The Wisconsin Synod/

Reformed Double Pass

a look at Lutheran Liturgical Practice by John W. Berg 

“Blended Worship” is the new buzzword in the little (and shrinking) corner of Lutheranism that is called the Wisconsin Synod with which I am somewhat familiar. Blending “new worship styles” with old forms is the wave and thus the way of the future. (And where have we heard this before?) The cover article for their Forward in Christ magazine promotes this concept and the mag niftily illustrated it on a recent cover with a kitchen blender filled with a yellow liquid in which brightly colored plastic letters are floating spelling out “W-o-r-s-h-i-p.” Get it? Blended Worship.  (Perhaps though the two lemons in the foreground of the scene portend what this strange brew will taste like to the theological connoisseur.)


But, of course, the church has always blended new with the old, the church’s liturgies and song gradually forming over time like a corral reef, sometimes, though, with mixed results. However that blending, if you must, was done at a glacial pace, but now it is at the rate of an avalanche, a rate that will only be accelerated by the Forward in Christ/Seminary-professor-author imprimatur. One wonders why this particular church needs this added impetus to do what comes naturally, especially in an American context which has given us disposable cameras, telephones, liturgies and even ministers who are cast aside without cause but, as they are told, for the “good of the ministry.” One suspects it is an official acknowledgement of the inevitable and an attempt to get ahead of the parade (or praise band) on the issue in an attempt to control it, which, I suspect, will be about as successful as pro wrestling referees are at halting shenanigans in and out of the ring.


“Blending” for appeasement’s sake is not a new phenomenon to the church, nor to this little group, consider the Schlesingerville, Wisconsin case1. A young pastor, one Johannes Sauer, ran afoul of a number of members in his parish, specifically the Reformed members of this union congregation, as he, Sauer, it seems, did not deliver on the synodical promise of an accommodating, all things to all men, cleric. The cause of the trouble? - young Sauer’s chanting of the Benediction, in addition to using other “Lutheran forms.” The major complaint, however, was his use of individual hosts in the Holy Eucharist as opposed to “bread” (whole loaf).  WELS 2004?  No, 1854.


Now, in the infancy of the Wisconsin Synod such union congregations were quite common. (By the way, I actually hold deed to this Synod. A pious farmer by the name of Ehrenfried Seebach from the town of Oakwood [near Milwaukee] penned the letter to the Langenberger Verein, a pietistic mission society, asking that a “believing preacher” be sent to his area. One wishes to this day that my great-great grandfather had been more specific, as undoubtedly great-great grandfather, his great-great grandson, more pious. Any buyers out there?)


The matter came before the synod in its 1854 Granville synod, which among other issues addressed the question “May a Lutheran pastor, in charge of a congregation of his own, administer the Lord’s Supper to a Methodist congregation?”  That such a question came before the Wisconsin Synod speaks to the frontier nature of this church but more so to the squishy confessionalism of the nascent “German Evangelical-Lutheran Ministerium of Wisconsin” (soon to be the “Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin and other States,” soon to be the “Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” which mercifully was spared the magisterial “World Evangelical Lutheran Synod” and other equally supercilious appellations, such as one I heard offered from a Wisconsin Synod convention floor a few years ago, “The Friends of Jesus” - as if it wasn’t already considered a cult by some.) The first president of this synod, Johannes Muehlhauser, termed the Lutheran Confessions, “paper fences.”


In answer to the question the synod came down squarely…on all sides. It resolved that the celebration of the Supper be with the Reformed whole loaf and that Pastor Sauer desist from using the Lutheran forms. However, the synod, with Chamberlain-like accommodation, allowed that if “it was absolutely requisite to the establishment of peace, to use both wafers and bread.” The objection of one Pastor Carl Frederick Goldammer to this capitulation was noted, that this “double form [was] inimical to the nature of the Sacrament, which predicated the most intimate communion and unity of the communicants, and would only tend to aggravate the differences between them.”


Although an acquiescent and obedient “synod man,” the compliant Sauer ironically found himself on the synodical hot seat once again at the decidedly more confessional synod of 1862 when he was found to be using “bread” (whole loaf) and the “Union words of administration” in one of his congregations, while using the Lutheran rite in two others. The wounded Sauer protested his ecclesial spanking by appealing to the wisdom of the 1854 synod which outlawed his Lutheran practice and mandated the Reformed. Yes, synodical schizophrenia has a long history and its blended decisions have a tendency of chopping up those caught in their machinations when a different synodical finger is thrust into the air to check the winds while another is on the purée button.


