The following is the first section of the paper I presented at the 2018 Steadfast Lutherans Conference at Zion Lutheran Church & School in Winter Garden, FL. I will be posting the various sections of the paper as individual posts here.
About a year ago, a member from a neighboring LCMS congregation asked me why I didn’t commune his non-denominational friend when he visited Zion. “My friend communes with me at my church,” he said, “why didn’t you commune him? You’re really funny about that sort of thing.” “What do you mean by ‘funny’?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “you have your own way of doing things here. You’re really strict about communion. I’ve been Lutheran longer than you’ve been alive and no other Lutheran church I’ve been to does what you do.” (I wanted to say “Thanks for noticing.”) “I’m not doing anything ‘different’ here at Zion,” I said, “I’m only doing what I and all Lutheran pastors have promised to do at their Ordination. I’m not different: Your church and your pastor are different for abandoning God’s Word.” “Forget it,” he said and stormed off.
For the past three years, I’ve been a pastor in a District that practices Open Communion, although no one here calls it that. They call it Close Communion. (It’s a trick to sound Lutheran without actually being Lutheran.) Close Communion used to mean the same thing as Closed Communion, but not anymore. Open Communion is the practice of allowing individuals from different denominations commune together. This means, for example, that Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans are all communed together in the same church, even though each one holds a different belief about the Lord’s Supper (and Original Sin, Baptism, Justification, Good Works, etc.). In the FL/GA District, Open and Close Communion are different words for the same practice. I’m not sure when these unfaithful pastors began using “close,” but they liken the Lord’s Supper to a close family meal. “Every individual in a family has their differences,” their reasoning goes, “but at the end of the day we’re all part of the same family and eat dinner together.” On account of this reasoning (not the only reason, but the most quoted), everyone should receive the Lord’s Supper, regardless of their ‘differences.’ These pastors and churches pride themselves on being “welcoming,” “kind,” and “loving” to all people. Meanwhile, those who practice Closed Communion are labeled “unwelcoming,” “mean,” and “unloving.” (I’ll respond to this rhetoric later.)
“Strange” is what faithful pastors are to this world. The point of this paper, nevertheless, is to teach you that Closed Communion is not strange—Open Communion is strange. It’s strange to God, to His Church, and to every faithful Lutheran before us. Nominal Lutherans do plenty of weird things, but Open Communion is the most widespread and dangerous of those strange things.
The papers at this conference have taught us that the world finds the Church strange—My paper will teach you that the Church finds the world strange. It’s mutual. And it shouldn’t be strange that they consider each other strangers: We’re in the world but not of it (John 17). As long as we’re at home with the Word, we’re strangers in the world.
This paper is divided into two-parts: 1) “The Strangeness of Open Communion,” which will demonstrate that it is foreign to God’s Word, alien to the Church, and unheard of among the Lutherans, and 2) “Dealing with Open Communion,” which will give practical advice to both pastors and members on responding to and correcting the practice of Open Communion.
The Strangeness of Open Communion
Open Communion is strange. It’s not in Holy Scripture. You can’t find it in church history or the Book of Concord. Why? Because Open Communion is worldly. Those who practice it don’t quote Scripture, cite church history, or quote the Lutheran Confessions: This ungodly and worldly doctrine comes from their own reasoning and analogies. The fact that unfaithful Lutheran pastors don’t quote Scripture or the Confessions (which they have unconditionally [quia] subscribed to at their ordination) is a testimony that neither teach Open Communion! And they know that. Why do you think unfaithful pastors, circuit visitors, and district presidents steer the conversation away from the Bible and the Confessions? (They know where the conversation will end up!)
The truth is that their arguments for Open/Close Communion only work on the uneducated or unfaithful Christians. Sure, some congregations might know what the Bible truly teaches and still decide to reject it—These are unfaithful. (Shake the dust off your sandals and move on.) For the most part, however, it’s not that congregations are trying to be unfaithful, it’s that they were never taught what it means to be faithful. To put the best construction on it, most members believe they’re doing what is faithful and godly in God’s sight: Most believe that Open Communion is the loving, biblical, and Christian thing to do—But that’s not true. Closed Communion is the loving, biblical, and Christian practice—It’s what God says should be done, what the Church always did, and what true Lutherans will always do.