Open Communion and the Assassination of Souls UPDATED

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.

 

 

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Open Communion and the Assassination of Souls UPDATED — 46 Comments

  1. I thought of the assigned text for Good Shepherd Sunday from John 10, that “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”

    Luther used the words “Der is ein Dieb und ein Morder.” He is a murderer. My Gute Nachricht tuned this down a little, “ein Rauber und ein Dieb.” But Luther amplifies it. Yes, he is an assasine of souls, who does not care enough for his people to discipline them. He is lax and unconcerned what their lifestyles and choices say to the congregation.

    The church has a horizontal dimension of responsibility, care and concern for the each other, the body of Christ. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1 Cor 11:26 What do our actions say to each other when we permit those of another confession take the Lord’s Supper? An overly lax care of souls and anything goes morality robs the body of Christ of its unity and confession. An open communion policy is “a sneaking in the back way” and a tredding of the doorstep of murder.

    God bless your Good Shepherd Sunday.

  2. Pr.Scheer,
    “Do I agree with everything this congregation believes and this altar confesses?”

    My heart begs the question: how definitive is “everything”? I.e., a church follows closed communion practice/doctrine, but elder assistants distribute the Host and the individual cups of wine, while the pastor distributes the wine from the chalice and then dismisses the communicants
    Are you sugesting then that someone who believes the pastor is the only one who should distribute the elements should not commune since that is the practice of that church? I have questioned that situation in my own mind – I hope you can help ease my mind!

  3. Thanks for this good article. I recently attended an ECUSA funeral and naturally sat out Communion. Their Communion statement was that any baptized person was good to go. After sitting there smugly, I later thought that many LCMS parishes aren’t that much different, only adding belief in the Real Presence to baptism. This is where it gets technical. A Reformed person could easily tell you that he/she believes in the Real Presence, but only in Spirit. We know from Scripture and our Confessions that Jesus is really there in the elements. “The Lord’s Supper/De coena Domini” by Chemnitz is great reading on this topic.

  4. Thank you for the corrections. I get very nervous when people use 1 Cor. 11 as a proof text for closed communion, as in, “If you commune the wrong person, Jesus is going to kill them.” It certainly was for the Corinthians a strong warning (although what exactly it meant for them is not totally clear) and also a warning for us about taking the Sacrament seriously.

  5. @Don H #2
    A person has to let their own conscience determine when to commune. Obviously if it is a church with which you are not a part of a larger fellowship with, the answer should almost always be no. The difficulty is when to commune even within that fellowship. There your conscience is the only good judge on the matter. I would suggest asking your own pastor for help on your situational question.
    The practice you describe is not ordinary (pastors usually should distribute the host first) and also ordinary (many congregations allow laymen to help distribute the sacrament). I would encourage thoughtful reflection on the Scriptures to see how our Lord instituted the sacrament (let the text say what it says and nothing further). If it was a visiting situation (on vacation) and your conscience was stricken, I would suggest waiting until you can commune at your home congregation. Remember that God is rich in His grace, and He has given multiple means of grace, cling tight to God’s gifts found in Baptism, read and preached Word, and Absolution. There is my advertisement of the richness of our liturgy, which makes sure that all of those means of grace are front and center throughout the service!

  6. 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.

    The practice of open or “unsafe” communion in my opinion is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Therefore it is assumed that many people have had their souls assassinated and probably don’t even realize it. I wonder, without a soul is it possible to enter heaven or even hell for that matter? Also, if one suspects that their soul has been assassinated is it possible to have it “resurrected” or should we dare request a new one?

  7. IOW, the argument seems to be that a krima already has become a katakrima. The Corinthians were failing to discern/confess the Body and Blood of Christ. To do so was to take to their judgment/krima (not damnation/katakrima, as the KJV incorrectly translates.) Now, certainly judgment can turn into damnation if error and sin results in a loss of faith and a denial of Christ. But, other than those mentioned in chapter 5, note that St. Paul does not tell them to stop communing until they get all things right. No suggestion is made that the Supper should be withheld until they confess correctly. Indeed, Paul assumes that they will continue communing, for he tells them what to do “when you come together to eat…” In fact, at the end of his second letter he is still telling them to “aim for restoration” and prays for their restoration. They are not together observing all things commanded.

    So, I understand the judgment that results from a failure to discern the body and blood of Christ. But I am not clear about your move to harm resulting from a failure to observe all things that Jesus commanded, resulting in “the assassination of souls” which would be damnation. You seem to be referring to those whom you consider to confess false doctrine other than the doctrine of the Real Presence, i.e., those in other various Lutheran denominations. So, putting aside what would be an extreme example- the ELCA- let me ask you this: If I communed a member of a WELS or ELS congregation (for the sake of the example, let us assume that such person desired to commune at my LC-MS congregation) who do not observe all things commanded in the same way that the LC-MS does, how would I be engaging in the assassination of his or her soul by communing him or her?

