Monday, June 8, 2009

More on Receptionism

The latest print issue of Gottesdienst is about the Lord's Supper, reverence, and a special focus on refuting receptionism. Which brings to mind the time I almost got kicked out of a call for not being a receptionist. That's probably a little melodramatic, but not much. It's a long story how it got that bad - a story that starts with a 1955 CSL grad, Creative Communications' Christmas service with a tag-team Verba between pastor and congregation, and my intrepid request that we not use it. The story continues with me be harangued in front of the DCE as a witness (poor guy - a really nice fellow), the circuit counselor being called in. . . well, you get the point: when you graduate from the sem, try to avoid being an assistant pastor.

But there were two very good things to come out of it. First, I found support in the most unlikely of places: a seminary professor (and a chap climbing the Synodical bureaucratic latter, but who was, at that time, able to lend only moral support). The prof actually volunteered to do a phone conference with me, the angry party, and the circuit counselor. This, friends, is a rare seminary professor and for this act of kindness and steadfastness he has earned my deepest respect and thanks. And let me tell you - it was like a magic spell: once I said this prof would talk to us about it, the guy backed down post haste and the danger passed. He, the circuit counselor, and I had a nice talk - didn't need the prof to speak after all.

The other good to result was that I really had to dig into this topic. I found Teigen's indispensable book, looked at Sasse again, read the concise smack-down of receptionism by Scott Murray, talked with folks in the know etc. All that led me to produce a study document which you can read here, if you like.

Here I want to include just this brief quotation from what I wrote after reading all those fine works.

The Very Minor Confession

"83] However, this blessing, or the recitation of the words of institution of Christ alone does not make a sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as it was instituted by Christ, is not observed (as when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and partaken of, but is enclosed, sacrificed, or carried about), but the command of Christ, This do (which embraces the entire action or administration in this Sacrament, 84] that in an assembly of Christians bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, drunk, and the Lord's death is shown forth at the same time) must be observed unseparated and inviolate, as also St. Paul places before our eyes the entire action of the breaking of bread or of distribution and reception, 1 Cor. 10, 16.

"These paragraphs have been misquoted out of context to allow for receptionism. Some say that since the Formula says that the entire action of the Supper is needed for a valid Supper, then the presence of Christ is not effected until the last part of that action is observed. In saying this some Lutherans have again fallen into Aristotelian theories of form and action. However, the text itself tells us what the text means: what is excluded here is the Romanist practice of "consecrating" elements for the sole purpose of Corpus Christi processions or the papal "sacrifice of the Mass" [without the intention of ever consuming the elements]. Since these "celebrations" do not intend to follow Christ's institution, they are not the Lord's Supper merely because they ape the Words of Christ. Likewise, a group of Satanists gathering to mock the Lord's Supper would not have the Lord's Supper even if they recited the Words and distributed and ate the "consecrated" elements.

"Also the paragraphs have been badly misinterpreted through a basic mistake in logic. The paragraph says that "If the entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is not observed, then the recitation of the Words alone do not make the sacrament." The error in logic may be easily seen:

Let A be: The entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is observed.

Let B be: The recitation of the Words alone do make the sacrament.

The Confessions state: If not-A, then not-B.

The paragraph does not say anything at all about a celebration in which the whole action of the supper is to be carried out. As we have seen above, in such a celebration it is indeed Christ's Word alone which produces the Real Presence. To conclude otherwise from these paragraphs is to make the following error:

Given: If not A, then not B.

Given: A. Therefore: not B.

A further example of the same error may help make this clear:

Let A be: this ice cream is above 32 degrees F

Let B be: this ice cream is melted.

Given: If this ice cream is not above 32 degrees F, then it is not melted (If not A, then not B).

Given: The ice cream is above 32 degrees F (A). Therefore: it is not melted (not B).

Clearly this is faulty reasoning."



