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In praise of “going through the motions”

Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it - it's hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8).  It's something I pray about every Sunday, "As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus."

But there's another danger.  We can react the other way and disdain anything 'external'.  We say to the world: "I reject 'works', I'm all about the inward life."  And so we're constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism).  And we start to think of faith as a thing - the one really meritorious work!

The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity.  Internal - good.  External - bad.  We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.

But that's not how it is.  There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).

Take communion.


No but seriously, take it.   Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.

We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters.  We have been left a meal.  To chew.  And to gulp down.  There are motions to go through.  And they are the same motions we performed last week.  And the week before that.

But here's the thing - these motions are means of God's grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external.  Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself.  And it comes apart from your internal state.  But nonetheless it is for you - sinner that you are.

So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal.  Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all.  And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders... oh well.  Don't ask him to start again.  Go through the motions I say.  Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions.  That's why the motions were given.  Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.

So allow the Word to come to you from beyond.  Allow Him to love you first. Don't disdain 'going through the motions.'  For many on a Sunday -  those grieving or sick or gripped by depression - they need to be carried along by these motions.  And for all of us - if we're going to be people of grace, we need these externals.


0 thoughts on “In praise of “going through the motions”

  1. Heather

    Well, I'll have to "chew" on this a while.

    I got some folks agitated once when I mentioned that I am most likely a "memorialist" concerning my understanding of the significance of the Lord's Supper.

    I definitely stepped in a pile of something as there is apparently a specific theological definition of "memorial" which assumes communion to be nothing more than a "dead" ritual.
    That is certainly not my belief, but I don't feel a driving need to develop an intricate explanation about what happens and how.

    In my experience, such ponderings would just put me in danger of focusing on the act itself rather than on Jesus and His finished work. I'm positive that is not what He intended for us to do when He said "Take, eat this is My body..."

  2. Missy

    Glen, you're creeping me out. Stop that.

    I had this struggle last week, to the point I was basically scolded by my husband. I often have this problem - pouting and putting on that I'm better because I refuse to "fake it 'til I make it." I bickered about the service, the singing, the communion message because I felt pressured to "be" what I was not that day - to conform to the acts. He suggested maybe I just consider why the acts were not in line with who I am, and not worry about the rest of it.

    This week, I sold out a bit to the prayer thing and it led to a little change. Thanks for that.

    Yesterday, the service was pretty much the same as before, but the acts did not seem so foreign. Mind you, they still were not "me," but I got over it. I accepted grace and was able to be a little more merciful myself.

  3. Chris E

    I have never heard a fully developed memorial view that wasn't so hedged with qualifications that it started to sound as if the only place Jesus *wasn't* was anywhere near the church when communion was taking place.

    That God gave us a physical act inspite of all the potential dangers of ritualism and idolatry should give us pause - as Glen said, the eating and remembering go hand in hand - the remembering doesn't magically become 'more important' than the eating.

  4. Heather

    Chris E,

    I'm not quite sure what you are saying about the memorial view. Hopefully, you meant that Christ's ability to interact with His people is not limited by their potentially incomplete comprehension of what happens spiritually during communion.

    For the most part, I agree with Glen's post and am grateful that our Lord has given us who believe (but have not actually touched and seen Him) a tangible connection to His life, death and resurrection. It is a beautiful thing.

    Until very recently, I had no idea that there were differing perspectives on what happens during communion and it was shocking to realize that there are those who insist one must have a specific understanding in order to be truly believing in Christ for salvation.

    While I have never noticed this sort of condescending attitude from Glen, I'm very cautious now concerning the topic of communion and don't want to ignorantly say "I totally agree" when he might mean something different than I think he means.

    For what it's worth, I agree with the post as I understand it.

  5. John L

    Glen, what you write is powerful for the repentant sinner, someone who is born again. I understand where Luther was coming from and what he was getting at by this.
    However, living in a Lutheran country I also see the acute hell-danger with this being preached without qualifications. Although I personally agree with what is being said, the thrust of it all depends on what else is being said. I know your are saying the other necessary stuff - no one can enter the Kingdom without being born again - but all to often the two sacraments are dealt with by nominal priests in my country who say "'peace, peace when there is no peace", and so literally sending millions to hell with false assurance. What is this assurance? That God is gracious to grant us salvation in baptism and communion. Of course that is old school, these days God is so merciful that he does not send anyone to hell whether baptised or not. We have to be awakened form spiritual death, by the grace of God, not by our works, before we benefit from the sacraments. The sacraments do not 'effect' such a awakening from the dead.
    Do I make sense?

