Thursday, May 22, 2008

Open and Closed Communion

An interesting discussion about closed communion at the blog of a Reformed pastor named John Armstrong, who had visited an LCMS church, and wrote about the church's communion policy. I did toss in my two cents to help clarify our understanding of closed communion.

But what I thought was really interesting was the response of an LCMS lay person whose church practices open communion...

Larry Beane says:

We Lutherans believe Jesus is present, physically. We confess that we physically eat His flesh and physically drink His blood. He is not merely spiritually present. Nor are the elements in any way symbolic. This is problematic to our Protestant brothers and sisters.

I respond:

I am Pentecostal and a Lutheran and believe this truth as well. The elements are not Symbolic. If you are familiar with most Pentecostal theology in practice today you would find it embraces true presence than anything else. Sure, the doctrines of denominations may not yet reflect this, but the practice is true presence. Books are written about it: See the book the Meal that Heals.

So, now the question is, those Pentecostals (like me) who embrace the true presence, believe it, practice it with reverence, do we "qualify" to come to the table or is there some other hoop we have not yet jumped thru to take communion?

The way, we practice "Open" communion at our LCMS church is like this:

We post and publish for all to comprehend that we believe in the true presence and if you embrace that reality you are welcome to come to the table. We do not examine you, that is between you and God, Paul instructed us thus. We follow that ideal.

If a Methodist or Catholic or even a Buddhist comes forward we do not turn him or her away. We inform them or the reality of our communion practices and accept them if they present themselves.

I think that is a pretty Lutheran thing to do.

One other thing, My forefathers built one of the first Lutheran Churches in West Prussia (Pommerania) less than a hundred years after the reformation. The building stands today in Naugard near Stettin which is now Poland. My Lutheran Roots and passions go very deep.

I was raised and confirmed in the German Lutheran LCMS in North Dakota. That church I grew up in which was very traditional LCMS, and is housed in a beautiful brick building my Father built and laid the cornerstone in 1959 (The year I was Confirmed) is about to be abandoned. I'm sad about that.

The future vitality of the LCMS is not in a work the form of which as you or I grew up in. Those days are drawing to a close and will not come again. I miss the old, but value the new.

I think that the divisions over these things are damaging to the furtherance of the Communion of the LCMS. I support the Synod President and his desire to see us break out of the dead past and I hope you will as well.

The LCMS needs changes made. As a Charismatic Lutheran I want to be part of furthering the Kingdom of God, not of the LCMS. No denominational traditions or polity transcends that.

One other thing, I spend a lot of time with Pastors who are making it work nationally in the LCMS. In particular I am a friend of the pastor of the largest LCMS church in America. He will need to be defrocked as well if we use your standards.

Those who use practices similar to our little Church of 500 worshiping on Sundays seem to prosper more than does than the dying on the vine churches in our fellowship who don't. That's just observation even in our area. There are a dozen churches in our district within 25 miles that are LCMS. I know them all. The pattern holds. Those who are embracing the new are prospering. Those who are clinging to the old are dying. I don't want to see the LCMS die. I don't think you do either. We have national leadership who doesn't either. We should hear them out.

Nothing can be made better without change. Of course not all change is improvement but there can be no betterment without change. That axiom is most certainly true. In our churches, in our lives, in our culture.

Change my heart oh GOD...........Make it ever new.....Change my heart oh God...Make me more like YOU.


Anonymous said...

With respect to Mr. Redlin (whose comment this is), "embracing the new" is not the best policy for the church. Numbers do not the church of God make nor do innovative and creative policies. If we abandon solid Lutheran practice and doctrine, then we have abandoned the church.

It is not good Lutheran practice to let anyone who wants to come to the table do so. We are neglecting our duty of love if we allow such things. Yes, no one can know the heart, and certainly, some people who should not come do. However, it is not love to open wide the doors of the Eucharist to any and all who come through the doors on Sunday morning.

It may sound hard to some to practice this way. However, we must stand for the truth, and the truth is that some take the Supper to their judgment. We must take every effort and precaution to prevent that from happening as best as we possibly can.

Not everyone from North Dakota feels the same. Some profess the truth regardless of whatever the world feels.

Thursday's Child said...

Having been raised in a church that practices open communion, I must respectfully disagree. It is not a human's place to determine whether someone is taking the Eucharist to his/her judgement. If we must err, we should err on the side of grace, not judgement.

As long as the church's beliefs are firmly stated for all to read, it must be up to the individual to decide if s/he wants to take it.

Preachrboy said...

Rev. Beane,

Thanks for ruining my Friday. Just kidding.

But wow. And didn't someone say that we aren't that deeply divided in the LCMS?

Anonymous Lutheran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous Lutheran said...