  1. I agree with your conclusions, but disagree with your logic. The fallacy you are referring to is called Denial of the Antecedent. If A, then B. Not A, therefore not B. However there must be a causal connection between A and B. If it rains, the streets will be wet. It is not raining, therefore the streets will not be wet. (Which is not necessarily true since it may be snowing or the fire hydrants may be open.) Denial of the Antecedent fails because it presupposes a necessary exclusivity in the causal relationship.

    The Confessions set up no such causal connection between the recitation of the Verba and the reception of the elements. Recitation does not cause reception. Rather, the Confessions are arguing that recitation of the Verba alone does not constitute a sacrament without the subsequent actions specified by the Verba themselves, namely eating and drinking. In other words, the Verba require both recitation and reception. The "real presence" is not at stake here, but whether the action "makes a sacrament" that is, a sign with the divine promise of grace.

    The question on the table is this: "Does the recitation of the Verba alone constitute a sacrament?" This question is not, "Does the recitation of the Verba effect the real presence of the Body and Blood?"

    The error of "receptionism" is to make the "real presence" contingent on the reception, which is a synergistic understanding of the real presence combining Christ's word with our action. This is a misreading of the Confessions, but not a fallacy of logic.

  2. I don't think I'm saying anything differently than you on this point. My point was that "this paragraph does not say anything at all about a celebration in which the whole action of the Supper is to be carried out."

    Those who argue that it does are mistaking the plain language of the text - and I've heard it presented to me more than once in this form of Denial of the Antecedent. I think you are correct that they must first misread the meaning to get to that point - that is, they must understand "recitation of the words" in the way I've used it above. But that is very common - at least with the Receptionists I've argued with.

    So while you may be right that here in this passage the question is not "do the Verba effect the presence" - but that is how many read this passage because that IS the question that receptionists are looking to answer. You are right that this is not the passage they should be looking to to answer it.


  3. Actually, the passage in question does imply that if and only if the entire action of the Supper is observed is it a sacrament. There is a positive sense to this passage that requires both the recitation of the Verba and the reception of the elements. The logic of this passage, as I see it, is this:

    1. If the whole action (recitation and reception) is not done, it is not a sacrament.

    2. The whole action is done, therefore it is a sacrament.

    This is a perfectly permissible conclusion. The same paragraph positively states that "this do" embraces the "entire action" of the sacrament, validating the second statement.

    Again, this has nothing to do with how or when the real presence is effected (since that is not in question here), but only whether one can properly call the Supper a sacrament if it is not received, since the Verba themselves call for its reception.

    It would be incorrect to conclude from this passage:

    3. The whole action was not done, therefore the real presence was not effected.

    This is not a Denial of the Antecedent but an Argument from Silence. The passage is not talking about the real presence. It is making an assumption that the passage of the Confessions does not state.

  4. Correct - you've stated very clearly the distinction between the question of a Sacrament and the Real Presence, which tends to be conflated by the receptionists.

    What I've found is that folks who do this first commit this argument from silence and then bolster it by mistaking what para. 83 is saying in the manner I described.


  5. 1. Can the Real Presence then exist independently of a Sacrament? (Pr. Cwirla: Can the Supper continue to exist as itself while not being a sacrament, when it is not received?)

    2. If so, in what way or under what circumstances?

    3. Are (1) and (2) answerable questions?

  6. Phil,

    I think this is one of those questions the Confessions warn us against asking (see my little paper for more on that). We are to see to it that we follow the Lord's Institution. When we do, we should have no doubt that his Word makes reality, that Jesus' Body and Blood are there after the Consecration. For those who would dare to run contrary to his Institution - we simply point out that this is not the sacrament Christ instituted and leave it at that.


  7. "3. Are (1) and (2) answerable questions?"


  8. So, if an individual who is not a believer in Christ approaches the table and consumes the bread and wine, do they eat and drink the body and blood of Christ? I would be inclined to say yes, they do.


Comments are moderated. Neither spam, vulgarity, comments that are insulting, slanderous or otherwise unbefitting of Christian dignity nor anonymous posts will be published.