“For the worthy reception, faith is necessary…”

By Bryce P Wandrey

This essay was originally published in the Spring 2010 issue of Lutheran Forum.

This past year I was caught off guard in conversation with a fellow curate in London. He was a former Reformed minister who had been ordained into the Church of England. I had served the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for four years as a minister, but I too have been ordained into the Church of England. In the midst of our conversation, on learning that I had a Lutheran background, my conversation partner related to me what had once happened when he presented himself for reception of the sacrament of the altar at a Lutheran church. He said in astonishment, “I was asked if I would be willing to sign (not literally) the Augsburg Confession before receiving. I just wanted communion.”

This story raises the age-old question (at least since the Last Supper itself): who should be welcomed to the table? Who should be “allowed” to partake in the eucharist at a given altar? Most Christian denominations have pretty clear-cut, if not always easy to interpret or implement, answers to these questions. Traditionally, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a “requirement” for admittance to the holy supper. The logic typically runs that baptism is the sacrament that “makes” a Christian, initiating the recipient into the church and bestowing the everlasting benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. But assuming the baptized person’s status as a full member of the church, how do we decide which members of the ecclesial community may worthily and rightly receive the sacrament of the altar? Which criteria are the necessary ones for giving a Christian the church’s meal?

For example, some communions require confirmation in order to receive the sacrament, though not all do. Those that do require confirmation do not necessarily believe that the rite of confirmation itself bestows worthiness upon the recipient to receive communion. And yet in this case the affirmation of faith, which is an integral part of the confirmation process, is a requirement for worthy reception of the sacrament of the altar, even if it isn’t meant to be. Confirmation is but one instance among many of ways of acertaining the “worthiness” of the recipient. What follows is an attempt to understand what Martin Luther intended as criteria for worthy reception, not to address any one specific communion policy in Christendom but with the hope that Luther’s criteria can address, confront, and challenge all the requirements of all communion policies across the board.

To begin with, in the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned forty-one articles of Luther’s public teaching, the fifteenth article states Luther’s own position thus: “They are greatly in error who, when communing, rely on the fact that they have confessed, or that they are not aware of any mortal sin and have said their prayers. But if they believe and trust that in the sacrament they receive grace, this faith alone makes them pure and worthy.”[i] If one believes and trusts that in the sacrament she will receive grace, Luther teaches, then her faith alone makes her worthy to receive.

Luther’s contemporary application of this statement, as outlined in his “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1521)”, is directed at those “of timid conscience, who prepare themselves for the sacrament with much worry and woe and yet have no peace and do not know how they stand with God.”[ii] To those driven to doubt their own worthiness, based as it is upon their “deficient” contrition or confession, Luther gives these words of comfort: “Faith alone must always be the proper cleansing and worthy preparation.”[iii] Luther constantly spoke of justification by faith alone. Here we see that worthy reception of the sacrament is based upon just that same disposition towards God: faith alone.

It might be helpful to consider what Luther means when he uses the word “faith.” At the heart of the matter is the definition of faith as fiducia, “trust,” in opposition to other conceptions of faith as fides, “belief/cognition.” In his Defense, Luther writes:

For it is not possible for a heart to be at peace unless it trusts in God and not in its own works, efforts, and prayers. St. Paul says in Rom. 5[:1], “By faith we have peace with God.” But if peace comes only through faith, it cannot be achieved through works, prayers, or anything else. Experience also teaches that even though a man may work himself to death, his heart has no peace until he begins to yield himself to God’s grace, and takes the risk of trust in it.[iv]

There are two accounts of faith, faith as fiducia and faith as fides, which includes cognitively holding something to be true. Bernhard Lohse aptly summarizes Luther’s distinction: “Reason denotes the capacity for knowledge… Faith, on the other hand, is a matter of the ‘heart.’ It concerns chiefly one’s relation to God under the perspective of judgment and grace… In the midst of inner conflict caused by the threat of divine judgment, faith means to trust in God’s promise of grace… In faith, trusting in God alone, we let God be God.”[v] More statements like this could be culled from both Luther’s works and his commentators, but the picture is clear: faith is trust in God and in His promises, refocusing our trust away from ourselves and solely on God.

In the context of the question of whether we are worthy to receive the sacrament, faith alone deflects away from ourselves to another, to God and His righteousness. It is His alien righteousness that makes us worthy, because we approach the sacrament trusting in God and not in ourselves, not having faith in our “works, prayers, or anything else.”

What Luther definitely wants to exclude is any kind of human work when it comes to determining one’s worthiness to receive the sacrament. Logically, this means both mental works (confession, contrition, understanding, etc.) and physical works (pilgrimage, tithes, etc.) that give people a presumption of worthiness based upon their own efforts. Oswald Bayer reflects on this aspect of Luther’s conception of faith when he writes, “The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God’s promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God.”[vi] Faith is not a person’s work, something that the person can achieve and then boast about. Faith is a relationship with God, letting go of oneself and grasping instead God who acts on one’s behalf.

