Communion Every Sunday: Surprise, Surprise

The reasons for Communion every Sunday are surprising. The reasons Lutheran churches fell away from this practice also are surprising.

Pr Klemet Preus, the author of the article republished below, was surprised about the reasons for and against. After visiting a congregation that had written into its constitution that Communion would be given at each Sunday service and hearing its pastor, John T. Pless, speaking definitely in favor of it, he was prompted to study.

communion wafer offeredHe found reasons for frequent Communion in the:

•  Gospel
•  Bible
•  early Church
•  Church before the Reformation
•  Lutheran Reformation

But suddenly, in the 19th Century, things changed. Many Lutheran churches offered Communion only monthly, and some only four times a year. Why? What happened? Oh, of course ….

More recently, every Sunday Communion has been making a comeback, and that is a good thing. Still, there are some practical concerns.

All of this and more are revealed in the following article, “Communion Every Sunday, Why?” written by Pr Klemet Preus, Epiphany, 2001.

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Communion Every Sunday, Why?
by Pr Klemet Preus

In the early 80s I was the Campus Pastor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Each year we would get together with college students from the various Universities in the Upper mid-west and have a joint retreat. In 1983 we traveled from Grand Forks down to Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota and were hosted by Pastor John Pless and University Lutheran Church. During the Sunday service we celebrated Holy Communion as was typical at these retreats. But this time I noticed something different. ULC had written into its constitution that Communion would be given at each Sunday service. The Augsburg Confession was sited as support for this practice. “Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved.”[1] Pastor Pless explained that the church had committed itself to the practice every Sunday communion.

Two things initially struck me. First, I thought that Pastor Pless was being a little extreme. This was a very radical notion I thought. And all the reasons why I would oppose such an idea immediately rushed into my mind. Wouldn’t this require much more work for the altar guild, the secretary, the pastor and the communion assistants? When would the church do Matins or Morning Prayer? Wouldn’t people begin to take Holy Communion for granted? People like to invite non-Lutheran family and friends to church when there is no communion. With communion every Sunday how could you do this? Isn’t this kind of Catholic? John is high church and very liturgical. So I initially figured this was a high church fad. But I wondered.

Second, I was surprised and a little miffed at myself that I had not really read this in the Lutheran Confessions before. Of course I had read the Confessions. I had read them at least four times, and many times since. And I had pledged to teach according to these documents as every Lutheran Pastor has. But I had not noticed this particular phrase before. Since I have always prided myself in being a true and faithful Lutheran pastor and theologian I was put off that I had to be educated by someone else. I had taken one course on the liturgy in the seminary. In it we learned how to do the various liturgies. We never really thought about how often to have the sacrament. We were taught to give it “often” whatever that meant. In the doctrine courses we learned that the true body and blood were given for the forgiveness of sins. But we had simply accepted the practices of our churches as proper. That practice was communion once a month or twice a month. Now I was being challenged to think again about the frequency of communion.

So, I spent the next year studying the issue. And I asked the right questions. What does the Bible say? What does our doctrine say? What do the Lutheran Confessions say? What was the practice of the earliest Christians? What is the custom of the church throughout the centuries? What are the positive and negative influences in history which shaped the church’s practice throughout the centuries and particularly our practice? Is the whole issue worth all the trouble? It took me about a year of thought, study and discussion with other pastors and Christians. I was not about to change my mind and worship patterns easily. This is what I found.

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
AND THE GOSPEL

The Bible never tells us exactly how often to have communion. Of course the Bible never tells us how often to have church services either. And the Bible never tells us how often to receive absolution. The Bible never says at exactly what age to baptize children.

There is a reason for this.

You can’t place laws and rules upon the gifts of the gospel. God tells us that we are saved in our baptism, in the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper. He never tells us how often to hear his word. He just figures that we will hear it as often as we can. He does not place rules on how often we should be absolved of our sins. He figures that we will take the forgiveness as often as we can. He simply forgives us through the gospel all the time. He never tells us how soon to baptize our babies. He just tells us how much they need it and what a blessing we have in Baptism. He figures we will baptize as early as possible.

So also with Holy Communion. He never tells us to receive it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or once in your life. He simply tells us how much we need it and how great it is and He figures we will act accordingly. Then He tells us to do it often. He figures we will receive the Lord’s Supper as often as we can.

