Closed Communion: Repentance and Faith

ultima_cena_-_juan_de_juanesWhen a pastor practices Closed Communion, he is simply teaching repentance.

Introduction

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.

Conclusion


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)

About Pastor Rojas+

Rev. Roberto E. Rojas, Jr. is the sole pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as "Zion New Life") in Winter Garden, FL, established in 1891. He attended the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN (M.Div., 2008-2013; STM., 2013-2014). During his studies at the seminary, he participated in a year-long exchange program in the Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and also in the Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Río Grande do Sul, Brazil. He and his beautiful wife, Erica, are happily married and live in Gotha, FL.

Comments

Closed Communion: Repentance and Faith — 44 Comments

  1. Will members of other denominations be received, on account of Jesus, at the banquet table in heaven? (Isaiah 25:6, Matt. 8:11, Rev. 19:9)

    “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:11 ESV)

  2. Hey Pastor Rojas,

    I believe you have misrepresented the Roman view on the Sacrifice of the Mass. So far as I understand their position, they do not believe that it is a “re-sacrifice” of Christ. They clarified (I believe at Trent, or maybe Trent II), that it is a “re-presentation” of the sacrifice of Christ, such that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of the mass are one and the same sacrifice. While I also reject their view, I do believe we should honestly represent their view. Given their definition, I do not believe it necessarily contradicts the “once for all” nature of Christ’s sacrifice. The primary objection we have to their understanding of the Mass is that they believe it is propitiatory, and that something is then added to the work of Christ received by faith. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.

  3. @Carl H #1

    Carl wrote, “Will members of other denominations be received, on account of Jesus, at the banquet table in heaven?”

    The banquet table in heaven is not the Lord’s Supper. It is not his true Body and Blood. You’re talking about a meal of fellowship, not a sacramental meal—a meal which presupposes repentance and a recognition of the bodily presence of Jesus in, with, and under the bread and wine.

  4. I’m also curious as to how, as a pastor, you would make the distinction between communing people who are struggling with sin versus those who are living in sin. How do you distinguish between these two people as their pastor?

  5. @Carl H #1

    In heaven, all false doctrine will be eradicated, so you can’t really make that comparison. We love and recognize the faith of Christians from other denominations, and we can even commend them for areas in their lives in which it is clear the Spirit of God is at work. Pastor Rojas is not saying they aren’t saved and that they won’t be in heaven, but simply that they shouldn’t partake of the Table of the Lord if they deny the reality of what is taking place their.

    This is what Paul tells us when he says that to eat “unworthily” is to eat without recognizing the body and blood of the Lord. If the Bible is the Word of God, and the Bible says that they shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper if they don’t recognize the body and blood of the Lord, then imitating God would mean that we don’t allow them to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.

  6. @Ken Miller #2

    CCC 1366 says, “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross…”

    CCC 1367 says, “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner . . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”

  7. I was taught (40 years ago) that “closed” meant only communing members in good standing of your own congregation and that “close” was defined as communing anyone that the pastor was satisfied was an LCMS Lutheran or belonged to a church in fellowship with the LCMS. What you are calling “close” is simply “open” communion.

    On our website, Belief and Practice, it states “…the Holy Spirit, who creates faith through God’s Word and Sacraments.” While we ought not practice “open” communion with those in open difference, we should not overlook the nature of the sacrament in performing God’s work, not only of sustaining faith, but instilling/ creating faith. Catechising visitors, getting them to return frequently and focusing on bringing them to the altar, not as a reward for their confession but as part of what we receive freely, part of how God works, is vital. We have tools: the Small Catechism, proper preaching, liturgy.

    Too often, closed communion is spoken of as the end of a long process undertaken by an individual and not part of the process undertaken by God. This shifts the focus away from the purpose and efficacy of the sacrament and toward the personal faith of the recipient.

  8. @Ken Miller #2

    I believe that RC theology is not merely that it is propitiatory (the doing of it benefits other, vicariously), but that it is something done by the priest for the people. the mass is a work of both God and man:

    Priest: Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours
    may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

    People:May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands,
    for the praise and glory of his name,
    for our good, and the good of all his holy Church.

    This is from the liturgy of the eucharist – lex orandi, lex credendi.

