Sunday, July 06, 2008

Close but not quite, but more moderate.

[Updated: Please try not to be upset until you grasp my argument from the point of view of the Means of Grace]
Over at Wittenberg Trail, I got into a discussion that led to the subject of communion. To cut the long story short, the way my synod's pastors practice 'closed communion' has been dubbed by some LCMS folk as 'moderate' i.e. not confessional. As I mentioned somewhere, I describe my synod as a centrist synod.

Here is how the pastors at home practice 'closed communion'. In our bulletin sheets there is a mention of what our local church believes about the Lord's Supper, namely:

The Lutheran Church teaches that the 'Holy communion is the true body and
blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given with bread and wine, instituted by Christ
himself for us Christians to eat and drink'. It is for baptized people

- repent of all their sins
- trust in Jesus Christ as their only Saviour
- believe that in the sacrament Jesus gives his true body and blood with
bread and wine
- join with the congregation in *this* public confession of Jesus and his

After consecration, the pastor comes forward holding the chalice containing the bread and say words to this effect ..."Dear Friends, our Lutheran Church *does not believe* that the bread and wine are *mere* symbols of Jesus' body and blood, but rather we believe it is truly the body and blood of the Lord given for our sins. Those who could confess this with us are welcome to receive the Lord's supper. Come for all things are ready".

I argue that because these words were written and are said prior to distribution, a visitor who comes forward is confessing what we confess about the supper. If a visitor comes forward dispite the words then there is no reason for him/her to be denied.

I defend that this is in the spirit of Scripture and the BoC. However, this position is called 'moderate' (but what can you expect I said we are centrist) and non-confessional - meaning we are not truly Lutheran (so reader beware).

I argue that the fact that the person is coming forward after the announcement of what it is not and what it is, is an assumption on our part (yes we can be wrong, but what do we have) that the person is agreeing with our confession about the Supper.

Further, I argue from the fact that the Lord's Supper is one of the Means of Grace, i.e. how God comes down to us, and therefore must not be denied on anyone who does not despise but rather rejoices in it!

Apparently for some folk, this is not enough. Apparently one must NOT ONLY believe that it is the true body and blood of the Lord, one must agree 100% with what the pastor preaches from that pulpit too. This latter one is rather curious, and opens for some abuse.

You know I am not always in church, sometimes I visit some Lutheran local church somewhere in the country when I am on holidays, I do not know what esoteric doctrine a country pastor might have taught sometime in his past or he currently hold, what I am agreeing with him is the confession on the means of grace, the Supper, that it is true body and blood of the Lord.

I examined for BoC references to check this position and here are the following

1. Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar: We do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come.

My Comment: this is taken cared of by the explanation prior to distribution

2. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession (1531) says in Article XI.4 - Confession: "...Excommunication is pronounced on the openly wicked and on those who despise the sacraments."

My Comment: the fact that the person is coming after the explanation does not indicate that he despises the sacrament.

3. The Augsburg Confession (1530) says in Article XXIV.6 - Mass: "...People are admitted only if they first had an opportunity to be examined and heard".

My Comment: This indicates that before communion is given, the person must have given his confession in private to the pastor during the week and only then communion is given to such. In fact in some churches, this necessitates the use of communion tokens. I doubt if those who say we are non-confessional even practice this. Or, this may be also the general confession and absolution that happens earlier in the service, no matter anyway. Note that on my part, I agree with the meaning of the words in the BoC and not on the words themselves. The question is this - will our pastors eventually catechize that visitor? Yes. In fact if the person has been coming for some time, the person will receive a visit from the pastor and one of the things that would be discussed is this doctrine of communion.

Rightly so - one of the pastors (himself LCMS) in the discussion commented that there must be a way to practice close communion with non-Lutherans but we must be able to practice open communion amongst fellow Lutherans too irregardless of what Synod they come from.

