Closed Communion Across the Centuries – A Quick Look at Resolution 5-15

ElevateLutheran Church–Missouri Synod Convention proposed Resolution 5-15, titled “To Address Questions re the Sacrament of the Altar,” addresses open Communion, infant Communion, and intinction (a practice which my spell check has never heard of). It can be found in Today’s Business, Proposed Resolutions on page 86; or on LCMSresolutions.org. In part, it reads “Resolved, That the LCMS reaffirm that its statements and resolutions with regard to close(d) communion, as noted above, are faithful to Scripture and the Confessions.” The historic practice of the LCMS and the practice of Christ’s Church since the time of the Apostles has been that of close(d) Communion. 5-15 is a good resolution that addresses reoccurring problems in the LCMS.   Here’s a sampling of quotes on closed Communion across the centuries for your review. All brackets are in the originals.

 

Ignatius of Antioch, 110 A.D.

Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ – they are with the bishop. And those who repent and come to the unity of the Church – they too shall be of God, and will be living according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.1

Justin Martyr, 2nd century

This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us.2

Augsburg Confession, XXIV, 36; 1530

“Chrysostom says ‘that the priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others.’ ”3

Martin Luther, 1534

…Although also the Gospel holds Christians together, the Lord’s Supper does so still more. By attending it every Christian confesses publicly and for himself what he believes. There those who have a different faith (die Ungleichen) part ways, and those meet who have the same faith (im Glauben gleich sind), whose hope and heart toward the Lord are one (einerlei).

This is also the reason why the Sacrament has been called Communio in Latin, a communion. And those who do not want to be of the same faith, doctrine, and life, as other Christians are, are called excommunicatis, people who are dissimilar in doctrine, words, understanding, and life. Therefore these should not be tolerated in the group that has the same understanding; they would divide it and split it up. The Holy Sacrament, then, serves as a means whereby Christ holds His little flock together.4

C. F. W. Walther, 1870

And now consider what a grievous sin those commit who administer Communion to those who are, after all, of another faith and confession, and confess themselves to be one and brothers with them.

1 Cor. 11:20: “Now when you meet together, it is not eating the Lord’s Supper.” Here the apostle rebukes the fact that he Corinthians celebrated Communion without putting into practice in love the fraternal fellowship in faith that is thereby declared. One therefore sees also here that Communion should be a bond of fellowship in worship. All should indeed come to preaching, but only Christians who confess the proper Christian faith with their mouth should come to Communion. Therefore one who goes to Holy Communion in a Lutheran church declares openly before the world: I hold with this church, with the doctrine that is preached here, with the faith that is confessed here, and with all the confessors who belong here. The pastor who administers the Sacrament to him declares the very same thing. (p. 215)

We would be sinning dreadfully, you see, if we wanted to hold ourselves separate from all other fellowships only out of mere blind preference or taste. But this division and special position is the command of God and therefore necessary. We may not draw the heterodox as such into our fellowship, as our opponents in the Church Council do and want to justify, and thereby become guilty of a grievous sin. And we for our part will endure the cross that is simply inseparable from our special position—the slanders of our enemies and even the unjust accusations of our erring fellow Christians—all the more joyfully and willingly, the more we remain mindful in faith of the high and holy purpose that God has revealed to us in His Word for the separation of His New Testament church from the world. (p. 219)

Thesis X

Holy Communion is also a mark of confession of the faith and doctrine of those with whom one celebrates it. Therefore the admission of members of heterodox fellowships to the celebration of Communion within the Lutheran church is in conflict with:

  1. Christ’s institution;
  2. The commanded unity of the church in faith and corresponding confession;
  3. Our love for the one to whom the Sacraments is administered;
  4. Our love for our own fellow believers, especially the weak, who by this action would be given grievous offense;
  5. The command not to become participants in the sins and errors of others. (p. 220)

All altars on which Holy Communion is celebrated should bear the following distich attached [to them]:

Cui non mens eadem, cui non confessio simplex, Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi!

“That is, ‘One who does not have the same faith and one and the same confession, let him know that this table is forbidden to him.’ ” (Cases of Conscience, pp. 594 f.) (p. 221)

A schismatic is one who has separated himself from the church—not indeed because of a fundamental article—but still because of teaching or certain adiaphora. We cannot give the Sacrament to such a one either.

