A Positional Paper on ‘Sacramental’

A Positional Paper on ‘Sacramental’

Over the past few months a number of people have requested information about FiveTwo’s use of sacramental, especially in light of the Lutheran Confessions.  Below is a paper the FiveTwo leadership has adopted as our positional statement, reinforcing the missional richness of sacramental.

We share this to bring confidence to those inside and outside of our network, demonstrating our purposeful use of language and theology.  While diligently seeking new opportunities to reach Jesus’ lost people, we remain historically and sacramentally grounded.   While joining adjectives and nouns previously not found in the same thought, let alone same sentence, our intent is to reveal Jesus in ways that engage the listener, especially the listener outside of the Kingdom of God.

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FiveTwo is a sacramental multiplication movement devoted to starting new things to reach new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. From time to time, we receive questions and hear objections about why we say and do certain things in certain ways. Thus, we thought it would be valuable to clarify issues around two topics that have recently captured some attention.

What it means to be “sacramental”

The first topic that has captured some attention is our use of the term “sacramental.” As a movement that originated in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we believe, along with Lutherans throughout the world, that a Sacrament is that which has a “command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added.”[1] Traditionally, Lutherans have held up Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two Sacraments of the Church, though, in our confessional documents, Confession and Absolution is also sometimes numbered among the Sacraments.[2] The Confessions even muse as to whether or not prayer, alms, and troubles could be considered sacramental in some sense.[3] The number of Sacraments is not really the point, for the very term “sacrament” itself is determined ecclesiologically and not biblically, for the term never appears in Scripture. Indeed, our confessional documents warn us against fighting over the number of Sacraments and the definition of what constitutes a Sacrament, saying, “No levelheaded person will labor greatly about the number or the term, if only those things are still kept that have God’s command and promises.”[4]

It is in this spirit that we have chosen to use the term “sacramental” in a broader way, noting the similitude between what happens in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper on the one hand and what happens when God’s people share the gospel with others on the other. We have said that, in a general sense, God’s people can be considered to be Christ’s small “s” sacraments, for, as Jesus is truly present in the capital “S” Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper according to the promise of His Word, Jesus truly lives in His people by faith (cf. Galatians 2:20). This, in turn, has implications for how His people can live sacramentally before others. Martin Luther explains it well when he says, “As [Christ] gives Himself for us with His body and blood in order to redeem us from all misery, so we too are to give ourselves with might and main for our neighbor.”[5] Luther connects the Sacramental worship of the Church to the sacramental living of her people.

Luther’s statement also helps clarify our use of the phrase “sacramental entrepreneur.” When we use the term “sacramental,” we mean to confess our commitment to the historic, orthodox teaching on the Sacraments as means of grace specifically and to the doctrines of the Christian faith generally. At the same time, our use of the term “entrepreneur” is a way to declare our commitment, as Luther says, “to give ourselves with might and main for our neighbor.” We support and encourage reaching our neighbors with Word and Sacrament ministry. Indeed, we cannot help but reach out with Word and Sacrament ministry, for faith makes such a desire inevitable:

When a Christian begins to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, who has redeemed him from death, and is brought into His dominion and heritage, his heart is thoroughly permeated by God; then he would like to help everybody attain this blessedness. For he has no greater joy than the treasured knowledge of Christ … He has a restless spirit while enjoying rest supreme, that is, God’s grace and peace. Therefore, he cannot be quiet or idle but is forever struggling and striving with all his powers, as one living only to spread God’s honor and praise farther among man.[6]

“A restless spirit,” to use Luther’s words above, that is born out of faith in the gospel compels us to go new places and start new ministries and reach lost people. This is at the heart of what it means to be entrepreneurial. But at the same time we are committed to reaching new people, our moorings are in the orthodoxy of God’s Word and His Sacraments so that we might not “spread any new or strange teaching.”[7] Hence, we pair the terms “sacramental” and “entrepreneur” to describe our commitment to both orthodoxy and mission.

The use of lay preaching

The other topic that has captured some attention is FiveTwo’s limited acceptance of, and CrossPoint’s limited and cautious use of, as the flagship congregation for FiveTwo, lay preaching. Concerns have been raised primarily over how this practice comports with our confessional documents, which state, “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”[8] We understand the intent of this statement in light of the title of the article under which it falls: “Order in the Church.” The confessors’ big concern in this article was that everything be done in the Church “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Historically, this statement was meant as a defense against the Roman Catholic magisterium, which asserted that Lutheran pastors did not have a right to preach because they had not been canonically ordained.

