The Eucharist is Secondary?

When did the Eucharist become a secondary doctrine pertaining to Christian fundamentals? More importantly, why did it become secondary? For Lutherans, it has never been so. And I do believe we are in the right on this issue. In fact, up until the days of the Radical Reformation that resulted in Zwinglianism and Calvinism, the Eucharist was never a secondary issue. Of course, this is a direct result of heterodox and heretical stances on the Eucharist that deny that the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ. The lower ones view of the Eucharist, the easier it is to relegate it to a secondary status that does not pertain to the fundamentals of the faith.

The Lutheran Father Martin Chemnitz, writing in the 16th century (1590) in his book The Lord's Supper, identified many of the problems even then.

"This irreverent desire to invent various interpretations for the last will and testament of the Son of God is confirmed by the proposal that there be a kind of immunity to criticism in this area, so long as one retains the fundamentals of the other articles of faith, since there is no danger to faith or loss of salvation no matter how a person wishes to treat, interpret, or understand the words of the Supper - so long as one accepts an interpretation which is in keeping with some passages of Scripture. Long ago Pelagius argued the same way - that it had nothing to do with the essence of religion how a person understood and interpreted the words of Scripture dealing with original sin in Rom. 5:12 ff., Eph 2:1 ff., or Ps. 51:5. thus it was said that the essence of the question was not a matter of faith.

Therefore, first and foremost in this whole argument, we must set forth and impress on hearts and minds by constant consideration the true, clear, and compelling reasons, affecting not only the ears and minds but also including dangers to conscience, in regard to the words of the Supper. They are the words of the last will and testament of the very Son of God and not a game or place for exercising the mind by dreaming up unending interpretations that depart from the simplicity and proper meaning of the words. The mind should treat and consider these words with neither temerity nor frivolity but with reverence and piety and in great fear of the Lord.

In the first place, it is certain and cannot be denied that the words of the Supper are not to be classified in the category of points in Scripture which can either be ignored or variously explained or even incorrectly understood and still have no bearing on faith or salvation. For these are the words of the last will and testament not of a mere man but of the very Son of God. He instituted it on the night in which He was betrayed, and it concerned the most important matter of all. He did so with the most serious emotions, words, and actions. Even in glory He repeated these words to Paul, thereby showing it was His will that this be the giving of a new and special dogma that should remain in the church to the end of time.

In the second place, when the last will and testament of a man has been executed, we are required under the law to observe the words with special care so that nothing be done which is either beside or contrary to the final will of the testator. Even the civil laws regard such a will as so sacred that they have determined that those who have made any profit at all from the will for themselves shall be deprived of it, and their inheritance through the provision of the laws themselves shall be taken away from them as being unworthy, on the grounds that they have departed from the will of the testator as it is stipulated in the words of the testament. Now, because the Son of God in His last will and testament has not permitted His heirs liberty of believing or doing whatever seems good to them, but has willed that we believe what He has spoken in His words of institution and do what He has commanded, therefore we should give very careful thought that we do not thrust anything upon these words of the last will and testament of the Son of God, lest we deprive ourselves of the benefit of eternal happiness conveyed to us by His will or our inheritance itself be taken from us as being unworthy because we have departed from the will of the Testator as it has been given to us in the words of His last testament.There is no doubt that all too many will come under judgment, sad to say, because of their shameful contentiousness.

In the third place, after citing the words of the testament of the Son of God, Paul adds an extremely severe threat of judgment and guilt if anyone judges or treats these mysteries in any other way than Christ the Testator has willed and determined in the words of His last will and testament. For he says: 'He who does not discern the body of the Lord eats judgment to himself and is guilty of the body of the Lord' (1 Cor. 11:29). Moreover, he is not speaking of the discerning of the human nature in Christ per se or in an absolute sense, but of the fact that what we eat in the Supper the Son of God calls His body. This Paul wants us to discern, not in accord with anyone's private conjectures but according to and on the basis of the words of Christ's testament, which Paul asserts he received by the revelation of the Son of God (1 Cor. 11:23). Therefore, if anyone departs from the true and genuine sense of those words, it is certain that he is not able to discern what he is eating in the Supper. But would this not simply be an innocent lapse? By no means, for he is eating to his own judgment and becomes guilty of the body of Christ, says Paul.

