Those words from this past Sunday’s Gospel reading ran through my mind when I saw a recent document from our seminary in Saint Louis. They have new COVID-friendly guidelines for the chapel service. Oddly, it isn’t on the chapel page. Perhaps these aren’t the sort of fruits you want discussed. But if you go to the RONA page, scroll down, and click on “chapel”, it gives you the new normal for chapel services. You can see it for yourself HERE. There are a few notable things about the new rules:
Preaching only once a week, in a service that will include communion and be 30-40 minutes long. So, a five minute sermon once a week. Pastors learn how to preach by watching others. One five minute sermon per week is not sufficient for the members of my congregation to be fed. It certainly is not enough to help teach these men how to preach. In Fort Wayne, during a bad time when the administration hated the word of God, sermons were limited to 7 minutes. There was a timer. Parts of the liturgy were listed in the bulletin with “time permitting”. Hint: Time never permitted. It was all quite godless. The best protest I saw was a retired professor (nothing to lose!) who would be preaching along, and stop at seven minutes exactly. I assume it was a protest, and it was a brilliant one. “And so, our Lord teaches clearly in His word, if we wish to be saved we must— Oh, I see I am out of time. Amen.” But even then, the sermons were still held each day. This will remove them almost entirely.
Singing not recommended. Exactly what is going to happen in these services, if not singing or preaching? Quietly meditating on the Word of God, Amish style. Except the Amish allow people to speak if the Spirit so moves them. Speaking verboten. Maybe guided meditations? Maybe just thinking Jesus-y thoughts? I know, singing isn’t exactly required. It isn’t like scripture tells us explicitly to sing repeatedly throughout the Psalms. It isn’t like singing has been shown to make impressions in the brain that speaking does not make. It isn’t like the Reformation was built on singing as the means of teaching the people our doctrine. They aren’t forbidding it, but even discouraging it is discouraging to me. Singing is what we do. If your theology is leading you to tell people not to sing, then there is a bad tree somewhere under all that rotten fruit.
The Lord’s Supper: This is the real problem (the rest was only prelude.) And, you won’t believe this if I don’t provide proof so here are the rules for communion:
Only the presider will handle the elements. Individual disposable, biodegradable cups will be used. The common cup will not be available. The bread and wine will be available at a table in the center aisle. Those communing will come individually down the center aisle to eat and drink the Supper, communing themselves, and return to their seats down one of the side aisles.
Let’s see how things measure up, shall we?
Augsburg Confession (A short list of what we believe, teach, and confess): The Mass (Holy Communion) is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence.
CSL RONA-Fession: …disposable, biodegradable…
I’m having trouble seeing how “highest reverence” can be argued by anyone who uses the phrase “disposable, biodegradable…” for the Holy Vessels. I know that biodegradable is the new sacrament of our Gaia-worshipping age. But this language is utterly, totally, and absolutely inconsistent with the reverence due from those who believe that the body and blood of our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended to heaven where we will judge all things, to whom all authority is given, is truly present, distributed and received in our midst. But then, a close reading will show that the words “body and blood” are never used. Bread and wine will be available. It isn’t even clear from the way it’s written that this bread and wine in the center aisle are the sacrament. It might be an extra snack in addition to the sacrament. I was speaking to a baptist friend recently, and she lamented that they couldn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper, because they couldn’t figure out a RONA-friendly way to do so. Baptists reject the real presence – explicitly (and unlike the author of this document, honestly). I am curious if she would find anything objectionable in these guidelines. Perhaps it offers a way for her church to celebrate. I don’t say that as insult to her. She is honest in what she believes. But rather obviously, someone, somewhere has been tasked with oversight of the Holy Things at a Lutheran seminary, who does not really believe them to be Holy. Our Lord was correct – The fruit has revealed itself.
As an aside, I also object to the term “common cup.” Truly, the “disposable, biodegradable” cups are common. But the holy chalice, set apart and dedicated for the express and sole purpose of holding week after week the blood of our Lord, which he shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and is now used to distribute that blood to those who have been called according to his purpose, who have been Baptized into his name, whose lips have been touched by the coal from the altar so that their guilt is taken away and their sin atoned for, so that they might also participate in the life that he gives, the life that he is, the life that was not merely sprinkled on the ark in the Holy of Holies, but gushed forth to atone for sins – such a vessel is hardly a “common” cup.
Sunday I warned against false teachers, using our Lord’s word “you shall know them by their fruit.” The fruit is visible for all to see, and it stinks to the heavens. I pray that the acting president of CSL will reconsider this – I can not imagine he wrote it, though it is now enacted under his direct authority. Perhaps our synod’s president will call for review this statement, which he is definitely allowed to do. Perhaps the Board of Regents will inquire into it, as they should. There is rotten fruit somewhere. It needs to be removed.