The Lord’s Supper is like kissing your wife or husband. The minute you have to place rules on how often, then the kiss loses its affectionate force. No one who is in love would ever say, “I think we have kissed enough,” or “That kiss will have to do for the rest of the day.” No one says, “How often do we have to kiss?” Instead we ask, “How often do we get to kiss?” We kiss and get kissed as often as we can.

The Lord’s Supper is more than a kiss from God. Through Holy Communion God gives us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through the body and blood of Jesus. We need and want these blessings all the time. So the question should not be, “How often do we have to take communion?” Rather we should ask, “How often do we get to take communion.”

Logistically, the Lord’s Supper is more difficult to give than a kiss. First you have to gather the church together. You have to provide a place as well as the elements of unleavened bread and wine. You need to instruct as to the proper meaning of the Sacrament. And you have to do all this with a sense of respect and decorum. So, how often should the Lord’s Supper be given? In the Scriptures, in the practice of the early church, at the time of the Reformation, in the Lutheran Confessions, and until quite recently the answer has always been, “We give the Lord’s Supper at every Sunday Service.”

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
IN THE BIBLE

In the New Testament there is no mention of Sunday services without a mention of the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 2:42 Paul describes the earliest Services, “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s teaching, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer.” So the “breaking of bread” or Communion was a common part of the normal Christian services. These services were held in the evening since most of the people worked on Sundays. (It wasn’t until the year 321 AD that Sunday became a day of rest for Christians.) Another reference to Sunday services is found in Acts 20:7 where Luke says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” Then it describes a service with preaching followed by the “breaking of bread.” You get the impression from these verses that Sunday evening were reserved for two things: instruction in doctrine and Holy Communion.

I Corinthians shows the same thing. In chapter 11 the people “come together as a church.” Part of the coming together was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Here the people would precede their services with a meal called “the love feast.” These feasts are also mention in Jude 12. In Corinth the people would exclude some of the poorer people from the love feast by starting the dinner before the common laborers got off work. “Wait for them,” Paul says. The people had gathered for the Lord’s Supper but were abusing it. Paul criticizes them for their abuse and corrects it by explaining how their services should be done. Listen to his works,

I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper you eat…I received from the Lord what I also give to you: that the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, etc. [2]

So Paul corrected the bad and kept the good. To Paul, the exclusion of people who were part of the church was bad. To Paul, Communion at every service was good.

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
IN THE EARLY CHURCH

The Earliest Christians gathered together on Sunday evenings. The services had two parts: the instruction and the Communion. Today these two parts of the service are reflected in some of our hymnals and our bulletins. There is the service of the Word and the service of the Sacrament. The recently published Lutheran Service Book, a hymnal of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, divides the Sunday services into three parts, “Confession and Absolution,” “Service of the Word” and “Service of the Sacrament.”[3] These divisions reflect what the church of Paul and the earliest Christians did in their services. The early Christians may not in all cases have had services every Sunday. Persecution, hardship, travel difficulty, and large distances may have made this impossible. But every time these Christians gathered together they received from their Lord His Word and His Sacrament.

The literature of the fist two centuries shows that Word and Sacrament were the universally common Sunday practice among Christians. One of the earliest Christian writings besides the Bible is called the Didache. It was written about the year 100 AD and possibly earlier, even before the last apostles had died. In this writing the people are directed to, “Assemble in common on the Lord’s own day to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.”[4] The earliest account of a Sunday service was written by a man named Justin Martyr in about the year 150 AD. This is his account:

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good thing. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president [the pastor or minister who presided] in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.[5]

Notice how the Lord’s Supper was just as much part of the services as was the instruction in the Word. The earliest surviving Christian liturgy, called the Apostolic Traditions, was written about the year 215 by Hippolytus. This work is something like our Lutheran Agenda, the book which the pastor uses in leading the services. In Apostolic Traditions the Bishop and the people exchange greetings, “The Lord be with you, And with your spirit, Lift up you hearts, We lift them to the Lord, Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, It is right and proper to do so.” Then immediately follows the Words of institution. This was the every Sunday expectation of the early churches.[6]

I could provide quotations from the liturgies or theology books from almost every century until recently. All would show that the Sacrament of the Altar was celebrated every time the people of God gathered.

