Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Word games and communion statements

A parishioner of mine was out of town and brought back a bulletin. He asked me to look at the communion statement, it included:

"Please read and answer the following questions. They are helpful in preparing for the Lord's Supper:

1. Have I been baptized in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

2. Do I believe that I am a sinful human being without hope of eternal life except for God's mercy in Christ?

3. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son and my personal Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil?

4. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is personally present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion with His true Body and Blood?

5. Do I intend, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live a Godly life?


Our Holy Communion practice is called "CLOSE" communion, not "CLOSED" communion. "Close" communion invites all those who answer the above questions in the affirmative. "Closed" communion practice allows only confirmed members of ----------- Lutheran Church to commune. We do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone from coming to the Lord's table. We DO seek to help each guest; visitor, and member, to prepare for the celebration of the Sacrament. Because of the importance and value of Holy Communion, we ask that each one present carefully read, understand, and answer the above questions before communing, and if it is your first time communing with us, please speak to one of our Ushers, Elders, or Pastors."


There is an additional line that says:

"A wine that has been chemically treated to remove all alcohol and sulfites is offered in clear glasses in the individual trays."

Oh boy.

First of all, this "closed" vs. "close" is a lot of nonsense. It is a false dichotomy. Notice this church's practice - if you, as an individual, can accept the five questions (which everyone from Roman Catholic to Reformed can), you are welcome at this Missouri Synod Lutheran church's altar.

However, this overlooks the fact that the Missouri Synod congregations are specifically in fellowship with a couple dozen churches around the world - which means we are in doctrinal agreement resulting in altar and pulpit fellowship. An LCMS Lutheran is in communion with the Lutheran Church Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, and many other church bodies around the world. An LCMS Lutheran is not in communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Methodist Church, or the Roman Catholic Church. There are simply doctrinal differences that separate us - many of which involve disputes over just what one is eating and drinking at the altar - and those doctrinal divisions are not addressed in five simple questions to scan at the beginning of the service so that we can make individual choices about communing. The Church is, by definition, an "assembly" - a community of faith. These are not decisions properly left to individuals, but rather to our whole family.

You are either in communion with, or not in communion with Christians of other church bodies. As a pastor, I may be invited to preach and officiate at the Eucharist at one of our sister churches in the Russian Ingrian Lutheran Church. However, I may not concelebrate a wedding at a local Russian Orthodox Church or preach in a local Pentecostal church. To do so would be to send a false message. One could not do that with integrity. It all has to do with being in communion.

That is the nature of fellowship and communion that is completely lost in this church's approach, and their artificial use of "closed" and "close" to describe two different policies.

Notice that the church presents only two extreme scenarios: 1) closed communion means no visitors can commune (not even LCMS visitors), and 2) close communion means opening the rail to Roman Catholics, Reformed, and ELCA Lutherans. Those are the two options according to this church. But of course, the traditional and ancient understanding of communion - which has been upheld by the Missouri Synod since its inception until recent years - is neither of these extremes.

There is no other word for this convenient game-playing to achieve a specific result (open communion). It is simply a lie.

Our churches are part of a network of churches that share doctrine and practice and are in a state of communion with each other. This particular congregation's approach to communion completely ignores this reality that is our agree-upon paradigm. Exceptions need to be handled by the pastor (and indeed, there always are exceptions) - but this is not a matter of pastoral exception, but published policy.

The idea that we "do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone from coming to the Lord's table" flies in the face of St. Paul's words (which were ironically quoted in the bulletin on the very same page) from 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 that a person may well eat and drink to his judgment. This is why the sacraments ("the mysteries of God") have men (pastors) charged with administering them ("the stewards of the mysteries of God" - 1 Cor 4:1). In the same way that pharmacists don't hand out prescription drugs willy-nilly, neither do pastors (at least those who believe in the supernatural power of the consecrated elements) do the same with Holy Communion. This is why our Augsburg Confession positively cites the traditional example of the pastoral care according to St. John Chrysostom, and confesses with clarity and integrity how our churches are to administer the holy sacrament:

"On holy days, and at other times, when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 11:20 ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. For Chrysostom reports how the priest stood every day, inviting some to Communion and forbidding others to approach." (AC XXIV:35-36)

This is the very opposite of saying: "we do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone."