Returning now to the “Defense,” we find Luther reflecting upon the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:28, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” He writes: “They have interpreted this saying to mean that we should examine our consciences for sin, although it means rather that we should examine ourselves for faith and trust, since no man can discover all his mortal sins.”[vii] Instead of human efforts to prepare ourselves, instead of directing our focus inward, what is absolutely necessary for a worthy reception of the sacrament is faith: trust that the sacrament was given and shed “for you,” believing that in the sacrament we will receive God’s grace. Luther’s counsel in the “Defense” can be summarized as such: let no one drive you back to your own works, either mental or physical, to give you consolation that the sacrament is for you. Instead look to the words of Christ: given for you, shed for you. “I wish we would be driven away from works and into faith, for the works will surely follow faith, but faith never follows works.”[viii]

These works of which Luther speaks (and the consequent theology of faith alone), while they were most directly in reference to tasks such as penance, must be applied more widely today, to those “requirements” demanded of prospective communicants. And hence, is it not be a “work” of preparation (at least in some respect) to get one’s doctrine “up to par” or to “sign” a document in order to receive the sacrament? Is this not an example of blurring trust and cognition, of confusing faith and reason, of exchanging fiducia for fides? How much latitude can we allow in defining the “faith” in “faith alone”? Luther, I believe, would allow no such latitude: faith must be restricted to trust in God, trust in God’s promises.

Another instance of Luther explicating his understanding of worthiness in regard to receiving the sacrament came in March of 1521 when he wrote a “Sermon on the Worthy Reception of the Sacrament.”[ix] He began by stating that those who are living openly in sin shall not receive the sacrament.[x] He then proceeded to the two main points in his sermon (to which he returns throughout): 1) No one should come to the sacrament because he feels compelled to by law or command; 2) Only she who feels a great hunger and thirst for God’s grace should come to the sacrament.

Hunger and thirst, not compulsion, are necessary for a worthy reception of the body and blood of Christ. “There must be hunger and thirst for this food and drink; otherwise harm is sure to follow.”[xi] The beginning of such hunger leading to a worthy reception is “[t]o know and understand your sin and to be willing to get rid of such vice and evil and to long to become pure, modest, gentle, mild, humble, believing, loving, etc.”[xii]

Those who trust in their own worthiness should avoid coming to the sacrament. Here Luther combines a rejection of a false humility when approaching the sacrament with faith in Christ’s words. The focus is shifted away from the worthiness of the believer and instead to that which he believes: Christ and his words, most notably his words instituting the sacrament. “[E]very Christian should have these words close to himself and put his mind on them above all others.”[xiii] This is an obvious echo of Luther’s understanding of faith itself, here applied to a worthy reception of the sacrament of the altar, which centers a person’s gravity away from herself and on to another, namely Christ.

Luther is adamant that in order to receive the sacrament worthily we should never rely upon our own diligence or effort, work or prayers, fasting or other outward preparations, but instead should rely solely upon “the truth of the divine words.”[xiv] When we are driven to our own purity we are led down the wrong path, made shy and timid, and the sacrament is reduced from being a sweet and blessed thing to a “frightful and hazardous act.”[xv] Luther quips, “If you do not want to come to the sacrament until you are perfectly clean and whole, it would be better for you to remain away entirely,”[xvi] words echoed in his Large Catechism: “If you choose to fix your eye on how good and pure you are, to wait until nothing torments you, you will never go.”[xvii] Instead of a misguided purity, what is necessary is trust in the perfection of God’s righteousness, not our own.

Luther concludes his sermon by writing that “[t]he only question is whether you thoroughly recognize and feel your labor and your burden and that you yourself fervently desire to be relieved of these. Then you are indeed worthy of the sacrament. If you believe, the sacrament gives you everything you need.”[xviii] One should not commune in either open sin or under compulsion, but instead a worthy recipient of our Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament is that person burdened by their sin and hungering for God’s grace. In other words: the worthy recipient is that person who clings to Christ alone with faith alone.

This theology of grace is contained nicely in a prayer of preparation for the sacrament that Luther includes in the sermon.

Lord, it is true that I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but I need and desire your help and grace to make me godly. I now come to you, trusting only in the wonderful words I just heard, with which you invite me to your table and promise me, the unworthy one, forgiveness of all my sins through your body and blood if I eat and drink them in this sacrament. Amen.

Dear Lord, I do not doubt the truth of your words. Trusting them, I eat and I drink with you. Do unto me according to your words. Amen.[xix]

The emphasis upon trust only in the words of invitation to receive the sacrament, trust in the grace of God offered in the sacrament, trust in God and not oneself, is unmistakable.

Once more, on 14 March 1522, Luther took up the issue of worthily receiving the sacrament of the altar in a sermon, this time on the Friday after Invocavit Sunday.[xx] He begins by distinguishing between an outward reception of the sacrament and an inner (spiritual) reception. It is by an outward reception that a person receives, with their mouth, the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament. Luther affirms that any person can receive the sacrament in this manner but without faith and love this outward reception does not “make a man a Christian.”[xxi] Hence, there must be faith to make the reception of the sacrament “worthy and acceptable” before God. “Christianity consists solely in faith, and no outward work must be attached to it.”[xxii]

Luther then helpfully defines faith for us when he writes, “But faith (which we all must have, if we wish to go to the sacrament worthily) is a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”[xxiii] Faith for Luther, as illustrated earlier in this essay, is simply a trust that Christ has accomplished the unified act of bearing our sins, making satisfaction for our sins, and reconciling us with his Father. It is trust that God has “stepped in” for us and taken our place and offered his blood on our behalf.[xxiv] Faith is a shift in focus away from ourselves and on to Christ. And now, here in this sacrament, Christ offers his body and blood to us “as an assurance, or seal, or sign to assure [us] of God’s promise and grace.”[xxv] Finally, Luther echoes the same criteria that he laid down in his 1521 sermon when he writes, “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”[xxvi]

