This blog  is primarily about answering questions sent to me—if I am able and willing to do so. I receive questions anonymously via the blog platform or by email from people I know. Not all questions need an essay-type answer. So I decided to have a post here in which I respond to questions with just a brief answer. Here they are in the order received from the most recent to the oldest.

Use of gluten-free bread for Communion

What is your take on the Vatican’s ruling on gluten free wafers?  Is there a biblical citation which require wheat and can Lutherans hold to concomitance?

To require .009% gluten to make the bread real wheat is the endth degree of casuistry, in my Frank opinion. Undoubtedly bread made from grains is the biblical precedent, but we don’t know what kind of bread Jesus used. If the Lord’s Supper was instituted at a Passover Seder (synoptic gospels), the bread was unleavened. If the Lord’s Supper was instituted before the Passover (fourth gospel), it probably was leavened. The Eastern Church uses leavened bread.  The Western Church didn’t require unleavened bread before the early Middle Ages. The real issue is why there has been an increase of gluten intolerance and celiac disease in America. Why can people with gluten intolerance eat bread in Europe? The answer seems to be that in America we are using a blended strain of wheat germs that produce bumper crops whereas an older strain is used in Europe. There’s also a thought that too much gluten has gotten into our diet generally, more than our bellies can tolerate. While the science is not totally settled on this,  it would seem that the Catholic Church should take the lead in experimenting with growing the old strain of wheat or encouraging some farmers to do so. If that solves the problem, there may be a market for old strain wheat bread. I know people with gluten intolerance would prefer to be able to eat regular bread.  In the meantime, yes, Lutherans accept the doctrine of concomitance (that we receive the entire Christ under either species). But how much better it would be to provide some form of gluten-free bread for those who need it. In my experience this accommodation can be made without a lot of fuss and calling attention to the fact that GLUTEN-FREE BREAD IS AVAILABLE.  A simple announcement in the worship folder suffices, and the pastor usually knows who needs it—another reason why the pastor should serve the bread.

Praying to the Saints

Question:
Did the Lutheran Reformation throw the baby out with the bathwater when we rejected the cult of saints? The biggest critique I hear from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is that asking the saints to pray for you is just like asking one of your living friends to pray for you. Which got me thinking, with our doctrine of the communion of saints that we confess in the creeds, I wonder if we could make an argument of asking the saints to pray for us.

I refer you to my article, “Frank Answers About Saints in the Lutheran Church.”  Lutherans do not pray to the saints, claiming the sole mediatorship of Christ as the main reason. But the Lutheran Confessions (Apology, Article 21) grant that “the saints pray for us.” So I suppose there isn’t a need to ask them to do so.  However, I wonder: how do we address the dead?  What consciousness (mind) do the dead have?  What is the substance of the soul apart from the body? What is the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul?  I refer you to my articles, “Frank Answers About What Happens After Death” and “Frank Answers About the Soul.” In what sense can “saints in heaven” hear earthly prayers? Wouldn’t they need to be like God?  I think we need to hear Catholic and Orthodox theologians deal with these kinds of questions.

Why are Lutherans Identified as Evangelical Catholics?

Question:
Aren’t Lutherans Protestant? Why would some theologians like Martin Marty suggest we call ourselves evangelical catholic and reject the terms Protestant or even Lutheran?

The issue is one of historical and theological identity. The name “Protestant” was first used of those who “protested” the Edict of Speyer (1529), which revoked the Recess of Speyer (1526) that left the determination of religion in each territory and city of the Holy Roman Empire up to the governing authorities until a general council could settle the religious differences in the Empire. So, yes, Lutherans are among the first Protestants.  The problem is that now every denominational group that is not Catholic or Orthodox is regarded as Protestant, not just the Lutheran and Reformed protesters. What do Lutherans have in common, say, with Pentecostals, who might also be identified as Protestants? As for the name “Lutheran,” it was originally a name of derision used by Catholic critics and Luther himself did not approve of it. He said his followers should simply call themselves “Christians.” The term “evangelical” (gospel-centered) was also applied to Lutherans in Europe, often to distinguish them from the Reformed. But “Die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland” is quite different in character from American Evangelicalism, as are American Lutheran denominations and congregations that have “Evangelical” in their name. Many Lutheran theologians since the 19th century have embraced the term “evangelical catholic” to indicate that Luther’s intention and actual Lutheran practice was to reform the Catholic Church, not to create something new. The Catholic creeds, the canon of Scripture, dogmas of the ancient church (Trinity, Christology, original sin, etc.), historic liturgical forms, and many church practices were retained by Lutherans. Theologians such as Archbishop Nathan Soderbloom, Gustav Aulen, Paul Tillich, Jaroslav Pelikan, Carl Braaten and many others have used moniker “evangelical catholic” as a description of Lutheranism as well as Martin Marty (and yours truly).

Lutherans and Catholics “On the Way”

What do you think of the new Lutheran-Catholic document “Declaration on the Way?” Have Lutherans given away the store?