There is an additional ambiguity in question 4: "Do I believe that Jesus Christ is personally present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion with His true Body and Blood?" The "with" seems to divide the "personal" presence of Jesus from His physical presence. In fact, the use of "personal" instead of "physical" is one way to make Lutheran communion acceptable to Reformer Christians - a tactic tried by many groups in history to jam the square peg of Lutheran theology into the round hole of Reformed practice for the sake of an artificial unity. In this case, it is either by design with a bad intent, or by ignorance with a bad result. For the sake of the eighth commandment, let's presume in this case the latter.

Nevertheless, there is another use of "weasel words" that cannot simply be excused by ignorance. Consider the line in the church's bulletin (cited earlier) that "A wine that has been chemically treated to remove all alcohol and sulfites is offered in clear glasses in the individual trays."

A wine that has been "chemically treated" to remove one of the component parts that makes it wine is, by definition, not wine. In fact, it is "grape juice." Notice how the writer goes to great pains to circumvent the ontologically correct (and more concise and precise) term to instead use a sort of hocus-pocus to transubstantiate the innovation of grape juice into dominically mandated "wine."

To take the reverse, most parents would have no problem giving their young children a big glass of grape juice. But what if we gave Junior a big glass of "grape juice" that was "chemically treated" with a process of fermentation to "add alcohol and sulfites" - would it still be "grape juice"? Of course not. It would be wine, and the same parents would not serve it. It's simply not the same thing.

We do not fear God if we delude ourselves into thinking that our synod will not be chastened by the Lord for such unfaithfulness. What better definition of "integrity" is there than "confession" - simply and plainly saying the same thing as the Lord in His revealed Word? We need to pray fervently that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of the pastors and lay people in these congregations.

28 comments:

J.R. Silverthorne said...

Father Hollywood, let me begin by staying that I love to read your blog. You are eloquent, humorous, and spot on with most of your posts.

I wonder, however, if you would mind explaining to me what a Christian is? Or, if that is too general, can you tell me if those outside of the LCMS communion are Christians?

I understand that communion is a sacred part of the Lutheran denomination, but I don't know if there is biblical basis for closed communion. It seems to me that there are very few verses that deal with this topic.

I find in Acts 2:42 that the new believers after Pentecost shared communion. I also see the food warnings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, but I think that refers to the unity created in communion and abstaining from eating meat used in idol sacrifice.

Doesn't closed communion eliminate the unity of ALL Christians?

wmc said...

One slight correction: In 1 Cor 11, some ate and drank to their judgment (krino) (ie some got sick and others died) not to their condemnation (katakrino). In fact, Paul says that they were judged (krino) so as not to be condemned (katakrino) (see 1 Cor 11:32).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Sir:

Thank you for the thoughtful question.

Indeed, all who confess the Trinity and the divinity of Christ are Christians (another way of saying those who confess the common Creed of the Church).

Absolutely.

But the fact is, we don't have the kind of unity the Church had in the New Testament.

Let's look at the Holy Communion itself. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and (a subset of) Anglicans believe Jesus is physically present in the elements. The Reformed confess a "spiritual presence" and Baptist, Pentecostal, and other Protestant Christians confess that the elements are symbolic.

These are very serious divisions.

If a Baptist attended my Church, watched me elevate a piece of Bread and sing "O Christ Thou Lamb of God" while holding it aloft, and then present it to him saying: "The body of Christ" - knowing that I mean it literally - how could he take it in good conscience? To him, this would be idolatry.

Similarly, if I visit a Baptist church, and the pastor says the same words, but really means that Jesus is not physically present, and that this is only a symbolic meal, how could I violate my own conscience this way by communing there and denying my own confession?

And yet, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. That's the mystery of the unity of the Church.

Communing at Roman altars is to confess that the pope is the head of the Church by divine right, and to give one's approval to doctrines such a Purgatory and prayer to the saints. Similarly, a Catholic communing at a Lutheran altar is denying the pope is the head of the Church, etc. Indeed, if I were to pressure a Catholic to commune from my hand would be to interfere in his own pastor's care of him. Technically, a Catholic who communes at our altars is excommunicating himself.

Communion is an intimate action (hence the term "communion") and to do so together is to confess unity of doctrine.

This is how we ended up with denominations. The Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) churches have not been in communion with each other for a thousand years. Lutherans have been out of communion with Rome (and with everyone else) for 500.

And there are different Lutheran communions as well - some in communion with each other, others not. Even in the Eastern Churches, there are some bishops and jurisdictions who are out of communion with one another.

