Supper for Thirteen, Halos for Twelve

One of the big problems being tolerated in our Synod is a wide variety of practices in communion fellowship.  Some examples are blatant “open” communion, “real presence believer” communion, “agree to these five points” communion, and “I know I am in the same Synod but I won’t commune with you” communion.  This article is about open communion, which is one of the worst of these variations of communion fellowship.  By open communion I mean that there is essentially a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regards to attendance of the Lord’s Supper.

First of all, open communion is against the Scriptures.  It reflects at best a Reformed belief about the Sacrament of the Altar.  By that I mean that when a congregation and their pastor commune everyone regardless of confession of faith they really must believe that each communicant does not necessarily receive by mouth the Lord’s Body and Blood.  That is why most “Protestant” churches can practice open communion, because they don’t believe there is anything there which could damage a body or soul.  Several like to think that a belief in the real presence can exist alongside open communion, but that is not so.  Just as the words “This is My body” are true, so also the words of warning about sickness and death from wrongful communing.

Secondly, I will say that practicing open communion is spiritual abuse.  It harms the person who wrongfully communes.  It harms the congregation which suffers the wrong of a diverse confession.  It harms all other congregations which are connected to it because it invites disunity into the larger body (why can’t liberals love their neighbor?).  This article is to start to put forward some thoughts about communion fellowship.

So was Judas there?  A common “Scriptural” defense of open communion often uses Judas as an example (poor Judas is always an example for something).  The defense goes something like this: Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him, and yet Jesus communed Judas, so therefore we shouldn’t keep anyone who wants to partake away from the Lord’s Supper.

First, I will say that there are some who argue that Judas is not there at the Institution of the Lord’s Supper.  I actually believe he was, and that his presence confirms the Scriptural practice (also one which considers the care of souls) of Closed Communion.  Follow along.

  • Jesus knew the heart of Judas (a pastor cannot do this, even with a good board of Elders!)
  • Jesus offered Judas multiple warnings and chances to repent
  • Judas refused to repent, and kept the same public confession of the faith as the others
  • In the end, Jesus took the confession of the mouth of Judas and his membership in the “Twelve” at their face value, communing Judas

If Judas is meant to be the example for Open Communion he would have been a visitor of the Twelve, not one of the Twelve themselves.  Open communion’s example would be if Caiaphas had shown up in the upper room that night and communed.  Judas was a regular member of the group in good standing (publicly).  He is an example of someone who sit regularly in pews each week but doesn’t believe (don’t start the witch hunt, it didn’t work in Pietism and it won’t work today either).

Another argument comes right from the text of the Words of Institution.  All good theology for the Lord’s Supper comes from those words.  Jesus gave communion to His disciples.  The Words of institution clearly teach who was there (His disciples).  How according to the Scriptures is a disciple made?  By being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by being taught to observe all things (including Closed Communion) [Matthew 28:19-20].  Baptism and Catechesis are essential to being made a disciple.  That level of catechesis cannot happen in the case of a visitor.

Closed Communion need not be sectarian.  That means that when we exclude some from communion we are not accusing them of not being Christian.  After all, there were more disciples of Jesus than just the Twelve.  This means that yes there are Christians out there who we can’t commune with.  As Lutherans we firmly believe that where Christ is, there is the Church, which can be paraphrased, where the Word of God is, there will be Christians.

In the future I hope to post some things that have been helpful with clergy and laity in order to practice closed communion.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Supper for Thirteen, Halos for Twelve — 72 Comments

  1. @David #26
    “My question is, can I, an LC-MS Lutheran, who agrees with the practice of closed communion, commune in good conscience at an LC-MS congregation where some variety of open communion is practiced?”

    @Pastor Joshua Scheer #29
    “@David #26
    This is the sad truth of the LCMS now. Many have suffered the trouble of having to making other smaller circles of fellowship inside of the one fellowship that we are supposed to have (and have pledged to have). Some call this “Selective Fellowship”. It does not honor our pledge to the other congregations in the Synod. That is the trouble.”

    @Rev. Randall #43
    “@David #26
    I don’t! If I shouldn’t commune with those who confess differently than I do, why would I commune at that table, even though the sign says LCMS? I have found that one of the “five questions” includes something along the lines of “Do you agree with the doctrines of this congregation?” Obviously, their doctrine is have what I would call open communion, and I don’t agree with it. So I don’t commune.”

    I struggle with this question myself. One time when I realized I was communing at an LCMS congregation which practices open communion I became quite angry. It is hard to commune in good conscience when you are angry about abuses you believe are taking place during the meal. I believe the dispute I have with my brother must be settled before I can commune. The teaching about the “pledge” to other congregations throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the whole equation. Should a confessional Lutheran transfer out of a faithful LCMS congregation to one of another synod because of the abuses of other pastors and congregations which are members of the LCMS?

