bulwark against the onslaught of the devil and the world against the Church.   For here the Bride of Christ is nourished in the wilderness.

“Hasten as a bride to meet Him,

And with loving rev’rence greet Him

For with Word of Life immortal

He is knocking at your portal

Open wide the gates before Him,

Saying as you there adore Him;

Grant, Lord, that now receive You,

That I nevermore will leave You.”  [LSB, 636.v.2]

Blessed church, rejoice in that altar call.  As Luther says, preach the institution, meaning, and blessings of the sacrament in such a way so as to incite the people to want it more and more and to find their identity as individuals and church in the Body of Christ.   As Luther said, “this sacrament is the gospel.”  It is the new testament in Christ’s blood.   It is Divine Service – Good Friday and Easter come to us here and now.  And this is the energy and presence of Christ in us for the mission of God.  Put the Lord’s Supper on the side and it has consequences.  For from the altar we go forth into our vocations and “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”   That’s the proof text for God’s people giving witness. We are sent forth by God’s blessing, from the Holy Supper, our true faith confessing, as the people of God, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes. The true altar call is not one in which we give ourselves to Jesus but rather is one in which He gives Himself to us. It is not a “come to Jesus moment,” but rather a “Jesus come to us moment.” The Lord is and continues among us as the One who serves in His liturgy for us (Luke 22:27). We liturgy Him because He first liturgies us. This is why, in HIs German Mass (Deutsche Messe or German Divine Service), Martin Luther preferred that Lutherans go back to positioning the altar as they did in the earliest church, as both altar and table where the pastor faces the people in the stead of Christ as ambassador of Christ to the people as Christ blesses the bread and wine and proclaims the new last will and testament in Christ’s blood before the heirs, the baptized believers gathered around the throne of the Lamb.

And it is strength for the battle we face each day in these end times.  Jesus says in Revelation 3:  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  And likewise the Lord says from Luke 22:  “You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  Pastors, that is your stewardship of the mysteries of God, undershepherds of God.  Feed the sheep.  But there also is Christ’s merciful promise.  Christ dines with you, and you with Him.  Therefore leave behind all gloom and sadness, adorn your soul with gladness, for He stands knocking at the portal.  Amen.

Monergism of the Third Article and Evangelism Methods Among Lutherans

Rev. John A Frahm III

The modern history of the LCMS is rife with a sundry of evangelism programs, many of which look to be “Lutheranized” versions (or so it is said) of programs cast off by American Neo-Evangelicals.   Periodically released new books by the Barna Group are devoured by mission execs and church growth consultants.    Barna might do some good sociological analysis, but his suggestions are usually simply an indulgence of the refined-flesh of the culture.

Pastors and parishioners will recount stories of LCMS churches being foot soldiers preparing the way for upcoming Billy Graham revival rallies in the 1950s and 1960s, while the same churches still had catechumens memorize the catechism’s explanations of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed and Holy Baptism.   I can recall going through catechesis as youth at a church in southern Minnesota while at the same time being given the song “Do Lord” in Vacation Bible School, which contained the lyrics, “I took Jesus as my Savior – you take Him too!”    We are full of inconsistencies, whether they are what Franz Pieper calls “felicitous” inconsistencies are debatable.

Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us of the monergism of grace even in matters of faith and conversion in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed.    “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”   (Never mind as a youth I was given three different translations of the Catechism in 6th through 8th grade.)

Original sin renders us spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, not just broken or disadvantaged (incurvatus in se; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1).   The will is in utter bondage with regard to things above us and not so free as we would imagine even in things below us where we exert some freedom.

Concupiscence itself is sin.   (The word “broken” in Scripture is not used for sin but rather as a word for divinely-wrought contrition – changing that usage has several consequential theological deviations.)    Even our actual sins exact damage within and without.