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
BEFORE THE REFORMATION

Over the years the church corrupted the sacrament. Sermons were eliminated from the Divine Service. The Sacrament gradually was viewed as a sacrificial act of worship by the priest rather than the gift of God’s salvation. The language used in the liturgy was Latin and not the language of the common people. It was thought that those in the pew didn’t really need to understand the words since they were spoken to God and not to the people. The people communed less and less often while the priests communed more and more. At the time of Thomas Aquinas (1277) communion was considered frequent if a person went two to four times a year. Alarmed at this paucity of participation edicts were periodically pronounced mandating the reception of the Sacrament. Everyone was to go to communion at least four times a year and especially on Easter. The press of the masses at Easter would require so much time that the custom of withholding the cup from the laity became widespread. This custom became church law in the church in 1415 AD so that by the time of Luther no lay-Christian had sipped upon the blood of Christ for more than a century. Superstition lead people to pilfer pieces of the bread and bring them home to worship. The people no longer sang the hymns or liturgical parts. The monks did this. Christianity had truly become a spectator religion. The grace of God was simply not received and consequently not treasured by the common Christian.[7]

Yet, through all the centuries and despite the crass and Christless corruptions of the Eucharist, the services in God’s house always featured the Sacrament of the Altar.

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
AND THE LUTHERAN REFORMATION

Martin Luther became embroiled with the Papists over the church’s understanding of grace. (Early Lutherans never viewed themselves as fighting with the Catholic Church but with the Pope, so they referred to their opponent as Papists.) Luther believed that grace was the forgiveness of sins earned for all by Christ and freely given in the Absolution, the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s Supper, to Luther, is not something that the priest did for God but something that Christ has given to us. You can imagine the changes that were made.

Luther refused to change anything that was not wrong. He retained as much of the liturgy as the gospel would allow. So the collects, the prayers, the creeds, the readings, the order of service and the basic structure of Word and Sacrament were retained. And these are faithfully employed today in all Confessional Lutheran churches.Saulgau_Antoniuskirche_Seitenaltarblatt_Apostelkommunion

But changes were required. The Lutherans’ greatest concern was that the people get to know God better. Preaching was reestablished in the churches, since it had fallen into disuse. Luther wrote the liturgy in German. Now the people were treated to the Divine Service in their own language. They could understand what was being said and done. The Bible was translated into German so that the readings could be understood. Luther and many of his contemporaries wrote hymns so that the people could be taught the truths of Christ simply and could participate in the proclamation in the service. Catechisms were written and produced so that the people could be trained easily. The words of institution were no longer mumbled in Latin by the Priests. They were spoken or chanted loudly to the people in their own language. The main emphasis of the Reformation was that the people could understand the grace of God. These changes had salutary effects on the hearts and habits of God’s people. Communion attendance increased dramatically. In fact the Lutherans were attending the Sacrament so often that their Roman Catholic neighbors got a little jealous. Ironically, “the practice of frequent communions in the Church of Rome today owes much to Reformation inspiration.”[8]

But old habits die hard. Many Lutherans were reluctant to take communion every week. Some were afraid to receive the blood in the Sacrament. So the early Lutherans slowly and painstakingly taught and explained the need and blessings of the Lord’s Supper. They did not force. They simply taught. And they realized that people need time to adjust to change, even necessary change.

One change that Luther and the early Lutherans never considered was to drop the celebration of the Sacrament from the Sunday morning service. Luther Reed summarized the practice of the Early Lutherans.

“The appreciation and unbroken use of the Service by the Lutheran Church in all lands is noteworthy…. The church has everywhere retained the Service for its normal Sunday service. Other Protestant churches promptly abandoned the historic liturgy and established a type of preaching service separate from the Holy Communion…. The Lutheran Church restored the “primitive synthesis” of the early church by including in balanced proportion the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacrament in the principal service of the day.[9]

COMMUNION FREQUENCY
IN THE 19TH CENTURY

What happened? At the time of Luther the church celebrated communion every Sunday. By the middle of the twentieth century, when I was born, most Lutheran churches offered communion only once a month. What happened? It was my discovery of the answer to this question that convinced me to teach that we must return to the historic practice of communion every Sunday.

Old habits die hard. And praiseworthy liturgical habits must be guarded with great vigilance. Three factors lead to the loss of the practice of weekly communion among the Lutherans. The first is called Pietism. The Pietists stressed the importance of personal preparation for communion. This, in itself, is good. Luther said that fasting is good outward preparation. And the Lutheran Church has always insisted that communicant be prepared by learning the basic teachings of the catechism and by making a confession of sins. These practices are reflected in the Book of Concord, “Among us…the sacrament is available for all who wish to partake of it after they have been examined and absolved.”[10] But the preparation expected by the Pietists was different. It was not learning the true faith at all.