When we have given serious consideration to those points, we will see that they furnish the best antidote against the willfulness and impudence of human reason and create true reverence and piety in our handling of the words of the testament of the Son of God. at the same time they show how tragic and abhorrent is the mutilation to which the Sacramentarians have subjected these holy words of the last will and testament of the Son of God, tearing them limb from limb and picking them into small pieces by there various radical interpretations, so that there is scarcely anything left from the proper and true meaning of these words which is sound, inviolate, or untouched. No one would endure this patiently if it occurred in the secular realm in the case of the will and testament of a good man."

Martin Chemnitz, The Lord's Supper (pp. 25-28)

We do well to listen to Chemnitz here and relegate the Holy Supper of the Lord to secondary status. This is a result of various interpreters who deny that the bread and wine are the true body and blood of Christ. Let us never depart from our Confession here. For as the author of Hebrews writes, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

On the other hand, we also must defend the practice of closed communion. St. Paul's warning in 1 Cor. 11 is enough in this area. Those who deny the body of Christ cannot be given the body of Christ in the Lord's Supper, lest they eat and drink judgment to themselves. Open communion based on personal decision of the communicant is not the biblical model in any way, shape, or form. It must be flatly rejected, lest we fail in the area of pastoral care.




Samuel Bolton (1606-1654) was an English Churchman of the Puritan variety and also was delegated as a member of the Westminster Assembly. In other words, Bolton was a Calvinist.

Bolton once said, "The law sends us to the Gospel so that we may be justified; the Gospel sends us to the Law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified."

As Lutherans, we should have some major problems with statements such as this one. In Lutheranism, we often talk about God's proper work and His alien work. His proper work is the Gospel; what God has done in Christ to save us. His alien work is the Law.

You see clearly from statements such as Bolton's, Reformed Theology reverses this altogether. God's proper work in Calvinist world is the law. The Gospel is never God's proper work. Statements such as this one betray Reformed Theology's ideas about Christ and the Gospel. The Gospel is never God's final yes. It's never God's final word. It's never His proper work. The Gospel is only a means to drive us right back to the same thing that condemns us in the first place. Now why would God do that? Sounds a little silly when you see the statement for what it is. But the truth of the matter is, in Reformed Theology the end goal is always the law, not the Gospel.

Strikingly, this statement by a conservative Puritan is theologically reflective of much of mainstream Christianity now days. The Gospel is just a means, but then we must move beyond the Gospel to bigger and better things. In the case of Bolton and the Puritans (and modern denominations such as the OPC), we have to move right back to the thing that killed us in the first place: God's Law. In the case of much of modern day Christianity, it's a bunch of other cultural norms (or perhaps even counter-cultural norms).

It's hard to label this statement as legalism, since Bolton and the Puritans would never assent to a stance that spiritual life is gained through obedience to the Law, but to use a Lutheran term, it certainly bends heavily to the Pietistic side of things.

On the other hand, statements like this have a way of stripping the believer of all assurance of salvation. Instead of looking objectively to Christ, outside of you, the believer has to look to self, to see how well they are obeying the law that the Gospel drove them to. When you chuck the heterodox doctrine of limited atonement into the mix, this problem is magnified.

Puritans such as this simply will not look objectively to Christ crucified for their sins and the means of grace where Christ has promised to meet us - Word and Sacrament. They can't. Their theology will not allow it. Their rejection of the objectivity of the means of grace forces them to look to self for assurance. In this light, Bolton's statement is just consistent with his theology.