It Ain’t Adiaphoron


Of course, the above may beg the question for some, “what’s the big deal, wafers or whole loaf?”  Certainly many of our readers attune to the historical and confessional issue know, those new to it may not. Whole loaf is used, even mandated, in some Protestant circles as it best imitates the action of our Lord on the night he was betrayed, he “broke bread” and distributed this “symbol” of his body. When you have a symbolic meal, symbolic actions are important - the breaking of the bread said to symbolize the breaking of Christ’s body. Thus, the utilitarian task of breaking bread (fractio panis) took on a statu confessionis (a state of confession, cf. FC X) nature in the face of this incursion into the Sacrament. When the breaking of the bread is mandated as essential to the Sacrament (well, a Sacrament that isn’t) then knowledgeable Lutherans in the past have firmly and politely deferred. A concession on this “evangelical style” of bread despite a  confession of a “Lutheran substance” was a concession to a confessional understanding of the Eucharist for it brought uncertainty into a Sacramental meal that is all about certainty.


The Missouri Synod stubbed its toe on this issue when its Commission on Worship issued the “Worship Supplement”2 whose “Holy Eucharist II” service included the so called 4 action scheme “discovered” by Dom Gregory Dix, an Anglican liturgiologist, the 4 actions being the “taking,” the “blessing,” the “breaking,” and the “sharing” with each said to be essential to proper celebration. When the utilitarian task of the breaking the bread is made equal to the “blessing” or Verba, then the door is opened for synergism. As Dr. Luther reminds us, it is the “command words” (Heisselwort) on which we must focus.


And so the double pass of bread and host creates uncertainly and disunity and strikes at the heart of the Sacrament, a hard lesson learned by an undoubtedly bewildered Johannes Sauer, sacrificed on the altar of accommodation for peace. As has been said here and elsewhere, no one can sometimes see one’s own foibles better than those on the outside. The Wisconsin Synod archives provide an example. One Gotthilf Weitbrecht, a Tuebingen grad, soon realized this new gathering of accommodating, “be all things to all men,” German Lutherans was not for him and turned to Methodism, which, J. P. Koehler noted in his history, was more to his liking as he was “a sentimental tommy and easily moved to tears” (although if your parishioners threatened to burn down your house,  as they did his, perhaps you’d cry too). In response to the requisite official chiding from Praeses Muelhauser upon his exit, Weitbrecht noted that he could not in good conscience belong to this synod because “your practice is neither strictly Lutheran nor strictly Evangelical, and yet you aim to be both.”  Snap.


Pro Choice or Pro Life?


Fast forward 150 years and one finds a similar situation. The double pass of host and bread has given way to the double pass of aluminum tray with individual glasses (or the oxymoronic plastic glasses) and then the chalice. Do our man Goldammer’s words that the “double form [is] inimical to the nature of the Sacrament, which predicate[s] the most intimate communion and unity of the communicants, and would only tend to aggravate the differences between them” have place here? That is, does this practice bring uncertainty and disunity to the celebration of the Sacrament?  How can it not?


What is the Sacrament of the Altar?  “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Our Lord’s invitation to “take and drink, for this cup is the new testament in my blood” is not simply to get some liquid into you or to simply wet your lips, but to drink from his cup sacramentally filled with his sacrificial blood. Yet with all due respect to those who argue otherwise, our Lord did not mandate the form, size, composition or number of vessels we are to use, but only the grossest of Biblicists would not agree that our Lord gave his single cup to the twelve and that he used a whole loaf.  The concept of one cup, as one loaf, is important, but not essential to the essence of the Sacrament, however, it is not an unimportant matter. If Berengar, Zwingli, Calvin and heirs had mercifully died at birth then the use of whole loaf would not raise an eyebrow. But we cannot deny their existence or influence or our confession in the face of all that.


That the two situations (individual hosts versus individual cups) are not analogous is confirmed by asking the question, “Why?” The church’s use of hosts, rather than whole loaf, was a pious and utilitarian solution which came from a redoubtable and pious belief in the real presence. When you believe the bread which you hold is the true Body of Christ and you are communing masses in your mass, the question of crumbs from the breaking of bread takes on serious, faith shaking implications.  The use of host was driven by piety and reverence for the Body of Christ.


