Open Communion: How To Correct It

Dealing with Open Communion

As we’ve seen, Holy Scripture, church history, and the Lutheran Confessions teach Closed Communion, that is, True Communion. The burden of proof is on those who practice otherwise to prove to you and show you why we should commune with people who deny the Words of Holy Scripture. Closed Communion was always practiced in the church—It has yet to be shown that it was ever otherwise. Remember that it was those who departed from the Word of God and who befriended the world that practiced Open Communion—The practice of communing the impenitent and the uninstructed along with the penitent and instructed. Open Communion is a false communion that ignores divisions in the Church and tolerates disunity in the Body of Christ. Simply put, churches that practice Open Communion do not trust in God or love their neighbor. These divisions will remain in the Church until Christ returns, however, we should not lose heart. We should continue to fight the good fight and stand up for the truth of God’s Word. In the final section of this paper, I will give both pastors and laymen advice on dealing with Open Communion in their parishes.

Learn For Yourself

Before you can instruct anyone else to practice Closed Communion, you must learn it yourself. You’ve already spent the time, the money, the energy to come to a conference and learn about strange practices in the church, and, right now, the strange practice of Open Communion. This paper only scratches the surface of what has been written on Closed Communion. Continue to inform yourself with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Compare your own beliefs to the Word of God. Repent of any false doctrine you currently believe. Rejoice in the clarity of Holy Scripture.

After learning what Scripture says and refining the way you articulate what you believe, find out what your church believes. This is the only way to know if you are in true fellowship with the church you attend. Church fellowship consists of the agreement of three “things”: Scripture, the Church, you. Look at the diagram to the right. Think of Church fellowship as a triangle with Scripture at the top,

 the Church to the right, and you on the left. All three of these must be in agreement in order for there to be true fellowship, that is, in order to know if you should participate in the Lord’s Supper at your church. If there is a disagreement between any of these, then you should find another church.

Consider what happens if there is disagreement between any one of these three. If you and your church agree in theology, but both of you disagree with God’s Word, then you have a false fellowship with one another. You have a false, worldly fellowship with one another. Sadly, many churches around us quickly abandon the Word of God to embrace the world. They want to keep their friendship more than God’s Holy Word. This is no different from being a member of a club—You agree with man, but disagree with God.

Now, if your church agrees with the Bible, but you disagree with both your church and the Bible, then you are excluding yourself from true fellowship and communion with the Body of Christ. This happens when faithful pastors and faithful churches believe, teach, and confess the Word of God in its purity and clarity, but when individuals leave because they cannot stand to hear what God’s Word truly says. When a church confesses what Scripture teaches, that marriage is the life-long union between a man and a woman, the world, and those of it, flee. When a church confesses what Scripture teaches, that husbands are the head of their household, the world covers their ears and screams. When a church confesses what Scripture teaches, that they do not commune strangers, the world finds this offensive and unloving. You see this when nominal Lutherans leave their faithful Lutheran churches and pastors because they are preaching the truth which they cannot stand to hear. Many times, these nominal Lutherans stay in the church only because they “grew up Lutheran,” or have friends and family in the church, although they disagree with the doctrine in their heart. These people are hypocrites. God will reveal them on the day of judgment. These people hold the appearance of unity, but their hearts are estranged from God.

Finally, if you agree with the Bible, but your church disagrees with the Bible, then mark and avoid that church. You have true communion with God because He has blessed you with faith in His Word, but you are in a church that rejects that blessed Word. What does light have in common with darkness? What do you, who agree with God, have in common with those who disagree? Sadly, this happens when pastors and churches who were once faithful become swayed by the strangers of this world and abandon God’s Word. These faithful members find themselves in the midst of a church that abandoned the Word of God while they held it dearly. If your correction and teaching to the pastor and members falls on deaf ears, find another congregation that is faithful to the Word. If this means driving an extra hour and spending a little more to get to that church, then bear that cross joyfully knowing that you will receive something much more valuable: The precious Word of God.

