Closed versus Close

I recently listened to an excellent presentation by a brother in the ministry on this topic.  He gave it to his circuit.  He went over the history of these two words and how they jumped from the Baptist to the Lutherans and how they once were considered synonymous now they are not.  Close is used to save the conscience of the pastor practicing open Communion to the delight of his flesh and the satisfaction of his unfaithful people.

Probably shouldn’t have broken there.  The last sentence was mine not the brother’s.  This next paragraph is neithers but it was presented by the brother to his circuit. “Accordingly Christians should not deal with any manifest sinner, with any despiser of the Christian congregation, with anyone who would not submit to discipline, or with any unbeliever or false believer as if they stood in brotherly faith fellowship with him. Here every preacher has the precise instructions that God’s Word gives him about the administration of the Sacrament. It is obvious that all those with whom Christians cannot maintain any brotherly faith fellowship, should also, according to God’s Word, not be admitted to the reception of the Sacrament, by which the most inward brotherly faith fellowship is established and expressed.  What are those preachers doing who admit anyone without distinction? They are proving that they are unfaithful, frivolous stewards over God’s mysteries. They are interfering with God the Lord in His office and setting themselves up as lords over His holy Sacrament, when they should be its ministers. If they do not come to their senses in time, woe to them forever and eternally!” This statement is from C. F. W. Walther in his Pastoral Theology (Drickamer Translation, p. 114)

That stirred those who were listening to the presentation.  They couldn’t believe Walther really said that. But he did.  Maybe words like that will shake our synod out of the theologically complacency that says closed, close, potato, potahto, meh?  As diverse sources as Edward Gibbon who writes of Christian history with a sneer and Herman Sasse who is a favorite theologian of the current LCMS president say differently.

First the sneerer: Arians would confess the Son was different from all other creatures but they denied he was either of the same or a similar substance as God.  The divide was between Homoousians and Homoiousians.  “As it frequently happens that the sounds and characters which approach the nearest to each other accidently represent the most opposite ideas” (Decline and Fall of Roman, 330). Here Gibbon isn’t sneering but keenly observing what we pretend not to see.  There is a huge difference now expressed in the words close and closed when it comes to Communion.

Second President Harrison’s favorite theologian: The Reformed say the controversy between Lutherans and them in regard to the Lord’s Supper is about the mode of presence not the presence itself.  It’s about how the body and blood are present.  That they are present everyone agrees according to Reformed theologians.  “To this, the old orthodox theologians countered that in this way any doctrinal question could be easily set aside.  One could say that between the Arians and the Nicaeans there was complete unity regarding the biblical statement ‘God was in Christ,’ they just could not agree on the how of this presence” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, II, 88).  Today the open Communion crowd says there is complete unity regarding the synodical statement “We practice closed Communion;” we just can’t agree on how to practice it.

Concede this point and the whole discussion changes as it did with the Arians and the Reformed centuries ago.  As the Arians wanted to pretend they were not saying something different than the orthodox and the Reformed wanted to pretend the debate was over how not what, so now the open Communion crowd wants to talk about “responsible pastoral care” and “emergencies.”  And as the Arians and the Reformed said so say defenders of open Communion: We are quibbling about words, semantics, logomania.

In a Synod that claims to still believe “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, “ and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” we better be willing to quibble about words if there is any doubt about whether we are really saying the same things as Paul urges us to in I Corinthians 1:10.

You can say potato and I can say potahto; you can say Caiaphas and I CaIaphas; you can even say close and I can say closed.  We just can’t pretend that we’re really saying the same thing when we know we’re not.  If we do, we will make no strides in the direction of koinonia. We will, however, make leaps and bounds toward hypocrisy and judgment.


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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