It is a sad reality, but it is what it is. But what a cause for rejoicing when we do declare fellowship with other Christians based on an honest common confession of the faith!

That's what closed communion is all about.

It is in no way a denial of the other churches as being churches, or to deny the Christian faith of the other Christians. Rather it is an honest confession of what we believe - even if that confession is different than that held by others.

Attempts to circumvent this historical and theological reality by bureaucratic means or by playing loose and fast with what words mean is simply dishonest.

I hope this helps!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear WMC:

Yes, thanks for the correction.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This whole style of "close" communion is all about feelings. The Pastor (and congregation) can feel good about how they believe the right things. . . but they never have to have the discomfort of speaking to someone who is wrong. A visitor can feel good and welcome, even if they have no clue what is going on.

But it shows no love, it shows no care, and it allows people to remain secure and confident in false doctrine that can lead to the shattering of faith.

wmc said...

While I agree with most everything you say, I find it very difficult to justify "closed communion" based on juridical boundaries (ie church bodies). Given the wide and wild diversity going on in our synod, some of which is documented on your blog, I don't see how one can justify a "closed communion" based on fellowship in the LCMS.

I know this is an uncomfortable truth, but we need to face it sooner or later.

Another question I have, and it is an honest question, no traps are being laid here, is this: Is communion a sign of our unity or is it a sacrament that works our unity? I mean this question sincerely in view of 1 Cor. 10:17 - "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

This passage seems to be saying that our eating of the one bread (corpus verum) reveals the mystery of the corpus mysticum, our unity in the one body Christ.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

As far as basing closed communion on "church bodies" - I agree that this is becoming increasingly a problem - and we may well have to start re-defining fellowship differently because it isn't our "grandfather's church" any more. It may come to the point where we will have to ask all visitors to our churches to refrain from communion until we've had a chance to speak with them. I sure hope it doesn't get that bad, but it may well.

However, for the time being, my congregation is a member of the LCMS, and the implication of that is unless a person is under discipline, a member of an LCMS church will generally be permitted to commune at our altar. If membership in the LCMS no longer allows us to commune other LCMS members, it may be time to consider going into a state of confession or outright secession from the synod. I'm not keen on either one, but we will do what we have to do. Personally, I think we need to exercise patience.

But again, my take is this: generally speaking, a person's membership in a specific church body is their public confession. Roman Catholics belong to Roman churches, Anglicans belong to Anglican churches, etc. Unless we're going to 1) only commune our own congregational members, or 2) give a comprehensive exam at the rail - we need to draw the line somewhere. In the LCMS, that line has been traditionally drawn at being a member of the LCMS or one of its "sister churches."

As far as the chicken and egg question, as with all mysteries, I think it defies a cut and dried answer. Ideally, all Christians should be in communion with each other. But then again, ideally, we would all be naked in a garden and living forever.

I believe the unity of the church militant is *strained* because we don't all commune together, as we do not believe everything together and confess everything together - but that unity is not *broken* just because we don't commune together at the same table. There remains the mystery of *one* holy Church (una sancta), even as our Lord has only one body - but is present in many places simultaneously.

wmc said...

But again, my take is this: generally speaking, a person's membership in a specific church body is their public confession.

Trouble is, that may be your take, but it is not the take of most people, including our own Lutherans. As is evidenced by the posts and comments on your own blog, most people don't know (at least fully) what their specific church body teaches. Some church bodies even hide certain of their less than politically correct teachings.

In my opinion, "closed communion" only worked within a territorial state-church model, wherein a particular confession was the only game in town. Cuius regio, eius religio.

My question is whether "closed communion" is really a practicable practice beyond a congregationally closed communion.

Father Hollywood said...

And it's a great question!

Of course, it also begs the question why we have any organizational structure larger than the congregation if that structure can't be used as an indicator of being in altar and pulpit fellowship.

If we aren't in communion with anyone outside of our own congregations, where do we get pastors?

I can't think of any period in church history where congregation-only fellowship was the norm.

wmc said...

True enough. But one can also point to most times within church history where fellowship was defined along somewhat more broader lines, ie the Nicene Creed. It has always been the mark of the schismatics (Donatists, Novations, etc) to draw narrower lines of fellowship. The church "catholic" always laid out the broadest possible road, within of course, an orthodox understanding of God and Christ.

