Early Communion

June 26th, 2013 Post by

FirstCommunionBIGHolyComI assume that is is because that most of our parishes have recently celebrated the rite of Confirmation that the BJS editors asked for piece dealing with Holy Communion, in particular early communion. For with Confirmation comes a whole new group of our brothers and sisters in Christ who receive with us the blessed gift of our Lord, the Lord’s Supper – a joyous occasion, indeed!. On Confirmation Day most of our newly confirmed members received for the first time the Lord’s body and blood given and shed for them for the forgiveness of sin.

My question is, why’d they wait so long?

It is no question that our synod has had the general idea that Confirmation Day is also First Communion Day, though until recently the words “First Communion” weren’t used and probably labeled as “too Catholic”. But this is, in fact, what Confirmation Day was. It was the first time many, many of our brothers and sisters received the Lord’s body and blood. For several generations now, Confirmation Day has been First Communion Day.

But there has come recently a movement – if you will – within our synod that has questioned whether or not Confirmation Day should also be First Communion Day, or whether First Communion should come before Confirmation. This movement has gained quite a lot of steam, as is evident by our current agenda – a book detailing and governing many rites, rituals, and ceremonies for our church – which has a rite entitled, “First Communion Prior to Confirmation,” thereby making the possibility official in our synod. Still, there is much debate and resistance in terms of actually giving communion to those who are not yet confirmed.

Let’s cut to the chase. While the debate has many tangents and side-tracks, the chief topic of debate is whether or not and when a person can examine him or herself and so eat and drink of the Lord’s body and blood faithfully, avoiding doing so to their judgment. It is thought by many that Confirmation is a safe-guard against eating and drinking unfaithfully or to one’s judgment. That while we cannot force a person to believe, we can do our best to give them the tools so that should they choose to listen they will participate to their benefit and not to their judgment. This is a good thought.

What’s troubling, though, is that Confirmation is given this role. We all know that Confirmation is not a sacrament (cf. Ap XIII, 6). It does not give grace to the confirmed. In fact, Confirmation is all law. It demands a great deal of the confirmed, including promising to remain true to our altar and confession even upon pain of death! (A demand we make of our 8th graders who can’t even drive themselves to church.) There is no mercy and grace, no forgiveness or promise of life in Confirmation. So why is the law the gateway to that which does have life, mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Do we honestly believe that in order to receive what our Lord wants to give us we must first jump through hoops made by man, found nowhere in the Bible? Or is this what our Lord condemns saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7)

But I’m not here arguing for or against Confirmation. I actually believe it has its place. But that place is not as a watchdog for who can and cannot receive that which the Lord desires to give His people, no matter their age. The reason people should receive that which the Lord desires to give them is because the Lord desires to give it to them and they want to receive it.

But what about St. Paul and his “let a person a examine himself”? Shouldn’t a person be able to examine himself and so eat of the body and drink of the blood? Yes, he should. But what does he examine himself with? Is it not with the words of Jesus that this bread and cup are given to us for the forgiveness of sins? We are sinful and unclean, must we become pure and holy before we eat and drink of that which promises purity and holiness? And if so, doesn’t our baptism qualify as that which makes us pure and holy, clothing us with Christ?

The context of 1 Corinthians 11:27 (et. al.) does not speak to when a person can be given the Lord’s Supper. First of all, the apostle says that a person examines himself. Not that a person is examined by others. Secondly, the context is the abuse of the Sacrament, not the joyful reception of it. To use 1 Corinthians 11:27 (et. al.) as a watchdog for the Sacrament turns that which is meant to bring peace and comfort into that which brings fear and trepidation. How many do we know who have not received the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and all the comfort it would bring because they thought they weren’t ready for it? Meaning their heart wasn’t in the right place. To be sure! If we think that we prepare ourselves then our heart is very much in the wrong place. For fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training, but they do not make for faithful reception. St. Paul is not laying down a restriction to those who come for what the Lord gives to His people, but is warning would-be dissenters that their dissension and hatred of their brothers and sisters will cause them to come under judgment.

Who receives the Sacrament worthily? The person that has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, it is the words of Jesus that create faith and the hunger for what He gives, His body and blood. Just as if I were to say to my child, “Here, this is our dinner, it will satisfy your hunger.” The child does not hesitate and say to himself, “Yes, but am I coming because I am hungry?” Of course! He is hungry and so he wants the food. So the sinner is hungry for righteousness and forgiveness and here our Lord says, “Here, here is food for the soul, giving forgiveness and righteousness in my name because it is my body and blood that you eat and drink.” If we come for any other reason than the reason our Lord gives then we have made a law of grace.