When I first read this post (a little too late at night, apparently), I thought for one horrifying moment that those were *your* comments. I was seriously wondering if you'd lost your mind. lol

Having set myself straight on this matter, I find this guy's claim that traditional congregations are dying to be ludicrous. My church is listed at as one of the largest in the synod. We are so crowded that all the side streets within two blocks of our church, as well as a large portion of a neighboring church's parking lot, are packed with our overflow parking. It is not unusual to have folding chairs in the narthex, and we've had to form additional lines for communion apart from the railing because otherwise there would simply not be enough time.

We recently opened a second location and our three pastors now rotate between the two, and that location is now filling to capacity. Between the two locations that's five services every weekend.

Okay, we're not quite as traditional as I'd personally prefer, but we're certainly not the kind of church this guy is looking for.

Scott Diekmann said...

"I think that is a pretty Lutheran thing to do."

It's not a Lutheran thing to do, it's a unionistic thing to do.

kuniklo said...

"We Lutherans believe Jesus is present, physically. We confess that we physically eat His flesh and physically drink His blood".

This might have made sense during Luther's day but not in the age of science. What I mean is that if we took the elements of the Eucharist and had them examined in a lab the results would be "bread" and "wine". So in what way do they represent the body and blood of Christ? --surely not in a literal sense! This is a problem Luther never had to face -where we know empically that the body and blood of Christ are absent but we are asked to believe they're present nonetheless.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Zelwyn:

Well said!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Thursday's Child:

I guess being the one whose hands are placing the Eucharist into the mouths of the people who come to my rail, I just can't adopt an "oh, well" attitude about someone eating and drinking to their damnation. It would be like handing a gun to a person who wants to commit suicide, and then shrugging it off as that person's choice. It's a big deal when you're the one dispensing something so powerful. God provided human pastors, not automatic feedbags or vending machines to act as "stewards of the mysteries" (1 Cor 4:1).

This is why our Lutheran confessions cite St. John Chrysostom: "the priest stands daily at he altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others" (AC 24). Closed communion is part of the Lutheran confessions, and to open up communion is to repudiate the Augsburg Confession.

As another father of the church put it, Communion is the "medicine of immortality" (St. Ignatius of Antioch). It's a great analogy. For what doctor would simply have everybody line up and start giving them penicillin shots willy-nilly? No, he would "examen" each person to make sure the shot would be of benefit, and not of detriment. This is why some drugs are only available by prescription. The Holy Sacrament carries more danger than any prescription drug. In some churches, consecrated elements left over from the service are even placed under lock and key.

This is why our confessions also say: "The custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously examined and absolved" (AC25). All Lutheran pastors and congregations have promised to abide by this. It's a matter of being honest. Churches or pastors who can't uphold the confessions should be honest about it and cease claiming to be Lutheran.

There are lot's of devout Christians who are not Lutheran, who don't believe as we do. It's dishonest to sail under a different flag. I would just like to see LCMS churches and pastors abide by what they have vowed to do.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Preacherboy:

I had it exaplained to me this way by a district president. We all practiced closed communion in the LCMS. It's just that some of us have bigger cones, and some have smaller cones. But nobody, in our district anyway, practices open communion.

I do believe the president of the synod made a similar remark about "close" communion in the LCMS. I guess technically, if there is any creature, man or beast, you would deny communion to, you don't practice "open communion." Clever, eh? If a pastor will commune Buddhists, but not his German Shepherd, he practices "close communion" - just with a pretty big cone.

Now, maybe I've ruined your Friday. ;-)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Kuniklo:

This is why Christianity is a faith. You're right that there is no scientific analysis that would reveal any earthly difference between a consecrated and an unconsecrated wafer.

There is no magic, just the simple Word of Christ: "This is my body," grasped by faith.

Similarly, the baby Jesus lay in a manger. He looked, sounded, smelled, and felt just like any other baby. The convicted "criminal" Jesus hanged on a cross, suffered, and died as a human being. Nothing looks divine about a man hanging on a cross. But this is what we Christians believe! A scientific analysis of Jesus of Nazareth would reveal only a 100% human being. And Jesus is 100% human being. But what scientific analysis would not reveal is that Jesus is also 100% God. The math doesn't add up. The logic fails. The divinity of Christ and of the sacrament lie within the milieu of faith, not reason.

Believing in the Holy Eucharist is a matter of mystery, not measurements. As the ancient hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas puts it:

"Word made flesh, the bread He taketh / By His word His flesh to be; / Wine His sacred blood He maketh, / Though the senses fail to see; / Faith alone the true heart waketh / To behold the mystery."

Of course, many Christians (Protestants) believe the elements are only symbolic, and others believe only in the spiritual presence of Jesus - but the vast majority of Christians around the world today (more than a billion), Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran, confess that the consecrated bread and wine are literally and physically the body and blood of Jesus.

Pr. H. R. said...

Well, some Anglicans (the Anglo-Catholic sort), for I think it would be safe to say that the majority of today's Anglicans would still hold to the Black Rubric of 1661:

"Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Heath:

You're right, the Anglican situation is more complicated. On the one hand, Anglicans are not obligated to accept the 39 Articles the way we accept the Book of Concord (and, as you point out, Anglo-Catholics outright deny several of them).