  6. theoldadam


    That was truly an awesome post!

    You have really gota great grasp of the external nature of God's Word.

    "Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself. And it comes apart from your internal state. But nonetheless it is for you – sinner that you are."

    Now that's the it's purity.

    Thank you, and God bless you, Glen.

  7. Dev

    Jesus' words were about the heart
    not solely the internal vs external

    in the lack of outward acts - it just means that the outward act is asceticism

    which of course is not spirituality, neither is it grace,
    but another disguise of pride

    what is in the heart - is what is unseen - i.e. no matter what you are doing on the outside in normal situations cannot reveal it

    Jesus showed us the way to get to the unseen
    you have to crack the seen open - like on the cross

  8. pgjackson

    Loving it Glen.

    God changes us from the outside-in.

    Heather, my understanding of memorialist views is that they are pretty reluctant to see Christ present in the supper. Where the RCs saw him as substantially present in the changed bread and wine so that what we eat is actually Christ, and Calvin/ and others saw Christ as present by the Spirit so that when we eat the bread and wine we feed on Christ by faith through the Spirit, I think memorialists tend to be more minimalistic - the supper is just about me/ us remembering Christ's death.

    I'm not saying that to persuade you one way or the other necessarily, though I'm with Calvin et al on this (because I think scripture teaches it), but in case it clears up what it is people hear you to be saying when you say you're a memorialist.

  9. Chris E

    Hi Heather -

    I wasn't critiquing your view as such - more the sort of memorialist view that I had generally encountered - though it seems to me that memorial and mystery are somewhat orthogonal.

    Generally lots of churches seem to draw up their view of Communion as one in opposition to the RC view, with two effects; firstly the act of actually taking communion ends up being relegated to a sideshow to the process of cogitating about communion, secondly they are so intent on saying where Jesus *isn't* that it ends up sounding like that he is actually less present during communion than at any other time.

    For me, the canonical example of this was sitting through a service where we were encouraged to think about various things pertaining to communion, and finally given communion with the words 'this *represents* the body/blood of christ' - yes, the 'represents' was stressed - to which I'd post this as a retort:

  10. Ian scales

    Glen's post has given me a lot to think about because at the moment i am in a bit of a quandry, in that my church (a house church) have a decidedly odd approach to communion. Basically people go to the table with the bread and wine if and when they feel like it, on their own, in groups of friends and so on. to me this is simply niot communion. It hit home when I watched an older single lady go up on her own and give herself the bread and wine (by which I mean Ribena).
    I don't want it to become the one thing that ruins my involvement in this church, but it does get in the way because without any kind of communion-event I can't see how we are different from any other religious gathering in which like minded people do nice things to the needy in the local community. This denial of the possibility of ritualism leads to the denial of what is good in rituals, the externality that Glen spoke of; the fact that communion is not about reinforcing my own individualism. Sorry to go on, but it has been troubling me for some time.

  11. Si

    I used to really not like the "preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life" in the Anglican Communion liturgy.

    This is mostly as the church I grew up in is High Church, fairly Anglo-Catholic. After going to a non-denomination church at Uni, which had a low-churchman-ship and a strong view against works, it grated horribly, because it sounded so Catholic (partially as it was meant to not grate with Catholics, despite being Lutheran) and 'communion saves'. I can now enjoy it, having been exposed to Luther's theology, and understanding where he's coming from.

    However, I do prefer the words with Zwingli and Calvin's influences "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you [Zwinglian], and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving [Calvinist]". It doesn't reject the memorial view (which definitely needs to be there - "do this in remembrance of me" in Luke 22;19 and 1Cor 11:24), but also implies some sort of presence and also a lack of it being something that gives salvation in and of itself (only by faith can you feast on it in your heart, with thanksgiving). There's a lack of confusion with the Catholic sacramental system, but there's an internalisation problem there. Neither are perfect, I just like the Swiss influenced sentence better if I had to pick just one.

    You need both the Luther and the Zwingli-Calvin influenced sentences to get the full picture - grace given to us by eating the bread, received in the heart by faith with thanksgiving, remembering Christ's death.