Furthermore, Satan and his demons are glad to take advantage of such fallen creatures for his ends.   This we acknowledge in our historic baptismal liturgy.   And so consequently conversion is described as a “new birth” or better, being “born from above.”   It is an inner Spiritual resurrection from outside of us (extra nos) by means of the external Word of the Gospel (externum verbum). And conversion comes by the Holy Spirit working through the means of the Word of the Gospel as the law and the gospel do their work. But we always live in the paradox of the power being entirely in the Word of God and yet God allows that powerful Word to be rejectable for the sake of salvation being an entirely free gift. So there is no guaranteed-result form of evangelism or church growth. Merely gathering a crowd is not yet conversion. But the movement of the Gospel is from the Divine Service out into the world in the vocations of all the members of the congregation who are sent forth by the Lord’s blessing, their true faith confessing. They go from the altar to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again in power and glory outwardly on the Last Day.

Even in the miraculous healings of Jesus, as they happen as real historical events described to us in the inspired and inerrant Scriptures, are at the same time illustrative of our natural state before God and what it means to come to faith.   We are given to stand out of paralysis.   We are set free from the domain of darkness and the devil.  We are given sight out of blindness.   We are given ears to hear through the Word of God.  We are healed out of leprosy.   We are raised from the dead.   This is what it means to be given the first resurrection of faith and the forgiveness of sins by grace alone for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection for the world.

Titus 3 makes quite clear that Baptism is not our work but is the work of God, if we read this passage in context.  In the Large Catechism, Luther expresses the objection of some to this way of thinking.   In his discussion of the sacrament of Holy Baptism he says:

But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. 29] But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?

As proper biblical Baptism is rejected, the axiom is true, those who reject the proper means of grace tend to invent their own.   Interestingly enough this happens often amongst those Christians who do not acknowledge clearly that the attributes of the divine nature in Christ are communicated to His human nature, as the Confessions cite the patristic example of the rod of iron put into the fire, or like the burning bush.   If the two natures in Christ are joined together no more profoundly than two boards glued together, then there remains a separation to be addressed.

Inevitably with that Christological misstep amongst some confessions, it is always compensated by human activity in some form such as covenant theology, the system of purgatory, the cult of the saints, decision theology, dependence upon charismatic experience, self-referential Pietism, Calvinistic self-referrals to proofs of election, etc.   This consequential synergism is exhibited in both various protestant theologies and in Roman Catholicism.   The doctrine of forensic justification and the universal atonement of Christ are compromised or utterly denied under those unapostolic departures.

As confessional Lutherans, holding to the apostolic faith that is both evangelical and catholic, we acknowledge a tension when it comes to outreach or evangelism.   The Word is powerful.   It does and bestows what it says.   The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16; 10:17).   And yet God suffers the Gospel to be rejectable that it might be gift and not forced.   The Word of God gathers even as it divides.

One need only look to the account of the crowds departing in John 6 to see that even for the holy Lord Jesus, the preaching of the Word did not guarantee is positive result for all who heard the good news.   But the one thing needful is to hear that Word and believe it, rejoicing to receive His gifts in His presence.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.   The law does its job crushing, accusing, and tearing down, revealing the picture of the spiritual MRI.   We are dead.   Bandages, crutches, positive thinking, personal affirmation, and support groups won’t cut it.   But the Gospel raises the dead and creates a new clean heart ex nihilo.   The old is put to death and the new is raised in Christ.   Christ makes all things new as the firstfruits from the dead.

Evangelism methods that rely upon personal decisions for Jesus are clearly at odds with a proper biblical understanding of sin, repentance, faith, and the monergism of the Holy Spirit’s work through the external Word of the Gospel.   Similarly, outreach methods that are aimed at recruitment, enticement, entertainment, or just convincing the world that we’re decent people, after all, put too much stock in the target demographic and either downplay or forget altogether about the effects of original sin upon post-lapsarian mankind.

It is simply a group dynamics version of decision theology that perhaps dispenses with decisions but still is essentially relying upon a good old American sales and marketing model.   Recent growth consults affirm this with the multi-site ministry model which essential promotes a “successful DNA” paradigm that isn’t so far off from fast food restaurant franchise models for expansion.