The Sacrament was surrounded with an atmosphere of awe and fear; excessive emphasis was place upon personal and intensely introspective preparation; and there grew up in the people’s minds a dread of possibly being unworthy and of “being guilty” of the body and blood of Christ. These morbid and exaggerated emphases upon preparation for the Sacrament, rather than upon the Sacrament itself, are still occasionally in evidence.[11]

I see this fear of the Sacrament occasionally today. I’ve heard people say that the reason they are uncomfortable with weekly communion is that they require time and spiritual effort to prepare themselves for the Sacrament. “If I take it too often I will not be able to be prepared.” These sentiments, while sincere, are not what Jesus wants. He does not want us to focus on our sins and our repentance so much that we neglect the forgiveness in the Sacrament. How does one prepare for the Sacrament? You learn the catechism. Remember your baptism. Go to confession. Receive the absolution. Believe. That is preparation.

The second factor that caused the Lutherans to give up weekly Communion is far worse. It is Rationalism. Pietists were Christians with a misplaced faith. Rationalists were not Christian at all. Leading rationalists were men whose names you vaguely remember from Western Civilization class in high school: Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke. Rationalists believed that their reason and understanding was the measure of all things. Their creed was that creeds were bad. The Rationalists spawned the Unitarian Church, the FreeMasons, Secular Humanism and the general age of unbelief in which we live. Rationalists rejected the belief that people are sinful. They denied the great events of God in Christ. Churches were turned into lecture halls. Preaching Christ was discarded in favor of flowery addresses intended to inspire. Sunday services became a time in which we could be impressed with each other and the Lord’s Supper is not conducive for that. In Germany the frequency of Sacramental celebration plummeted dramatically in the 1800s until the Liberal Lutheran practice approximated that the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation.

The Lutheran Church that began migrating to America in the 1840s was not healthy. Its worship was impoverished and it practices lax. It had lost much of its doctrinal heritage and true doctrinally sound confessional pastors were rare. The pastors who did come to America, while dedicated, were often young and inexperienced. The New World was not flowing with milk and honey. Rather, it was teeming with forces that were foreign to Lutherans and to the gospel itself. Fred Precht has said, “The cumulative effects of the Thirty Years War, Pietism and Rationalism spanning almost two centuries, left the worship and the life of the churches at a low ebb at the opening of the 19th century…. It is to be noted that it was in this period of the church’s history that the large migrations of Confessional Lutherans to America took place.”[12]

The third factor, which led to a decrease in the frequency of the Sacrament especially in America, is the influence of Reformed and baptistic theology and preachers. Followers of John Calvin, early American revivalistic preachers, usually Baptistic in theology, denied that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. To them it was fellowship meal of bread and grape juice, which was not needed more than a handful of times annually. Many early Lutherans came to America to escape the unbelief in the churches in Europe. These pioneers often found themselves with neither church nor pastor. They lived among the Mennonites, Moravians, and Methodists of America. The faithful Lutheran pastors who did serve the Lutherans often had to attend the needs of literally dozens of parishes. These “Circuit Riders” could visit their parishes only periodically and the people never could find a rhythm of regular Divine Services. Further, the abundant Baptistic and Methodistic itinerant preachers often enticed faithful New World Lutherans from their doctrinal roots. These revivalists did not believe in the saving benefits of the Lord’s Supper. Revivalism continues to influence Lutherans to this very day.

So Pietism, Rationalism and the Reformed Churches all worked their influence on Lutherans until we lost something very precious. Reed Summarizes,

Luther and his associates never would have approved of the “half-mass” commonly found among us today as the normal Sunday worship of our congregations. For two hundred years, or nearly half the time from the Reformation to the present, the normal Sunday service in Lutheran lands was the purified Mass, or Hauptgottesdienst, (High Divine Service) with its twin peaks of Sermon and Sacrament. There were weekly celebrations and the people in general received the Sacrament much more frequently than before. The ravages of war, the example of Calvinism, the later subjective practices of Pietistic groups in a domestic type of worship, and the unbelief of rationalism, however, finally broke the genuine Lutheran Tradition.[13]

COMMUNION FREQUENCY TODAY

Realizing our ragged history, honoring our heritage and treasuring the grace found in it, Lutherans of late have begun to teach the importance of communion every Sunday. The practice of equally stressing both the sermon and the Sacrament is not only consistent with the bible and practice of the first Christians it is uniquely Lutheran. The Roman Catholic Church has historically stressed the Sacrament, often to the exclusion of preaching. Protestants have historically stressed preaching often to the exclusion of the Sacrament. Lutherans have always tried to maintain a balance between the two. This balance has been called “The Twin Peaks,” “The primitive synthesis,” “The High Divine Service” or simply, “the Service of Word and Sacrament.”