The advent of individual cups has a much less pious, even sinister background. Their use appeared in the church prior to the turn of the last century and came from the Reformed, who believe in, and enjoy, no real presence, the “real absence” as it has been dubbed. Couple this with the process perfected by one Mr. Welch of stopping the juice of the grape from fermenting, or, in the poetic words of a Lutheran theologian, “preventing the grape from reaching its God ordained destiny,” with a temperance theology and political movement to boot, as well as with the “discovery” of microbes and germs otherwise partially inhibited by alcohol and finally with the “blessing” of a Biblistic interpretation of “this fruit of the vine” as any old by-product of a vine, then the use of individual cups with some vine product makes a whole lot of sense for the impious. Thus the “why” for the use of hosts is a confession of the real presence, the “why” of the use of the individual cups is a concession to fear and doubt.


Irrational fears, then, of catching some bug, along with a latent pietism and an often unthinking blending of the new with the old has resulted in the practice of the double pass of individual cup and chalice and, in some places, a third go round with the grape wine substitute (or as at one Wisconsin Synod church the distribution formula of celebrant with the tray is “the grape juice is in the center of the tray.” No lie.) What, then, is proclaimed with the individual cups, especially in the double pass celebration? At every celebration of such a Communion the inference drawn is, “the contents of the cup may be harmful to my health.” Individual cups alone, even without with the double pass, create uncertainly about the health of drinking from the cup of the Lord and bring into question the real presence. The double pass makes the “health issue” an issue at every celebration and may turn thoughts away from the Supper, but to who is doing what, and thus create disunity and can even lead to pride, as some have openly confessed to me, “Who does that person think they are [taking the cup]” or “look at me [I’m taking the cup].” It inserts the matter of “choice” into a Sacrament that is nothing but pure gift, pure life.  Additionally, it creates the horrific situation of the communicant refusing the cup filled with the Blood of Christ, saying, “no, I’ll wait for the vessel of my choice.” 


One Lord, One Faith


Now, the medical question has been sufficiently answered elsewhere, in short, there is no problem. (For example, see “About Being Lutheran” available from Lutheran Liturgical Renewal, publishers of The Bride of Christ). Those arguments are for the weak but not where one begins catechesis on the issue, that begins with the institution of Christ. But once that catechesis is offered and problems with the chalice remain, the real problem surfaces which may be mental, spiritual, or theological. There are those who are afraid of the cup for fear of germs and, if they were consistent, should fear to leave their homes (and most probably don’t). I suspect there are a few who fall into that category. I know that there are many who find the very element of the Sacrament, alcoholic grape wine, suspect and thus prefer a small cup with which they may wet their lips, or better yet, to be served something non-alcoholic.3 What pastor hasn’t encountered the hysteria “I am on medication, I am not supposed to drink”? I believe this is also the reason why some argue for substitutes for “this (not “any”) fruit of the vine.” Although they “argue” for others - you know, those with a problem (glug, glug) - I suspect they are arguing for themselves. Yet I would wager that my experience is no different than any other Lutheran pastor - every single alcoholic I know has no problem with the supper, in fact, just the opposite, they find it as strength for their problem and are quite resentful of the suggestion that the Holy Supper provides occasion for relapse. 


Finally, when all the objections are answered, all that remains is unbelief, fear and doubt that drives faith in the institution of our Lord from the heart of the communicant that this cup is “for our highest good” and that the Lord knew what he was doing when he instituted this Holy Supper. Our Lord knew there were germs, he knew there were those whose sinful flesh had a problem with this fruit of the vine, and yet he gave his Cup filled with his Blood, for this is why he came. Only the mature can understand the advice that Bride of Christ editor Fr. John Fenton suggested one offer to those armed with the “germ” argument. Agree, say, one will get every kind of disease from the other communicants from the cup of blessing which we bless for are we not to share (koinwniva) one another’s burdens?