I believe our pastors will serve you the elements if you confess what we confess about the Supper irregardless of what Synod you come from. I am open for correction and proper orientation on this by LCAus pastors themselves , but I have been to quite a few and find my articulation to be reasonable(if they are reading this, they can straighten my mis-impression or misunderstanding).

However, I am at this point comfortable that the way we practice it is in keeping with the Gospel as a gift and the nature of what the Means of Grace is -- that the very Sacrament (which is Gospel with elements) creates faith itself in the heart of the sinner according to God's will; why should we withold it if the person is willing to confess and receive it, why should we add more requirements that they belong to our synod etc etc? I just do not understand.

Well, dear reader : caveat lector. I do not necessarily carry the proper brand name to some: confessional. No matter, I only care that my position is Biblical, that is enough. You can call me a mongrel Lutheran, I do not care.

Remember, I am not perfect, I am not a member of Mt. Zion. Be careful of what you read here, you can get contaminated --- by the truth.


Anonymous said...

If one comes to the Lord's table and does not believe that what they are receiving the true body and blood of Christ but just bread and wine as a symbol only, do they not risk judgment for not taking the bread and wine in unworthy manor?

Is it not an act of love to prevent someone who is not in communion with us on doctrine taking Holy Communion in an unworthy manor?

This appears to be missing from your analysis.

LPC said...

Steve N.

But I believe it accounts for that - the Pastor just said these are not mere symbols to us but it is the true body and blood, if you agree with this confession (this one point here) you are invited to participate/partake of the body and blood of Christ.

And indeed, I have seen visitors stayed at their seats - they were being honest in their differences.

However those who do come dispite the pronouncement, must be allowed to take it.

The confession of the Supper is actually the same as the confession of the Gospel - and btw, we do not believe it is body and blood - we believe the FOR SINS bit as important too, do we not?

So just like the proclamation of the Gospel we can do two things - we can say - that is not true it is just mere bread or hey, I do not need the body and blood for my sins.

To follow an analogy Steve, perhaps we better not proclaim the Gospel because there are people who may reject it and so damn their souls. Of course we do not do that.

I argue that the Supper is the Gospel in the form of bread and wine - body and blood for our sins. It is the means of grace and hence once it is affirmed by the communicant that it is, then we can not over analyze anymore but take their confession at face value and give it to them.

It is one of the means of grace, Jesus said - come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest - laden with sin and guilt and find rest in what Christ has finished to do.

I do not know, if you know Steve but LCMS and WELS are both confessional Lutherans and yet they are not allowed to commune with each other.

I as an outsider find that rather a bother but perhaps I should not be since they are happy not to commune. I can not help it though.


Past Elder said...

Simply putting an announcement in the bulletin and/or the pastor making an announcement does not constitute closed communion.

And worse, it puts responsibility for its observance other than where Christ puts it, with the church, and instead burdens consciences with it as they make their own decisions.

Up until recent times, still in the living memory of many, both LCMS and WELS had the practice of a person stopping by the parsonage on Saturday to announce the intention to go to Communion on Sunday and confer with the pastor on it. A visitor would expect to make time to do so. At the very least, arriving in time to speak to the pastor or an elder before services.

This is really quite mild. The ancient practice was to excuse those who were not professed members of the believing community after the prayers, Scripture readings and sermon, so that only members remained for the Communion service itself, not just the distribution.

LCMS and WELS, now, have serious disagreements over key points on what "confessional" is -- specifically, over matters of what is church by divine institution and what is church by human arrangement, and over the nature of the Office of Holy Ministry. Both cannot be right. But they are not matters of a country pastor's peculiarities, but the publically confessed doctrine of the synod.

When I was in WELS, the practice was for the pastor to make an announcement before Communion as you describe, up to the ending. Having set forth what we believe, he stated then that not to judge hearts, but precisely to avoid judging hearts, we must go by the public affiliations a person maintains, and then invited members of any WELS congregation or a congregation of any synod in fellowship with WELS (this would be any of the Lutheran bodies in the CELC) to come forward for Communion.

