Friday, August 8, 2008

Closed Communion Commentary

Closed Communion (in reality, the word "close" means the same thing) is one of the most misunderstood doctrines of our church. Not long ago I read a blog post where the non-LCMS author described his visit to an LCMS church and his discomfort with the communion statement and policy. The comments by Rev. Larry Beane, of Father Hollywood fame, struck me as particularly helpful without pulling any punches.

Here's how Pr. Beane replied:
I also cringe at a lot of the "communion statements" in LCMS churches (I'm an LCMS pastor) - as they really do give the impression that the issue is formal synodical membership, or some "Lutheran meaning."

That's not the issue.

The issue is confessional. If you confess what we confess, you are welcome to commune. If you don't share our confession, it would be wrong for us to offer and wrong for you to partake. We give benefit of the doubt to other LCMS members. Non-LCMS members can commune if their churches are in fellowship with the LCMS.

It's really the same practice as the early church. Fellowship was bishop to bishop.

If I visit a Roman Church, I abstain, since our churches are not in fellowship. I show respect to my hosts by not swaggering to the chancel and challenging the pastor to commune me, and they show respect to me by not putting me into a position of publicly repudiating my own confession.

Closed communion is really mutual respect of sincerely held differences in confession.

Non-Lutherans give a confused confession when they present themselves for communion at Lutheran altars. Catholics who commune at our altars are renouncing the papacy. Reformed who commune at our altars are renouncing the Westminster Confession. If you really want to do that, then why not join our church? And if not, then what's the problem in simply abstaining from communion?

The division in the church is a shame, but let's be honest and admit the fact that it exists. Don't get offended when you visit another church and their customs and approach to the faith are different. You are a guest.

Nobody is saying you are any less a Christian, less sanctified, less worthy, less a child of God, less redeemed, etc. We're simply saying that your Westminster Confession, or your canons of the Council of Trent, put our churches out of fellowship. It's not personal. Similarly, I cannot preach at a Roman or Reformed pulpit. It would be hypocritical to do so.

We can't just wish differences in confession away.

And, BTW, I agree that "Christian" in the creeds is a bad translation. But it predates Luther by a century when the word "Christliche" was how the German Catholics translated "catholicam" from the Latin (at that time, they had no word "Katholische"). LCMS Lutherans spoke German up until the 20th century. We *should* use the word "catholic" now that we have been using English for so long. These things take time. ;-) At least there is a "catholic" footnote in our new hymnal, and the Athanasian Creed does shamelessly use the word "catholic."

The fact that we use an un-catholic, sectarian translation for the very word "catholic" (which repudiates sectarianism) is a sad irony. But it is an accident of history.


Anonymous said...

Close Communion means Closed Communion (confirmed members in good standing from a sister LCMS congregation or one in fellowship with the LCMS) except in extremely rare cases to be dealt with on individual cases by the pastor.

Unfortunately, many congregations now translate "extremely rare cases" as "every Sunday" and the district presidents aren't doing anything about it.

Kurt Onken said...

Or the DP's think it's okay.

I can't tell you the number of times a non-LCMS visitor has told me that they thought it was okay to commune with us because they did so at a relative's church. Even if the visitor balked at their relative's church, the relative tells them, "Oh, go ahead. Everyone can commune here." Heard this many times from folks.

Anonymous said...

Recently a church council member, when addressing a decline in our Sunday attendance, starts telling me how his relative's church has open Communion.

I shake my head, wondering where this is going, and say that his relative's church shouldn't be doing that.

"I know", he says, "I'm just telling you what they're doing."

...And the entire synod follows itself over a cliff.