    Going through the motions is really important - I'm no more meant to give up meeting other Christians because I'm not feeling great. My salvation isn't dependent on how I feel, but Christ's grace given to me. Going through the works doesn't save, but not going through the works doesn't either.

  12. theoldadam

    I'm with Luther on this one, all the way.

    Jesus said "this IS my body, this IS my blood."

    He never commanded us to do anything, where He would not actually be present in it...or us.

    I find it odd that many Christians believe that Christ is actually present, and living in their hearts...but yet they do not believe that he could actually be present in a piece of bead or sip of wine accompanied by His Word of promise.

    Luther was right.

  13. John L

    The way Luther intended it is one thing.
    The way this is interpreted and practised within Lutheranism is a whole different ball game.
    The point, I think, is that the whole picture needs to be communicated. If the sacraments is the Word of God of grace being preached to us in physical form (which I subscribe to), then what we pray and hope for is for the non-believer to be born again - just as when the Bible is faithfully preached.

    This may well seem silly but far too many Lutherans (and I am active in a Lutheran church) actually believe that a person is saved and receives the holy spirit in baptism. If baptism and communion are sermons being preached with a 100% success in conversion rates, why is it not the case when the Bible is preached?

    For the already regenerate Christian there is no problem with Luther´s view. Communicating this to non-believers without preaching repentance and sanctification is literally lethal. I've seen far too much of that!

  14. Heather

    "If the sacraments is the Word of God of grace being preached to us in physical form (which I subscribe to), then what we pray and hope for is for the non-believer to be born again – just as when the Bible is faithfully preached."

    The Word of God (Christ crucified, buried, risen and promised to return) being preached in physical form!!!!

    Thank you, John L.

  15. Glen

    Hi John L,

    I hear you. Not sure the answer because the only thing to regenerate the heart is the Spirit working through the gospel word.

    I guess we ought to take seriously all the OT passages about the 'uncircumcision' of the Israelites, e.g.:

    ""The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh... All these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart. Hear what the LORD says to you... " (Jer 9:25-10:1)


    Circumcise your hearts (Deut 10:16)


    "The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live." (Deut 30:6)

    The outward ritual is meant to lead to the inner reality which is to result in a heart change. But as Pete says - it's outside-in.

    The parallel between word and sacrament is so interesting. I keep returning to this Barth quote written when he still believed in infant baptism (which is surely the more consistent 'Barthian' position):

    “Therefore as the sign of this real supreme power of the Word of God, baptism is instituted. It declares, as being on its part real action upon man and power of disposal over him, that he stands, prior to all his experiences and decisions, within the sphere of Christ’s lordship. Long before he can adopt an attitude to God, God has adopted an attitude to him. Whatever attitude he may take it will take place within and on the ground of the attitude taken towards him by God. If he comes to faith, that will be but confirmation of the fact that he does possess God’s promise, that he is claimed, judged, and blessed by God. If he does not come to faith, neither will that be a possibility he was free to choose. He will sin against God’s Word. He will display himself, certainly not a free man but as unfree. He will not choose, he will be rejected. It is not a possibility but the impossibility that he will grasp. In a word, he will, even in his very unbelief, be measured by the Word of God, touched by its power. It is just God’s previous attitude towards him that will constitute his unbelief unbelief, his sin sin. Only in the realm of grace, and there for the first time, is there faith and unbelief, righteousness and sin. Only through the power of the Word of God and through it for the first time are found the two categories, those that are saved and those that are lost.” (Church Dogmatics I/1, 175)

    Both word and sacrament set people in 'the realm of grace.' But that doesn't take away the possibility of rejection - it constitutes the rejection.

    I'm not exactly sure how to best preach that alongside the free offer of the gospel but it should definitely be a part of it.

    Does anyone else want to have a go at answering John's good questions?

  16. Heather

    Go through the motions = Fake it till you make it.

    This is precisely what chills my blood when I see what some of the views of the sacraments are.

    In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul most certainly was not promoting a "fake it til you make it" attitude toward communion.

    On the contrary, he was dressing down the members of that church for their horrendous, unloving behavior-- both toward God and one another. They were profaning the Lord's body and blood by freely partaking of the elements while unrepentantly engaging in the very evils that nailed Him to the cross.

    I do agree with you, Glen, that external, physical reminders are often what carries a grieving soul through the storm. I've dealt with plenty of anxiety and depression in the past and spent hours repeating back to God His promises concerning the broken and needy and those who He would heal when they call. It was my way of desperately grabbing hold of Him and insisting that the Lord bless me.

