(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.