Children in the Worship Service: Parental Chore and Blessed Calling

ordinary-MHorton-2014Once more I am going to pull a quotation from the ninth chapter  of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). That chapter, from which I have quoted twice already, is titled, you may remember, “God’s ecosystem.”

In that chapter Horton is stressing the organic idea of the church – the saints’ spiritual life together in Christ – which is ever being sustained and growing in God’s garden, through the “ordinary” means of grace, especially the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments.

Toward the end of this chapter, the author focuses on the important calling the church has to make sure her children are growing up in Christ too. Critical of what the modern church through her “youth ministries” has done, Horton calls for a return to the “ordinary” in this area too – instructing the youth through catechism and bringing them into the regular worship of the church.

Tonight I give you some of his thoughts on this, and I truly hope it is an encouragement to our younger couples with little children whom they may dread to take into the worship service or despair of taking to church. Listen carefully to these words:

Having four of my own, I understand the difficulty of having children in church. Our church has a cry room, where parents can still participate in the service to some extent, but it is a chore. Yet isn’t it a chore of parenthood? Eventually the parents decide when they will move out of the cry room. It is remarkable how early children learn habits of sitting and listening. Even if they doodle and daydream for a couple of years, these habits of participation in the communion of saints are like a trellis. These habits do not guarantee that everyone will eventually respond in faith, but they do make for better hearing of that gospel through which faith takes root and grows in our hearts.

Besides the concern for parents, many Christians wonder if it is good for children to have them in the regular service. After all, they cannot understand what is going on. But imagine saying that you’re not going to have toddlers at the table for meals with the family because they do not understand the rituals or manners. Or keeping infants isolated in a nursery with nothing but mobiles and squeaky toys because they cannot understand the dialogue of the rest of the family around them. We know, instinctively, that it’s important for our children to acquire language and the ordinary rituals of their family environment in order to become mature. Or imagine keeping our teens from their grandparents’ funerals because they don’t understand it. We take them precisely so they will, knowing that our patience (and theirs) will be rewarded in later years and that the event will itself be an opportunity for maturity. Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. He learned the Psalter and the rhythms of the synagogue liturgy. When, as a young adult, he took up the Isaiah scroll to read about himself, he knew exactly where to roll it.

At the grammar stage, children are simply absorbing the language of Zion: the terms and ‘the pattern of the sound words’ (2 Tim 1:13) that we share with the wider body of Christ through the ages. I think that we are sometimes too worried about ‘imposing’ our faith on our children. After all, it’s a personal relationship with Jesus, and we do not want to interfere with their free will. [I hope you sense the author’s rightful use of sarcasm here.] We don’t think this way about the other things that they are learning by rote at this stage. We do not upbraid teachers for ‘imposing’ the alphabet or multiplication table. Our moral sentiments are not offended when parents correct poor grammar.

So, do not hesitate to take your young children to church tomorrow. And if necessary, to take them out when they are noisy or misbehave. Just remember to take them back in. They are learning to live in the presence of God and worship Him just as you did when you were taken by your parents. They are soaking up the words of the church and of Jesus their Savior. They are growing roots and growing up as tender shoots in God’s garden. What better place could they possibly be? Never minimize what God is at working doing in them through His “ordinary” means of grace.

Besides, those cries of distress (or for mercy!) as you take them out are music to the hearts of their fellow, older saints. We support you, parents, in this “chore” that is also a marvelous duty.

Book Alert! “The Belgic Confession: A Commentary” by David J. Engelsma

belgconf-comm-DJE-2018This week I received the latest offering from the Reformed Free Publishing Association – my personal copy along with that of the seminary library. The new book may have an unassuming title – The Belgic Confession: A Commentary – but it represents a new subject matter for the RFPA and helps fills a major void in  English for those who embrace this Reformed Confession (also known as the Netherlands Confession).

The author of the commentary is well known – emeritus PRC Seminary professor David J. Engelsma – and his commentary is the fruit of a ministry spent preaching, teaching, and writing about the Reformed doctrines summarized in this Calvinistic creed.