Within Lutheranism in America and specifically in the Missouri Synod the frequency of communion has gradually increased over the last half century. Many life-long Lutherans born in the 20s or 30s can remember when communion was offered quarterly. By the sixties and seventies most Lutheran Churches celebrated the Supper at least monthly. Today almost all churches offer the Sacrament twice monthly. Certainly there has been an increase in the frequency of communion. In 1995 the Convention of the Lutheran church Missouri Synod passed the following Resolution:

Whereas, the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Luther confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and
Whereas, Our Synod’s 1983 CTCR [Commission on Theology and Church Relations] document on the Lord’s Supper (p. 28) and our Synod’s 1986 translation of Luther’s Catechism both remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; I Cor. 11:20, 33), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra; therefore be it
Resolved That the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in convention encourage its pastors and congregation to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday Communion with a view to recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day.

The result of such study has lead many Lutheran congregations to establish every Sunday Communion. I am convinced that more and more congregations and pastors, as they study the issue, will make the change to communion every service if they have not already done so.

LEX ORANDI LEX CREDENDI

In the fifth century a theologian named Prosper of Aquitaine spoke these words. They mean: “The law of worship is the law of faith.” As we worship so we shall be believe and as we believe so we shall worship. The greatest teacher in the church has always been the Divine Service itself. Every child of seven who goes consistently to church knows the words of the Liturgy. We know what to expect. If something is missing we know. If something is added we know. If something is changed we especially know. Our children know the creed, the Lord’s prayer, the words of institution, John 1:29, I John 1:8-9, Hebrews 1:1-2 and a host of other passages because they say them each week. We learn how to confess our sins in the confession. We learn how God absolves. Our children know that God calls the pastor because they see him dressed in robes each week. We all know that the sermon is God’s word because we place it into a pulpit spoken by God’s pastor. We learn about Baptism when the babies are baptized. The Liturgy teaches. The Liturgy teaches us about the Lord’s Supper too.

The best way to teach our children and ourselves is to make them see the same blessings from God each week. Certain parts in the Sunday Services need to be observed and received each week. That way we immediately notice if they are gone. Each week we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we confess the Creed, we hear the Scriptures and we reflect upon the sermon. If these parts were missing we would feel like something was taken away. By using Worship Services which contain the same things week after week we are teaching ourselves and our children that these are blessings from God which are part and parcel of His service to us. I have talked to people who have gone to churches where one or more of these ingredients were missing, whether the creed or the Lord’s Prayer or even the sermon. They have shared with me that they felt like they had not fully been to church. The same thing should be said of the Lord’s supper.

We all teach our children and ourselves the importance and surpassing value of the Sacrament of the Altar. And that is good. We must make the Sacrament so much part of the Sunday morning expectation that all would immediately know that something was missing if it were not there. If we want to impress on our children the importance of vegetables we must serve vegetables every day. If we teach our children to love the Sacrament then we must serve it at every Divine Service. When our children grow up and attend some Reformed church with their friends let them say, “It was nice but they didn’t have the Lord’s Supper.” We need to change our expectations of the every Sunday service.

COMMUNION EVERY SUNDAY:
PRACTICAL CONCERNS ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION

But before such a practice is implemented, no matter how praiseworthy people need a chance to think about it. I studied the issue for over a year before I began to teach it. You should have the same chance for reflection. That is why I offer you this paper. It is to give you a chance to consider the Bible teaching and the history of the Church. But consider also your feelings. Below are many questions I have heard. Answers are given.

Q. Some have said, “Were we doing wrong not to have communion every Sunday?”

A. Of course not. Many early Christian communities did not have any kind of services every Sunday. They were not doing wrong. It is not a question of right and wrong. But once those communities were able to have services every Sunday they did so. So should we.