We now come to the Small and Large Catechisms (1529), both foundational and instrumental documents for Luther’s theology. The “Small Catechism” states that the sacrament is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and drink.”[xxvii] Here we encounter, in a slightly implicit way, the “requirement” of belief in the “real presence” of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament, something that is more explicitly stated in other writings of Luther’s. Earlier in his life Luther wrote in “Against the Heavenly Prophets”: “But I do know full well that the Word of God cannot lie, and it says that the body and blood of Christ are in the sacrament.”[xxviii] Luther’s requirement of this understanding of the “presence” of Christ in the sacrament becomes only too explicit in his adamant disagreement with Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy, as Lohse highlights, “[O]ne may say that Luther’s Reformation theology took on particularly significant shape in the debate with Zwingli over the Supper.”[xxix] As a result, Luther said he would rather drink the blood of Christ with the pope than drink mere wine with “the fanatics,”[xxx] which lends weight to the “requirement” of recognizing Christ’s body and blood as present in the sacrament for a worthy reception.

In his “Large Catechism,” Luther once more addresses head on who should partake of the sacrament. “It is the one who believes what the words say and what they give, for they are not spoken or preached to stone and wood but to those who hear them, those to whom he says, ‘Take and eat,’ etc. And because he offers and promises forgiveness of sins, it can be received in no other way than by faith.”[xxxi] Interestingly, if Luther here pushes faith beyond simple trust and invokes a sense of “belief in” something, he does so only in reference to the focus or object of the words of institution. He writes, “This faith he himself demands in the Word when he says, ‘given for you and ‘shed for you,’ as if he said, ‘This is why I give it and bid you eat and drink, that you may take it as your own and enjoy it.’ All those who let these words be addressed to them and believe that they are true have what the words declare.”[xxxii] While it is possible that Luther here requires faith in the fides sense for a worthy reception, it is equally possible, based upon the for you-ness of Christ’s words, that Luther is actually requiring the fiducia sense of faith as looking away from oneself and to Christ.

This still begs the question: by insisting upon a certain element of “right belief” (a “right belief” of the presence of Christ in the sacrament) for a worthy reception of the sacrament, has Luther introduced an element that breaks asunder his “faith alone” criteria? No. As illustrated from the “Large Catechism,” that to which Luther directs a person’s attention in recognizing the mode of Christ’s presence in the sacrament is not his works nor his intellect but once again the promises of God and nothing else. That means: not a person’s worthiness, not even her doctrinal fidelity. Here we cannot allow the entrance of a doctrinal-faith dialectic when it comes to “faith worthiness” and the sacrament. This is because what Luther emphasizes is not a person’s worthiness as evidenced in his “right belief” but instead, once again, a trust in God’s word and promises. Luther’s main focus and emphasis in insisting upon “belief” in a certain mode of presence in the sacrament was not a case of believing in a right concept but instead trusting the words of Christ; once again, fiducia and not fides. In other words, Luther’s insistence on the real presence in the sacrament is not a fides addition required of the communicant but instead a logical application or outworking of his faith (=fiducia) alone principle.

Luther’s concern was to not make God out to be a liar, but to allow God’s words to speak, to be heard and trusted. Ultimately, it was an effort to free a Christian from any complex extra-biblical understanding of how Christ was present and to allow the clear words of institution to stand alone. One can quibble with Luther’s understanding of Christ’s mode of presence in the sacrament on the basis of the verba, but one cannot use his insistence upon the “real presence” of Christ in the sacrament to introduce the aforementioned “doctrinal-faith” element. As Lohse emphasizes, “As to the significance of the words of institution, from his early period onward Luther was concerned with a complex but materially necessary connection between Christ’s establishing or instituting the Supper, the sign of presence of the crucified and risen Lord under the bread and wine, and the meaning or promise as apprehended in faith.”[xxxiii]

Who worthily receives the sacrament? She who can intellectually assent to a set of doctrines and “sign on”? Or she who says, “I just want communion”? I think we can answer, based upon Luther’s theology, that the first requires too much, and is in fact a corruption of Luther’s understanding of faith as fiducia, while the latter, which is on the right track, needs more—but not much more.

Luther lays out three criteria for worthily receiving the sacrament of the altar over the breadth of his theological writings. He is worthy to receive the sacrament who 1) has faith[xxxiv] in Christ alone, 2) hungers for the sacrament as a means of receiving God’s grace, and 3) recognizes Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament under the elements of bread and wine, because that person trusts Christ’s words, “This is my body, this is my blood.” These are the criteria that should determine entrance to the sacrament of the altar (definitely no more but also no less), criteria that, yes, the church should insist upon, but more importantly, criteria that the baptized individual should use as a means to examine herself. And yet here we tread the slippery slope of promoting “self-examination” as a criterion, an exercise toward “worthy reception.” At times it is best to say little, only what is absolutely necessary, and leave it at that: “For the worthy reception, faith is necessary, by which one firmly believes Christ’s promise of remission of sins and eternal life, as the words in the sacrament clearly state.”[xxxv]

[i] Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols., eds. J. Pelikan and H. Lehmann (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955ff.), 32:54 [hereafter cited as lw].

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] lw 32:55.

[iv] lw 32:54. My italics.

[v] Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 201.

[vi] Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 44.

[vii] lw 32:55. My italics.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Worthy Reception of the Sacrament,” lw 42:170–77.

[x] lw 42:171.

[xi] lw 42:172.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] lw 42:173.

[xiv] lw 42:174.

[xv] lw 42:175.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Martin Luther, “Large Catechism,” in The Book of Concord, eds. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), v.57.

