Reformed Obstruction

What follows is an excerpt from a letter from Gideon Schaats, the Dutch Reformed minister in Beverwyck, New Netherland, to the Reformed Classis of Amsterdam in Holland, dated September 22, 1660. It can be found in Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York, Vol. I (Albany, New York: James B. Lyon, 1901), pp. 482-83.

The reason which induces me to write to the dear Brethren [of the Classis], is partly the advice of the Brethren at New Amsterdam, and partly, because the Lutherans are now again, as before, making up subscriptions for the salary of a Lutheran preacher. They say, or pretend, that this has been allowed to them by the gentlemen of the West India Company. But if he [a Lutheran minister] should come, which may God prevent, it would create a great schism among us here in our congregation, which is now at peace, especially, because there are several (Lutherans) here, who are members of our church, which numbers at present about two hundred members. There are also other Lutherans who are gradually being led to us. Some of these are on the point of becoming members, who were at home of different opinions. But there are some unstable Lutherans, who do not seem to like any other form of baptism than that according to Luther, and his religion. They have not the least comprehension of the difference, and are satisfied, as long as the hope of obtaining a Lutheran preacher is deferred. They were indeed somewhat restless about it, when they first heard of it, but having quieted down a little, they come again to church. But when a renewed hope is excited in such people, then these rainless clouds and this tempestuous sea again begin to move by the (renewal) of the hope, given them several times before. We trust that the dear Brethren [of the Classis of Amsterdam] will do their best in this matter to protect Christ’s sheep against the wolves and foxes, and catch also the young foxes, that they may not injure the vineyard of the Lord -- the vines which are still very young and tender in this country, and especially in this place.


The Lutherans in New Netherland

thought highly of their faith, for they and their parents, and even generations before them, had been brought up in it. For that reason, they decidedly did not like the attitude of the Reformed leaders in scoffing at their loyalty to that faith, as though such loyalty were something of small importance. After all, they, like their Reformed brethren, had a catechism which they had committed to memory, together with a ritual which they cherished from their childhood. Furthermore, they had a deep affection for their communion, with its distinctive doctrine of the Real Presence of their Lord. (Harry J. Kreider, The Beginnings of Lutheranism in New York [New York: 1949], p. 13.)

According to the Heidelberg Catechism, a chief confessional standard of the Reformed Church, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are “certain tokens of the body and blood of Christ” (Question 75, in The Creeds of Christendom, edited by Philip Schaff [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983 reprint], Vol. III, p. 332.). Also according to this Catechism -- and Reformed theology in general -- “to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ” means, among other things, “to be so united more and more to his sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that although he is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are nevertheless flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul” (Q. 76, pp. 332-33.).

Confessional Lutherans would find little satisfaction in such an explanation. On the basis of Christ’s Words of Institution, they

confess that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly offered with the visible elements, the bread and the wine, to those who receive the sacrament. If the body of Christ were not truly present, but only the Holy Spirit, then when Paul says that the bread which we break is a participation in the body of Christ, etc., it would follow that the bread is a participation not in the body but in the spirit of Christ. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII:11 [quoting the Apology of the Augsburg Confession], in The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 571.)

In the midst of the difficulties and challenges of this life, Lutherans are comforted by their belief that

Christ can be and is present wherever he wills, and in particular that he is present with his church and community on earth as mediator, head, king, and high priest. Not part or only one-half of the person of Christ, but the entire person to which both natures, the divine and the human, belong is present. He is present not only according to his deity, but also according to and with his assumed human nature, according to which he is our brother and we flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Eph. 5:30). To make certainty and assurance doubly sure on this point, he instituted his Holy Supper that he might be present with us, dwell in us, work and be mighty in us according to that nature, too, according to which he has flesh and blood. (FC SD VIII:78-79, Tappert pp. 606-07.)

Lutherans believe furthermore that the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Sacrament

does not rest on man’s faith or unbelief but on the Word and ordinance of God -- unless they first change God’s Word and ordinance and misinterpret them, as the enemies of the sacrament do at the present time. They, indeed, have only bread and wine, for they do not also have the Word and instituted ordinance of God but have perverted and changed it according to their own imagination. (FC SD VII:32 [quoting Martin Luther], pp. 574-75.)

Lutherans who accurately understand and consistently embrace their church’s historic teaching on the Lord’s Supper are not able, as a matter of conscience, to become communicants in a church that does not clearly confess the doctrine of the Real Presence.

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