Q. Isn’t Communion every Sunday Roman Catholic?

A. Communion every Sunday is biblical. It was practiced long before there was a
Roman Catholic Church. In fact Lutherans have a stronger history of frequent communion the Catholics do. Besides, things are not bad just because they are Catholic. Silent Night was written by a Roman Catholic but we do not on that account stop singing it. The first Lutherans did not change things unless they were wrong. Presbyterians, Methodist and Baptists changed their worship style simply because it was Roman Catholic. The habit of changing worship or practice just because it is Roman Catholic is un-Lutheran.

Q. Isn’t this practice a bit extreme?

A. This was my initial reaction. I discovered that weekly communion is the common practice of most Christians throughout history and certainly of the first Christians and the first Lutherans. It may seem extreme to us because it is new to us. And, in fact, it is extreme. It is extremely comforting for sinners to be forgiven by Christ’s body and blood every week. It is extremely important to have the strength and assurance, which only the Sacrament can give.

Q. We practice closed communion. If I bring my friend or relatives to church I don’t want to have to make them uncomfortable about not communing. If we don’t have communion on a given Sunday I can bring my friends. Now what can I do?

A. This is real and valid concern. Of course we don’t want to make guests feel unwelcome. In the early church Christians would bring family and friends to the service of the Word. Then those who wished to commune would move to a different room altogether to have the Lord’s Supper. The doors would be closed before the service of the Sacrament began and no guests were allowed. That is how those Christians handled the issue.

I think that we need to consider why this is such a problem today. There is little doubt that the questioning of closed communion among us is a reflection of the influence of those churches around us who do not believe in the Lord’s Supper. In most churches today everyone is asked to commune. This is the common historic practice of all Reformed churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Non-Denominational, etc.). It has become the practice of the ELCA because of the profound influences of Reformed theology upon that church. Many pastors in the LC-MS refuse to practice closed communion even though they have promised to do so upon entering the Synod. They often feel pressured by churches around us that simply have a different practice. But we must remember that these churches do not believe in the bodily presence of Jesus in the Sacrament.

When we refuse communion to someone we appear judgmental about a person’s faith. Such is not the case. We simply need to communicate that Holy Communion is an extremely intimate sharing between members who have a common confession based on the bible. Those who share this intimate meal should be known by us and confess with us. This is not a casual thing. Again, it’s like kissing your spouse. There has to be a certain commitment before that kiss can happen.

Practicing closed communion especially toward members of the ELCA is particularly difficult. Most of us have family and friends in the ELCA who are fine Christian people. Sometimes it is difficult for us to admit that our family members or friends belong to false churches. But it is necessary if we are to give an effective witness. Closed Communion forces this upon us. It is uncomfortable. We don’t like it. But it is necessary. These family and friends need to hear in a loving way that they are in a church which could seriously harm their faith or destroy it altogether.

I recently heard an inspiring essay from a pastor who is a professor and former bishop of the ELCA. In his essay he asked the rhetorical question, “We must ask whether this ELCA…any longer qualifies as bona fide Lutheranism. Indeed, is it a Christian Church?” We must love the Christian people in the ELCA enough to pray for them and follow of the example of this courageous Bishop who concludes his essay: “I have dedicated the remainder of my life to attempting to open the eyes of my brothers and sisters in the ELCA to the liberating, glorious truth of the infallible inerrant Word of God.”[14]

If you are inviting a friend or relative to church you probably would like them to join our church. Sooner or later they will have to be told about closed communion. Tell them right away. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Simply speak the truth in love. I am convinced that any fair-minded person will accept our position and practice if it is explained patiently.

Q. Won’t Communion every Sunday be a lot of work?

A. Yes. And it is pretty obvious who the new work will fall upon – The altar guild. They must set up and take down the Sacrament twice as often. This requires either twice as many workers or the same people doing twice the work. So no new practice should be implemented until the guild has had an ample opportunity to recruit and train new workers. If elders help in the distribution of the Sacrament they would also have to help twice as much. This might require the congregation to approve and appoint more elders to help distribute the Sacrament.

Q. Won’t the services last longer? We are so rushed on Sunday as it is.

A. The Divine Service lasts longer than Matins or Morning Prayer. This is so because these other services were not originally intended to be Sunday morning services. They were morning services prayed and sung by the church in the middle of the week. Communion every Sunday might require us to examine again the best way in which to use our time on Sunday mornings. Congregations might have to tweak their schedules a bit. Most churches can devise ways in which to commune more quickly. That should be examined at any rate. At the same time it should be remembered that the 60-minute Divine Service is a recent American invention which has no mention in the bible and no historical precedent. Perhaps we need to reconsider our expectations that the Service of God be limited to only one hour a week.

