Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Closed Communion: Why We Practice It

Pastor’s Window for July 2009
Closed Communion: Why We Practice It

Beloved in the Lord, please read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, with special attention to vv. 27-32.

Last month we discussed what closed communion is. Closed communion is the practice of admitting to the Lord’s Supper only those who have been instructed in Lutheran doctrine (usually via Luther’s Small Catechism) and are baptized and confirmed members of an LCMS congregation, who also confess that in the Lord’s Supper they receive the true body and blood of Christ in their mouths for the forgiveness of their sins. The pastor is responsible for admitting or not admitting to the Lord’s Supper as a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1), and the elders serve him as assistants in this difficult task.

Why do we practice closed communion? The answer is simple: Love. And yet, it’s not so simple, because it doesn’t seem very loving to exclude anyone from the Lord’s Table. I will grant that closed communion is not nice. But love is not always nice. Nor is there any command in the Holy Scriptures to be nice (kind, yes, nice, no… There’s a difference, but that’s another article for another month). Love, real love, biblical love, and not the superficial dross that is often paraded as love in our culture… love says and does hard things. Only love would motivate me to do something that is for my neighbor’s good when I know it will cause my neighbor to dislike or even hate me for it. We often call this “tough love,” and for good reason. Love is tough. It isn’t easy. Love is hard. It calls us to say and do things for the benefit of our neighbor that we would rather not say and do. If our loved one is doing something destructive to his or her body or family or another person, love calls upon us to speak up, and maybe even take action against our loved one for his or her own protection and good. Our loved one will not feel loved if this is the case. He will probably dislike or maybe even hate us. But it is a mark of true love to bear this burden for the sake of the one we love.

Closed communion is tough love. It calls upon unbelievers as well as our Christian brothers and sisters who cannot commune with us to repent of false doctrine and sin. It calls upon them to leave heterodox (false teaching) church bodies and join us in confessing Scriptural truth. We don’t practice closed communion out of arrogance, or because we think we are better or holier than other Christians. We practice it for the protection and instruction of our neighbor. St. Paul writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27; ESV). Those who eat and drink “without discerning the body,” in other words, those who do not recognize our Lord’s true body and blood received orally under the bread and wine in the Supper, eat and drink judgment on themselves (v. 29). God spare us all from this! Those who eat and drink without first examining themselves, what they believe, if they know they are sinful and are sorry for their sins, and whether they expect the forgiveness of Christ in the Supper, eat and drink in an unworthy manner (cf. v. 28). The unrepentant eat and drink, not for their forgiveness, life, and salvation, but to their judgment. Apparently some in the Corinthian congregation got sick and even died from eating in an unworthy manner (v. 30). There are spiritual consequences (judgment) and physical consequences (sickness, death) to eating and drinking unworthily. We practice closed communion so as to spare our brothers and sisters from these consequences, and to teach them so that they may join us at the altar in the future.

This is not easy, and I never enjoy excluding anyone from the Supper. But again, love does and says hard things. Love warns against sin and false doctrine. Love reproves and rebukes. Love disciplines. But always with the goal of restoring the repentant sinner. The goal of closed communion is always to invite the person excluded, through instruction and confession of faith, to join us at the altar. But closed communion also says that we take this Sacrament seriously. We regard it as holy and powerful, the very body and blood of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and therefore not to be taken lightly. You wouldn’t jump out of an airplane without skydiving instruction first, right? How much more should we not come to the altar without instruction, without being assured that we are using this Sacrament rightly? The Sacrament of the Altar is for repentant sinners who have been baptized and instructed in the Christian faith, especially about the Lord’s Supper, and who have confessed their agreement with that instruction.

So who uses this Sacrament rightly? That leads us to next month’s topic: Closed Communion: Who Should Commune?

Pastor Krenz

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