The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s official and historical position on the Lord’s Supper is that she practices close[d] communion. The practice of close[d] communion is a key component of our doctrine that’s rooted in scripture and our confessions. From a broader perspective, Holy Communion is a public confession of our faith. Therefore, it may be helpful for the synod to examine herself from the perspective of a pastor examining a visitor to his parish.
Imagine for a moment that Elsie Moe, a vacationing LCMS member, decided to visit a confessional LCMS church. Let’s say that the pastor saw Elsie, approached her and struck up a conversation. While chatting, Elsie indicated that she was planning on receiving communion. The pastor began asking her a few questions and was floored by what he heard. Elsie said that she was a member of the synod in good standing, knew about the Book of Concord, but often disagreed or ignored the old, outdated and cumbersome Symbolical Books. As the conversation progressed, it became apparent to the pastor that Elsie was firmly entrenched in relativism, emotionalism, enthusiasm, charismaticism, decision theology and the Church Growth Movement. It was also revealed that she was severely conflicted, confused, and even belligerent regarding areas of pure doctrine, communion, worship practices, the Office of Holy Ministry, and so on. As the pastor looked on in disbelief, Elsie smiled and asked in a matter-of-fact tone, “So, are we good?”
The LCMS, in her current state, is Elsie Moe. While I’m not a pastor, I don’t imagine Elsie would be allowed to receive communion that day. She is unrepentant, confused, and in many cases, downright heterodox. As a synod, our fellowship is quite fractured. We don’t believe the same things, we don’t practice the same way, and we’re no longer unified in our confessions. If properly examined by a diligent pastor, the LCMS would likely not be admitted to her own altar.
Here’s what C.F.W. Walther says on the subject of communion.
“The Holy Supper is one of the marks, one of the banners of the church, one of the seals of the church’s doctrine and faith (Rom.4:11; see 1Cor.10:21; Ex.12:48). In whichever church one receives the Holy Supper, one is confessing that church and its doctrine. There cannot be a more inward, brotherly fellowship than that into which one enters with those in whose fellowship he receives the holy supper….Even one who confesses the Real Presence cannot ordinarily, except in the case of death, be admitted if he is and wants to remain, not a member of our orthodox church, but rather a Roman Catholic, Reformed, so-called Evangelical or Unionist, Methodist, Baptist, in short, a member of an erring fellowship. For the Sacrament, as it is a seal of faith, is also the banner of the fellowship in which it is administered” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, p. 110–111, 149).
Additionally, former LCMS President and sainted Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry put it this way:
“While the Lord’s Supper is always a personal matter, it is never a private matter. That is an important truth that is often overlooked. Those who commune at the same altar are thereby declaring publically that they are united in the doctrine of the Apostles (Acts 2:42). Therefore, fellowship in the Supper is church fellowship. This is what is taught by Holy Scripture in 1 Cor. 10 and 11.” (What about Fellowship in the Lord’s Supper)
Notice that the common thread in both references above is that altar fellowship is not just personal, but also about a common and public confession. Sadly, communion practice is among the many issues being debated right now. In my opinion, the Lord’s Supper should be considered a closed (pun intended) subject that has long since been settled. However, communion practice isn’t the main point of this piece. No, the point of this post is broader. As a synod, we’re broken and in need of repair.
So, what’s the solution? How should we deal with Elsie Moe? Well, here’s how the LCMS leadership is dealing with her. They have decided to let her continue in her error for years on end while only briefly chatting with her once or twice annually. Likewise, they have decided that when those rare meetings do occur, they will actually allow Elsie to frame the discussion in ways that may result in significant changes to the doctrine and practice of the church. Both approaches would be reckless, unloving, and absurd if Elsie were a person. Yet, the Koinonia Project (KP) appears to embrace that which I just spelled out. Wouldn’t a pastor be considered derelict in his duties if he addressed Elsie’s error in a manner consistent with that of the Koinonia Project? KP isn’t what Elsie Moe needs. Elsie Moe needs to be re-catechized.
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