Its view of the ministry of the Word is hardly congruent with that described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 or 2 Corinthians 4.    It is personality and leadership driven rather than dependent upon the monergism of the Third Article and the Lord’s work of bearing witness through not only the office of the ministry but also the entire body of Christ as they are sent forth by God’s blessing into their various vocations to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The means of evangelism affect the implicit theology held by a congregation.   When the understanding of sin is weakened then both the understandings of repentance and justification by grace alone are compromised.   One could name various “isms” to illustrate this point classically – Pelagianism, Calvinism, Arminianism, Antinomianism, Pietism, Finney’s revivalism, Gospel Reductionism.   In general, experientialism looks to vacillating waves of spiritual episodes or apparent successes in sanctified acts as evidential for good standing with God.

The Emergent Church points toward the even more vague notion of the relational establishment of a faith experience.   Friendships and group experience become the means of grace.   No real repentance is needed nor any doctrinally-formed preaching.   It becomes more about stories and describing the life already lives in spiritual terms.   It becomes about mutual activism that is alleged to be for revealing the kingdom of Christ in this world.

We find ourselves tempted to resolve the tension of the paradox between the power being entirely in the Gospel and the Gospel also being rejected as a gift. The Calvinists teach double predestination and then the Arminians (revivalists and their theological descendants) teach a form of spiritual free will or decision theology, as we say. This is the result when we add human reason to the clear teaching of Scripture to resolve our fallen human logic. The Lord is ultimately the One who sows the seed of His Word and the harvest varies in the soil where the seed of the Gospel is scattered without preferentialism, demographic studies, or marketing. And the Gospel does not expect to entertain people into the kingdom of God or expect the spiritual dead to decide to follow Jesus but rather the Gospel is spoken in neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, schools, recreation areas, where we shop, and so forth as the fishing net of God’s people is sent forth from the Divine Service each week.

And yet we are reminded by Luther, it is not by our own reason or strength that we are Christians nor that the kingdom comes among us and that we are brought into Christ’s story.   We are formed not by the world but by the Lord who speaks into our ears the unchanging truth.   Our eyes are fixed upon Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.   The Third Article of the Creed in the Catechism gives us our Reformation sola gratia and sola fide for evangelism and missions so that we may say “soli Deo gloria.”

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.   A little bit of yeast is terribly transformative.   Such things are not simply matters of style but are adulterations to the pure means of making disciples.   Even the Great Apostolic Commission of Matthew 28 is clear to mandate sound and thorough catechesis and pastoral stewardship of the mysteries in declaring that “all things” given by Jesus are to be taught.   And in the purely preached Word and the rightly administered sacraments, in those marks of the Church, the Lord is with us always to the very end of the age.

Look!   He is there as He said.   In those means He is doing what He promised to do.   The Lord gathers His flock by His voice.   We have not made Him our Savior but rather He rescued us and is rescuing us.   The called to faith are continuing to call out to the world as in their vocations they are the Lord’s fishing net (not rod, reel and bait).

By grace alone through faith alone we are continually equipped for this in the Divine Service.   For “Divine Service” is simply “grace alone” said in a liturgical way.  As He gathers us we continue steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.   And the gathered are sent out again in the weekly rhythm as Body of Christ in the world.

The monergism of the Third Article is comfort and rest to the believer and the light burden of joy even in missions.   We confess with our mouths what we have received, but the results are the Lord’s.

Consecration of the Holy Supper, the Office, and Local Fellowship in Dispersion — Comments on Why “Livestream” Consecration is Dubious and Damaging

by Rev. John A. Frahm III

In his 1533 treatise, “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests,” Luther mentions how Christians in isolation in Turkey are advised to respond to their lack of clergy and their desire for the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood:

And what must the Christians do who are held captive in Turkey? They cannot receive the sacrament and have to be content with their faith and desire which they have for the sacrament and the ordinance of Christ, just as those who die before baptism are nevertheless saved by their faith and desire for baptism. What did the children of Israel do in Babylon when they were unable to have public worship at Jerusalem except in faith and in sincere desire and longing? Therefore, even if the church would have been robbed completely of the sacrament by the pope, still, because the ordinance of Christ remained in their hearts with faith and desire, it would nevertheless have been preserved thereby, as indeed now in our time there are many who outwardly do without the sacrament for they are not willing to honor and strengthen the pope’s abomination under one kind. For Christ’s ordinance and faith are two works of God which are capable of doing anything.[1]

Notice here in this radical situation, nay “emergency,” what Luther does not suggest or improvise.   The further one departs from the institution of Christ, the more doubt creeps into the picture and consequently the certainty and foundation of faith begins to fall away. The solidity of hope in Christ turns into nothing more than a wishful leap into the Deus absconditus (the “dark” unrevealed aspects of God, apart from His Word). Nothing can be more certain than that which is done according to the mandate and institution of Christ.   Faith clings not so much to what could possibly be in the abstract, nor to what we think “God would understand in our circumstances,” but rather to His mandate and institution and the promises therein.  