The publisher gives this description of the new book:

An orthodox commentary on the confession, that is, one that is in wholehearted accord with the teachings of the confession, and resolutely faithful to them, will be profitable to Reformed Christians and churches in the twenty-first century, not only for invaluable instruction in the Reformed faith, but also for the maintenance and defense of Reformed orthodoxy.

Founded on holy scripture, the Belgic Confession determines sound doctrine for Reformed churches and believers. This doctrine is rich, lovely, and powerful. The confession also authoritatively exposes contemporary heresies. As they read this commentary which proclaims the doctrine and authority of the confession, all believers who love the Reformed faith will be faithfully guided in the truth of the “old paths.”

Volume one covers Articles 1-21 of the Belgic Confession.

The first volume is a hardover of 368 pages, retailing for $31.95. But join the RFPA Book Club and the title is yours for only $20.77! The author promises in the introduction that the second volume is not far behind (that will cover Articles 22-37 of the Belgic Confession).

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In his introduction, Engelsma sets forth the importance of the Belgic Confession for the modern reader and church member:

As the official authoritative creed of Reformed churches worldwide, how great is the importance of the Belgic Confession! It authoritatively defines the truth of scripture. Explicitly and by implication, it also authoritatively defines heresies. It identifies true churches of Christ in the world. It constitutes the authoritative witness of these churches to other churches and to the world outside the church. On the title (front) page of the original publication of the Confession was a quotation of 1 Peter 3:15: ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.’ It is a document to instruct the members of reformed churches in the biblical truth that they profess, especially the children of Reformed believers. It is the guide of reformed preachers concerning the doctrines they must teach and defend. It is the defense of the Reformed faith against errors by which the faith is threatened, whether by heretics within the churches (always a danger, to all churches) or by the winds of false doctrine blowing upon the true church from without [pp.12-13].

All Reformed Christians interested in bolstering their faith with solid teaching and practical counsel will want to add this volume to their personal and family libraries. And don’t forget those church libraries also. 🙂

Contact the publisher at the information found at the links above to obtain your copy and to join the book club.

A Rare Book on the Synod of Dordt, 1621

Last month we began to highlight the 400th anniversary of the “great” Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which begins this year and will extend into next year. In our initial post we simply called attention to some general things.

In this post I want to begin to call attention to some of the special books we have in the PRC Seminary library on the Synod and its work, including, of course, books on the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith over against the Arminianism that the Synod was called to contend against (This latter type books we will feature at a later time.).

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One of those special books is found in our rare book case and is a 1621 edition of the Acts of the Synod of Dordt (cf. outside binding above and title page with familiar drawing of the delegates below).

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Yes, you read that correctly – a 1621 edition – printed only two years after the Synod had ended. As you may guess, this work is in Dutch and in old script, which can make it difficult to read.

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But, you can certainly make out some of the words, especially on those pages where the various delegates are mentioned from the states and provinces in the Netherlands (cf. pages above and below). Those of us in West Michigan will recognize these provinces because they also are towns found nearby – Drenthe, Overisel, Zeeland, Holland (north and south), Graafschap, Zutphen.

You may notice that the names and the descriptions of the men are Latinized (that is, stated in Latin), which was the language of the church at that time yet.

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The page below shows some familiar names at the end of a section of addressing the articles of the Remonstrants (Arminians).

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That’s it for now – although I might add that a “new” article on the Synod of Dordt has been added to the PRC website“Our Debt to Dordt” – by one of our current professors, Ronald L. Cammenga. Be sure to read that for more information and inspiration on how Dordt impacts us today.

Another Look at the Special Reformation Issue of the “Standard Bearer” – October 15, 2017

The October 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now in print and has been mailed out, and it is the first installment of our annual special Reformation issue, marking the 500th anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation (1517-2017).

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The articles in this special Reformation issue reflect “the heritage of the Reformation,” that is, the special truths of the gospel that were restored to the church of Jesus Christ through the various brave and bold Reformers God raised up in the sixteenth century.

Last week we looked at one of the articles; today let’s do that with another today. Part of the wonderful heritage of the Reformation is the body of confessions, creeds, and catechisms that were composed during this period of church history. In his article “In Praise of a Well-Built Confessional House,” Rev. Brian Huizinga treats the beauty and benefits of this confessional heritage.

