Saturday, May 2, 2009

Close Communion and DayStar

Having just written a blog post on "Close Communion and the Holidays," the recent DayStar articles for their online journal were disturbingly timely. I say that realizing they are once again vigorously opposing the official policy of the Synod regarding communion fellowship, yet may very well be 'on target' regarding their assessment of where the Synod is actually at in parctice. In one of the final footnotes of the first article, "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," author Robert Schmidt writes: "It should be noted that even though “close(d)” communion is advocated by the current leadership of the synod, many pastors and congregations freely welcome Christians belonging to other denominations to commune at their altars."

The author makes no effort to hide his contempt for the official practice of the Synod, and in the sentence to which the above footnote was attached calls the LCMS "one of the most exclusionary of denominations." Dr. Schmidt is clear in his opinion that the Synod's close communion practice is unbiblical and believes it opposes St. Paul's own directions in 1 Corinthians. He notes: "On this issue of the Lord’s Supper communities of Christians are divided into competing congregations; families are split, and the entire Christian Church on earth witnesses to its divisions. In these verses from 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 Paul is not condemning the church for welcoming the errant brother or sinner or grandmother who comes from a different denomination. All at Corinth were to receive fellowship, forgiveness and comfort in this Communion. Rather, he condemns in no uncertain terms those practicing their “closed communions.” These then are those who stand judged because they did not discern the Lord’s body either in their fellowship or in their eating and drinking."

Dr. Schmidt holds a view of fellowship and unity in the church that is so broad and wide that it appears to conveniently ignore not only the church's historic practice of communion fellowship stretching back to the Early Church, but also the very real differences dividing churches today that are based clearly on false doctrine. He reduces the differences to "creative chaos" as he sees the matter in terms only of outward practice, and refuses to acknowledge the doctrinal aberations behind these practices. How are we to honestly overlook the reality of those who deny the clear teachings of scripture on matters as basic as the real presence of Christ in the Supper? And we have not even touched on the equally disturbing issues of how churches are divided on matters relating to the sanctity of life, role of women in church and ministry, and the nature of the Bible as the innerant and infallible Word of God.

"Ask a Baptist or a Roman Catholic or a member of the local community church whether they feel they are witnessing to Christ’s death for their forgiveness, and they will all agree on its common purpose. Indeed, because we are remembering the love of Christ that unites us despite our sins and our definitions, we are one at the altar. We commune both with our Lord and each other," Schmidt writes. I beg to differ, Dr. Schmidt. You are naive if you believe that oneness at the altar can be defined merely by claiming the "love of Christ." Does the love of Christ overlook false belief on his divinity? Does it overlook false teaching regarding the Supper itself? Does it convenienly look the other way on issues that impact the foundational issues of family, life, and the whole created order? Or can we be sure that based on what they were taught in their own churches they understand the very basic doctrine of grace, or may it be possible that they bring to the Table errant beliefs of works righteousness and decision theology so prevalent in Baptist or Roman Catholic teaching?

Dr. Schmidt unfortunately not only misunderstands the nature of true Christian fellowship, but he also misunderstands the Supper itself. He pits one aspect against the other to bring out his own agenda. "While some denominational traditions such as the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran have made much of the real presence in these words, they have glossed over the more important emphases of the function and meaning of the Supper:'This do in remembrance of me.'” More important emphasis? I beg your pardon? We "make much of the real presence" because it is central to Jesus' own promise. It is the center of the reality of the Sacrament. Come on!

But then doctrine, in this new paradigm, is not critical or important, not even the reality of Christ's presence. The matter at hand is more with the individual. "Paul condemns neither the eating nor drinking but rather the callous disregard of other people’s feelings." So the great "sin" in the Sacrament is to offend people's "feelings"? This postmodern preoccupation with feelings is what has compromised the church's commitment to the Lord's Word in our time. Dr. Schmidt here has identified where many people are at when it comes to Communion fellowship. Their feelings are hurt because they were not allowed free access to that which they 'feel' they are entitled. So the Supper and its fellowship are reduced to the vagaries of human feelings. We are really in trouble now.

