Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lord's Supper

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Lord's Supper:

Q: How does the Lutheran teaching and practice regarding Holy Communion compare to that of other denominations?

The Lutheran theology regarding the Lord's Supper (a.k.a. The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, The Mass, or The Eucharist,) is literally unique among the many denominations of Christian churches. This unique theology consequently results in differences in practice which may also cause Communion in a Lutheran Church to look different than it does in non-Lutheran churches.

The Lutheran position regarding the Lord's Supper, most commonly referred to as the Real Presence, is that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, and that He truly becomes present in the Sacrament. In accordance with Jesus words, "This is my Body," and "This is my Blood," Lutherans believe that the bread is Jesus' Body and the wine is Jesus' blood. However, this does not cause the bread to cease to be bread, nor the wine to cease to be wine. At the same time, the body and bread do not combine to become a distinct third substance, but remain bread and body, and likewise for the blood and wine.

This is in contrast to the Roman Catholic view, called Transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Consequently, they also conclude that, even though the elements maintain the appearance of bread and wine, it is only an appearance, and they are really the Body and Blood of Jesus, and no longer bread or wine in reality. 

Lutheran teaching regarding the benefits of the Lord's Supper is that the Christian's sins are forgiven, and they receive salvation from God's punishment and eternal life as free gifts through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Roman Catholics also believe that the Eucharist delivers the forgiveness of sins, but by different means. In Roman Catholicism, the Eucharist is a way of resacrificing the body and blood of Jesus to God the Father, by which the participants merit forgiveness by their participation in the sacrifice.

A third position would be that held by many Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational groups, which states that the Lord's Supper is merely a way of remembering Jesus, and that His Body and Blood are not in any way present. Accordingly, they also teach that the Christian does not receive any special spiritual benefit through the Lord's Supper. Instead of a gift of God to the Christian, the Lord's Supper is seen as an act of devotion by the Christian. 

A fourth position, which is held mostly by the theological descendants of John Calvin, is the closest to the Lutheran teaching, yet different in very important ways. John Calvin taught that the Body and Blood of Jesus are present in the Lord's Supper, but only spiritually. Instead of teaching, as Luther did, that the Body and Blood of Jesus come down to earth to be received by Christians, John Calvin articulated that the believer's heart "ascends to heaven to feed on the body and blood of Christ," which is locally confined at the right hand of the Father.

Typical Lutheran practice regarding the Lord's Supper is to use normal wine rather than grape juice and to use unleavened bread (in the form of a circular wafer) in the Lord's Supper. Traditional Lutheran practice for centuries had been also to receive the Blood of Christ from a single common cup (called a chalice) and to kneel to receive Communion.The use of individual cups became widespread only recently among Lutherans, due to discomfort with sharing the common cup and misconceptions about the likelihood of disease transmission. The reception of communion by walking by or standing at the altar has become more common in recent years because of changes in church architecture. It is not typical in the history of Lutheranism to receive Communion by passing the elements while sitting in the pew. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

End Times Predictions

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about End Times Predictions:

Q: I have heard many predictions lately about the “end of the world,” some of which are coming very soon. How can I know if these are trustworthy, and how should I prepare?

This is a question which has been in the minds of Christians since the earliest years of the Church. In fact, every generation in the history of Christianity has had people who are convinced they were the generation in which Jesus would return.

There are two predictions that are currently in popular circulation. The first of these is from non-Christian sources, based on the Mayan calendar. The idea behind this prediction is that, since an ancient Mayan Calendar ends on December 21, 2012, that date will be the last day. Many outside of Christianity have been fascinated by this idea, and envision some sort of apocalyptic event on that date. Even though this prediction does not come from a Christian source, some have since suggested a connection between this prediction and the Second Coming of Jesus.

The other prediction being popularly circulated is one by Harold camping that Jesus will initiate the final events of history on May 21, 2011, leading up to His Second Coming. While the events suggested by camping do prediction action that will be taken by Jesus, many Bible Scholars would seriously question whether Camping is, in fact, a Christian, because he holds many teachings which diverge sharply from those historically held by Christians.

Both of these predictions share a fatal flaw. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus makes it clear that no person can predict when He will return by saying, “Concerning that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven.” In fact, I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that Jesus will not return on either of the days mentioned above. This is because Jesus says in Matthew 24:44, “Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at a time you do not expect.” Since May 21 is a Saturday, I have even heard of some churches conducting evangelistic campaigns which promote their service for Sunday, May 22 under the theme “We’re Still Here.”

Jesus does give some warning signs in the same chapter of Matthew to remind His followers that He is coming. These signs include wars, natural disasters, lawlessness, and false teachers. These things have been happening ever since Jesus ascended into heaven and will continue until He returns.

When we do hear those who are predicting specific days or years for the return of Jesus, we ought to remember Jesus’ warnings about false saviors and false teachers, when He says, ”Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”

History is riddled with hundreds of these false predictions. They have repeatedly been proven false when they do not come to completion, and these most recent ones will suffer the same fate.

Instead, the Bible teaches that the return of Jesus will be an unexpected, instantaneous event (Matthew 24:27) about which no person had been given the time. On that day, all the dead will be raised from their graves, and Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Those who trust in Him will be judged according to His deeds and receive eternal life, and those who trust in any other thing in place of or alongside of Him will be judged according to their own deeds and receive eternal punishment.

The only preparation a person can make for these events is to trust Jesus to forgive his sins, and allow Jesus to continually strengthen and preserve his faith through God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper as they await the Last Day.