Luther makes the point in 1533, in “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” that the reason why he holds to the position on the consecration he does is that all may be certain for faith. The private mass Luther is dealing with are masses performed by Roman priests for money often to release souls from purgatory. They are celebrating masses without the congregation gathered.   Such masses were done where none of the people communed, and the notion of the propitiatory sacrifice of the mass was promote in the Roman church.   The Lord’s Supper was turned into something human beings do rather than something Christ does.  In discussing the private mass, Luther says:

But I have not been commanded to perform the private mass and it is uncertain. In short, as St. Augustine says: Tene certum, dimitte incertum – “Rely on what is certain and abandon what is uncertain.” Yes, I even add, because it is uncertain whether the body and blood of Christ are present in the private mass and because it is certainly a purely human trifle, therefore you should never in your life believe that Christ’s body and blood are present; for faith should be sure of its affairs and have a sure basis concerning which one must not and should not be in doubt.[2]

Luther notes the instrumentality of the called servant:

So it is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ which make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord’s Supper and continuing to the end of the world, and it is administered daily through our ministry or office.[3]

Throughout this treatise Luther deals with the certainty for faith which comes from heeding the institution of Christ.   Previously, in 1527, Luther wrote in his tremendous, “That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” in summary form:

We know, however, that it is the Lord’s Supper, in name and in reality, not the supper of Christians.   For the Lord not only instituted it, but also prepares and gives it himself, and is himself cook, butler, food, and drink, as we have demonstrated our belief above.   Christ does not say, in commanding and instituting it, “Do this as your summons to mutual recognition and love,” but, “Do this in remembrance of me” [Luke 22:19, I Cor. 11:24].[4]

Perhaps, in part, has explained a Luther preference for referring to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar as ‘the Lord’s Supper,” or the ‘Holy Supper.’    We receive this sacrament, as with all the mysteries of God, as it is given from the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).    The pastor is particularly charged to be the local steward of the mysteries of God, which includes, but is not limited to the Lord’s Supper.    He is steward but does not own it.   He may not do with it as he pleases or as it seems best to him.   As it is given to us from the Lord through the apostles so we deliver it to the Church for her nourishment in the wilderness of this world in the end times.   It would be a foolish, arrogant, and troubling thing to tinker with what the Lord has given even with “missional” motivations of heartfelt origin or vision.  There is no ecclesial bureaucratic license to exception. The Bride of Christ receives what the Bridegroom has provided.  The Lord’s mysteries do not need adjustment for the culture to be relevant or adequate, but the Blessed Sacrament is the medicine of immortality and antidote to death as we confess with the ancient church.

The institution of the means of grace and the office which is charged with divine authority to deliver them for the church is a divine office that is enacted in real flesh and blood men.   The Book of Concord begins the discussion of the office of the holy ministry, with a bridge from Article IV to Article V of the Augsburg Confession. The office of the ministry is established so that such justifying faith in Christ (by grace) may be created, conferred, and sustained through the spoken and sacramental Gospel. The German speaks of the Predigtamt – the preaching office, which implies someone in the office. The Word and Sacraments are confessed as the exclusive salvific, faith-engendering instruments of the Holy Spirit. And then there is the condemnation of the Anabaptists and other schwärmer, who teach that the Holy Spirit works apart from the external Word and sacraments through our own preparations, thoughts, and works.   In the teaching of these fanatics, the working of the Holy Spirit was separated from the external Word and moved to an internal experience, desire, or concept.  The claim to be spiritual does not detour around the apostolic word.

