WMLTblog: Sasse: “Today the need of the hour for the Lutheran Church is to become a teaching church again.”

Found on Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog:


As Lutheran the­ologians we should follow the example of the Augsburg Confession in our theological thinking as in our teaching and preaching and never start from one common doctrine of the means of grace or the sacraments but deal with each of the means of grace by itself in its own particularity: Preaching, the Gospel, Baptism, confession and absolution, the Sacra­ment of the Altar. Only then will we be able to understand the fullness of God’s dealing with us, the different ways by which He comes to us, and the whole uniqueness of every single means of grace and so come to the proper use of each (consider the order of the articles of the Augs­burg Confession and the arrangement of confession between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Small Catechism). Already with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper it only causes confusion if we always try to draw parallels between them and to assert that what is true of the one sac­rament must be said of the other. So it has been argued recently in the ecumenical movement even by Lutherans: Since the churches recognize one another’s Baptism, they must also have reciprocal recognition of the Lord’s Supper. As they put it, “altar fellowship” follows of necessity from “baptismal fellowship.” But Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as immeasurably great as each of these sacraments is and as much as they cohere (1 Corinthians 10:1ff.; cf. also the baptismal practice of the early church on Easter Eve and even the custom of the medieval church of giving infants the Lord’s Supper, at least in the form of consecrated wine, right after baptism), are simply not the same. What the Sacrament of the Altar is was told to us by the Lord HImself; what Baptism is we learn from His apostle. We know when the Lord’s Supper was instituted from the account of the institution. The institution of Baptism, according to the common notion of the early church, and also of Luther (“To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord”), took place as a result of the Lord’s letting Himself be baptized by John (“There He established a washing for us”) and is not identical with the command to baptize. Baptism was performed in the apostolic age “in the name of Jesus” (e.g., Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5; cf. the command to baptize of Matthew 28:19 according to Eusebius in the apparatus of Nestle; 1 Corinthians 1:13), later with the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The apostles often left the administration ofbaptism to others, and it is no devaluation of the sacrament for Paul to say that the Lord did not send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel. Baptism remains, with all the freedom and diversity of administration, the washing of regeneration, the full, complete sacrament, needing no completion in confirmation, as Anglican theology today says, not without effect on the Protestant churches.

We cannot go into the question here of what we would have to say today in our individual congregations about Baptism. It seems to me that the so urgently necessary instruction about the sacrament in Bible classes and sermons on the great texts of the New Testament that deal with Baptism should be taking place. Beyond that the fourth chief part of the Large Catechism should be treated in lectures and discussions. That applies especially to the question of infant baptism. We have to be aware of how ignorant the modern generation is, even in the Lutheran Church. We recognize far too seldom that religious and confirmation instruction and the Sunday school can in no way give what previous generations knew from home through Bible reading and what was learned from pious parents. Today the need of the hour for the Lutheran Church is to become a teaching church again. The success of Rome, of the sects, and of communism is based substantially on the fact that what they teach, they teach unflaggingly. And our congregations hunger more than we know for teaching. Why don’t we give them the bread that they want? How often we have given the impression at the administration of baptism in the congregation or with a small baptismal party that an opus operatus has been administered. Who of those present knows what a miracle has happened here under the insignificant veil of the external sacrament? Who is aware that here a decision is made between the life and death, salvation and damnation of a person because this sacrament reaches into eternity? Are our congregations aware that they must pray in all seriousness for the newly baptized? Luther maintained that so many of the baptized are lost because this intercession has been lacking  (WA 19, 537f.; BKS, “Taufbuchlein,” 536, 20ff.). If this intercession were taken seriously, would it not also mean the beginning of a renewal of the office of sponsor that has become so secularized? Do we really believe that the members of our congregations take so much with them from a few hurried hours of confirmation instruction, in which something is said at the end about the sacraments-though they should really determine the whole content of confirmation instruction-that they are able to live on it throughout their whole lives as people who daily return to their baptism?

Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors 42
Posted by Rev. Matt Harrison

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