Receptionism and Ceremony

ElevationIn the early part of the 20th century, a new way of viewing the Lord’s Supper was taught in our seminaries, colleges, and churches. This new teaching said that Christ was only present at the moment the elements were received by the communicant. (It is therefore called “Receptionism.”) Now, While the Lutheran Confessions explicitly refuse to say at what specific point the body of Christ is present in the Sacrament, they do at one point say that the body of Christ is “truly present, distributed, and received.”  This makes “receptionism” an untenable position. At the very least, we can say that Christ is present at the moment of distribution. (Few in our synod are “distributionists” because, at that point, you may as well move the moment back to the consecration itself.)

For those of us who believe and teach the the entire Sacramental action (Responses, Prayer, Word of Christ, Distribution, Reception, Consumption, Blessing) make up the sacrament, and that one really can not speak of a “moment at which”, help is on the way.

There is a new/revived ceremony in the church that is likely to vanquish receptionism in the next few decades. It is, I believe, the most significant change to our communion practice since the introduction of the theologically-questionable individual cups. Given that its use is very widespread, far more so than the pastor’s self-communion, and has been introduced with very little thought, it has likely not even been noticed by many of the pastors doing it, or the people seeing it. But it is a change from previous practice in our synod. And I believe it will have an enormous and beneficial long-term effect on the sacramental piety of our people.

After the consecration, the pastor faces the congregation and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” In the past, this was a generic blessing, usually said with open arms. Now, the practice is growing of saying this while holding the elements. Not only that, but they are often held at face level, so that the face of the pastor is obscured by the elements themselves.

This makes no sense, unless the pastor is saying “Here, in the body and blood, are the peace of the Lord.” Especially since the phrase used, “be with you always” is taken from Matt 28, “And lo, I will be with you always.” The pastor is saying, in essence, “Do not look to me. Look to Christ. And here He is!”

This is, of course, incompatible with a receptionist understanding. Eventually, if this ceremony is continued, receptionism will fade; it can not continue in the face of such a ceremonial confession. I expect that this will have trickle down effects regarding the use of the chalice, treatment of the reliquae, and even perhaps our understanding of closed communion. It will take time. But that’s ok.

This little change is not so little. And I likely won’t be around to see all the good effects that come from it. But a change is coming. Perhaps as quickly as the next generation or two, assuming the practice is continued. I think it will be. Because as the church enters a period of persecution, it is the sameness, the ritual, and the solemnity that holds everything together. “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Amen. That is, yes, yes, let it be so.


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