Open Communion: Strange to Lutherans

This is part 4 of 5 in the series The Strangeness of Open Communion

Open Communion: Strange to Lutherans

Having seen Closed Communion taught from Scripture and practiced throughout church history, the question is whether the Lutherans continued to believe, teach, and confess this practice. To answer this, we turn directly to the writings of the Lutherans.

First, look at the earliest writing contained in the Lutheran Confessions: The Small Catechism. Dr. Luther says he was “forced” (that is, compelled by his conscience and the Word of God) to write it after having visited church members and seeing their absolute ignorance of God’s Word. He blames pastors for

neglecting their duty to teach people God’s Word. In the Preface to the Small Catechism, Luther teaches who should and shouldn’t be admitted to the Lord’s Supper: “…[T]hose who are unwilling to learn the catechism should be told that they deny Christ and are not Christians. They should not be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at Baptism, or practice any part of Christian freedom.” In the Preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther expands on who should receive the Sacrament:

“Whoever does not posses [knowledge of the Catechism] should not be reckoned among Christians nor admitted to a sacrament, just as a craftsman who does not know the rules and practices of his craft is rejected and considered incompetent. . . those who come to the sacrament ought to know more and have a fuller understanding of all Christian doctrine than children and beginners at school.”

Dr. Luther defines who is a Christians, the minimum knowledge he should have, and who should be admitted to the Sacrament. He teaches that those guilty of rejecting God’s Word should be reprimanded: If the pastors fail to teach, they should be rebuked; if the members refuse to learn, they should be rebuked.

Later in the Large Catechism, in “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Luther teaches the church who receives the Sacrament worthily:

Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given . . . and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit. For the words “for you” require hearts that truly believe.

A worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper means faith in the words of Christ.

In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther teaches more about Closed Communion: “…[I]t is not our intention to let people come to the Sacrament and administer it to them if they do not know what they seek or why they come.” The reason for this is not anger, but love. Dr. Luther is seeking to protect the impenitent and unbeliever from greater harm or danger. If the Lord’s Supper were simply bread and wine and it was “turned into” the Body and Blood of Christ because of our faith, then there would be no harm in receiving it unworthily—The worst that could happen is that the unbeliever would not receive the benefit of forgiveness. But, as we saw before (1 Corinthians 11), those who receive it unworthily receive it to their detriment. The question is not whether or not one receives the Body and Blood of Christ, the question is whether or not they receive it for their forgiveness or judgment. Simply put, faith does not make the Sacrament, the Word does. Faith simply receives the benefit. Impenitence and unbelief receive judgment. Dr. Luther teaches this in the Large Catechism:

For the Sacrament is not founded upon people’s holiness, but upon God’s Word. Just as no saint on earth, indeed, no angel in heaven, can make bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood, so also no one can change or alter it, even though it is misused. The Word by which it became a Sacrament and was instituted does not become false because of the person or his unbelief. For Christ does not say, “If you believe or are worthy, you receive My body and blood.” No, He says, “Take, eat and drink; this is My body and blood.” . . . “No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood by virtue of those words that are added to the bread and wine.”

He teaches that “even though it is misused,” it remains Christ’s Body and Blood. Notice that He says the Body and Blood of Christ remain even through unbelief; however, he never says that forgiveness remains through unbelief.

Some might respond by saying, “No one is worthy of the Lord’s Supper. So, why do you give it to some and not to others?” Dr. Luther teaches us why some are to receive it and others are not:

…[W]e must make a distinction here between people. Those who are lewd and morally loose must be told to stay away [1 Corinthians 5:9-13]. They are not prepared to receive forgiveness of sin, since they do not desire it and do not wish to be godly. But the others, who are not such callous and wicked people, and who desire to be godly, must not absent themselves. This is true even though otherwise they are feeble and full of infirmities. For St. Hilary also has said, “If anyone has not committed sin for which he can rightly be put out of the congregation and be considered no Christian, he ought not stay away from the Sacrament, lest he should deprive himself of life.” No one will live so well that he will not have many daily weaknesses in flesh and blood. Such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. We are not baptized because we are worthy and holy. Nor do we go to Confession because we are pure and without sin. On the contrary, we go because we are poor, miserable people. We go exactly because we are unworthy. This is true unless we are talking about someone who desires no grace and Absolution nor intends to change. But whoever would gladly receive grace and comfort should drive himself and allow no one to frighten him away. Say, “I, indeed, would like to be worthy. But I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon Your Word, because You have commanded it. I come as one who would gladly be Your disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness.”

It’s true that all are unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper, even if it were given to the sinless angels of heaven (which it wasn’t) they would still be unworthy to receive such a holy and precious gift. It’s not that those who receive the Lord’s Supper are more worthy in and of themselves; it’s that they confess their unworthiness. Those who receive the Lord’s Supper do so precisely because they confess their unworthiness.

In addition to that, Dr. Luther makes a distinction between those who “do not wish to be godly,” and those who are “feeble.” Scripture makes this same distinction between those who sin deliberately (Hebrews 10) and those who sin out of weakness (Romans 7). Those who have no intention of changing their life should not receive the Lord’s Supper since they will receive it to their judgment. Those who confess their weakness and know their unworthiness should receive the Lord’s Supper in order to receive the comfort of Christ’s forgiveness. In other words, when one believes he is worthy to receive it, he is, in fact, unworthy; when one confesses his unworthiness, then, he is, in fact, worthy. Dr. Luther understood a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper was not found in the perfection of life but in faith and repentance.

Pastors who refuse to practice Closed Communion have abandoned their confession. They have adopted a strange practice and a strange and worldly confession. Open Communion is strange to Lutherans.

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.

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