In order to find out if your church practices Open Communion, see what the pastor and members say about the Lord’s Supper. You might not get much of an answer, and this is the first sign that a church practices Open Communion. Why is that? It’s because the majority of churches that practice Open Communion don’t really talk much about it. Sure, you’ll have some that shamelessly say, “We welcome everyone to the Sacrament.” Avoid them. But, for the most part, Open Communion churches don’t really talk about it, or teach much on the Lord’s Supper.

Teach Your Family

The next thing to do when dealing with Open Communion is to explain Closed Communion rightly, especially when it comes to your family. Closed Communion isn’t about being faithful to your church “policy,” it’s about being faithful to God. If you have family members who aren’t Lutheran, this doesn’t mean don’t invite them to church or talk about theology with them. Rather than avoid the conversation altogether, learn to articulate Closed Communion to them. Tell them how faithful to God it is, how loving it is, and how much you care for their soul. If your family members get upset, don’t become discouraged—Jesus said this would happen (Read Matthew 10 and Luke 12).

Your own close friends and family might tell you to avoid the Lutheran Church because of its faithfulness to God’s Word and to avoid its “strange” and “cult-like” practice of Closed Communion. Even if this happens, you must not give up the Word of God. C.F.W. Walther has this to say to those who are put in the uncomfortable position of standing up for the truth in the midst of those who hate it:

[Jesus] says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26) [Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me—Matthew 10:37]. In the latter words the Lord wants to say, “One who is not resolved to do something out of love for Me, and also does what may be viewed by his own parents or other relatives as perchance an act of hate, cannot be a true Christian.” So a true Lutheran may have a loving father who is deluded in heterodoxy, who beseeches him with many urgent words and pleas, even with tears and entreaties, that he not belong to the Lutherans, that (in his view) stubborn, noxious sect, [and] not by the adoption and defense of the Lutheran name and confession cover his gray head with disgrace and bring it to the grave with grief. And yet, in this case, such a Lutheran Christian must not yield and give way, nor consider his father’s grief and woe, but only the Word of God. But how will the blind world regard this obedience to Scripture? It will condemn his action as the most disgraceful hatred and wickedness against his earthly father.” To endure that is not easy, but it is necessary.

I myself have had to deny my own relatives the Lord’s Supper in order to protect them from greater harm. Even though I’ve done this out of love, they have viewed it as an act of hatred and arrogance. Their opinions of me have changed from better to worse. Yet, I take comfort in the Word of God that blesses me with a family joined together not by blood but by faith in His Word. This family is eternal. What I have lost in this life by being faithful to His Word, He will bless me a hundredfold in the Resurrection. When you bear this cross, take comfort in the same. Some will say that our insistence on pure doctrine and the Word of God comes from a delight for quarreling and division. Some slander and say that we get some sort of joy out of this. What they don’t know is that this is a heavy cross for us. Yet, bear this cross joyfully knowing that you are suffering innocently because of your faith in God’s Word. When the world hates you, know that it hated Christ first.

Teach Your Pastor and Fellow Members

Finally, learn that as a member of your church, you are your brother’s keeper. You should watch out for his soul as you keep watch over your own. Do the same with your pastor. Pastors who practice Open Communion do so either out of ignorance, weakness, or malice. If your pastor is ignorant (this is rarely the case), teach him. Put him in contact with other faithful pastors. Buy him books about Closed Communion. Teach him. If your pastor used to be faithful and has fallen away, then call him to repentance. Urge him to keep his vow and diligently read Scripture and the Confessions. Encourage him and speak to other members of the congregation about Closed Communion. Usually, pastors become unfaithful because of financial concerns or because they have become too friendly with the members and cease to be their pastor. Strengthen your pastor with the Word of God and teach him to be faithful. Now, if your pastor has abandoned the Word of God, even though he knows better and strongly resists teaching, then abandon him. Leave that church. If your pastor fights you on Closed Communion and says that you don’t know what you’re talking about, then shake the dust off your sandals and move on. (In an ideal world, I would have told you to ask the District and Synod for help, but this doesn’t work. In better Districts, this might work. But in unfaithful District his doesn’t work.) Find a pastor who preaches the truth and a congregation that gathers to hear it.

