Friday, July 06, 2007

The Difficulty with Closed Communion

There is always a tension within the LCMS about closed communion. "Officially" it is the policy of the LCMS that all congregations practice closed communion, that is, communion for members in good standing in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

But, despite the official position, many congregations do not practice closed communion. The rationale of pastors is that, in the practical, "real world," a little thing called "pastoral discretion" must be used. Now, I agree, there may be times when it is good for a non-LCMS Christian to partake of the Holy Meal, but those times should be few and far between.

Pastors who take liberties with pastoral discretion often appeal to the Gospel. They do not want to turn away possible "seekers" by the strict policy of closed communion. Other pastor's prefer to play loose with the meaning of closed communion, preferring the more friendly "close communion," meaning that as long as we are "close" in our theology, we may commune together.

I have been a parish pastor now for 4 weeks. We have had non-LCMS visitors every week. I have had to explain to them our position and it is a hard thing to do. I suspect that the real reason for loose practice in regards to closed communion is because it is hard. It is much easier to take an attitude of "gospel-lead," self-righteous and missional compassion than to take the time to teach, explain and possibly offend.

In short, I do not like closed communion, but that is because my sinful nature always want to rebel against God and His Word. I also do not always like proclaiming the Law which accuses. Being faithful to God's Word is not easy, but with His guidance I will continue to faithfully serve His people with His Word and Sacraments.


jWinters said...

Agreed. I do think that many pastors go for more open communion policies don't have to feel like a heel. Out of all of the arguments I've heard for a looser communion policy - I think the one you have elucidated here is indeed simultaneously a.) the worst thought out b.) the most common.
My BibTheo class came up with a line of reasoning that seems to work well within postmodern/emerging generations. That is to use "community" as the way of understanding 'barring people from the altar'. People understand that you don't join a community all at once and that communities have things that "only members" do.
What are your thoughts on using community as opposed to the more modernistic "it's between me and God?"

Jim Roemke said...

I think many younger people have no problems with that idea. Of the visitors we have had, I always got the feeling that the younger ones were fine with the idea of closed communion being part of our unique Lutheran "community."
But, even then, it is still not easy to turn people away.

How are things going for you, btw? I see that you have been "pre-ordained." I assume the ordination is coming up? Since I am not able to be there I will give you this blessing and advice from Scripture:
"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Tim 4:12).
May God make you the example the believers need.

jWinters said...

Someday I'll be quoted as saying, "The problem with Christianity is boomers."
Yep yep - I'll be ordained July 22nd. Looking forward to it very much. Thanks for the cyber blessing. :-)

in Christ,

Preachrboy said...

Now where did I put that bulletin?

Someone gave me a bulleting from a WELS church in town they attended. And in it, their closed communiuon statement appealed to...

EXODUS! They based it on the Passover account, said something about, "this Old Testament Sacrament" and people not joining the church casually or something like that... it was quite provocative, I thought.

I'll add my blessing to Jim's, Jay. "Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" Rev. 2:10

Jim Roemke said...

Jay, quote me right now as saying "The problem with Christianity is Baby Boomers (especially Boomer pastors)."
Tom, I would love to read that communion statement. Sounds very interesting.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that believers would prohibit other believers from partaking in the Supper that was instituted for all believers by Jesus Christ Himself.

I must be a boomer.

Kelly said...

Oh the joy of anonymity, and blurring or hiding one's true confession. But then that's what open communion is all about.

Before joining the Lutheran church I was confused about the communion policy, until I learned that this practice and doctrinal understanding was the same as the historical Christian Church-- not just among Lutherans but among pretty much everyone until the modern Age of Inclusiveness hit. After that I had no problem with it at all.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Roemke admits he may offend people with his convictions, and I do find it offensive that the young confessional pastors pouring forth from seminary these days are ready to write off a whole stratum of their flocks, the so-called Boomers. Oh, but let's see.....the Boomers or whoever aren't part of the pastor's flock anyway if they don't properly believe each iota of doctrine. So maybe the pastor isn't writing off part of his flock. He's simply clearly defining his flock, removing all the blurry edges. The flock's definition may get smaller all the time, but that's OK, as long as what's left is the true flock.