    Perhaps it would help if you could flesh out for me your use of Matt. 28 to support our doctrine of closed communion. For I agree with the above, that 1 Cor 11 is not very helpful as a proof text for closed communion in cases of Lutheran denominations that confess the Real Presence.

    Thank you for digging into this issue. It is important that we clearly understand our foundation for closed communion.

  8. Setting the pastor up in the uncomfortable role as cop again, eh? *Sigh*

    My congregation prints the LCMS understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the Sunday worship bulletin for all to see. For me, it serves as an instant reminder of why I am taking communion; For visitors, it serves as a warning to speak to the pastor prior to the service if they also wish to participate. The 1/2 page announcement also states that “participation in communion indicates public agreement with the LCMS understanding.”

    Once all attendees at a worship service have been admonished, then we should leave it at that. I love this definition of Lutheran communion and will post it here:

    http://www.taalc.org/FAQ/CommunionInTheAALC.html

    Responsible Communion. I like it!

  9. @James #8
    The definition from the AALC is, well, interesting, as it concludes: “the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of
    Sins.

    As written in the AAlC qu&a, the definition differs from the wording of the passages it references, let alone from the wording of the Small Catechism. Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions unequivocally declare that the Sacrament of the Altar “is the body and blood of Jesus Christ….given to us Christians to eat and to drink.”

    This is not just one of many doctrines that we profess as Confessional Lutherans. It is one of many articles of doctrine. So, when our Lord Jesus speaks of “everything”,” (Matt. 28:19-20), He speaks of the whole Christian teaching “once delivered to the sainst” (Jude 3) Our Lord has called us to be one in faith and practice (John 17:20-26)

    And, this unity He gifts us through His Word preached properly and Sacraments administered rightly. (AC VII and VIII) So, according to Christ’s gifts, then, we are called to discern His body and blood. (1 Cor. 11:28) As the Small Catechism says plainly about the worthy communicant, that he is worthy who believes these wordes: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

  10. St. Paul himself uses 1 Cor. 11:18-19 as a “proof text” for closed communion when he distinguishes illegitimate schismata, or divisions, occurring at the Lord’s table, from legitimate divisions resulting from haireseis, or heresies.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  11. @Rev. Don Kirchner #7
    In the case you mention of the ELS or WELS member who communes, the double confession of faith would be a problem for their soul. They would be confessing the LCMS doctrine at your altar and yet holding their membership at another altar with a different confession of the faith (albeit relatively small differences, but large enough to not have fellowship yet). That act of confession on their part (enabled by their communing at a different altar) is dangerous to faith.

    As far as Mt 28 goes, I go back to our Lord’s Institution in Mt 26 to find out who our Lord allowed at His table. The text says the disciples, so context and Scripture-interprets-Scripture draws us right to Mt 28 where our Lord tells the Church how God makes disciples, by baptizing and teaching. Those who are baptized and catechized are disciples. In the case of someone from a different denomination, we cannot be sure of the teaching they received. Sadly, I will say that the situation in the LCMS has become difficult to uphold our mutual pledge to one another and not practice selective fellowship as some have.

    Most of my study of Mt 26 has come from Luther and Chemnitz’s insistence that if you have a doctrine (and practice flowing from it) of the Lord’s Supper, it should come from the Words of Institution.

    Hope that helps to put a little more explanation on what I have been trying to say.

  12. @James #8
    The pastor is steward, not cop. He handles the gift as Christ would have him do it. What is wrong with the pastor trying to discern the status of the visitor coming to church. Merely relying on the printed statement does not seem like the best stewardship (although statements can be good and serve as teaching tools).

    The problem I have the AALC statement of “responsible” communing is that it is not historic. We should have a really good reason to abandon the historic vocabulary of the Church, otherwise we should retain it. Here are the other problems with the statement:

    Their statement directly denies practicing closed communion, which is something maybe someone in Synod should look into since we are full pulpit and altar fellowship with these folks (and many TAALC pastors I have met are indeed faithful men). Also, their statement leads the reader to believe that all that is required for altar fellowship (communing together) is agreement in the real presence of Jesus. That seems very reductionistic to me.

  13. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #12
    I have nothing but deep respect and admiration for the AALC. I mean no ill will towards anyone by showing the way the AALC defines their terms. They seem to have the whole “open versus closed” communion issue resolved.

    “Close” communion is also not a historic term, but many LCMS congregations use it, or at least practice it. “Responsible communion” and “close communion” are not the same? I find “responsible communion” more descriptive, IMHO. Ok, I understand the whole “pastor is the steward” thing, but the person taking (or trying to take) communion is ultimately responsible for themselves before God.

    Historic vocabulary? I would not recommend bringing this issue into any conversation. How much historic vocabulary is used by promoters of the Church Growth Movement within the LCMS? How much historic vocabulary gathers dust on the pastor’s bookshelf while the small groups within that same church are encouraged to watch Willow Creek Association videos?

  14. @James #13
    I agree with your respect of the AALC, but I don’t believe they resolved anything, but instead duck the issue.

