Close(d) Communion Across Three States

At the 2006, Texas District Convention, my congregation submitted the following resolution: Subject: To Clarify Synod’s Reaffirmation of Close(d) Communion

WHEREAS, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in convention from 1967 through 1995 has repeatedly reaffirmed its historic position of close(d) Communion; and

WHEREAS, These resolutions state that in some “special cases,” and in “extraordinary circumstances,” a pastor may commune someone who is a member of a denomination not in fellowship with the LCMS; and

WHEREAS, The current practice of many congregations publicly inviting all baptized Christians who believe in the Real Presence and who agree with our doctrine to commune regardless of their church affiliation makes what we agree should be special and extraordinary to be common and ordinary; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That publicly inviting all baptized Christians who believe in the Real Presence and agree with our doctrine even though they are not members of a Missouri Synod Congregation is contrary to our official position of close(d) Communion and is to be discontinued.  Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin

Three things: My problem with pastors and churches has never been their much touted pastoral exceptions, but having an Olly olly oxen free statement. Second, do note that today virtually no open Communion congregation mentions being baptized or believing in the Real Presence. Third, when was the last time the LCMS, INC. reaffirmed Closed Communion?

Back to those halcyon, salad days of 2006: When attending the Floor Committee, they either really were ignorant that the above went on or feigned such. They asked if I had examples from Texas. I had 12. A ripple went through the room. Eighteen years later there is no shortage of congregations inviting all Christians, all baptized, all Lutherans etc..

Below are three Communion Statements that span three states. Determine if someone who confesses the Scriptural doctrine of Closed Communion could commune there.

First up is Peace Lutheran, Rapid City, SD on July 10, 2022: “Welcome to Peace Lutheran! We practice close communion in which reception of the Lord’s Supper is reserved for those instructed concerning the Sacrament* (Footnote cites 1 Cor. 11:17-20;27-29 and Luther’s Small Catechism page 231-245.) and are in fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. If these are your beliefs…. *I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior from sin, death and Satan; * I believe that Christ is present in the Sacrament, and that in, with, and under the bread and wine, I receive the true Body and Blood of Christ; *I believe that the chief blessing in the Sacrament is the forgiveness of my sins; ….We welcome you in reception of the Lord’s Supper. If you have any questions please talk with Pastor or an Elder prior to Communion” (From their Attendance Record card in the bulletin. All boldness is theirs).

This is open Communion. Concordia Published Closed Communion? 5 years ago which should have put a nail in the usage of ‘close’ rather than ‘closed’ Communion. But that in itself doesn’t make this altar open. Maybe they are not aware they are saying contradicting things. The first part says Communion is reserved for those instructed and in fellowship with the LCMS. The second says that if you believe in Jesus as your Savior, His body and blood are present in the bread and wine, and that forgiveness is the chief blessing in the Sacrament, “we welcome you in reception of the Lord’s Supper.” All Catholics, all Lutherans, and most Episcopalians could come to this altar.

Our Redeemer Lutheran Columbia Falls, Montana, Sunday July 17, 2022: “In the Lord’s Supper we believe that we truly receive the body and blood Jesus with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:26-28; I Corinthians 10:16). We do not believe that it merely represents His body or blood, but according to Jesus’ Word and promise that He is miraculously, truly present.  “Because this precious gift is highly regarded in the Scripture (I Corinthians 11:26) we are convinced that those who commune with us ought to agree with us in doctrine and practice (I Corinthians 10:17). Further, Scripture warns against receiving the Lord’s Supper without ‘recognizing the body of the Lord’ because one ‘eats and drinks judgment on himself.’ (I Corinthians 11:27-29). We ask you to respect that conviction if you are visiting, please speak with out Pastor before coming to the table” (bold original). This is closed Communion.

How about Immanuel Lutheran Church, Clovis, NM on July 24, 2022? On page 2 of the bulletin we read: Guests and Visitors, welcome in the name of the Lord! As a member congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we practice ‘close(d) communion’ (I Corinthians 10:11; and I John 1, Hebrews 10:26ff) because of the Holy Bible’s witness that doctrinal unity confessed is central to common reception of the Lord’s Supper. If you’ve not been catechized in the basics of the Christian faith, we respectfully ask that you speak with the pastor before approaching the altar. Thank you for understanding and respecting our position on this important sacramental matter. If you are looking for a church home or have any questions, we would enjoy speaking with you.”

But on page 4 we read this: “Before coming to Holy Communion, the Apostle St. Paul (as does Martin Luther in his Small Catechism) reminds us that each one should examine oneself, discerning rightly the Body and Blood of Christ in this Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins (I Cor. 11:26-29). If you are not a confirmed member ‘in good standing’ with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (i.e. a young unconfirmed Lutheran, a member of another church fellowship, have an unresolved matter, or living an open life style outside of God’s Commandments) please speak with the Pastor before approaching the altar; or, if you come with other family members, please cross your hands over your heart indicating that the Pastor is to give you a verbal blessing.”

This too is Closed Communion. However, I would refer them to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations 1999 study which says that Paul’s admonition, “Let a man examine himself” doesn’t apply to the Methodist, Baptist, other Lutheran, or any one else visiting your altar. Paul is writing to his members not visitors.

Overall, what I don’t like about these statement is they are mewly, apologetic, wordy, and sometimes confusing. One of the churches that does have closed Communion is more dogmatic about when you can come into the Divine Service than who can commune. You can come in here and here. You can’t come in elsewhere.

Everyone has seen those signs saying, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” But it’s not just no shirt, no shoes, but no apologies either. We who have in on hands the very Body of God on earth today have a duty to warn about and guard what is really here, but no duty to apologize or even explain why not everyone can have it.

The pharmacist makes no apologies or explanations for why I can’t have medicine except with a doctor’s prescription. Who doesn’t return to a store for that reason? But who would want a person miffed because they were refused “service” returning? I would. Some of my best pastoral relationships over the decades started with all most brawls with a person who wanted to bum-rush the altar.

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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