Obviously, I am arguing for the use of the chalice. Yet, as in the early days of the Reformation, one should not force the cup on anyone, even its “form.” Catechesis is necessary, vital.  But in the meantime, the offense against the Supper and faith would be alleviated by celebrating one Sunday with the individual cups (if you have them, as I do) and the following week with the chalice (as do I). In congregations without an every Sunday celebration who use the tray, this is an opportunity to introduce the cup on those dry Sundays. My parish exclusively used individual cups upon my arrival. Within months I was compelled by the faithful to celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday (and was chastised when I didn’t offer it in midweek services, an error I quickly corrected, lest, as the aforementioned Fenton says, they use my stole for what it was intended, to choke me) before I was able to catechize on the cup.  When we introduced the cup we offered it on the first, third and fifth Sundays, as well as at midweek services and festivals. Interestingly, in the first congregational celebration with the chalice, which congregation is located in the San Francisco Bay area, nearly every communicant communed and the second last to commune (I, contrary to convention, commune myself last, lest some accuse me of not having to worry about germs and also because we have a racially mixed congregation) was a healthy mother of two, a medical doctor who works at a hospital in San Francisco. Those who desired the Sacrament, yet still had fears, were invited to sit so as to be the first to receive, which most of the few who were still concerned did, but they soon realized that it is the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s cup, the Lord’s blood and began to gladly share in all its blessings, regardless of when or with whom or with what they shared in the cup of the Lord.  


Double passes of any kind will create uncertainly and disunity. The double pass of individual cups and chalice is an accommodating and ambiguous practice, one that is, in the words of our dear Methodist friend Gotthilf Weitbrecht, “neither Lutheran nor Evangelical, yet aims to be both.” Gotthilf, indeed.  §



The Reverend John Berg is pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in FremontCalifornia an independent Lutheran congregation. At the time of the writing of this commentary in January of 2004  he was a member of the Wisconsin Synod.




Modern day Slinger, Wisconsin. Quotes gleaned from The History of Wisconsin Synod, J. P. Koehler, Faith-Life (1970) and the Synodical proceedings.

2 The Worship Supplement CPH. 1969 p. 59.

3 At the time of this writing I was chided by a rabid defender of the Wisconsin Synod for this alleged calumny of the Wisconsin Synod, of which I was then a part. Well, since the above was written in the Wisconsin Synod’s official Q/A in answer to the question as to whether grape juice is allowable for the Sacrament, particularly for someone who doesn’t like the taste of wine, a Wisconsin Synod seminary professor wrote,

For the sake of avoiding misunderstandings, it is always better to limit the use of grape juice to what you call exceptional cases. In this situation where a person does not like the taste of wine, if I were his or her pastor I would have suggested that the person limit his or her use of the wine to a touching and licking of the lips rather than a full cup (8/19/06).

Vindication for me, tragedy for this synod. One wonders how this Biblicist can turn our Lords, “drink” to “just lick your lips if you don’t like the taste.”





Letters to the Editors  


Reverend Fr. David Petersen writes


I read with great interest and amusement your article in the rag on the "double pass" [Vol II:1]. I agree that it is troubling. Yet so many find themselves in that situation. Our people are weak. In our current poverty it seems better to offer the Blood of Christ in a strange vessel than to have those weak and stubborn souls for whom it is intended abstain. I would,  however, be so bold as to make a couple of logistical suggestions in response to your self-described practice. They are far from perfect - where we'd simply offer the Chalice. They may not be practical in your locale and I don't mean to be condescending. I  just thought you might not have considered all your options.


In the first place I would strive to never celebrate the Sacrament without a Chalice. Better to offer both means of reception every Sunday than to ever not use the chief symbol of Our Lord's suffering and gift and most reverent means. True, this will mean that some will probably never receive from the Chalice. You'll let them off the hook and they'll get their preference. But it also means that some will never be forced to receive from the individual glasses, a worse offense.


If you decide to try such a thing you might eliminate the double pass by dividing the congregation. The Blood of Christ will be distributed from the Chalice on the pulpit side and from individual glasses on the lectern side or to the first two tables or some such thing. We do not offer the glasses on Weekdays around here except on Christmas Eve. But we do on Sunday mornings. Like you, it is something I have to endure. It is not perfect but it is not an abomination. Those who receive from the individual glasses are a shrinking number. We currently only have 15 individual cups ready. They go to the first 15 on the pulpit side. The Lectern side is always the Chalice, and so is the Pulpit side after the first 15. It works pretty well here. The problem is that some will sit on the wrong side, get in the wrong line, etc. But they'll learn, and you'll be spared the horror of those who would deny the proffered Blood, along with grunting and gesticulating toward their preference. (Which reminds of Dr. William Weinrich's response to the double pass - he takes both. He says he can't bring himself to say no.) Dividing the congregation this way is not perfect, but it my experience it is superior both to the double pass and to only offering individual glasses.


