What Closed Communion Is and What It is Not

ccA man walks into church on a day when the Lord’s Supper will be served.  He says to the usher handing out communion cards, “You know.  I have been really good this week.  I should get two cards.” 

This actually happened in my brother pastor’s congregation.  It is a shocking level of arrogance on so many levels.  And yet, I should not be so shocked I suppose.  For surely many view the way LCMS Lutherans have agreed to practice communion together as nothing more than a way of ensuring only people good enough get to come forward for the meal.

Our visitors surely think that is what we are doing.  Since there is not enough time to truly explain our practice or our beliefs in the three minutes before service, all they know  that others, presumably the good people, will go forward while they sit in the pew and feel like everyone else is staring at them.

And sadly, it is probably how many who are going forward think as well.   They think, “I went to years of midweek and confirmation classes to get to go to this.”  “I have been an LCMS member my whole life, that is why I get to go.” “I am a member in good standing in a LCMS congregation.”  Some laity police the altar themselves in order to make sure no bad person gets up there.

But here in the truth, closed communion is not a way of making sure only the good people get to the altar.  Much to the contrary, it is the way of seeking to assure that only those who know how bad they are come into Jesus’ presence to find forgiveness and life. 

Yes, when you declare for communion, sign that card, or put your name in the register, you are not declaring that you are good enough to come forward but are confessing that you are painfully aware that you are the sick and are in need of the Physician.  This is not like getting into the nightclub because you are perfectly dressed.  It is instead like signing in at the doctor’s office in your tattered pajamas because you do not have the strength to change out of them.

Closed communion assures that only those who confess that they are not well come up to the rail. After all, Jesus only eats with sinners.  He eats with us sinners because He knows we need Him desperately.  Only those aware of their sin and seeking the forgiveness and life offered by Jesus in his body and blood should come forward. 

We come forward singing, “So who am I, That I should live and He should die. Under the rod? My God, my God, Why have You not forsaken me? O taste and see the Lord is free.”

In order to assure that only the bad come forward, we ask that people study with us the very basics of our faith before communing.  We ask the to ponder the Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer.  We ask them to marvel at the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  We are not asking them to jump through hoops or prove how good they are.  Instead we are making sure that they with us are willing to confess how bad we are and how good God is to us.

We ask them to do this so that we can say with confidence that the people gathered at the altar have all confessed publicly that they are sinners who wish to dine with Jesus and believe He is present in this meal in His very body and blood giving forgiveness and life.

Closed communion does not insure that the only the good come forward.  In fact, that guy at my brother pastor’s congregation, if he was serious, should have been told that this meal was not for him.  Closed communion makes sure that only the bad come forward.  And when they do, they meet Jesus in his body and blood offering just the medicine they need.

We must make this clear to visitors, to our own members, and most importantly to ourselves lest pride rob us of the chance to dine with the One who sits down with sinners to eat.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015 at 10:20 am and is filed under Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “What Closed Communion Is and What It is Not”

  1. Seth Meyer Says:

    Good article Phil. Well written and the analogy works pretty well. That being said, now I will stir the pot a bit. What about the person who says they agree with what you have, yet they are a member of a different denomination?

  2. Philip Hoppe Says:

    I understand your concern. Truthfully, I would say, come and study with us, and if you are in agreement, you are welcome. Of course we might have to also talk about what that means for their other membership.

  3. Katie Says:

    This is an interesting article and a different way to look at closed communion. It’s nice to know you believe communion should only be served to those that are “bad” or truly confessing their sins. I am not LCMS. I went to a LCMS college/church and am very fond of their teachings. However, I’ve always been confused of the purpose of closed communion. I understand and agree that if you take communion you should be truly confessing your sins by realizing how “bad” you are. But how does signing a card or being a member of your church fulfill this? I realize that you “ask them to do this so that you can say with confidence that the people gathered at the altar have all confessed publicly that they are sinners”. But how do you, as a church, know their heart? There are people and even members that may publicly declare their sin but don’t take communion seriously. How do you prove this? You can’t. Only God knows your heart and what’s truly inside it. I have never understood why a church has taken it upon themselves to decide who is “bad” and truly sorry for their sins. It seems like a pretty tough task if you ask me.

    I am a sinner. I am “bad.” I have a relationship with Jesus because I need him…Everyday. I will never be “good” because no one is. All I can do is confess I’m “bad” and pray that Jesus helps me become better. I believe Jesus died for my sins. I believe he rose from the dead, went to Heaven and will return again some day. I believe the Bible and it’s teachings. I don’t need to be LCMS to believe all this. Therefore, I’ve never understood why I cannot take communion in your church.

  4. Michele Says:

    the term “closed” communion is incorrect. It is called “close” communion.

  5. Chris Says:

    Katie,

    You are assuming that you are somehow entitled to the eucharist because you believe some key common confessions across the Christian spectrum. Would you dare, I wonder, come to a Greek Orthodox Church and ask or demand the Eucharist because you believe those things though I would assume you would reject a number of the great doctrines of the Church? I would hope not. The Eucharist works in tandem with the Church’s teachings and doctrine, not separate from it. If you do not know what you are receiving from the particular church you choose to receive from, how do you know if you are getting the “real thing”, or, more importantly, why would you care?