    But I also see that if improperly presented, there is a distinct danger of encouraging folks to place faith in the "works" themselves as a substitute for relationship. That reality ought to make any minister catch his breath and beg the Lord for wisdom concerning this subject.

  17. Dave K

    Picking up on Glen's comment. Here are a few brief thoughts.

    I think it would be helpful to think about John 3:17-18:

    "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

    Q: What was God's purpose in sending his Son?
    A: To save the world

    Q: Did God achieve his purpose 100%?
    A: Yes, of course.

    Q: Does the fact that some are condemned because Christ comes and they reject him suggest Christ did condemn people?
    A: No. They were condemned already, and the presence of Christ just brought that to light when they refused to believe in him (cf. 5:46f).

    As in preaching and the sacraments this same Jesus Christ is presented to us, we can ask the same questions, and get the same answers. There is a problem here admittedly, but what can you do? I don't know how to square what seems to be a circle, but I take believe that God says that I should say:
    1. The work is completely done; and
    2. Your response matters.

    And I think that is what Lutheranism does. It says "believe what is already true, but if you reject it then you will not escape".

    I'm not sure if it is clear, but I think the problem/paradox is bigger than sacramental efficacy. I think that to be faithful in the general preaching of the Gospel we have to do the same. We say "Christ has died for your sins, so repent and believe". Not "Christ may have died for your sins, so repent and believe if you can to show whether that you were one of those he died for", or "Christ died to give you the potential to have your sins forgiven, so repent and believe so that is completed."

  18. Dave K

    One further thought.

    I think the problem comes if you start trusting the act, rather than THROUGH the act trusting Christ. A common evangelical mistake would be to trust the act of individual conversion, personal experience, or my present faith. A common Catholic Lutheran (?) mistake, would be to trust the act of baptism/mass. However, everything we had is found in Christ (even our conversion, i.e. our death and new life, is found in him; Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:8, Colossians 2:20, Colossians 3:3, Ephesians 2:6). Instead, through faith, and through the word and sacrament which creates faith, we should trust CHRIST.

    But we shouldn't try to bypass either faith or the word and sacrament, because if we do then we lose Christ too.

    If you bypass the word and sacrament suddenly you find it was a wrong turning and don't get to Christ at all, just get to own your own knock-off version.

    If you bypass faith, you are doing the equivalent of going to Wembley for the FA cup final and spending the match in a toilet cubicle.

  19. Missy

    I think what I got out of this is that "going through the motions" as Glen describes is not the same as "fake it til you make it" which is what I've been trying to avoid. Rather, I think, Glen is saying I should allow God's purposes behind the act to change me inwardly by simple participation. It keeps me from using the excuse that I'm just not there yet. Jesus meets me where I am. Glen, am I getting this right?

  20. Will

    Hi John,

    Could you be "J to the LJ"? If so, a big hello from me!

    This issue last came up in a post on 16 October called "Why should I let you into heaven"? I didn't have time to express my own view properly then, but I'll try to now.

    Alot of confusion seems to arise on this point because of the difference between saying that salvation happens "through" something and saying that it happens "by" something.

    Most of us in these discussions seem to agree that salvation does not come "by" our participation in the sacraments. To use that word would imply that we are doing something to achieve the result. That would certainly be very far from the gospel.

    But from what I can tell a few of us here think that salvation comes "through" the sacraments. That it to say, the sacrament is God's means of saving the unworthy sinner, not by their of their action in it, but by his grace which he chooses to pour out at that time.

    I hope that is a fair description of the view I am about to disagree with.

    It seems to me that Paul's argument in Romans 4 very much rules out both views. Paul relies on the timing of Abraham's justification to prove that he could not have been justified "by" circumcision. That is because he was justified in Genesis 15 and not Genesis 17.

    But the same argument would also rule out salvation "through" any sort of outward deed. In Genesis 15 Abraham does no outward deed until after he has been credited with righteousness.

    The Westminster confession seems to get around this by saying that the sacrament of water baptism has a sort of prospective or retrospective effect on the sinner so that they are saved at the point when they believe. But it seems to me that if such a view were correct then Paul would be very embarrassed to have written Romans 4, which makes so much of the timing point.

