Update: A fellow pastor helped raise attention to the original article on some points that I needed to make more clear – thanks to that brother.
We Lutherans are really good at understanding Jesus’ clear words concerning His body and blood being present in His Supper. The problem is that some Lutherans exhibit their weak faith in those words (and others) by advocating open communion.
By Open Communion I mean any level of communion that ignores church membership as normal practice or ignores it on a less than rare basis. This includes “baptized communion” (which ignores the second half of making a disciple [teaching all things]) and “check yourself against these four points communion” (which ignores the all things that need to be taught).
Now, as I said, every Lutheran I have run across has been able to confess “This is my body” very well. But often times the confession is forgotten when the question of who should commune comes up. If it is the body and blood of Jesus, then St. Paul teaches us that there are possibly very bad consequences for unworthily communing. 1 Cor 11:27 teaches that guilt can come from communing wrongly. Verse 29 adds judgment to the guilty charge. Verse 30 adds that physical illness and even death can result. This is why open/closed communion is such a serious matter.
Now, as to comment on the use of 1 Cor 11 for proof-texting Closed Communion it should be noted that the primary context of those verses of warning are meant for members of the Corinthian Church. This means that our congregational members are to examine themselves (implied being taught to do so). The verses also can apply to those whose public profession of the faith (by Church Membership) does not discern the body and blood of Jesus. The verses do apply to everyone who communes, that examination should be done, and if there has not been instruction prior, there is trouble to come. The situation gets trickier when we talk about those who publicly profess the real presence of Christ by their membership in churches that believe correctly on the matter (for instance ELS and WELS). In these cases, it may be best to note the differences in belief and lack of agreement in the teachings of Christ (Mt 28). We also out of care for their soul would not want them to be double-minded and confess agreement in faith at two altars which do not agree on everything.
This good point about 1 Cor 11 context helps us understand the value of a couple things. First of all, we should derive our teaching on Closed Communion not primarily from these texts, but I would suggest from the Words of Institution as well as Matthew 28 (to demonstrate who a disciple is, one baptized and taught all things). 1 Cor 11 helps us to instruct our own about self-examination and also it can help us understand the dangers of communing without examination or discernment. It should also cause us to consider Church Discipline as a helpful thing in congregations – think of the mess in the Corinthian congregation and yet Paul still encourages them to commune. By 1 Corinthians example only excommunication bars members (baptized and taught all things) from communion. In the future I will hopefully post something about “lesser bans”, or others can take up that discussion in the comments.
I personally understand the desire of a pastor to please people (parishoners and visitors alike) and also in return to have their good favor, but how do you think those who have been encouraged and confirmed in false doctrine (open communion denies the Words of Scripture and in the end it denies the real presence of Christ in His Supper) will feel about such pastors when the fruit of their false belief starts to show, or worse yet, when their false belief leads them astray totally?
So this article goes out with a plea to those pastors who have given in to pressure from the world (parishoners and visitors alike). Consider how the real presence of Jesus can cause damage to those unprepared and consider how your communion fellowship practices are actually assassinating souls right before your eyes. You may be getting accolades and smiles from those close to you, but you are feeding them medicine which will harm their unbelieving (or falsely believing) souls. Repent, read the clear Words of Scripture, and start communing only those disciples who have been baptized and taught to observe all things that Jesus commanded.
Some of the problem that we have created for ourselves is that in our instruction about how to examine yourself we do not add the question “Do I agree with everything this congregation believes and this altar confesses?” There is an individualism that is reflected in those questions in our catechism that needs to also express the corporate nature of communion. For any new Catechism questions, or in the mean time, it might be a good idea to add that question to catechesis at every level.