Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lutheranism 101: Are Lutherans Cannibals?

In Lutheranism 101, a question arises out of concern for their traditional view of eating the Lord's "real body and blood." This question is framed this way: "Are Lutherans Cannibals?" The author responded this way:
Because Lutherans teach that Jesus is really present with His body and blood, they have been accused of cannibalism. Rest easy; it isn't true. A cannibal eats physical flesh with his teeth. While we teach that Jesus is bodily present, we do not teach that He is physically present. Things are physical when they take up space; we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space. Can He do that? Yes!1

Now, let's try to break down the meaning of these claims. As far as I can tell, it seems like his argument goes something like this: "Lutherans are not cannibals because cannibals eat physical flesh. But Lutherans don't teach that they are eating Jesus' physical flesh. They're eating Jesus' non-physical flesh." Now, if I'm correct in viewing the meaning of his statements this way, I'm still not quite sure what non-physical flesh is, exactly. I mean, I understand the difference between physical and non-physical as a concept, and I even understand that Jesus' body and blood was very physical in substance, but I'm still not quite sure what the author of Lutheranism 101 means by that. Of course the author tries to explain himself. He says that Lutheranism does not teach that Jesus is physically present. Check. He also says that things are physical when they take up space. Check. But then he says, "we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space."

But what does the author mean exactly by "in a mode that doesn't take up space"? In his usually fantastically brilliant, earth-shattering manner, this author answers that very question. He writes:
After rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room and showed them His hands and His side (John 20:19-20). How did He get into the locked room? The Bible doesn't specify, but somehow He moved His body through the walls or locked door without displacing the barrier and creating a hole. As He went through, His body didn't take up space (we call this His "incomprehensible mode"). During the Lord's Supper, the bread doesn't change in size with Jesus' body present; His body is present without taking up space. One can't eat something that isn't physically present, so, no, Lutherans aren't cannibals.2 

There you have it. Problem solved. Mystery discovered. This is Lutheran biblical exegesis at it's finest. Jesus says "This is My body," and that means he is "really present" in the bread and wine "in a mode that doesn't take up space." What other biblical proof is there for believing in this special  mode? Well, that's easy! Jesus walked through the walls or the locked door without displacing the barrier and creating a hole! And the author knows this for certain. And because he knows this for certain, we can be certain too, even though he admits that "The Bible doesn't specify" how Jesus got into the locked room. 

Did you catch that slight of hand too? 

Let me rewind and show that again. The author begins by admitting that the Bible does not specify how Jesus got into the locked room, but nevertheless (mysteriously!) this author knows how Jesus got into the locked room. And because this author knows how Jesus got into the locked room (i.e. he walked through the locked door), John 20:19-20 becomes a proof-text for believing that Jesus is "really present" in the bread and wine "in a mode that doesn't take up space."

Now, what really bothers me about this strained exegesis of Scripture is that this Lutheran author knows his traditional interpretation is not comprehensible, but their precious long-standing tradition is held to anyway. They even have a name for how Jesus walks through walls: they call this his "incomprehensible mode." 

In previous posts, I showed that this very same author loves to talk big about how dangerous it is to add or subtract from God's Word, and how important it is to listen to exactly what Jesus says; but this particular Lutheran tradition encourages people to do the very opposite by throwing away their rationality. And perhaps there is no more appropriate proof-text, other than John 20:19-20, to show off this blatant inconsistency. (Remember, the author of Lutheranism 101 used this as their proof-text for Jesus' "incomprehensible mode" in the Lord's Supper.) Notice what John 20:19-20 says: 
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Notice that it mentions absolutely nothing about how Jesus got into the locked room. It just says that the doors were locked and that "Jesus came and stood among them." Now, if I were a betting man, I would bet $100.00 that in a room filled with traditional indoctrinated Lutherans, 75% of them would interpret this verse as though Jesus had to walk through the walls or the locked door. But if I were in a room filled with Calvinists, I would bet $100.00 that 75% of them would see a third alternative -- namely that Jesus simply appeared before them without needing to walk through anything, and without needing to "displace the barrier" of anything. From the text itself, it reads as though Jesus simply appears out of thin air. Jesus appears and disappears elsewhere in John's gospel, both times after Jesus has been raised with his glorified body, but there is no mention of Jesus walking through anything. Moreover, in Luke 24:13-43, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and after a while he sits down to eat and break bread with them; and suddenly, after breaking the bread, Jesus disappears. Then suddenly, when these disciples flee to their friends in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly reappears again (all within a few verses too). 

Now, let me ask this question: What Lutheran scholar would seriously argue that Jesus had to walk through all the walls and trees and people and locked doors on his way from the road to Emmaus to Jerusalem in order to reappear with the other disciples? If someone is going to argue that arbitrarily --when the text simply mentions that he disappears and reappears suddenly-- they might as well argue that Jesus broke the bread and jumped into it through this silly incomprehensible mode, and his disciples carried him all the way back to Jerusalem. That way, they could argue that Jesus was "really present" in the bread too.

All of these Lutheran arguments are mysterious because they're nonsenseI mean, if they really believed that Jesus walked through the walls of the locked room, and that somehow this teaches us that Jesus' body and blood is "really present" in a non-physical mode, what they're really saying is that they believe Jesus' body and blood could share physical space. But that's not what they're saying. They're saying that Jesus manifests his body and blood in a non-physical mode which doesn't take up space. But where in Scripture do you find a rational basis for believing that? They might argue, in the words "This is My body, This is My blood" (Actually, Jesus doesn't say, "This is my blood," but I digress.) But that commits the fallacy of begging the question. They are assuming what needs to be proven rationally. Then they might respond, "But John's gospel shows that Jesus walked through locked doors!" To which I would respond, no John's gospel doesn't say that. Nor does Luke's gospel. Then they might argue, "but we know there are sufficient reasons to believe this because we even have an official, confessional name for it: it's called the incomprehensible mode."

My response would be something to this effect: If they can't prove their case  rationally from the Bible, then why insist that the Bible is their source for this incomprehensible mode? And if they don't expect their precious doctrine to be proven rationally, then why do they bother proving anything about it at all? Again, it seems like the author of Lutheranism 101 is well exercised in mental gymnastics and potentially dabbles in Jedi mind tricks from time to time, but those tricks are subtly deceptive and foolish, and Christians should be trained by their pastors and teachers to know better than this. Christians should have more assurance from the Word of God than this irrational Lutheran indoctrination about "the real presence" of Jesus and how His body and blood is really present in a non-physical, incomprehensible mode that doesn't take up space.

I've got an alternative idea to all of this eating-Jesus-for-dinner talk. Why don't Lutherans argue that Jesus is "really present" in the bread and wine, and that through faith Christians really do eat the body and blood of Christ, but only in a literal spiritually-present sense. Oh, yeah. I forgot. Lutherans wouldn't believe that because that's what Calvinists teach. 

1.  Scot Kinnaman [General Editor], Lutheranism 101 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010] p. 150
2.  Ibid. p. 151

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