  9. Pastor Rojas, you referenced pastors from the LCMS Florida-Georgia District, about whom you say, “They typically respond along the lines…” and then you quote that statement about confessing Jesus as Lord and is baptized. Are you quoting your brother LCMS pastors, or are you interpreting their responses? I ask, because I personally know a number of pastors in that District, and I know they are solid Word and Sacrament pastors. They would add to what you are saying, by including the scriptural requirement of believing in the Real Presence, and being repentant for one’s sins desiring the assurance of forgiveness through the sacrament. They may practice “close communion,” but not for the reasons you assert. It’s more about the idea that pastors are not to be policing people, and that the decision to receive the sacrament is an individual choice of faith.

  10. @RevJimO #9

    How very receptionist of you… Takes the pastor from being the guardian of the mysteries to the dispenser of the mysteries. Makes it so easy to be functionally open in communion practice.

  11. @Jason #10

    Receptionism, as I understand it, is that what is received is by or through personal faith. That is not what is stated, here. though, I think we are moved to received, we do not “choose” in the conventional sense, by the Holy Spirit. We are sinners and are in need, here is the cure.

    In all fairness, a pastor is only basing every decision to commune someone on the good faith that the person before him is sincere in confession of faith, even if that person was confirmed to please grandma. Being a steward of the sacrament is keeping it as best one can with the help of God. We should not delude ourselves into thinking this is perfect but only that we should not openly offer the sacrament where there is no reasonable assurance of good faith.

    If a baptized person, in the course of worship, confesses, is absolved, hears the Word, says the creed, hears the words of institution (the proclamation of what is being offered and why), and prays the Lord’s Prayer, is there still reason to assume bad faith? That is the heart of the matter. The answer is either yes because the person has not done x, as required by the scriptures, and is not truly moved by the Spirit to received the gifts. Or, it is no, this person has, at least, outwardly, demonstrated a true faith.

  12. I have spent 10 years trying to explain this in a condensed fashion as I have guest every Sunday year round. If you are an LCMS member in good standing you are basically publicly confessing; 1 you are currently not in a state of refusing to forgive others, in accord with Matthew 5: 23-25, 2 you can in faith discern the real presence in accord with 1 Cor 11, 3 you are of a common confession with those who commune next to you in accord with 1 Cor 10. This is not an LCMS pass card this a biblical self examination, those who can not in good conscience say yes to all three should for their own benefit refrain and a good Shepard should as time allows seek to teach and confess this truth. (Only a baptized member of our church body or one we are in fellowship with can answer yes to all three, It is the job of the steward of the mysteries to make sure they understand the questions and the text)

  13. @Robert Portier #12

    Church “membership”, in the sense of belonging to a congregation, is not scriptural. It is a mechanism we have created often using a poorly termed rite of “confirmation” that, also, is not scriptural. No one makes a perfect confession of faith and no one ever makes a perfect confession of sin. No one perfectly receives absolution. The perfection lies in the forgiveness from God being perfect in spite of this. Discernment of Christ’s body is by faith, not words or reason. We believe it is his body because he is faithful and true and he has said so. Our faith is in Christ. Your argument demands that such faith be evidenced, that we see some indications of a man’s heart in his membership standing. In that case, it is not God who is being satisfied, but us.

    A good pastor should seek reasons and ways to give, not to retain, and should not fall back on bureaucracy as an answer.

    If you are taken to task, your argument fails a scriptural test and places a hurdle before someone who may have received faith. Please understand, I am not in favor of “open” communion but I am in favor of finding ways to teach and bring people to the altar more quickly with the basics of the catechism, no more, looking for faith to grow using the sacrament as part of the process, not as the end reward for study beyond these basics. We can do better than inventions like membership and confirmation toward this end.

  14. @RevJimO #9

    1) I am quoting the pastors who taught me when I was younger, and also the pastors who are in the same District as I am. Sure, a number of pastors in this district are Confessional (I can count them on 10 fingers); but, the majority of them are not.

