Pleasantly Surprised – Visit To Redeemer, Austin, Texas

               Over twenty years ago a confessional pastor after visiting the above’s 8 AM traditional service said, “There was nothing about the service that you would recognize as Lutheran.” So when I “attended” the 8 AM traditional service for 28 February 2021, I was expecting anything from loincloths to tongue-speaking. I got vestments, liturgy, and clear gospel.

               Don’t request a transfer just yet. If you value an indicative absolution and not the Protestant declaration of pardon, don’t go here. The pastor doesn’t say, “I forgive you in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.” Nope, he declares, “For Jesus sake your sins are forgiven.”

               But then again to my surprise the Collect of the Day was prayed and the Nicene Creed was confessed. Then again a woman does the Children’s Sermon; she closes with a prayer to God but says “in your name we pray.” Jesus was conspicuously absent, but I don’t think that was purposeful. That’s just Protestantism. However, I did like her “message” on the sign langue for peace. Actually, it was quite insightful. (N. B. her description and demonstration doesn’t match the ASL dictionary here: .) You clasp your hands together as in clenching them first right hand on top then flipping with left hand on top. She said this doesn’t connote peace to us but stress. But then she separates her hands and pushes them away from her side palms out. That motion does speak peace in the manner of Ps. 46:10 of “let go” (GW) and know that I am God.

               The sermon was in one sense the standard Non-Denom of how to pray. Two funny things. The pastor pointed out how music is an aid to prayer. After mentioning hymns, contemporary, and praise, he actually said, “even if its Bach”. And he did trot out that old chestnut: count your blessings to relieve depression. For a church that prides itself as being 21st century leaders, his return to the 18th and 19th centuries was surprising. Nevertheless, he did clearly preach the incarnation and substitutionary, universal atonement.

               They celebrated Communion. It was self-serve. The pastor stood there robed, masked, and looking like the Phantom of the Opera as people came forward. They also offer drive-through and online Communion. Go here for instructions on being an in-home Communion assistant training. Evidently, they believe in electronic consecration.

This does not surprise me. Redeemer has practiced open Communion for the 40 years I’ve been around her. They are a flagship church of the Texas District LCMS. In agreement with Luther and Sasse, I don’t believe Open Communion churches have the Lord’s Supper at all. “‘It is quite true that wherever the preacher administers only bread and wine for the Sacrament, he is not very concerned about to whom he gives it , what they know or believe, or what they receive'” (Luther in Closed Communion, 14). “‘Open Communion’ is not Communion at all; it may be a fascinating rite, a religious experience, but is not the Sacrament of the New Testamen'” (Sasse in Closed Communion, 430).  So, whether online, in-person, or driving through, people communing at Redeemer, Austin or any other Open Communion church aren’t getting the Lord’s Supper and therefore they aren’t getting forgiveness, life, or salvation either. I’m not saying they couldn’t possibly have these elsewhere in open Communion Churches just that they don’t have them in the Elements, orally. And I’m not alone. The Mothership of the entire LCMS published the book the above quotes came from. Sadly, her leadership, as ever, doesn’t have the courage of their convictions.

               You noticed I refer to Redeemer, Austin. That’s because that’s what their emblem reads and most of their material. As Church Growth has preached for 40 years and the Church of Christ has for a century, denominational labels divide. Her website use to read: “a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod”. It was in fine print, but there. Now, “Redeemer is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)” ( Am I making a distinction without a difference between “member” and “affiliated”? Well, my foot is more than affiliated with my body, right? And who wants to be merely affiliated with the Body of Christ rather than a member of? I suppose those content with an online, a drive-through, or an open understanding of His Presence.

Below in an unsolicited response to my blog which delves deeper into the morass of Open Communion, Consecration by technology, and the Gospel. One thing the author is wrong bout. It’s certainly not a pointless rant.

Hi Pastor,
The following is mostly a pointless rant:

Thanks for writing a review of Redeemer.  I watched those in-home communion videos.  You can tell that deep down they know they shouldn’t do this by how frequently he reassures you that they are doing this well, with good teaching and “oversight from the pastors.”

Once you sign up for their list of “at-home communion assistants,” they send out a Zoom link that has a password on it.  The password is there to make sure only those who have done the training (i.e., those who watched the two YouTube videos) are using the Zoom.  “This,” he says, “is our way of being good stewards of the sacraments.”  So rigorous!

But how do you get on that list?  You fill out an online form.  This is like agreeing to the “terms of service” to use an app.

Who is eligible to receive communion?  Those who have completed the “101 class.”  This class is held “on a Saturday late morning into early afternoon.”  I know, you’ve told me that before, but I had to read it on their website to really believe it.

Yet there is still a Bizarro form of Lutheranism underlying some of this.  I can believe that you heard the Gospel preached at Redeemer, in spite of things like this.  My church at A&M was similar — the Gospel was preached, Scripture was treated as God’s word, but we practiced open communion.  Many of us didn’t know better, but a pastor should.

Thank you for faithfully administering the sacraments at Trinity!

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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