Why do Lutherans act more like non-denominational generic Protestants than like Catholics? What are they still protesting? Why are so many “confessional” parishioners more comfortable around bare walls and spare chancels than around statues, multiple candelabra, stations-of-the-cross, and other wall art? What makes them uncomfortable with substantive beauty and physical manifestations of God? What do Lutherans “confess” by acting like Jesus is not in their midst?
And there, my friends, is the answer.
Lutherans, indeed, most Christians, probably do NOT believe Jesus is present…not really!
This thesis answers almost all of the questions, frustrations, and anxieties which have plagued me over the brief years of my ministry. When one understands (acceptance is a whole other thing—Deo volente) that Lutherans do not believe in Christs actual presence than everything else begins to fall into place.
Our people are functional Calvinists. Our pews are filled with crypto-spiritualists. It isn’t that Zwingli has won, but rather that the Incarnation is viewed as historical and past-tense Vis-a-vis the Lutheran Church “building,” the altar, the font, the pulpit, and the Chalice/Ciborium. To a Lutheran, Jesus is surely MORE THAN "spiritually present" all would argue--but why do the people not act like it?
This is why you can’t convince people to genuflect (factoring out: naves with no physical space to do so, lack of kneelers, and arthritic octogenarians), to refrain from yakking like they’re at a cocktail party, to dress differently than their Wal-Mart “runs,” or to comport themselves…well, like they ARE on Holy Ground. And Lutherans (many of us) are the lucky ones as compared to American Protestants—we HAVE altars and not tables; we HAVE crucifixes and not bare crosses; we have pews and not comfy chairs!
Most pastors will admit, if only in their hearts and at the quietest times in the night, that many of their Sheep are receptionists and not consecrationists. To be sure this un-Biblical and un-Confessional state is the result of years of bad catechesis at best, and no follow-up catechesis at worst. But, it goes beyond the mind’s struggle as to “when” the Sacramental Union occurs. I submit that most Lutherans even believing that the consecratory “Verba” does in fact “do” something (after all, all Lutherans delight in retelling Saint Martin’s pithy rejoinder to Ulrich at Marburg: “IS MEANS IS!”) fail to act like it does anything.
Yes Jesus is invisible to our sinful and fallen physical eyes. Yes, we cannot “see” Him as He was seen for the 33 years of His Galilean and Judean ministry, from (give or take) 3/7 B.C. to 30 A.D. Duh! But is Jesus in our midst or is He not? Our parishioners believe that the Bible is true; that is good. Our parishioners believe that “where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in midst of them” [Mt. 18.20]; that too is good.
But, (thanks be to Saint Martin) “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”
My thesis is that the majority of those calling themselves Lutheran do not actually believe the God/Man (albeit invisible) is in the same room/space with them during the 60 minutes of Sunday morning Mass, and not even during the service of the Sacrament of the Altar.
Strong words, harsh words, incorrect words? I think my own anecdotal evidence is unrefuted in what I’ve seen and observed in multiple congregations, as well as what has been communicated to me by the Brethren.
Look to the history of the Biblical account for the contra behavior. The woman with the flow of blood, the Samaritan Leper, Simon Peter after the draught of fishes; they all fell at the feet of Jesus when realizing that He was the I AM of Exodus—that He was the Messias of Genesis 3.15, and that HE was standing right next to them. Look to the physical posture and decorum of Joshua in the presence of the Malek Adonai [Joshua 5. 14-15], or Esaias in his vision of the (which I submit IS the Divine Liturgy/Mass) enthroned pre-incarnate Christ [Isaiah 6. 5]. There are many other examples of how sinful believers interact with Him not only in tongue but in posture and reverential comportment throughout the pages of Holy Writ (Abram at the Trees of Mamre, Manoah & wife, Saint John in the Apocalypse).
And our faithful flocks, notwithstanding what they believe in their hearts (the Analogy of Faith) and what they confess with their tongues (the Creed) bespeak a sub-Christian credo with their bodies when they act like hyper-Baptists in meeting rooms. To profess a total belief in inerrancy means that Luke 22.19 not only says what it says in a way that the intellect assents to the proposition: i.e. Jesus Body IS, but also that the whole man of the Christian now reacts as if Jesus just stepped from behind a curtain into the room—FOR HE DOES! How many Lutherans shamble around the nave and altar like they’re there on a “Saturday cleaning day” rather than at the Throne of the Living God to receive His REAL Body and REAL Blood for forgiveness and immortality?
These are my observations. I have no prescriptions or suggestions other than to keep preaching and teaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins (to be sure) and ALSO to teach and act the truth of His actual and real PRESSENCE in His Word and His Supper. Do I wish Lutherans acted and behaved (physically) more like pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics?
I have on occasion asked an individual: "what would you DO, how would you ACT, if Jesus stepped into the Chancel on a Sunday?" When asked this way (so as to capture their minds and imaginations with the image of a visible visit) one hears Saint-Thomas like descriptions of acknowledged reverence (falling at the Master's feet and exclaiming "my Lord and my God!") So, what do they think (or fail to think/believe) is going on EVERY Divine Service?
Well, if we believe the God/Man is REALLY there in His Gospel read; if we actually believe the Redeemer is REALLY there on the altar, there in the pastor’s hand, and there on our tongues…well, then, we would act like it.
He who has ears - -