Why do we practice closed communion, inviting only Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod (LC-MS) members and members of sister churches to the altar? Many find this offensive. Please read why the common table-practice of if you want it, come and get it is not god-pleasing. First consider two aspects of closed communion: concern that none commune unworthily (I Cor. 11:27), and concern that communicants confess the same true faith.
Our Lord desires that all who commune eat and drink worthily, that is, for blessing. When the Lord’s Supper is offered a pastor is called to guard you against unworthy eating and drinking. Jesus never said, to each his own; for the Church is not autonomous individuals. It is the body of Christ. To look after the many members of Christ’s body God calls pastors as stewards (I Cor. 4:1). Pastors look after the spiritual welfare of the body of Christ. He needs speak with those wanting to commune. For 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. (Large Catechism, V, 2) Pastoral care means waiting to commune until you talk to the pastor; and it may mean taking time to study Christian doctrine so that you may eat and drink worthily. This is for your good, not harm.
Another reason we practice closed communion is partaking visibly declares a common confession. Faith is not just an individual thing. Christian faith is a common trust in our LORD and His teaching. We join a gathering of Christians because we agree with what they confess. But in our sin-struck world there are many church bodies that significantly differ in doctrines about Christ, salvation, the Lord’s Supper, etc… These differences cannot be ignored since there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:5). By communing with a church body other than your own you visibly say you agree with their confession of faith. When you take the Lord’s Supper you declare, “I belong here. I agree with what these people believe!” But if your church body and ours disagree, then communing together either says “I don’t care what these people believe” or “what God’s word means does not matter”. Surely, you do not want to deny your faith or ask this church to compromise what we believe.
These are two aspects explaining why the LC-MS practices closed communion. For more explanation read on:
What are the Biblical Practices of Holy Communion?
For centuries Christian churches were agreed on certain Biblical practices of table fellowship. The LC-MS follows the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the ancient church in admission to the Lord’s Supper. Closed communion follows the Biblical and historic practice of table fellowship.
What this does not mean:
Closed communion is not sectarian, It does not claim that only one Christian church is worthy of the Lord’s Supper. We desire that everyone who should partake would commune frequently. We do not want to create divisions in the Church or exclude believers from the gifts of God.
What does this mean?
Closed communion is unfortunate but necessary because not all desiring to commune are prepared to receive Christ’s body and blood. Also, there are serious doctrinal divisions in the Church that cannot be ignored. (Communing does not create unity of faith but acknowledges a confessional unity that already exists.) Further, every church body and every pastor is held responsible to obey Scripture regarding the Lord’s Supper. For example, we are charged: Therefore, whoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (I Corinthians 11:27-29)
No godly pastor desires judgment to fall on members of his congregation or on guests. No godly church body fails to take our Lord’s word seriously. No godly communicant fails to examine himself or herself. For Christ gives his body and blood that you receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. He does not desire it become a source of judgment. What then determines if someone is a worthy communicant, and what determines when Christians may commune with a congregation other than their own?
How do I know if I should commune?
WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR SHARING IN THE LORD’S SUPPER?
Ask yourself two kinds of questions:
1) Consider what has to do with the person alone. 2) Consider what has to do with the confession of the church body to which you belong.
1) REGARDING THE PERSON: Who should commune?
It does not matter how “good” or “spiritual” you are, what you’ve done for the Lord, or how much of the Bible you know. Rather, these four things are necessary for a person to rightly commune:
A) Faith that Christ’s death was for you is necessary. Do you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins? Then you are prepared. If someone does not believe the words which Christ speaks about His Supper, “for you” and “for the forgiveness of sins,” he should not commune.
B) Faith that Christ’s words mean what they say is necessary. When Jesus said “This is my body,” he spoke literally, not figuratively. Christ himself is actually present bodily in the Lord’s Supper. If someone does not discern that which is blessed is the body and blood of Christ, he should not commune. (The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? [I Cor. 10:16])
C) Willingness to forgive is necessary. In other words, if someone would commune knowing he willfully harbors un-forgiveness toward another; he eats and drinks unworthily. (Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.)