    Close communion is indeed a relatively recent invention in the LCMS. If it means close-ness in fellowship (emphasizing the closeness of being united in doctrine) then it can be used properly (but still, why not just used closed). Some however have used “close” to allow functionally open communion. I fear that “responsible” may suffer the same abuse. The pastor also bears responsibility before God for His ministry of Word and Sacrament.

    Historic vocabulary is much like the historic liturgy arguments, and yes, many Church Growth folks have thrown it all out to sound more relevant and contextual, all the while compromising with the world. The abuses you list are indeed problems within the LCMS, sadly too prevalent.

  15. “In the case you mention of the ELS or WELS member who communes, the double confession of faith would be a problem for their soul. They would be confessing the LCMS doctrine at your altar and yet holding their membership at another altar with a different confession of the faith (albeit relatively small differences, but large enough to not have fellowship yet). That act of confession on their part (enabled by their communing at a different altar) is dangerous to faith.”

    So, a quia subscription/confession of faith to The Book of Concord is not enough? A confusion on “relatively small differences” is dangerous to faith and to commune someone who gives a quia subscription to the Book of Concord is to engage in a possible “assassination of souls.”

    Thank you for the reference to Matt 26. I think that is a solid basis for closed communion. And yes, that then leads to Matt 28, which defines disciples as the baptized who hold tightly to and cherish all things commanded. It gets a bit muddy, however, when, for communicant membership, we require a confession of faith as learned from the Small Catechism, but you seem to be stating that not even a quia subscription to The Book of Concord is sufficient to risk assassinating someone’s soul. All things commanded becomes something that is near impossible for a majority to adhere to.

    We confess: “In a similar way, Paul commands that there should be love in the Church in order that we may preserve unity, bear with the harsher manners of brethren as there is need, and overlook certain less serious mistakes. This must happen or else the Church will fly apart into various schisms, and hostilities and factions and heresies will arise from the schisms.” Ap V:111

    Thank you, Pr. Sheer. I will miss you in our circuit.

  16. @Rev. Don Kirchner #15
    In the case of the WELS and ELS members, we acknowledge their quia subscription (or in the case of a layperson, their subscription to the Small Catechism), but we have to respect their stance on fellowship as well. For a WELS and ELS member to commune at an LCMS altar would be going against the teachings they uphold concerning fellowship. It is about respect of their beliefs and holding them to them. In refusing to commune the ELS and WELS member, we teach that our church membership means something (it is the person’s public confession of the faith).

    If they want to commune at an LCMS congregation, they can either join one or wait patiently for what the Lord will do between the Church bodies.

    Your points are always appreciated Pr. Kirchner, and I do miss the circuit and the counsel that you helpfully provided to a young pastor just trying to figure things out along the way.

  17. I’ve asked more than once when faced with a ‘four point’ communion policy if the pastor still has confirmation classes. The answer is always ‘yes.’ When I then ask why the pastor unfairly treats the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders by forcing them through instruction whilst accepting to the table complete strangers who only need to answer 4 questions, I never get an answer. A few angry looks, but no answers.

  18. While we should take care to observe Paul’s words, we should also keep in mind that the sin of Corinth was not just one of error, but one of error and arrogance. The Lord’s Supper had become a eating and driinking fest instead of a serious communion with Christ.

    Sometimes we over-box God and turn Him into the old man just waiting to condemn us for an error. As much as I know most of you really hate it when I say this, I say it again–we in the LCMS do not have the one and only orthodox Christian understanding of every point of God’s word. Those who commune in ignorance of our central belief innocently are not punished, only those who are like the arrogant Corinthians and march forward not believing and/or not caring.

    What is “over-boxing” God? For instance, I understand Don H’s concern over whether we should commune in a church where the pastor does not distribute both elements. However, this concern falls into my definition of over-boxing. God does not condemn communing in such a situation, nor (forgive my heresy) does He condemn those who practice “ordinances” rather than “sacraments”. They also try to follow Paul’s instructions, but see Jesus’ words in Luke, “in remembrance” as literal, while we concentrate on Jesus’ words in Matthew, “This IS My body…this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    Interestingly, in Matthew’s account, Jesus does not mention continuing the observance of the Lord’s Supper. (I agree with the LCMS view of the Lord’s Supper–I’m just pointing out that we draw from multiple accounts to establish our practice. We don’t do that in all of our practices, nor do other denominations.)

    @Pastor Sheer–I agree with you that we should commune only with congregations that practice the sacramental view of the Lord’s Supper. I have a Baptist friend who occassionally worships with us, but does not commune–nor do I commune at her church.

    However, I must disagree with the phrase concerning the “assassination” of souls. Yes, we should examine ourselves when we commune–but as one of my pastors many years ago told me, that examination consists of “Am I a sinner?” “Do I need God’s forgiveness?” “Do I believe that the real presence of Christ in the Supper is efficatious (sp?)?” “Do I love the Lord who is present here?” In my pastor’s words–“That I can accomplish even as I walk forward to meet My Lord at the communion rail.”

