The Importance of Closed Communion, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a five part series on closed communion)

Closed communion is a crucial practice for the church to follow because the gospel is at stake. This is why.

Really there are two types of people who call themselves Christians. Both have a system of belief which dominates their actions. The first theological system is monergistic. It says that God, in Christ, has done everything necessary for salvation. This type of Christian holds to the following: sin is pervasive, Jesus is God of God and Light of Light yet true man possessing a human nature derived from his virgin mother, His atoning work is both necessary and sufficient for salvation, faith, itself a gift of Jesus, grasps passively all that Jesus has done and God accounts sinners righteous for Christ’s sake through faith, the ministry is God giving the gifts of life through the word and sacrament, men are appointed by God to carry out this ministry, baptism applies the washing of Christ to the sinner regardless of age, Holy Communion applies the same forgiveness because in it the sinner is given the body and blood of Jesus to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, God works in His children both to will and to do of his good pleasure for Christ’s sake, Jesus promises to come again and bring the faithful to heaven the place to which they were predestined solely for the sake of Christ’s work, the Holy Scriptures are God’s inerrant self revelation which guide us into all truth without any merit or worthiness in us, etc.

The second type of person who calls himself a Christian also has a system of belief that dominates his actions. Never mind that this system may not be coherent. It deviates from one or more of the articles of the faith articulated in the previous paragraph. This theological deviation disqualifies this person from the sacrament. Why? It’s not just because they are wrong. Everyone is wrong all the time. It’s not just because they hold something different than we do. Who the heck are “we” that we should be the norm of what others believe. Incidentally, our insistence that people be Missouri Synod in order to qualify for the sacrament makes us come across as a bit self normative. The reason people disqualify themselves from the sacrament when they deviate from the system of theology articulated above is that such deviation always ends up being works-righteous. “I came not to call righteous but sinners to repentance.” To the extent that we are righteous in what we do rather than in Christ and his work – to that extent we deny Jesus. When we deny Christ we exempt ourselves from his grace. Pastors are irresponsible who give freely the grace of God to those who by their unbelief have exempted themselves from this grace.

Here is the problem. There are many sincere Christians who actually hold to the monergistic Christian system above (“holding to the system” is another way of saying “faith”) but who find themselves in a church which does not. They are in fellowship with something which denies Jesus. Should we commune them? Well, that depends. If someone desires communion with no intention of doing anything about his wrongheaded fellowship then, “NO!” You would reinforce a sinful fellowship by communing them. This would apply to the ELCA visitor who wants to continue in that church regardless of the alacrity of its fall from truth. And it applies to the Roman Catholic visitor who is in your church on Sunday only because his nephew is being baptized. It certainly applies to the Methodist or Baptist who are there at the invitation of one of you members.

But if someone wants to commune because they are dismayed at their “Lutheran” church’s heterodoxy and are in some type of transition or because they sorely desire the sacrament and have grown tired of penance and purgatory then you have the makings of a wonderful and evangelical conversation. Such desperate sinners do not negotiate or demand the sacrament as their inalienable right. They plead for it as something they desperately need. And that is a request the answer to which should be informed by more than our practice of closed communion. At the same time closed communion should not be relegated to the category of some antiquated and unnecessary practice or, God forbid, an issue over which well meaning people can disagree.

Next: Why people practice open communion.

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.


The Importance of Closed Communion, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 3 Comments

  1. Such desperate sinners do not negotiate or demand the sacrament as their inalienable right.

    Some may see this as a good argument against what you have written, but there is no way I would ever have become a Lutheran if not for the practice of Closed Communion.

    Sitting in that pew unable to commune for the first time since grade school, confronted with the devotional eucharistic theology of “I Come, O Savior to Thy Table” (of which all the verses were sung)…I had to think, “Yes, something is different…look at what they believe they are receiving here—the absolute assurance that all their sins are forgiven—and how they desire Christ’s Body and Blood because of it”…I had to learn more after having for the first time seen people receiving that Body and Blood under the Gospel instead of under the Law and knowing that the family that invited me loved me, what choice did I have but humbly to ask why it had to be so.

    With this article you have, I think, properly answered the questions that the other articles generated. Nice job of teaching, Pr. Preus…just as one would expect.


  2. By communing with somebody from outside of our own communion, not only do we reinforce a sinful fellowship, we deliberately have communion with what we understand as error. I like to use the term communion and not use the term fellowship at all. If we are in communion with somebody who is in another communion with Satanic Arts, then we too, have deliberately entered into communion with those Satanic Arts.
    “Insistence that people be Missouri Synod” is both too narrow a protocol and too wide a protocol. It is too narrow because the Missouri Synod is in communion with many other Lutheran synods around the world. And then there are synods that ride the fuzzy line like the Lutheran Church of Australia. It is too wide because within the Missouri Synod, there are a great many who deliberately and persistently violate their own pledges to confessional practices on communion.
    Closed communion is beautiful. Iron sharpens iron. When our brothers and sisters of other Christian communions also practice closed communion, we are able to sharpen each other and learn from each other. When we blindly blend, neither stands for anything or communicates anything. Neither offers the other anything.

  3. I liked what you said anonymous 1138. I have seen several pastors take their ordination vows, and then am shocked to see them cast these vows aside in the spirit of ‘unity’. A pastor’s role is to shepard the flock, but towards what? Unity? Or the Word? Unity around the Word, now that would be nice.

    Iron sharpening iron. People that stand by their convictions no matter the cost. Kind of like the Apostles. Ah, for a few brave men…

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