One of the great problems with Protestantism, is that it tends to institutionalize its peculiar confessions and formulations, making fellowship along those lines nearly impossible. In the early church, much of what divides us today would be considered an intramural discussion. This is still largely the case under the broad umbrellas of Rome and Orthodoxy.

wmc said...

"more broader" - my 6th grade English teacher would be proud.

Father Hollywood said...

Furthermore, Lutherans in other countries have a more liberal policy than we do (for instance, Scandinavian Lutherans who are in communion with Anglicans - based in part on agreement over apostolic succession).

However, the fact remains that our churches belong to a fellowship (LCMS) in which we have agreed to limit our altar and pulpit fellowship to those church bodies in which we have entered altar and pulpit fellowship. That's kind of the point of entering into altar and pulpit fellowship. ;-)

In that sense, it isn't all that different from the Roman Catholic Church - which has communion fellowship with many other church bodies, e.g. the Greek Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Ukranian Catholic, and other Uniate churches that have formal mutual recognition. However, neither the Roman Catholic not the Uniate churches have fellowship with the world's Eastern Orthodox churches - the fact that they all confess the Nicene Creed (with the exception of the filioque debate), all have apostolic succession, and all have the same sacramentology notwithstanding.

It would be nice if we were in fellowship with the more than a billion of our brothers and sisters in the Roman Church (for example), but until we all agree to enter fellowship based on a shared confession, I believe it would be hypocritical for us to do it at the congregational level.

wmc said...

Nice, institutional view of the church.

They say that under every Lutheran there is a papist. Probably true. Our notion of a "closed communion" is more of a 19th century construct than anything remotely resembling the church catholic. I think we unwittingly partake of the same error as Rome and Orthodoxy, where communion is closed for legal/juridical reasons (see the break in communion between East and West) and not for the reasons we as Lutherans refuse to commune other Christians. The trouble is, we're stuck where we are, for better or worse.

wmc said...

I meant to say, "not the reason we as Lutherans SAY we refuse to commune other Christians." To cite official fellowship as the basis, is to take up the ecclesiology of Rome and Orthodoxy. The communion issue is ultimately, as you note, an ecclesiological issue.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

You lost me. I have no idea what you're saying. You seem to be advocating for open communion (and you're definitely not alone in the LCMS!), and seem to be implying closed communion to be "papist" (even though every traditional historic church body practices closed communion with or without a papacy).

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I see my role as being a steward of the mysteries to include making that call as to whom to commune. But frankly, most of the people I don't commune (such as my RC mother in law and the non-denominational parents of some of my students) would not want to commune from me anyway.

Typically, those who *want* to commune at LCMS altars but are usually refused are either ELCA Lutherans (who sweep our significant differences in confession under the rug) or Protestants who deny the Real Presence (who see communion as a symbol only).

Keep in mind, if you do commune people from the ELCA, Methodism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, or anywhere else, why let the fellowship stop there? Why not let them preach in your pulpit and officiate at your altar?

wmc said...

My last post wasn't terribly well thought out. Don't drink and blog at the same time.

Let me try that again. Rome and Orthodoxy close their communions because they believe they alone are the true visible church. With Rome, the true Church is under the papacy; we as Protestants are "rebel daughter churches" (recall the Pope JPII's encyclical which took issue with calling protestant churches "sister churches"). With Orthodoxy, they "can't be sure" about us, since we are not part of Orthodoxy under their bishops. We're the only ones left standing who close the altar strictly for doctrinal reasons.

Not saying it's wrong, not saying it's right. Just saying what is.

The hardest thing I face as an LCMS pastor in explaining this practice to others, including my own flock, is finding a solid biblical argument for it.

christl242 said...

We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21).

"Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law. . . . "


These are a part of the norms for Holy Communion which are usually found in the beginning of Catholic missals in parishes.

We nevertheless recognize the baptismal bonds we share as fellow Christians.

wmc said...

The Roman Catholic statement is a good one, and I greatly appreciate it for what it says and for what it does not say. The second paragraph proves my point. This is a canonical matter, not a biblical one. I endeavor to practice closed communion because it is the canon law of the synod to which I belong, not because it is a biblical practice. That's fine. I think the benefits of closed communion generally outweigh the detriments.

The subtleties of this discussion are probably far beyond the capacity of a comment stream on a blog. Thanks for raising the issue in the manner that you have.

I especially like the bit about grape juice and wine. Of course they are not the same; any parent knows that. Excellent!

christl242 said...

