The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Oil on canvas, 107 x 146 cm
An inopportune glance at a watch during busy traffic meant that my husband and I were out shopping for a new car for me. I was at a dead stop. The driver behind me looked at his watch, and then didn’t have enough time to stop. That mistake “totaled” my car. At least no one was injured. My granddaughter was jostled a bit and shook up, but otherwise just fine.
After the salesman and I climbed into the car and I drove off he began the chit-chat. He asked where I worked and I told him I taught at the Lutheran school not far from the dealership. John and I had gone car shopping straight from my day at school. I still had on my deaconess garb, so I supposed he was curious about the insignia on my shoulder and pin on my shirt. He said, “Oh! I should have known you were Lutheran from the cross you wear.” Funny, that was the first time I ever heard of anyone identifying “Lutheran” from a style of cross… I let him continue…
“My brother’s favorite person in the whole world is Martin Luther. He’d be a Lutheran, too, except for one thing. He can’t get past that Communion thing. He just can’t do it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “When Jesus says what He says, it’s hard to take Him at His word, isn’t it?”
He got to the business of selling me the car after that.
The “Communion Thing” – that’s the crux of the whole matter, isn’t it? Just as all roads once led to Rome in the known civilized world, all heresies lead to what is believed, taught, and confessed about Christ, especially of His incarnation. And in that is the Communion Thing.
That is because typically we want to run with things according to our sinful inclinations. We either divide the Spirit from God’s word, or Christ from the elements He has chosen to unite Himself with. Then we still want to say, “Yippee! I’m full of the Spirit! I have Jesus.” Luther called such nonsensical people those who had “bees buzzing in their heads.” They were full of ideas, but of the wrong sort because they come from within themselves, not from God.
Luther compared Arius, who denied Christ’s divinity, to Satan when writing his lectures on Genesis. He also connected Arius’ error to the Lord’s Supper.
All the fanatical spirits follow this procedure of Satan. Thus Arius raises the question: “Do you believe that Christ is God, inasmuch as He clearly states (John 14:28): The Father is greater than I’?” Likewise the Sacramentarians: “Do you believe that the bread is the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ? Surely Christ did not even think of such silly ideas!” When men give room to these thoughts, they gradually depart from the Word and fall into error. (Luther, M. 1999, c1958. Vol. 1: Luther's works, vol. 1 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis)
As Luther clearly saw, theological error eventually relate to the Incarnation. So they are also an error in Trinitarian theology.
For an example Christ’s own incarnation can serve no better. Mary conceived through her ear; that is, by way of the spoken word as the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. Yet Christ’s incarnation was not merely spiritual. He was no ghostly spirit, but is God become human. That means Christ’s incarnation in Mary involved an actual human zygote that attached Himself to her uterine wall, growing into a human baby with flesh and blood organs that fed off her body until such time that He was born. The Holy Spirit and created physical matter united together in Mary’s body at the incarnation of Jesus. Wherever the Holy Spirit is with the Son, there the Father is, also.
Therefore, it is a mistake thinking that one can have the Holy Spirit without also having Jesus In fact, those who speak much of the Holy Spirit have far too little of Christ, for it is the business of the Spirit to reveal and deliver Christ. It’s really quite simple: God’s word delivers the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit who delivers Christ, the Word of God, through earthly elements He has chosen – Word and Sacrament. Wherever the Holy Spirit delivers Christ, there also is the Father.
The Communion Thing is a stumbling block – but no more so than the Baptism Thing or the Absolution Thing when you get right down to it. We want our Jesus, but not when He is in our faces, up close and personal – such as clothed in the likes of a pastor. We want Him on our own terms. We want to determine how He comes to us. Sappy songs are much nicer. “On the wings of a snow white dove…” But for certain when Jesus says, “This is My body… This is My blood…” we don’t want any of that business. He just can’t be serious. So we’d just rather call Him a liar on that account, and take Him out of where He said He’d be, put Him just about anywhere He never promised to be, and call that “Christian.” Yup, fer sure. “And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” Coffee never tasted so good than in a cup with an ICHTHUS on it.
I spend a lot of time looking at Feminist Theology. It too denies the incarnation, for it is an error about Christ in the first place. That’s because feminism itself is a variation on a theme begun by our First Parents. It seeks after the things of God apart from His word, and delights in what it finds. When that happens, what is received is He-who-is-not-god. Luther writes of it this way in the Smalcald Articles:
All this is the old devil and the old serpent who made enthusiasts of Adam and Eve. He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other external words. (SA: 3, VIII, 7)Feminist Theology “does” spiritualizing with great flair and dexterity. It is here where not only the Scriptures are mere metaphors, but so also is created physical matter. Accordingly words do not mean things, God did not mean what He says, and physical matter is malleable – especially and most importantly human flesh. All life is as plastic, a chimera of whatever ideology is in the imagination of the beholder.
How far apart is this really from those who call Christ a liar when He speaks as He does concerning bread and wine, His Body and His Blood? That Baptism now saves, and it is for all nations? That sin is forgiven by the words of Absolution spoken from the lips of the pastor? That He, Christ, is the only source of salvation?
Not so far, really. Still the same old Stumbling Block.