Statements like this get it all wrong. Bolton fails to realize that the entire life of a Christian is one of continual repentance, as Luther pointed out in the first of his famous 95 theses. The Christian life is never a life of continual victory and obedience to the law. It is one of continual repentance and forgiveness of sins. The third use of the law is there for Christians to see what is good and pleasing to God - not for us to be driven back to that law by the Gospel. The Gospel is always God's final word. It's His ultimate yes.

And if this is the case, the Gospel is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. The Christian needs the law too, but mainly for repentance. We see the law and must admit we have not kept it, even while in Christ. Hence, we can never move beyond the Gospel. We must hear those sweet words of Absolution, of what Christ has done for us in the Word, and receive that body and blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins. We continually need the Gospel. It is truly the last word, not a means to drive us back to the very thing that condemned us in the first place as fanatics like Bolton and the Puritans would have us believe.




Lutheranism disagrees with both Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism and Arminianism are man-made systems formed to try and "reconcile" or "qualify" or "re-interpret" the Word of God. People are uneasy with paradox and mystery. Lutheranism takes God's Word as it stands without trying to "reconcile" or "qualify" or "re-interpret" it.

God's Word teaches that we have no free will before conversion, yet we are still held accountable. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that predestination is true, and is not based on foreseen faith, but purely on the will of God. Yet it also teaches that God desires the salvation of all. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that although God has elected some, yet He loves all and sent His Son to forgive the sins of the entire world. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that although God desires the salvation of all, yet has elected some, that God's grace can be resisted. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that, if one leaves the faith and falls away, it was entirely their own fault. Yet God's Word teaches that if someone stays in the faith, it was purely because of God's monergistic grace. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that many will fall away, yet it also teaches that we are 100% secure in Christ. We leave this in tension.

God's Word teaches that we will always find Christ as for us in His Word and in His Sacraments. We are to go there first, and we are not to speculate about God's hidden will or hidden decrees. We must look to Christ, and not to the hidden G-d.

You see, God's Word is practical and pastoral. It is not systematic. It is not supposed to academic or reconciled or figured out.

In the real world, things are not consistent. Things are messy.

You cannot make an ideal case for the real world.

You cannot make an ideal case for paradox.

You cannot make an ideal case for distinguishing the law and the Gospel.

Christ assumed our human nature.

This Man is God. This God is Man.

The Gospel is outside of you. It cannot be figured out.

Your sins are forgiven.


"You Lutherans hold to works salvation since you affirm baptism saves!"

One of the most misunderstood doctrines ever is the Lutheran viewpoint of baptismal regeneration. In the world of most evangelicals, to hold to baptism saves in any form means one holds to one does work of baptism to contribute to salvation, and so to them, that is denial of both grace alone and faith alone. So we get accused of denying Christ alone saves us at the cross on top of that.

But that only highlights how badly they don't understand where we are coming from.  We do not deny that Christ alone saves us at the cross. Nor do we deny it is by grace alone through faith alone we are saved by what Christ did for us 2000 years ago.

To us, baptism is not a human work we do to save ourselves. It is outward means of God's word delivered to us. In our understanding, Christ as God Incarnate comes to us through that outward means. We are passive receivers, by grace alone through faith alone of what Christ did for us 2000 years ago. He comes to us and offers us His forgiveness He won for us at the Cross through such outward means. Faith alone clings outwardly to what Christ did for us and given unto us in that objective outward means.

In our understanding, faith alone does not look inwards to what we do. Nor to our own faith even. We look outside ourselves to the objective promises of Christ's forgiveness offered unto us through outward means.

So we deny baptism is a work we do to earn Christ's forgiveness. It is God's work by which He brings us to Christ who washes us with His forgiveness, by His word. It is His word indeed, not just plain water, that makes baptism. We can look at baptism as the objective work the Holy Spirit did to bring us to Christ and to clothe us with Him and His forgiveness. We can also look at that as the work of the Holy Spirit to seal us. It is indeed sign and seal in that sense.

