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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Taxonomy: What is/are the Lutheran position/s on the Real Presence?

What's that?

Gottesdienst is a journal of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy. We concern ourselves with the study of Christian worship in the Lutheran tradition. Therefore, we necessarily discuss theology and history - because what we say and do in worship should be determined by our theology, and most certainly is influenced by our history.

One topic that has come up over and over again in contemporary Lutheranism is the question of the exact Lutheran theology of the Real Presence of our Lord's Body and Blood in the Supper. It's come up again and again because there is disagreement within our fellowship over the matter - not only among contemporary theologians, but also historically. Furthermore, it's come up again and again in the pages and blog of Gottesidenst because one's thinking here will influence one's ceremony.

The purpose of this post is not to rehash all those endless, looping, and often acrimonious debates that have raged on the Lutheran blogosphere concerning this topic. Rather, I'd like to reboot the conversation in the hopes of exploring the topic more systematically and with greater understanding - and this early fall seems a great time to do that, because the topic will fit nicely into the presentations we're planning on having at Octoberfest in Kewanee.

So here's what I'd like to do in this post. No debate, per se - I just want to make sure I understand the various points of view and give them each an appropriate name. We need a taxonomy of the positions, a common language of debate, before we can have a clear debate. I'll take a shot at it here, attempting to explain each position as a proponent of that position would want it explained. I would be very grateful if proponents of each position would then affirm or correct my wording. Here-a-goes.

Receptionism: The teaching that only those elements which are actually received by the communicants are in fact the true Body and Blood of Christ. If a host is dropped, it is not the Body of Christ that has fallen to the ground, but only bread. This is so because part of the Sacrament is consumption: no consumption, no Sacrament, no Sacrament, no Real Presence. This is the historic teaching of American Confessional Lutheranism from the 19th century until the mid-20th century, and appears to have its foundation in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy; that is, the generation or two after the Fathers of the Formula.

Receptionism: Genuflection toward paten does not compute.

Concecrationism: The teaching that once the Words of Institution have been used to bless the elements in accordance with the Institution of Christ, and by His almighty power alone, the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is His Blood. This is so because the Lord's Word makes reality, when he says This is My Body, it is. Further, this is indicated in the fact that Jesus says in Matt. 28:28, "Take, drink for this is my Blood..." If a consecrated host is dropped, it is the Body of Christ that hits the floor. This was the teaching of Martin Chemnitz (as demonstrably proven in the 20th century by Teigen) and appears to have been Luther's understanding in the Wolferinus correspondence. It did not find purchase in modern Lutheranism until the mid-20th century Luther Revival.

Consecrationism: Kneel away.

Within Consecrationist ranks there is a division between Durationists and Cessationists.

Durationism: The teaching that once a host (or cup) is consecrated as stated above, it is and remains the true Body (or Blood) of Christ and is not mere bread (or wine) anymore. This is so because Christ's Almighty power makes his Presence, and what the Lord does, sticks. Furthermore, there is no Word of God that promises that the consecrated host stops being the Body of Christ. This would appear to be Luther's contention in the Wolferinus episode.

Durationism for the Reading Impaired:


Cessationism: The teaching that once the Supper is ended - that is, that once all who wish to commune have communed - any remaining elements (the reliquae) are mere bread and wine. This is so because outside of the use, there is no Sacrament. Once the Sacrament is over, the Sacramental presence is over. To say otherwise, would necessarily imply the Roman transubstantiation. This would appear to be Melanchthon's contention in the Wolferinus episode.

Cessationism for the Reading Impaired:


In a subsequent post I will seek to narrate the Wolferinus episode in some detail, but that belongs more properly to the debate on the merits of the case. Right now I want to make sure we're all using the same language and that the terms are defined in ways recognizable and agreeable to the proponents of each position.

And one further definition that needs to be made, as I've noticed it being used in different ways in these sorts of debates: open questions.

An open question,
most properly speaking, is a question that is not answered by the Holy Scriptures (this is Pieper's definition, and therefore the one most North American confessional Lutherans students learn). An example would be whether or not St. Peter had any children: the Scriptures just don't say either way. Another famous example, from Pieper, is whether or not Mary had any biological children other than Jesus.

My friend, and Gottesdienst editor, Fr.Petersen, has used the term "open question" to mean "issues we can agree to disagree on while continuing in fellowship with each other, even though each side in the disagreement believes that the Scriptures do indeed answer the question and that the other side is technically in error."

That concept needs a name, as it will surely enter into this debate once we get going - but since Pieper has defined "open question" as something else altogether, we should not use that term. Furthermore, the term "non-fundamental doctrine" from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy does not cover the concept, as those theologians advocated the severing of fellowship over entrenched differences in confession over non-fundamental doctrines (often listed example of such are the doctrines of angels, church and ministry, and Antichrist).

So, unless someone knows of a well-used term to cover the concept Fr. Petersen is fond of mentioning, I propose:

Non-divisive doctrine: Some non-fundamental doctrine taught in the Scriptures, but which an otherwise orthodox teacher may deny, through weakness or ignorance, without suffering a severing of fellowship from other orthodox teachers. Thus a non-divisive doctrinal dispute arises when two theologians each believes that he is teaching a Scriptural truth and that his opponent is teaching against the Scriptures, but they both nevertheless agree to accept each other as brothers in the faith.

One would either deny the existence of such non-divisive doctrines and disputes or accept their existence. The historical position of the Missouri Synod in the area of fellowship would seem to deny them - her practice, of course, obviously accepts their existence as a fact in a few cases. The modern, mainline churches (ELCA and ECUSA especially) positively affirm their existence over a wide range of doctrinal topics going well beyond the list traditionally included in the "non-fundamental" category.

So, there's my attempt at a taxonomy and lexicon on the issues before us. Now I need your help in getting it straight. In the comments, please observe these guidelines.

* I would appreciate it if readers would comment on whether or not they recognize their own position in the definitions given, and if not, then to suggest changes in wording. Please do not suggest changes in wording for a position you do not hold. I'm interested in hearing only from the horse's mouth. If you hold a completely different opinion on the questions before us, then offer a name and definition for your position.

* Therefore, please first identify the position you hold, and then suggest changes or affirm the accuracy of the definitions given. (For my part, I am a Durationist Consecrationist. I also think the existence of non-divisive doctrines is like the existence of divorce certificates in the Old Testament: it was not this way from the beginning, and it is not godly, but our hearts are hard. . .)

* Please refrain from debate in the comments to this post. We'll have time for that later.

* If you have a correction to offer on a point of history (my characterization's of the teachings of Luther, Melanchthon, etc.) please offer an exact citation from a historical source to provide the correction. I've striven only to include "common knowledge" in those characterizations: if I'm in error, others likely are, too, and we'll need to see the chapter and verse proof to have our minds changed, not a mere assertion.

Pr. H. R.28 Comments