The liturgy is not the “work of the people” as Rome has said, or put in protestant terms, our praise and worship experience for God.   To be sure there is response, but the initiating, primary, divine monergism of the Divine Service is so that everything in the Church, as the Large Catechism says, may be so arranged that we may daily receive the forgiveness of sins.   This is done through the Christ-provided means of grace.   The point of the Divine Service isn’t about “getting people involved” (work of the people, ala Rome, said in a protestant way) but being at the receiving end of all that the Lord desires to give in His particular way in His spoken and sacramental gospel.    So, indeed, as St. Augustine says, for the sake of faith, cling to the certain, and depart from the uncertain.   And the glory of the means of grace is that they are plural.   This blesses us even in situations of pandemic social distancing, travel, or other forms of local separation.    “Behold, I am with you always” at the end of the Great Commission to the apostles is not a separate saying but is indicative of the localized presence of the Lord for them and the Church in the means of grace (“all things I have commanded you”).    As Luther put it succinctly, “If you want to have God, then mark where he resides and where he wants to be found.”[5]   In times of distress it does us no good to try to relocate the Temple from Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim, or to baptize by a fire hose.   While all baptized Christians are priests by faith, our understanding of the office of the ministry is not primarily priestly (sacrificial) but as ambassadors and householders of the mysteries as spiritual fathers.   The sons of Korah (Numbers 16) thought Moses and Aaron were free to re-allocate the callings of the Lord since all in Israel were holy by His name. 

In the apostolic ministry the teaching and miracles of Jesus continue in the Word preached and the holy sacraments administered (Acts 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 3:5-11).    When considering the administration of the Lord’s Supper it is not merely that the pastor can broadcast his voice in a “live” setting (over a public address system, television, or internet) but rather is the whole and undivided sacrament administered.   If the intent is to consecrate bread and wine (or grape juice, sic!) over a “livestream” or broadcast to another location with lay administration on the other end.   The one broadcasting a recitation of the verba testamenti cannot “take the bread” or “give it to them” etc where the sacrament is intended to be administered.    It has lost its union or never had it.   It is utterly dubious.   St. Augustine shouts out:   tene certum, dimitte incertum!    The “this do” is violated.    Stewardship is broken.   Faith needs the marks of the church to have divine integrity not human imprimaturs or licensure or pastoral exceptions by authority of personal feelings.   Our first LCMS President, Walther, writes:

The great majority of our theologians, Luther in the forefront, believe that the holy Supper should never be administered privately by one who is not in the public preaching office, by a layman. That is partly because no such necessity can occur with the holy Supper, as with Baptism and Absolution, that would justify a departure from God’s ordinance ( I Cor 4:1; Romans 10:15; Heb 5:4); partly because the holy Supper “is a public confession and so should have a public minister”; partly because schisms can easily be brought about by such private Communion…[6]

On the other end of the livestream or by delegation by pastoral letter, directing the laity to take upon themselves what Luther was unwilling to suggest in 1533 and what the Augsburg Confession denies in Article XIV is schismatic and good old-fashioned fanaticism.    No doubt, one can engage in vision casting over an internet livestream, but dividing what Lord has joined together dislocates the object of faith as the speaker and the bread cannot complete the action.   In Luther’s day the church inherited whispered Words of Institution in a problematic canon of the mass eucharistic prayer.   Now recent ersatz pastoral innovations to adapt to the temporary state of quasi-quarantine, while not done in malice, are ill-conceived, and attach an urgency to a temporary disruption of corporate Divine Services that is incongruous with the typical tangential use of the sacrament in many liturgically loose locales.

Assumed-emergencies, quasi-exiles, and exuberant pastoral desire deliver the gifts by innovation can bring out the pre-existent fractures more dramatically and reveal the need for further study and reflection so that the marks of the church are not compromised and zeal for accomplishing something does not undermine the goal of faith being given certainty in the Word and the sacraments according to Christ’s institution.  