Understand this: The entire congregation is together responsible for preventing people from ignorantly heaping guilt upon themselves. You have to know who communes you and also with whom you commune. We’re bound to one another not by what we do together, but by our faith in the Word of God. So, when strangers visit the church, you should make sure that Closed Communion is publicized to all. It should never be a surprise that a church practices Closed Communion. It should be publicized in every way possible—from family and friends, on the website, in the visitor packets, in the pews, in the prayers.

Conclusion

These practices which are so natural to the world are so strange to God’s children. Open communion wasn’t always strange to us: It becomes strange to us. The more we were at home with God’s Word, the more we find this world a strange place. When we find the world strange, the world finds us strange. But we have a home, a place where we are not estranged: The Church. The world, and yes, even your own family might find you “strange” for insisting on pure doctrine, but don’t be surprised or dismayed. Take the words of 1 Peter 4 to heart:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Amen.

3 thoughts on “Open Communion: How To Correct It

  1. Why doesn’t the District or Synod help? I thought they are supposed to be overseers to insure that Pastors and Congregations don’t stray from the confession of our faith and practice so we would be truly walking together in the same faith and confession.
    There should be a way for a lay person to ask for help from the District or Synod if their Pastor or the Congregation is straying after having tried to Biblically and out of Christian love asked them to correct it.
    Then it could be seen by the District or Synod whether or not the report is true or not and help resolve the concerns in an attempt to correct any errors and reconcile.
    If there is no accountability then the problem of straying from the confessions on any article will only increase and Pastors and Congregations even in the LCMS will become what was warned about in
    2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
    Also, from the “True Visible Church of God Upon Earth” by C.F.W. Walther, from Thesis XXIII, 1. Scripture Proof Pg. 133 “”How do ye say, We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us?… The pen of the scribes is in vain” (Jer. 8:8). As here the Holy Spirit rejects as vain boasting the appeal of the Jews, who allowed false doctrine to prevail in their midst, that they had the Law of the Lord, so the appeal of nominal Lutherans that they recognize the existing orthodox Confessions, while tolerating false doctrine in their midst, must be rejected as vain boasting.””
    If it is allowed or tolerated that the Sacrament of the Altar can be practiced in any way and be excused as Pastoral discretion to practice blanket or functionally open communion, then it wont be long until the same will be done for God’s Word, or Baptism. Maybe confession and absolution will be removed from the Divine Service because people think it’s unloving and offense to admit that we are sinners.
    What is the remedy? It can’t be to just drive a few hours to a confessional Lutheran Church and leave the one in error. Sometimes the nearest confessional Lutheran church is four hours away, maybe 8 hours or more. Why not hold Pastors to their oath? Why not hold the District presidents to do their most important duty? If not, are we also just vainly boasting?

  2. Greg
    The same pastors who practice open communion also cast votes for DP. The DPs come from the pool of pastors. So the DP will often reflect the majority opinion of most in the district they serve. DPs also then heavily influence the call lists for new pastors in the district.

    It’s hard to say but I do encourage folks to consider traveling further to faithful churches or even moving.

  3. Pastor Scheer,

    Thank you for your response. I just really don’t understand. It seems more like running away from the problem.
    How did Paul and Barnabas handle it in Acts 15 when some men from Judea were falsely teaching? How did Martin Luther handle it? Even if they were in the minority they stood on the strength of God’s Word. No majority can argue with God’s Word.
    I think of these verses: 2 Kings 6:15-17, Corinthians 16:13, Psalm 28:7, or
    Ephesians 6:10-19 NIV, “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
    There is a lot of standing, withstanding, being firm, alert, and bold in the above Bible verses. Driving 5 hours to a church which is confessional is a temporary solution. Not running away but standing firm regardless of the majority. We should support our Pastors who stand firm so that they know that they are not alone.
    I currently have to drive 4-4.5 hours to a church which is confessional when I have a “LCMS” church 20 minutes away. It is very expensive and thank God I can afford it maybe every other month. There needs to be a confessional church where I am also, and prayerfully in every city. To allow a church to practice whatever they want and keep a name that says they belong to the sound doctrine of the LCMS is wrong. It spreads confusion and frustration in promoting the truth and sound doctrine.

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