When a pastor practices Closed Communion, he is simply teaching repentance.
In the FL/GA District, I’ve often heard pastors say, “We [the LC–MS] practice ‘close’ communion.” When I ask, “What do you mean by that?” They typically respond along the lines, “It means that anyone who confesses Jesus is Lord, and is baptized, can receive the Lord’s Supper.” I’ve heard that we practice “close communion” because other Christian denominations are “close” or “close enough” to the LC–MS. Furthermore, I’ve heard that this is simply a “policy” of the LC–MS, and that it’s not really biblical. It sounds pretty convincing, doesn’t it?
I must admit, I heard this a lot growing up; it was so simple I believed it! However, after reading the Bible, I quickly realized that the Bible never actually says this. Indeed, Scripture teaches “confessing Jesus as Lord,” (Romans 10:9) and it certainly gives the mandate to be Baptized (Acts 2:38). But, it never says that these are the only requirements. The context of those verses is about salvation, not about receiving the Lord’s Supper worthily.
Benefit or Detriment?
We should learn about the Lord’s Supper from chapters and verses that are actually speaking about the Lord’s Supper. Read the words of 1 Corinthians 11:27–30:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
The Bible clearly states that we can either receive the Lord’s Supper for our benefit [“the forgiveness of sins”], or to our detriment [“guilty,” “judgement,” “weak and ill, and some have died”]. The difference between receiving it for one’s benefit or taking it to one’s detriment is found in the words “unworthy manner,” “examine,” and “discerning.” Understanding this and the severity of these words, we should not take the Lord’s Supper lightly. The real question at hand is, “What does it mean to receive the Lord’s Supper in a ‘worthy manner’”?
What about Repentance?
If a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper means only to make a “confession” of Jesus, and be “baptized,” then, it seems, that as long as you they’ve been accomplished, you will receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. Sadly, this is what I was taught by many! But, this teaching raises a question: What about repentance? Doesn’t faith include the repentance of sins?
What if a man confesses Jesus as Lord, yet continually beats his wife, or neglects his children? What if someone believes and is baptized, yet constantly gossips and slanders her neighbor’s reputation? What about a couple who lives together before marriage, and causes little ones to stumble with their appearance of sin? Should a pastor commune the person who is slandering, belittling, and making false accusations against his own wife? Would someone who refuses to repent and stop his deliberate sin receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner? Do these people, who knowingly persist in public and manifest sins, really receive the Lord’s Supper to their benefit? With such a definition of “worthy,” there apparently is no wrong way to receive the Lord’s Supper. Why? Because, according to this idea, “as long as” one is Baptized and confesses Jesus as Lord, the Lord’s Supper is received worthily…even if one is impenitent. Is that good? Is this what God wills?
The Two Tables of the Law
Repentance is a fruit of faith. Many pastors are willing to admit that sinners who refuse to repent for their sins against their neighbors should not receive the Lord’s Supper, since it will be for their detriment. I don’t believe that these pastors would continue to commune an impenitent member who starts fights, slanders, and hurts his own family, or others in the congregation. I can’t imagine the victim of this abuse, or anyone else witnessing these manifest sins, actually wanting to commune with the person who attacks him! If this person never repents and amends his ways, it would be wrong to think that he receives the Lord’s Supper for his benefit. Someone should stop him, right? Someone should call him to repentance, right?
The problem many have Closed Communion is not the issue stated above. All would agree with this. This is a good first step. In fact, without knowing it, pastors who do this are actually, halfway, practicing Closed Communion. They have closed the Lord’s Supper to the impenitent. This is good, but incomplete. What most people take issue with is telling members of other denominations that cannot commune.