[xviii] lw 42:177.

[xix] lw 42:174.

[xx] lw 51:92.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid. My italics.

[xxiv] lw 51:93.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] lw 51:94.

[xxvii] Martin Luther, “Small Catechism,” in The Book of Concord, iv.2.

[xxviii] lw 40:176.

[xxix] Lohse, 306.

[xxx] lw 37:317: “Against this someone will object once more, ‘But you yourself declare that the wine remains wine in the new Supper. These words of yours make you a good papist who believes that there is no wine in the Supper.’ I reply: This bothers me very little, for I have often enough asserted that I do not argue whether the wine remains wine or not. It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood.”

[xxxi] “Large Catechism,” v.33–34.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Lohse, 306–7. My italics.

[xxxiv] Importantly, this is faith defined as trust in God as “for us” and not faith achieved or proven on the battle grounds of “right belief.” In other words, as shown throughout this essay, it is faith defined as fiducia and not fides.

[xxxv] lw 34:355.

Theological Fragments: Receive the Lord’s Supper by Faith in the Word

“The true preparation for this Sacrament consists of faith. There are two parts which you must believe. First, the bread and wine are the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….This faith is based on the words, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Do not fool with this faith! It has been the best thing about the papacy that this faith was preserved, that they did not doubt that the body and blood are present. Stick to the words!

“…But now in addition, a higher faith belongs to this and is more accurately called trust and is based on the words: “given for you,” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words are the promise….There is a promise, and in the promise a gift. Now where a promise is present and a gift is offered, trust belongs to this, that is: a heart believes that this will happen.

“…This is the true faith and the proper preparation for the Sacrament: that your heart clings to the Word of Christ….Now you have the true use of the Sacrament. It may be enjoyed in no other way than in faith, that both Christ’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins are present. When you receive it, you should be certain: you have received the seal that God will forgive your sins.

“…A twofold faith is necessary. The first part believes that the words [of institution] are true. The second part believes that both are given for you, that you have the forgiveness of sins that brings righteousness and eternal life. The one faith says: This is Christ’s body. The other: This body is mine. Do not come forward without this faith! You must have this faith or at least ask for it.”

–Martin Luther, “Wednesday Morning, Holy Week, March 24, 1529,” The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr Martin Luther, (St Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), pgs 63-69.

Worthy Communing: A False Distinction?

By Bryce P Wandrey

I have been interested in the question involving who should receive the Sacrament of the Altar for some time now. And I have been most interested in Lutheranism’s understanding of this question for at least two reasons: 1) Because I was born, raised and educated in the Lutheran tradition (namely that of the Missouri Synod within the Lutheran tradition), and 2) Because I found myself internally (and then externally) struggling with both the correct theology and practice proposed by the Lutheran (most specifically that of  the Missouri Synod) tradition.

Part of this interest has led me to write and publish an article (with Lutheran Forum which will appear in the Spring issue of this year) on Luther’s understanding of who worthily receives the sacrament entitled “For the worthy reception, faith is necessary…” I find in Luther the same three principles of worthy (and unworthy) reception which are witnessed in two “Theological Fragments” of Martin Chemnitz on this site (here and here).

I write all of this to preface a question that I have about an article written by Joel D Biermann in Concordia Theological Quarterly 72 (2008) entitled “Step Up to the Altar: Thinking About the Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper” (pgs 151-62). Biermann begins by quoting from Luther’s Small Catechism (on pgs 151-52). Directly after that quotation he writes:

That is it. Everything we need is right there. Luther gives us what we need to know about the Sacrament. Satis est. It is enough. Or is it? Well, that depends. Did Luther provide the sufficient and complete answer for the Christian contemplating her right reception of Holy Communion? Absolutely. It is an issue of faith; simple trust in the promise of Christ and thirst for forgiveness makes one a worthy recipient. Period. Luther accomplished his purpose: he provided instruction for the simple believer. But, do Luther’s beautifully wrought words provide the sufficient and complete answer for the congregation or the pastor seeking understanding about who should commune at the altar entrusted to them? Certainly not. That is another question altogether. In the first instance the question being addressed is, “Am I worthy to be at the altar receiving the Sacrament?” The second situation, however, asks a different question entirely: “Who should be communing at our altar?” Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism provides part – but not all- of the answer to that question.

Without going into the rest of the article (which can happen on this thread) I would like to inquire into the distinction here made. Is it a valid or false one? Is it a valid distinction for a pastor or congregation to refuse communion to a Christian who is worthy to receive under the guidelines of Biermann’s (or Luther’s and Chemnitz’s for that matter) first question? If someone is indeed worthy according to the first “situation” but the second “situation” excludes them from communing (according to Biermann’s rationale), isn’t the distinction rendered false for this very reason? How can I be worthy to receive the Sacrament but not receive the Sacrament at your altar?

Theological Fragment: Worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper

How, then, should a man examine or look into himself, so that he might eat and drink worthily in the holy Supper?

“This worthy eating does not consist in a man’s purity, holiness, or perfection. …But by way of contrast with the unworthy, one can understand very easily how that examination or exploration is to be undertaken, namely:

“First, let the mind consider of what nature the act of this Supper is, who is present there, [and] what kind of food is offered and taken there, so that one might prepare himself with due humility and piety for its reception.

“Second, let a man about to approach the Lord’s Table be endowed with the kind of heart that seriously acknowledges his sins and errors, and shudders at the wrath of God, and does not delight in sin, but is troubled and grieved [by it], and has the earnest purpose to amend [his life].