    2) You say they practice “close communion,” because “It’s more about the idea that pastors are not to be policing people, and that the decision to receive the sacrament is an individual choice of faith.” This is a straw-man argument on your part. You’re equating the Biblical teaching of calling sinners to repentance with “policing people.” Although policemen do great work to keep people from harm, it’s clear that you are using this word pejoratively. So, with that being said, we are not telling people what they can and can’t do based on our own view point. It’s not an LCMS law; it’s God’s Law. The pastor is called to be faithful to God’s Word, and let that judge. Since the pastor cannot see the heart to judge it, he must judge what he can see: words and actions. Therefore, if someone speaks or acts contrary to God’s Word, then he should be judged, and corrected with God’s Word. If someone’s confession of faith calls God a liar, then, out of great love (and not ‘policing’), the pastor, along with other Christians who hear this, should call that person to repentance.

    3) The decision to receive the sacrament is not an “individual choice of faith.” Paul, in writing 1 Corinthians, does not say it is an “individual choice of faith.” Paul instructs his congregation in 1 Corinthians 11, and he also prescribes to “let there be no divisions among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Also, if this is about an “individual choice of faith,” then, which faith? Faith in Mohammed? Of course not. But, what about faith in a Jesus that is different from the Bible? What about a faith in a Jesus that does not condemn homosexuality or abortion? Is that the right faith? Sure, someone might have faith (fides qua); but, he should repent if it’s in the wrong faith (fides quae). If this confession becomes manifest, then it should be corrected…because we should actually believe in God and love our neighbor.

  15. @CKR #13

    “Denominations” aren’t scriptural either.

    There are only churches that agree with God’s Word, and those that do not. Avoid the ones that do not teach God’s Word rightly, and call God a liar. Then, out of love, correct anyone who believes what false teachers teach contrary to the Word.

    It’s not about bureaucracy; it’s about God’s Word. Closed Communion is the teaching of repentance.

    Also, no one is demanding perfection. This is about repentance and faith. To insist on believing, teaching, and confessing lies about God is neither true repentance nor faith.

  16. @Pastor Rojas+ #17

    Agreed and I have said that I believe in closed communion. However, membership is about bureaucracy. As are synods, constitutions, by-laws, etc. They can be valuable tools but they are not the measure of anything. When we use them as indicators or tests, these act as vestiges of a “magisterium” that ought never to have corrupted the Church.

    When reaching out to the unchurched (those who have no denominational clues), poorly churched, formerly churched, one finds among common threads notions of the Church as exclusive, after money, morally demanding. The idea that the Church exists to dispense grace doesn’t occur to them. Grooming them for “membership” is not the mission. The mission is baptizing and teaching. A person who has been baptized and, subsequently, properly taught (catechized), and satisfies the pastor that he believes needs no ritual acceptance, no numbered envelope, no requirement placed on him to receive the sacrament. If we do that then we are acting as a denomination and not in the sure faith that we are the Church.

    So, when new people come in, we need to find ways to bring them to all the means of grace, the means God will use to train them up. One reason I love the Small Catechism is because it is so simple, easy teach, and is the very basics needed for one to approach the altar. the sooner we do this for each new person, the sooner all the means are being brought into that person’s life. The desire to guard the sacrament in these discussions supplants the desire to make disciples and bring more people to the altar.

  17. @CKR #18

    The desire to guard the sacrament in these discussions supplants the desire to make disciples and bring more people to the altar.

    The Sacrament needs no guard.
    But “he that eats and drinks unworthily is guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord”. It is the potential communicant who is being guarded from sin, if the Pastor is doing his best to act responsibly.
    In another place, “they [the pastors] watch for your souls, as they that must give account…”

    A pastor should not, (although I have heard it) put the whole responsibility on the communicant.

  18. @CKR #13

    Congregational membership in Lutheranism is simply a way to identify which pastor is responsible for the care of an individual soul.

    Accordingly, fellowship is pastor to pastor. If I am in fellowship with your pastor, you may commune at my altar. Your congregational membership identifies which pastor I need to be in fellowship with to commune you.

  19. The typical practice for LCMS conservative pastors who practice closed communion, is that they admit only baptized members of the LCMS. This practice made sense 100 years ago, when pastors and churches in the synod were more unified in doctrine and practice, and were much more faithful to the Lutheran confessions and the doctrine of the Small Catechism. But that was a long time ago.

    Today, conservative pastors might be more faithful to their call if they get a letter or card from their pastor, identifying them as a member in good standing of their congregation.

