Home > Lord's Supper, Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Eucharist: Doctrine and Practice > The Problem with Closed Communion: Do We Still Believe the Lutheran Confessions are Correct, or Not?

The Problem with Closed Communion: Do We Still Believe the Lutheran Confessions are Correct, or Not?

January 30th, 2013
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One of the most misunderstood and therefore offensive practices in the historic churches of West and East is the practice of limiting participation in the Lord’s Supper to those who have been catechized and received as communicants in a given church. The practice, known most correctly as “closed communion”* is the universal practice throughout both Western and Eastern catholic churches, including, of course, the Lutheran Church, along with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox) churches. The history of this practice is well known and there is simply no denying that it has been the Church’s historic practice. (see Elert’s Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries.)

With the Reformation and the advent of the Zwinglian/Reformed/Calvinist views of the Supper (nuances of difference but finally not much of a difference), and with new understandings of what public confession of the faith meant, and the implications this has for participation in the Lord’s Supper, the entire Reformed wing of the Reformation no longer practiced closed communion and this lack of practicing closed communion spread widely wherever Reformed churches and those churches that spring from the Calvinist Reformation were established (Methodist and modern Baptist and modern Evangelicalism).

Of course, we here in the USA are literally surrounded by congregations that do not practice closed communion. Add now to the mix the fact that no liberal mainline protestant church body regards it necessary for there to be any restriction in who participates int he Supper, this is true for the liberal Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran and Episcopalian churches which are now in full communion fellowship anyway. The trend is now growing in all these church bodies not even to regard baptism to be a prerequisite for Holy Communion. The liberal Lutherans no longer insist that the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper articulated in the Book of Concord is alone the true confession of the Supper, so, in other words, all bets are off and it is, more or less, a “ya’ll come” approach to Supper fellowship, since there no longer is any certainty that in fact the actual body and blood of Christ are under the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Sadly, even many congregations in confessional Lutheran churches think they have found a way to be more “open” about communion fellowship by putting a “statement” in their church bulletin which, in a variety of ways, puts the burden for the decision to commune, or not to commune, on the guest and visitor. Often the statements contain very intentionally vague declarations about “if you believe Jesus is truly present in His Supper” you are welcome to communion. But here is the problem: no self-respecting Christian of any denomination would likely deny that he believes “Jesus is present in His Supper” … in some way or another. And what is more, the Lutheran Confessions know of no practice by which a visitor simply presents himself at a congregations altar without first being examined to find out what it is they seek in the Supper and why they come. And this is hardly possible five minutes before the worship service begins. Let’s be honest about it, shall we? (see LC SA.2).

I’m growing more convinced that the reason that some Lutheran pastors no longer are willing to practice closed communion is because they simply are no longer are willing to insist on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as taught in our Lutheran Confessions. They are no longer willing to regard this assertion in the Augsburg Confession to be absolutely true and binding on them and their ministry and true and binding for any and all who approach the altar for Holy Communion: “Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise.” (AC X) And what is more, as we move further into the Lutheran Confessions we find very helpful ways to ascertain if in fact a person communing does confess the actual, true and real presence of the Lord Christ’s body and blood under the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Have we let convenience preclude adequate, careful, genuinely pastoral care? “Pastoral care” is not, or should not be, a euphemism for actions that reflect this attitude: “I know what our Synod’s stance is, but it seems to me to be unloving, who am I to judge what a person communing thinks or believes? I’ll take the path of least resistance and avoid confrontation and controversy.” Simply because a person says that they want to take Holy Communion is not the grounds on which to commune them. If they do not clearly and accurately believe, teach and confess the basic truths of what the Real Presence actually is all about, they should not be communed, no matter who their parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, grandparents or spouse happen to be.

The great “litmus test” questions for a proper understanding are these:

(1) Do you believe the bread and wine are the Lord’s body and blood? (see SA III.vi)

This is a test to see if the person does believe and confess the unio sacramentalis .

(2) Do you believe that the Lord’s body and blood are put into your mouth and on your tongue? (see FC SD XII.105).

This is a test to see if the person does believe and confess the manducatio oralis

(3) Do you believe all who receive the consecrated bread and wine do actually receive the Lord’s body and blood? (see FC SD XII.26).

This is a test to see if the person properly understands and believes in the manducatio indignorum et impiorum. 