“Third, that the mind sincerely give itself to this concern, that it might not perish in sins under the wrath of God, and therefore with ardent desire thirst for and long for the grace of God, so that by true faith in the obedience, passion, and death of Christ, that is, in the offering of [His] body and shedding of His blood it seek, beg, lay hold and apply to itself the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment, but unto salvation. …For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.”

–Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word and Sacraments: An Enchiridion, (Concordia Publishing House), 131-2

Theological Fragment: Unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper

Who, then, are they that eat and drink unworthily in the Lord’s Supper, so that we might learn to guard the more carefully against that unworthiness?

“That unworthiness does not consist in this, that we miserable sinners are unworthy of that heavenly food. For that food is prepared and intended especially for sinners. But the following are they that eat unworthily, as one can very clearly gather from Paul, 1 Co 11:

“I. They that do not discern the body of the Lord, that is [they] that do not hold that the very sacred food of this Supper is the body and blood of Christ, but handle and use it with no greater reverence and devotion than other common foods.

“II. They that continue in sins without repentance and have and retain not the intent to lead a better life, but rather continue in sin…

“III. They that come to this Supper without true faith, namely they that either seek the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and eternal salvation elsewhere than alone in the merit of Christ, or who…hunger and thirst, with no true desires, after righteousness, that is, the grace of God in Christ, reconciliation and salvation.”

— Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion, (Concordia Publishing House), 130.

A Lutheran Influence (Part 3)

Go to Part 2

III. Justification/Good Works and Eucharistic Presence: A Case Study

Justification/Good Works. Justification might rightly be characterised as the most important doctrine for Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. It was elevated to the status of (and still holds today for much of Lutheranism) the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls. In the Augsburg Confession, justification is treated in the fourth article:

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by     their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor   and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3-4).[1]

What needs to be highlighted in the AC’s teaching on justification is that human beings “cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works”. Instead, humankind is “freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith”. The stress of the AC is upon teaching that humans cannot earn salvation nor justify themselves in God’s eyes. It is only through faith (in the promises of God) that humans are justified on the basis of Christ’s justifying and salvific work.

In The Ten Articles (1536), which were penned shortly after the English delegates returned from Wittenberg and hence were influenced by The Wittenberg Articles, we read that justification “signifieth remission of our sins and our acceptation or reconciliation into the grace and favour of God…our perfect renovation in Christ.”[2] They proceed to state that sinners attain justification “by contrition and faith joined with charity…not as though our contrition or faith, or any works preceding thereof, can worthily merit or deserve to obtain said justification…” Instead, it is only the grace and mercy of the Father, promised to us for the sake of His Son, and the merits of his blood and passion, that are the only sufficient causes of our justification.[3]

Here we see the effects of the Wittenberg meetings upon the English doctrinal formulations as it is stressed that justification signifies the remission of sins and his or her acceptance and reconciliation into the grace and favour of God, or “our perfect renovation in Christ.” What is interesting is the stressed laid upon the role of good works in the life of a human being, both before and after justification, which is given much ink in The Ten Articles. It was stated that sinners attain justification by contrition and faith “joined with charity.” If this statement was left as it is, Lutherans probably would object, saying that our good works in no way contribute to our justification. But here we might see even more of the Lutheran influence as The Ten Articles precede to make the important caveat that works which precede our justification can in no way merit said justification. Instead, stress is laid upon the duty of the justified following his or her justification, stating that we must have good works of charity and obedience to God. Further, while the attainment of everlasting life is conjoined with justification “yet our good works be necessarily required to the attaining of everlasting life…”[4]

The Lutheran reformers were not blind to this vital, and possibly contentious, relationship between faith and good works, for they were “falsely accused of forbidding good works.”[5] They proceeded to confess that “our works cannot reconcile God or merit forgiveness of sins and grace…”,[6] hence dealing with the status of works prior to justification. But as the Ten Articles would later proceed to do, so to the framers of the AC treated of works subsequent to a sinner’s justification, stating “Our teachers teach in addition that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them but because it is the will of God.”[7] While there is great consonance between the AC and The Ten Articles on both works prior and subsequent to justification, one could quibble that the traditionalist views of Henry still worked their influence in the statement of The Ten Articles due to the confession that our good works are “necessarily required to the attaining of everlasting life.”

According to Gerald Bray, The Ten Articles “remained part of the Church of England’s official statements until 1553, when they were superseded by The Forty-two Articles of Edward VI…”[8] In The Forty-Two Articles we find the articles treating of justification and good works separated. In Article 11, “Of the Justification of Man”, we read that “Justification by only faith in Jesus Christ, in that sense, as is declared in Homily of Justification, is a most certain and wholesome doctrine for Christian men.”[9] Apart from appealing to the Homily of Justification, these articles leave the source of justification simply to “only faith in Jesus Christ.” What The Forty-Two Articles do make explicit in Article 12 is the place of good works done before justification: “Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesu Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or…deserve grace of congruity…”[10] This is quite a bit more explicit and finds consonance with Article XX of the AC, where it stated that “whoever trusts that he merits grace by works despises the merit and grace of Christ and seeks a way to God without Christ, by human strength…”[11]

In 1563 & 1571, under the reign of Elizabeth I, The Thirty-Eight Articles and Thirty-Nine Articles respectively were issued. The wording of The Forty-Two Articles was replaced in 1563 with, “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is explained in the Homily of Justification.”[12] Here justification is more fully explained than in The Forty-Two Articles, with stress laid upon the merit of Jesus Christ, by faith only and not by our own works or merits. This same wording and confession is replicated in The Thirty-Nine Articles.