Finally, I would suggest that you receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord first, as guest not host and as one in dire need, lest after preaching to others you yourself fall away. I understand your rationale for receiving last in your context. Certainly the Scriptures don't mandate anything here. But I suspect that even if you receive the Body and Blood first as a communicant, those gathered will notice that you are draining the Chalice at the end of the distribution, rinsing it and draining it again, after the last person has received and before it is removed or veiled again. That really is "worse" than simply communing last. You're not just taking a sip after everyone else. You are getting all their spit, germs, nose hairs and the like along with the Blood of Christ out of the Chalice and into your stomach before it is put away.


I greatly enjoy and am certainly edified by the rag. I equally admire your embracing of the invective. We yankee Lutherans have good historical precedent for that. But I especially am grateful for your courageous witness and willingness to suffer for the Truth. It may be that the Magpie is Lutheranism's Thermopylae. The defenders all fell, but the toll they made the Persians pay, the inspiration they were to all of Greece, and the time they provided made Greece the ultimate victors. Strange, is it not, that the Church has fewer examples of self-sacrifice and honor than the pagans? Our clergy should eat nothing these days but the storied Spartan broth from whence came the great Spartan strength. Oh, yes, dear friend the bishops may well darken the sky with their arrows, to which Leonidas replies, "Then we'll fight in the shade." The compromising spirits of  Eusebius and Constantine are our enemies to this day. I don't need to tell  you to not kneel before Xerxes but to live and die as a free man nor to bring back your shield or be carried upon it. Your rag already demonstrates you know that.


8MM Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. You’re right, the one situation that I did not address or even envision, as it was not part of my WELS Weltanschauung was that of a congregation that celebrates the Sacrament every Lord’s Day and suffered the introduction of the individual cups. In that case I would never “withdraw” the chalice from one Sunday so as to offer only it the next.  I was approaching the issue from the common experience of Wisconsin Synod churches, only a handful of which have an every Sunday (every service) celebration of the Sacrament. The vast majority have a monthly or bi-monthly celebration usually with the double pass and in many increasing instances, only with the individual cups. In those situations, the dry Sundays provide a perfect place to introduce the chalice without diminishing the opportunities the faithful formerly had to receive this blessing in their preferred mode of distribution.  Again, your situation is off the WELS radar screen and thus mine.


I agree, one should not withdraw or withhold the cup, and I suppose your solution is as good as, if not better than, most to this problem. But, as you know, the key word in your description - “If you decide to try such a thing you might eliminate the double pass by dividing the congregation” - is the word “dividing.”  But, one does the best one can. In my scenario the faithful, once deprived of the Sacrament (usually by Voter’s Meeting fiat) are now offered the cup on those formerly dry Sundays. In a congregation where I introduced the chalice on dry Sunday’s, the conversion rate (those whose fears were converted to faith) was much higher and faster than previously when we offered the double pass and their were no conversions. Desire, it seems, trumps fear. (Pastoral accommodation, though, is always given the weak, but not the prideful.)


Just a note about my practice. Even on those “individual cup” Sundays I consecrate the chalice and - what a friend calls - the tower of power (elevating only the chalice) and use the chalice for my and the other clergy’s communion (acolytes, crucifer and the occasional thurifer, ah, smells and bells!) Before we began to offer the chalice to all - one of the faithful finally said, “Hey, what about us?!” That little bit of clericalism was quickly eliminated, as was the plan.


I also have taken to heart your kind pastoral advice about communing first and it will soon be my practice. The temptation to faithlessness and doubt is a constant thorn in my flesh. It had been formally been my practice (to commune first) when I was more tainted by my inchoate and learned Protestantism and treated the reliquiae as a profane thing and when those notions were corrected I decided to commune last (germs and all) and to make the reliquiae question moot, as did our forefathers, for the reasons I stated in my article. But I also did so for the sad reason that I, by consuming the reliquiae last for my communion, would be spared being accused of those things those in my “conservative” circles accuse those who do consume the reliquiae are (if I had communed first and then, gasp, consumed the reliquiae), you know, those who actually believe that when the Lord calls a thing something, it is.


By the time you receive this edition of our rag, though, I will have corrected that in a long list of other unclear and bad practices yet to undergo Lutheranization. (Editor note, this practice has now been corrected in my catechized congregation, which also believes that when Christ calls a thing it is that thing and without a word to say it is not, it is.)And although I thank you for the kind comparison to the brave defenders of Thermopylae,  personally I have yet to arrive at that sort of martyr’s faith and to suffer that which some have suffered, aside from some name calling.


But, uh, back up a moment... on their shield? §