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Luther v Cranmer on Lord’s Supper

Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here's a Thawsday repost...

John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith.  He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service.  It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here

I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.

In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.

Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”

And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”

But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”

Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual ... spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)

I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences ... that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).

The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.

Here's a 'come and be cleansed' type sermon I preached called Eating with Jesus (listen here).



0 thoughts on “Luther v Cranmer on Lord’s Supper

  1. pgjackson

    This is slightly complicated isn't it, as in one sense there are several 'cycles' of repentance etc. in most liturgies.

    Isn't part of the problem the idea that prayers of confession are 'me cleaning myself up'? I simply don't see them that way. Like all prayer, it's a means of grace.

    Since I favour the covenant meal being the climax to the service, I reckon confession has to come at some point before it. That said, I'd want to avoid the kind of impression talked about above as given by some of the overly-weighty 'examine yourself' stuff. The covenant meal is for sinners (who else, after all?), and is about grace - our eating of it and our benefiting from it doesn't depend on how much we've cleaned our act up ourselves. But that's different to saying that the meal is for those who are clean (by grace, through faith, in union with Christ, clothed with his cleanness), i.e. christians.

  2. Paul Huxley

    If we accept, believe and practice that all of Christian faith and liturgy is a matter of receiving God's grace, then confession doesn't take on the the legalistic spin that if so often does.

    The prayer of humble access is very clear that God is the one "whose nature is always to have mercy" despite our unworthiness.

    I don't have time right now to read your "Eating with Jesus" sermon, but do you think that communion is the place where Jesus cleanses us (liturgically)? I'd have thought that we turn up to Jesus' house (as we start worshipping), we realise our filthiness but he washes our feet (confession/assurance), we talk as the food is prepared (readings, sermon, prayers), we eat his meal (communion), we are sent home (more prayers/benedictions/blessings etc.). Eating with Jesus can't be all that restful if we're aware of our sin but it hasn't been forgiven yet. And I can't imagine spending very long with Jesus without being aware of your sin...

  3. Dave K

    Interesting stuff. I don't have anything to add of myself but I do have a handy copy of Luther's 1526 Order of Service and the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), so I suppose I ought to share.

    Not that I am an expert but it appears that confession as such did not appear in Luther's liturgy. I may be reading things wrong but I've posted a summary of what Luther's service looked like here.

    In the Lutheran Book of Worship Confession and Forgiveness precedes the whole Holy Communion service although it seems to be optional. NB it is important to to Lutheran theology that it is Confession and Forgiveness/Absolution (and you do get that in the BCP too).

  4. Glen

    Dave - that's brilliant thanks. Everyone, go and read Luther's order of service.

    Paul and Pete - part of this has to do with covenant renewal services and I admit I haven't really read anything on this - perhaps I should.

    On the issue of ensuring that 'grace' and the 'means of grace' are explicit - these terms can have slippery meanings. You could say it's a gift of God for Him to provide a liturgy in which we say 30 'Our Fathers' prior to communion - for there He provides the means of grace for us to be ready. But it wouldn't communicate grace in a reformation, extra nos, in Christ, kind of 'God justifying the wicked' way.

    I think we're all singing from a similar service sheet, trying to put words to the grace that comes to unworthy sinners as unworthy sinners. I think the prayer of humble access would be brilliant as a stand-alone preparation for receiving communion (with words of institution also), and Luther's admontions look more of the flavour of the prayer of humble access than the BCP 'exhortations' (warnings!). It sounds like all of us are wary of too much introspection here?

  5. pgjackson

    Very wary of going heavy on the introspection thing, yes. Partly because of the reasons above, and also because I reckon its oft-cited textual basis in 1Cor11 is exegetically doubtful.

    On the grace/ means of grace thing and the 30 'Our Fathers': I guess it depends on how we view confession and absolution/ assurance. Is confession a moment where we (albeit by God's enabling and providing grace) clean ourselves, or is it a moment where we come and seek mercy, as openhanded empty sinners before God's throne of grace? Is it (in other words) semi-pelagian or gospel?

    The person who (post-confession etc.) comes to the table is still in and of themselves a sinner. Their access to the table is undeserved (in fact, more than that, it is completely demerited), whether or not there's been any confessing of sin beforehand.

    I guess I'd want to suggest though that the table speaks about more than justification. I think it speaks about consummation. Consummation is based on justification, of course, but in terms of the logical order of things it comes after justification. In the same way, I don't have a problem with that being the case in celebrating the supper.

  6. codepoke

    Amen, Glen. Thank you.

    The command of the supper is to "remember the Lord Jesus." Paul's correction to the command is to not remember while in sin's grasp, but the command is to remember.

    So why do we only remember the Lord in one place and in one condition during the supper? He gave His body and blood to institute a new covenant. Yes, remember the death of the Lord, but why not also remember the newness? Why not remember Him ascended and seated on the throne? Why not remember Him rejoicing while His enemies are laid low? Why not make the entire supper a celebration?

  7. Marc Lloyd

    The standard (longer) exhortation in the BCP of course emphasises the great benifits of coming to Communion by which X dwells in us and we in him and we eat his flesh etc. as well, of course.

  8. Glen

    Yes - good points. And I can see how in a covenant renewal service you have the space to intentionally make that helpful distinction between justification and consummation. And that dovetails a bit with Paul's point about not being in Jesus' presence for very long without being aware of sins. Within that covenant renewal structure therefore there really ought to be confession/absolution before communion. One of these days I'll get around to reading about covenant renewal stuff.

  9. pgjackson

    It's interesting to note that lots of the covenant renewal guys seem to be pretty suspicious of the danger of over-introspection too. And Wilson seems to regularly exhort his congregation against the 'I'm not worthy to come to the table' mentality.

  10. Paul Huxley

    Where CR disagrees with Luther/Scrivener is in order; both are very wary of introspection. Both find the answer to self doubt in Jesus/his promises/his church/sacraments as far as I understand.

    Much of Anglican liturgy is actually in or close to the Covenant Renewal form, one reason that the FV guys are attractive in this area to Reformed CofEers (at least the ones who, as Doug Wilson puts it 'like to go around dressed like Saruman').

    I think it's hard telling how introspectively words were used, particularly with BCP. It was written as common prayer for a country recovering from the worst of Catholicism. Everyone was nominally Christian but the gospel was only just breaking through. It was the season for self-examination.

    Nowadays, to even be in a church and wanting the Lord's Supper points in big ways towards the possibility of your conversion; hence wise gospel ministers are more wary of introspection.

    Just some non-scholarly thoughts thrown up there for you.

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