  6. Kristina Parish Says:

    Raised Missouri Synod Lutheran and always as a kid wondered why certain traditions that are “man made” not God or Bible truth but Mans. I was once told by the pastor of the church that I was RAIsed and confirmed in (after service, after I had communed) that since I was no longer a member there… (Had transferred membership from Michigan to Fla. Only a 1and 1/2 yr since I left ) that I was not allowed to commune there…. The very Church I was confirmed in and I was still a Missouri Synod member.. Just somewhere else. Man made not God made not Holy Spirit Led.
    No where in my bible does it say that this way Is ok I am a Child of God, invited by God to commune with him. Where a person’s heart is is between God and them. God does not need humans to help him see or determine (judge) a person’s heart. Legalism, the law, is not Gods..Grace is…we are accountable only to God and I believe God will not be happy with the “religious” spirited. He wants RELATIONSHIP. not nessecarily Religion.
    If when people are offered the bread and body they don’t “understand” that they are receiving Christ ?? They certainly aren’t getting “lunch”.
    We have open communion where I attend and Pastor CLEARLY leads into it each and every time. Even kids… “Let the little children come to me” them are Jesus words.
    What does your Bible say? What “rules” are Gods? What are not. God is calling each of us to be his friend, to get to know him, to Love Him. Open your Bible and read, make it personal and get to know him. He turns NO ONE *away…NoONE

  7. Katie Says:

    First, let me get something straight. I have never walked into any church demanding, insisting or expecting to get something from them. I most definitely do not feel entitled to something as sacred as communion. I am respectful of a church’s doctrine and teachings.

    You ask why I dare partake in something if I don’t know what I’m receiving. Actually, I do know and what I am receiving in a LCMS church. I would receive in, with, and under the bread and wine the true body and blood of Christ shed on the cross, Jesus Christ who is now risen and ascended and sits at the right hand of God the Father. Just because I am not a LCMS member does not mean I don’t believe this. I do.

    Like I said before, I have studied doctrine and been around LCMS members and in their churches often. Most teachings I’ve learned and truly believe. The one I was unsure of was close(d) communion. I now understand that even though I believe the same about communion as LCMS members it does not necessarily mean the church is certain I believe their teachings. It is the Christian Church’s responsibility to make sure people receive the Sacrament to the blessing and not to their harm. It would be very irresponsible to let anyone and everyone receive Communion if they don’t fully understand and have not publicly confessed their belief in LCMS doctrine. It means the congregation has a responsibility to do what it can in Christian love and concern to help people understand the nature of the Sacrament and why they come to it.

    I truly hope more congregations do this. As a visitor of several LCMS churches I have never had anyone able to seriously explain to me the purpose or importance of close(d) communion. I’ve always heard….”I’m not LCMS” or “I may not agree with their teachings” or “I have to believe the exact same things they do.” While these are honest answers, they still didn’t give me what I was looking for. Especially since I do believe the LCMS doctrine. I’m glad I came upon this article. It made me dig further into the LCMS teaching on Sacrament. I know more and understand how important communion is to the church. Like I said, it is a pretty hefty task but the church chooses to take it on because of its importance.

    I have one challenge for you Chris. Next time someone questions close(d) communion in LCMS, don’t belittle them. Instead, be prepared with scripture verses and be ready to explain the reasoning of LCMS doctrine. Verses such as; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:26-27; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; and Luke 22:14-23. Explain to them the purpose of close(d) communion. Don’t just tell them they don’t believe therefore can’t receive. Also a helpful tip is use the word communion. Especially if the person you’re talking to isn’t familiar with church terminology. I knew what you meant, but someone else might not. Remember we are supposed to bring people towards Jesus, not turn them away by condescending remarks.

  8. Chris Says:

    Katie,

    First off, I’m not LCMS. I’m Greek Orthodox.

    Secondly, if you believe that close(d) communion should be articulately defended by every layman in the LCMS, you’re never going to be satisfied. Most laymen can’t. Should they? I don’t think so. The defending of the deposit of the faith is given to the Bishops and Priests although there have been many times in the history of the Church where the laity did defend the faith against those who would change it, e.g. the laity vs. the Iconoclastic emperors and the laity vs. the bishops who signed the Union Accords at Florence. But, I digress…

    Thirdly, the terminology the church uses is done so with great care and precision. I do not favor dumbing down anything for the sake of more converts.

  9. Katie Says:

    “The Eucharist works in tandem with the Church’s teachings and doctrine, not separate from it. If you do not know what you are receiving from the particular church you choose to receive from, how do you know if you are getting the “real thing”, or, more importantly, why would you care?” ..to know the importance or purpose.

    Now yes, I added the last six words. But didn’t you tell me this? I believe everything you said here is completely accurate! Therefore, I believe that goes for everyone involved in the church, layman included. Like you implied, if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it… You probably shouldn’t be doing it!

    Let’s say someone is unfamiliar with Christ or your church’s beliefs and happens to question its practices. They’re not going to ask a church leader. They’re intimidating; even though they know the most about doctrine. This person will ask member of the church. And let’s be honest, if a member can’t Biblically defend or explain important practices of their church then they look pretty silly. So yes, I believe they should be able to defend their beliefs and practices, especially since they declare publicly that they understand and believe them.

    When it comes to church terminology you need to look at it as a teacher would. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know a lot about the church then you want to use terms they’ll understand. If you look up the word Eucharist, the first definition is “communion”. Therefore, you’re not “dumbing down” important terminology, you are simply using it as an opportunity to teach others what it means.

    My challenge for you Chris is still the same. The next time someone questions your church’s practices, don’t belittle them. Be prepared to explain the Biblical purpose and importance of it instead. Acting as if you’re better than them is not okay. It IS important to bring people to Jesus. And the next time you argue about important church practices, think before your speak.

Leave a Reply