Even so, I have seen RC and LCMS members -- whom I know to be so because they are members of my family! -- listen to this and come forward anyway!

In my current LCMS parish, a statement about Communion beliefs is printed in the bulletin, and when the time comes the Pastor invites those who accept that Communion belief to participate.

This is not closed communion in any sense at all, and in fact contradicts what the same pastor would say at the public profession of faith of a new member, mentioning among the things now part of the person's life participation in the Supper!

It is indeed an act of love to prevent someone not in communion with us on doctrine from communing with us in Communion. And like many acts of love, it is uncomfortable for those who do it, and often not seen as such by those who receive it. But so it is with the Gospel itself.

Matt Delves said...

Issues Etc is back.

That is all.

God bless,
Matthew Delves

LPC said...


Thanks for the response.

The term "closed communion" is a theological concept-description of how the early church practiced communion. It is not exactly a Biblical description, you won't find the term in the Bible.

But what is more important for me is that the practice of my local church fits well with the Scripture and in the confines of the BoC.

I believe what is practiced by the early church is 'confessional communion'.

I say that because there is a way it is open and there is a way it is closed.

It is rather preposterous to me that a fellow Lutheran i.e LCMS and WELS who both confess the BoC will not commune because they consider their understanding of what the church is as a major difference.

Let me put it this way --- if I really want to it is no brainer for me to show you our differences of doctrines of anysort and I could hold that as a major difference.

I go back to 1 Cor 11, my point is this - if the person is recognizing it as the body and blood of the Lord then he should be allowed to take it because it is the Means of Grace, it does not matter what his synod happens to be.

So P.E. when you come to visit, you will be welcome in our table, I am quite sure of that, but of course, I understand if you pooh pooh our Supper because your Synod has no relation with ours, it is offered to you anyway though you may decline.


Anonymous said...

In our congregation, we announce that all baptised Christians who believe Christ to be truly present in the sacrament, are welcome to commune.

That's it. If we are in error, we want to err on the side of God's grace.

What kind of a God do we have anyway? Is He not merciful to the sinner?

LPC said...

Steve M,

I am an ex-RC like yourself.
When I was a young man, I would go to Mass and indeed I was a good catechized kid, and I most of the time take communion only after confession.

But I recall that with my buddies we would go to church somewhere where hundreds and hundreds of people would take communion. I tell you that Tom, Dick and Harry, the priest would have no clue if people went first to confession before communion - he gives it to them, to people he does not know.

We have some other quibble with the RC because really our communion is different from theirs.

There is a way we are closed - it is closed to those who do not believe it to be the body and blood - but to some, that is not enough. There is more.

The Supper is the means of grace, it is to be given to any sinner who is believing it to be the body and blood of Christ for their sins, that includes people from other Synods.

Of course, if the sinner is pooh poohing it - he won't come at the rails.


Past Elder said...

Closed communion is not about agreeing on communion.

LPC said...


I appreciate where you are coming from of which at this stage I am not convinced is Biblical. I think it goes beyond and says more.

If you can show from Scripture that communion is not about the body and blood of the Lord but is more, what are these 'more' ones.

I suspect about agreement in doctrine, but what are these doctrines we have to agree with?

My addressing the 3 points used in the BoC and comparing it to our local practice I believe is within the confession's intent/meaning.

So give me Scripture principles if you will that says the LCMS way of closed communion is the one from Mt. Zion.(LOL).

I do want to understand.


Past Elder said...

Take a look at your treatment of AC XXIV.6.

It seems to say that as long as the pastors eventually get around to discussing communion with someone who has been communing for a while that constitutes first examining and hearing them.

How does eventually cover first? Not mention only if first?

This cannot be escaped by appealing to a meaning beyond the words. Why were the words chosen if not to express the meaning? These are confessional documents. They state what we confess.