    An illustration for communion might be someone who comes into church unconverted, but who suddenly realises their need of Christ during the words of institution. He or she then resolves to take communion as an unworthy sinner. But the Lord rushes to meet them before they have even got out of their seat! (or had the elements passed to them). It would be like the way the father in the parable of the prodigal son rushes to meet his son, and cuts off the rest of his speech (let alone any performance of labour in the household). The sinner has been justified and regenerated before the communion is taken.

    Similarly a person who is, say, converted at home during a radio broadcast, and who then seeks out a church where he or she can be baptised in water, is justified and regenerated at home, right where they are.

    I do not think the baptism or communion in either case has any sort of retrospective operation in relation to the regeneration or justification of the sinner. What these do is bring the sinner into a deeper fellowship with Christ, assuring them (among other things) that what is happening physically has already happened in them spiritually. The physical element of it also has some sort of effect I am sure, but I am utterly persuaded that whatever we call this, it is not regeneration or justification.

    If the person is unconverted, the sacraments warn the sinner that what is happening outwardly must also happen to them spiritually. They tell the sinner that they must immediately believe and call on Christ to justify and regenerate them. Only in the (perhaps rare) case where the sinner heeds this warning during the actual ceremony could it be said that the sinner is saved at the time of baptism or communion.

    I think this issue is of immense importance to our offering the gospel freely. At the time I became a Christian I was utterly terrified of any sort of public witness. If someone had told me to come and receive Christ publicly during a church service (whether in an altar call or a sacrament) I would not have been able to do it. But eventually I became a Christian while reading a book at home. At this point, of course, I was baptised in the Spirit, and made willing to acknowledge Christ publicly. But it took me a good few weeks to do it because in my flesh I was still so afraid.

    In part what gave me the confidence to witness was that Glen (our blogger here) told me shortly afterwards that Jesus had accepted me. If he had said that Jesus had accepted me conditionally on my later acceptance of a sacrament I would have been panic stricken. But the deep sense of relief his words had given allowed me to take all sorts of difficult steps in my first few months as a christian.

    So anyway, John, I very much share the concerns you've raised here.


  21. Heather


    I do apologize for once again leaving my brain droppings all over your comment section.

    I'm sure Missy's got a better handle on what you meant. I brought a bunch of emotional baggage about "the sacraments" to this post and unloaded, I guess.

    When first finding your site, I was ecstatic to see how Christ-focused your posts tend to be. The impression I got was that everything needs to point back to Jesus and I've been much encouraged to run as hard as I can in that direction. The emphasis here on communion (and later, infant baptism) leaves me feeling a little out of place and wondering why I don't see things the same way.

    Not being Reformed, Lutheran or Anglican, I don't understand the sacrament fixation. It isn't that I feel these things are unimportant. I just believe that they are meant to point me to Christ in a similar way as the Passover was meant to point back to deliverance and ahead to Christ. And I can't seem to articulate my thoughts without being insulting.

    Again, my apologies. :(

  22. theoldadam

    St. Paul reminds us that being saved isn't a one time shot.

    "For those of us who are BEING saved...", he says. It is a process. Not that He isn't the force in that process. He (God) is.

    But He has given us the gift of Himself in the Sacraments. The pure gospel, the visable Word, that He might keep us in faith.

    We believe that the Lord commanded baptism and Holy Communion to help keep us from internalizing (as Glen rightly stated) the faith, and to keep us off the religious ladder (of works), and keep us from 'spiritual navel gazing'.

    As Lutherans, we realize that much of the Christian church does not buy into this.

    But we do.

    It keeps us the onus and the emphasis where it belongs...on Him.

    Thanks much!

  23. Will

    Hi Old Adam,

    I suppose to use a bit of jargon, I agree that the "sanctification" part of salvation is definitely a process. That's where we grow more and more like Christ. I think that is what Paul means in such passages as the one you quote.

    But "regeneration", "justification" and "glorification" are all instantaneous - they occur, or will occur, in the twinkling of an eye.

    I am happy to say that communion and baptism help us directly with our sanctification. They draw us into a deeper fellowship with Christ. But I would say that they aid our regeneration, justification and glorification only in the same way that a sermon might do - by encouraging us to put our faith in Christ for these things if we haven't already.



  24. theoldadam

    "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ..."

    1st Corinthians 1:18

    It doesn't say, "those of us who are being sanctified."

    In the Sacraments, we receive the forgiveness, of sins, life, and salvation.