The Roman Catholic statement is a good one, and I greatly appreciate it for what it says and for what it does not say.

Well, and it does somewhat take the burden off the pastor. In my family, which is made up of Catholics and Lutherans, we all know exactly what our respective bodies teach about this. Yes, it is a canonical matter because a non-Roman Christian can, in extreme circumstances, receive Holy Communion from a Catholic priest if his own pastor is unavailable to him. However, that person must adhere to Catholic dogma regarding the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Christine

wmc said...

I always tell Roman Catholics who want to commune with us, "The Pope forbids it." You would be surprised how many Catholics do not know this. I'm also amazed at the number of non-Catholics I see communing at wedding and funeral masses, bulletin announcements notwithstanding.

David Ernst said...

"Our notion of a 'closed communion' is more of a 19th century construct than anything remotely resembling the church catholic."

Wrong. Not only confessional Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox practice closed communion, but also conservative Reformed groups (including some Baptists), and Mennonites, Amish and other spiritual descendents of the Anabaptists. The practice of closed communion spans the confessional spectrum and the history of Christianity. Do you have some other definition of "church catholic"?

Even in those historical periods where there were no denominations as such, participation in the Lord's Supper was limited to:

1. The truly penitent.
2. Those properly instructed in the faith.
3. Those who had resolved any disputes with their fellow Christians.

The last point is part of the basis for Paul's tirade against lawsuits in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6. People who have lawsuits pending against each other cannot in honesty have fellowship with each other in the sacrament. This third point may also apply to doctrinal differences, which are at least as significant as any lawsuit.

At any rate, not until the Socinians of the 16th Century, and later the Arminians, Pietists, Methodists, et. al., do you find any suggestion that the Lord's Table is open to anyone who has been baptized.

christl242 said...

I always tell Roman Catholics who want to commune with us, "The Pope forbids it." You would be surprised how many Catholics do not know this. I'm also amazed at the number of non-Catholics I see communing at wedding and funeral masses, bulletin announcements notwithstanding.

Oh, I'm not surprised. As I stated my family is half Catholic and half Lutheran and I've seen plenty on both sides.

The priests I've encountered at marriages, etc. are usually pretty careful about announcing that only Catholics who are properly disposed (i.e., have observed the hour fast, are not in an irregular marriage or conscious of grave sin) may receive Communion but they are sometimes ignored. The Catholic bishops in the U.S. are finally waking up to the fact that some solid re-catechesis needs to be done and are addressing it on a national level.

On the Lutheran side, my sister really hasn't a clue as to why she cannot receive at my Catholic parish or I at her Lutheran one. She still thinks it's because Catholics don't think Lutherans are "good" enough or have the "right belief". Her idea of Christianity is very much a modern one that if one doesn't like the particular church one belongs to there are plenty of others to choose from.

Because much of generic American Christianity is so individualistic the idea of a communal standard of norms for receiving the Sacrament on an ecclesial basis is difficult for her to understand.

I've also heard LCMS Lutherans express confusion about why their ELCA relatives should not be receiving at LCMS congregation.

By the way, from the Catholic standpoint "The Pope forbids it" is a bit of a simplistic approach. The Bishops have a tremendous amount of authority in their respective dioceses and they support this position in concert with the teaching office of the Papacy. The communal nature of Catholicism makes it a universal norm, not merely the "permission" of the Pope.

Christine

christl242 said...

And I could have put it all very simply by just saying that Catholics receive Communion forst and foremost under the authority of the local bishop, which makes sense because even the Pope is bishop of his own diocese, e.g., Rome.

An Orthodox friend once told me that in the early days of the Church a Christian, if he/she were travelling had to seek permission of the local bishop before communing in a diocese other than his own.

Christine

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christine:

Thank you for your thoughtful and informative comments.

I was really impressed by the relatives of one of my deceased parishioners. She was the only Lutheran in the family (all the rest of her surviving family were Roman Catholic). In making the arrangements, they insisted on a Requiem Mass, and they understood perfectly well that the Sacrament was closed to them.

But what a joy for me, my parishioners, and her Lutheran friends that we could partake of the Supper - and it was our Roman Catholic brethren who lobbied for it!

Too often we Lutherans automatically rule out celebrating Mass at weddings and funerals - when I think we shouldn't be so quick on the trigger. I've had a few eucharistic funerals and never had a problem.