Here are a few paragraphs from his contribution:

A Well-Built House

The Reformation gave us an incredibly well-built house. The Reformation did not merely give us an attractive front façade (justification by faith alone or creation), a load-bearing interior wall (original sin or the necessity of divine satisfaction), roof trusses and a roof over us (Scripture or double predestination), a cozy fire place (providence or prayer), a spacious utilitarian kitchen (the means of grace or good works), or a private bedroom (assurance of our election or hope for the second coming). The Reformation era gave us a complete house of all the essential doctrines of Scripture.

Evidence of the indispensable work of the Spirit of truth is the fact that our house sits perfectly on the basement foundation that had been laid a millennium prior. The house of the Three Forms of Unity not only sits squarely on the foundation of the Ecumenical creeds, but, to employ another figure, it is the massive oak arising out of the acorn “Jesus Christ is Lord” and the little sapling of the Ecumenical creeds. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. Therefore, if we take the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord” and open up each one of those words and the whole statement in the light of Scripture, we not only arrive at the narrower theology of the Ecumenical creeds, but the broader and more comprehensive theology of our Reformed creeds.

For example, “Jesus” means “Jehovah salvation” or “He shall save His people from their sins,” (Matt. 1:21). To understand that one word “Jesus” we must ask the Bible: What is sin? What is the origin of sin? Who is a sinner? What is salvation? Who is Jesus? How does Jesus save? Whom does Jesus save? Why does Jesus save? Unto what does Jesus save? Work it all out according to Scripture and you end up with something like the Canons of Dordt with its five heads of doctrine. The same can be said of “Christ,” that is, “God’s anointed Prophet, Priest and King” and “Lord.” Some professing Christians denounce creeds in opposition to the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord,” but creeds only take that simple confession and reveal the comprehensive theology contained in it. What a massive, structurally sound, tidy, spacious, comfortable and even luxurious house is our confessional house, covering all the doctrines from theology to eschatology

The November 1, 2017 issue will be “The Heritage of the Reformation” part 2. That too will have a variety of articles on the important truths and practices restored to the church according to the Word of God. Look for that issue in a few weeks!

Worship of God Alone through Christ Alone

The August 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and in it Prof. R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary) continues his exposition of the Second Helvetic Confession (written by Reformer Heinrich Bullinger) with treatment of chapter 5a, where the creed sets forth the Protestant Christian truth concerning worship through Christ alone as the saints’ only Mediator.

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On this August 13 Lord’s Day we quote a portion of this confession and Prof. Cammenga’s exposition, as relevant for us today as when it was composed (1562/64).

Christ Alone

God alone is to be invoked through the mediation of Christ alone. In all crises and trials of our life we call upon him alone, and that by the mediation of our only mediator and intercessor, Jesus Christ. For we have been explicitly commanded, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Moreover, we have a most generous promise from the Lord Who said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23), and, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And since it is written, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:4), and since we do believe in God alone, we assuredly call upon him alone, and we do so through Christ. For as the apostle says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5), “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

God alone is to be worshipped. But God is to be worshipped through the only Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the Mediator: solus Christus. Only in the name of and through the Lord Jesus Christ may men approach God in worship. All worship of God apart from Jesus Christ, all worship of God while invoking other mediators, be they saints, angels, or the virgin Mary, is damnable worship.

God alone through Christ alone—that was the gospel of the Reformation. And that is the gospel for all time and in every age and among all peoples. This is the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. This is the reason on account of which Christianity that is true to Christ cannot accommodate the false religions. The gospel is never Christ and, but is always Christ alone. Christ is the Way to the Father, and there is no other way to the Father. Christ is the way to the Father because He alone is the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is “our only mediator and intercessor” with the triune God. He alone is our “advocate with the Father.”

May our worship of the heavenly Father this day reflect this part of confession as Protestant Christians. May we seek the one true God through His only Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ.

You may find the Second Helvetic Confession in ebook form on Monergism’s website here.