I am a poor, miserable, concupiscent sinner who confesses and clings to the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross for my forgiveness, justification, redemption, salvation, sanctification. But, I will never be convinced that close/closed Communion is biblical. I guess I wasn't catechised thoroughly enough at the proper age. Lost I must be for not toeing the exact line of confessional Lutheranism.

I also am stuck attending an LCMS church.....its impractical to drive many miles to somewhere else.

Yeah, Kelly.....anonymity is fantastic for a blurry coward like me. What good would it do to identify myself, anyway? I live far, far away. My convictions will never change, and neither will yours. Maybe I should appear to identify myself with a fake there's an idea.....but that would be lying....but who would know.....except God who clearly knows each one of us. Woe on all of us if not for the intervention of God's grace. It always is between God and me, God and you, God and each one of us.

If Pastor Roemke has a problem with anonymous comments, then he should block them.

Jim Roemke said...

I must ask forgiveness for so callously dismissing all boomers. That was wrong of me.
The church's problems are not to be laid at the feet of any one person or group of people, but rather where they truly belong: at the feet of our collective sinfulness. We are, indeed, all poor, miserable sinners.

I am a pastor in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I believe, that while it may be uncomfortable and certainly lamentable, closed communion is Scriptural.

We may not ever agree on this, but it seems we do share a sufficientcy in the redeeming work of Christ alone for our salvation.

Again, I ask your forgiveness for my thoughtless remarks about the boomer generation.

The Lord be with you

Kelly said...

Again, it's not like confessional Lutheranism is alone with the whole concept of closed communion, sheesh! It's the rejection of closed communion as a biblical doctrine that's weird and innovative in the Christian Church. I used to think that my convictions on closed versus open communion would never change, but lo and behold, they did, with a little bit of illumination from the history of Christianity and 1 Corinthians. I wouldn't give up hope just yet.

I'm not a Boomer, but most of the pastors I've heard lamenting the attitudes of Boomers are Boomers themselves. They're not trying to make it personal or attack you; they've simply described that something phenominal, unprecedented, and catastrophic happened in the church, and in the world in general, in the 60s and 70s. As a simple fact, the attitudes of these generations affected the church doctrinally in ways that would have been unheard of 100 years ago.

Communion was intended for the whole body of Christ. But if Scripture says that harm can come of partaking improperly, it is irresponsible of pastors to distribute the Body and Blood carelessly. It is the careless attitude and the fear of giving offense, or not being liked, that has defined the Church of the past 30 or 40 years, rather than reverence for Christ and a deep concern and love for his people.

Anonymous said...

wkzcIn 1 Corinthians 11 the Apostle Paul reprimanded the Corinthian assembly of believers for the self-centered, irreverent, inconsiderate way they were conducting the Lord's Supper. It concerned the way they were treating their fellow believers.....that was the "unworthy manner". Obviously, to Paul, their Communion behavior showed they did not respect the significance of the bread and wine. I personally am hard-pressed to find support there for the modern-day concept of close/closed Communion.

I cannot get past believing that endorsing close/closed Communion would say that I believe that believers in other Christian denominations are lost, which I do not believe. That is why I will not endorse it, and I will give my opinion when the subject comes up. I informed my young confessional pastor of my views after he had stated in the bulletin that by taking Communion from him, we were publicly stating that we agreed in total with his doctrinal teachings. In my opinion, that is far, far from Jesus Words stating, "This do in remembrance of Me....". Instead of in remembrance of Him, the Communion meal becomes a statement of doctrinal agreement with the pastor. That's too much for this child of the 60's and 70's to swallow.

So, Pastor Roemke, how would you respond if I was your parishioner, and I told you my beliefs about Communion? Would you continue to welcome me to your Communion table?

