American Lying

“’I do not believe that any who shall be so fortunate as to be received into heaven through the atonement of our blessed Savior will be asked whether they belonged to the Presbyterian, the Methodist, the Episcopalian, the Baptist, or the Roman Catholic [faith]’” (American Lion, 206-7). Thus spoke President Andrew Jackson, the American Lion, while in the White House, and I agree with him.

Those of us who practice closed Communion are maligned as if we believed only we were going to heaven.  None of us have ever said anything like this.  But neither have we said what the open Communion crowd frequently says: Since we will be in heaven together, we ought to share Communion on earth.

Admittedly our position can seem contradictory.  It’s like our position on abortion and the death penalty.  On Biblical grounds we are opposed to the first but not to the second.  The Fifth Commandment forbids the former but not the latter.  Likewise, Scripture calls all those saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith brothers and sisters in Christ, but it doesn’t call all Christians to the same Communion table.

When you’re in discussions with those who practice open Communion, they defend it in the name of love never in the name of truth.  Why?  Because truth is precisely the point at issue.  We can’t pretend to agree when we disagree. We won’t do this in sports or politics why would we do it in religion?

I spoke too soon.  The open Communion crowd does defend their practice in the name of truth. They say: The truth can’t be known this side of heaven. Who are we to say we have it?  Though St. Paul says it’s possible for all to speak the same things (I Cor. 1:10), they say that it’s not.  Though Jesus says you will know the truth, they say no we can’t.  Though St. Paul says a little leaven leavens the whole lump, they say, “We agree on more than we disagree on.  There are only small differences between us.”

Though truth doesn’t admit of degrees, the open Communion crowd always speaks in those terms: More and less faithfulness; better or worse doctrine.  Even President Harrison slips into these categories.  In his November 2012 Witness article he speaks of LCMS congregations communing non-LCMS members at their altars for decades.  He recommends that “the circuit counselor, vacancy pastor, or even district president let the congregation know (very charitably, to be sure) that its practice needs to improve before it calls a new pastor” (Pastor and Congregation 101, emphasis mine, handling of ecclesiastical supervisors and confronting those in error with kid gloves, all his).

This is a call to more faithfulness and better doctrine rather than a call to repent.  Rather than speaking with the boldness of the American Lion, Andrew Jackson, we are engaging in American lying: all faiths are equal; there are no false doctrines; no one needs to repent; we all need to improve.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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