The Words of our Lord which used within the institution command “this do” inhabit a context for the mandate to be fulfilled.   With regard to the office of the ministry we ought to bear in mind the fact pointed out earlier, that in “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” of Luther in 1533, he does not condone or recommend any attempts of “lay consecration” of the Supper but simply recommends for exiled Christians in Turkey to be content, given their situation, with their hunger and thirst for the Sacrament.   The Lutheran fathers, including Chemnitz and Formula of Concord, walked a fine line.   So in their denial that, “No man’s word or work, be it the merit or speaking of the minister,” brings about the real presence is not to deny that the body and blood are, “distributed through our ministry and office” (cf. FC-SD, VII.74-77). Chemnitz states clearly that, “it is with those who are legitimately chosen and called by God through the church, therefore with the ministers to whom the use or administration of the ministry of the Word and the sacraments has been committed.”[7]

The office is not the source of the authority but the means by which Christ serves His people in the Lord’s Supper, the Divine Service. It is “apostolic” in that pastors are called and sent by Christ for the benefit of the church.   They are “your servants for the sake of Christ.”  They have His authority in the mandates He has given the holy office. We may point to Apology XXIV, under the discussion of the term “Mass,” where the liturgy is identified with “the public ministry.”   Even when the “emergency” case is cited from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, it must be pointed out that this emergency only mentions Baptism and Absolution and not the Holy Supper.  The Lord’s Supper cannot be an emergency need the way Baptism or Absolution can be.   Means of restoration and conversion are not the same as means of sustenance or the “solid food” of faith.

The “action” of the Lord’s Supper, as it is described by the orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians is a threefold action of the Supper.   Consecration, distribution and reception are what belongs to the institution. The office bearer consecrates and distributes, all receive. Not only are the body and blood present in the reception, but also in the distribution (according to the Lord’s word), in the thought of the Confessions.   The Formula of Concord summarizes (emphasis added):

In the administration of Communion the words of institution are to be spoken or sung distinctly and clearly before the congregation and are under no circumstances to be omitted. Thereby we render obedience to the command of Christ, ‘This do.’ Thereby the faith of the hearers in the essence and benefits of this sacrament (the presence of the body and blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and all the benefits which Christ has won for us by his death and the shedding of his blood and which he give to us in his testament) is awakened, strengthened and confirmed through his Word. And thereby the elements of bread and wine are hallowed or blessed in this holy use, so that therewith the body and blood of Christ are distributed to us to eat and to drink, as Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless,” which happens precisely through the repetition and recitation of the words of institution.

The Words of Institution “are under no circumstances to be omitted.” More than this they are to be spoken or sung “clearly and distinctly before the people.” Through this, the bread and the wine are consecrated. Hence in the understanding of Formula of Concord-Solid Declaration VII and the Large Catechism, the Words of Institution are said simultaneously over the elements and before the people.  Does a livestream do this?   Let’s cling to the certain and depart from uncertain.   Let’s not in times of crisis, when faith is tried, further introduce doubt or shadows on the object of faith.  Let’s avoid the edge of the cliff, the shadows, the lay ministry, the grape juice, the video communion, the postal delivery, the coffee creamer hermetically sealed elements, etc.   Cling to what is certain and depart from what is uncertain.   Be stewards of the mysteries of God, be a brave and steadfast spiritual father.

In such unusual times as a pandemic we rejoice in the manifold instruments that the Lord has given to bestow forgiveness, life, and salvation, by the work the Holy Spirit.   The reading of Scripture does not require an emergency circumstance for its verbal delivery in , as Luther admonishes the head of the household (hausvater) to teach the Small Catechism in his home, which includes the use of Scripture.  The royal priesthood of baptized believers in Christ and the pastoral office each have their realm of service and duties.   We appreciate each best when we receive them as the Lord uniquely gave each one rather than in terms of comparisons or even in terms of lists of functions.    The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus is a great resource in times of exile, temporary separation, and waiting upon the Lord.   It is also an opportunity to recover our devotional use of Scripture, rejoice in our Baptism, and speak words of forgiveness to one another in our households.    Even when we go through a period of not communing, we have been sent forth from the altar to our homes to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” to one another.  

[1] “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” (Luther’s Works, AE:38; p.207).

[2] “The Private Mass…”, p.163

[3] “The Private Mass…”, p.199

[4] “That These Words of Christ, ‘This Is My Body,’ Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics” (Luther’s Works, AE:37, p.142).

