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Vol. 80 - No. 1
January 2009

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

More "Ask the Pastor"

This month marks the first anniversary of the "Ask the Pastor" feature, so I thought I’d devote the January newsletter to fielding a few more questions.

For what purpose other than tradition do we take Holy Communion if we are saved without it? Jesus actually commands us to receive the Sacrament when He says, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19 ). Certainly we can be saved without it–the test case is the thief on the cross (who was neither baptized nor received communion–yet Jesus said of him, "Today you will be with me in paradise"–Luke 23:43 ). The only thing absolutely necessary for salvation is the grace of God in Christ, received by faith that the Holy Spirit gives us.

So why does Jesus, then, command us to receive Communion? Here are a few reasons:

1. It strengthens our faith. Lutherans do not believe "once saved, always saved". It’s possible for faith to die. If not, why would St. Paul says, "If anyone thinks he stands, let him

take heed, lest he fall." (I Corinthians 10:12) Lincoln tells an amusing story about the famous evangelist Peter Cartwright. Cartwright announced that he was going to preach a sermon on the question, "Can you lose your salvation?" Cartwright added an odd twist: he was going to preach

the sermon outside, in the woods. Many people gathered for Cartwright’s sermon. The evangelist stood before them and said, "Now I will address the question about whether salvation

can be lost." He then climbed a tree, and hung by his hands from one of the branches. For a moment or two, he gripped the branch. Then he let go, and fell to the ground. Then he walked away. The point of Cartwright’s wordless sermon? We can lose our salvation if we deliberately let go of God.

So we need to keep our faith strong–we don’t want to "lose our grip" on God. Holy Communion is one of the ways that the Holy Spirit uses to keep faith vital and alive.

2. It gives us a closer relationship with Jesus. "Just a closer walk with Thee, grant it, Jesus, is my plea" asks the old gospel song. How much closer could we be to Jesus than when

we take Him into our very bodies, than when He gives us His very self to eat and drink?

3. It unites us with one another. Communion not only gives us a closeness to Jesus–but

it also binds us to one another. "We, who are many, are one body, because we partake of the one loaf" (I Corinthians 10:17). Communion reminds us that we are part of a great family, the church of God.

So even though Holy Communion is not absolutely necessary for salvation, it still is a vital and central aspect of the ongoing Christian life.

Does the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod recognize divorce or annulment? Can divorced Lutherans remarry in the church? Lutherans don’t have a "rule book", the way some churches do. The church doesn’t lay down hard and fast laws on this issue. A lot is left to the discretion of the pastor as he counsels with couples who seek to marry.

In the Scriptures, the Law of Moses permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1). This permission, however, led some Jewish rabbis to take a rather casual attitude toward divorce–Rabbi Hillel notoriously said that if your wife burned your dinner, you could send her packing! Jesus rejected this trivializing of marriage–so when He addresses the issue, He points, not to the Law of Moses, but to creation. In the beginning, God made husband and wife to be one flesh. Jesus affirms that this oneness should not be broken, except in cases of infidelity (Matthew 19:1-6 ). However, St. Paul does allow divorce when an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse (I Corinthians7:15).

Churches that do have "rule books" have dealt with these Scriptural principles in different ways. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters take a rather strict view–no divorce, period, not

even for adultery or abandonment. On the other hand, our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters allow up to three marriages (although generally the second and third wedding services don’t have the pomp and ceremony of the first) It’s always interesting how churches, reading the same Scriptures, can come to such different conclusions!

I think the Lutheran position would basically be this: The ideal is one life-long marriage–"What God has joined together, let not man separate," as the Saviour says in Matthew 19. However, in a broken, imperfect world, people sometimes fall short of the ideal. Without abandoning the ideal, we need to meet people where they are with God’s love and God’s forgiveness. Forbidding remarriage would seem to establish divorce as an unforgivable sin–which it is not. So most Lutheran clergy are open to remarrying people who have been divorced.

The Lutheran Confessions, our church’s book of beliefs, criticize as "unjust" the church "tradition that forbids the remarriage of an innocent party after divorce" (Treatise on Power and Primacy, 78)–so a more lenient attitude toward divorce has been part of Lutheranism from the beginning.

An annulment is a statement that a marriage never actually existed. Traditionally, annulments were given by the state because of legal grounds–if one of the parties to a marriage already had another spouse, for example, or if the couple were close relatives and didn’t realize it. In more recent days, churches have been giving annulments on psychological grounds–if the couple was too immature to make a responsible decision about marriage, for instance. This has not become a Lutheran practice.

The next Ask the Pastor sermon will be January 25–so keep the questions coming in!

I wish you a truly joyful New Year, and pray that 2009 will be a time of blessing for us all.

God loves you and so do I!

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