Q. But kids are tough enough in church for 60 minutes and we are a church with lots of kids.

A. Again the practice of the early church solved this problem by not even allowing the uninstructed children to come into the Sacrament room. We probably don’t want to do this today. But there are solutions for the problem of antsy children which don’t require their parents to be deprived of the Blessed Sacrament. Work on it.

Q. I like Matins and Morning Prayer. I will miss them. Can’t we still do them?

A. A congregation could schedule mid-week Matins or Morning Prayer for those who really wanted to attend. But the time press of people’s midweek lives might render such prayer opportunities meager indeed. Many of the great songs in these liturgies, The Venite, The Magnificat, The Te Deum, even the Gospel Canticle can easily be employed occasionally in the Divine Service. These treasures of the church need not fall into disuse.

Q. I need time to think about these things.

A. Changes in the church, even salutary changes should be made slowly and with great deliberation. Take your time. Talk to your pastor. Study the issue. Talk to others in the church. Talk to the elders.

THE LUTHERAN ATTITUDE TOWARD
CHANGING THE SUNDAY SERVICES

Change should always be initiated with painstaking care, especially change in the liturgy. Too often pastors have promoted their own personal hobbyhorses without considering the feelings of the church. Consequently God’s people are sometimes harmed by the very men to whom God has entrusted their souls. This should never happen.

The early Lutherans were especially sensitive to this. Luther himself never initiated changes without first explaining to the people exactly why such a change was needed. And he was quite patient especially for a man with such strong convictions. One true anecdote will help to illustrate this. Luther believed very strongly that those who communed should receive both the body and blood in the sacrament. They called it “communion in two kinds.” But Luther also believed that the people needed to be taught the practice so that they could understand when it was implemented. When he was absent from Wittenberg for a few months his colleague, Andrew Karlstadt, began to give to the laypeople both the bread and the wine in Holy Communion. Luther believed that the people had not been given adequate time to get used to the idea. He returned to Wittenberg and promptly stopped the practice. At the same time he preached a series of eight sermons intended to explain the way the Gospel works. In his fifth sermon he said:

Now let us speak of the two kinds. Although I hold that it is necessary that the Sacrament should be received in both kinds, according to the institution of the Lord, nevertheless it must not be made compulsory nor a general law. We must rather promote and practice and preach the Word, and then afterwards leave the result and execution of it entirely to the Word, giving everyone his freedom in this matter. Where this is not done, the Sacrament becomes for me an outward work and a hypocrisy, which is just what the devil wants. But when the Word is given free course and is not bound to any external observance, it takes hold of one today and sinks into his heart, tomorrow it touches another, and so on. Thus quietly and soberly it does its work and no on will know how it all came about.[15]

It seems to me that Luther’s wise counsel would apply to us in a couple of ways. First, even a necessary change should never be imposed upon people against their will. Rather the Word changes people’s hearts. Then the change is made. Second, people accept change at different rates. It is wrong to force people to accept change before they are ready. People should not feel forced to do anything they do not want. Even taking the Lord’s supper, saving as it is, should never be forced upon people. Third, people should be allowed to receive the Lord’s Supper each Sunday just as people at Luther’s time were allowed to receive both kinds in the Sacrament. Eventually all the Lutherans began to receive the Sacrament in both kinds. But it took time. I am convinced that eventually the Lutheran churches will all offer the Sacrament at all their Sunday services. But it will take time. No one should feel forced. No one should treat a gift like a duty. Everyone should be free to change at the rate at which they feel comfortable.

One of the occupational hazards of being a minister of the Gospel is to expect things of people that you yourself never did. I took me a year to really be convinced that the Sacrament belongs in every Sunday service. Yet I often feel impatient when others don’t make the adjustment in a couple of weeks. Luther constantly reminds me that I need to give others the same chance that I was able to have.

God’s people are justifiably very cautious about any change. Pastors are justifiable jealous to give to the people as much of God’s blessings as they possibly can. Often people stubbornly refuse to be taught by their pastors. And often pastors have been insensitive if well intended. Pastors are called to teach and the people are called by God to learn from their divinely appointed pastors. But, unfortunately many in our churches have been hurt by change and have often felt as if change were imposed upon them. All should feel comfortable with even the best changes. Pastors are given the freedom and challenge to balance the responsibility of ministry with the needs of the people. That is why no pastor should ever promote programs where he is the beneficiary. Weekly communion is a practice it which all of God’s people benefit eternally. When God’s grace is promoted and served and people receive it in faith then the church is blessed.

