Closed Communion: Forcing the Body to be a Body, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is the fifth and last post in this series on closed communion.)

The most serious threat to the Christian faith which the church faces today is, I believe, American Evangelicalism. It is not the most serious because it deviates more radically from historic Christianity than any other movement. Communism, Liberalism and Islam are certainly more godless. And it is not the most serious threat because its adherents are particularly void of anything good. Many Evangelicals, I’m sure, are pious Christians. I don’t presume to judge their hearts. Evangelicalism is the most serious threat because in our day it has demonstrated a greater capacity than any other movement of enticing us away from our roots as Christians. These roots are the scriptures and the confession of the church and the doctrine and practice of the historic church drawn from them.

One of the central features of American Christianity is the false notion that my certainty of Christ rests on my personal experience of him. This experience is not necessarily found in Baptism, the Gospel, Absolution or the Sacrament of the Altar. Rather it is found in my unique story of Jesus in my life and my heart.

When a pastor says that someone may come to the sacrament provided that they believe in the real presence this criteria is applied mostly to protect the communicant from experiencing the wrath of God. Paul says, “He who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” I Cor. 11:29) So the pastor does not want someone to be judged through communing. Such a pastoral desire is good as far as it goes. But how far does it go?

Basically such a practice communicates that we care about your personal relationship with Jesus and we don’t want you to suffer because of any lack in your personal understanding. We don’t want you to be unworthy before God. But this practice communicates nothing about the joys of enjoying a corporate relationship with Christ through membership in His body – the church. It communicates that the gifts of God which all Christians share are not essential.

Do you rest in the care of the Triune God through your baptism which is a pure gift? Well, that can wait. Do you regret and repent of your depraved nature and the evil it causes? That can wait too. Do you hear with us Christ’s story of forgiveness which is spoken by God’s appointed minister regularly? Well, that can also wait. Do you rejoice in the church’s confessions of the faith and treasure these wonderfully catholic documents? Well, that can wait too. Do you wish to pray with us over and over again in this place made holy by His word? I suppose that can wait. Tell me. What exactly is your relationship with the bride of Christ? What are your intentions? And the answer is given. It’s between me and Jesus. It’s not your concern. As long as I am personally worthy by believing that Jesus is really present then I’m OK.

Can you see how such a practice promotes, enforces and constantly reinforces the extreme individualism of American Evangelicalism? Can you really not wonder whether such a practice not only fortifies the wrong views of this wrong movement but is itself a reflection of Evangelicalism? We got it from them.

The only antidote against this false view of Christianity is for the church to emphasize rather compellingly the corporate nature of the faith. We simply must wean our people from the strongly individualistic notions of Evangelicalism. This applies to the doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper especially since people, ideally, receive this sacrament often. This weaning takes place mostly obviously through a restoration of the ancient and salutary practice of closed communion.

The LCMS holds to two different practices when it comes to the question of who should be admitted to the Altar. Most (50.2%) believe that only those who belong to congregations in our fellowship should be communed. A sizable minority (35%) believe that all who accept the real presence of Christ in the sacrament should be communed.

Somehow this large minority must be challenged to rethink its position and return to a truly Christian and Lutheran position. This will require strong leadership in the church especially at the highest levels. The church is too divided and the issue to crucial for to be ignored indefinitely.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Closed Communion: Forcing the Body to be a Body, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 3 Comments

  1. I would argue that Ablaze! is a biggest threat. Yes. It is essentially American Evangelicalism, but it is worse. Something like Ablaze! is the bigger threat because many believers are evacuating the lack-of-substance Evangelicalism and finding life in confessional Lutheranism. [Actually, they look in a lot of other places like Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy; and some actually get hooked-up with confessional Lutheranism.] That they are heading to confessional Lutheranism is a good thing. However, within the ranks of Lutheranism, there are Lutherans heading towards American Evangelicalism, disguised as things like Ablaze! The problem is that these pseudo-Lutherans are not leaving the Lutheran church. So not only do the pseudo-Lutherans strangle the confessional Lutherans that remain, they block the paths to confessional Lutheranism of believers who try to escape American Evangelicalism. Believers who find American Evangelicalism too shallow, can smell that a mile away. The phoniness of Ablaze! can be spotted within a few seconds, but now these believers may be convinced that all Lutherans are phony and lack substance.
    Heretics within always cause the biggest problems for the Church. Something like Ablaze! is a case where they present a double-whammy on the life of believers.

  2. Was Luther speaking in hyperbole or in jest when he wrote in the Small Catechism:

    “But those who are unwilling to learn it [Small Catechism] should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians, neither should they be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, nor exercise any part of Christian liberty,…”

    If not, what effect might this have on the practice of open and/or closed communion by those who have sworn to teach and practice in accord with the Lutheran Confessions?

  3. Anonimous,

    I believe Luther is using synecdoche here, the part standing for the whole. The whole is the fundamental teachings of the faith. No one should be allowed to commune who does not know the basics of the faith. Those basics are plainly taught in the SC and so if you do not wish to study the SC (i.e. the fundamentals of the faith), you are not worthy to take communon.

    Pastor Rossow

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