“Actions speak louder than words” Every new pastor is told this. It is not entirely true. But actions do matter. As theologians like to say, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Rule of Prayer is the Rule of Faith. The debate over which comes first is a great deal like the chicken/egg controversy. But there can be no reasoned argument against the idea that ceremonia have meaning. A change in ceremony either reflects or portends a change in doctrine. The church has many examples, but there is one in the history of the LCMS that stands out, and also portends a brighter future.
In Wather’s Pastorale, it is suggested that the pastor certainly could commune himself, but that he can receive the sacrament regularly enough at pastor’s conferences. Walther wanted to avoid any hint of Stephanism. But what did the people see? The pastor obviously thought that he did not need the sacrament as often as they did. Since they wanted to be ‘holy’ like their pastor, they followed his example. And so, the LCMS ended up with a quadriannual communion practice.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Fritz notes that one certainly could commune oneself, or abstain when there is no other pastor to offer it. However the pastor could also have a layman administer it to him. Fritz wants the pastor to set a good example by communing with his people. Yet, avoiding Stephanism is still considered the primary motivation to the theology behind our communion practice. The result? Increasing communion frequency throughout the twentieth century, from quarterly to monthly, to biweekly, and (in many places) to weekly and even more.
But it came at a tremendous cost: the late twentieth century ‘classic’ book, Everyone a Minister. Now, some could argue that the events are not related. True, correlation does not equal causality. But in the church, there are no accidents. Nothing just arises. And new doctrines are not accepted without sufficient preparation. That such a book could be published by the synod’s own publishing house shows how far afield in the doctrine of the Ministry the synod had gone by 1974. The very title is an offense to anyone who has read Walther’s magisterial “The Voice of the Church on the Question of Church and Ministry”. The pastor’s were, unwittingly, encouraging bad doctrine by their own church practice. After all, the pastor served the elder, then the elder served the pastor. This must mean something.
Fortunately, the new hymnal goes a long way to fixing the problem. A simple rubric, copied almost verbatim from Luther. “…the presiding minister communing himself and his assistants.” Now, it’s not perfect. It is not in the pew edition this way, just the Altar Book. But the wise pastor who follows this rubric goes a long way to fixing long-standing problems in our church.
In following this rubric, the pastor shows honor to our Lord by following Christ’s command to “Take eat and Take Drink.” The pastor shows honor to the office Christ has given him by humbly receiving the sacrament from the hand of the one who speaks the Word of Christ and stands in his stead. The pastor shows honor to the tradition of the church, and to the namesake of Lutheranism, by following Luther’s advice. Who knows? In a generation or two we may have a much better view, not only of the Holy Supper, but of the Holy Office that God gave to bring that supper to his people.