  2. @Jim Pierce #47

    Hey Jim, your right I did. I apologize and after re-reading everything and also learning more about the LCMS’s views on closed communion, I now understand all of this a lot better. Again, this has been a good discussion for me.

    nbfzman – I appreciated your comments very much.

    I also read what Paul McCain says about closed communion here.

  3. I have been off the string for a day . . . I appreciate the discussion.

    Here is one of the challenges I find . . . people who are strong on closed communion in the Lutheran “context” have difficultly when they go to grandma’s non-Lutheran church and feel the pressure to communion.

    As has already been said, the laypeople of a congregation do much to help or hinder this teaching and practice as they have the “tough” conversation(s) with family and friends. The more we can do to catechize them, the better.

  4. @Pastor Tim Rossow #3
    As moderator why have you not challenged the #l young blood statement?
    He says the parable in Matthew 22:1-14 answers the question of open communion.
    That parable concerns the fact that Israel rejected Christ and God invited the Gentiles
    into His Kingdom.

  5. @Rev. John Heimke #54
    @Young Blood #1

    Thank you Rev. Heimke. I would ask Young Blood to show why Mt 22:1-14 is an appropriate text. I would assume some things, but that may not be what he was thinking.

    From my reading of the text, Rev. Heimke’s summary of the parable is correct. If I were to try to apply it to communion fellowship, it would mean that those who don’t commune with me are damned, which is sectarian. I hope YoungBlood can further explain his own thinking on the matter.

  6. @Rev. John Heimke #54
    Perhaps I can find the article that first used it in relation to Closed Communion and convinced me. I want to say it was by Nagel, but I could be mistaken about that. Sufficed to say it was more authoritative than my quip on a comment section. I hope I can find it online…

  7. @Young Blood #57
    I cannot find a copy of the article online. Maybe one of the pastors here has access to it and knows which one I’m talking about. I am fairly certain the article was titled “Ecumenical Closed Communion” by Norman Nagel (I don’t have date or publication unfortunately). I wish I had Nagel’s article to see if I just derived this on my own or if he had a deeper explanation.

    Since I can’t find the article and don’t have a hard copy I don’t want to put words into Dr. Nagel’s piece. I would say that I did not think of using it in reference to Christians of other denominations but rather unbelievers who are present or invited to the service by friends.

    On one level this parable works against those who advocate Open Communion on grounds of Universalism or even evangelism of unbelievers. After all, Closed/Open Communion does not just apply to visiting members of other denominations. It is also a practice for the protection of unbelievers who come to the divine service. No one who reads Matthew 22 can allow for universalism and if that is part of their justification of Open Communion (as it is for some) then they must reevaluate. The Sacrament is not for everyone of every belief.

    On another level, I don’t think it’s a stretch to connect a kingdom parable about the heavenly wedding feast to the Lord’s Supper which is so often referred to as the foretaste for the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride. I don’t deny Pastor Heimke’s summary. I would just look at this parable’s condemnation of the man who shows up expecting to get in to the wedding feast without the granted wedding garment and I cannot help but think of those who are not baptized Christians yet would expect the right to come forward and take part in the foretaste of that same feast.
    Now, most of the unbelievers I know would not come forward to the Lord’s Supper even when invited to church. I think it’s more an issue of pastors and church bodies who advocate Open Communion for “evangelism” purposes. I would look at this parable with its stated purpose that many are called but few are chosen and say such a pastor shouldn’t take an unbeliever to the feast before he has been clothed with Christ in Baptism.

    But what do I know, I’m just a layman. If Pastors Heimke or Scheer would like to chastise this understanding then do your pastoral duty and please explain where I have gone astray.

  8. @Young Blood #58
    Thanks for the quick reply. If I understand what you are saying correctly, the parable of the feast in Matthew 22 helps us understand that the eternal Supper is going to be closed. If taken to mean that each celebration of the Lord’s Supper today is a “foretaste” of that final feast so therefore the foretaste should be closed, okay. I struggle with that interpretation for what you are telling those who cannot commune with you today.

    Also, there are similarities in the attitude of the one who appears in his own garb and wants to feast and those who come into church thinking that communion is their “right” (maybe more problematic among longstanding church members than visitors).

    The problem is that in context Jesus is not teaching that specifically, but is teaching about the calling and choosing of the Gentiles. The wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, which is how one is dressed for the festivities. The one trying to enter without the righteousness of Christ is thrown out.