    Exactly what we receive fom the cross, from the Word.

    We need it. Not just once, from an event that happened long ago, but all throughout our lives.

    And make no is not us that is doing it. Not at all.

    It is extra nos...from outside of ourselves.

  25. Heather

    "As Lutherans, we realize that much of the Christian church does not buy into this."

    Steve, I'm completely baffled as to how the same completely consistent and trustworthy Lord who said:

    " Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on?"

    ...would turn around later and secretly say to His disciples: "Never mind what I said about food earlier because THIS food is special as long as you have a proper understanding of what's happening here".

    "1st Corinthians 1:18

    It doesn’t say, “those of us who are being sanctified.”"

    Depending on the translation you read, it doesn't say "are being saved" either. Both KJV and ASV say "are saved".

    Even if you want to nit-pick over whether salvation is an ongoing process, it would be wise to note that it is obvious we are not "complete" in our salvation because we don't yet have our resurrected, immortal bodies. I see no reason why one cannot be "saved" from God's eternal perspective even while still being in the process of "being saved" in time.


    "We believe that the Lord commanded baptism and Holy Communion to help keep us from internalizing .... and keep us from ’spiritual navel gazing’."

    1John 4:13 By this we know that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

    James 4:5-6 Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us"?
    But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

    Joh 16:13-14 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
    He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

    Heb 12:7-8 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
    If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

    Of course we are not to look to ourselves for answers. I can personally attest to the miserable results of such foolishness. But how is submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit of God that indwells us "naval gazing"? And, how can you possibly reduce "the discipline of the Lord" to the regular partaking of bread and wine?

    I must be incredibly naive. Or a false convert. Or something. Whatever happened to simple, childlike faith in the finished work of the Person of Jesus Christ?

  26. Heather

    Pete and Chris E

    I somehow missed your comments earlier but wanted to say that I appreciate your thoughts.

    Thank you.

    I do believe in Christ's very real presence but have not attempted to analyze this as others apparently have done.

    It is just beyond frustrated being exposed to this wider scope of ideas. Probably I should just get out of this thread permanently.

  27. pgjackson

    Heather, when you say

    "The emphasis here on communion (and later, infant baptism) leaves me feeling a little out of place and wondering why I don’t see things the same way."

    in the context of Glen's Christ-centredness, I wonder if perhaps you might be helped by Dave K's excellent comments here:

    "I think the problem comes if you start trusting the act, rather than THROUGH the act trusting Christ. A common evangelical mistake would be to trust the act of individual conversion, personal experience, or my present faith. A common Catholic Lutheran (?) mistake, would be to trust the act of baptism/mass. However, everything we had is found in Christ (even our conversion, i.e. our death and new life, is found in him; Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:8, Colossians 2:20, Colossians 3:3, Ephesians 2:6). Instead, through faith, and through the word and sacrament which creates faith, we should trust CHRIST.

    "But we shouldn’t try to bypass either faith or the word and sacrament, because if we do then we lose Christ too.

    "If you bypass the word and sacrament suddenly you find it was a wrong turning and don’t get to Christ at all, just get to own your own knock-off version."

    The issue is not Christ or the sacraments. The issue is 'where does God give Christ to us?' or 'where is Christ given to us?' and the answer is in the word and also in the sacraments. That's what the reformed jargon of 'means of grace' is trying to get at. And, just as cutting ourselves off from the preaching of the word would be foolish, even though we might be going through a patch where we're 'just listening to the sermon,' so too with the sacraments. These things (preaching, sacraments), if anything, are how God will re-provoke faith in us, re-enflame was had cooled to an ember, etc. etc.

  28. John L

    Glen & Will,

    Yes Will this is "J to the LJ", the one and only ;) Big hello-hug!

    This sermon by Blackham on this subject spoke to me massively:

    What is so powerfully communicated is the human inability to respond to the Gospel. We are as dead in our sin and unable to choose good (the Gospel) as a dead person is unable to choose anything. Why then bother preaching to dead people? Why bother evangelizing? Well, the answer is that there is power in the Word of God. There is supernatural resurrection power (Rom. 7:4) that is administered by the Spirit when the Word is preached (Eph. 6.17).

