Saturday, February 18, 2012
The Goal of Close(d) Communion
Open communion is not really open at all. It takes nothing seriously -- least of all the Body and Blood of Christ. So therefore the table becomes the domain of any and all who wish to come, without respect to faith or its lack and truth and its antithesis. It ends up being not really communion at all but separate and distinct individuals coming together in the same place but keeping their own personal faith and convictions about what they are doing, what they are receiving, and what it all means. In a sense, this protects the barriers to real communion by virtually assuring that their oneness in the participation in the Body and Blood is a false unity, a paper unity. In open communion none is captive to the Word and none is obligated to the eternal truth and doctrine of Christ. The free reign of thought, opinion, and feeling means that we have little communion with Christ and less communion with the person next to us at the rail.
That said, the purpose of close(d) communion is not to restrict or to fence the altar but to make sure that this communion in the Body and Blood of Christ is as full and complete as possible -- as the Word and will of Christ expect. The goal of close(d) communion is not to keep away but to include as many as can be included. The communicants need not satisfy the celebrant that they are orthodox or worthy but that they possess faith -- not a personalized version of this faith but THE faith imparted in baptism, confessed in the creed, resulting in repentance, and that recognizes and trusts in the Body and Blood of Christ now given and distributed in the bread and wine of His testament.
The Pastor's good stewardship of the mystery is to encourage and foster this communion in the Body and Blood of Christ and its consonant communion in doctrine and practice. It is with great regret and sadness that circumstances exist in which this communion in the faith does not exist and therefore its expression at the Table of the Lord is precluded. Any Pastor who takes delight in this fracture has failed to understand the goal and purpose of close(d) communion and has put himself in a place of judgment reserved only for Christ. Our goal and purpose is to expand the fellowship of the altar but only by taking seriously those things that stand in its way and not offering to Christ a false unity in which differences are overlooked.
It is only with the greatest of sadness that I observe those who cannot yet commune with us. It is my purpose as Pastor to work toward resolution of this broken state of our life together (even as our Synod works to resolve such brokenness with other church bodies toward the goal of full communion). As a Pastor I am called to charity and charitable judgment. This means I am to work for inclusion and not against. In the same way, however, such communion must seek to express the fullest unity possible. We cannot settle for minimums necessary -- merely adding a place at the rail while ignoring our differences in confession will not glorify God nor help the cause of genuine unity.
It is equally as troubling when people exclude themselves from the Sacrament even when they are in public fellowship together (within the Synod or between Synods in fellowship). Here I am thinking of those Pastors within our own church body who have willingly separated themselves from their brothers and sisters in Christ. My point is not to say that such occasions when you must absent yourself from the altar rail do not exist. My point here is to say that the attitude must begin not from the perspective of finding cause why I will not commune but working to find every reason and cause why I should. Clearly there are some in the LCMS who look for reasons not to commune instead of trying to find reason why we as members of the same church can and should be together at the rail.
Close(d) communion is not, therefore, a means of excluding but is actually the one honest means toward authentic communion at the Table and in the confession of faith. Those given stewardship of the mystery have the burden not merely of marking well the divisions that preclude our life together at the rail but of working to overcome such divisions.