Therefore, to refuse a Reformed person admittance to our Communion is certainly a work of true love, and woe to him who will not perform it. (p. 223)

One sees that the old theologians believed precisely in the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. That is why they also proceeded in its administration so carefully and conscientiously according to God’s Word.   Our present-day softhearted Lutherans who proceed so liberally might well examine themselves [to see] if they themselves also really have the right faith regarding the Sacrament. (p. 224)5

Francis Pieper, 1920

Christian congregations, and their public servants, are only the administrants and not the lords of the Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is not their institution, but Christ’s. Therefore they must follow Christ’s instructions in administering the Sacrament. On the one hand, they are not permitted to introduce “Open Communion” on the other hand, they must guard against denying the Sacrament to those Christians for whom Christ has appointed it. (p. 381)

Therefore Walther (Pastorale, p. 146f.) is right in holding that by practicing “Open Communion” a pastor becomes “an unfaithful, careless, and unscrupulous shepherd.” (p. 385)

In vain is love, or charity, appealed to in defense of “Open Communion.” The fact is that this practice is contrary both to love of God and love of the neighbor, for it ignores that the Sacrament of the Altar must be properly used, as prescribed in Scripture, and it leads the neighbor to sin by partaking unworthily of the Sacrament. (p. 385-86)

…The pastor must nevertheless rather suffer removal from office than give the Lord’s supper to a person to whom, according to God’s Word, he must deny it. (p. 390)6

D. H. Steffens, 1925

Show me a Lutheran Church body which makes no effort to safeguard the Lord’s Table and I will show you a Church body sunken in doctrinal confusion and indifference. Show me a Lutheran Church body earnestly striving to safeguard the Lord’s Table against the approach of impenitent sinners or “heretics and fundamental errorists” (General Council, Pittsburg, 1868) and I will show you a Church body earnestly striving to hold fast “The form of sound words” and “the faith once delivered to the saints.” (p. 38)

…A failure to safeguard at any price whatsoever, the Table of our Lord is a confession on the one hand of doctrinal uncertainty and indifference, of liberalism and latitudinarianism; and, on the other, a blow struck at the whole system of Lutheran doctrine, aye, at Him who is its very source and centre, Christ our Lord Himself. It is more than a mere failure to properly appreciate a precious possession; more than a mere act of timid disloyalty, it is a treacherous opening of the entire fortress to the enemy. (p. 40)

What then is done by the ministers who receive all without exception? They show themselves to be unfaithful, frivolous stewards of the mysteries of God; they interfere with the office of God the Lord and life, upon themselves to be lords of his holy sacrament, when they are but its servants. Woe unto them to time and eternity, if they do not betimes, bethink themselves. A day will come when they will have to make terrible payment for having wasted the goods of their Lord and misused them for their own corrupt ends. Then will the Lord call them and say unto them: How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest no longer be steward.” Luke 16, 1. 2. (p. 46) 7

Werner Elert, 1954

The modern theory that anybody may be admitted “as a guest” to the Sacrament in a church of a differing confession, that people may communicate to and fro in spite of the absence of full church fellowship is unknown in the early church, indeed unthinkable. (p 175)

By his partaking of the Sacrament in a church a Christian declares that the confession of that church is his confession. Since a man cannot at the same time hold two different confessions, he cannot communicate in two churches of differing confessions. If anyone does this nevertheless, he denies his own confession or has none at all. (p 182)8

John T. Pless, 1993

While we may not presume to judge the faith of another, the Scriptures do call us to judge between varying confessions of the faith (see Romans 16:17). In practicing closed communion, we are not entering into a judgement concerning the saving faith of individual members of other churches. We rejoice over all those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ. Fellowship at the altar is not established by faith in the heart but by sharing in a common confession of faith anchored in “the Gospel preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word” (Augsburg Confession VII,2-3; Tappert, The Book of Concord, p.32).Without agreement in “doctrine and all its articles” (Formula of Concord X,6; Tappert, The Book of Concord, p.616) there is no fellowship, no oneness in the “holy things” of Word and Sacrament.

We are painfully aware of the barriers that outwardly divide Christ’s people and we pray week after week in the Divine Service “For the well-being of the Church of God, and for the unity of all.” It is a cause of great sadness that all Christians are not yet united in God’s Word and therefore are unable to receive Christ’s body and blood together. Where there is no unity in the Word, there can be no unity in the Sacrament.9

 

Endnotes

  1. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1, “The Early Christians Believed in the Real Presence,” Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/father/a5.html (09 June 2016).
  1. Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 66, “The Early Christians Believed in the Real Presence,” Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/father/a5.html (09 June 2016).
  1. John Chrysostom was Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th to 5th centuries.
  1. From a sermon on 1 Cor. 11:23-26. Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian (St. Louis: CPH, 1959) §2521, 812.
  1. Essay presented to the 15th Western District Convention titled “Theses on Communion Fellowship with the Heterodox.” C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 1992).
  1. Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III (St. Louis: CPH, 1950).
  1. D. H. Steffens, “Safeguarding the Lord’s Table,” Reports of Proceedings of the Fifty-second Convention of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States (St. Louis: CPH, 1925).
  1. Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, trans. Norman E. Nagel (St. Louis: CPH, 1966).
  1. What Your Eating and Drinking at this Altar Confess” (Minneapolis: University Lutheran Chapel, 1993).

 

Image credit: Ding Digital Photography on flickr; Creative Commons license 2.0.

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