But there’s another thing that people consider. What then is the proper age that a person can receive the Sacrament? I submit to you that it is not an age, but a confession and desire. We do not give the Sacrament to those who do not desire it, no matter their age. But neither do we ask them if they are being honest with us when they tell us they want it, lest we be found judging the hearts of others. Let the words of Jesus create the hunger in our children, and let the faith His words create be the reason we joyfully eat and drink with them, not despising the Church of God but rather proclaiming with them the death and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. If they are young, so be it, rejoice all the more that He has chosen to reveal such things to little children. For as Luther says, “Since the children are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy the communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us. they must all certainly help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.” (Large Catechism, V, 87)

I want to end there, but I am sure there is yet another thought going around. Does this mean infant communion? And also, what does a person need to know? I think these questions, just like making Confirmation a Communion watchdog, miss the point and cause undo stress. Luther did not condemn as heresy giving infants the Sacrament. But neither did he suggest it. The Lord’s Supper is given to the people of God for their benefit, life, salvation, to participate in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16), and to be united to His body (1 Corinthians 10:17). If this is our starting point then we are not likely to go wrong. Those who commune infants should do so because those infants are baptized into Christ and are brought to Him by their parents and guardians, and not in fear. On the other hand, unlike Baptism, which gives the Holy Spirit and His gifts because of the promise and command of Christ, Holy Communion is given to those who have faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The sacraments are not the same, and are not given for the same purpose (though generally so, yes, they give the grace and favor of God).

In closing, then, who receives the Sacrament of the Altar ought to be open to those who confess the faith born of the words (which, by the way, is what our confessions say in the Large Catechism and other places). And those who confess this faith ought show a desire to live in the kingdom of righteousness, not as having been made perfect or attaining perfection, but as those confessing their sins and desiring to be better than they are (something our Lord does in us by His word, not something we do of ourselves by our efforts).

Okay, I feel like this post is far from done and has opened new questions, but perhaps it will spark godly conversation among the people of God. In short, Confirmation is nowhere said to be the gateway to the Sacrament, and treating it as such defiles both the Sacrament and the faith of the communicants. Age should not be as much a factor – or a factor at all – as much as the desire of the person born of the words of our Lord.

I will happily entertain questions and comments, perhaps with a follow up post on infant communion or on what Confirmation really is (or should be), and maybe closed communion since some of what I’ve said may be taken as tacit approval of that abominable practice called “open communion”, which it is not. So…until then:

Peace be with you all.


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  1. helen
    September 24th, 2013 at 13:28 | #1

    @T-rav #49
    Unless your argument is that you did not use the word “official”, as Pastor Lovett wrote, but rather the word “stated” (which seems ticky-tack to me), this sounds, Carl, a lot like you are claiming the CTCR documents are the stated/official position of synod.

    When I hear the CTCR quoted, the thought arises: Was K E Marquart on it then? And did he have a minority opinion? Just wondering….

  2. Carl Vehse
    September 24th, 2013 at 13:35 | #2

    @T-rav #49,
    As I noted in Post #47, the synod convention approved for reference and guidance the 1983 CTCR document, which opposed infant communion

    Bylaw 1.6.2 (a) states: “Such [doctrinal] resolutions come into being in the same manner as any other resolutions of a convention of the Synod and are to be honored and upheld until such time as the Synod amends or repeals them.”

    If synodical members (e.g., pastors) believe the stated position in such a resolution is in error, they may submit overtures to amend or overturn such doctrinal resolutions. But as the Bylaw 1.6.2 (b)(10) states: “In the interim, those who submit overtures to amend or to repeal shall, while retaining their right to dissent, continue to honor and uphold publicly the statement as the position of the Synod”.

    That bylaw can be compared to the flip-flopping and tapdancing on this thread as well as other Lutheran websites, even to the extent of snarky comments made to those who do uphold and honor this stated (and correct!) position of the Synod in opposing infant communion.