    A pastors job is to administer the Lord’s Supper. But that means he gives is out to those who fulfill certain requirements. Its the same as a government official. He doesn’t give out Social Security benefits to whoever shows up and asks for them, but only those who meet the requirements of the law. So also, in the Lord’s Supper, there are certain requirements, faith, repentance, baptism, and to be properly instructed, which includes recognizing that the Body and Blood of Jesus are received bodily in the Supper.

  20. I’ve been waiting for someone to bring up the relevant CTCR documents, but no one seems to be doing so. I guess it’s ancient history. The 1983 CTCR document, “Theology and Practice of The LORD’S SUPPER” (Part I) has a helpful section on “Close” Communion:

    2. Close Communion [24]

    The practice of refusing Communion to certain Christians and the general population at Lutheran altars is called close Communion. This practice serves the Gospel, and even those refused, by its reverence for our Lord’s last will and testament.

    Martin Chemnitz, in his magisterial work on the Lord’s Supper, writes:

    Moreover, those words, because they are the words of the last will and testament of the very Son of God, must not be treated in a frivolous or light manner but must be pondered with reverence and great devotion. Since “Scripture is not of private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20), I have shown on the basis of the sure and continuous analogy of the interpretation of Scripture and by a comparison of those passages in which the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is treated and repeated in Scripture the compelling, sure, certain, and clear reasons why the simple, proper, and natural meaning of the words of institution of the Supper must not be given up or rejected but rather must continue to be held and adhered to in the simple obedience of faith. [25]

    Precisely. It is a desire to honor and obey the word of Christ which has led Christians to reserve the sacrament for those who share that desire and understanding. Chemnitz, with Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, specifically defends the Real Presence in the Lord’s Supper against the errors of human interpretation in various Christian fellowships of his day.

    Since fellowship at the Lord’s Table is also confession of a common faith, it would not be truthful for those who affirm the Real Presence and those who deny it to join one another. Their common Communion would indicate to the nonChristian community that the last will and testament of Christ could be interpreted in contradictory ways. Indeed, the non Christian might rightly ask whether it was Jesus’s word which determined the church’s position and practice or simply a human consensus.

    Therefore it is true that “No one who truly accepts the Real Presence as the very Word of God can grant a person the right to deny it and to commune with him at the same table. Just so, no Presbyterian, for example, who declares that there can be no real eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ, could really
    want to receive the Supper at an altar where just this impossible thing to him is confessed and taught.” [26]

    Close Communion seeks to prevent a profession of confessional unity in faith where there is, in fact, disunity and disagreement. It would be neither faithful to the Scriptural requirements for admission to Holy Communion (1 Cor. 11:27 ff.; cf. 10:16-17) nor helpful to fallen humanity if the Christian church welcomes to its altars those who deny or question clear Scriptural teachings.

    The reasons for the practice of close Communion are often misunderstood by Christians who have been accustomed to an “open Communion” policy. In a tract entitled “Why Close Communion?” the rationale for the practice of close Communion is explained in this way:

    So it is not that a Lutheran congregation wants to bar fellow-saints from the blessings of the Eucharist when they practice Close Communion. It is not that they want to be separatistic, or set themselves up as judges of other men. The practice of Close Communion is prompted by love and is born of the heartfelt conviction, on the basis of Scripture alone, that we must follow Christ’s command. This means refusing the Lord’s Supper to those whose belief is not known to us. It is not showing love to allow a person to do something harmful, even though he may think it is for his own good. It also means if they are members of a Christian body which departs from the full truth of Scripture in some of its doctrines, that we must not minimize the evil of this false teaching by opening our fellowship to any and all Christians who err in the faith. [27]

    In keeping with the principle that the celebration and reception of the Lord’s Supper is a confession of the unity of faith, while at the same time recognizing that there will be instances when sensitive pastoral care needs to be exercised, the Synod has established an official practice requiring “that pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods which are now in fellowship with us.” [28]

    By following this practice whereby only those individuals who are members of the Synod or of a church body with which the Synod is in altar and pulpit fellowship are ordinarily communed, pastors and congregations preserve the integrity of their witness to the Gospel of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures and confessed in the Lutheran confessional writings.

