One of the big problems being tolerated in our Synod is a wide variety of practices in communion fellowship. Some examples are blatant “open” communion, “real presence believer” communion, “agree to these five points” communion, and “I know I am in the same Synod but I won’t commune with you” communion. This article is about open communion, which is one of the worst of these variations of communion fellowship. By open communion I mean that there is essentially a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regards to attendance of the Lord’s Supper.
First of all, open communion is against the Scriptures. It reflects at best a Reformed belief about the Sacrament of the Altar. By that I mean that when a congregation and their pastor commune everyone regardless of confession of faith they really must believe that each communicant does not necessarily receive by mouth the Lord’s Body and Blood. That is why most “Protestant” churches can practice open communion, because they don’t believe there is anything there which could damage a body or soul. Several like to think that a belief in the real presence can exist alongside open communion, but that is not so. Just as the words “This is My body” are true, so also the words of warning about sickness and death from wrongful communing.
Secondly, I will say that practicing open communion is spiritual abuse. It harms the person who wrongfully communes. It harms the congregation which suffers the wrong of a diverse confession. It harms all other congregations which are connected to it because it invites disunity into the larger body (why can’t liberals love their neighbor?). This article is to start to put forward some thoughts about communion fellowship.
So was Judas there? A common “Scriptural” defense of open communion often uses Judas as an example (poor Judas is always an example for something). The defense goes something like this: Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him, and yet Jesus communed Judas, so therefore we shouldn’t keep anyone who wants to partake away from the Lord’s Supper.
First, I will say that there are some who argue that Judas is not there at the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. I actually believe he was, and that his presence confirms the Scriptural practice (also one which considers the care of souls) of Closed Communion. Follow along.
- Jesus knew the heart of Judas (a pastor cannot do this, even with a good board of Elders!)
- Jesus offered Judas multiple warnings and chances to repent
- Judas refused to repent, and kept the same public confession of the faith as the others
- In the end, Jesus took the confession of the mouth of Judas and his membership in the “Twelve” at their face value, communing Judas
If Judas is meant to be the example for Open Communion he would have been a visitor of the Twelve, not one of the Twelve themselves. Open communion’s example would be if Caiaphas had shown up in the upper room that night and communed. Judas was a regular member of the group in good standing (publicly). He is an example of someone who sit regularly in pews each week but doesn’t believe (don’t start the witch hunt, it didn’t work in Pietism and it won’t work today either).
Another argument comes right from the text of the Words of Institution. All good theology for the Lord’s Supper comes from those words. Jesus gave communion to His disciples. The Words of institution clearly teach who was there (His disciples). How according to the Scriptures is a disciple made? By being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by being taught to observe all things (including Closed Communion) [Matthew 28:19-20]. Baptism and Catechesis are essential to being made a disciple. That level of catechesis cannot happen in the case of a visitor.
Closed Communion need not be sectarian. That means that when we exclude some from communion we are not accusing them of not being Christian. After all, there were more disciples of Jesus than just the Twelve. This means that yes there are Christians out there who we can’t commune with. As Lutherans we firmly believe that where Christ is, there is the Church, which can be paraphrased, where the Word of God is, there will be Christians.
In the future I hope to post some things that have been helpful with clergy and laity in order to practice closed communion.