[Pastors, if you have forgotten the meaning and use of these three key Latin phrases, go get your dogmatics text and brush up please!].

But here’s the thing: nobody who can not faithfully answer those questions correctly should be communing, regardless of whether or not they claim to be Lutheran, let alone the casual visitor to a Lutheran congregation. That is, after faithful teaching and instruction, nobody should be admitted to the Supper who can not in good conscience say, “Yes, this if my faith and my confession.” The pastoral application of closed communion is not to be found in “making exceptions” to the confessional standards of the Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, but in discerning when and where a person may be communed who in fact does properly confess the Supper. This is where one may well find exceptions, for any number of valid reasons.

But again, there are no “exceptions” to the confessional standard. This point is sadly lost on far too many pastors, congregations and laity. In other words, just because your Methodist believing and confessing mother-in-law shows up a few times at the Lutheran church every year does not mean she is to be communed, nor the casual visitor to the Lutheran congregation who has been catechized in the Calvinist confession of the Supper, or no confession at all, is not to be communed while holding to this confession. And let’s be honest here: a few brief minutes before the Divine Service starts is hardly the place for pastoral examination and discernment in most cases.

Let it also be very clear: Where a person regularly communes and has thereby given his public witness that this is his confession, that then is his public confession. In other words, to use but one example, a person who communes at the altar of a congregation that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is, by that action, giving public testimony that they consent with what that particular altar represents and stands for. In such a case, presenting oneself for participation in the Sacrament of an orthodox Lutheran congregation is not appropriate unless or until that person has moved away from that public confession within a heterodox church body.

And no, you do not have to require a person to read the Book of Concord. These three key truths are taught quite plainly and simply in the Small Catechism’s Sixth Chief Part.

And so, there you have it, the bottom line is simply this. All Lutheran pastors must examine their conscience and ask themselves this question: “Do I still believe, teach and confess that what the Lutheran Confessions assert about the Lord’s Supper is true, or not?”

 

* Yes, it is most properly “closed communion” not “close communion.” People think “close communion” sounds a bit less harsh. But here’s the point. A door is either open or closed, there is no such thing as a “close” door. The altar is open to some, closed to others. Our Lutheran Confessions make it clear the minister’s duty is both to invite and welcome some to the Altar and to turn others away (see AC XXIV.36).

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  1. EGK
    January 30th, 2013 at 12:03 | #1

    It would be interesting to figure out why Pieper’s clear statement in his Christian Dogmatics did not make it into the English edition. It also is noteworthy that in the German edition, when he says we do not practice “open,” but “closed communion,” The words “open” and “closed communion” are in English. (Christliche Dogmatik 3:444). The English does note the earlier rejection of “open communion.” The context in the English edition is in 3:381. In the English as in the German, the text notes that, in contrast to his preaching the Gospel, he instituted the Lord’s Supper in the “closed circle” of His disciples. Where in the English it goes on to say, “Neither did the Apostlolic Church practice ‘open’ communion,” the German says, “Also the Apostolic Church did not practice ‘open,’ but rather ‘closed communion.’”

    • January 30th, 2013 at 12:20 | #2

      Yes, that is a mystery indeed, and it was obviously not a casual error, but a very deliberate choice not to include it. A very bad decision, indeed.

  2. January 30th, 2013 at 12:21 | #3

    Yes, Roger, precisely why I would never commune at your altar.

  3. Bruce
    January 30th, 2013 at 13:20 | #4

    In the LCMS churches I’ve been to here in Florida, they said we could (as continuing Anglicans) commune even though we showed up only a few minutes before the mass. The WELS churches here are quite clear that they practice closed communion.
    But even the WELS churches here distribute the Blood in little plastic Dixie cups while distributing the chalice only to those members who prefer the old practice (usually a few old people in the congregation). I’m not surprised that a lot of people (clergy and laity alike) don’t believe it is truly the Lord’s Blood when it is served out of a recyclable plastic cup to be discarded after the mass.

    • January 30th, 2013 at 14:41 | #5

      I’m sorry to hear about the LCMS congregations not following through on their confessional commitments as members of The LCMS.

