Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Goal of Close(d) Communion

One problem with close(d) communion is the presumption that the goal of it all is to exclude folks from the Table of the Lord.  Truth to be told, it has certainly been used in that way.  There are those who use a fine tooth comb to pull away the questionable ones and to make sure that those assembled at the rail are fully orthodox and fully in communion with the others assembled there.  Such is an abuse of the close(d) communion purpose.

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.


Anonymous said...

"Open communion is not really open at all."

Or maybe it is open but not really communion at all, as there is no common confession.

Anonymous said...

I thought "close" was a typo in a document way back when.

"The earliest use of close communion comes from a mistranslation of the Lutheran theologian Franz August Otto Pieper's Christian Dogmatics. The term has since spread, although both the first edition and later translations corrected the error to "closed communion."

Anonymous said...

Great article on closed communion and why the Bible and Confessions teach it, and we practice it. But, why the "d" in parentheses? That's confusing to people.

Anonymous said...

The "d" is in parenthesis to highlight the two senses.

A) Closed as in open vs. closed.

B) Close as in far vs. close. That is celebrating communion with those of like faith - A "close-knit" community.

Anonymous said...

There are two things that have always bothered me about “closed” communion:

1. Did our Lord allow Judas to participate when the Lord’s Supper was instituted?

2. Where in Scripture does it say that the pastor has the right to determine who does and who does not receive Holy Communion. When St. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12, “Examine yourselves”, or “Let a man examine himself,” it would seem that the recipient is responsible for himself, not the celebrant. Or does the “stewards of God’s mysteries” allow for a broad interpretation like the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, so that it covers every possible right and power?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Brenda Aguado said...

My question for over 10 years has been the same as George Marquart's above.

I see in the New Testament that Jesus offered the sop to Judas and he received it and then fled. It doesnt say that Jesus denied Judas the sop. And I still havent found anything in Concordia(newest edition) or the 1959 Book of Concord that says that communion is to be denied to anyone, the warning in Scriptures is that a MAN EXAMINE HIMSELF.

You do not understand the damage done to a Christian who sits in the pews for 4yrs and is denied communion because they are not full members yet. We sat for 2yrs in a presbyterian church and then 2yrs in a LCMS both while attending catechisms. That first time we were allowed the Eucharist, my husband and I sobbed...with joy.

It is more damaging to see families who were born, baptized and catechized as LCMS being denied merely because they moved away and now have to attend a different church and are back visiting family in the area. That brought tears to my eyes again.

Pastor Peters said...

Close communion is primarily not about denying the supper but making sure that those who commune have faith and confession to receive its benefit fully. Worthiness is about faith in these words -- given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

I do not know of any LCMS Pastor who denies the Sacrament to those in catechesis - I might be wrong to presume but I think nearly all would welcome the catechumen unless serious lack were found in him/her.

As far as the denial of family members a place at the table, what about those who leave Lutheranism? Are we to leave them a sentimental place at the table but ignore their rejection of our faith and confession? It is not as simple as one might presume.

Let a man examine himself means that we have supplied him the tools to do this. This is the basis for close(d) communion.

The Concordia did not envision a situation in which we find ourselves today -- with competing churches/confessions in the same geographical area and with the mobility in which a person regularly communes outside their congregation of membership. They presume the practice of the day which was close(d) communion as, indeed, it still is in Rome and Orthodoxy.

HB said...

Pr. Peters, unconfirmed persons (whether catechumens or not) are not communed in our congregation. I was of the understanding that this is typical. I would love to have at least a 2-stage catechesis. Stage 1) preparation for communion. Stage 2) preparation for confirmation.

Mr. Fosi said...

"Let a man examine himself means that we have supplied him the tools to do this."

How does this relate to the question of Judas?

The parable of the wheat and tares also comes to mind.