ACELC — Why Closed Communion?

Another great article found from the ACELC — (found at their site here (pdf))

In our conversations with many of you we have sensed a need for a resource to explain our Biblical practice and the theology behind Closed Communion. In response we have just added two individual pamphlets that you may use in your own congregation for this purpose. If you would like to take a look at them, you can find them here or later under the Teaching Materials tab on the toolbar at the top of each page.

You may use them as your own however you like, personalize them for your own setting or situation, and, please, without any attribution to us. We pray you will find this resource to be helpful.

Yours in Christ,
The Congregations and Associate Members of the ACELC


Here is the text from the second bulletin insert.


Is It Closed or Close?
The first question you might have is, “Why closed Communion?” Many, particularly in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have heard it called “close Communion.” It was explained to them along the lines of a close family meal. That is nice sounding, but it has nothing to do with the idea of not letting some people commune at your altar. This practice comes from the early church. There, the deacon would declare that all those not in fellowship with their altar should leave. Then he closed the door.

A Historic Practice that Still Goes on Today
In the first four centuries of the Church, the rule was this. If you believed it really was the Body and Blood of Christ on your altar, you practiced closed Communion. If you did not believe it was the Body and Blood of Christ really, actually present on your altar, you practiced open Communion, that is, you let people decide for themselves whether or not they should take Communion. An analogy to these practices in life today is found at your pharmacy. The pharmacist keeps under lock and key, certain medicines. You cannot have them unless you have a prescription. That is because those medicines are the real deal. If you take them wrongly, if you take them when they are not meant for you, they can harm you or even kill you. Doesn’t St. Paul say the same thing about misusing the Holy Communion? “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick and a number of you have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 11:29-30). A faithful pharmacist keeps his or her real, powerful medicine under lock and key and doesn’t distribute it to everyone who wants it. What about sugar pills? Who cares who takes a sugar pill? It can’t do anyone any harm and who knows it might do them some good. If you don’t believe the Body and Blood of Christ are really in Holy Communion, if the living Lord Jesus doesn’t come into contact with anyone, why should you care who takes Communion? But if you believe it’s really the Lord Jesus Christ present under the forms of Bread and Wine, that’s another matter, isn’t it?

But Shouldn’t it Be up To Me to Decide if I go to Communion?
“Ah,” some of you who know your Bible are saying, “He didn’t quote verse 28, the one right before St. Paul’s warning about communing wrongly. Verse 28 says, A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Yup, that’s what it indeed says, but St. Paul wasn’t talking about the Methodists visiting the Lutherans, or the Presbyterians, Catholics, or Episcopalians visiting the Lutherans. He was writing to members of his own Church, not visitors from different Churches! I do say to my members what St. Paul said to his, “Let each of you examine yourselves, and so come to the Lord’s Table.” I don’t say that to visitors and neither did St. Paul.

What Would Open Communion Say to Our Kids and Potential Members?
Say, for a minute, that I was to commune Catholics, Orthodox, or high Anglicans. Lutherans admit that these denominations also have the Real Presence. Or, say I was to commune those who are members of denominations who don’t teach that Christ is really present on their altar in the Holy Communion though they themselves believe He is. What I would be saying is that visitors to my Church don’t need to be instructed in our faith before communing, but our children who have grown up in this Church do need to be instructed before communing. Wouldn’t that be nonsense? What point would there be in making people go to instruction classes before joining our Church? If I communed Catholics who pray to Mary, Baptist who don’t baptize their babies, Presbyterians who believe Christ only died for some, how could I stop someone from joining our Church who believed these things?

The Difference Between Fellowship and Friendship
There is one critical distinction you must make, the distinction between friendship and fellowship. Fellowship is not between individuals but altars. Fellowship is not between my heart and your heart but between your altar and my altar. Friendship is about you liking me and me liking you. Fellowship is about whether or not we believe, teach, and confess the same things.

We Take Your Confession of Faith Seriously
Since I can’t look into you heart to see what you really believe, I can only go by the confession you make with your mouth. When you say, “I’m a Presbyterian,” or, “I go to St. Mary’s Catholic Church,” you are making a confession of faith. Lutherans and Presbyterians, Lutherans and Catholics, Lutherans and whatever denomination, do not believe, teach, or confess the same things. We can’t pretend we do. To go to the same altar together says one of two things: Either A) neither of us take our confession seriously. Or B) we’ve agreed to disagree. If a person believes his or her doctrine is in agreement with the Word of God, does he or she ever have a right not to take it seriously or to agree to disagree? If you believe that your doctrine is in agreement with the Word of God, where does God give you permission to set it aside or to join it with a contrary teaching?