[5] Sermon on John 6:51, Luther’s Works AE: 23, p.121

[6] C.F.W. Walther. Pastoral Theology. Trans. John M. Drickamer. (New Haven: Lutheran News Inc, 1995); p.134  

[7] Martin Chemnitz.  Examination of the Council of Trent: Volume II, p.97

The Purpose of Liturgical Vestments

Vestments:  The Customary Robes of the Pastor and Liturgical Assistants

What is the purpose of liturgical vestments?   Why do Lutherans keep them?  The purpose of vestments is at least threefold:

1.  To cover the person in a uniform manner so that we do not focus on his personality or wardrobe but upon the activity of the means of grace (preaching, Baptism, reading Scripture, administering the Lord’s Supper). 

2.  To indicate the office which the pastor holds by call and ordination, or by appointment as in the case of deacons or acolytes.

3.  To adorn the Lord’s liturgy with appropriate colors and symbols that reflect the hidden heavenly realities of the Divine Service and that show our continuity with the ancient church.  In this it helps separate the sacred from the secular or profane.


ALB — The Alb is a full, white, ankle length garment. It has become popular is recent years because of its cheerful white color and innovative styling. It is the most ancient of Christian vestment. Its origins are traced to the Roman tunic, a common piece of clothing until the 5th century, after which it became a garment unique to the clergy. It reminds Christians of the multitude dressed in robes, “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). The image reminds each believer that he now stands clothed in Christ’s righteousness and that he someday will stand with the white-robed multitude washed in the blood of the Lamb. This hope is expressed in the alb’s vesting prayer: “Clothe me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that cleansed in the blood of the Lamb I may always enjoy eternal happiness.”   An alb without stole and chasuble might be worn by deacons or acolytes who assist the pastor.

CASSOCK — The Cassock is a full-length black garment that may be worn with a clergy collar in the case of pastors. Like a fitted shirt above the waist and a full ankle-length skirt below the waist, the cassock comes in two styles. The Roman cassock buttons down the middle and the Anglican down the right side. The cassock is the traditional street garb of the clergy, and as such is not a liturgical garment.   A cassock and surplice may be worn also by acolytes and deacons.

CHASUBLE — The Chasuble developed from the poncho-style warm cloak the Paul refers to in Second Timothy 4:13. In the church it became a highly ornamented covering over street clothes and other vestments. For that reason it became know as “the vestment.” The Chasuble is worn exclusively during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the clergy. But recently, other liturgical churches have reclaimed this ancient, colorful and graceful vestment. Yoked around the neck and burdening the shoulders, the Chasuble suggests Jesus’ words, “my yoke is easy and my burden light.” What a compelling invitation to Jesus’ supper when we recall that just before, he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) The prayer used as the Chasuble is put on reflects this, “Lord, you said, ‘My yoke is sweet and my burden is light,’ enable me always to rely on your grace and assistance.”   The stole and chasuble are both made in the colors of the Church Year.   See Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV in the Book of Concord, our Lutheran Confessions.  The chasuble is regaining its use among Lutherans in America.

STOLEThe Stole is a cloth band of the color of the liturgical season, worn around the neck and hanging down at the front.  Its symbolic indication that the wearer is functioning in his called office.  The stole’s vesting prayer reflects this symbolism. “Give me again, O Lord, the stole of immortality which I lost in the transgression of my first parents, and though I am unworthy to come to Thy sacred mystery, grant that I may rejoice in the same everlastingly.”   It is not a vestment for confirmands, properly speaking.   Historically there is also a sash-like diagonal stole for deacons.

SURPLICE OR COTTA — The Surplice is a full long, flowing white garb with full sleeves worn over a cassock or black gown. A Nordic or Scandinavian innovation, it allowed pastors serving in cold churches to wear extra-heavy cassocks, which wouldn’t fit under an alb. The surplice serves as an alb, and by the time of the Reformation it replaced the alb for non-communion services. Most consider its symbolism to be the same as that of an alb; however, many have taken note of an alternate symbolism. A white garment worn over a black gown, it can be though of as symbolic of Christ’s righteousness covering our sin, or Christ’s glory driving out darkness.   A cotta is simply a shorter surplice.