The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

The Courage to Be Reformed – Burk Parsons

The May 2017 issue of Tabletalk magazine is a special one, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

As pointed out in a previous post this month, featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

It is that final article that I reference today, as we consider some of the thoughts of the editor (Burk Parsons) on what it means to be courageously Reformed in our day. For one thing, it means being like the Reformers of the sixteenth century:

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, along with their fifteenth-century forerunners and their seventeenth-century descendants, did not teach and defend their doctrine because it was cool or popular, but because it was biblical, and they put their lives on the line for it. They were not only willing to die for the theology of Scripture, they were willing to live for it, to suffer for it, and to be considered fools for it. Make no mistake: the Reformers were bold and courageous not on account of their self-confidence and self-reliance but on account of the fact that they had been humbled by the gospel. They were courageous because they had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and equipped to proclaim the light of truth in a dark age of lies. The truth they preached was not new; it was ancient. It was the doctrine of the martyrs, the fathers, the Apostles, and the patriarchs—it was the doctrine of God set forth in sacred Scripture.

And so, Parsons calls us to be courageous – not as “closet Calvinists” – but as  truly confessional Calvinists, who love and live the Reformed faith in all of life – and not with the lip service of some in the Reformed and Presbyterian camp:

Reformed theology is also an all-encompassing theology. It changes not only what we know, it changes how we know what we know. It not only changes our understanding of God, it changes our understanding of ourselves. Indeed, it not only changes our view of salvation, it changes how we worship, how we evangelize, how we raise our children, how we treat the church, how we pray, how we study Scripture—it changes how we live, move, and have our being. Reformed theology is not a theology that we can hide, and it is not a theology to which we can merely pay lip service. For that has been the habit of heretics and theological progressives throughout history. They claim to adhere to their Reformed confessions, but they never actually confess them. They claim to be Reformed only when they are on the defensive—when their progressive (albeit popular) theology is called into question, and, if they are pastors, only when their jobs are on the line. While theological liberals might be in churches and denominations that identify as “Reformed,” they are ashamed of such an identity and have come to believe that being known as “Reformed” is a stumbling block to some and an offense to others.

That gives us good food for thought as we move into this new week as Reformed Christians. Are you and am I “TR” – truly Reformed – or is it just a hollow badge? And if we are truly Reformed in confession, does it show in all we say and do?

Source: The Courage to Be Reformed by Burk Parsons

Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Luther on Desiring the Lord’s Supper

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1943 Concordia Ed.

In his “Preface” to his Small Catechism Martin Luther admonished those new to the Protestant faith about neglecting to come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. His words are precise and powerful, and needed by us as much as by the members of the church in his time.

As you read the following quote, keep in mind Luther is exhorting the pastors and preachers about preparing the people to come to Lord’s Supper by faithfully teaching them (especially the children) the basics of the gospel as contained in his catechism (and others like it that would follow during the Reformation, such as the Heidelberg Catechism).

Finally, now that the pope’s tyranny is over, people no longer want to go to the Sacrament but despise it. Here again urging is necessary, however, with the understanding that we are not to force anyone into the faith or to the Sacrament, nor set any law, time, or place for it. Our preaching should instead be such that of their own accord and without our command, people feel constrained themselves and press us pastors to serve the Sacrament. The way to go about this is to tell them that if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord’s Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian, just as no one is a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc. He most certainly wants it done and does not want it left undone and despised. “This do,” He says.

For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these although he is overwhelmed by them and is the devil’s possession twice over. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, paradise, kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or any good thing. Surely, if he recognized how much evil is in him and how much he needs all the good things he lacks, he would not neglect the Sacrament, which gives help against such evil and bestows so much goodness. He will not need to be forced by law to the Sacrament but will himself come running in a hurry to the Lord’s Table, constrained within himself and pressing you to give him the Sacrament.

Therefore do not set up any law concerning it, as the pope does. Only emphasize clearly the benefit, need, usefulness, and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it. The people will then come of themselves without your using compulsion. But if they still do not come, then let them go their way and tell them that all who are insensitive or unaware of their great need and God’s gracious help belong to the devil.

To read more of Luther’s Preface, visit this link, where you will also find his Small Catechism. For another post on this catechism of Luther, visit this page.