D) Willingness to confess and turn from sin is necessary. A communicant who knowingly and willfully continues in sin eats and drinks judgment. However, all those who desire grace and forgiveness and intend to amend with the help of God should commune. The Lord’s Supper is not for those who do not need it. It is for those who know they need mercy and forgiveness, and believe God will indeed receive them on
the merits of Christ. It is “for you.”
2) REGARDING THE COMMUNICANT AS CONFESSOR:
Who should commune?
The communicant is a “public confessor.” This neglected doctrine in our day of relative, individualistic, and valueless values goes against the spirit of the age. Yet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul teaches that receiving Communion is an act of proclamation. It declares the Lord’s death and the meaning of His death. (I Cor. 11:17-34). To partake of the Lord’s Supper is not only communion with Christ it is also public confession. For this reason agreement in doctrine is expected in order to share in the Lord’s Supper.
For example, before taking Communion we confess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed to affirm one common faith. In contrast, when someone belongs to a church body that rejects given doctrines of Scripture, communing with those who believe differently mocks the proclamation that we share a common faith. Communing together means agreement in doctrine. If someone belongs to church body ‘A’ which teaches one doctrine, who then communes at church body ‘B’ which says the other teaches false doctrine, to commune would mean either:
1) Doctrine is meaningless, and God really does not mean what Scripture says; Or 2) Believing some true and some false doctrine is not dangerous to the Christian; Or 3) Church membership is meaningless because there is nothing certain to confess; Or 4) Scripture’s teaching about altar and pulpit fellowship based on unity of doctrine is nonsense.
“But I’m a Christian and should commune!” you say to yourself. Yes, but who can see your faith or the faith of those around you? We only know each other by what we confess. A common confession is the only visible unity that the church knows (AC VII). To visibly affirm contrary doctrines is visible disunity in the church (I Tim 6:2bff., II Tim 4:1ff.) Disunity has no part in table fellowship. And since Communion is in an act of proclamation and public confession, Christians do not represent only themselves when it comes to sharing in the Lord’s Supper. If they belong to a church body ‘A’ they represent the confession of church body ‘A’. To then take the Lord’s Supper at church body ‘B’ is hypocritical when it comes to doctrine. (Eph. 4:5)
For this reason, to commune here it is necessary to be a member of the LC-MS, a sister congregation, or go through a period of doctrinal instruction. This is not harsh or unloving. It is what we believe Scripture teaches about fellowship in the Lord’s Supper. It is meant for your benefit.
WHAT ABOUT EXCEPTIONS?
One might ask, are there no exceptions? On one hand, doctrine must be kept pure. On the other hand, life can be very messy. Believers can find themselves in church bodies where they disagree in part with taught doctrine and practices flowing from doctrine. For example, perhaps someone believes the doctrine of the LC-MS and not the church body he attends. Perhaps this person attends such a church for reasons like: there are no churches in traveling distance which confess the body and blood of Christ. Or, perhaps the local LC-MS congregation has departed from the Synod’s profession of faith. What does such a person do who is seeking spiritual nourishment in the Lord’s Supper? Instances like these become cases for pastoral discretion. The pastor, who bears responsibility for whom he permits to commune, may make exceptions. This does not mean the church in practice gives up closed communion for open communion, making everything an exception. But it allows for a pastor to care for souls. This is one reason why visitors are asked to speak with the pastor if they wish to commune.
And we want everyone to receive the benefits promised in the Lord’s Supper, namely forgiveness, life, and salvation. The person who communes in faith receives these gifts. No wonder people are unhappy if they cannot commune. (Experiencing the cost of human divisions over God’s Word is not pleasant.) At the same time, even if you are not permitted to commune on this occasion, our Lord gives forgiveness, life and salvation also by means of water and the Word and through hearing that same Word. Your faith will be strengthened through hearing the Scriptures spoken and taught. And don’t hesitate to ask the pastor for instruction so that you may be admitted to the Lord’s Table in this place.
Therefore, we ask any visitor who desires to and can commune with us, to talk with the pastor of this congregation. Every godly pastor desires all who should share in the Lord’s Table to do so; in a salutary manner, in a way that helps but does not harm. He desires this because the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways that God gives us what he promises: forgiveness, life and salvation.
The peace of the Lord be with you.
This brochure summarizes the LCMS document: Admission to the Lord’s Supper, CTCR, November, 1999.