April 2018

Not Just for (Roman) Catholics

Part 3

Concerning church regulations made by human beings, it is taught to keep those that may be kept without sin and that serve to maintain peace and good order in the church, such as specific celebrations, festivals, etc. However, people are also instructed not to burden consciences with them as if such things were necessary for salvation. (Augsburg Confession XV)

In January and February, we covered making the sign of the cross and lifting up the sacramental bread and wine after the words of institution. This month, let’s see why the crucifix is also for Lutherans.

The Crucifix

A crucifix is simply a cross with an image of Christ affixed to it. Some people see a crucifix and immediately think of the Catholic Church. Most Protestant churches you visit, including those of the Lutheran variety, do not display a crucifix but will rather opt for a plain cross. At some point it became popular to promote an empty cross over against a crucifix because, the logic goes, “Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore.” My favorite response? “He isn’t in the manger anymore either!” The point of using visuals like nativity scenes and crucifixes is not to state “this is what Jesus is currently doing.” Art depicting the life and death of Christ is not meant to be Snapchat with Jesus. The crucifix is meant to be a powerful visual reminder of the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Lutherans have always used crucifixes in their art. Only recently have we shied away from them. In the crucifixion painting above by Lucas Cranach, notice Martin Luther standing at the right side with Christ’s blood sprinkling him. Did Cranach really think Luther was there when they crucified my Lord? J No, this was a visual way of communicating that Luther’s theology and personal salvation were anchored in Christ’s sacrificial death. The cross would have no meaning to us had Jesus not died there for us. In recent years, the crucifix has been making a comeback in American Lutheranism.

Plain cross or crucifix? Take your pick. They are not opposed to each other. “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and we acknowledge that he is risen indeed!

See you in church,

Pastor Jon

What’s This Doing Here?

March 2018

Baptism remains forever. Even though someone falls from it and sins, we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old creature. But we need not have the water poured over us again. Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless not be more than one baptism, and the effect and significance would continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to baptism, to resume and practice what has earlier been begun but abandoned. (Luther’s Large Catechism: Concerning Baptism) 

Maybe you’re wondering what the baptismal font is doing near the doors of the church – or maybe you’ve already heard the explanation – either way, I thought I’d provide a little more background information on this change. It is not just change for the sake of change. Niether is it a “Roman Catholic” thing, nor even a uniquely “Lutheran” thing. In fact, if you visit several churches of different denominations, you will probably find quite a variety in the arrangement of their baptismal spaces. The layout of a church can be a teaching tool. My hope is that this change will demonstrate the central place of Baptism in our lives and help us all to remember our Baptism when we come to church. To that end, here are some excerpts from our library that I hope will be edifying!

“Unlike the altar, the location of the font in the worship space has varied quite a bit. In the medieval period and in some modern churches the font is located in the narthex. This practice is intended to symbolize that Holy Baptism is the means by which a person enters the Christian community…to be avoided with the movable font is pushing it off into a corner when not in use. The font should remain in a location that is commensurate with its place in Lutheran theology” (The Altar Guild Manual, Concordia Publishing House, 2008, p.35-36)

“The location and style of the baptismal font must be given careful attention. It should be in keeping with the fundamental importance of Baptism in Lutheran theology and liturgy. The font, therefore, must be of noticeable, impressive size…Too often the font is located in a corner or set in the chancel so that it can be seen (as if the chancel were a stage on which all the action takes place). In a Christian church there is not one place of action (the chancel) and seats for the audience (congregation). There is a room in which the people of God do their service, and in this room the focus of attention shifts as the service progresses. A traditional location of the baptismal space was near the entrance of the church to show that it is by Baptism that one enters the church. Each time the people enter the building they pass by the font and are reminded of their Baptism.” (Manual on the Liturgy, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979, p.150-151).

“Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new” (Large Catechism: Baptism).

 Lent is a season especially focused on repentance and renewal. It is a perfect time to remember that we are God’s baptized children!

See you in God’s house,

Pastor Jon


Not Just for (Roman) Catholics

Part 2

February 2018

The Elevation

Lifting up the bread and wine during the consecration and genuflecting (bowing) before them is a way we can confess our theology by our actions. Unlike many other Protestants, Lutherans believe that the elements in the Lord’s Supper are not a mere representation but they actually are the body and blood of Christ. His presence in Holy Communion is more than a spiritual presence. It is a real, bodily presence. Lifting up the bread and cup and bowing help to reinforce this truth to us or to anyone who is unfamiliar with Lutheran beliefs.

On the one hand, the Lutheran Confessions reject the adoration of the elements themselves, apart from their correct use in the service. We are not worshipping a piece of bread or a cup of Mogen David wine. On the other hand the Confessions actually support the practice of adoring Christ in the Supper when used properly:

“Likewise, [we reject] when it is taught that the elements or the visible species or forms of the consecrated bread and wine must be adored. However, no one, unless he be an Arian heretic, can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the same, as also in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled” (Solid Declaration VII).

Neither Scripture nor the Lutheran Confessions specify an exact moment when Christ becomes present in the bread and wine, or a moment when he ceases to be present. The Confessions treat the entire Divine Service, including the Words of Institution and the reception of the bread and wine by the communicants as one continuous event.

Christ is truly with us in Holy Communion! He comes to us bringing everything that we need and long for – forgiveness of sins and the peace that passes beyond our understanding. Come to the table rejoicing!

See you in church,

Pastor Jon

Not Just for (Roman) Catholics

Part 1

January 2018

Concerning church regulations made by human beings, it is taught to keep those that may be kept without sin and that serve to maintain peace and good order in the church, such as specific celebrations, festivals, etc. However, people are also instructed not to burden consciences with them as if such things were necessary for salvation. (Augsburg Confession XV)

It is no secret that I personally enjoy making use of as many humanly devised church traditions as I can in order to enhance teaching, preaching, and worship. I like all the “smells and bells” as they say. It is my hope that using some of these things has been helpful for the building of your faith and understanding. My articles for the next few months will cover some practices that are too cool to be limited only to Rome.

The Sign of the Cross

Also known as “crossing yourself.” Tertullian mentions the practice of tracing the cross on ones forehead as early as the year 200. Later variations led to the current practice of tracing a cross over the upper body.

As with many other traditions, Lutherans never rejected the sign of the cross. In fact, Luther encourages its use in the Small Catechism, instructing us when we pray to “make the sign of the holy cross and say: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’” It is a way for us to remember and confess who we are. In baptism, the cross was traced on us as we were buried with Christ (Rom 6:4).

The sign of the cross is traditionally made at times of prayer, and especially when the name of the Trinity is used in worship. Certain points in the service are marked with this T symbol where it is suggested to cross oneself. Teaching the sign of the cross can even be a fun way to keep children active and attentive in church. This baptismal reminder is made even stronger by dipping ones fingers in water before making the sign.

As with anything not commanded in Scripture, whether or not you make the sign of the cross should not be a burden to your conscience. We are free to use it or not.


See you in church,

Pastor Jon