But on the other hand, the ECUSA is in full communion with the ELCA, which is itself in full communion with liberal Presbyterians, the UCC, and now the United Methodist Church.

But it is safe to say that the vast majority of Christians on the planet accept the physical presence in the sacrament, and Christians from those four groups are counted in that number.

Thursday's Child said...

Maybe I need to make myself a bit clearer. I belive in open communion for all Christians. I would certainly not think it fitting for a pastor (of any denomination) to commune anyone outside the Christian faith. However, would it really be a pastor's place to decide that a Christian from a different tradition unworthy (for lack of a better word at the moment) of receiving the Eucharist? That's where I have a problem with close communion.

BTW, thank you for your response to my previous comment.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Thursday's child:

It's not a question of worthiness, but rather of confession, of belief. To commune at an altar is a public expression of *communion* - that is, union, with what is taught and believed at that church.

For example, to take communion at a Roman Catholic church is to express *communion* - communication, community, unity of doctrine - with that church. To commune at a Roman Catholic church is to accept the pope by divine right as the head of the church, to affirm prayer to the saints, and the invalidity of the ministries of, say, Lutheran pastors. It is also a public repudiation of abortion (which is why pro-abortion politicians are explicitly prohibited by many faithful RC bishops).

To commune at a Lutheran altar is to repudiate the pope as the divine head of the church (which obviously excludes Roman Catholics). It is also to confess the physical presence of Christ in the sacrament (which excludes nearly all Protestants). It is also a confession that the Book of Concord is a correct exposition of Scripture (which excludes all non-Lutherans).

If you commune at a Missouri Synod church, you are endorsing the Book of Concord and repudiating things like women clergy, sharing altars and pulpits with Reformed Christians, and affirming a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation (all of which are at odds with what the ELCA teaches).

Most people from outside of the LCMS would balk at *something* we teach - be it our views on the Eucharist, the ministry, the Church, Scripture, or baptismal regeneration.

It's not that these other Christians are "unworthy" - any more than my not communing at a Roman Catholic or Reformed altar is my own "unworthiness" - again, it is a matter of what is taught by that church. It is a matter of integrity. When I refrain from communing with my Reformed and Roman Catholic friends, I am showing respect to their church bodies and their faith.

This is why our church bodies have public declarations of fellowship with other church bodies. For example, ELCA members may commune at certain Presbyterian churches, Episcopal churches, and Methodist churches. They have hammered out a fellowship agreement.

The LCMS has such agreements in doctrine and fellowship with some 40 or so church bodies around the world. We can swap ministers and commune at each other's altars. But this is because the churches have examined what the others teach, and have publicly accepted fellowship with one another.

Life in God's kingdom is collective. It is a community. It's never an individual thing. Church fellowship is between communities. It's based on what a church confesses and teaches.

To use another analogy, if you are not a Canadian, you don't salute the maple leaf. You should show respect when they are saluting their flag and singing their national anthem. But if you're not a Canadian, you are a guest. Guests should be respectful, not pushy. The same is true at churches. When we visit other churches, we need to be respectful, polite, and not partake of rituals that are intended for that community.

It would be nice if the church didn't have such divisions, but it has been universally divided into different communions since 1054 AD. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics don't commune together. Lutherans don't commune with either of those. Reformed Christians are yet another communion. Baptists still another. Even the latter have many subdivisions that don't have intercommunion.

As sad as these divisions are, that's the reality. We can't just wish them away.

I hope this clarifies things a little.

Thursday's Child said...

Yes, it clarifies it very much. Thank you. I guess I've never viewed it that way. I've always seen it as communing with Christ and whether I'm in a Lutheran, Anglican, or whatever, church, I'm still communing with Him. I've seen it from the perspective of if He invited me to dinner, would I worry whether we ate at Mais Al Ghanem (high-class Lebanese restaurant here in Kuwait) or McD's. I'm guessing I probably wouldn't care. (Actually, I would probably no longer be conscious. LOL)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Thursday's Child:

Lebanese food? Did you have to do that? I'm so jealous! We do have a couple of really good Lebanese places here in New Orleans that I know about (I'm sure there are many more), Cleopatra here on the West Bank, Mona's Cafe on Magazine Street, and Phoenicia on Veterans in Metairie. Oh, I can taste the shish kabob, the rice, the hummus, and the Lebanese tea right at this moment.

Now you've done it, I'm hungry! The good news is that I won't have to twist Mrs. Hollywood's arm for a Leb meal. The bad news is that it's going to have to wait until tomorrow.

I'll bet you don't lack nice Middle Eastern cuisine in Kuwait!

Thursday's Child said...

LOL Haven't you noticed yet that I'm EVIL?! BTW, whatever you do, do NOT visit my blog today. You'll end up in indescribable torture. It's even complete with RECIPES!You might not survive.

(Oh, and Kuwaiti food is good but nowhere near the level of culinary delight as Lebanese.;) )