I'm certainly aware that other church bodies practice close/closed Communion. I view the Church as all true believers in Christ, irrespective of denomination, and I certainly believe that God views His Church that way. He knows His own.

Jim Roemke said...

First, Anon, you proclaim to be so "in tune" with Jesus and want to give freely His gifts to eveyone. If you are the same anon that has been posting on here, you have certainly not practiced what your preach by ignoring my apology and not giving me your forgiveness.

Second, if you were my parishioner and you felt this strongly about closed communion, I would encourage your to find a church body that better fit your own strong personal convictions. I would discourage your from tainting yourself by communing with the likes of us "young confessionals" and continue to pray for that glorious day when all Christians may commune together, when Christ has united His Church perfectly and freed us from all error.

But, I am not your pastor. Your pastor will do whatever he feels is most faithful to his particular calling. I pray that you show him the proper respect that God has given his office.

Also, are you going to forgive me personally or not?

Anonymous said...

I certainly accept your apology, and please forgive me for appearing to ignore it.

Did I give any indication that I feel I'm being tainted by partaking in Communion being distributed by a confessional pastor? I simply think he needs to know that I disagree with his idea that taking Communion from him indicates my full agreement with all of his beliefs. No pastor before him ever put it that way. That's railroading. I happen to know that there are many members in my church with views similar to mine. They are nicer than me, however, and are not apt to share their opinions with the pastor. Most just follow along on Sundays with whatever the pastor wants. Closed communion does not go over well around here, however, and that feeling has been in place since way before I arrived.

From reading confessional blogs such as yours, I have gotten the impression that people holding my views are tainting you and your hopes for building congregations that hold a supposedly pure confession.

How could I possibly be tainted by communing with confessionals, anyway? When I partake of Communion the only thing in my mind is Jesus' own Words of Institution. I care not who hands the bread and wine to me. I anticipate you won't like that attitude because you'll feel it is not respectful of the pastor. I don't see it that way, however, so you won't change my mind on the subject.

Not all of us live in cities with a smorgasbord of churches nearby to choose from, so I will continue to be a member in my neighborhood rural church.

Best wishes in your ministry and I hope you don't run into anyone like me.

Jim Roemke said...

I hope I do run into others like you. The problem with blogs is that you cannot really build that personal relationship with which to teach people. The point of my blog on closed communion is that it is hard. I'm not wild about it either, however, unlike you, I am convinced that it is accord with the teachings of Scripture.

Does that mean I am a better or purer Christian? By no means! Does that mean that you have a better grasp of the gospel or that I am not interested in the life-saving evangelical faith? Nope. It means that we disagree. It is a pretty serious disagreement. Because of this, we do not share the same confession of faith.

One thing I always am curious: who, then, would you bar from communion? Is there ever a line? If so, who should make that line?

I'm not saying that this is what you are doing, however, I get the feeling from some of your comments that you have little regard for us "young confessional" pastors. Have you ever humbly gone to your pastor and asked to be taught? Or, as so many of us do, do you hold on to that prideful sin? I would suggest that you use this opportunity as a learning experience. Work through this with fear and trembling. Deny yourself and take us this cross of closed communion. If you absolutely cannot bear it, do whatever it takes to find a church that you are in full agreement with.

And, don't give us young confessionals too hard of a time, we love Jesus too ;)

Anonymous said...

I would bar those who will not profess belief in the tenets stated in the Apostles Creed. Any person who stands by that wonderful old statement of faith is my brother or sister in Christ and I would be gladly share in Communion with them.

I'm sorry, Pastor Roemke, I can never be taught to agree with closed Communion, so what would be the point of asking my pastor to teach me such a thing? My pastor, and yes, he is very nice young man, once offered to sit down with me and study the Book of Concord to resolve the Communion issue. I politely said, "Thank you, but no." If its a sin to be disinterested in the BOC, then I'm definitely guilty of it. The Lutherans wrote it.....of course, its going to support all Lutheran beliefs and opinions.