    As congregations practice close Communion, much care should be taken and energy expended in articulating the rationale of this practice. An evangelical and winsome effort should be made to present the Biblical claims, so that the church’s posture does not appear to be a mere institutional accruement. Procedures for admitting guests to the Lord’s Table should be such that the appearance of unknown communicants at the altar is minimized as much as possible. [29]

    Further, the Office of the Keys is less than faithfully exercised when admission to the sacrament is granted to all who come to the altar regardless of their faith and congregational and/or denominational affiliation. The practice of “open” Communion renders it difficult, if not impossible, for church discipline to be exercised in a way that honors the ministrations being carried out by those to whom the responsibility of spiritual care for a member of God’s flock has been entrusted (Heb. 13:17; cf. John 20:22-23; Acts 20:27-28; 1 Cor. 4:1-2).

    Then, moving to slightly more recent history, there’s the 1999 CTCR document,“Admission to the Lord’s Supper–Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching” . I highly recommend it to everyone who’s been commenting on this thread.

    There’s also Jeffrey A. Gibbs’, “An Exegetical Case for Close(d) Communion: 1 Corinthians 10:14–22; 11:17–34,” Concordia Journal 21 (April 1995):153. (Sorry, don’t have a link for it. Maybe someone else does.)

  21. It seems the more doctrines you believe, the less people you will have communion fellowship with. Maybe we should just stop calling it the Lord’s Table and call it the Church’s. At this rate US Lutheranism will be individuals in fellowship only with themselves.

    The scriptures teach closed communion, certainly. But it seems like where we draw the line on who is “worthy” or not is pretty much based on our understanding of scripture- which universally is not uniform.

    Pity the Confessions no longer form the basis of fellowship. Oh well, that’s the other side modernism for you.

  22. @CKR #8

    The (current) RC understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass is not that it re-crucifies Jesus, nor that the priest is sacrificing Jesus. It re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus- eg. allows the recipients to partake of the very same historic sacrifice. Secondly, the priest’s sacrifice is bread, wine, praise and thanksgiving. He is not sacrificing Jesus.

  23. @Rev TLH #23

    “The more doctrines you believe the less people you will have communion fellowship with.”

    Broken fellowship and disunity is not the fault of the one who believes God’s Word. Disunity and divisions in the church are the fault of those who believe man-made doctrine above God’s Word.

    True unity and fellowship in the church is a gift given by the Holy Spirit through the Word when He gives faith to believe that Word to sinful men.

    If there is any unity in the church, God is to be praised. If there is any disunity, man is to be blamed, and called to repentance.

    Theology is God’s Word. True Doctrine is God’s teachings to us. When you believe God’s Word, you have true unity and fellowship with God and His people. Those who refuse to believe the doctrine found in Scripture are removing themselves from true fellowship and unity in the Church. It’s not about our “understanding of Scripture.” It is that Holy Scripture is clear. God is clear, and His Word cannot lead us astray. If anything is unclear or leads us astray, it is our own fault, and our own sinful mind.

  24. Thank you Pastor Rojas! I am so sick of the pretense given that the practice of open communion is one of “love” when indeed the opposite it true. When the doctor examines a patient before giving or withholding medicine, it is out of concern for the patient’s well being. The same is true for Communion. A pastor who cares about his flock and those who visit his congregation loves them enough to examine them and not give them the wrong impression that what they believe is of little importance in God’s eyes. He wants to invite them to the Holy Supper, but in a way that is genuine. And a genuine way to invite someone to the Lord’s Table is to make sure they confess the whole Truth of God’s Word in genuine unity with the rest of the congregation. It’s not love to bear witness to your flock that God’s Word is less important than a dollar bill. After all, which pastor would condone counterfeit money? But many in our own “synod” have no problem with counterfeit doctrine! Truly sad. Thank you for standing firm in the Truth. I know it is not always easy to do so.

  25. Great article! The problem exists in the southern district as well. I do have a question though! Immauel in Pensacola also claims to be the first LCMS church in Florida. We just celebrated our 131st anniversary. The first service was in February 1885. You both can’t be the 1st, so whose 1st?

  26. 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.

    Yet the “Synod” continues the practice of Open Communion if one confesses Missouri as his/her pew residence — knowing fully that heterodoxy reigns supreme in nearly half of her congregations.

    A good start, no doubt, Rev Rojas, but the heterodoxy within might be the better place to start.