    Thanks for your articles–they are interesting and thought provoking.
    sue

  19. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #16
    In refusing to commune the ELS and WELS member, we teach that our church membership means something (it is the person’s public confession of the faith).

    They do the same, when refusing us, no doubt.
    [Even if they are using an lcms form of novelty worship
    which would have made my decision for me.] 🙂

  20. “It is about respect of their beliefs and holding them to them. In refusing to commune the ELS and WELS member, we teach that our church membership means something (it is the person’s public confession of the faith).”

    I understand. Having respect for another Lutheran synod’s “relatively small differences” is quite different, however, from asserting that by communicating them we are engaging in the assassination of their souls.

    In fact, in certain circumstances, I would not require membership or wait for two synods to iron out their “relatively small differences.” For example, if I were called to a southern US congregation and a couple, members of an ELS congregation in Minnesota, visited as snowbirds, atttended regularly during the winter months because there was no ELS or WELS congregation nearby, and thereby placed themselves under my pastoral care, I would regularly communicate them.

  21. @Rev. Don Kirchner #20
    I don’t think causing someone to go against their confession (membership) is good for them, maybe not assassinating their soul, but probably not helping it either (let each pastor decide).

    That being said, there are real cases where pastoral discretion is to be used (rare cases, like the one that you mention). In the end, each pastor has to answer to God on his stewardship (which can work both ways). Obviously, communing WELS snowbirds is a whole different pickle than communing every (ELCA, LCMC, NALC, UMC…) visitor that comes to the rail.

  22. Pastor Scheer,
    Your arguments about who should recieve communion have left a great deal of room for the individual communicant and pastors to make decisions. I’m left to wonder if there is a way to rephrase these arguments asserting the role of the Holy Spirit and Jesus as the ones actually making the invitation to the table.
    Jesus offers an invitation in the Words of Institution that ought be instructive as we consider how we best fulfill our role as stewards serving those whom Christ has called through the Word to the table to eat His Body and drink His Blood.
    Reading 1st Corinthians 12 again it’s clear that Paul’s dealing with issues he sees in the life of a very specific congregation warning them not about theological differences alone but also about personal conduct at the supper.
    thanks for your consideration of this topic
    pax,
    John

    Pastor Joshua Scheer :@Don H #2 A person has to let their own conscience determine when to commune. Obviously if it is a church with which you are not a part of a larger fellowship with, the answer should almost always be no. The difficulty is when to commune even within that fellowship.

    Pastor Joshua Scheer :@Rev. Don Kirchner #20 I don’t think causing someone to go against their confession (membership) is good for them, maybe not assassinating their soul, but probably not helping it either (let each pastor decide).

  23. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #21
    Obviously, communing WELS snowbirds is a whole different pickle than communing every (ELCA, LCMC, NALC, UMC…) visitor that comes to the rail.

    You think there aren’t (ELCA, LCMC, NALC, UMC…) snowbirds on the coasts in the winter?
    And they’ve got money, or they couldn’t afford their winter trips.
    They also assume that they “gotaright!” to commune at any lutheran altar.
    That probably does as much to explain the bent of the “salt water districts” as anything you can think of, (unless it’s that our libs like to be warm, too.) ;-/

  24. We profess to be people of the Word. The four “solas”, based on the Word ALONE, are the foundation.
    How sad that we abandon Sola Scriptura (and, by inference, the other three) by debating a term and practice (Close/Responsible Communion) that is no where found in the Word!
    Our “Communion Policy” (what a horrible term!) is simply: In Holy Communion Jesus is really, truly here. He’s here for you. He’s here to forgive even the worst sinner. All Confirmed Christians who believe this fact are welcome at His table.
    That’s based on SOLA Scriptura. That centers on Sola Gratia. That is received by Sola Fides. And that is all about Solus Christus.
    Any talk of denominational/doctrinal formulae (ELS, WELS, LCMS) as the basis for our Communion practices is simply wrong.
    If we take Jesus’ institution of His Supper (from the Gospels ONLY) seriously, noting His ridiculously inclusive invitation to “drink of it ALL of you” (including Peter, Judas, etc.), then how can WE be the arbiters concerning who is “alloed” and who is “not allowed” at HIS table?
    I believe that the most irresponsible practice of Holy Communion is to deny someone from the Supper who the Lord Himself invited. My two cents! Romans 5:20!

  25. @Bill Metzger #24
    On the night when Jesus instituted the supper, He invited only the Twelve to participate (pretty exclusive since there were many other disciples at that time), and He gave ample time for Judas to repent, but Judas remained impenitent privately (only Jesus knew because only Jesus could read the heart of Judas). Jesus communed Judas to teach us closed communion (which takes our public confession of faith by church membership seriously). Pastors do not have the luxury of reading hearts, but we can judge public confessions of faith (by church membership). For more on that see my previous entry on Closed communion last December.

