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August 28, 2018, 9:00 AM
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Verse of the Day

2017 Free Conference Resources

Evangelical Lutheran Communion Theses

500 Years Ago: Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
Today: Evangelical Lutheran Communion Theses

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

500 hundred years ago, in the year of our Lord 1517, the Reformer, Martin Luther, nailed the now famous 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door.. He began with a short preface: "Out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following theses will be publicly discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the reverend father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology and regularly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who cannot be present to debate orally with us will do so by letter.”  By doing this, Luther was calling his fellow theologians to debate these theses in which he was seeking to clarify the power of papal indulgences. Little did he know that such a routine practice in his day would spark a reformation of the Church which continues to impact our daily lives right up to today. As confessional Lutherans, subscribing to the Scriptural doctrines as confessed in the 1580 Book of Concord (BOC), we can but praise God for His marvelous grace and mercy in using the likes of Luther and his fellow Reformers to bring to light the Apostolic teaching that had been all but hidden in the Middle Ages.
 
While much of what Luther wrote in those original 1517 theses would not stand up under the scrutiny of even the 1530 Augsburg Confession – in that much of what he wrote was still more Roman than Lutheran – it served the Church well in driving the conversations which ultimately led to that historic Augsburg Confession, and later the entire 1580 Book of Concord to which all LCMS pastors and congregations subscribe unconditionally. Unfortunately, based on the evidence documented by the ACELC, all too many of our fellow LCMS pastors (and seemingly the congregations which called them) have forgotten what such an unconditional subscription actually entails. And that forgetfulness, in conjunction with the poor to virtually non-existent Ecclesiastical Supervision in numerous districts of Synod, has created a pseudo-Synod that talks a good game, but is doing little to walk the talk. Thus, while we are historically long past the reforms of Luther and the others who laid their lives on the line for the proper distinction between Law and Gospel 500 years ago, it is high time for the faithful pastors and congregations of the LCMS to plant a new standard (or, more appropriately, replant an old faithful standard) in our midst to muster the troops, so to speak.
 
It is with such a united rallying cry in mind that the ACELC, “out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light,” is pleased to announce the “Evangelical Lutheran Communion Theses” which were unanimously adopted at our 2017 General Conference in Lincoln, NE (Christ For Us: The Order of Creation). It is not so much that there is anything new in these theses – for there truly isn't – but the sharpness and perspicuity of the presentation, together with the Scriptural, confessional, and evangelical content and supporting documentation, is outstanding. We commend it to the serious study and scrutiny of every pastor, congregation, winkle, pastoral conference, District Convention, and Synodical Convention. And, by all means, we invite and welcome your comments.
 
To be clear on exactly what each of the three documents found at the above link are, here is a brief description of each.


a) “In BRIEF...” – A one page document that lists the seven theses and no supporting documentation.
b) “In SUMMARY...” – An eight page document that expands on the theses in document “a)” above with supporting documentation.. This is the document unanimously adopted by the ACELC.
c) “In DETAIL...” – A set of seven documents (one for each thesis) with additional explanations and footnotes that can be considered an appendix to “b)” above. Of particular significance and importance to ACELC congregations and associate members in this more detailed document is a section titled: What does this mean? for each thesis.
 
You will soon discover this as you dig into these theses, but here are the seven areas covered regarding the Lord's Supper.


1) The Institution and Validity of the Lord’s Supper
2) The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
3) Unity of Faith and Doctrine Is Prerequisite to Communion Fellowship
4) Who Is Worthy and Well Prepared to Receive the Lord’s Supper
5) Who Is Not Worthy and Well Prepared to Receive the Lord’s Supper
6) Pastoral Care in the Administration of the Lord’s Supper
7) Pastoral Discretion in Extenuating Circumstances
 
On this life-changing topic of the Lord's Supper, Wilhelm Löhe – the Bavarian Pastor who was instrumental in shaping what would become the LCMS in its formative years, especially through the Pastors he sent to America – is quoted in “The Word Remains” (Emmanuel Press, 2016): “The Holy Supper forms, sustains, nurtures, and fulfills the congregation when it is understood, administered, and used as it ought to be” (p. 88). It is those final words in this brief maxim – “when it is understood, administered, and used as it ought to be” – that the ACELC wishes to stress on this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
 
The 500 year trail of written evidence by Lutheran theologians, upon whose shoulders we stand, not to mention the Church's 1500 year history of the Fathers before that, supporting the doctrine and practices set forth in the “Evangelical Lutheran Communion Theses” speaks loudly and clearly in support of the “as it ought to be” phrase from Löhe. To be sure, the Church must always and only seek to confess right doctrine, but Scripture insists it is equally important to work diligently in seeing that such doctrine is put into practice by pastors and congregations “as it ought to be.” This is where the matter of Ecclesiastical Supervision (esp. pp. 10-13) is critical to our Synod, but, as noted earlier (and documented in the above referenced pages, and also here on pages 7-10), the LCMS has a dismally poor track record relating to Holy Communion being “understood, administered, and used as it ought to be” in many of our congregations and districts.. To continue down this road and not set this right in our congregations and seminaries, is to risk facing our Lord Christ's words on the last day: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
 
The first of Luther's 95 Theses states: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” [LW, Vol. 31, Fortress Press, 1957, p. 25]. It is way past time for the LCMS to again begin to do just that in the area of Holy Communion, and there is no better time to do so than this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation!
 
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!
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