But What if I’m a Member of the ELCA?
“What about me? I’m a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I commune at Missouri Synod Churches all the time.” I believe you do, and that is sad. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has never at any time been in fellowship with the ELCA. The ELCA was formed when the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and The American Evangelical Lutheran Church merged in 1988. For a short time the LCMS was in fellowship with the ALC, but in 1983 the LCMS broke fellowship with the ALC citing serious doctrinal differences. These doctrinal differences persist and have grown worse in the ELCA. By 1998 the ELCA entered into full fellowship with the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church. The first two have never wanted anything to do with the Body and Blood of Christ really being present on their altar. Furthermore, the ELCA as a church body publicly supports abortion, homosexuality, and women pastors. If you don’t believe me, just read the books they publish.

Because you won’t commune me does that mean you think I’m going to hell?
Of course not. I don’t commune some of my own children, and I don’t think they are going to hell. I regard all who belong to the Holy Christian Church by faith in Jesus Christ as saved, forgiven, and part of the Body of Christ. When I don’t commune you, I am saying one of two things. Either A) you have not been instructed in the Lutheran Faith or B) you belong to an altar that believes, teaches and confesses contrary to the faith believed, taught, and confessed at our altar.

Christian Men and Women Can Disagree Without Sending Each Other To Hell
I have found that those who take their confession of faith seriously do not want to commune at an altar that stands for something they don’t believe in. If you are not sure what you believe, if you are not sure whether your conscience is being governed only by God’s Word, then you should study these things. Compare what your Church teaches with what the Bible says. Compare what we teach with what the Bible says. Join the one that agrees with what the Bible says.

Okay, so prove to me your practice of closed Communion is found in the Bible?
Good question. I could argue from the fact that when Jesus instituted this Meal He only invited those whom He had instructed during the previous 3 years. He didn’t even invite His own mother! I could argue from Romans 16 where St. Paul lists those house churches with whom He is in fellowship. I could argue that the Bible commands Christians to separate from those who hold to teachings that are contrary to what the Bible teaches, and St. Paul warned not about BIG doctrinal errors but the small ones saying in I Corinthians 5:6, “Don’t you know a little yeast ferments the whole dough.” Here are some other Bible passages for you to consider: Romans 16:17, “I urge you fellow Christians to watch those who cause disagreements and make people fall by going against the teaching you learned. Turn away from them.” II Thessalonians 3:15, “If anyone will not listen to what we say in this letter, mark him, and don’t have anything to do with him, so he will feel ashamed. Don’t treat him like an enemy, but warn him like a brother.” Titus 3:10,11, “A man who chooses to be different in his teachings warn once, and a second time, and then don’t have anything more to do with him because you know such a man condemns himself.” II John 9-11, “Anyone who goes too far and doesn’t stay with what Christ has taught doesn’t have God. If you stay with what He taught, you have the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and doesn’t teach this, don’t take him into your home or greet him. If you greet him, you share the wicked things he does.” Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but in their hearts they’re greedy wolves.” I John 4:1, “Dear friends don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God. Many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Where Do I Find Out More?
Instruction in what our Church teaches begins in August and January each year. These classes meet from noon to 1:30 PM on Sundays. The class takes about 14 weeks to complete. All with questions, a desire to know more, or who think they might like to join our fellowship are encouraged to attend.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


ACELC — Why Closed Communion? — 27 Comments

  1. I loved this article and find many of your points to be so helpful in explaining our communion practices to friends of mine who are outside of the Lutheran church. Only one thing…it does seem as though you would be condemning to hell those who don’t believe as we do when citing the verses that you have to support closed communion in your next to last point.

  2. As Todd Wilken used to say……………Different denominations worship the way they do because they believe the way they do. I believe in the real presence of our Lord in the wafer and the wine otherwise why bother? If there are Lutherans who are fighting closed communion, they can repent or they can find a church that believes as they believe. It is time we stopped catering to the “I don’t really like or believe in doing things the LCMS way” crowd. Move on if our practices do not line up with your beliefs. No one wants you to pretend or harm your conscience.

