Vol. VIII — No. 41 October 15, 1967


The Reformation Restored the Sacrament of the Altar as a Means of Grace.

Hebrews 10:14; Matthew 26:26-28

For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Heb. 10:14.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matt. 26:26-28

In Christ Jesus, who offers and seals unto us in the Lord’s Supper the blessings of His one offering on the cross, Fellow Redeemed:

The last day of this month is the day that Dr. Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That, in itself, insignificant act is taken as the beginning of the Reformation. It happened on October 3l, l5l7. That is 450 years ago. He would like to observe the 450th anniversary of the Reformation this month by meditating upon the blessings which the Lord restored to the Church through the Reformation.

On this Communion Sunday we would like to take note of a change that the Reformation brought about in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. When we think of the sacraments, we are to think of them as ways and means given to us by the very Head of the Church for the purpose of distributing to individuals the blessings He won for us. The sacraments distribute the grace of God in Christ Jesus, that is, the forgiveness of sins. Before the Reformation the Sacrament of the Altar had been changed from a means of grace to a means for creating or producing additional and sufficient grace to cover all the sins of the living and the dead. This was and remains an unscriptural perversion of the Sacrament. Luther effected a reformation at this point. A reformation is simply a change for the better. In this case the change was back to what had once been taught in the church and back to what our Lord Jesus instituted the night before the day of His death upon the cross as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the vprld. we can summarize the work of Luther in this area of doctrine by saying simply that—


Let us observe first of all that—

I. Man’s innate prejudice for work-righteousness devised a way to sacrifice the body of Christ again and again, as though the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross were not enough to cancel all sins.

We speak of man’s innate prejudice for work-righteousness. By that we mean that it is just natural for man to want to work out his own salvation rather than to receive it as a gift of grace from his God. Recall the situation as it was at the end of the creation week. Man knew God as Creator and himself as the creature. All that man was and had was a gift of his God. He was to live in joyful thanksgiving unto his God, trusting that the Lord God would provide for his every need. But we know that Eve refused to be content with this position of trusting dependency upon her God. She wanted to be like God, but became most unlike Him. The rebellion of our first parents was actually mankind’s declaration of independence from God. Man wanted to go it alone—independent of his God. That attitude of mind and heart shows itself in that man just naturally and automatically rejects the grace of God and trust his own self-prescribed works for righteousness.

We have noted on many occasions how the Pharisees had camouflaged this natural inclination or prejudice for work-righteousness with the appearance of divine approval. They gloried in the Law of Hoses, but they understood it not. They failed to realize that the entire structure of the Law was but a temporary training device until the Christ should come. Moses pointed to Christ, but the Pharisees were blinded because they were controlled by that same work-righteous prejudice which made them imagine that they could save themselves by doing what God commanded, but in the manner prescribed by themselves.

We have also observed on occasions that the church during the time of the Apostles struggled with this same work-righteous prejudice that threatened to pervert the Gospel. The first church council had to face the issue, as did Paul, especially in his letter to the Galatians. Is our salvation complete in Christ or must man make it certain by his works. That was the question and the answer is always: Salvation is complete, and it is a gift of God. The moment man thinks in terms of merit and works—that moment he lays sinful hands on the glory of God’s grace. The battle was won in the early church, but Satan did not surrender.

In the second chapter of his second letter to the Thessalonians St. Paul prophesies of the coming of that “man of sin,” “the son of perdition.” That prophecy of the Great Antichrist found its fulfillment in the rise of the Papacy. Paul speaks of a falling away that shall precede the coming of that “man of sin.” He says that “the mystery of iniquity” was already at work in his day. What is that “mystery of inquity” that was already causing a falling away in Paul’s day? It was again the innate work-righteous prejudice of man that was asserting itself in oppostion to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Gradually the emphasis was changed from what God has done and still does for our salvation to what man should and must do to make sure of his salvation.