    What you are talking about is a theological application of the text, not what the parable itself teaches. For instance, the parable of the wheat and the weeds could be theologically applied to disprove any premillenialist view of the rapture (the weeds are torn up first). This is not formally what the parable of the wheat and weeds teaches however.

    Don’t downplay being a layman, and you know much, after all you are to keep us pastors in check too! I think it was a professor at Fort Wayne that told me that clergy have led most of the heretical movements in the Church over its history. In our case of the LCMS, I believe it was the laity who helped call the erring clergy to the carpet in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Jesus doesn’t warn about hearers, but false preachers.

  9. @Armchair Lutheran #38
    “Confessing Lutheran” you say you are, as I say I am. But what is the measure of the truth of that statement? The Confessions. The faith *confessed* at that altar–via what’s said “on paper”–as in their constitution *and even* the congregation’s/altar’s “membership”/fellowship in the Missouri Synod–as well as what’s done and taught as regular practice at that particular altar is what’s paramount. A lot of the discussion here has slipped into judging hearts of particular people standing/kneeling next to me. I’m simply not able to do that, and I become a Pharisee if I do. But I *can* and (especially as a pastor) *must* judge the confession of their lips (church membership) and their lives (as in hypothetically, do I commune someone living with their girlfriend without benefit of marriage?–confessing with their lives that they do not want what Christ is giving in the Sacrament). Yes, even in this age of “ambiguous denominationalism” what church/altar you belong to is still paramount.

  10. This is a timely article, much thanks. As an ex-SB then PCA guy now LCMS I’ve discovered, rather shockingly, that one doesn’t get so much flak from other denominations (all our, my wife and mine, family who are various baptist (mostly SB) understand and have not been offended at all, but rather from some new fellow Lutherans one runs into. That last part was the shocking part to me, I would have guessed the other way around.

    Thanks much for this article and discussion.

  11. So what do you do when you have LCMS folk from your parish who move and there is nothing but an ELCA parish within an hours drive or, in the case of many military, the generic Protestant service on post? They come back here and I commune them… it is not their fault they have no opportunity to join an orthodox Lutheran congregation… their faith has not changed but there are many in such circumstances who have no choice but either no congregational life at all or a non-orthodox Lutheran one… I do not consider this a breach of close(d) communion. BTW, talk to the military about the kinds of Lutheran congregations out there and you find out pretty quick that there are not all that many choices even in Missouri Synod parishes where you can find the liturgy and faithful Law/Gospel preaching and teaching…

  12. @Larry Peters #63
    In the situation you describe people would be encouraged to attend church to hear preaching at a “Lutheran” congregation and commune only once in a while at their home congregation. Up here near the “frontier” it is actually possible and happens from time to time.

  13. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #59

    Pastor Joshua Scheer :
    @Young Blood #58

    Don’t downplay being a layman, and you know much, after all you are to keep us pastors in check too! I think it was a professor at Fort Wayne that told me that clergy have led most of the heretical movements in the Church over its history. In our case of the LCMS, I believe it was the laity who helped call the erring clergy to the carpet in the late 60?s and early 70?s. Jesus doesn’t warn about hearers, but false preachers.


  14. A Witness to Closed Communion and the Public Confession of Faith: These postings regarding closed communion has made me remember a part of my/our recent past that I have neglected, because it was painful.

    In my last parish as an ELCA pastor (I resigned as pastor in 2/28/10 and have since been accepted by colloquy awaiting a Call in the LCMS), I found myself in the peculiar situation after the ELCA’s decision to deny the doctrine of marriage in August, 2009, that now I was a pastor in a congregation/church that was formally apostate and heretical. The congregation could not, after years of my preaching and teaching, say we should leave. I tried to convince. I was accused as being “negative”, an ELCA basher and a fundamentalist. In the years before this time, I had my mind changed regarding open communion. So my wife and I made a painful decision not to receive Communion at the congregation I was serving. We also stopped our offering at the congregation because they also could not say that we should stop our “benevolence” to the Virginia Synod(ELCA). (I remember now that the Church Council seem to be more upset by our withholding of our offering than not communing). It was a matter that yes, Holy Communion is public confession of Faith and Practice according to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions: to say that I commune with you at the Table is publicly stating I am in agreement with your teaching of doctrine and faith. We can not “agree to disagree”. Heresy is also sin. We can not be in agreement with heretical teaching. The Holy Communion and Holy Baptism are not only about the Lord and I in a private, personal relationship but fidelity to the true Evangelical Lutheran Church as communion of saints in public preaching and teaching with, as it is said in the South, y’all. At the very least, closed communion states: this is of value, eternal value, a treasure.