  3. Carl Vehse
    September 24th, 2013 at 13:54 | #3

    In his September 21, 2013, article, “Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church?,” Rev. David Jay Webber, Phoenix, AZ, discusses the question and concludes:

    Orthodox Lutheranism does indeed have an established doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper, reflected in its official Confessions, and elaborated on in the private writings of its honored Confessors. And according to this established doctrine and practice, one of the unique features of the Lord’s Supper (as compared to the sacrament of Baptism) is the requirement that those who receive it not simply be assumed to be possessed of a passive faith, but that they also be known to have a discerning and reflexive faith – to the extent that this can be known, by means of a preceding pastoral examination of their beliefs and of their reasons for wanting to commune. While neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions establish an exact age or level of intellectual development at which this is understood to be possible, it is certainly not possible with infants – or with anyone who has not been instructed in the chief articles of the Christian faith in general, and in the full meaning and implications of the Words of Institution for the Lord’s Supper in particular

  4. Rev. McCall
    September 24th, 2013 at 14:05 | #4

    @Mark Lovett #44
    However Pieper, Chemnitz, Dr. Lockwood (who wrote the CPH commentary on 1 Corinthians), Augustine (hey look at that! pre-Luther!) and others disagree with you that an infant has this discernment. Faith, yes. Discernment, no. You want to lump those things together while most every other theologian does not. This is also why I have no doubt many Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals truly have saving faith. But do they have discernment that recognizes the true presence? No. Likewise infants do not have the ability to examine themselves. This too Pieper, Chemnitz, Augustine, and others agree with me on. My two year old does not even understand that it is wrong to poop in his pants and not on the potty.
    Why is this important? Because one who cannot and does not do these things takes the Lord’s Supper to his or her physical and spiritual harm. If we take that seriously, and we should, then we shouldn’t go forcing the Sacrament on a infant or anyone else who cannot clearly discern and examine.

    From Augustine:
    “Thus they (infants) do not know the Holy Spirit although He is in them, just as they do not know their own mind, yes their own life; nevertheless it must not for this reason be said that they have neither mind not life.”

    From Chemnitz:
    “But now there arises the more difficult and obscure question: In what way do infants believe, or what kind of faith do little children have? With respect to adults the matter is clear. For in their case faith arises from hearing, thinking, meditating on, and apprehending the preached Word. It is assent in the mind and trust in the will by which the hear is raised up and set at rest. Believing, he knows that he believes; he wills and endeavors to retain faith, and then also to grow in it; he wrestles with doubt, mistrust, and fear. He shows forth its power through external signs and testimonies. If it is asked whether infants who are baptized believe altogether in this way- whether this is entirely the way faith acts in baptized infants- Augustine answers in the negative. For he says, in Ltter No. 23: ‘Although an infant does not yet have that faith which is an act of the will, nevertheless teh sacrament of this faith makes him a believer.’ There he is called a believer, not because he assents consciously…but because he receives the sacrament whic transmits the faith.”

  5. Rev. McCall
    September 24th, 2013 at 14:08 | #5

    @Carl Vehse #3
    This discerning and reflexive faith is what Chemnitz is discussing when he quotes Augustine in the quote I just provided.

  6. Rev. McCall
    September 24th, 2013 at 14:28 | #6

    @Mark Lovett #41
    I can accept the fact that you don’t and yet are willingly submitting to our Confessions and practice. You are still wrong but… :-) We’ve clearly beaten that horse to death!

  7. Carl Vehse
    September 24th, 2013 at 14:30 | #7

    @helen #1: “When I hear the CTCR quoted, the thought arises: Was K E Marquart on it then? And did he have a minority opinion? Just wondering….”

    There are no “minority opinions” (from Marquart or others) listed for any CTCR document dealing with infant communion.

    As to whether any CTCR document can be wrong, the answer is yes it can. And there have been discussions on Lutheran blogs of cases where screw-ups occurred. (TWAC should ring a bell for some.) But in their argument for opposing infant communion, the CTCR is right.

  8. September 24th, 2013 at 17:10 | #8

    rev. david l. prentice jr. :@Pastor Ted Crandall #23 I don’t think you missed the memo. But what you said about the Mom yelling at us, I think the pastor using early communion should tell his flock, “this practice is not widespread and do not be upset if pastor so-and-so does not commune you.”

    Agreed. And wouldn’t it be better still, if this practice of communing children at age 4 instead of 14 be established as the uniform policy of synod rather than a pastor doing whatever he decides for himself is right?

