Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lutheranism 101: The Big Mystery

When discussing the Lord's Supper in Lutheranism 101, the reader is reminded to "Remember the warning from before." But what is this warning? (And keep in mind that this "warning" is not found anywhere in God's Word.) The author answers this way: 
We human beings like to solve mysteries and explain everything. However, some of God's gifts to us are far too great for us comprehend. We can't explain them. If we try, we might explain the mystery away. We may actually explain the forgiveness away.1

There are a few things which I find very interesting about this argument. First, it almost admits to being nonsense, but instead of calling this "gift" nonsense, it is called a "mystery" instead. Some gifts, the author says, are far too great for us to comprehend; and if we try, we might explain the mystery and forgiveness of it away!  Yet, ironically, this author insists on explaining this "mystery" and "forgiveness" to us so that we can comprehend it. It seems as though he puts in one hand what he takes away from the other. That's like arguing, "We can't explain this mystery, and it's far too great to comprehend it; so let me explain it in a way which you can comprehend. Oh, but remember, if we try to explain this mystery, we might explain its mysteriousness away. So let me explain that mysteriousness in a way which doesn't explain the mystery away. I will even explain it just enough so you can comprehend that I'm not explaining it away." 

Doesn't that kind of an argument seem strange? I know that when I read it, it  seems like the author is pre-empting me from believing that it makes no sense, while encouraging me to believe that it doesn't have to make sense. And the reason why it doesn't have to make sense (even though he won't describe it that way) is because this portion of God's Word is just "too great for us to comprehend."   

But what is this "mystery" that's too great for us? What is this "mystery" which we can't explain?  The author says:
When you hear these next words of Jesus, listen to exactly what He says. Don't try to make this mystery into something you can understand:  Of the bread, Jesus said, "This is My body." Of the wine, Jesus said, "This cup is the new testament in My blood."  "Is."  It's the linguistic version of an equal sign. Jesus said that in the Lord's Supper the bread is His body. The wine is His blood. This is the big mystery at the heart of the Lord's Supper: Under the bread and wine, we also receive Jesus' body and blood--the same body that was nailed to the cross and the same blood that was shed for our sin. It is also the same body and blood that Jesus showed to His disciples after He rose from the dead. If Jesus' body and blood are there, Jesus is there. He is present under the elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. We call this the real presence. ...Beyond that, we can't explain the real presence.2

So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to listen to "exactly" what Jesus says, and I'm told not to try to make this mystery into something which I can understand. Well, I'm definitely listening .... Still listening .... Still listening .... And I'm not understanding. I guess this is where I'm supposed to throw my hands up in the air and shout Hallelujah! Mission accomplished! I don't understand what this means at all and Jesus didn't want me to!  Halellujah!

But seriously, even the author didn't really mean that. He didn't actually mean that Jesus doesn't want us to understand the "mystery" of the Lord's Supper. He couldn't, because he explains this alleged "mystery" with the entire paragraph that follows. What the author is really try to express is that Jesus' Words of Institution are indeed understandable and explainable. However, what the author does not tell his readers is that this "mystery" really isn't exactly what Jesus said. This "mystery" is actually what his tradition of Lutheranism wants to believe. And it's that unique traditional interpretation of Lutherans which is truly mysterious. 

Plus, if you think about this author's argument, it's loaded with lots of logical problems. For example, this author is not doing what he insists his readers should do; he's not listening to exactly what Jesus said. Jesus did not say, "The wine is His blood." Jesus didn't even mention wine. His exact word, if the author was listening, was "cup." Plus Jesus didn't even say that the cup is his blood. He said "This cup is the new covenant (i.e. testament)...". And he also said that "covenant" or "testament" is in his blood, not his blood itself. This ought to be especially important to keep in mind for those who are willing to accept this type of traditional Lutheran indoctrination. If the word "Is" is the "linguistic version of an equal sign," --as the author insists-- then Jesus definitely did not say that the wine is his blood; yet look back and see for yourself: that is exactly what the author claims Jesus said and meant! The author said, "The wine is His blood." Once again, this shows that this author is not playing by his own rules. This might be a display of inconsistency at its finest.

But it gets worse. The very next principle which the author insists we learn is "The Danger of Saying More than Jesus says." Underneath this gigantic headline within the book, the author writes these incredibly ironic words:
More than once in the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18), God warns about adding to His Word. There's a good reason for this: when we add what we mere sinful mortals think God says, we run a good chance of subtracting from what God actually meant for us to hear and to have.  ...Jesus didn't say, "This bread is changed into My body," but "This is My body." ...Jesus didn't say, "My body is now with this bread." He said, "This is My body." Holding strictly to the words He spoke, Lutherans believe that they receive both bread and His body, because the bread is His body.3

I get a kick out of reading the tremendous lengths this author is willing to trek in order to shape God's Word into his own "Lutheran" tradition. Rationalization like this is just plain old mysterious nonsense. I wish the author would just come right out and admit it. That would at least help his readers throw the book in the trash-bin sooner. 

1.  Scot Kinnaman [General Editor], Lutheranism 101 [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010] p. 149
2.  pp. 149-50
3.  p. 151

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