    + peace +

  27. @Eve Scarborough #27

    I just had a conversation with Rev. Randy Blankschaen. Immanuel Lutheran in Pensacola, FL is, indeed, the first LCMS Church in Florida. It was established in 1885. Zion was meeting as a congregation in 1885 as well, but they were not recognized as an official member of the Synod until 1891. Immanuel is part of the Southern District; Zion is part of the FL/GA District. Zion might be the first LCMS Church in the FL/GA District, but I will have to do more research. Suffice it to say, Immanuel is indeed the first and oldest Lutheran Church in Florida. I don’t think Zion will feel so bad that they lost the first place to another confessional Lutheran congregation that practiced, practices, and will continue to practice Closed Communion. 🙂

    Thank you for bringing this up! I will be correcting that!

  28. @Mac #28

    Yes. I agree. True Church Fellowship and unity in God’s Word consists not in simply having the same name (i.e., Lutheran; LCMS; Synod; etc.). True unity and fellowship is found in faith in God’s Word. We shouldn’t simply commune with “LCMS” churches because we share the same name. We need to commune with those who share the same belief, teaching, and confession.

  29. @Mac #28

    The “synod” does not practice open communion. The synod is not church. LCMS has affirmed the practice of closed communion as well. Sadly, pastors and congregations have not been faithful to Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, nor the LCMS agreement in doctrine when practicing open Communion. A faithful LCMS affiliated congregation/Pastor will mark and avoid erring layman/pastors at the Communion rail and also refuse to commune them while seeking to gain their repentance and once again confess the unity of faith properly at the Communion rail.

  30. @Alan L. #29

    Then why lie and call it “synod”? I’ve travelled this beautiful country from coast to coast…..and because (in the estimation of ‘synodical officials’) synod != church, folks cannot trust that they can visit a faithful congregation displaying the so-called “standard” of the LCMS to receive a Christ-centered, cross-focussed, message that rightly divides Law & Gospel.

    “Mark and Avoid” – is an unloving way of dodging Romans 16:17-18. Is it possible to “walk together” with one you are avoiding? *RUBBISH!*

    I’m still uncertain of whether or not the synodical church body should or should not be considered “church”….but one thing I am certain of the LCMS has proven herself to be a heterodox body, with sparse orthodox congregations in her fold. The faithful orthodox congregations, based purely on my many observations, tend to be those that distance themselves from involvement in they wrongfully-named ‘synodical’ polity.

    *Bold resistance is not futile.*

  31. but one thing I am certain of the LCMS has proven herself to be a heterodox body, with sparse orthodox congregations in her fold

    There are only a few sparse folks who agree with you.

    Q: Several issues — for instance, the conscription of women into military service — were discussed at the previous convention, but actually voted on this time around. What changed?

    Harrison: I have been convinced that the Synod could basically reach 85 percent unity if we take our time and work carefully through significant issues in preparation for a convention. Careful work was done on most issues; the delegates came well-informed. And the result has been tremendous.

    Q: Most of the issues voted on this year passed by a substantial majority. What does that indicate to you?

    Harrison: It indicates that the LCMS is and can be most united around its longstanding doctrinal positions. The confession of the Synod is biblically sound. Our pastors and people recognize the very challenging social situation in this country and the world. They are determined to stand tall, confess Christ and His blessed Gospel and remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, come what may.

  32. There are only a few sparse folks who agree with you.

    Likewise there are many dense folks who believe truth is relative.

  33. @John Rixe #33

    For at least 15 years we’ve been hearing, from the liberals, “If you don’t like it, get out.”

    It would make it easier for you, wouldn’t it!?

  34. I have been Lutheran all my life, but have never agreed with a closed communion. Before one objects, neither do I believe that communion should necessarily be open to all. I am much more of the mindset that “close” communion is in line with what we see in 1 Corinthians.

    As part of my argument I will provide an alternative view of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the Eucharist, as I respectfully submit Pastor Rojas has presented a full and fair reading of this passage, although I would agree with much of what he says. I will provide my interpretation of this passage in a moment. First I want to provide my overall objections, and what I feel is an adequate response or idea of what “close” communion should be. I offer this up so that it will engage the church in open and honest conversation regarding a topic that I feel strongly about, and that I feel the LCMS (and other denominations) have erected as barriers to ministry.