And not only is the understanding of the Supper at risk, Dr. Schmidt has further misunderstood the doctrine of the ministry and its responsibilities. His solution for determining worthiness at the altar? Let the people themselves decide. Better yet, leave it to the small groups. "Suppose that the congregation of thousands would divide itself into smaller units or families that would get to know each other as individuals? If such a group were persuaded that an individual could and should participate, could not the entire congregation trust their fellow believers within that group? Would not this personalized approach do far more to build Christian community than all of our rules and policies?" Schmidt furthermore confuses the idea of "elder" in the New Testament with what modern churches define as such, and apparently sees no real clear doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry. "Paul simply blessed the early church leaders who were probably part-time elders, and these served as celebrants at the early observances. The notion of having a specially trained, seminary- or university-educated clergy came about at a far later date." The training of the clergy is not the issue here. Where is the teaching of the "call" so clearly outlined in our confessions?

Dr. Schmidt, it would appear, examines the Supper through his past experiences in the mission field, and believes in a approach that suspends any real spiritual discipline. He notes: "Others have such a restrictive policy that only people belonging to their denomination, or even congregation, may attend. Some feel that only those should come who can “examine” themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28). This leaves out very small children and those uninstructed in the faith. Others believe that no one should come who is living in open and unrepented sin. On the mission fields all sorts of rules and regulations have been placed upon people before they can come to the Lord’s Supper. Many of these were required to force people into a better Christian life. Once again 'control' became the most important factor."

The more I read this article, the more disturbed I become. Is this author really Lutheran? (Rhetorical question). At one point he dares to try and convince us that the doctrine of the real presence is of little importance. "In the Reformed symbolic remembrance, we are brought back to Christ’s death and its once and for all significance. While not stressing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the same way that Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Lutherans and Episcopalians do, they do not believe in Jesus’ absence. As someone once pointed out, no denomination has a doctrine of the 'real absence.'” Really? Luther himself denied fellowship to Zwingli over the real presence. He understood that the doctrine of Christ Himself was at stake. Yes, they do believe in "real absence." Has the author not read how the Reformed explain the physical presence of Christ as being kept away in heaven?

One could write more, but I will stop here. The article is posted for all to read and examine. It should be noted, however, that this author is indeed writing as a member of the LCMS (albeit a retired professor who sees himself now with immunity), and thus wishes to put forth these ideas as those which should be adopted by the Synod. On the page that explains who they are, it is clearly stated that "the DayStar Network is a forum for gospel-centered members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who want to work together." Those of the LCMS that treasure her historic teachings and practice would do well to take careful notice of such articles. They are put forth by a group that truly desires and works to change the Synod, and turn it into a denomination more in keeping with where the ELCA is at today. In doing a search of Dr. Schmidt, it was encouraging to find a review of his writings on women's ordination critiqued on the St. Louis Seminary's webite. If you would like to read further you would do well to review the article "David Berger addresses vocational issues brought up in Pr. Wyneken's article, 'Let's Include Women in the Pastoral Office.'" Prof. Berger clearly addresses the "gospel deductionism" prevalent in DayStar's writings, and writes a brilliant rebutal of this current push for women's ordination in the LCMS. --Also, if you would like to review a previous post on Northwoods Seelsorger that addressed an earlier Schmidt article on DayStar, I would direct you to an equally disturbing assessment of the liberal agenda in "The New Agenda for the Synod: LWF" from December 18, 2006.

[By the way, do any of the readers of Northwoods Seelsorger understand the DayStar logo shown above? I don't recognize it from any symbol with which I am familiar (minus the cross, of course.) At first glance it looks like a computer disk with a cross on it, but I suspect that's probably not it....]


Bob Hunter said...

Babylonian Captivity of the Church? Luther not only just rolled over in his grave at this misuse of one of his treatises, but I think I hear him trying to get out!

Don Engebretson said...

Indeed! The blessed Reformer would not recognize Schmidt's interpretation of the Supper as his own, or understand his ecumenical courtesy to those who openly deny the real presence, and would certainly have opposed him as he did Zwingli and Carlstadt themselves. I only pray that this view is isolated to the fringe of Missouri....