LPC said...


I got two points to say:

1.) Do LCMS pastors that advocate tenaciously 'closed communion' absolutely have received their people's private confessions before they give the bread and wine to his members? Because that is what ACXXIV.6 means. If he hasn't them we have something to discuss and it won't be me but the pastor who has not heard the private confessio of the one in whom he is giving the elements to.

2. Look at my question again bro, I asked for Scripture warrant first. What Chapter and Verse from Holy Writ can I look at?


Anonymous said...

"Discerning the body" in the context of 1 Cor. 11 seems to be about discerning Christ's body the church such that we all eat together and not separately in divided little groups or off on our own. Taking "discerning the body" to mean identifying the bread and wine as our Lord's Body and Blood (which, granted, they are) does not strike me as exegetically sound. Especially inasmuch as the disciples on the night when our Lord instituted the Supper were possibly just as clueless about what the Lord was feeding them as, well, many non-Lutheran Protestants are.

LPC said...


Good, at least this is an attempt.

My Pentecostal pastors interpreted that passage in the way you said. I think that because of the previous verse and because of the unworthy manner in effect treating the bread and wine as ordinary does take it as the body and blood of the Lord i.e. the Elements.

The question is this - do these passages warrant closed communion as defined by the Lutheran Synods like LCMS and WELS i.e. agreement of all points of doctrine and not just the Ancient Creeds i.e. Apostles and Nicene and Athanasian etc.


Past Elder said...

Paul wasn't opposed to the factions per se, because it separated those who were true and faithful from those who weren't.

There would be no factions if there were no errors in doctrine and practice.

Discerning the body as in the church and as in the Real Presence are not separate discernments, but a seamless whole, two aspects of the same thing. Therefore, one alone is not enough. Consequently, we look to the "factions" as well as to the Communion belief.

LPC said...


Very good we are getting somewhere.

The factionalism is of this case is the factionalism of personality - some were saying - "I am of Paul", others say "I am of Apollos".

What errors of doctrine and practice were the Corinthians were indulging in such that they are not to participate at the table. I only see one - that is the Lord's body and blood, you see more - so can you specify the "more" aspect that you see that I am not seing?

Furthermore then and to the point, how does Synodical factionalism and barring each other from the table on this account matches the Biblical data?

Paul is advocating a form of closed communion (it seems to me) but it is a form which I do not think corresponds to the way the Synods are practicing it.

This means at the end of the day - the true Christians are really in one's Synod. So the comment of one LCMS pastor is pertinent - this confuses the visible church with the invisible church.


Anonymous said...

Past elder, your observation about the seamlessness of discernments is a good point. I would not dispute that.

Still, I'm with LPC that it seems to be a leap from 1 Cor. 11 to LCMS or WELS closed Communion. If doctrinal perfection is required before partaking of the sacrament, then by all accounts the apostles should not have been allowed at the Last Supper. They apparently were clueless about our Lord's impending suffering, death and resurrection, yet our Lord accepted them as worthy partakers of His body and blood because of the little faith they had; He did not bar them because of the faith they did not yet have. 2 Cor. 8:12.

Speaking of discernment of the Body, why are Christ's little ones usually prevented from partaking at the Table in our churches? Are baptized children not sufficiently of the Body? Who excommunicated them? Lutherans, judge yourselves!

LPC said...


You are driving my points here better than I can make them. That is why I am arguing from the starting point that the Supper is a 'means of grace'. When a person is not resisting the Supper and is in fact deserning it is God giving the body and blood of Christ to him as his passover lamb, what could be the problem?

Your point on children is another point worth discussing further. From the standpoint of Passover celebration of the Jews, I am pretty sure that children are a part of the Passover seder meal and probably participating as of it as soon as they are able to accept hard food.

I heard the late Marquart speaking on this subject in that while he was in the Russian Orthodox, the babies are given the elements straight away at baptism and then not again until they are grown up. This seems to be a recognition that infants/ may commune, but that is another matter for solid debate.