The article on works before justification in The Forty-Two Articles becomes Article 13 in both the 38 and 39 Articles with virtually no change to the wording. What is added to The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles is a confession of “Good Works”, Article 12, and is consonant with the Lutheran reformers teaching on the same. Article 12 reads, “Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, in so much that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by the fruit.”[13] This same confession of the place of good works is found once again in Article 20 of the AC, where it reads, “…through faith the Holy Spirit is received, hearts are so renewed and endowed with new affections as to be able to bring forth good works.”[14]

In this first instance, regarding the articles of justification/good works, we can evidently see great consonance and a growing congruence between the confession of faith in The Augsburg Confession and documentary developments of The Church of England. While there might have a Henrician influence on the earlier documents, with vestiges of a semi-Pelagians “works righteousness”, later developments are much more consonant with the Lutheran insistence on justification being by grace alone through the merits of Jesus Christ and good works being necessary for the Christian life but not determinative of a person’s justification.

Eucharistic Presence. Contrary to the consonance witnessed between the AC and the documentary developments of the Church of England in regards to justification and good works, in the area of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist we find less congruence. The Augsburg Confession is quite straightforward in its confession regarding the Lord’s Supper, and simply states, “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord. They disapprove of those who teach otherwise.”[15] Luther was just as succinct in his own explanations of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, most notably in his Small Catechism where he writes, “Instituted by Christ himself, it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink.”[16]

Significantly, as a result of the meetings in Wittenberg in 1535, the English delegates were part of the formulation of The Wittenberg Articles, which, on the issue of the Lord’s Supper, read, “…we firmly believe and teach that in the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, Christ’s body and blood are truly, substantially and really present under the species of bread and wine, and that under the same species they are truly and bodily presented and distributed to all those who receive the sacrament.”[17] While these articles never attained official status for the Church of England, their wording did make its way into official texts.

For instance, in The Ten Articles of the same year (1536), we read, “…we will that all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach our people…that they ought and must constantly believe, that under the form and figure of bread and wine, which we there presently do see and perceive by outward senses, is verily, substantially and really contained and comprehended the very selfsame body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ…and that under the same form and figure of bread and wine the very selfsame body and blood of Christ is corporally, really and in the very substance exhibited, distributed and received unto and of all them which receive the said sacrament…”[18] Much of the wording used here in The Ten Articles is verbatim from The Wittenberg Articles. By 1538, in The Thirteen Articles, nothing had changed as it reads, “Concerning the eucharist, we continue to believe and teach that in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood of Christ are truly, substantially and really present under the forms of bread and wine. And that under these forms they are truly and really offered and administered to those who receive the sacrament, whether they be good or evil.”[19]

By the time we reach The Forty-Two Articles one can rightly judge that the language of Eucharistic presence has softened. Article 29, “Of the Lord’s Supper,” states, “Insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a communion of the body of Christ, likewise the cup of blessing is a communion of the blood of Christ.” While this might be a softening of earlier language and confession, what follows is quite explicitly a rejection of the previous “real presence” language of the 10 and 13 Articles: “Forasmuch as the truth of man’s nature requireth, that the body of one and selfsame man cannot be at one time in diverse places, but must needs be in one certain place; therefore the body of Christ cannot be present at one time in many and diverse places. And because, as Holy Scripture doth teach, Christ was taken up into heaven, and there shall continue until the end of the world, a faithful man ought not either to believe or openly to confess the real and bodily presence, as they term it, of Christ’s flesh and blood, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”[20]

This quite explicit rejection of the bodily (corporeal) presence of Christ in the Sacrament was removed in both The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles, yet its sentiment remains in the Book of Common Prayer today.[21] Added to both The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles though, in absence of the deleted section quoted above, is the confession that “[t]he body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the supper only after an heavenly manner; and the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the supper is faith.”[22] Here we once again see a distancing from the earlier strong affirmation of the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist and an embracing of more Reformed, or Zwinglian, conception of Eucharistic presence compared to a Lutheran one.

One final aspect of the development of Eucharistic presence remains in the doctrinal development of the Church of England. It was quite explicitly stated in The Thirteen Articles that “…under these forms they are truly and really offered and administered to those who receive the sacrament, whether they be good or evil.” In other words, the belief of the communicant does not affect the presence of Christ in the Sacrament. But in The Thirty-Nine Articles, the following was added as Article 29, “Of the Wicked which do not eat the Body of Christ in the Use of the Lord’s Supper”: “The wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth, as St Augustine saith, the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.”[23] While such a teaching does not find explicit treatment in the Augsburg Confession, later Lutheranism would reject it in the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that not only the genuine believers and those who are worthy but also the unworthy and the unbelievers receive the true body and blood of Christ; but if they are not converted and do not repent, they receive them not to life and salvation but to their judgment and condemnation.”[24] And so we see, contrary to the evidence displayed in regards to the articles of justification/good works, the article on Eucharistic presence represents a divergence in earlier agreements between the Lutherans/The Augsburg Confession and the documentary developments of The Church of England.

Overall, we have seen that either in official discussion (in 1535-36 in Wittenberg) or in documentary influence, the Church of England was heavily influenced in its reformation by the German Reformation. While some of this influence waned over time, as in the teaching on the Eucharist, some it remained and actually became more explicit, as in the doctrines of justification and good works. Other articles of faith deserve the same analysis as offered here (ecclesial authority, cult of the saints, images, etc.), and while this essay has been limited in scope it is the hope that it has at least displayed that further analysis is necessary and would bear fruit today in discussions between Lutherans and Anglicans.