However, we have to admit this fact: the Bible does not simply require the repentance of some sins; it requires the repentance of all sins, that is, the repentance of sins against the neighbor, and repentance of sins against God! On the one hand, to speak falsely of your neighbor is a sin against man by breaking the 8th Commandment (2nd Table of the Law). But, on the other hand, to speak falsely of God is a sin against God by breaking the 2nd Commandment (1st Table of the Law)! One sin is to call your neighbor a liar; the other sin is to call God a liar! To receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner means to repent not only of some sins, but to repent of all sins (1st & 2nd Table of the Law)! The sins against the 1st Table of the Law, that is, sins against God, are much worse than the those against the 2nd Table! Sins against man harm your neighbor’s body; but, sins against God harm you and your neighbor’s soul!
Denominations and False Doctrine
This is why we practice Closed Communion! It recognizes that different denominations believe, teach, and confess different things about God. Denominations exist because of divisions and disagreements in the church. Some churches do not believe what the Bible actually says. This is not a minor difference, but a grave error! It’s the difference between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death.
Are we “close enough” to the Roman Catholic Church which believes, teaches, and confesses the Sacrifice of the Mass, that is, that Jesus is repeatedly sacrificed over and over in the Lord’s Supper for actual sins, even though the Bible clearly states that Christ died “once and for all”? [1 Peter 3; Romans 6] Are we “close enough” to the ELCA which teaches that abortion, that is, the murder of children in the womb, is a woman’s right, even though the Bible clearly states that murder is a sin? [5th Commandment] Are we close enough to the Presbyterian Church which teaches that it is impossible for Jesus—true God and true man—to be truly, and bodily present in bread and wine, even though there is nothing impossible for God? [Luke 22] Are we “close enough” to the Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, and Baptist Churches who prohibit the Baptism of children, and who make it about our obedience, even though the Bible says that children are to be Baptized, and that Baptism now saves us? [Acts 2; 1 Peter 3]. Is that really “close enough”? What about the Mormons? They say they believe in Jesus (albeit, a different god from the planet Kolob), and are baptized; should they also commune? Are they “close enough”? Are any of these false doctrines “close enough” to what God has actually said in the Bible? Furthermore, who would define and determine what is “close” or “close enough”? This is a serious temptation that echoes the words of the devil: “Did God really say…?,” and “If you are the Son of God…” Do we really have fellowship with churches that reject what the Bible clearly says? Would you actually want to commune there?
Faith and Unbelief
This is the point: the practice of Closed Communion affirms that God’s Word is true, and that it is clear. God cannot lie or deceive. True Doctrine is the Bible; to believe it is to have faith. God gives this faith through hearing, and hearing the Word of Christ [Romans 10; Ephesians 2]. And we are justified by grace through faith alone. Now, on the contrary, the devil is a liar. He can only lie and deceive. False doctrine is anything that is contrary to the Bible. Unbelief is sin; the devil causes us to doubt and fall into unbelief through the believing of false doctrine. Unbelief does not justify; rather, it is condemned [Mark 16:16].
Knowing this, we must take God’s Word, the True Doctrine, seriously. We must also rebuke, refute, and flee from false doctrine because it is gravely tempting and dangerous. For example, to deny that Baptism saves [1 Peter 3:21] is to reject the clear, and True Doctrine of God. To believe that Baptism does not save is to accept the false doctrine of the devil. This is a sin. To receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner means to repent of all sins, even false doctrine. The 1st Commandment prohibits having any other gods. The 2nd Commandment prohibits the teaching of false doctrine. And the 3rd Commandment prohibits the believing of any false doctrine! Therefore, whether someone believes, teaches, or confesses something contrary to Scripture he is sinning, and he must repent.
When some are admitted to the Lord’s Supper, it is not because they are more worthy than others in and of themselves. It is because they confess their unworthiness. They repent of any false idea, teaching, or belief they have against God. Then, bearing fruits worthy of repentance, they stop believing these lies and hold fast to the Word of God. To bear fruits of repentance for sins against the 1st Table of the Law, one should doubt his own reason, logic, and senses, and, rather, hear and believe the very Word of God. He should be repulsed by those who would ever say that God is unclear, or that He is a liar. He should rejoice that even if he doesn’t understand the Word, He believes, teaches, and confesses what it actually says. As a result of truly believing God’s Word, he will, out of his own volition and not out of compulsion, refuse to attend, participate, or commune with those who reject the Word of God. To hold membership, continue attending, and communing at a church that outright denies the Word of God which you believe, is a sign that there is no repentance of error or faith in the Truth. When someone refuses to repent, he states that he needs no forgiveness for that sin. We should realize that our faith is very weak. We are bombarded with false teachings. We should repent every time we entertain anything contrary to God’s Word.
