A Jagged Contention: Finding Forgiveness

“If I now seek the forgiveness of sin, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the sufferings of Christ, as Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which is won on the cross. Therefore, Luther has rightly taught that whoever has bad conscience from his sins should go to the sacrament and obtain comfort, not because of the bread and wine, not because of the body and blood of Christ, but because of the word which in the sacrament offers, presents, and gives the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for me.”

– Martin Luther


Question:

Karlstadt sent people somewhere other than the Word and sacrament for their forgiveness (in the knowledge and remembrance of Christ’s passion). Why is such a move dangerous for preachers? What other places are people directed to find forgiveness and assurance? What is lost when we are directed anywhere other than the Word and sacraments?

Share your thoughts in the comments below

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4 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Finding Forgiveness

  1. There is something unique and special about taking communion as a Lutheran. When I was a Baptist, it was simply a memorial. We were encouraged to meditate on the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, but there was no objective “for me” in that memorial.

    As a Lutheran, taking communion has new significance. There is great assurance that comes from the combination of the eating of Christ’s Body and the drinking of His Blood, combined with the promise that His Body was broken “for me.” Believing this by faith, I know that I have what is promised. I receive afresh the forgiveness that was won for me at the cross and delivered to me by the Holy Spirit when I believed the Word and was baptized. By partaking of Christ, I know that I have eternal life.

    I know that Luther rejected John 6 as a reference to the sacrament, but I think maybe Luther was wrong on that point. I think the Lord’s Supper is one of the primary means by which God strengthens and preserves our faith. If a Christian does not regularly partake of Christ in that manner, I think it would be easy to become cold in matters of faith.

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    1. Ken,

      I agree, somewhat, the Luther is not entirely as I do believe there is a prophecy of the sacrament to be instituted. However, the passage, as a whole, leans on faith, not on receiving the sacrament and I think that is where Luther went with this. When we hear in the Word, the faith within us is feeding on Christ. Sacraments are physical Gospel. that God some to us through all of our senses is a truly wonderful thing. that we can dine on Christ both spiritually and physically, I believe, lifts up the truth.

      In the end, many Christians will not have received the sacrament but will, nevertheless, be saved through faith because they have fed on Christ. Thanks be to God that we do not limit ourselves to only one of His means of feeding us. In my outreach, I have met many people, coming from other churches, who were moved by the sacrament to remain with us. Shows that the Gospel comes across in our confession of standing up and going forward to receive.

      Of people looking outside of Word and sacrament for forgiveness, grace, assurance, my acquaintances show me Methodism and Catholicism which directs them to find these in their own lives and works in addition to the Church. Baptist friends I have look to their personal conviction and a strength of character to claim a faith. In my sharing, I express that I have nothing to offer for myself and don’t have the strength of character to hold any faith. All I have is the faith God gives me to receive what He is offering. I’m still trying to figure out my Presbyterian friends. Probably the ones that come closest to what we have are some of the Episcopalians I know. Then again, I may be misinterpreting many of these folks. Either way, it is still one Church under one Christ and we can all pray and sing and work for our neighbors, together.

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      1. It’s interesting… Christ said that unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. We take this as an ordinary necessity, not an absolute necessity. I think maybe there is a parallel here to the Lord’s Supper. This is the ordinary means by which Christ strengthens and preserves us in the faith, along with the preaching of His word and the encouragement of our fellow believers. Unless we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood we have no part in Him.

        Also, we reject the Donatist heresy which taught that the sacraments administered by unworthy men were invalid. What bearing does that have on the sacraments administered by Baptists (Weslyans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc.)? They speak the words of institution, they eat bread and they drink wine (or grape juice if you’re a Baptist), so are they still partaking of the sacrament of the alter?

        Maybe it is the grace of God that, despite their rejection of the sacraments, God still gives His sacraments to them. Despite the fact that they minimize the importance of the sacraments, they still receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so God works through those in the same way that He works through them when they are properly understood, believed in, and administered.

        I don’t know… just thinking out loud…

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      2. I, too am thinking out loud on this. Theological discussion can be awesome, that way. I’ve considered thinking that God is working around their false belief to deliver the goods, anyway. He does deliver, in spite of false notions of baptism in other sects, is His grace in those baptisms and in the hearing, that is certain. I’m less confident concerning the sacrament of the altar. I can say, with confidence, that when people come to us from other sects, the sacrament often means a great deal to them. At the end of the day, being who we are and speaking the truth, lovingly (by that I mean in a non-judgmental but certain sense that you are confident of your truth without appending an accusation of falsehood) has the effect that God desires.

        It is faith that receives Gods grace. On receiving that grace, we are grafted into Christ. For us, that means infant baptism as the start, in most cases. Our lives proceed from the faith granted at baptism to the altar, into the world to do good works, and back to the altar in repentance. We should try to judge others by assuming that God cannot or chooses not to deal with their errors in a merciful manner. Nor should we use that as an excuse to forsake the truth of our confession in favor of something that may make us feel better in a worldly or rational sense.

        I believe the Shepherd feeds the sheep of other folds and brings them into the Church. I always felt that CS Lewis offered the right perspective in Mere Christianity:

        “I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.
        It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall, I have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.”

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