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.
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.