The funny thing is that in spite of our broken communion, there is a bond that binds together Christians of differing communions when we are all honest and insist on closed communion. My traditionalist Catholic friends in Texas are equally appalled as I am when Lutherans commune at Roman altars and vice versa. And we respect each other all the more for sticking to our guns. In that sense, I feel more "united" with them than with the advocates of wide-open communion in my own confession. What a paradox!

Your remarks about the pope are well-spoken. In a dire emergency, I believe a RC parish priest (even without consulting his bishop) can make a pastoral call to commune a non-Roman Catholic. He doesn't have to get an e-mail from the Vatican to proceed. And these things do happen. The problem is that folks who despise doctrine will drive a truck through the exception and turn the exception into a rule. You have people like that, and so do we!

christl242 said...

The problem is that folks who despise doctrine will drive a truck through the exception and turn the exception into a rule. You have people like that, and so do we!

Yes indeed,Father Hollywood.

I am always glad to encounter fruitful dialogue with Lutherans. We have too much common history to speak past each other.

Christine

wmc said...

The problem is that folks who despise doctrine will drive a truck through the exception and turn the exception into a rule.

There's a terribly large leap between admission to communion and despising doctrine. I have yet to see an argument for institutionally closed communion on the basis of the doctrine of the Scriptures. I accept the practice as a matter of our canonical law, determined by the majority vote of our synod in convention, that we close our communion to those who are not officially in full doctrinal agreement with us in all articles of doctrine. But I would maintain that this is not the basis on which communion is closed in other jurisdictions.

Also, given the broad doctrinal and worship diversity within the LCMS, one finds the practice a bit "pro forma" don't you think?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

My remark about despising doctrine was made in the context of my discussion with Christine. I'm not suggesting everyone who is not permitted to commune at our altars does so.

The truth is there are those in every communion who would distribute the sacrament like Pez candies, which shows disregard for the supernatural aspect of the sacrament. That's the point I was trying to make.

Whatever criteria that are used by the steward to determine whether or not a person should be given the Supper is "pro forma". One could rightly argue that there are many LCMS unbelievers who should be denied communion, while there are many who believe just as we do who are not members of LCMS churches who should be communed.

But the problem is we have to draw the line somewhere. Better to err on the side of safety. If a person truly desires to commune at our altars, how about having them join our church instead of remaining a member of some other church, or no church at all? In the ancient church, a person spent three years as a catechumen - I don't think any LCMS congregation is that stringent.

One could argue that there are 16 year olds who should be permitted to drink, even as there are 35 year olds who are too immature to drive. The age line for various privileges such as drinking, voting, or driving, may be somewhat arbitrary, but without a line somewhere we would have utter chaos - which is what open communion is.

Pastors are always free to make exceptions. I have done so, and suspect I will in the future.

It's not like a Roman Catholic will not get communion unless my congregation practices open communion. So, what would even be the point of opening our communion to them?

But if you have a better way that doesn't involve either 1) a "y'all come" approach (which would be utterly irresponsible of a steward of the mysteries), or 2) giving every visitor a theology exam before hitting the rail (which would cause Dr. Scaer to go postal because the service would then take three hours) - please, by all means, help us out!

There may well be a better approach to responsible communication of those who approach our altars than what we've got. Suggestions?

wmc said...

Since you asked:

1. Communion should be congregationally-based with the local pastor as bishop (de jure divino, according to our Confessions) responsible for who communes.

2. Short of guests having a "bishop's letter" from one's pastor (as someone above alluded to), I would suggest that a brief conversation prior to communion would not be inappropriate.

3. I would not necessarily tie admittance to one's "membership" but rather to one's personal confession, which may or may not coincide with the church one normally attends, given the state of Christianity (including Lutheranism) today.

4. Admittance should be granted rather broadly, namely, baptized, confessing Christians who adhere to Nicene orthodoxy, and who know what they are receiving and why they are coming to the Lord's Supper.

I realize that this is not the way of "Lutheran altars for Lutheran commuicants" but I think it is both biblical and practicable. It flows from 1 Cor 10:17 and the nature of the corpus mysticum, that the Lord's Supper is a sacrament that reveals and works our unity in Christ, not a symbol of our external ecclesiastical unity. In other words, we should be discussing our differences at the Table, in my opinion.

I realize this way of thinking puts me in the "liberal" camp on this issue, but I have little use for one political wing or the other.