    Bearing this in mind I feel that the covenant idea of circumcision (Glen) is the only view of infant baptism that is reconcilable with the Gospel, and this is the Reformed position. Of course we pray that the Gospel being preached in this way also regenerates the baby - this is however not an automatic consequence. Of course, John the Baptist received the Spirit before even being born! And, as you write Glen, if circumcision was not 'enough' for salvation back in the day, then baptism cannot be 'enough' now.

    With communion it is no different, although we may be tempted to think that it is different as we receive it as concious adults. But, as you Glen write, we cannot contribute to our salvation the smallest bit. As I wrote above, and as you Will touch on, communion cannot transform us, indeed it is a witness against us if we are not transformed. But as we are transformed God's grace is refreshingly communicated in Gospel just like a Gospel sermon.

    John the Baptist emphasises the superiority of the baptism with which Jesus' baptises: with Spirit (Matt. 3.11, Luk. 3.16). This is the baptism that enables us to put our trust in him, the circumcision of our heart and what 'sweeps us off our feet'.

    This is all very well for the true believer but the question remains: how do we preach this? I think we preach simply the Gospel; the need of repentance and turning to God for forgiveness and trusting in His Son who died in our stead (in short the Gospel which the whole Bible is concerned with). We do this, not in order to convince our hearers to 'be good' and acceptable to God, but in order for His Holy Spirit to work in them through His Word (Jesus) and so miraculously enable them to trust in Him, without them doing anything except hearing the Word preached.
    If we just preach "receive baptism and be saved!" - this is not the whole picture. John warned (Matt 3:7) unrepentant volunteers for baptism. The Lutheran masses must be told that there must be a change on the inside that neither baptism nor themselves can set about, only the Spirit. God accomplished salvation external to us, but the Gospel must be preached. Repentance must be preached. Jesus must be preached. And with the Word going out the Spirit is at work converting people.
    Could this be it?

  29. theoldadam

    The change must come from the outside/in.

    You rightly say this. God is the One who does this. When we hear the law preached, or the gospel peached, or receive the Sacraments, God's will is being DONE TO US.

    It's not a rabbit's foot or lucky charm. We can cut ourselves off from God's grace. God won't do it. But we surely can.

    Jesus warns us "not to let drunkeness, or dissapation, or the worries of the day, cause us to lose ourselves."

    St. Paul talks about "severing ourselves from Christ".

    We are in a battle. A real battle.

    The Sacraments are God's gift out of His shear grace and mercy, that He uses to help keep us in faith.

    Once saved always saved, is absolutely not true, and cause many to take God for granted. This is a relationship that we are in...not a business contract.

  30. Heather

    Thank you again, Pete.

    Dave K's comment was one I've been considering, actually.

    And, with this:

    "These things (preaching, sacraments), if anything, are how God will re-provoke faith in us, re-enflame was had cooled to an ember, etc. etc."

    ...I have no quarrel. We people are weak, forgetful and easily swayed by circumstance. I am grateful Jesus left us who have not actually seen Him this tangible connection to Him

  31. Dave K

    ... don't consider it too much. I'm not 100% happy with my comments. I like your phrase 'brain droppings'. That's what I tend to do in blog comments too.

    I wish I had the time and energy to add something constructive, but I have to go to bed.

  32. Glen

    Welcome David Cochrane!

    And yeah I think Dave K's comments are great. And also Pete's when he says:

    "The issue is not Christ or the sacraments. The issue is ‘where does God give Christ to us?’ or ‘where is Christ given to us?’ and the answer is in the word and also in the sacraments."

    Sorry I haven't been commenting here. Am embroiled in an atheist blog 'conversation'. For guys who think it's ultimately meaningless they sure can get worked up....

  33. Will

    For the record I agree that God changes us from the outside in. But the "outside" is, in the first instance, entirely in the actions of Christ. Our own outward actions have no role to play whatsoever.

    Once we have been born again, our own outer actions will bring us (if done in faith) immense spiritual benefit. But they make us no more secure in the kingdom, no more born again, that we were already.

    Hello-hug from me too, John!

  34. L P Cruz


    The old adam invited us to say something here.

    Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself. And it comes apart from your internal state. But nonetheless it is for you – sinner that you are.,

    You are not far from the truth. I do not suppose you are a Lutheran but when you say those things, you sound like one.


  35. Glen

    Hi LPC,
    Welcome to the blog.

    In Barth"s biography there's a moment where he describes a friend as a 'Reformed Lutheran- the best kind of theologian.'
    That tells you all you need to know about where I'm coming from.

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