  3. Is It Closed or Close??
    Great distinction!

    A Historic Practice that Still Goes on Today?
    -You have incorrectly quoted 1 Cor 11:29. It is ‘without recognizing the body’. There is no ‘of the Lord’. Verse 27 supports Real Presence. How sure are you that verse 29 does not go along not only with 1 Cor 8:12, and the rest of 1 Cor 11? Sinning against, or not recognizing your brother (as 1Cor11:17-26, specifically v21, are describing), who is in the body (the Church), is a sin against Christ. Sin against the Lord is the cause of sickness and death. So it’s only a problem if you take ‘soma’ in verse 29 as Real Presence instead of as the body(the Church). Verses 27-28 are the only ones talking about bread AND WINE/body AND BLOOD. Verse 29 on the other hand only mentions discerning the body, which in context would seem to be the Church.

    But Shouldn’t it Be up To Me to Decide if I go to Communion??
    If Paul (and Scripture) is silent about how to handle saints who do not share our confession, why are we not silent?

    What Would Open Communion Say to Our Kids and Potential Members??
    Is the same faith that clings to our baptism, not the same faith that we have in the words of Christ when he says, “This is my body…this is my blood?” These people are in the body (see 1 Cor 11:29). Additionally we cannot control who joins our Church, only who is in our congregation. Where do we see doctrinal instruction prior to the Lord’s Supper in Scripture (for kids or visitors)?

    The Difference Between Fellowship and Friendship
    Gal 2:9 is ‘koinonia’ translated fellowship between individual believers

    We Take Your Confession of Faith Seriously?
    If a Lutheran visits a Donatist congregation, is taking the sacrament still to his benefit? Are you advocating rejecting the gifts from the Lord because of what others might think?

    But What if I’m a Member of the ELCA?
    Do you honestly think that the confession of a 501c3 is equivalent with the confession of an individual? Wouldn’t better pastoral care be to hear the confession of an individual, since that would be who he’s communing?

    Because you won’t commune me does that mean you think I’m going to hell?
    So you believe that they ARE part of the body? You are discerning who is in the body and who is not? Isn’t this exactly what 1 Cor 11:29 is talking about?

    Christian Men and Women Can Disagree Without Sending Each Other To Hell?
    So are you arguing that the faith (and confession thereof) of the overseer affects the validity of the elements? Regardless of what the overseer (or even myself) believes, teaches, and confesses God’s word is true.

    Okay, so prove to me your practice of closed Communion is found in the Bible??
    Using those same verses could you not have created an (albeit poor) argument against Martin Luther? As you have set them up, they are not arguments against closed Communion, but against LCMS tradition. The only real Scriptural guidance we have in regards to the Lord’s Supper is 1 Cor 11. Additionally, these verses address those who “make people fall”, a man who “condemns himself”, those who “don’t have God”, false prophets, and those ‘not from God’. I have a difficult time making the case that any of these people are saints. The passages all seem to be how to handle those outside the Church.

  4. @Untraditionally Confessional #4
    “If Paul (and Scripture) is silent about how to handle saints who do not share our confession, why are we not silent?”

    Untraditionally Confessional? Scripture is silent on closed Communion? You, Madam, are deceiving yourself.

    “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17-18)

  5. @Pastor Ted Crandall #5
    Please see the original post. It was a response to the author saying, “St. Paul wasn’t talking about the Methodists visiting the Lutherans, or the Presbyterians, Catholics, or Episcopalians visiting the Lutherans. He was writing to members of his own Church, not visitors from different Churches!”

    Additionally, while understanding simul justus et piccator, can you explain how these new creations, these saints ‘do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.’? Haven’t they been repented and their hearts and minds been renewed?

  6. Ted-when did they close communion? After Jesus administered it to Judas a man he knew would betray him?

  7. To eat and drink unworthily is to eat and drink while failing to discern the body of the Lord. This failure happens when a recipient does not discern the real presence of the Lord’s body. Therefore, communion should be withheld until there is some indication of discerning the real presence.

  8. Only God can see what is in a mans heart and what he believes. There are plenty of people in all your churches that take communion with you each Sunday that don’t understand real presence. If you really want to make sure you are not drinking to your damnation you better set up a private appointment.