  9. Carl Vehse
    September 24th, 2013 at 17:36 | #9

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #8 : “And wouldn’t it be better still, if this practice of communing children at age 4 instead of 14 be established as the uniform policy of synod rather than a pastor doing whatever he decides for himself is right?”

    From Las Vegas to Newtown to Addis Ababa, aren’t individual pastors and congregations pretty much “Doing whatever he decides for himself is right”? That seems to be the “uniform policy” in the Missouri Synod today. :-(

  10. Carl Vehse
    September 24th, 2013 at 18:14 | #10

    The article, ““Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church?” with an excerpt and link provided above in Post #3 (page 4) has its own BJS thread now.

  11. September 25th, 2013 at 04:39 | #11

    Carl Vehse :The article, ““Infant Communion in the Lutheran Church?” with an excerpt and link provided above in Post #3 (page 4) has its own BJS thread now.

    Maybe when that “debate” winds down, we can get back to discussing communing little children (who are not infants) before confirmation…

  12. Carl Vehse
    September 25th, 2013 at 10:55 | #12

    Unless the members of the Synod together propose a test to measure a child’s desire for communion, instructability, and cogent-examinability (the DICE test), in which those passing some synodically agreed-upon score could then participate in catechesis, confirmation and communion, regardless of age, then basically, we’re still talking about a synodically agreed-upon common age for participating in catechesis, confirmation and communion.

    And if being a member of Synod means picking whatever age, down to prenatal, or (perceived) score the pastor or individual congregation wants, then any discussion on this issue is pretty much pointless.

  13. helen
    September 25th, 2013 at 11:01 | #13

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #11
    Maybe when that “debate” winds down, we can get back to discussing communing little children (who are not infants) before confirmation…

    Ya think!? :)

  14. September 26th, 2013 at 18:50 | #14

    Is it still too soon to discuss communing little children (who are not infants) before confirmation?

    “…were we to return as a Synod to the norm witnessed in the Symbols: When a child knows the basic catechism and has expressed a desire for the Supper, let him be examined and absolved and welcomed to the table.”

  15. Rev. McCall
    September 26th, 2013 at 19:07 | #15

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #14
    What is the distinction between “knowing the basic catechism” and confirmation? I think clarifying those definitions might help the discussion. Are they essentially the same thing? If not, what is the difference? If not, when is an appropriate age then for catechism instruction? If they are the same, why do the same thing twice?

  16. helen
    September 26th, 2013 at 20:08 | #16

    @Rev. McCall #15
    What is the distinction between “knowing the basic catechism” and confirmation? I think clarifying those definitions might help the discussion. Are they essentially the same thing? If not, what is the difference? If not, when is an appropriate age then for catechism instruction? If they are the same, why do the same thing twice?

    Luther said that he prayed the catechism repeatedly as an adult. Are we so smart that we don’t need to “do the same thing twice”? Start teaching the “40 page” catechism as soon as a child can read, (or sooner, if you like). Repeat every year, in Sunday School, adding questions and Scripture from the “back of the book”. Encourage the faster students to learn Psalms and hymns.

    All of this would [did] allow the Pastor, when it was his turn, to lecture on the meaning of the parts of the catechism, liturgy, and other practices of the church. [If you repeated it often enough we might have an educated laity again.]

  17. September 26th, 2013 at 21:04 | #17

    @Rev. McCall #15

    Good point. I guess I should have said “confirming and communing little children (who are not infants) long before 8th grade.”

  18. Rev. McCall
    September 27th, 2013 at 13:02 | #18

    @helen #16
    My point was not that one needed cease learning, but to discern if “knowing the basic catechism” was essentially the same as what we now call confirmation. It would be redundant to be confirmed twice.

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #17
    I have no problems with that. Rather than maverick it alone though I would try to at least have my circuit and/or district make the same move simply for the sake of walking together.

  19. helen
    September 27th, 2013 at 20:11 | #19

    @Rev. McCall #18
    @helen #16
    My point was not that one needed cease learning, but to discern if “knowing the basic catechism” was essentially the same as what we now call confirmation. It would be redundant to be confirmed twice.
    @Pastor Ted Crandall #17
    I have no problems with that. Rather than maverick it alone though I would try to at least have my circuit and/or district make the same move simply for the sake of walking together.