There is a sense that Biblical communion is closed but I do not think it is in the same sense as the confessing synods are implementing them.

As an example, I think I have found a place wherein a Christian under discipline who refuses to repent of his sins after admonished by the elders are not to be given communion.

Baptists/Pentecostals also practice closed communion, some of their churches even limit it to their very own local members. If you are a member of the denomination and not a member of the local church, you will still not be given communion. I am not convinced they have warrants to do that because they in the first place do not look at the Supper as a means of grace.

But I do look at the Supper as a means of grace, hence, I think I should give it to those who do discern it and find themselves in need of it.


Past Elder said...

Your focus on the means of grace seems to come down to this: if one understands that the Sacrament is a means of grace for the forgiveness of sins, that is sufficient to allow participation in it.

Interesting that on another blog I visit a story came up about a Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan who now faces censure from his church for taking Communion at the dedication of a Catholic church.

The RO church made the point that decisions about intercommunion are made by the church as a whole, not individuals. IOW, the discernment about the body being seemless, it is the body/church which will speak to that, not the member's private decision.

The local Roman bishop, though, was all for it. So who's Romanising now?

Maybe our friend Lucian has a comment on that?

Again, to leave it up to individual belief in Communion as a means of grace divides the seamless discernment of the body in the Sacrament and in the church.

LPC said...


The RO church made the point that decisions about intercommunion are
made by the church as a whole, not individuals. IOW, the discernment
about the body being seemless, it is the body/church which will speak
to that, not the member's private decision

Are you saying this practice is an argument for the LCMS/WELS type of close communion?

I do not take my cue from them. So what if they do, we are not Roman and they do not take the 'means of grace' like we do. They are semi-pelagians.

A review of 'means of grace' may be in order here.

I can not help but be disappointed in this instance as I fail to obtain scriptural justification from LCMS/WELS type of close communion. I see this as a weakness from this type of confessionalism.


Past Elder said...

No one is saying take your cue from the RO. It is an example that closed communion is the historic practice of the church, open communion, per se or under language that hints at closed, is a recent aberration.

All you need is in the Corinthians passage. It is not enough to discern Communion as a means of grace. The body of Christ is part of the body of Christ, so to speak.

One may not make a private decision to take the body of Christ (in the one sense) apart from the body of Christ (in the other sense) any more than one may make a private decision to offer the body of Christ apart from the body of Christ.

So if one is of one faction that is not trustworthy and espouses false doctrine a faction that does not may not allow Communion to the person nor ought such a person to expect it. If this is not observed, then some are getting drunk while others are not, whether from the common meal they can eat at home or the false doctrine they otherwise espouse or at least condone by their membership.

For which reason our Confessions are adamant, in harmony with the universal correct practice of the church, that no-one is to be admitted to Communion unless he is first examined.

LPC said...


All you need is in the Corinthians passage

Which you have not given any exegetical explanation why mine is wrong.

If this is not observed, then some are getting drunk while others are not, whether from the common meal they can eat at home or the false doctrine they otherwise espouse or at least condone by their membership.

They were getting drunk because they think the bread and wine were ordinary meals. That is their false doctrine they espouse, which I said pertains to not recognizing the body and blood of Jesus - not that they do not recognize the church. You are shifting their drunkeness from other false doctrine on and above the false doctrine of not descern IT IS THE LITERAL body and blood of Christ that hanged and bled at the cross.

AS I said, there is no convincing Scripture forthcoming to say that that the LCMS/WELS way of doing closed communion is the same way Paul observed it.

The ancient practice of the church does not necessarily mean it is Biblical.

Communion unless he is first examined

One LCMS pastor rightly put it well - what do we mean by the word "examine" (a loaded term).

I said this means to hear the private confession of the local member prior to communion which is no longer practiced by LCMS/WELS.