  4. Alan
    January 30th, 2013 at 13:41 | #6

    Rev McCain, as a non-Lutheran, please allow me to say how much I LOVED this post. As someone who has attended non-denominational evangelical churches for my entire life, I’ve grown weary of the “Do you love Jesus? Well then come on up to receive communion even though nobody here knows you from Adam” approach to communion. I’m finding myself increasingly and rapidly drawn to Confessional Lutheranism. When I do visit one of your churches in the near future, I will actually count it as a good thing that as a visitor, I won’t be allowed to come up to the Altar.

    Quick question for you. This will be theoretical for you but for me, it may become my reality in the future. If for some odd reason, you found yourself in a Christian but non-Lutheran church for a Sunday service where they practiced open communion, would you pass on taking communion there? I suspect you would pass but wanted to clarify. Also, can you please briefly explain the reason you would pass? I’m asking in order to educate myself. I suspect that passing is the right thing to do, but I can’t really articulate why it’s the right thing to do. Thanks.

    • January 30th, 2013 at 14:40 | #7

      Hello Alan, thank you for your comment. If I was in a situation such as you describe, no, I would not commune. A non-Lutheran congregation would not be confessing the Lord’s Supper as God’s Word teaches it and I therefore would not wish to participate.

  5. Guillaume
    January 30th, 2013 at 14:54 | #8

    Closed and close communion in “confessional” Baptist circles mean two different things and basically what we supposedly practice would be called close communion.

    For them closed communion is defined as only the members of the congregation are allowed to commune.

    Close communion is when members of congregations which are fellowship in good standing are allowed to commune.

    Just an interesting note.

  6. Angie
    January 30th, 2013 at 19:32 | #9

    @Bruce

    Yes, we WELS do believe it is truly the Lord’s blood.

    • January 31st, 2013 at 08:21 | #10

      I like the old quip about the little “hosts’ we use…. “I have a much easier time believing this is the body of Christ than a piece of bread!”
      :)

  7. January 30th, 2013 at 20:01 | #11

    Thanks for the nice historical background on this topic–which, as a Catholic, I also often have to explain. I appreciate that when I attend Divine Service as a visitor at a local LCMS church, I simply shake my head no when the usher comes to the pew to dismiss us to the altar, and no further explanation is needed.

    One note for your post, the phrasing, “Eastern Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox)” is incorrect. Eastern Catholic is not the equivalent of (or a synonym for) Eastern Orthodox churches. “Eastern Catholics” refers to those sharing in full communion with Latin/Western/Roman Catholics.

    • January 31st, 2013 at 08:20 | #12

      I never let the Roman Catholic Church claim the word “catholic.”

      : )

      There is a Roman Catholic Church and there is an Eastern Catholic church, which many know as “Eastern Orthodox.”

  8. revaggie
    January 31st, 2013 at 09:40 | #13

    The questions you ask are largely in the Small Catechism in the Christian Questions with Answers. My pastoral practice is to use those questions with visitors. During the offering we call people to reflect on the questions to prepare themselves for receiving communion with instructions of if you don’t understand the question or disagree with our confession to please remain seated or come forward with arms crossed for a pastoral blessing and to speak with a pastor.

  9. Thomas
    January 31st, 2013 at 10:05 | #14

    EGK – I have read Pieper in English, but I am not a German reader. Could you please post the statement from Pieper that you are referring to and where exactly it would fit in to the English version. Also, are you aware of where else there were significant changes made in the English translation of Pieper? Thank you!@EGK

  10. Stephen
    January 31st, 2013 at 10:41 | #15

    Rev. McCain,

    Suppose someone who is not Lutheran can honestly answer “yes” to the three questions you posted above. Is it proper for them to then receive the Sacrament at our altar? Our pastor teaches that “closed communion” goes much further than just being able to discern the body and blood of Christ. He reminds us often that wherever there is division between Christians, whether it be by offense or by denominational lines, that division must first be healed before we can commune together. He has six questions he asks before admitting someone to the Table of the Lord – he also includes these in the bulletin each week (along with appropriate Bible references) to aid each communicant in examining themselves before the Supper:

    1) Am I sorry for my sins?

    2) Do I desire, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to amend my sinful life?

    3) Do I believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is my Lord and Savior?

    4) Do I believe that Jesus’ true body and blood are not just symbolically present, but really and truly present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper so that when I eat the bread I am also eating Christ’s body and when I drink the wine I am also drinking Christ’s blood; and do I believe that through this Sacrament I receive the forgiveness of all my sins?

