I was about to enter the sacristy to get robed up for our late service when an usher caught my attention. He told me that there were some folks who wanted to talk about taking communion. I asked him if they were LCMS members and he said no.
I walked back to the foyer and what did I behold but a pair of cute little old ladies smiling pleasantly at everyone who walked by and who continued to smile sweetly as I approached. By my best guess they were probably in their eighties. This was going to be interesting I figured.
I warmly greeted them and mentioned that the usher had said that they wanted to take communion. They nodded and proceeded to share their story. One was visiting from out of town. The other was local. Both of them were baptized and confirmed in LCMS churches but had since joined the ELCA. The one told a lengthy story about being brought up in a historic LCMS church in Chicago. They were old, they were nice, and they had LCMS bloodlines. So what was I to do.
I told them that I was really glad they were here to worship with us but that they would not be able to commune with us since we only commune those who hold the same confession as we do. I also told them I would be happy to talk more about the matter after the service.
They kept their smiles and simply said that they understood and that churches need to have rules. They stayed for the service, sat in the second row and kept those smiles all the way through the benediction.
That was an interesting response: “churches need to have rules.” It was a response born of a generation that understands duty and responsibility. It reminds me of the way Walther talks about the work of the church in contrast to Rick Warren and other church growth gurus these days. They like talk about the church’s purpose ( a term right out of 2oth century godless existentialism) and vision and mission. These are terms that place the focus on man and his role in the church. I have a purpose. I have a vision and a mission to fulfill.
Walther on the other hand, talks about the six “duties” of the church in his pamphlet “The Proper Form of the Christian Congregation…” Duties come from outside of us. In Walther’s case, he was talking about the duties that come from God through his word. The focus is not on what we set to do as our purpose, vision or mission. Instead, the focus is on the work God gives the church to do.
I share this for your encouragement. It would have been easy to respond with tolerance especially since these were such sweet, dear, old ladies. Tolerance is not the answer. Properly administering the gifts of God is the right approach. Laity, support your pastor in the proper closing of the communion rail as the usher did at our parish this morning. Pastors, I know it is hard. I have certainly failed on this before, but it gets easier the more you put it into practice. I encourage you to be strong. The body and blood of the Lord are precious gifts to be given out only to those we know have been properly taught the Gospel in all its articles and who have confessed the same before God and man.
I hope the two little old ladies come back. From what little they shared I got the sense that the one was visiting the other from out of town and so they thought they would go to the nearest Lutheran church. I hope it was more than that. I hope it was the beginning of their journey back to the good confession and the right reception of Christ’s body and blood.