Is God A Bush? Examining The Lutheran View Of Communion.

Picture Source:
Sometime ago I read the best explanation of the Lutheran's view of Communion that I've ever encountered.  It turns out that the illustration is one that was used by a 16th century reformer named Martin Chemnitz.  I am unable to locate the original source of this explanation, so my apologies.  Even though I don't have the source, hopefully my memory will communicate his explanation and illustration.  

In Exodus 3:1-21 we see Moses encountering the Lord in the story of the burning bush.  This story should be familiar to most people.  In reflecting on this story in connection to communion, we can ask several questions:
"Is the Lord a bush?"
To this we would obviously say, "No."
"Does the bush represent the Lord?"
To this we would also say, "No."
"Does the bush turn into the Lord?"
Again, "No."
So, how would we explain what is happening in Exodus 3:1-21?  We would say that in a profound way that the Lord was, "in, with and under," the bush.  The bush did not turn into the Lord nor did the bush merely represent the Lord.  Rather, the bush was fully present, "burning, yet not consumed." (Exodus 3:2)  The Lord was also fully present, "the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush." (Exodus 3:2)

It is no different with the Sacrament of Communion.  In the bread and wine the Lord is present in, with and under the elements.  "Take and eat; this is my body... Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant." (Matthew 26:26-28)  Jesus does not say, "Take and eat; this represents my body... Drink from it, all of you; for this represents my blood of the covenant."  Nor does Jesus say, "Take and eat; this changes into my body... Drink from it, all of you; for this changes into my blood of the covenant." 

Just as the Lord was in, with and under the bush, so it is with Jesus in communion. Thus when we receive the elements in communion we receive the real presence of Jesus in, with and under, for the forgiveness of sins.  

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Anonymous said…

Thanks for sharing this. Not long ago I was trying to explain this in adult Sunday School class and for the life of me I could come up with a clear illustration. This wouldv'e helped immensely. I couldn't agree more.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Adam Krog
Thanks Adam,

I wish that I knew the original source. I am 99% sure that it came from Chemnitz, but I am unaware of where he stated this.

If my mind serves me right, I believe that I heard it on an episode from Issues, Etc. or from Rod Rosenbladt on the White Horse Inn.

If anybody can locate the source, could you please post it here?

Pastor Matt
Anonymous said…
Hey Matt, long time no talk! I have enjoyed reading your posts lately, thanks for being diligent in keeping up your blog. I have a question regarding the last paragraph.

"Thus when we receive the elements in communion we receive the real presence of Jesus in, with and under, for the forgiveness of sins."

The way I read this it sounds like you're saying we receive forgiveness for our sins as a result of receiving the elements in communion. The other way it could read I suppose is that when we receive the presence of Jesus our sins are fogiven, but even then it sounds like we receive the presence of Jesus by receiving the elements, which sounds off to me. I understand that taking communion is an outward sign of faith and through it God imparts grace, but my understanding is that it isn't saving grace.

Am I making sense? I'd love your thoughts if you could help clear up my confusion. I talked to a Lutheran Pastor in Williston years ago and he was trying to convince me the elements actually changed into flesh and blood (similar to Catholicism?) but it sounds like you are arguing against that. There must be disagreement amongst the different Lutheran sects?


-Nick Fast
Hey Nick!

It is great to hear from you. I've noticed from your FB Profile that you have a family now! Congrats brother!

As far as your question... great question and yes you are making sense.

1) To begin... I would recommend the following:

In this post we first need to ask the question of whether the sacrament of communion is primarily something that man does or something that God does. In other words, which way is the arrow going?

2) Secondly, once we answer the question above, what is it that God promises to do/deliver to us in the sacrament? Matthew 26:27-ff say, "Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin..." What makes communion a sacrament is two fold: a) Jesus commands/institutes us to perform, observe, partake of communion b) He ties forgiveness to the visible means.

3) Thirdly, in a profound way Jesus says that the wine and bread is his blood and body. The debate that has gone on for several hundred years is what is meant by the word "is." Our reformed brothers and sisters would say that the bread and wine 'represent' the blood and body of Christ. This is what we would call the Sacramentarian position. This view teaches that Jesus is spiritually present in the elements at communion but not physically. On the other end of the spectrum our Catholic brothers and sisters believe that the wine and bread 'change into' the body and blood of Jesus. This is what we would call Transubstantiation. The Lutheran view would hold to a paradoxical position that the bread and wine don't represent nor change. Rather, when we receive bread and wine we receive bread and wine. However, the Lutheran position would say that the bread 'is' the body of Christ and the wine 'is' the blood of Christ. So, the clever term of "in, with and under" is used.

Does that help?
Anonymous said…
Matt, this helps me understand the Lutheran view much better, although I'm still unclear about the receiving forgiveness of sins part.

