Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Loving Practice of Closed Communion

The confessional Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, as well as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities all practice the historic practice of “closed communion.” This means that Pastors in the church are to catechize and shepherd Christians to the altar by lovingly examining and hearing the confessions of members who desire the precious gift of the Lord’s Supper. The Lutheran church believes, teaches, and confesses that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the bread and wine given for us to eat and drink.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Everything about the early church we know is that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We must know that eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ is not “metaphorical” of some alternative activity. Jesus is the sacrifice to be eaten and drank. He says, “This IS my body…This IS my blood…eat…drink…for you.”

“Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drink without the recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:26-29).

The admonition from the apostolic teaching is that we drink “worthily” when we confess what this precious gift truly is along with our desire to receive it for the forgiveness of sins. It is the loving pastoral practice of the church to examine or ascertain that a Christian desires this promise, along with the bodily eating and drinking of the sacrament. If we approach the altar and reject the Lord’s real physical presence , “without recognizing the body of the Lord” we eat and drink judgment against ourselves. That is the sacrament can be harmful to our faith if we partake of it in unbelief. This is why pastors, for love of the people, so desperately desire their people to know what a holy and precious gift this is.

The practice of “closed communion” does not mean that the orthodox church is sectarian or exclusionary. The loving practice of closed communion is precisely because we believe in fellowship – that we gather around the risen Lord Christ and receive His gifts. We all have a common confess, we confess the same faith, the same baptism – we believe in the one holy Christian and apostolic church. If we admit everybody and anyone who randomly walks into church to the Lord’s Supper, we are neither treasuring the precious sacrament, nor are we loving those people receiving the sacrament.

If a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist walks in off the street and we immediately bring them to the altar we are breaking the fellowship of that particular congregation and the larger Christian community. Those who gather around this Holy Supper find their unity and fellowship precisely because they confess the same Lord who lavishes upon us forgiveness, peace, and the resurrection of the dead. The Lord’s Supper is for baptized Christians who desire the bodily eating and drinking of heavenly food and drink, along with the heavenly promise that comes along with it. For in the Lord’s Supper we ENTER HEAVEN ITSELF through Jesus our high priest (Hebrews 10:20-22).

As Martin Luther keenly observed, “the altar rail is the pulpit of the laity,” meaning, that this is where the Christian community preaches to one another – confessing to God and before the whole world the faith in which we shall live and die and live again. Kneeling at the altar in anticipation of the heavenly feast is where we confess and preach that which we will be doing in eternity. If we take this precious gift seriously and truly believe what our Lord says about it, it would be foolish to treat it just as if we were getting together to have a little “spiritual love fest” – a “feel-good” spiritual snack.

As Dr. Edward Veith writes, “Not only is Christ present at the altar, He gives Himself to us. As we eat the bread, we are receiving, in an intimate and personal way, His body that was broken on the cross. When we sip the wine, we are receiving His blood that sealed the covenant, assuring the forgiveness of sin. We are literally united with Christ – Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended – bridging the gap between here and Golgotha, now and eternity.”[1]

It comes as a necessity that the church must identify heresy and false teaching regarding the sacrament, that we may truly have “fellowship.” and "unity." The church cannot be ecumenical if she does not reject, correct, and rebuke false confessions of the faith out of love for the purity of the Gospel.

[1] Veith, Edward, Spirituality of the Cross, 51.

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