  9. @No longer Lutheran #9

    I gleefully admit to everything you said, since it answers not me, but a straw man. Like you, I disagree with the straw man.

    I disagree with trying to judge hearts and take over God’s exclusive jurisdiction of the heart.

    Historically, the church practices closed communion when those not yet catechized and confirmed were excused from the service when it had proceeded to the sacrament of the altar. The church, in loving care of the candidates, first taught, and then looked for an indication, not the heart. It accepted the candidate’s answer, the indication. Love does that. Negligence does not.

    The form of the other part of your argument is that since we can’t be perfect, we won’t be good. Simply because many, despite indication, don’t understand real presence, is no reason to stop teaching it or await an indication before admitting to communion. We still teach, we still require an indication, though we know this is not perfect, because the perfect should not be the enemy of the good and lead us into wholesale neglect.

  10. A wonderful educational piece on closed communion. However, from what I understand this maybe a practice within the LCSM, and Roman Catholic Churches, several still practice open communion.

    I’ve been to several Roman Catholic Masses for funerals and baptisms. Several Catholic church announced before communion the stated policy of the Roman Catholic Church regarding communion. In that if you were not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, we ask that you come forward for a blessing, but refrain from taking part in the communion.

    Others the priest came forward and invited everyone present to communion, to accept the gift of holy communion.

    As well, I’ve been in LCMS who have also offered open communion as long as you were a confirmed within a Lutheran Church.

    Seems again that the LCMS has to come together on this issue as well.


  11. “The ELCA was formed when the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and The American Evangelical Lutheran Church merged in 1988.”

    Actually that should be the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

  12. @No longer Lutheran #7

    Matthew 25:14-29 has some ambiguity. Judas will plot to betray Jesus, is in the Upper Room, and the Last Supper is performed. But WHEN did Judas leave?…

    Mark 14:10-25 is about the same. judas will betray, Passover, Lord’s Supper. But this time Judas is NOT singled out in the Upper Room. Same question: WHEN did he leave?

    Luke 22:3-23 identical to Mark. Bu twith an added detail: Satan enters Judas during the betrayel, when he visits the priests before the Upper Room. But while he was there eating, agian, is Judas there when the Supper is consecrated?

    John 13:1-30 gets a lot more interesting. First, Communion is not explicitly stated. “Headings” are Washing of Feet (NIV, ESV…NASB says The Lord’s Supper) and One will Betray. Again Satan is with Judas, putitng into his heart to betray beforehand. In the ESV, to wash the feet Jesus “rose form supper.”(ESV, NASB, NIV = got up form the meal, in my Greek parallel Bible = he rises out of the supper) During the middle of the meal? Before or after the Words of Institution? Here we finally see Judas leave early form teh Upper Room. Now Satan fully takes over Judas. But again: during the meal? Before or after the Consecration?

    From a straight read and exegesis, I do not see a difinitive answer. I have looked in Paul’s letters for comment, and sola scriptura will take traditions and church fathers with a grain of salt. But the forth place we find the Word sof Institution, Pua lfollows up with warnings… 1 Corinthians 13:27-32. If Judas did commune, he ate to his condemnation, and we know he sits in hell. If he did not commune, it was because he did not examine himself, or he was unworthy or whatever. Either way, I see closed communion from moment one.

    So I cannot answer your question in the way you wnat. You have prejudged, pre-determined the situation, loading your question for a biased outcome. I answer by saying communion was closed before Judas may or may not have received the elements. And there is no “they.” Jesus was there in the Upper Room. Jesus directly revealed Himself to Paul. All Scripture is God breathed. Jesus Himself closed the communion.

  13. @Jason #13

    “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)

    Jason, are you already a pastor? The Church could use more like you…

  14. @Pastor Ted Crandall #14

    The first time I had a pastor suggest that was back in 2000. It has bounced around my head, proceeding and receeding. Along the way i get encouragement to keep the thought alive. But now… it’s time. I am begining the proceess of seminary education. I have chatted with an admissions officer, will soon be talking to a couple of pastor-friends, exploring how I will need to study Greek. After we elect a new DP at convention, I will chat with him about this path. (I have a first name basis relationship with all but one of the candidates) This biggest thing will be for my wife to wrap her head around this. We have now been discussing it, but she needs a little time to get comfortable. That’s okay, I have much to do before setting foot on campus, all that paperwork and stuff. (truth be known, she would make a better pastor’s wife than I would make a pastor) So I am earnestly exploring and we shall see how God works through these people I will talk with, to ascertain if it should be my vocation. I hope so, for I see and read so much, and care about these issues, and want others to know Jesus. Maybe soon.