I still seem to be reading that forgiveness of sins happens when we take the bread and cup. Now obviously some believers take communion every week, which makes it sound like they would receive forgiveness every week. My belief is that the forgiveness of sins happens once and for all at the moment we place our faith in Christ, and anything else would detract from the finality and completeness of Christ's sacrifice. Maybe I'm just missing something obvious in your posts or maybe its that I do hold more to the teachings of Calvin and the Reformed camp and we just differ in belief. I hope I'm not coming off argumental, but much of this Lutheran theology is new to me and I'm fascinated at how different camps come to different conclusions, and I guess I'm still in the process of really solidifying what I believe about a lot of this stuff Thanks for responding so thouroughly and quickly.

-Nick Fast
Thanks for the encouraging response Nick. Not a problem for responding and I respect you so much for digging into this!

Couple of thoughts in response to your previous statements/questions:

-We need to distinguish the difference between objective and subjective reconciliation. Let me give a couple of examples:

2 Cor. 5:19 ~ In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself...
2 Tim. 4:10 ~ God, who is the Savior of all people...
John 3:16 ~ For God so loved the World that He gave...

2 Cor. 5:20 ~ reconciled to God.
2 Tim. 4:10 ~ ...especially of those who believe.
John 3:16 ~ ...that whoever believes shall not perish...

Objectively Jesus died for the World. This is where Lutherans would differ from our Calvinist brothers and sisters. Calvinists would say that Jesus died for the elect, whereas Lutheran would say that Jesus died for the world. Now, if this is all that Lutherans would say, this would be close to the teachings of "Universalism." Conservative Lutherans would not hold to 'universalism' but would hold to salvation being universal. Let me finish the rest of the story... Grace/Forgiveness was accomplished on the cross for the world (universal), however, this salvation then needs to be 'delivered' to people subjectively. In other words, in our verses above we see that God reconciled the world to himself in Jesus but then the passage goes on to encourage the reader to 'be reconciled.' So, how exactly do we acquire the benefits of what happened in 32 AD? If we had a DeLorian with a Flux Capacitor maybe we could go back in time and get this forgiveness! :-) In all seriousness though, God has to deliver this forgiveness to us. He delivers this forgiveness to us in 3 ways... to our babies/children in Baptism, to us in His Word and to us in Communion.

Ambrose once said, "Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine." That is the reason for the constant need for us to continually hear the Word, remember our baptism and take communion. Because Matt Richard will never be perfect in this life and because I am prone to wander and prone to leave this God I love, I am constantly in need of hearing and receiving this forgiveness of sins that was accomplished for me in 32 A.D. Because I am constantly battling this sinful nature and because I am constantly being bombarded by condemnation from the world, myself and the Devil... I constantly need to be reassured that all is well because of Jesus Christ!

What I appreciate about communion is that I not only hear that my sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, but I also get to see, taste and consume the elements and know that I am forgiven even when I feel as if I am not.

Salvation was accomplished by Jesus, is delivered to us in the Word and Sacraments and received individually by faith.

Grace and Peace to you my friend!
Anonymous said…
Gotcha. This totally answers my questions. I guess where I'm at now is wrestling somewhere between the Lutheran and Calvin beliefs of did Christ die for the elect or for everyone, but I've decided there's no hurry on figuring that one out. I'll keep digging. ;) And I had no idea Lutherans believed forgiveness can be delivered through baptism and communion. Honestly that one is a little harder for me to jump on board with but I see what you're saying and I'll definitely keep an open mind and keep researching.

Thanks again Matt! I appreciate you and your website, thanks for serving God with such zeal!

-Nick Fast
Anonymous said…
I found this post last night as I was researching Lutheran views on Communion. I really like the illustration you used and it clearly states what I have been taught and what I believe.

I have an additional thought/question/problem related to Lutheran vs. Reformed Evangelical view of the sacraments and would like to ask for your input. I was raised Lutheran by an LCMS Pastor and his wife (my parents). As an adult, I continued membership at an LCMS church. I fell in love with a man who came to faith in Christ as an adult and was attending an Evangelical Free Church. During our time dating, we discussed many topics in Christianity and it seemed that the big point of contention was our views on Infant Baptism vs. "Believer Baptism." I was raised that a man is the religious head of his household and agreed that, if we married, we would not have the children baptized as infants. The new issue, which led me to this post, is that on the way to church yesterday, our older child asked about the Body and Blood in Communion and my husband told him, "It's not really Christs blood, it's just wine." I have a big problem with that statement.

Recently, I have been missing the Lutheran church more and more. My husband is upset that I do not agree 100% with his beliefs and application of Scripture. He sees my dissent as disobedience to his position as head of the household and proof that Satan is at work in my life and he questions whether or not I am actually saved.

Is he right? Am I wrong for not whole-heartedly following what he believes and wants to teach our children? Is it possible for a wife to serve her husband and family while believing in Biblical truths and applications that differ from that of her husband? Am I wrong for wanting to attend a Lutheran church? Or is that permissible if I attend both the Lutheran church that I desire and the Evangelical church that my husband chooses?
Unknown said…
Correct me if I'm wrong but cn we not say the same about the rock Moses struck, 1 Corinthians 10:4 (ESV) and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Thanks for the post!