    Even now as I reflect back at that time from September ’09 to February ’10, it was strange. From December through February, Virginia here had some of the biggest snowfalls in decades. Our children had off over two weeks of school. I had many meetings with the bishop. Our computer crashed. I know whereof it is said in Holy Writ what help-mate is for a pastor. And I had many pastoral conversations with a retired ELCA pastor here in town and the LCMS pastor in nearby city about our decision. They were supportive for our decision not to commune and they were hurting for us. Not-communing, according to the Scripture, is as necessary as communing as discernment of the body is part of the public vocation of the Church and her pastors for the well-being of the flock in our charge.

  15. @Rev. Mark Schroeder #66
    You took a long time about leaving. Why wasn’t the ordination of women, or the general “pick & choose your truth” attitude toward the Bible sufficient to move you sooner?

    I’m not trying to be rude! I’m saying that a lot of us had enough years before.
    [You may ask why I’m in LCMS. 1. Now, I pray it’s turning around. 2. Before last July, I was hoping confessional liturgical churches would move out en masse, because I didn’t see that I would be better off among other options available. Frankly, if Harrison had not gotten elected, I think we would have been pushed.]

  16. @helen #67
    Helen, it is a question my wife and I have asked more than once: why not earlier? I don’t take your question as rudeness. Here are the inter-connecting reasons:
    First reason is that I grew up in the LCMS and went through Concordia/Milwaukee (grad. in ’74),then Senior college. I was a liberal. I was for ordination of women. I did not like what was going on the LCMS at the time and the schism at “801” occurred in my first two years of college. I was already for the liberal political movements of the ’60s. And later, the mindset amongst ELCA liturgical and confessional pastors (or in the ELCA, ‘evangelical catholics’ or worse, “the black shirts”), as the ELCA from it’s inception was going the easy and wide path to destruction, was to go Orthodox or Roman. No one of from the LCA would ever think of the LCMS as an option. We (my wife and I) just did not think of the LCMS back 10-15 years ago.
    Second and related to the first: by prayer, conversation and study of the Scriptures and the Confessions with many others, (and I think a Confessional Renaissance in the LCMS) it takes time to wake up and get sober. For instance: It’s hard to shake off the shackles of modern Biblical criticism and what it does to the Holy Writ. It casts all sorts of devilish doubt and fear. Ordination of women: Seminex (my seminary) had thoroughly taught us the ways to re-interpret the pertinent Scripture passages.
    Third reason: I was asked by an LCMS college minister, why do you stay? Answer: I am called. I had a flock in front of me: many of whom had not heard confessional preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ before as I began to find out. In my easy-going liberalism, I just assumed we were all Lutherans after all. The music director of the congregation I served in another city said to me one day: “St. J. used to be a Lutheran Baptist church,now it’s a Lutheran church”. Another man in that parish said that when he visited his home parish (ELCA), it’s “Luther Lite”. Those comments were from 10 years ago. The Lord wanted me there and then maybe for those folks alone.

  17. @helen #67
    P.S. Helen, re-reading your question, you refer to the “long time” as maybe being the time from August ’09 and February ’10? If so, there was some movement to study leaving: a slim hope. Before August ’09, I was (or had been) in conversation with two DPs about the congregation and/or yours truly leaving. So if you meant the shorter time period, then I gave you a lot more than you bargain for in my previous comment! 🙂

  18. @Rev. Mark Schroeder #69
    I gave you a lot more than you bargain for in my previous comment!

    No, that’s just fine. My concern now would be, have you studied your way out of those errors, or are you here to join the other ‘Seminexers’ who came back in w/o changing their attitude toward Scripture, Lutheran doctrine… and yes, ordination of women?

  19. Hey, this is my first time commenting. My girlfriend attends a non-denom church with her family (very Arminian theology there). However, we have been dating 14 months now and have had plenty of conversations about faith. As far as I know, she professes to believe Lutheran teachings, but because she is still under parental authority, she still has to attend her non-denom church and self-identify as a non-denom. My pastor talked to her for a long time about Lutheran doctrine, particularly concerning the real presence, and said that she could commune. Since then, she has communed every communion sunday she attends with me. She intends to attend Lutheran church with me if we get married (God willing), but this will not happen for several years. So she’s sort of a Lutheran incognito navigating the necessities of both her conscience and her parents’ authority, with an honest desire to receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins… any thoughts on this?

  20. @Nathan #71
    Thanks for your first time comment!
    Sounds like you are dealing with the situation. It sounds sort of like a pastoral discretion case, which from time to time need to be made. My concern would be if she is communing alongside of the non-denominational folks as well. That would cause her confession of the faith to be split – not a good thing. Hopefully in some of my future posts this kind of subject will come up – so keep commenting.

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