Folks may say it is commanded for preachers to carry out good works such as preaching and baptizing, so baptism then must be a human work. But they are ignoring the fact that their own argument then must apply also to preaching of the word. By such logic, they are saying they are saved by the word preached to them as if it is somehow their work. They will deny that, of course But they can't argue then baptism is our work when we convert on grounds of it being done to us by another (pastor) without also saying the word preached by the pastor to them for them to believe is somehow their work.

Here's the thing. Zero passages say baptism is our human work. We are told many times it is God's grace to us. 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism that saves you now. Mark 16:16 says those who believe and are baptized will be saved. Galatians 3:27 says those who have been baptized into Christ are also clothed with Him. Acts 22:16 says get up and be baptized, washing your sins and calling on His name. Acts 2:38 says repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:25-27 says Christ washed us with water through the Word.

These are explicit Scriptures. Who does the saving? God. Who forgives us of our sins? God.

So baptism is God's work of grace to us, not our own human work. We are receivers of God's grace which He chose to use the means of baptism to come to us with His word.

Folks will continually say look at Ephesians 2:1-9 saying God's grace alone through faith alone is what saves us. But that presents no problem for us. That passage speaks of God's grace as His work to make us alive with Christ when we were dead in our sins and trespasses to give us saving faith as a gift. Guess what Colossians 2:11-13 say is the means by which God makes us alive with Christ when we were dead in sins and trespasses? Yes, the passage says that we were buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to newness of life (see also Romans 6:1-4).

Or folks will argue that the thief on the Cross was saved without the benefits of baptism so that must negate any view of baptism saving.

But that is an argument that does not follow. First off, we do not hold to all unbaptized are lost (nor hold to all baptized are saved). We reject baptism is our work, but God's grace. We do not limit God's grace to only baptism. He is God. He can go outside of baptism to grant saving faith to even folks who never had a chance to be baptized before they were saved. Baptism is God's objective means of grace for the assurance of those who are in Christ and have been baptized, but not for us to assume those who are unbaptized are all lost (while the first half of Mark 16:16 says baptism is means of salvation for those who believe, the second half says only unbelief, not lack of baptism, condemns).

Secondly, such an argument does not take into account our understanding of the Incarnation (nor realizes that using that example actually undercuts their own denial of the real presence of Christ in regards to our conversion and continual reception of Him through means of grace). We hold to baptism (as well as the Eucharist) gives us what the thief on the Cross got- the real presence of Christ. the objective word of Christ's forgiveness, being one with Him in death and resurrection).

Thirdly, such an argument assumes (without any Scriptural proof) that the thief was unbaptized. We don't know either way. But to use that as an argument, without knowing, makes it an invalid argument.

Such an argument highlights how often folks caricatured our views. When they aren't arguing we hold to works based salvation, they are arguing we hold to all unbaptized are lost.

We reject both views.

Scriptures do not pit grace alone/faith alone passages against baptismal regeneration. Nor pit Christ saves alone passages against baptismal regeneration.

Indeed, we believe Scriptures teach baptismal regeneration when properly taught as means of the Gospel delivered to us, rather than treated as our work or as some form of law, actually go hand in hand with affirming grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to save us.

In actuality, the nasty side effect of denying any outward means of grace and seeing baptism as a human work or some form of law is that one ends up seeing baptism as something one accomplishes before God, which if anything undercuts the very grace alone and faith alone view one purports to defend in denying baptismal regeneration. And it gets worse, when one looks to one's own fruits or experience of faith for assurance. That is no different then from faith in own faith. Faith then becomes its own form of a human work when that occurs.

We affirm baptismal regeneration because Scriptures teaches it (and the witness of the entirety of church history attests to the fact that this is the historic Christian view of what Scriptures teach on the subject).

We make zero apologies for affirming that while also affirming grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Here we stand.