    First of all, I think Pastor Rojas makes some very legitimate points regarding whether someone is repentant of sin. Certainly, this is a central component in the sacrament. That being said, most times a pastor will have no idea what specific sins a person has confessed or not confessed, nor do they normally know whether a person has repented of their sin, particularly since we do not engage in penance (the outward demonstration of the internal process of repentance). Perhaps in some cases, this may not be the case, but I would expect that 90-95% of the time the pastor has no ability to discern this. That is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, urges believers to judge themselves. This responsibility is placed on the believer. The mention earlier of 1 Corinthians 4:1 is quite frankly being used out of context in the argument presented above. 1 Corinthians was addressed to the lay person, not the clergy (if one could call them that at such an early age of the church). I see nothing within the context of 1 Corinthians 11 that shifts the audience from the lay person to the minister.

    Second, some of the doctrinal difference Pastor Rojas discusses, are extremely important. I totally agree. But once again, this is often an internal issue, that the pastor may or may not have visibility on, even among members of his own parish. And once again, Paul holds the individual accountable, not the minister.

    That being said, one of the main issues that we have traditionally had in the Lutheran Church with extending communion to persons who confess other denominations, is their understanding of the sacrament, particularly with regard to the real or symbolic presence of Jesus Christ. Honestly, I find this to be very sad. Why do I say this? I think both sides of the Real Presence issue can readily present what I feel are equally legitimate arguments from scripture regarding whether communion consists of the Real Presence or if the presence is symbolic in memorial of Jesus death and resurrection. I personally take the words of institution literally, at face value, but I can see the other side as well. Ultimately, it isn’t the belief in whether the Real Presence is there or not that affects communion. It is the belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that affects communion.

    Lastly, I have always believed that the sacrements are a means of grace, not something we have earned. In regard to Communion, if I am going to err, I would much rather err on the side of grace.

    I personally feel that a statement of faith asking believers to examine themselves and to exclude themselves from communion should they believe another gospel is perfectly acceptable and in line with what we see in 1 Corinthians 11.

    Anyway, I will begin working on going through 1 Corinthians 11 shortly. Thanks for listening and I look forward to constructive conversation.

  35. Before moving into 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, lets first look at 1 Corinthians 1. In it Paul begins his complaint against the Corinthians appealing to them not to engage in division based on whom they were baptized by (Apollos, Paul, Cephas, etc.). He then points them back to Christ rather than foolish divisions. In chapter 3, he says that one apostle may build a foundation, another may build the structure, but the foundation is Jesus Christ.

    When Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 4:1 speaking of being a steward of the mysteries of God, he is not speaking of determining who is worthy of communion. He is speaking of proclaiming the gospel, and uses himself and Apollos as sober examples not to go beyond what is written so that no one may be puffed up (referring again to the divisions which have fractured the Corinthian church). He is addressing their haughtiness and urging humility. I am speaking in general here without going into too much detail, read it for yourself. Maybe you will see the same pattern, maybe not. I am certainly open to debate. Let’s continue now to 1 Corinthians 11.

    “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. 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.” Once again, Paul refers to the divisions which have fractured the church. “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” Paul seems to see that the fractions and divisions in the church have created an atmosphere where fellowship is lost to such an extent that grace no longer reigns at the table of communion, but that the members of the church have become haughty in how they treat one another.

    Now Paul returns the Church of Corinth back to the words of institution and the purpose of the meal: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This is the example we go back to. Jesus giving his body and blood for the church, his action, not ours. One could even argue whether the disciples truly understood what Jesus was about to do for them.

    “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.” I want to pause for a moment. Many people take this as a doctrinal statement regarding Eucharist and the presence of Christ. That may be so. But in light of the previous passages condemning the Corinthians behavior toward one another, I don’t think that fully covers it, nor do I think it is the main thrust of Paul’s point. Harken back to the Sermon on the mount where Jesus discusses the person headed with his sacrifice to the altar. He says that if someone has something against you as you are taking your gift to the altar, first go and be reconciled to your brother, then go and offer your gift. This attitude seems to be much more in line with what Paul is trying to convey in this passage as we will see as Paul concludes the section.