No part of Christian doctrine and no part of the life of the child of God were left unaffected. Whenever the emphasis is shifted from God to man in the matter of man’s salvation, the cross of Christ suffers. So it did in the centuries before the Reformation. Luther tells us how he was taught to fear Christ rather than to trust Him. Christ was pictured as Judge, stern and severe, rather than as the Savior, gracious and merciful. What would happen to the Sac- rament of the Altar under such conditions? The Sacrament was instituted to remember the death of the Lord and to distribute the blessings of His death. How could man work his way into this? There gradually developed the idea that man, specifically the priest, was doing the sacrificing when he read the mass, as the Sacrament of the Altar was called. It was gradually asserted that the priest, when he elevated the host or wafer and spoke the words: “This is my body,” had the power to change that wafer of bread into the body of Christ. So also when he took the cup and spoke the words, “This is my blood,” the wine would change into the blood of Christ. It was a solemn, mysterious, supernatural rite that could be performed only by a priest who had been ordained by the church. Luther tells how his hands shook and his voice quivered when he celebrated mass for the first time. The priest believed that he had the body of Christ lying before him on the altar. Then the priest offered that consecrated host—believed to be the body of Christ—for the sins of the living and the dead. In the Catholic catechism for the children there is a picture of a big clock with all the hours marked. It is there to impress upon the child that at all times in some place on earth the body of Christ is being sacrificed for the sins of the living and the dead. So the church replaced the ONE offering of Christ with the unending repeated offering of the priests as often as they read the mass.

But what says our text? “By ONE offering he hath perfected—or brought to completion—for ever them that are sanctified.” These words were written to Jews who were being tempted to abandon the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross and revert to the Jewish sacrifices before Christ came. The writer of this letter to the Hebrews points out again and again how that all the sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament were incomplete. They all pointed ahead and waited for the fulfilling in Christ. He came. He made the ONE offering that was necessary. When He was about to die, He cried out, “It is finished.” God the Father answered with His “Amen” by raising His Son on the third day. The sins of all were atoned for, left in the grave, erased, forgiven, hid in the depths of the sea. Christ achieved with His offering that which all previous offerings point to—full and perfect forgiveness. That is given to them that are sanctified. The forgiveness of sins, won by Christ’s death, justifies the sinner, cancels his sins day by day, gives him strength for a new life, and carries him on to eternal life. No more sacrificing of any kind is necessary, for as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The people who first received this letter were being tempted to return to the sacrificing of the Old Testament. The church before the Reformation didn’t return to the sacrificing of animals, but it did institute the unbloody sacrificing of a consecrated wafer—believed to be the body of Christ. Every mass read throws doubt upon the sacrifice of Christ. Every mass read is a blasphemous “no” to the words of the dying Savior, “It is finished,” for the mass claims that much more sacrificing has to be done to take care of the sins of the living and the dead. Every mass read is a rejection of the words of our text, “By ONE offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

This work-righteous corruption of the Sacrament had become the chief service in the church before the Reformation. Luther replaced the sacrificing of the mass with the preaching of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and that changed the Sacrament of the Altar back to what our Lord intended it to be, for—

II. When the preaching of the cross replaced the work-righteous efforts of man, the Lord’s Supper again became a means for distributing the forgiveness which Christ won for all by His death on the cross.

Luther had to correct many abuses that had developed regarding the Sacrament. The cup was withheld from the laity, even as it still is in the Catholic Church today. The people had to learn again the words, “Drink ye all of it.” Slowly, as the understanding grew, the cup was restored to the communicants.

The consecrated host—believed to be the body of Christ—was paraded around the streets of the city while the faithful kneeled in adoration. These were the Corpus Christi celebrations. The Lutheran princes refused to participate in this idolatrous worship at the time of the Diet of Augsburg, for the body of Christ is not to be worshipped in the form of a wafer, but to be eaten in, with, and under the bread.

Later on Luther had to take a stand against the Swiss Reformers who denied the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, given with the bread and wine to be eaten and drunk. This error of the bread and wine as but symbols of the absent body and blood of Christ is perpetuated in the Reformed Church in many denominations, as you are well aware.

But the greatest abuse was converting the Sacrament into an unbloody offering of the body of Christ rather than a means for distributing the body and blood offered for us for the remission of sins. The church observed no formal Lenten Season at the time of the Reformation, for Luther preached Christ and Him crucified every Sunday. That was the glorious message of forgiveness, peace, comfort, hope—the Good News that all sins are forgiven in and through Christ. The whole aim was to bring the hearer the assurance of forgiveness in Christ. The Sacrament was restored as a special means, instituted by Christ, to give personal assurance of that forgiveness. “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

So you communicants are to come, assured already in the absolution that yours sins are forgiven, and to be re-assured in the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood that your sins are cancelled, that you are children of your Father in heaven, and that you are heirs of eternal life. May the Spirit of God give each communicant a truly blessed eating and drinking this day! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - October 1, 1967
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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