    5) Am I at peace in my heart with all people, forgiving all who have sinned against me, holding no grudges against anyone, and having asked those whom I have sinned against for forgiveness?

    6) (He asks this one of visitors) Am I a member in good standing of a congregation of the LCMS?

    So I guess my question is, if I can answer your three questions “yes” and the first five of our pastor’s questions “yes,” of what importance is where I actually hold “membership” in a congregation? I don’t have any “agenda” in asking this, I’m just curious. Thank you.

    • January 31st, 2013 at 11:23 | #16

      I would want to understand where that person regularly communes, and why, and then, understand why they are presenting themselves at a Lutheran altar and seeking the Sacrament there, kind of what your pastor is doing. I am pretty much convinced most non-Lutherans can not, in all honestly, assent to the three key “litmus test” questions though.

  11. John Osborn
    January 31st, 2013 at 11:47 | #17

    ptmccain :
    Hello Alan, thank you for your comment. If I was in a situation such as you describe, no, I would not commune. A non-Lutheran congregation would not be confessing the Lord’s Supper as God’s Word teaches it and I therefore would not wish to participate.

    Interesting. I was confirmed here at St. James Lutheran over the summer, and I returned to Lutheran practice almost exclusively over the issue of Communion. There is a dignity, a beauty, and a real power to Communion as sacrament that is absent in churches that do not preach the Real Presence.
    Over my school’s Christmas break, however, I returned home and to what has been my home church for years…a non-denominational church that my family attends. I love the people there. They are family, in a way my ‘chosen’ church has yet to become. One of the last services was communion. The doctrinal statement teaches, “We believe that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ for commemoration of His death,” and nothing more. I partook. Right, wrong, or indifferent?

    • January 31st, 2013 at 12:08 | #18

      Wrong, but you did not receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, since they deny that and do not honor our Lord’s Word, therefore, no Sacrament. But, wrong, because you were confessing by participating that you agree with their beliefs and are one with them in doctrine, which you are not.

  12. Dennis
    January 31st, 2013 at 13:46 | #19

    One “simple” question. If passing the “litmus test” is enough for admittance to the Table. Could not a member of the ELCA “pass” this test and be permitted to receive the Body and Blood at the Lord’s Table?

    • January 31st, 2013 at 13:51 | #20

      No, as long as a person knowingly continues to commune at an altar of a heterodox church body, they are thereby making a public confession that they in fact concur with, at worst, or at best, simply consent to it by their continuing fellowship at that altar.

      I will revise the article to make this point clear, although…

      I would not expect many ELCA members to be able to affirm the reality of the Lutheran Confessions teaching since they are specifically catechized now that such assertions are NOT the absolutely and only truth about the Supper.

  13. michael
    January 31st, 2013 at 14:36 | #21

    What if they are still communing at an ELCA altar which has the same doctrinal understanding of the Lord’s Supper and their home congreagtion asserts the same truth about the Supper.

    • January 31st, 2013 at 15:20 | #22

      A congregation is responsible for its confessional affiliation and is not a “free agent.” Unless and until an ELCA congregation removes itself from the ELCA it is, by its membership, giving its de facto consent to the apostasy that has overtaken the ELCA. Unless we are willing simply to say that confessional identity and public affiliation with the ELCA is meaningless, then we must be consistent. To do otherwise is to perpetrate a public lie.

      I can however see where perhaps a very public declaration by a given ELCA pastor or congregation that it is in a formal state of confession over against the ELCA and a very clear denunciation and renunciation of the ELCA’s errors would be something take into consideration in these potentially messy situations.

  14. Lawrence Duffield
    January 31st, 2013 at 15:09 | #23

    As a former ELCA member, now NALC, I’d like to remind everyone for the record that there are still confessional Lutherans in the ELCA who do, in fact completely agree with Real Presence at the Lord’s Supper, and who hold to the catholic tradition. There are all sorts of reasons besides Confessional agreement (including LCMS’ Reformed influenced definition of Biblical inerrancy and infallibility which goes well beyond the Book of Concord and opposition to Women’s Ordination, also well beyond both Concord and the scriptures, to name two).

    We’re wasting our time on earth fighting amongst one another for pharisaic purity while the world goes pagan around us. There is a reason why Satis Est was put forward, and it WASN’T so we could quibble around the edges of the Gospel or multiply the Commandments, but so we could get on with telling the world the Good News. How can the lost see the Light of the World past the torches and pitchforks of the righteous?