Past Elder said...

Great leaping and jumping Judas.

It isn't possible to get drunk from taking Communion, so it doen not mean some did not discern the body. At the time, the connexion between the Communion part as we know it and a larger meal, originally the seder, was not yet broken, so you are talking here about a liturgical abuse -- what? adiaphora! OMG! a should?!? -- in this case where the Sacrament had not sufficiently informed the rest of the liturgy, leading to factions and not discerning the body as church.

Doctrinal correctness on the Sacrament itself does not stand alone.

Our Lutheran Fathers were impressed enough with this to include closed communion as one more evidence that we do not depart from what is true in the historic worship of the church.

Great Caesar's Ghost.

If you cannot see this, perhaps go to our site and look for material on closed communion, the best of which is an essay by our great past preseident Dr Barry.

If anything, LCMS and WELS are entirely too lax about closed communion, letting synodical affiliation be assumed to be a statement of belief instead of examination before each reception of the proposed communicant.

LPC said...


Sheeesh. Hold your horses and stay close to the text.
20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry,(V) another gets drunk

You just contradicted Bro. Paul the Apostle.

Ok you guys are taking 'body' in v.29 figuratively I see that you are relating it to the church.

I find that spurious because it does not follow sound exegesis. In v.27 'body' is used there too to refer to the Lord's body - literally. Now, you guys are saying in v.29 body there does not refer to the Lord's body literally but figuratively to the church. This is a sudden context switch, it is possible but not likely and the evidence for that in the text is flimsy.

I asked Dr. Leon Morris a long time ago when I interviewed him on this type of exegesis. It does not seem to wash.

The point is that the Lutheran close communion witholds the elements from fellow Lutherans if they come from a different Synod and by default they do not agree in some point of doctrine not even elaborated in the BoC.

The thing is that you guys are taking Synodical statements as an article of faith over and above the BoC. I wonder about this.

You mention our Lutheran Fathers but you are alluding to the American Lutheran Fathers, no?

So I have a question, what synod did Luther, Melanchton, Chemnitz and Bugenhagen belonged?

P.E. we know that the Roman church is hypocritical, we know they do not practice close communion. I know because I have been to multiple RC masses and the priests never knew who I was, I could be any Tom, Dick and Harry and he would not even know if I had confession and yet he still gave me the bread. In otherwords, they practice close communion

My point is closeness on agreement on communion is consistent with the means of grace. To add more, is not consistent with the concept of means of grace.

I will go and find Dr. Barry's article then.


Dr. Nikolai said...

Talking about “CC” I would single out the main controversial issue.

Separation of so-called conservative synods is usually based on doctrines lying outside BoC. E.g.: a) on the question of salvation by faith alone we all, Protestants, are united; b) on the essence of Eucharist there is a virtual agreement not only among Lutherans but also among them and many Orthodox Christians. Moreover (and it’s a principal point!), in order to be Lutheran someone has not to sign the complete BoC (including FoC). It is sufficient for him to share the Augsburg Confession (AC) only. The BoC is a historical document for German synod in XVI c. (and, of course, for LCMS and WELS as for traditional German descendents in the US:-)). Even for Scandinavian Lutherans in XVI c. and up-to-day the complete BoC wasn't a document of obligation. They were satisfied with AC and Luther's catechisms.

Probably I’d specify: I am for the "CC" but ... for all Lutherans. It might be "closed" for Christians of other denominations because we cannot be reasonably sure whether they confess salvation by faith alone (without any add conditions) and real presence of Christ in the Sacrament. But among believers of AC ("traditional" or "liberal" in their hearts) there should be no barriers in communion with Christ.

Well, whether views on the status of deuterocanonical Scriptures or a place of women in church public ministry are really determinative for a “communion gap”? These stuffs are not in BoC at all but they are present in “constitutions” and “confessional statements” of some synods. In this case is the Communion a tool of manipulation or a mean of grace?