In situations like this, it almost makes you feel relieved to be a Lutheran! Of course, we have our own problems. We all have clear doctrine. Rome and Missouri both are pretty clear on paper about who it is who should commune. No one can dispute the clarity with which these churches have addressed their positions. But from there on out, it is kind of a mess. In Rome you have different bishops responding differently in the particular application of what their church teaches. In Lutheran you have pastors responding very differently when it comes to the application of our teaching. It is no wonder that the world is confused. We are confused.
Worthiness is not a matter of personal holiness but repentance and faith. We all agree about this. Yet for Rome, there is no repentance and plenty of pride from those who publicly stand against the clear teaching of Rome when it comes to matters such as abortion, contraception, same sex marriage, and gender identity. Before we Lutherans stick our noses in the air, we have similar problems. Our people also presume that worthiness or unworthiness is a judgment of personal holiness and not about repentance and faith. Our folks also struggle with what it means to assent to the teaching of the church and the witness of Scripture and what consequences there are for disagreeing. We are not talking about peripheral issues or the arcane of doctrine but the clearest truths of Scripture with respect to the sanctity of life and what the Eucharist is.
Rome ought to be worried that nearly 2/3 of their own folks believe the Sacrament is mere symbol. I would not want to find out the results of a poll of our own members as Lutheran Christians on the same issue. If we cannot agree to this most basic truths God has revealed, how can we be one together at the altar? Abortion is the most visible trigger for this conflict but it is not the only one. Again, no one means personal holiness in talking about worthiness to receive the Sacrament but rather repentance over sin and the desire with the aid of the Holy Spirit to do better and faith to acknowledge the mystery that is there (of Christ's body and blood) and being captive to the Word of God. Even more, how can the communicant receive benefit from this communion without repentance over his or her sin and faith in the promise of what is received and for what purpose?
All of this reveals the Achilles' heel of the faith -- we have not done an adequate job of instruction and we have not prepared our people to meet Christ in the holiest mystery of Christ's presence in bread and wine. For generations we have presumed that general teaching sufficed. Now we see that it has not. Our people deserve better from those who steward the mysteries of God and better from those who oversee the stewards. Before we rush to blame the people in the pew for their failures, we need to look in the mirror. We owe our people more than good words on a page. We owe them preaching and teaching that regularly prepares them to know what the Sacrament is, who is prepared to receive its blessing, and what goes with that reception.
Every Sunday we make this announcement. As the altar is being prepared for the Holy Sacrament, we ask you to prepare your hearts to receive the Lord as He comes to us in His body and blood. Read through the Communion Statement in the bulletin to remember who it is who communes at this altar. Read through Luther's Christian Questions and Answers on page 329 in our Hymnal. And pray the prayers before communing in the front cover of the Hymnal. It is not perfect but it says plainly and clearly what we believe, teach, and confess matters so that everyone who receives may receive to the benefit and for their blessing what the Lord offers to us here. It is a start, not a replacement for other areas and avenues of teaching and preaching but it is a beginning. I urge all stewards of the mysteries to consider something similar lest we leave the people on their own, without adequate preparation, to receive the most precious food our God can give.