Deny myself and take the cross of closed Communion?? How is that denying myself? I partake in closed Communion as it is. I simply believe other Christians should be allowed to the Table of our church, also. When Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow Me", I hardly think He was referring to being an adherent of closed communion.

In my personal opinion, the decision to bar other Christians from Communion falls very close to that condition of the "unworthy manner" mentioned by the Apostle Paul in I Cor.11. And yes, I would include in this group the Catholics and whoever else operates that way. Do you honestly believe it is right to turn Communion into a public display of support for a certain denomination's doctrine, much of which is probably adiaphoric. Communion is to be done "in remembrance of Me", as a tangible part of true living Christian faith. Do you believe the LCMS is the only repository of such faith?

Well, obviously, Brother-in-Christ, you and I will never agree on this issue. Guilty of pride and not being humble enough I may be.....but I will stand by what I believe, just as you will stand by what you believe.

We humans have exalted doctrine to a very high level. Over the centuries it has been thought over and fought over, embellished and simplified, molded and shaped by the perceptions of those at the helm at various times. I'm sorry, but I believe in going to Scripture, unencumbered by doctrine breathing down my neck. I don't make a good Lutheran.... but, probably wouldn't make a good anything, so I will stay where I'm at.

Truly, I'm sorry to have clogged up this comment column so many times.

God's blessings to you always!


Jim Roemke said...

Well, Anon, I guess that is it then. I appreciate your willingness to converse about this issue. I would very stongly encourage you to find a different church home. If you are disinterested in the BOC then what's the point of being Lutheran? I, like your own pastor, have taken a vow before God and His Church to uphold Scripture and its right interpretation in the BOC.

You are right when you say you do not make a good Lutheran, but you sound like a very good ELCA Lutheran or Methodist or non-denom type.

If you have no interest whatsoever in bearing the cross of obedience in this regard, if you have no interest in learning, please, do go with God. You are only hurting yourself.

Again, thank you for "clogging" things up and the Lord be with you.

Preachrboy said...

I think anon needs to repent, not go find browner pastures in the ELCA.

cwoodin said...

Jim -
First of all, I would like to say that I grew up in a PCUSA church and am now attending a school associated with the ELCA, which both, as I'm sure you know, practice open communion, but I am familiar with the practice of closed communion from different Catholic acquaintances.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but when I read through 1 Cor. 17-34 (the major verse cited for Closed Communion), I got the impression that John was chastising the Corinthians for not being open enough in their communal practices:
"For as you eat, you each go ahead with his own meal, so that some are hungry while others get drunk. Don't you have your own homes in which to eat and drink? Or would you rather despise the church of God and put to shame the people who are in need? What do you expect me to say to you about this? Shall I praise you? Of course I don't!"

I'm really trying to seek understanding of this practice, as I was always taught that on of the major teachings of Jesus was to eat with the sinners, for "the healthy need no physician" (Mark 2, I believe)

I know this site was last updated a while ago, but some clarification or correction if I am wrong would be much appreciated.

Jim Roemke said...

We believe, teach and confess in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (as have the majority of Christians throughout history) that the sacred meal is no simple meal. That is what Paul (not John) was referring to in 1 Corinthians. The people were not concerned that they were actually receiving Christ's own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. This is something not to be taken lightly, as the Corinthians were doing, by making it simply a social event. I'm not familiar with your particular type of Presbyterian church, but do you believe that Christ's physical body and blood are in with and under the elements of communion (bread and wine)? If not, then you deny Christ's own words. If it is simply a "meal" of sorts that only has symbolic meaning then let anyone come. But God's Word teaches that the Eucharist is not just a symbolic meal, but rather a partaking of the sacred. We do not enter into this lightly or without examining ourselves. It does matter what people confess when they take the Lord's Supper and they should strive for unity in that confession. That is what we are doing, striving for unity in doctrine. However, we do not strive for unity by giving up or underplaying what we believe, but by firmly standing by what we believe and demanding others who would commune with us truly commune with us. We confess that we are sinners in need of the forgiveness Christ gives in His own body and blood, sacrificed once for all on the cross for the complete atonement of the sins of the world.
Is it a perfect practice? No. Is it easy? No. Does it please Christ? He is not pleased with our sinfulness. It is our attempt to grow in faithfulness to the eternal Word and the confession of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.