  15. @Jason #17

    What great news.  Prayers ascending for you and your family.

    Bless all his skills, O Lord,
    and be pleased with the work of his hands. 
    (Deuteronomy 33:11)

  16. @John Rixe #18

    Thank you, John. I know sometimes we get a bit into it here, but in general we are probably close on most things. At least we have good debates. So keep me honest. 🙂

  17. @Jason #13
    If closed communion is correct/biblical practice and Judas communed at the Last Supper, then Jesus would be guilty of the sin of not closing the table to an unworthy guest.

  18. @JD #20

    Not really. If Jesus did commune Judas, then he would thereby have been demonstrating to the pastors of today that they are to admit people to the altar on the basis of their public confession of faith, and not on the basis of what is secretly in their hearts. Judas was publicly confessing himself still to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus would have communed him on that basis. Most communion celebrants are not able to read people’s hearts as Jesus could, but we are not called to attempt to do so. That is what Jesus would be teaching us.

  19. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #15

    I used that great resource as part of our Bible study at the winkel Tuesday. Unfortunately, regarding open Communion, we discovered the pastors to be split about 50/50. (Of course, they wouldn’t call it “open” Communion…)

  20. 1. Pastoral oversight is important and a responsibility of the called and ordained pastor in all LCMS congregations. This could be discussed in relation to closed communion.

    2. Recently in an LCMS congregation, a letter was sent out to members from the board of Elders that it has changed it’s policy from closed communion to close communion. The letter defined close communion as: “The difference js that those who are in agreement with our beliefs may partake of Holy Communion without the requirement of belonging to a LCMS Congregation.” How can an outsider know what the LCMS teaches and confesses unless have received instruction within and LCMS congregation. Even if one reads the documation on an LCMS web site of even attends and LCMS university may give them knowledge but they need to be examined and publicly conefess the faith taught in an LCMS congregation. When a visitor attends a worship service with communion the Pastor need to ask specific questions: Are you baptized? Have you been instructed in Luther’s Catechism? Are you a confirmed member of an LCMS Congregation? Are you in good standing in that congregation? What is the congregations name and location?
    Who is your pastor? What do you believe about the Lord’s Supper? Maybe you have other questions you would ask a visitor that would use.

  21. Any discussion of Scriptural justification of closed communion must emphasize the importance of congregational unity. Some proof passages that address this unity are found in chapter 4 of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Some skeptics will point out that the context of the latter admonition is not the Lord’s Supper but a controversy that emerged over who follows Paul or Apollos or Cephas or Christ. This is a specious argument inasmuch as it would defy our discernment and all logic to think that Paul would make an exception to his exhortation to be unified in the case of the Lord’s Supper. When at the altar rail, do you know what the visitor kneeling next to you confesses? The only thing you can go by are outward signs such as whether he belongs to a church that is in altar and pulpit fellowship with your church or whether he has had instruction in solid teaching by a confessional Lutheran pastor or layman. We tend to focus on the real presence under the bread and wine and a communicant’s bona fides but just as important is the fact that we are also making a public confession of our unity that should not be muddled. The communion rail is the one place where we stand, or kneel, shoulder-to-shoulder in our common confession to the world that excludes all false teaching and taint. It is where we give a testimony and a witness to our oneness in pure doctrine showing the outside world how serious a matter it is to receive such a precious gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation when that gift is received worthily, and not casually, taking God at His word. The means of grace God has given us are few but sufficient. He has left to the Church His instructions for best results and they must not be ignored.

  22. I’m curious to know what is the LCMS position on non members that have been non members for years in the same congregation and come to the altar for a blessing, in effect rejecting not only being catechized but also rejecting body and blood. All the while other members of their family are members in this congregation. It just seems to me that is not practicing closed communion, which this congregation says it’s committed to practicing. Nowhere in Scripture or our Confessions speak about giving a blessing instead of taking body and blood. Also, nowhere can I find a blessing forgiving sins as well. Please help me get my mind right on this issue. I am torn about this, especially as I an Elder that has communion assistant responsibility.

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