    “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 upon himself.” Once again, is this meant to be a doctrinal statement regarding the presence of Jesus or is this meant to be a sober warning about the sacrifice Jesus made for the body of Christ? Maybe both? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

    Now take notice of whom Paul holds accountable for being worthy of participating in communion: “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” This again is very reflective of the story of the man going to the altar in the sermon on the mount and it puts responsibility onto the individual to examine him or herself. “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

    Now notice how Paul sandwiches the entire section once again with the divisions that were within the church and the graceless behavior of the Corinthians toward one another: “So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”

    I really think we as a church need to really re-examine this passage. I think we are finding ourselves in an age similar to what the church went through when dealing with the lapsed at the end of the third century. We have to ask ourselves, do we believe in an ecclesiology where the church should be quarantined from the sickness of the world? Or is it a hospital to minister to the sick? I could be right, I could be wrong, but I think it bears sober reflection as we may be missing out on ministering the sacrament of grace to a world who needs it. I personally think we can hold fast to our confessions and convictions, and still provide that ministry. I hope this will spark some conversation. Thanks.

  36. T-rav. Thanks for the link, will check it out when I get a chance. I skimmed through it a bit, but need to give it some more attention later. Certainly I believe that the church has the responsibility to teach correct doctrine. I also believe that communion can be used as a means of correction, certainly Paul seemed to think so. I still believe though that the church can maintain its teaching, and provide communion apart from playing Bible Jeopardy at the altar in order to determine if someone is sufficiently orthodox to participate in the Eucharist. If someone is openly heterodox that is one thing, but once again, going back to 1 Corinthians 11, Paul placed the responsibility to examine oneself on the believer. I still think it goes back to the question: Is the church a hospital for the sick, or is it a quarantine ward for the spiritually healthy?

  37. The practice of closed communion, as we do it, does not ask that the recipient properly understand, only that the recipient is on our rolls as a member. that is a bureaucratic. It gives credence to the membership roll as something more than a man-made institution. Over the years, I have found many errors in doctrine among people in the Church, even people catechized and confirmed by great pastors and teachers. I have known pastors to embrace doctrinal errors.

    There is no outward pledge, no rite, no roll which guarantees or gives confidence that the person receiving is worthy. That we demand one is something we have made up. Now, a good pastor will engage a stranger (as will the greeters, ushers, elders, anyone in the pews etc.) and explain the rules. But, the discussion should not be who is receiving rightly or wrongly. It needs to be how can we distribute this means of grace, this physical Gospel, to more people who come to the table worthily? What can we do to bring more people to the table worthily and let God do His work in the sacrament? No sincere pastor would put his faith in a man-made rite or establishment. Rather, he acknowledges that which comes from God, the recipient’s faith and the sacrament and knows that he cannot rely on outward signs of either beyond the person, having been told what is offered, rising to receive.

    Communion is not a reward for study, something due to a person on membership rolls, or an acknowledgement of vows. He is worthy who has faith in the words of what is being offered, no more.

    This is not an objection to close communion but a criticism of both how we go about it and our keeping this discussion as a topic of internal behavior, not of mission, not of reaching out with God’s gift. New person comes in, becomes involved, worships regularly, wants to take the next step – is it enough to teach this sacrament as part of the person growing in faith? What impediments do we lay out? Is anyone other than the pastor entitled to see some sign from this person beyond rising and receiving if the pastor doesn’t seem to object? or are his ordination vows not sufficient that we should “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account”?

  38. God works faith in those receiving the sacrament worthily. We are built up in Word, sacrament, fellowship. These discussions have the tenor of looking over each pastor’s shoulder and are concerned with right practice over right receiving. Our concern is for the worthiness of the recipient, certainly. But no sincere pastor finds assurance of the recipients worthiness in outward signs. At the end of the day, whether confirmed or not, member or not, a person who rises to receive after being taught what is offered is presumed to have faith in the words and to be worthy.

    Shortening the path to the sacrament, finding ways to bring more people to the altar, brings more people, more quickly to the gifts God offers. Withholding the gift according to a man-made rite or confession is not in keeping with the scriptures. That needs to be the heart of the discussion – making it our desire to give what God is offering. We need to be as prodigal as God is with grace.

  39. @CKR, thanks for your take. That very much sums up the internal discussion I have had on the matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.