    Your effort to know, understand and confess the truth is wonderful. The note of satisfaction as you assert your pastoral duty to stand between someone who may well be a fellow Christian and Jesus’ body and blood at His table, less so. We’re called to be Jesus’ maitre d’, not his bouncer, right?

    jus’ sayin’

    • January 31st, 2013 at 15:17 | #24

      Hello Lawrence, thanks for your note and I do appreciate the fact that there are persons in the ELCA who do wish to be and remain Lutheran and earnestly desire their church body to abandon its current direction. As you note in your response, our two church bodies however remain far apart from one another in doctrine and practice, and you have mentioned, frankly, only a few issues, with many even more extensively problematic and at the root of the ELCA’s problems. Interestingly, the ELCA rejection of the historic Christian and Lutheran understanding of the nature and authority of God’s Word is precisely at the very heart of the problems in the ELCA. You are, of course, entirely incorrect when you assert that The LCMS postion on the inspiration and therefore infallibility/inerrancy of Scripture is a “Reformed” doctrine. That is a baseless canard Lutheran liberals have put forward and sadly, influenced persons such as yourself actually to believe that.

      The Satis Est is not a minimal standard for Church Fellowship but captures the very heart of the Church and we do not agree merely in generalities about the Gospel or Sacraments, but the “rightly preached” and “correctly administered” Gospel and Sacraments.

      Persons who, by their communion at a heterodox altar of the ELCA regularly, are willing to continue to give their consent to the public apostasy of that church body should be encouraged to find their fellowship elsewhere, but until they do, they are not to be communed at an orthodox Lutheran altar. This is the historic practice both of the church catholic and the Lutheran Church.

  15. michael
    January 31st, 2013 at 15:53 | #25

    In terms of the other means of grace, baptism, since we accept as valid a baptism from another church body who has the same doctrinal position on that sacrament as we; could it be that we may be able to commune an individual from the ELCA if that individual has the exact same belief as we do about the sacrament of Holy Communon? Or is it possible we are demanding more for admission than is absolutely required for its salutary use?

    • January 31st, 2013 at 15:59 | #26

      Frankly, I’m no longer certain how to take the ELCA’s confession of belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, since most of its theological faculties call into question the doctrine and its “development” in the Church. It’s chief doctrinal textbooks do this as well and its de facto confession of who and what God is, is severely compromised by its passionate resistance on the level of the national church body to avoid any references to God’s self-revelation of Himself as Father. These are indeed grave issues and important questions.

      And now to your two questions: The answers would be, “no” and “no.”

      Read the responses I’ve made to other comments below this one for more information.

  16. John Osborn
    January 31st, 2013 at 16:06 | #27

    ptmccain :
    Wrong, but you did not receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, since they deny that and do not honor our Lord’s Word, therefore, no Sacrament. But, wrong, because you were confessing by participating that you agree with their beliefs and are one with them in doctrine, which you are not.

    But there is nothing in that doctrine that contradicts the proper understanding of scripture…it simply doesn’t take that extra step to overtly agree with it. Is failure to fully endorse an overt contradiction, or am I missing something here?

    • January 31st, 2013 at 16:08 | #28

      Yes, you are missing something here.

      A congregation that denies that Christ Jesus our Lord is actually present, bodily, under the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in a way that we can not, of course, ever comprehend, is denying their Lord’s teaching. As such we are not to fellowship with them, and since they reject Christ’s Sacrament and deny His words, all they have on their “table” is bread and wine, and it does nothing.

  17. Jerry Smith
    January 31st, 2013 at 18:17 | #29

    Excellent post, Rev. McClain. Thank you for the great explanation!

  18. EGK
    February 1st, 2013 at 11:55 | #30

    Thomas at #19: The place in question is in 3:381. In the last paragraph Pieper in English has the sentence, “Neither did the Apostolic Church practice ‘open’ Communion.” A full translation of the German should read, “Also the Apostolic Church did not practice ‘open,’ but rather ‘closed communion.’” As for other places, I have not done a full comparison of the two, so cannot really answer that question. This one came up when the Lutheran Church – Canada CTCR was preparing its document, “Closed Communion” in Contemporary Context.” There were a lot of LCC pastors who disliked the word “closed” rather than “close,” even though the document went into detail describing “closed” as the proper term. You can find our document on the LCC website, http://www.lutheranchurch.ca. Historically, it seems that the term “close” communion entered into popularity with John Fritz’s Pastoral Theology. Pieper also has a lengthy quote from C.P. Krauth on the Biblical doctrine, which I am pleased to see made the English edition, pp. 311-12.