    “Confirmation” is probably a word that would need to be defined. As someone else said, in one church, it’s done late and confirmands are invited into full membership and the local voters’ assembly. In another, it’s done at 12-14 and the confirmands are still treated as “kids” at least till they go to college.
    Admit to communion when the child has learned the six chief parts and understands what the Lord’s Supper means. Get serious about religious education all through grade and high school; confirm at 17-18 so the confirmands can legally join voters.

    It’s going to get harder to be a Christian, even in America, so the more you know about the faith the more you are likely to depend on it. We need “the whole armor of God”!

    But I agree, it’s better to change these things by agreement in the larger group.

  20. Rev. McCall
    September 28th, 2013 at 10:53 | #20

    @helen #19
    Chemnitz gives a great defintion of confirmation. It includes:
    Upon reaching an age of discretion a child would be diligently instructed in the faith and admonished to continue in his Baptism. Once sufficiently learned in the faith he would be brought publicly before the pastor and church. There he would:
    1. Make a public profession of faith.
    2. Undergo public questioning concerning the six chief parts (public exam)
    3. Show by his confession and answers that he disagrees with all ungodly teaching and practice.
    4. Be publicly exhortated to continue in catechesis (teaching and learning) and to persevere in his baptismal covenant.
    5. Conclude with a public prayer for the child.

    This confirmation would only happen once and it should happen prior to first communion. I would have no problem with it happening at whatever age a pastor concludes the child has reached a proper age of discretion.

    Catechesis, or teaching, should be a lifelong endeavor. (As it should be for all of us :-) )
    Hope those defintions help some! :-)

  21. September 28th, 2013 at 12:19 | #21

    Rev. McCall :
    Rather than maverick it alone though I would try to at least have my circuit and/or district make the same move simply for the sake of walking together.

    helen :
    I agree, it’s better to change these things by agreement in the larger group.

    Amen.

  22. October 2nd, 2013 at 06:49 | #22

    Rev. McCall :@helen #19 Chemnitz gives a great defintion of confirmation. It includes:Upon reaching an age of discretion a child would be diligently instructed in the faith and admonished to continue in his Baptism. Once sufficiently learned in the faith he would be brought publicly before the pastor and church. There he would:1. Make a public profession of faith.2. Undergo public questioning concerning the six chief parts (public exam)3. Show by his confession and answers that he disagrees with all ungodly teaching and practice.4. Be publicly exhortated to continue in catechesis (teaching and learning) and to persevere in his baptismal covenant.5. Conclude with a public prayer for the child.
    This confirmation would only happen once and it should happen prior to first communion. I would have no problem with it happening at whatever age a pastor concludes the child has reached a proper age of discretion.
    Catechesis, or teaching, should be a lifelong endeavor. (As it should be for all of us )Hope those defintions help some!

    Pastor McCall, I do believe you’ve provided a basic outline of where we should have stayed and the course back to which we should be steering Missouri — together. Thank you!

    Maybe, just maybe, the discussion about newborn infants has moved along enough that we can again discuss the topic of this thread: Early Communion. (I know, Helen: “Good luck with that!” lol)

    Anyway, here’s my attempt at keeping this important discussion moving along, in the interests of walking together:

    “Upon reaching an age of discretion a child would be…”? Because this vocabulary sounds so Southern Baptist… I would suggest Lutherans speak of a child becoming able to discern the Body. When we say “early,” we mean when a child is first capable of discerning, right? We do not include in “Early Communion” the idea of communing a newborn infant, at least not in this discussion, right?

  23. Rev. McCall
    October 2nd, 2013 at 09:20 | #23

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #22
    Yes, that is what I would agree to as the definition of “early”. I would not include infants in this discussion, that is correct. The ability to discern on the part of a child would largely be a pastoral decision. A pastor knows his flock (or should know his flock!) well enough to confirm and commune when he sees a clear ability to discern and a desire to receive communion. (This is also another reason why I believe a church should remain small(er) so that the pastor can give this kind of attention to things like this, but that’s perhaps a topic for another thread :-) ) A minimum age would have to be set somehow though or else some would certainly abuse it and commune infants. I think the German for “children” that Luther uses translates to children about the age of 6 or 7 and I would have no problem with that. There is no reason why every child at that age cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, 10 Commandments, and name the Sacraments and what they are and give.

  24. Madeline Hagemann
    May 20th, 2014 at 16:58 | #24

    It is my understanding that LCMS practices “close communion” – not “closed communion.”

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