A Communion Statement is Not Yet Closed Communion

Congregations should have communion statements that summarize their position on closed communion. The statement can be in bulletins, on communion cards, and read before Divine Service – wherever it will be brought to the attention of those visiting the congregation for Divine Service.

The statement should briefly tell visitors that the congregation believes that communing together is a matter of confessing the same faith and that those of different confessions should not come up expecting to receive communion. This can be expressed in various ways. However, what the communion statement must always include are instructions to speak with the pastor before the service if desiring to commune.

Church bodies have differing ideas about altar fellowship. For those church bodies that believe that nothing is distributed or received other than bread and wine, they see no reason to withhold that from visitors. There is no harm in eating and drinking a little bread and wine. Visitors from such a church may well think that they share the same confession of faith since they are Christians and come to the altar rail after reading the communion statement. They would nevertheless be eating and drinking judgment on themselves since they do not discern the body of Christ there present (I Cor. 11:29).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has entered into “full communion” with many church bodies of varying confessions, many even that do not believe that the Body and Blood of Jesus are present in the Lord’s Supper. The church bodies which the ELCA are in full communion with include the Moravian Church, The Episcopal Church, Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Methodist Church. Leaving an ELCA visitor to conclude on their own if they are in communion fellowship with a congregation in the LCMS will quite likely have an errant affirmative answer. In fact, I have never had an ELCA visitor who has thought that he should not be able to commune at our altar.

It is therefore essential that a pastor speaks with visitors who desire to receive communion. A communion statement should not be thought of as a way to skirt around the responsibility a pastor has of dispensing the mysteries faithfully, but rather as a help to him in practicing what he has promised in his ordination vows that he will do. Our pastors have after all promised in their ordination vows to perform the duties of their office in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions, which includes AC VII which addresses the right administration of the sacraments.

As Luther writes, “Because we are concerned with nurturing Christians who will still be here after we are gone, and because it is Christ’s body and blood that are given out in the Sacrament, we will not and cannot give such a Sacrament to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed.  For we do not want to make Christ’s church into a pig pen [Matthew 7:6], letting each one come unexamined to the Sacrament as a pig to its trough. Such a church we leave to the Enthusiasts!” (“Open Letter” (para. 25), 343; WA 30/III:567.3-15, cited in J. Stephenson, The Lord’s Supper, 158.

About Pastor Johannes Nieminen

Pastor Johannes (John) Nieminen serves Zion Lutheran Church in Melville and Trinity Lutheran Church in Neudorf, Saskatchewan, Canada. After a decade-long foray in business following his undergraduate degree, he attended Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St Catharines, Ontario, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 2014. He is married to Lydia and they have been blessed with three children: Ethan, Summerlee, and Jacob. His sermons are posted weekly at zionlutheranmelville.com.

Comments

A Communion Statement is Not Yet Closed Communion — 11 Comments

  1. Pulpit and Altar Fellowship implies agreement with all of the doctrines of the church, not just the Lord’s Supper. My communion statement is, “members of our congregation are expected to attend the Lord’s Supper. Visitors of other LCMS congregations may attend. Speak with the Pastor before church service. Others are encouraged to attend our information classes so that they may attend on completion.”

  2. Even though I plaster this all over (see below), a Pastor must do his job and administer the Sacrament, and do it wisely:

    Our worship service is open to all; however, as a matter of faith, we practice close (some say closed) communion. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated at this congregation in the confession and the glad confidence that, as he says, our Lord gives into our mouths not only bread and wine but his very body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins and to strengthen our union with him and with one another. Our Lord invites to his table those who trust his words, repent of all sin, and set aside any refusal to forgive and love as he forgives and loves us, that they may show forth his death until he comes again. Because those who eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood unworthily do so to their great harm and because Holy Communion is a confession of the faith which is confessed at this altar, any who are not yet instructed, in doubt, or who hold a confession differing from that of this congregation and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and yet desire to receive the sacrament, are asked first to speak with the pastor.
    If you are a child that does receive early Communion at your LCMS Church, you must speak with Pastor before you attend (in doubt, ask Pastor).
    For further study, see Matthew 5:23f; 10:32f; 18:15-35; 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:17-34

  3. I wonder if stating that members of other LCMS churches do not have to first speak to the pastor isn’t somehow putting mere LCMS membership above the oversight of the local pastor. My own congregation’s bulletin says “In care for those desiring communion at our altar for the first time, we ask that you speak with Pastor prior to Communion.” Otherwise, when an unfamiliar person appears at the altar, how is the pastor to know whether that person is a member of a sister congregation or not?

  4. I find it very helpful to explain to visitors: this is not a rule made-up by the LCMS, but rather mandated by Scripture and has always been the historical practice of the Church; open communion is based in doctrine with those who deny Jesus is actually present; consider the connection with the Passover and the Passover is very closed communion; and in Galatians we find Peter and Paul do not commune together for a time because of doctrinal disagreement (even them! is it too much to think not all Christians can commune together?); and since Communion is a Pastoral Act you should receive it from your Pastor and hospitality from your Pastor’s faithful brothers.

  5. Our LCMS church practices close communion and communes visitors that are from nearby LCMS churches. Those other LCMS churches practice open communion.

    Their LCMS church and my LCMS church are definitely not in agreement, unified, concerning close communion. I’ve been struggling with if I should excuse myself from my church’s rail when any visitor from an open communion church are served at the same rail. What is the proper action to be taken?

  6. At Trinity Lutheran Church, Denver, the pastors make a pointed and clear statement about closed communion right after the prayers and as the offering is received.

  7. @Jeff Wag #5

    Why would you excuse yourself? NO, you perhaps can mention it to your pastor, but even then, he knows. You take what is for you, and not let others deprive you of the Eucharist. They are the ones in some struggle, not you. At that moment, when th pastor gives you the Body and Blood, this is for you, not them…

  8. I remember hearing about an elderly pastor at CTSFW, if memory serves, who administered the Lord’s Supper at the seminary chapel. If someone appeared at the rail who he didn’t know, he would ask:
    1. Who are you?
    2. What are you doing here?
    3. What do you want?

    I’ve given great thought to how I would respond to these questions (although I would never approach the rail without first visiting a pastor). Here are my responses:

    1. I am Jason
    2. I am a sinner
    3. I seek forgiveness of all my sins, given in Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, to be received by God-given faith bestowed to me in baptism

  9. This congregation is a member church of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. As such, we practice the ancient and widespread custom of closed communion. This is to say that we welcome all people to hear the Gospel proclaimed and to participate in worship, but Communion is reserved for those who share in our confession of faith. We instruct both our youth and adult members in the basics of our faith prior to communing with us and ask that if you desire to also do so that you see the pastor to arrange for instruction.

  10. At an Anglican Church (Part of the Anglican Church in Canada synod) that I went to for my Uncle’s funeral, they had communion there for the funeral service. And just before communion, the minister said, “everyone is welcome to receive the Lords Supper regardless of you denomination because, when Jesus fed the 5,000 people, he never refused anyone. He welcomed and gave it to everyone there.” I was thinking, “ok….but, that has nothing to do with the Christ giving us his true body and blood to eat and to drink.”

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