CONCLUSION

Should the churches of Christ celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday? Yes they should. The Bible teaches it. The confessions of our church require it. The Gospel expects it. The history of the church shows it. The liturgy demands it. Our children need it. Our faith thrives on it. Our heritage gives it. Our God provides it.

When should this happen? Tragically we live in a time when the question actually needs to be asked. It should happen when the people of God have learned and are ready and eager to receive all the blessings of Christ on every Sunday service.

Klemet Preus
Epiphany 2001

[1] Augsburg Confession, Apology, Article XXIV paragraph 1
[2] I Corinthians 11:17-23
[3] Lutheran Service Book Concordia Publishing House, 2006
[4] Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1948, p. 23
[5] In the Stead of Christ, Kent Heimbigner, Repristination Press, 1997, p. 69-70
[6] A Study of Liturgy, Ed. Cheslyn Jones, SPCK, 1978 p. 213
[7] This is My Body, Herman Sasse, Augsburg Publishing house 1959, p. 52
[8] The Lutheran Liturgy, Luther Reed, Muhlenberg Press, 1948, p. 244
[9] Reed, p. 243-244
[10] Augsburg Confession, Apology, Article XXIV paragraph 1
[11] Reed, p. 244
[12] Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, Fred Precht, Concordia Publishing House, 1993, p. 83
[13] Reed, p. 244

[14] “ELCA Journeys: Personal Reflections on the Last Forty Years,” Michael McDaniel, paper given at the 2001 Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions, p. 7.
[15] Luther’s Works, Muhlenberg press, 1959 Vol. 51, p. 90


Comments

Communion Every Sunday: Surprise, Surprise — 60 Comments

  1. @Pastor Prentice #50

    Thank you for your reply, Pastor. You will be happy to know that this is how baptism has been explained to me. But I’m interested in this differentiation between “close” and “closed” communion. To wit, Roman Catholic being the latter (in which they DO require rebaptism), and ours being the former (in which, as you point out, we do not). It’s not a great big deal, but I’m confusing my Baptist family concerning why we are not in communion with them. I explain it as “close” communion as opposed to “closed” and they’ve never heard of such a distinction. I’m wondering if I just made it up.

  2. @Jeff Arnold #51
    Jeff,
    Actually the Roman Catholic Church does not require rebaptism. They do require proof that the person was baptized. Because of this I have on more than one occasion been contacted by a Roman Catholic parish requesting that I send them written verification that a valid baptism was performed for someone who is going through RCIA. One way that they would not see a baptism as valid is if the baptismal formula was not followed, (“[name] I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” while pouring water on them three times.) BTW, I agree with them that if the Trinitarian formula was not used or water was not applied then no baptism took place and the person must be baptized.

  3. Interesting…I was under the impression that Roman Catholics only recognised Roman Catholic baptism as valid, regardless of the formula. That Trinitarian formula being required by our own synod, also. Most interesting. I believe this was the end result of Pr. Prentice’s reply to my original, that “close” and “closed” are essentially synonymous. Thank you for your reply.

  4. The real “Surprise Surprise” would be if BJS would actually rotate other posts from the past instead of having this as a permanent fixture on the website.

  5. @GaiusKurios #57

    The real “Surprise Surprise” would be if BJS would actually rotate other posts from the past instead of having this as a permanent fixture on the website.

    Since frequency of communion is a discussion of our Confession, and this site is polluted with “civilians” (who have opinions, even), perhaps we should be thankful that the topic isn’t scrubbed. 🙁

    [Wonder what would happen if someone retrieved an archived thread on the qualifications for the clergy, according to the Confessions? There must be one.]

    Qualifications for DP’s in LCMS ? Are there any? Adherence to ordination vows, maybe? No, apparently that’s optional.

  6. @gaius:
    Or please kindly consider those like me, reading Pr Preus’ piece the 1st time. The validation & encouragement this brings is most timely and vital. I shall continue to strive for this at our parish.

  7. We are actually discussing this at our church right now. It’s only at the Board of Elders right now, but it’s a lively discussion. We currently have communion every Sunday, but it alternates between traditional and contemporary. The reason it has come to the forefront at our congregation is that we have a fair amount of Police/Fire/Medical parishioners. And because of their work schedules, they don’t get Communion for months at a time.

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