With the Lutheran confessors, FiveTwo upholds the importance of having good order in the Church. We also uphold the Office of the Public Ministry as divinely instituted. We do not see, however, a specific Scriptural prohibition against all lay preaching. Instead, we see in Acts 8, for instance, when the Jerusalem church was persecuted and scattered, that her members “went about preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4).

Indeed, when one asserts that a layperson can never preach under any circumstance, he comes dangerously close to denying the priesthood of the baptized what is rightly theirs. Luther explains:

There is no other Word of God than that which is given all Christians to proclaim. There is no other baptism than the one which any Christian can bestow. There is no other remembrance of the Lord’s Supper than that which any Christian can observe and which Christ has instituted.[9]

Though not all Christians are pastors, they are part of the priesthood of the baptized. Thus, they can, in a responsible and ordered way, assist a pastor in his functions. Indeed, when Wittenberg is degenerating into rank licentiousness, Martin Luther complains:

I really wish Philip [Melanchthon] would also preach to the people somewhere in the city on festival days after dinner to provide a substitute for the drinking and gambling. This could become a custom which would introduce freedom and restore the form and manners of the early church. For if we have broken all laws of men and cast off their yokes, what difference would it make to us that Philip is not anointed or tonsured but married? Nevertheless he is truly a priest and actually does the work of a priest, unless it is not the office of a priest to teach the Word of God.[10]

Though Melanchthon is not ordained as a pastor, Luther wishes he would and argues he should preach based on his membership in the priesthood of the baptized. In Melanchthon’s case, then, Luther sees lay preaching as salutary and, in this instance, needed. This is why the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has long recognized that:

The Office of the Public Ministry is so broad that it can effectively employ the gifts of helpers in its performance. The congregation is blessed when it places at the side of its pastor faithful and capable teachers, for instance, who enhance his administration of the Office of the Public Ministry.[11]

No less than C.F.W. Walther, after calling the Office of the Public Ministry “the highest office,” explained that from it can “stem other offices in the church.”[12] From vicars who preach as part of their pastoral training to Communion assistants who help in the distribution of Christ’s body and blood, the Church has long understood that pastoral functions can, in some instances, be carried out by a lay person, provided there is appropriate ecclesiastical supervision. A “rightly ordered call” for preaching prohibits, in the words of Luther, an individual who would “arise by his own authority and arrogate to himself alone what belongs to [the priesthood of] all [believers].”[13] It does not necessarily preclude any and every instance in which a layperson might preach. This is why FiveTwo accepts the responsible use of lay preaching under careful supervision.

Though we are aware that these brief explanations will not address every concern people may have, we hope they will help clarify and corroborate our deep desire to be faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions while also reaching lost people with the gospel.

[1] All quotes from the Lutheran Confessions taken from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, Paul McCain, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), Ap XIII 3.

[2] cf. Ap XIII 4

[3] cf. Ap XIII 17

[4] Ap XIII 17

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 36, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 352.

[6] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), § 3014.

[7] Preface 7

[8] AC XIV

[9] AE 40 34-35

[10] AE 48 308

[11] The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature (September 1981), 27-28.

[12] C.F.W. Walther, Church and Ministry (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 289, Thesis VIII.

[13] AE 40 33

4 Comments

  1. Is the word sacramental another name for incarnational or vocational? And does sacramental with Entrepreneur leave some confusion? Thanks

  2. Bill, thank you for this well-articulated explanation of the 5/2 positions. I appreciate the theological grounding, which sometimes gets lost in the practical emphasis. Thanks again.

  3. Very well stated! Sad you needed to research and write this because it clues me to alligators on your tail. I simply send blessings and comfort in the sorely needed work you do and lead. If I were only 60 – 70 years younger I would be marching with you every inch of the way. At 81 I can still pray, listen, love and share with and for folks all around. God is blessing your work and workers. I pray comfort and peace for you and your family. Sue (wife of Pastor Wilton Hille, mother of Pastor Kirk Hille and Kim Hille Davis, daughter of Pastor H. O. Theiss, granddaughter of Pastor John Henry Theiss, mostly little child of mighty God!)

  4. Your Feeds.

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