[1] The Augsburg Confession, Article IV

[2] Documents of the English Reformation, ed by Gerald Bray, (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co Ltd: 1994), 170.

[3] Documents, 170.

[4] Documents, 170.

[5] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.1

[6] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.9

[7] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.27

[8] Documents, 162.

[9] Documents, 291.

[10] Documents, 292.

[11] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.10

[12] Documents, 291.

[13] Documents, 291-2.

[14] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.29

[15] The Augsburg Confession, Article X

[16] Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, VI.2

[17] Documents, 137.

[18] Documents, 169.

[19] Documents, 192.

[20] Documents, 301-02.

[21] The Book of Common Prayer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 262. “…and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places then one.”

[22] Documents, 302.

[23] Documents, 302-03.

[24] The Formula of Concord, VII.7

A Lutheran Influence (Part 2)

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II. A documentary development of The Church of England

Contrary to what one might assume, given the isolation of the British Isles from the mainland continent of Europe, England was not isolated from the Continental Reformations. Also, the English Reformation was not simply a program of Royal Supremacy. Instead, the initiation and advance of Reformation ideas and convictions in England did not begin with, nor completely depend upon, royal actions.[1] Instead, the roots and groundwork were already in existence in England for the fostering of Reformation ideals and principles.

Hugh Latimer
Hugh Latimer

Possibly as a result of Lollard influence, there was an anticlerical flavour to the religious situation of England when the Reformation principles of the continent made their way across the channel. The clergy were already being accused of both economic and sexual aggrandizement.[2] In 1532, Hugh Latimer gained notoriety for preaching against veneration, adornment and lighting of images, the invocation of saints, and the doctrine of purgatory. In response, the prior of the Dominicans in Bristol was mobilized against Latimer, but he discovered that Latimer was more against the abuse of things than the things themselves.[3] If these instances of existing Reformation principles are at all indicative for the whole of the country, then England presented fertile ground for the planting of Lutheran seeds. This being the case, the writings of Martin Luther were still officially anathematised on 12 May 1521 and Cardinal Wolsey led a burning of his books in London. Ironically enough, by this time the first group of English Lutherans were already meeting at the White Horse Inn in Cambridge.[4]

An ‘indirect’ Lutheran influence upon the prayer life of the English people proved to be an appointee of Thomas Cromwell, William Marshall.  In 1534 He issued an English “Primer” which was heavily dependent upon the works of Luther, omitting the Litany of the Saints and the Dirge, containing no other prayers to the dead and an attack on the legends of the saints. In the same vein as Latimer, Marshall would reissue the “Primer” within a year, claiming that he did not think that the Virgin Mary and the saints shouldn’t be prayed to, but instead he was wary of abuses of such things. Accordingly, he restored the Litany and the Dirge.[5] This same principle was also to be discovered in September 1535, in a book that encouraged the taking away of images. This was a translation of Martin Bucer’s “Das Einigerlei Bild”, which was a key Reformation text in Strasbourg. And yet, once again, the tract did not encourage the abolishing of images, but in typical Lutheran fashion, it allowed that images were appropriate as long as they were not worshipped.[6]

Another major Lutheran influence upon the Church of England was the English-Lutheran Robert Barnes. In 1528, during a period of persecution under Henry VIII, Barnes fled to Germany for safe haven. While there, Barnes published a book of Lutheran theology in English, which made its way across the channel and into English hands. According to Carter Lindberg, it is telling for the climate of the English Church at the time, that Thomas More (a staunch Catholic and traditionalist) found not the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be most objectionable in Barnes’ book, rather the article that challenged the authority of the pope caused More the greatest consternation.[7]

At the Convocation of Parliament in 1536, Latimer was chosen to give the opening sermon which amounted to a litany of ‘Catholic’ offences. On the fourth sitting day the conservatives lodged their objections and just over a fortnight later Convocation agreed to a set of Articles aimed to put an end to diversity of opinion over doctrine and practice. These Ten Articles were the first official doctrinal formulation of the Church of England. They are significant for affirming only three of the traditional seven sacraments (baptism, penance and the Eucharist) and for a formulation of the doctrine of justification by faith, but also for allowing the veneration of images, the cult of the saints and intercessions for the dead.[8]

In 1537, the Bishops Book was compiled under pressure to authoritatively explain the teaching of The Ten Articles for preaching and catechising. Behind the drafting of this document fierce battles raged between radical and traditionalist bishops. In some ways The Bishops Book proved to be less open to reforming interests than The Ten Articles, speaking of seven instead of three sacraments and reaffirming traditional teaching on purgatory and prayers for the dead, but on the other hand it was more radical then The Ten Articles with regards to images, forbidding any bowing down to or worshipping of them.[9] It has been suggested that statements in both The Ten Articles and The Bishops Book portray the influence of Cranmer and his desire to include some “Lutheran tonic” to the traditional distillation. Cranmer did much to model Henrician formularies of faith on the German confessions and articles, including most importantly The Augsburg Confession and The Wittenberg Articles.[10]