    The practice you are describing does not follow the teachings of Scripture, and therefore is not in line with Sola Scripture (Scripture alone determines what we believe – NOT only words found in Scripture are to be used).

  26. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #22
    I may appear to leave room by allowing rare exceptions, but I also seek to honor my responsibility as a clergyman of the LCMS and honor our practice of Closed Communion (which allows for RARE exceptions). In seminary, “rare” was often defined by situations surrounding death.

    Rather than commune someone I hardly know much about, I prefer to point them to the other means of grace that God provides plenty of during the Divine Service. I exhort them to hear the Word as it is in the liturgy (specifically absolution), readings, and sermon. I also point them back to their baptism and remind them that the same Jesus who is present in Body and Blood during the Lord’s Supper is present with them already by their baptism (thanks Pr. Rossow for introducing me to such a wonderful blessing to give to non-communing folks).

    An often thing not talked about in these kind of discussions is the multiple ways in which God extends His grace to us

  27. @helen #23
    In all honesty, I think the heartland areas suffer more about communion fellowship (perhaps because other areas simply don’t practice it, I don’t know). In my previous parish I had 8 different Lutheran church bodies represented within 20 miles (WELS, ELS, ELCA, LB, AFLC, AALC, NALC, LCMC). In my opinion it was the “Lutherans” that were the biggest thorn in the side for closed communion (although WELS and ELS respected our practice, because they did the same). Of those Lutherans, it was those raised in the LCMS but who had changed their public confession by joining another denomination that were the most vocal in opposition. The Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and others usually respected the practice without vocal disagreement.

  28. Thank you Pastor Scheer for this article. I may be picking nits here but just a question. I do struggle with the unity thing though and seems to head in the direction of only communing at your own LCMS church because how can we agree with every little thing. How do I at a teacher’s conference know if the pastors distributing communion are on the same page? Do I see they are collared first? Let alone the hundreds of teachers gathered around.
    The practice of not having closed communion in baffling to me. Then again, I grew up in the EO church and that issue was a non issue, it does not happen. In my digging around on the internet I came of with these sources:

    Pastor McCain- lots of good quotes in this article:
    http://cyberbrethren.com/2009/11/07/what-is-closed-communion-and-why-do-some-lutherans-practice-it/

    Here is another good one, an oldie but a goodie:
    http://www.ourredeemerlcms.org/The%20Biblical%20Practice%20of%20Closed%20Communion.pdf

    Just for fun, as the EO understands closed communion, some of it is applicable to us:
    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife/closed_communion_12_things_part_3

  29. Unfortunately, even the average WELS layperson doesn’t always understand the WELS practice, either. They may know the “policy” but when talked about in Bible classes the focus is often put on the various beliefs of communion… transubstantiation, real presence, etc. Often the pastor doesn’t even bring up that it is based on the agreement of “all” of the official teachings of the church. Since a small percent of people actually attend Bible classes compared to the number of average church members attending services, laypeople just are not as knowledgeable as they should be.

    While we may feel we are “closer” to doctrinal agreement with a particular church in another Lutheran denomination than churches even in our own synod, it would be rather hard to practice selective communion between denominations in an orderly way. There would be too much confusion on top of what seems to already be confusing. Perhaps along with (not instead of) acknowledging the membership of a particular church to determine if it would be proper to commune, instruction to test the rest of the service would be appropriate. Did I hear law and gospel preached? Does this church announce that they practice close communion (written or verbal)? If the answer is no, to those questions perhaps it would be best to refrain from communion in that particular church at the time communion was offered until the answers can be obtained.

    I like that you pointed out the blessings of baptism and the means of grace that is already offered to the visitor requesting communion. While it is good to desire communion often, refraining from taking communion as a visitor when unsure of the agreement of a specific church is also wise and the no one should feel ashamed for that. Children also don’t commune yet have a place waiting for them in heaven by the gifts given through baptism and hearing the word of God. Salvation is not based on if you commune on a particular Sunday or not. This is why “exceptions” make me feel uncomfortable. Even if a pastor knows that the person used to be in fellowship and believe what they always have, if the person is a member of a church not in fellowship the answer should be almost always no. A healthy able-bodied person has a choice where membership is held and should be accountable for that choice. Any exception should be handed by communing the individual privately not in public worship where offense might be caused.

    When we feel we are communing with those in 100% doctrinal agreement with the church we are communing with by testing them, we need not worry if there is a hidden disagreement that someone else has, that is for God to judge.

  30. Pastor Joshua Scheer :@helen #23 In my opinion it was the “Lutherans” that were the biggest thorn in the side for closed communion (although WELS and ELS respected our practice, because they did the same). Of those Lutherans, it was those raised in the LCMS but who had changed their public confession by joining another denomination that were the most vocal in opposition. The Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and others usually respected the practice without vocal disagreement.

    Is that surprising to you? The Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and other denominations confess differently. The Lutheran doctrine confesses the Real Presence, i.e., discerns the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 11), and has a common confession in Luther’s Small Catechism. Should it be surprising that many question why, when such a confession is a sufficient basis for church membership, it is then insufficient for communion fellowship?