This document was adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a summary of the very substantive theological dialogues in the U.S. over the last fifty years. At its heart are 32 “Statements of Agreement” about where Lutherans and Catholics do not have church-dividing differences on topics about church, ministry and the Eucharist based on previous dialogues. More tentatively, the document also explores differences that remain. As to whether it “gives away the store” as far as Lutheran confessional commitments are concerned, I don’t think so. But in a blog article I can’t analyze all 32 individual points of agreement. So I decline to give a full Frank Answer.

Communion wine

What are your thoughts on alternates to wine in communion? I know grape juice is common. I’ve seen even nonalcoholic wine. But I’ve also seen apple juice communion. Could you do a frank answers on this?

The beverage for the Lord’s Supper is wine because our Lord used it in his institution (probably at a Passover Seder) and the Eucharist is a festive meal. Preferably wine with a little kick to it to produce a slight inebriation. Preferably good wine. Either red or white. Either dry or sweet. If grape wine is not available, then rice wine like Japanese sake. Nonalcoholic wine could be available for children and alcoholics. Maybe a different color than the regular wine so as not to confuse them. But grape juice and apple juice are definitely out. Beer or soda are way out.

Dance music in church

Sir. Nowadays, in Korea, EDM worship has become a hot issue. Many young people like EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and some Christian worship leaders want to introduce this music in the worship. I think I should study about this for my denomination.  What do you think about that?

I think it’s always good for worship scholars to get ahead of a trend and be able to give guidance to pastors. I would have several questions. 1. What kind of dancing is it?  2. Does it engage the whole congregation? 3. What would be the purpose of the dancing? 4. Where in the order of service would dancing be done? At the entrance? In response to the word?  During the offertory? The place of dancing would relate to its purpose. 5. Is the dancing wordless or does it accompany a text?

Mixing consecrated and unconsecrated Communion elements

An LCMS colleague sent me an E-mail inquiry concerning the  disposition of consecrated elements remaining after the Mass. I’m wondering if you can shed any light on the mixing of previously consecrated and non-consecrated wafers and wine.

You don’t mix consecrated and unconsecrated elements. If additional supplies are needed during the distribution you bless them. However, you can add unconsecrated wine from flagons to consecrated wine in chalices during the distribution. It is consecrated “by contagion.” (This is the practice I see in Ordo Romanus Primus when consecrated wine from the chalice on the altar is poured into the vats of wine from which communicants drink with a straw.)  I usually bless the wine in the chalice(s) and maybe one cruet on the altar, but not the wine in the other cruets on a credence table and not on the altar.  But the communion ministers must not run out of wine; they need to signal the acolytes when they need a refill. After the service the consecrated bread and wine are either consumed or set aside for further distribution, as in the communion of the sick. What is reserved should be kept separate from the unconsecrated elements, perhaps in an ambry. I used to keep what I needed for the communion of the sick in the little ciborium and cruets in my private communion kit. If they were not used in a reasonable length of time, I consumed them.

Reserving the wafers is easy and pastors too easily default to using them since freshly baked communion bread will not keep and needs to be consumed. I don’t think we need to default to wafers. We need to develop enough experience using freshly baked communion bread that the presiding minister knows how much is needed. I would note that the Orthodox have figured this out. Before the liturgy the priests cut out of the loaf what is needed for Communion.

Orthodox priests preparing the “Lamb”—the center of the loaf—to be consecrated during the anaphora (eucharistic prayer). Other pieces of that loaf, and other loafs not needed for the Communion (the Antedoron), are broken up and distributed to the worshipers after the Liturgy as food for the journey home.

Calling pastors “Father”

When and why did Lutherans stop referring to pastors as “father”? I’m particularly confused by this since Luther seems to defend the practice in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism and was addressed by many of his colleagues as “reverend father”.

You are correct that in the explanation to the fourth commandment, “Honor you father and your mother,” Luther commends “spiritual fathers” along with, and even more than, biological fathers, heads of households, and rulers who are “fathers of their nations” (The Large Catechism I, 158). Contrary to “those in the papacy who have had themselves called ‘father,’…the name of spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is such a father in 1 Corinthians 4[:15}, where he says ‘In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.'”

Luther and many Lutheran clergy were addressed as “reverend father.”  I do not know when Lutherans generally stopped using this title of address. As to why, my suspicion is that it sounded “too Catholic,” which is the Lutheran default response to anything they don’t like. However, the title “Father” is still used  by some Lutherans today, especially those who regard themselves as evangelical catholics.

The Reverend Father, Doctor Martin Luther, teaching the Catechism

While I’m at it, Lutherans never call their ministers “Reverend.” “Reverend” is a written form of address preceded by “The.” Most Lutherans call their ministers “Pastor,” although properly speaking “Pastor” is the spiritual leader of a congregation or parish: e.g. The Reverend Doctor Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor of the Wittenberg Stadtkirche. In the English tradition it is quite appropriate to address ministers as “Mister,” “Master,” or “Doctor,” according to their academic degree. I would add that if our ordained male ministers can be called “Father,” ordained female ministers can be called “Mother,” since the fourth commandment refers to honoring fathers and mothers, and “Reverend Mother” has also been a title of honor given to women heads of religious communities.

German Lutheran Pfarrer confirming youth