 Probably the most significant Lutheran influence upon the development of Reformation doctrine in the Church of England came as a result of Henry’s excommunication by the pope in 1538. This action forced Henry’s hand politically, already at odds with both France and Spain, to engage in serious discussions with the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League.[11] In order officially to join the League, the princes (mostly Lutheran), required authorial subscription to The Augsburg Confession. This proved to be too high a price for Henry. It has been said that he might have been willing to sign the confession on condition of his first being admitted into the League. While no ‘official’ unity was reached between England and the German princes, the actual process of discussion and The Augsburg Confession proved to be highly influential on the development of The Thirteen Articles (1538), and the later Forty-Two Articles (1553) and Thirty-Nine Articles (1571).[12]

 Eventually the foreign threats of the French and Spanish died down and, as the negotiations with the Schmalkaldic drug on, Henry decided that it was time to focus on religious uniformity within his own borders. In an effort to stamp out non-conformity he issued the Act of The Six Articles, which took steps towards reaffirming Roman Catholic dogma.[13] As a result of this move–the ceasing of officials talks with the Lutherans–English Lutherans like Barnes become dispensable and he was consequently burnt at the stake with two other English Lutherans.[14]

During this same period, another voice of Reformation principles was making itself heard through the printing press. Along with his biblical translations, William Tyndale also made available to England the works of Luther, most notably his prefaces to biblical books. Since Luther was still anathematised in England, Tyndale published his prefaces without using Luther’s name. Ironically, Thomas More never realized the ruse and Luther’s prefaces were even included in the royally approved Matthew’s Bible.[15]

As we move to the reign of Edward VI we find that the official persecution of Protestants ceased. Under the guidance of the King’s uncle and Regent, Edward Seymour, Protestant moves were made such as repealing most of the treason and heresy laws, including The Six Articles.[16] It was also during this time that Bucer, recently exiled from Strasbourg for his refusal to be part of the Augsburg Interim (1548), arrived in England at the behest of Archbishop Cranmer and was appointed Regis Professor at Cambridge in 1549. Bucer exerted his theological leanings–notably a way between the Lutherans and Zwinglians–on the Book of Common Prayer.[17]

It was during this same period, the reign of Edward, that Cranmer exercised his greatest influence upon the religious situation in England. Probably the most note worthy example of the Archbishop’s sway was The Book of Common Prayers tone-setting-endeavour to avoid the extremes in both doctrine and liturgy. The revision of 1552 alleviated the ambiguities which had given the Catholic/traditionalist party concessions in the 1549 edition–most notably, the Eucharist was now formulated in more Zwinglian, memorial terms.[18] Lindberg notes that “[l]ikewise in 1553, Cranmer produced a statement of faith for the English church that represented a compromise between the Lutheran and Calvinist theologies. These Forty-Two Articles (1553) were the foundation for the later Thirty-Nine Articles that defined the Church of England under Elizabeth I, and continue to influence the Anglican Church today.”[19]

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I

We now arrive at the reign of Elizabeth I (skipping over the reign of Mary due to the fact that no significant doctrinal statements were formulated or issued during her time in which neither The Augsburg Confession or the Lutherans had any (at least positive) influence). During her reign, Elizabeth stressed both theological and confessional unity in her dealings with the German princes. She is even said to have stated her acceptance The Augsburg Confession, although she never signed it herself.[20] Elizabeth’s main goal was moderation: a pursuit which she hoped would give England a certain amount of stability after the tumultuous and contradictory reigns of Edward and Mary. She strove to hold both Catholics and Protestants in check by fostering an “Anglican” settlement in both doctrine and practice. Lindberg makes the claim that under Elizabeth such things as Catholic vestments and liturgy were allowed in order to speak to the illiterate in an Anglican style of worship, while the literate Protestant group were able to hear Reformation principles in both sermons and prayers, all set within the framework of a Reformed theology motivated by The Thirty-Nine Articles.[21]

Significantly, in 1559 Parliament passed the ‘Act of Supremacy’ which recognized the monarch as head of the English of Church. Wisely and perceptively, discerning the tension caused by the title of “Head”, Elizabeth took the title “Supreme Governor” instead of “Supreme Head”. Four years later, at the second Parliament of 1563, the Act of Uniformity was reaffirmed and measures were passed to ensure its enforcement. It was at this time that The Forty-Two Articles were revised into The Thirty-Nine Articles. “The Articles were designed to accommodate the major evangelical theologies by denying transubstantiation on the one hand, while remaining open to the range of Lutheran and Calvinist interpretations.”[22] Under Elizabeth, the official liturgy and confession remained moderate. The aim of the endorsed liturgy and confession was to express reformed theology without alienating Catholics and traditionalists. Still, it can be discerned that both the Elizabethan liturgy and confession issue from a ‘third way’ associated with the likes of Bucer and Melanchthon.[23]

Go to Part 3

[1] Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1996), 309.

[2] Lindberg, 310-11.

[3] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992), 379-81.

[4] Lindberg, 311.

[5] Duffy, 381-82.

[6] Duffy, 386.

[7] Lindberg, 312.

[8] Duffy, 389-92.

[9] Duffy, 400-01.

[10] Peter Newman Brooks, Cranmer in Context, (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1989), 27; Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1996), 161.

[11] Lindberg, 312; W. Ian P. Hazlett, The Reformation in Britain and Ireland: An Introduction, (London & New York: T & T Clark International, 2003), 41-42..

[12] Lindberg, 313.

[13] Lindberg, 313.

[14] Lindberg, 313.

[15] Lindberg, 314-15.

[16] Lindberg, 321.

[17] Lindberg, 321.

[18] Lindberg, 322.

[19] Lindberg, 322.

[20] Lindberg, 325.

[21] Lindberg, 326.

[22] Lindberg, 327.

[23] Hazlett, 61.