    Perhaps some see Paul’s observation- “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.” (1 Cor. 11:18)- as applying to the Lutherans and Paul exhortation to resolve these divisions. Perhaps the next verse needs to be pointed out- ” And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Cor. 11:19) As a footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible points out, “The divisions, though sad, made clear who was following apostolic teaching (Matt. 28:20) and who was not.” Yet Paul encouraged them to continue communing, i.e., “when you come together to eat.” (1 Cor. 11:33) as they worked toward “restoration.”

    The denominational divisions in the Lutheran Church, though sad, can make clear who is following apostolic teaching and who is not. The question then becomes, when do
    such differences reach the point that one will not commune with the other and the practice of closed communion must be implemented among the Lutherans rather than continuing to communicate as they work toward restoration? With this we struggle, which is why we must be patient in our teaching.

  31. Anonymous :
    Unfortunately, even the average WELS layperson doesn’t always understand the WELS practice, either. They may know the “policy” but when talked about in Bible classes the focus is often put on the various beliefs of communion…

    There is always room for stronger catechesis on a wide range of doctrinal topics in the church.

    In practice, our pastor for instance does not simply print it in the bulletin. Prior to distribution, he announces verbally to the congregation that only members of the Grace congregation participate in close communion. That being said, visitors from other WELS or ELS congregations are good about announcing themselves or the elders / pastor will ask them before the service.

    In other WELS churches I attend while visiting other towns, I announce to the elder or pastor and sign the guestbook indicating WELS membership. I do not assume its the elder / pastor responsibility to know I am WELS. Of course if I attend that WELS church annually, they figure out who I am.

  32. It seems like there multiple interpretations of the scriptural witnesses to Last Supper that are at work here in this discussion.

    Pastor Joshua Scheer :@Bill Metzger #24 On the night when Jesus instituted the supper, He invited only the Twelve to participate (pretty exclusive since there were many other disciples at that time), and He gave ample time for Judas to repent, but Judas remained impenitent privately (only Jesus knew because only Jesus could read the heart of Judas).

    One view is that only Jesus and the 12 were at the table and that proves that the supper is limited.
    Another view says that knowing the character of the 12 people who were at the table that the supper is not to be limited only to those persons who might be considered worthy.
    Another view is that there were likely many others including women and children present at the supper who joined Jesus and the 12.

    Reading the texts we find that both Mark and Mathew say that Jesus had supper with the 12 but there’s no way to prove from the texts that it was only Jesus and the 12 who had supper that night. Luke says Jesus ate with his Apostle’s and doesn’t list a number or give names. And John doesn’t give any details of the guest list but moves quickly into the washing of the feet.
    So now we come back to the question of interpretation and how we read these texts and our Lord’s Commands in them.

    Bill Metzger :We profess to be people of the Word. The four “solas”, based on the Word ALONE, are the foundation.How sad that we abandon Sola Scriptura (and, by inference, the other three) by debating a term and practice (Close/Responsible Communion) that is no where found in the Word!If we take Jesus’ institution of His Supper (from the Gospels ONLY) seriously, noting His ridiculously inclusive invitation to “drink of it ALL of you” (including Peter, Judas, etc.), then how can WE be the arbiters concerning who is “alloed” and who is “not allowed” at HIS table

    Clearly we can’t claim this as our table or our supper. It is Christ’s and His alone. And we are at best stewards at this table.
    thanks for a good thought provoking discussion
    Pax,
    John

  33. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #34
    John,
    I don’t agree with your analysis of multiple interpretations and also your interpretation of Matthew and Mark’s description of who was at the Last Supper. They say 12 meaning 12. I am not sure how you can disregard that number.
    That character of the 12 says nothing at all (doubters, deniers, traitors, power-mongers – no one was worthy, same as today), but the confession of the 12 meant everything. That is why Judas could still commune. His public confession of the faith was the same as the Eleven. Jesus thus even though He was able to read hearts (something a pastor cannot do) taught closed communion that night.

  34. Pastor Scheer,
    I believe you are adding something to the texts of the 4 gospels to say that Jesus himself taugh closed communion the night of his betrayal.

    Pastor Joshua Scheer :Jesus thus even though He was able to read hearts (something a pastor cannot do) taught closed communion that night.