Faith and Love
To practice “Closed Communion” is nothing more than to teach repentance and faith. To practice “Open” or “Close” Communion is to confirm impenitence and unbelief. This is not about “policies,” or “Constitutions and By-Laws”; this is about the Word of God. Knowing that the impenitent receives the Lord’s Supper to his own judgement, it is the most loving thing to call him to repentance rather than have him ever be harmed! We should not confirm the unrepentant in their unbelief by tolerating any sin against any of the 10 Commandments. Rather, we should lovingly teach them God’s Word, and call them to repentance! When pastors do this, it is because they have true faith and love: true faith, because he completely believes God’s Word; true love, because he doesn’t want you to be guilty or judged, but forgiven.
God commands pastors to teach repentance and faith. God Himself does not desire the death of the wicked, but his repentance [Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11]. John the Baptist prepares the way for Christ by preaching repentance [Matthew 3:2]. Jesus’ ministry begins with His preaching of repentance [Matthew 4:17]. This preaching continues with the apostles’ who preach repentance to all nations after His ascension [Acts 2, 5, 11, 20]. Therefore, to faithfully preach God’s Word, pastors must teach repentance. All must repent. No one is exempt. We must repent our entire life. Our entire life, we should repent of every sin against God’s Law. Hear this judgement. Yet, rejoice and understand that this is for your good. In fact, when God judges your sin, He disciplines you; when He disciplines us, it is because you are His son, and it is for the sake of our salvation. The Bible says, “…if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” [1 Corinthians 11:31-32]. The unity that God gives to His Church is the unity of repenting of sin, and believing His Word. Cast aside every belief and thought that is against God’s Word. Repent for not believing as you should. Don’t return to those false doctrines that the devil tempts you with. Have nothing to do with silly myths devised by men, false teachers who divide the church, or congregations that reject God’s Word. Rather, run to Holy Scripture, repent of every sin, and cherish the Word of Christ knowing that the Lord’s Supper is for you and your benefit. It is for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
To put it simply, and to teach it to others, the following is a helpful summary:
1. Those who receive the Lord’s Supper can do so either for their benefit or detriment [Matthew 26; 1 Corinthians 11];
2. Repentance of sins is necessary in order to receive the benefit of the Lord’s Supper, that is, the forgiveness of sins;
3. Sin is anything that is contrary to the Law of God (His Word); the Law of God condemns both ungodly life (2nd Table of the Law), and false doctrine (1st Table of the Law);
4. Denominations are divisions in the church: they exist because some reject what the Bible actually says;
5. Anyone who refuses to repent of his ungodly life and/or any false doctrine receives the Lord’s Supper to his own judgement [1 Corinthians 11];
6. Therefore, knowing this, the pastor, as a steward of the mysteries of God [1 Corinthians 4:1], and out of great love and care for that person’s soul, should have the Lord’s Supper closed to the impenitent, that is, withhold giving him the very Body and Blood of Christ.
As His pledge of love undying,
He, this precious food supplying,
Gives His body with the bread,
And with the wine the blood He shed.
Jesus here Himself is sharing;
Heed then how you are preparing,
For if you do not believe,
His judgement then you shall receive.
Firmly hold with faith unshaken
That this food is to be taken
By the sick who are distressed,
By hearts that long for peace and rest.
Agony and bitter labor
Were the cost of God’s high favor;
Do not come if you suppose
You need not Him who died and rose.
If your heart this truth professes
And your mouth your sin confesses,
You will be your Savior’s guest,
Be at His banquet truly blest.
(LSB 627, “Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior)