April 22, 2006 at 10:56 pm #1215
Our Communion Practice
Participation in communion at our congregation is open for all those who are currently confirmed members in good standing of congregations belonging to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (or to one of our international sister churches that confess the teachings we confess).
“Is that all,” you might wonder? “I believe in Jesus, I’m even Lutheran; I’m just not a member of a Missouri-Synod congregation. Why can’t I partake of the Lord’s Supper at your church? You could at mine!”
Let me give you an answer beginning with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther, when defining what the Lord’s Supper (the Sacrament of the Altar) is, states: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”
The key words are “for us Christians.” The Lord’s Supper is for those who are Christians, and for them only. As Luther explains in his Preface to the Small Catechism, Christians are only those who, when reaching the appropriate age, have learned the Catechism and hold to it as a correct summary of God’s Word, the bible; in other words, Christians are those who understand the Catechism rightly, not any way they want.
Luther writes: “… those who refuse to learn [the Catechism] are to be told that they are denying Christ and do not belong to him. They are not to be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at Baptism, or allowed to exercise Christian liberty in any way.”
Only after carefully instructing our own baptized members in the text and meaning of the Small Catechism do we admit them to the Lord’s Supper. Prior to about the 7th grade, they do not have the capability necessary to understand what they are receiving in the sacrament. We do not hold this against them and they are definitely Christians. However, if a person in the right age is unwilling to be instructed, we do not consider that person to be a fellow believer. Communion participation is then impossible, for obvious reasons.
The Biblical Reasons for Luther’s Practice
Luther had good reasons for this practice. After all, our Lord himself did not give his body and blood to any one-time listener of his sermons, but only to his twelve disciples who by that time had spent already about three years with their teacher. In other words, we can expect them to be carefully instructed at the end of our Lord’s earthly life. Likewise, St. Paul teaches us to examine ourselves before we partake of the Lord’s body and blood (1 Cor. 11:28), lest we bring God’s judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29-30).
This self-examination chiefly consists of this question: Do I believe what God’s Word (summarized in the Catechism) teaches, including the Lord’s Supper, and do I live accordingly in repentant faith? After all, our Lord commanded his church to make disciples of all nations by preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name (Luke 24:47), by baptizing them in the name of the triune God and by teaching them to observe everything he taught his twelve apostles (Mat. 28:19-20). Christians are those who strive to speak and live accordingly.
Christians are united to one another by this shared confession of God’s Word rightly understood. Paul, before he addresses the Lord’s Supper in his letter to the church in Corinth, speaks at length about the various issues that were dividing the congregation. When he begins this first part of his letter, he appeals to the church “that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10, see also Romans 15:5-6; 16:17). Apparently, existing “divisions” had carried over into the church services and found expression in divisions at the Lord’s Supper. As Paul points out, this turns the Lord’s Supper into each faction’s or each Christian’s supper (1 Cor. 11:18-21). Being divided in what is believed is against the very nature of the Sacrament as joint participation in, and communion of, the one undivided body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). It is against the very nature of the Church as the undivided body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:25). If people are admitted who don’t agree with God’s Word; who are not united in saying the same thing about God, then this communion and unity is destroyed.
Only those carefully instructed in the truth of God’s Word know what the Lord’s Supper is and are therefore able to “discern the Lord’s body” and able to receive the Supper worthily, that is, by faith in its promises concerning Christ’s body and blood and concerning the forgiveness offered in this sacrament to all by Christ himself. As Luther put it in the Small Catechism: “… that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.'” And in the Large Catechism he writes: “… we do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come.”
Faith in the heart is invisible, but it does have visible, outward fruits. One of them is confessing the truth about God and his Word, including the Lord’s Supper. Pastors as “stewards of the mysteries” (1 Cor. 4:1: God’s Word and Sacraments revealing the hidden mystery of Christ) are charged to instruct and examine those who desire to receive the sacrament of the altar. They go by what a person confesses when asked (and does not deny by words and deeds when not asked). The heart they leave to God (and the individual) for (self-)examination. (In other words, we are not saying that all those who confess the truth with their lips will be saved in the end, Rom. 10:9. Christ did commune Judas; but only Christ knew at the time what was in his heart.)
Another Reason: the Historic Practice of the Church
Another good reason for Luther’s practice of “closed communion” is the continuous and unanimous practice of the Church since the days of the apostles: Those who did not agree with God’s Word either in whole or in part were not admitted to the Lord’s Supper. If they did not know God’s Word but desired to be instructed in the truth, they were taught and then communed. If they did not know it but did not wish to learn it, they were neither taught nor communed.
In the first Christian centuries those who were being instructed in the faith (and those who were just curious about Christianity) left the service after the sermon. A member of the clergy said: “The doors, the doors!”, meaning the church doors were now to be closed. (This is why this historic practice of communion is called “closed communion.”) Those being instructed or disciplined were not even permitted to be present when the Lord’s Supper was being administered. This is very similar to the practice of our Lord who purposely went to the “upper room” to be alone with his disciples.
Mainly since the last century, the historic Christian practice of “closed communion” has begun to erode in an increasing number of congregations and churches. Today, being “inviting” and “welcoming” is identified with being “open” for all and everything at the Lord’s altar. This is unheard-of in the history of the Church.
In a sense, communion participation is like sleeping with a person. We believe that a man and a woman should only sleep together after they’ve become husband and wife in a public ceremony. This ceremony should take place only after the future spouses have carefully examined each other: “Do we see eye-to-eye on the key issues?” Today’s trend to make pre-marital sex part of the examination process has proved to be detrimental to marriage. The longer a person cohabitates with another, the shorter will their marriage be, as recent studies show. Cohabitation does not prepare for committed faithfulness (that’s what marriage is all about according to God’s design), but for an uncommitted life-style that seeks personal advantages and convenience above all else.
Likewise, “open communion” (“all baptized Christians are welcome,” for example) does not promote committed membership in God’s Church out of personal conviction. It rather leads to careless indifferentism, to being driven to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), which is not pleasing to the God who has commanded all Christians to “observe everything” he has taught his apostles (Mat. 28:20).
Now what about YOU?
Where does this leave you? First of all, realize that there are significant differences between what churches teach these days. If you are from an ELCA-background, for example, know that the Missouri Synod (including this congregation) and ELCA disagree, among other things, on the teaching of creation (creationism vs. evolutionism); on the question of what the Lord’s Supper is (“real presence” vs. “personal presence”); on the role of women in the church (no women’s ordination vs. women’s ordination); the nature of the Ten Commandments (unchanging, relevant today vs. outdated); and on the nature of the bible (inspired, error-free Word of God vs. “God’s Word in men’s words”).
If you are from a Free-church or Evangelical background, there are significant differences as well: the doctrine of baptism (“God’s work” vs. “man’s work”); the work of the Holy Spirit (only through God’s Word and Sacraments vs. no vehicle needed); the nature of the Lord’s Supper (see above), to name just a few.
If you, after reading around on this and other Lutheran pages have come to the realization that you actually do believe what we teach and not what your current church body holds as truth; if you, in other words, just happen to be in the “wrong” church, please, get in touch with me. I will be more than happy to round off your instruction in the faith and receive you as a member of our church. Then you shall take communion with us! The same applies to you if you are currently no member of any congregation.
Once you’ve realized the truth of God’s Word you cannot remain in fellowship with those who deny it lest your faith be destroyed. This is the clear teaching of God’s Word (Rom. 16:17; Gal. 5:9; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Tit. 3:10). We are to confess Christ and his words, not to be ashamed of him and them by remaining silent and communing with those who deny both Christ and his words (Luke 9:26; 12:. As Luther said, those who deny the content of the Catechism deny Christ. We can’t take communion at a church that honors God’s Word as well as at one that denies it in whole or in part.
Well, and if you do not agree with us on what God’s Word teaches, we ask you kindly to respect our communion practice: Please do not come forward to the altar. It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit would enlighten your heart so that , one day, you might be able to join us in joyfully confessing God’s Word in full with the whole Christian Church on earth and in heaven. For this to happen, I do invite you to come to our church to hear God’s Word among us often.May 31, 2006 at 9:33 pm #6387
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