    Just as you have inserted the word only into your reading of Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the last supper you’ve inferred that Jesus taught a doctrine without saying a word.

    the source for your argument for closed communion is found in your reading of Paul in 1st Corinthians 12. Closed communion as you argue for it was not taught by Jesus, rather it is through Paul that such arguments enter the conversation

  35. “Unlikely Pastor” says it well. (BTW, I LOVE that moniker!). The Gospels ALONE-straight up, no ice, indicate an INCLUSION of all twelve that night. Jesus in no way ever taught or practiced what we term “Close/Responsible Communion”. In fact, Jesus went out of His way throughout His ministry to be completely IRRESPONSIBLE with His Grace and forgiveness. He constantly gave the impression that He would allow just anyone into His Kingdom! And that’s an important point. It is Jesus’ willingness to accept the unacceptable and to treat as worthy the unworthy that got Him killed. He gave up His reputation, risked His life, and based His entire ministry on INCLUSION. There is NO evidence that He did anything else than that as He instituted His Supper. Close Communion, as we define and practice it today, is UNGRACE/ANTI-GRACE (both meanings of “anti” apply). My two cents! 🙂 Romans 5:20

  36. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #36
    I am not adding anything, but allowing the text to speak. The text says that Jesus had the supper with the 12 disciples. The text does not say any indicators of anyone else. By mentioning the word “disciple” we are taught who is to commune, the ones who are baptized and taught all things (Mt 28). In fact Mt 26:18 directly states who Jesus desired to eat with. He didn’t even include the houseowner who knew the “teacher” and gave the use of the room to Jesus and His disciples.
    Is it possible that actions teach? Yes – indeed everything we do confesses something about what we believe. Jesus taught by setting up the supper with His disciples.

    @Bill Metzger #37
    I agree that Jesus communed all Twelve that night – but that doesn’t teach open communion as you suggest, but closed communion. Jesus took Judas’ public confession of the faith seriously (even while knowing his heart). Thus pastors take people’s public confession seriously (church membership is your most public profession of what you believe). What you are advocating is open communion or inclusive communion or whatever you want to call it – this is not the teaching of Scripture, neither is it in line with the public confession of the LCMS (the doctrine you confess to the rest of the world when you commune at an LCMS altar). Jesus teaches irresponsbile dispensing grace in the parable of the Sower – sharing the Word with everyone. He even tells us to baptize all nations, but the Lord’s Supper He does not tell the same things. We have to know how to differentiate the means of grace.
    The majority of Christians in the world and history would completely disagree with you about Jesus giving NO evidence of closed communion.

  37. Pastor Scheer. Hi. Thanks for your comments. They are appreciated. When you state that the “open Communion” the Gospels advocate is “not Scritpural”, I would be interested in some Scripture to support that view. I would appreciate that. Thanks.
    Last evening we finished another New member Class (We call it the GIFT CLASS- “Growing In Faith Together”). Our final class is always “The GIFT of Holy Communion”. What a joy it was to share the Communion practice of the Word: Communion for ALL Christians who desire to eat and drink Jesus’ REAL body and blood for the REAL forgiveness of our very REAL sins! The class members were thrilled to hear this Good News. The class members also expressed some of the pain of past experiences-pastors who would not “allow” some to partake due to lack of “fixing their problems” prior to taking Communion. One older member even expressed the pain of not being admitted to Communion because she had “failed to announce” her Communon intentions to the pastor prior to service time. The room was simply filled with the true LIBERTY of the GOSPEl. We were living out Galatians 5:1. My two cents! 🙂 Romans 8:1

  38. @Bill Metzger #39
    Bill,
    For proof of Closed Communion in the Scriptures, please consider the posts of this article, but also my previous one to be proof that Jesus did not teach Open Communion. You could also read any number of papers and volumes on the topic. There have also been a number of resolutions of our Synod that have referenced the teachings of Scripture. CTCR documents are also useful on the subject. There have been mounds of materials produced that teach the Scriptural practice of Closed Communion.
    Another resource can be found at:
    http://www.acelc.net/userFiles/2001/acelc_evidence_of_errors_-_holy_communion.pdf
    That resource also finds support in the Book of Concord as well.

    When I took my ordination vows I pledged myself to the Scriptures, which teach Closed Communion. When I voluntarily joined the clergy roster of the LCMS, I pledged to practice Closed Communion also (as the public practice of all the congregations in Synod).

  39. Pastor Scheer, Hi. Thank you for responding. It is appreciated. I feel compelled to respond to your answer by saying (please-I mean this evangelically) that you didn’t answer the question from the Word. CTCR documents, and the even the Confessions are not a starting point; they are an ending point. We derive truth from the Word, stated in doctrinal documents, not the other way around. I was looking for some simple Bible passages that support the Synodical position concerning Close/Responsible Communion.
    I will walk away from this post in the joy of God’s unlimited, irresponsible, over-generous, too-inclusive Grace-offered to ALL Christians who live under Grace rather than the Law. 🙂
    Jesus, by His own words, makes Himself available to ALL Christians in the Sacrament of the Altar (Matthew 26:27-28). My two cents! Romans 5:20 🙂

  40. @Bill Metzger #41
    I pointed you to all of those documents to show you all of the Scriptures that they state teach closed communion. As fellow Lutherans (even in the same Synod), it is quite acceptable to cite sources that as fellow Lutherans we have agreed teach the same as Scripture. The Confessions can fully be cited to another Lutheran because we have both agreed that they are a faithful exposition of the teachings of Scripture. The Scriptures have normed the confessions.
    You have failed to discern the differences in the means of grace that God offers. You cannot apply the same directions given for the Word (preach it to everyone) to the Supper (only given to the disciples).

