Sunday, September 14, 2014
A million years ago when I went off to college 450 miles away from home, my pastor gave me a communion card for my wallet -- to be presented wherever I might go to commune to show that I was indeed a member in good standing at an LCMS congregation. Never mind the obvious incongruity of sending a college student out to an 18 age drinking state for college and still remaining in "good standing," the intent was pious and salutary. I used the card often (though the norm then was no more than a monthly celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar so it was not used as often as one might think). Nearly all our LCMS parishes (and many other Lutherans as well) practiced the discipline of the Lord's table.
The inherent weakness of the communion card was the fact that closed communion never was predicated upon membership but on faith and confession. In other words, closed communion was never about a membership card but about examination and confession and absolution. We still struggle with this disconnect from the practice assumed by our Confessions. We speak of closed communion in terms of which church bodies we are in fellowship with (not that this is, in and of itself, bad) but not in terms of the communicant being examined, his confession heard, and absolution rendered. We commune those from congregations with whom we are in formal altar and public fellowship and not communing those from heterodox churches -- and so we should -- but this is not what the Confessions have in mind. This is not the same as examining and absolving those who desire to receive the Lord's body and blood. A side benefit of this was that the Pastor knew how many hosts to put out because he knew how many he had examined and absolved before the mass.
I honestly grow weary of the way close(d) communion is debated today. It is a fools errand on both sides to move the fence in or out (or as the ELCA is doing, remove it all together). It ought to focus upon the communicant, upon examination of the communicant, the confession of the communicant, and absolution of the communicant. Until this happens the whole darn debate will sound like the rudeness of some to exclude and the lack of love on others to include those who cannot receive it to their benefit (no baptism or faith). It trivializes what St. Paul speaks so solemnly of in discerning and recognizing the body of Christ. I honestly wish that the whole focus of this debate were framed back where our Confessions insist it ought to be -- on the examination and confession [and absolution] before the communicant is given the body and blood of the Lord. Apart from this context, the whole thing is just plain obtuse to most of us.