WHY CLOSE COMMUNION?
In our Lutheran congregations our practice has always been to have ‘close’ communion, that is that we do not serve the Lord’s Supper on a ‘come one, come all’ basis. Frequently, visitors to our services do not understand this practice. They sometimes feel excluded or even insulted. Because we are concerned about people and their feelings we want to explain and be understood.
I. It is ‘close’ because of Jesus’ teaching and example.
Different people have different views on just what is happening when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Some feel that it is a commemorative mean and nothing more. They see in the bread and wine mere symbols of Christ’s suffering and death. However, when our Lord first gave His Supper to His disciples, He told them exactly what they were receiving. “And as they were eating, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take eat; this is Mybody.’ Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.’” Mk. 14:22-24
In our communion service we believe that we are receiving Christ’s true body and blood in, under, and with the bread and wine. The bread does not undergo a physical change. However, Christ’s body and blood are truly present in a miraculous way that we cannot understand. By partaking of Christ’s body and blood we receive added assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. It is a strengthening of faith that says Christ gave His body and shed His blood for ME personally. Since it is much more than mere bread and wine, of course we want to handle the sacrament according to God’s command and Bible example. It is the Lord’s Supper; it is not ours to do with as we please.
During His life here on earth, Jesus preached God’s Word to everyone. When He commissioned His disciples, He urged them to “preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15) and to “Make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19). But when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He included only His disciples, not the general public. In our services we would never presume to try to judge whether someone else is a true disciple of Jesus or not—after all, we have no way to read another person’s heart! All we have to go on is what people say they believe. We feel that it is very important to be aware of what each participant says he believes about the Lord’s Supper, about Jesus Christ, and about His Word. It is the only responsible thing to do when handling Christ’s true body and blood, and it is not something that can be done ‘on the spot.’
II. It is ‘close’ because we don’t want to harm anyone.
Could this wonderful source of blessing, Christ’s true body and blood, be harmful for anyone? Yes. We learn this from : “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drink this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will 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 who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” I Cor. 11:27-29
Out of simple care and concern we feel the burden of doing what we can to insure that all who participate in our Lord’s Supper celebration are properly prepared. It would be the height of irresponsibility to say (in Jesus’ name), ‘Take and eat’ when someone may not have had proper instruction in what is involved in this. We do not wish by our carelessness to cause anyone to bring a judgment upon himself. And there is a real danger of this happening, if a person fails to make a distinction between the true body and blood of Christ and ordinary bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is like a powerful, faith-sustaining medicine in that it can give such tremendous benefits—but it also has the potential for harm if misused. As such, the Lord would have us dispense it on a ‘prescription’ basis, not in the fashion of an ‘over the counter’ medication.
And there is a whole other issue in considering how a pastor is responsible for his flock. His call is serious to give what is needed and wholesome. People of a different Christian confession can avail themselves of their own pastor’s care in communion.
III. It is ‘close’ because in Communion we express true unity of faith.
The question may now be asked: “Why don’t we admit to Communion at least all those who profess to be Christians?” The answer: Scripture also shows us that those who approach the Lord’s Table together are thereby giving expression to a common faith—in all parts of God’s Word—that unites them. “For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” I Cor. 10:17 “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” I Cor. l:10
When people commune together they are making a joint statement of faith. In many churches this statement is based on only a few general Christian doctrines. But in our church body the common faith that we express is based on agreement concerning all of the teachings of the Bible. Before a person can say that he shares such a witness of religious truth, he must have knowledge of these beliefs.
To many this may sound proud and judgmental. “As if this church had some sort of monopoly on truth!” We do not feel that we are the only people in the world who will be saved. We do not claim to be any wiser than many others or more holy. Rather we claim each looking within his own heart, like Paul, to be the foremost of sinners. We are not more deserving of communion. Far from it, for we have no merit in and of ourselves. We do firmly believe though that the Bible is what it claims to be: the very Word of God in all its parts. We believe that the Bible is clear in what it teaches, and that all of its teachings are important. Finally, we believe that there must be real unity with regard to God’s Word before such ‘oneness of faith’ is expressed at the communion table. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” II Tim. 3:16
Delay is not denial.
By not inviting our visitors (of a differing confessional standard) to commune with us we are taking a serious risk. We risk leaving the impression that we are automatically marking them as being ‘not up to our standards.’ That is of course not the message we want to convey. We are eager to share the Sacrament of the Altar with those who share our faith. We pray that once our visitors understand the reasons for our practice that they will want to investigate further as to our beliefs. So we offer information with encouragement to prepare for communion with us by joining with us in knowledge and unity of belief to then jointly partake of the Lord’s Supper.