    For verses, you could look to Jesus’ own institution in Matthew 26 (notice how he only took the Twelve with him, not others). You could also go to 1 Cor 11 to see that the supper could possibly cause harm for those who are unprepared. You could also go to 1 Cor 10 to talk about the exclusivity of communion. The early church used Mt 7:6 to support it.

  41. Pr. Scheer,

    I realize that you were looking to the citations therein, but I don’t know that it is beneficial or helpful to cite to the ACELC Evidence of Errors documents.

    At the MNN-MNS Joint Pastor’s Conference on May 9th, Synodical President Harrison reiterated his concern with the ACELC actions in publishing that the LC-MS is in doctrinal error as well as their Evidence of Errors documents, publishing names of those they allege to be in error. He pointed out that they have failed to follow proper procedure in stating their concerns and in taking such actions and that they need to follow proper procedure.

    Rather than using the “hammer” (his term) on them, he sent VP Mueller to talk to them. President Harrison stated that Mueller’s conversation with them was quite direct, they were told that they would be able to voice their concerns at the Koinonia table but, again, that they need to follow proper procedure, which they had not done.

    You state that “church membership is your most public profession of what you believe.” Given that, what confession is required for church membership? That one “confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true.” [Lutheran Service Book, CPH 2006, Confirmation, p. 273] I think that we run into confusion to require a stricter confession than even a quia subscription to The Book of Concord, much less the Small Catechism, in defining “all that I have commanded you.” [Matt 28:20]

    We confess: “For just as in all families and in all states concord should be nourished by mutual offices, and tranquillity cannot be retained unless men overlook and forgive certain mistakes among themselves; so Paul commands that there should be love in the Church in order that it may preserve concord, bear with the harsher manners of brethren as there is need, overlook certain less serious mistakes, lest the Church fly apart into various schisms, and enmities and factions and heresies arise from the schisms.” [Tappert, Ap III, 111]

    Unfortunately, it seems that such is exactly what has happened within the Lutheran church and even within the LC-MS.

  42. @Rev. Don Kirchner #43
    Pr. Kirchner,
    You are correct in your realization that I was linking to the ACELC paper because of the first sections on Scripture and the Confessions.
    I share in the concerns of the ACELC, but not in the procedure or timing of their “coming out”. I think Pres. Harrison has been a refreshing example of love covering a multitude of sins in that case.

    The confession which is required of our members is that they become familiar with the teachings of the Small Catechism and believe them to be true to Scripture. Rev. Metzger is an ordained clergyman in the LCMS, and so I have been discussing with him based upon his ordination vows that he believed the whole Book of Concord to be true to Scripture’s teachings. I believe that pastors can and should use the Confessions with each other in learning, encouraging, and correcting each other (just as you have done in your citation of the Apology). Thank you.

    In the LCMS we have a problem in that those who openly teaching contrary to Scripture, Confessions, and openly practice something other than what we have voluntarily pledged to practice are not called to account. I suppose that is why ACELC did what they did.

  43. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #44
    In the LCMS we have a problem in that those who openly teaching contrary to Scripture, Confessions, and openly practice something other than what we have voluntarily pledged to practice are not called to account. I suppose that is why ACELC did what they did.

    If Harrison is “not going to coerce” anyone, the liberals evidently feel free to continue altering confessional churches to their methobaptocostal design (or selling them off, if they can’t).
    I would like to think that he would find time to counter some of this.

    But if districts don’t elect confessional DP’s we get what we deserve, I suppose. 🙁

  44. Brothers and Sisters in Jesus,

    I write this in humility. When I originally joined this discussion, I did so to express what I believe to be true concerning what I call “Biblically Close Communion”. I was juxtaposing this term in connection to the concept of “denominational Close Communion”.
    I felt that the discussion between all of us was/is considerate, gentle and kind. I appreciate that.
    I wanted to let you know that my views on this subject have changed since ordination. I’m simply being honest. The reason why my views have changed is because I have changed. Jesus has been doing some things in my heart-I’m not always sure what-but this has changed my perception concerning grace, the Gospel, Ministry, etc.
    In light of all this, I wanted to let you know that I have been in contact with Northern Illinois District Preseident Dan Gilbert. Without compromising the confidentiality of a private conversation, Preseidnt Gilbert is gently guiding me into Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions so that I might re-evaluate “where I’m at’ right now. We have planned for additional follow-up.
    I have also been studying this very topic with the Board of Elders of our congregation for the past several months. This study/conversation will continue.
    I thank you for your conversation, care, and concern regarding this extremely important matter. I believe that we all have a deep concern for those who commune. My concern goes to the fear that I may be barring someone from the Table whom Jesus has invited to attend. And Jesus knows hearts!!!

    Secure in His Love,
    Pastor Bill Metzger
    Romans 8:1

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