Traditionally for Holy Communion the pastor serving as celebrant of Holy Communion would be vested in alb, stole, and chasuble, while an assisting pastor would wear simply alb and stole.  Any lay assistants would simply wear an alb or a cassock and surplice.   For non-communion services a pastor would wear cassock, surplice, and perhaps a stole.

Lutheran quotes on Vestments (including chasubles) in the Lutheran Divine Service

“It is appropriate that the presiding minister wear a white vestment, an alb or surplice, and a stole in the color of

the day or season. He may wear a chasuble over the alb and stole at the Holy Communion.”

            Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod.

            Lutheran Worship: Altar Book (Saint Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1982); p.26


In the 16th century Reformation the Lutherans retained the traditional clerical  vestments [see Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV], but the other reformers rejected these and adopted the black gown or robe instead. About two hundred years after the Reformation, Reformed [Calvinist] rulers in Germany more or less forced the black gown also on Lutheran pastors. The chasuble is the most distinctive ancient Eucharistic vestment of the Christian church. The word chasuble comes from the Latin casula, meaning a little hut, because it covered the whole man. The chasuble resembled a present day cape, a garment without sleeves put over the body and completely covering it. It was circular in shape with a hole in the middle for the head, and fell to the feet all around. It had to be lifted up in order to use the arms. St. Paul mentions this garment in 2 Tim. 4:13. When it passed out of common secular use, it was retained as a clerical vestment. At first it was worn full length, but in he course of time, it was shortened until it reached only to the knees. The material was wool or linen, but from about the year 1000, the chasuble began to be made of silk, which is still the general material today. The shape of the chasuble was changed gradually by cutting the sides shorter to free the arms. Only enough was cut away at first to leave the arms partly free. This shape is the so-called Gothic chasuble. Later it was cut so far back on the sides that the arms were entirely exposed, leaving only a garment hanging over the shoulders in front and back. This form is known as the Roman style. At first the chasuble was not ornamented, but during the Middle Ages it was decorated elaborately with orphreys and embroidery. The Roman style had a large Latin cross on the back with a single orphrey down the center of the front. The Gothic style was decorated with a Y-shaped orphrey cross in the back and a single orphrey, called the pillar, down the front. At the time of the Reformation, Luther retained the chasuble and the ancient vestments, while Zwingli and other [radical] reformers discarded them as “papistic,” together with altars, candles, crucifixes, and the like. Since the earliest days, however, the chasuble has been “the vestment” for the celebration of the Holy Communion Service, was retained by the Lutheran Church at the time of the Reformation, and is still used by a large section of the Lutheran Church. [pp.47, 52]

            Ceremony and Celebration: An Evangelical Guide for Christian Practice in Corporate Worship

            by Paul H.D. Lang (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965)

Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV.1 – The Book of Concord

At the outset we [Lutherans] must again make the preliminary statement that we 1]

do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. 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. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

“While the alb, stole, and chasuble are the primary eucharistic vestments of the Church of the Augsburg Confession, the

cassock and surplice are the standard vestments for non-eucharistic services.”

            John T. Pless –Lutheran Worship: History and Practice. Fred Precht, Editor. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House,           1993); p.223

“Along with the alb and stole the minister may also wear a chasuble (from the Latin casual, which means “little house”). The

chasuble is a poncho-like garment that fits over the alb and stole. Its shape is either semicircular, elliptical, or rectangular.

Like the stole, the chasuble will also reflect the color of the liturgical season. This means that its primary color will be

that of the liturgical season or that the material will be of a neutral color with an orphrey or some other ornamentation coordinating with the color of the liturgical season. Since the chasuble is a eucharistic vestment, it is properly worn only at services in which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Accordingly, it may be worn for the entire Divine Service, or it may be put on immediately efore the commencement of the eucharistic liturgy (either during the Offering or the Offertory).

            Lee A. Maxwell.  The Altar Guild Manual: Lutheran Service Book Edition (Authorized by the Commission on

            Worship of The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod.)  (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1996, 2008); p.70