C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cwoodin said...

Thank you for the information, Jim, it helped to clarify the interpretation of 1 Corinthians, and to further my understanding of your faith, and while I still can't say I completely agree with you on this point, I believe I can see your point of view (and were it not for my upbringing, I could see myself agreeing with you).
Thanks for the quick response,

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the Bible say that you should "examine yourself before taking Communion" as opposed to allowing another sinful person judge whether or not you are worthy?

Jim Roemke said...

The problem with the argument that a pastor is just another sinful person and therefore unable to judge another is that it is based on the premise that the pastor is judging for himself. A good and faithful pastor can only judge anything by using Scripture as the rule and norm of his judgement. He has gone through extensive training and acts as a more objective party when it comes to examining oneself. So, dear anonymous, if you think you are capable, being as big a sinner as I, of judging yourself, by all means, go ahead. I will continue to rely on Scripture as the plum line of proper, God-pleasing judgement as a steward of the Holy Ministries.

Amanda said...

The last post on this site was several months ago, but as I am looking to further my investigation into the LCMS, I am hoping you still update and will respond. I grew up in the Church of Christ, and we took communion weekly. I always knew it was important, but was taught that it was a memorial only. As I got older, I became more aware of the manner in which communion was being taken, and I realized that it was not in accordance with scripture. I know that Christians are instructed to examine themselves so insure that the Lord's Supper is taken in a worthy manner, but that would lead me to believe that it is between God and me to be sure that I am partaking worthily. I will bring judgement upon MYSELF. I attended a Methodist church recently that offered communion to anyone - I mean ANYONE. However, before I moved out of state, I was attending an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN that I thought handled communion in the best way I have experienced. The pastor would say that if your relationship with God is true and you are following Jesus and are seeking to live according to the Bible and are repentant of sins, you should come forward to partake of communion. However, if don't feel like you are in that place yet, it is okay. There is nothing to be ashamed of, but you shouldn't come forward for communion as to not reign judgement down on yourself. I think this handled it well because communicants need to know that they should absolutely not take it in an unworthy manner, but you are not alienating people from your congregation. It is not up to anyone else to decide who is partaking unworthily except for God. And you don't want people who are still seeking Jesus to stay away from services because they feel like an outsider. You want to bring those people in and help them to know Christ. So I guess my problem is that I don't see in the scriptures provided by LCMS where the Bible says that anyone else is to determine who is unworthy besides a person and God. Each person has been warned against partaking in an unworthy manner in the New Testament. It's their own responsiblity to partake or obstain. I would like to attend an LCMS church nearby because after much study, I think my beliefs and understanding of the Bible is in accordance with theirs. However, knowing that this issue would keep me from communing, makes me stay away. Please help me understand this issue in a different light. You should know that I have read all the postings on here by you and others and still aren't convinced. So, maybe you could say something differently or something you haven't yet said. I think it is sad that even if you convinced me that close communion is biblical, I still wouldn't be able to commune at my LCMS church for months. Please help.

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Anonymous said...

Since I disagree with every denomination on at least one doctrine that is considered to be sufficiently important to subject me to closed communion, I have a choice to respect the expression of doctrinal distinction of all denominations and thus fellowship with none (no longer attend any Church)….or….to ignore the self-imposed distinctions of the denominations and fellowship with the denomination of my choice without revealing the differences in doctrines. Since the life in Christ is intended to be corporate, to be a community, as is most clearly seen by the existence of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and of the ekklesia in the New Testament, if I wish to practice my faith according to its intent, the choice becomes self-evident. Of course, I could just revert to Atheism. And some who are determined to express their true life have counseled me that it would be better for me to do so rather than go against the laws of the community.