  19. EGK
    February 1st, 2013 at 12:09 | #31

    Just a couple more comments: The only person you have a “right” to receive the sacrament from is your own pastor. In LCMS and LCC, who are in fellowship with each other and a number of other churches in the world, any extension of this to other congregations in which we are in fellowship is a matter of privelege, and should be done by letting the pastor know beforehand that you are a member in good standing of a congregation in that fellowship. I am old enough to remember when at the time you went off to university you were given a card by your pastor which declared that you were a member in good standing so that the university’s campus pastor would be assured. Also in LOGIA 5.3,Holy Trinity 1996, there is an excellent article by Sasse in which he notes why “selective fellowhip,” that is, ann individual congregation’s fellowship with orthodox congregations within other church bodies we are not in fellowship with, is not proper.

  20. Mark Lundgren
    February 1st, 2013 at 20:40 | #32

    @ptmccain
    “you did not receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, since they deny that ”
    A rather bold statement considering you’ve seen only one brief statement regarding their understanding. Be that as it may…..I fear you seem to be making the validity of the Sacrament based on the church or minister. Does not the power of the Sacrament rest in the Word of God? If the Word is applied, is it Communion or not? Even if they deny the Real Presence but use God’s Word in the Meal, has the power of God’s Word suddenly been taken away? St. Paul seems to indicate that the Lord’s Supper is going on regardless–and people are taking it to their detriment. Isn’t one of the reasons for closed communion the “protection” of the ignorant/unrepentant?

    • February 2nd, 2013 at 05:19 | #33

      Mark, the Lutheran Confessions state that in a church that denies the Lord’s Words by denying his actual presence under bread and wine, thus perverting Christ’s Word, they have only bread and wine. See Formula of Concord, Article VII, par. 32:

      After this protestation, Doctor Luther, of blessed memory, presents, among other articles, this also: In the same manner I also speak and confess (he says) concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, that there the body and blood of Christ are in truth orally eaten and drunk in the bread and wine, even though the priests [ministers] who administer it [the Lord's Supper], or those who receive it, should not believe or otherwise misuse it. For it does not depend upon the faith or unbelief of men, but upon God’s Word and ordinance, unless they first change God’s Word and ordinance and interpret it otherwise, as the enemies of the Sacrament do at the present day, who, of course, have nothing but bread and wine; for they also do not have the words and appointed ordinance of God, but have perverted and changed them according to their own [false] notion. Fol. 245.

  21. J
    February 4th, 2013 at 16:50 | #34

    Thanks for the clear statement of the starting point (not the ending point) of discerning who is welcome at the Lord’s table. I do wish the Galesburg rule (in which the LCMS never participated) could have been our North American Lutheran “rule of thumb.”

  22. Rev. Timothy Stout
    February 5th, 2013 at 17:17 | #35

    I have a door in my house that is “close.” The house has settled since the door was installed, so the beveled bolt no longer lines up with the hole that was bored into the frame for it. You can shut that door all day long, but it will never stay closed. Once in a while it will look closed, but it is only “close.” Just give it a nudge and it is opened. That is the true difference between “closed” and “close” communion.

    When people accuse me of being “unloving” because of my closed communion stance and practice, I just ask them if they are accusing me of not loving my Methodist mother. It has not always been easy for her to accept. For a while she was convinced that her church and ours are really not that different in their doctrine of holy communion. It is because she only knew what the pastor says during the liturgy when they have communion. He takes up the bread and says the words of Jesus, “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you,” and likewise with the cup. It was not until we were sitting together in a Bible Study class shortly after my father’s funeral and the pastor decided to take me to task on the issue. He once comforted my mother, explaining that they do not practice closed communion because Jesus never told us to in the “red words of Jesus.” So when he said, “In our church we believe that the bread and wine only represent the body and blood of our Lord, what does your church believe,” I replied, “We just believe the red words of Jesus, ‘This is my body, this cup is my blood.’” My mother was shocked and has never brought it up again.

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