My Christian background is a little odd, although more and more it’s becoming common among younger generations and is not out of the question with in my “baby boomer” generation. I was dedicated as an American Baptist (“Baptists” don’t baptize infants. Parents “dedicate” their children, promising that they will raise their child as a Christian in the Baptist Church.) I was married by a “Congregational” minister (it’s now called United Church of Christ). I was baptized by a United Methodist Minister and ordained by a Lutheran minister. I cannot say I was “raised’ as a Christian, no less in any particular tradition. I’m not saying that based on my checkered past that I’m an expert on various traditions of the Lord’s Supper, but my experience might give me a little bit of a unique perspective.
To be clear, yea, I have a firm conviction about the Lord’s Supper, I’m very serious about the Lord’s Supper. Lutherans would agree with Roman Catholics that the Bread and Wine in the Lord’s Supper is the true Body and Blood of Jesus. There’s disagreement as how that’s arrived at and dealt with, but just to give you a place to start to understand what the church’s position is. Having been a Methodist, I’ve seen the Lord’s Supper treated more like a cookie and coco break during worship, I’ve seen it treated pretty cavalierly in other traditions too, it’s offensive, it’s really offensive, it’s the Holy Body of our Lord and Savior.
I know I’m kind of stacking the discussion, but Jesus told us: “Take, eat; this is my body.”, Not this is a symbol, this is something I’m doing to be chummy, this is some weird mystical thing. No this is My Body, this is My Blood. This is what has been sacrificed for you, this is what has been given to be a part of you, this is what was given in order to assure you I paid the price for you sin and you are now forgiven, there should be no doubt in your mind about this.
OK? Don’t think there’s a lot of room to maneuver. When we treat the Body and Blood less than that, then it’s hard to take seriously those who treat His Body so lightly. For those of you who are so easily offended, this is real offense, mistreating the true Body and Blood of your Savior, the One who died to pay for your sins.
Rev Dr Peter Kurowski has written a really great book “Close Communion Conversations”, discussing issues associated with the Lord’s Supper. Since different denominations have different perspectives on the Lord’s Supper, most denominations try to specifiy with whom it is appropriate to allow to share communion with outside the denomination. For most of Protestant Christianity all you have to do is profess some acceptance of Christ and be able to fog up a mirror. Lutheran Church Missouri Synod takes our most solemn sacrament very seriously and, I feel at least, that it should be treated seriously by everyone, regardless of church or lack of church.
Therefore I refer to Dr Kurowski’s book to discuss the concepts of “Open Communion”, “Closed Communion” which are the two contrasts, and “Close Communion” which Dr Kurowski labels the middle ground.
“Open Communion in the extreme is the notion that the Lord’s Supper is administered to all people who come to the altar without any due diligence on the part of the administering pastor. This is not how Jesus wants His supper distributed. (1 Corinthians 4:1; Matthew 28: 18-20) Such a position is reckless and loveless. It creates Corinthian confusion. Church bodies that run this direction invariably will lose a true gospel centeredness lapsing into lawlessness. The person of Christ is diminished and “It is finished!” is rarely heard by the famished (John 19:30).”
‘Closed Communion” in the extreme is the notion that the Lord’s Supper is administered only to people who are communicant members of a denomination that has publicly declared altar fellowship. Though well meaning, this brittle approach is a reproach to many a saint who comes to the Lord’s Table hungering for righteousness but is met with a stone wall rather than a cup of compassion. The damage done when one’s position is too narrow is chilling, devastating and at times causes irreparable harm turning the Church – a hospital for sinners – into a kind of “Club Christ”, or a “Christ who clubs!”
“Close Communion Conversations” seeks to pursue the good golden gospel middle of genuine evangelical theology on altar fellowship issues…The guideline in service of the gospel runs this way: Although we have as a general rule closed communion we have exceptions to the rule. Both the general rule and the exceptions to the rule are for the sake of the gospel. At the same time the exceptions ought not t become the rule.”
“Because of this evangelical guideline, I prefer the term close communion. It captures the theological tensions in which evangelical Christianity must live. It brings with it a paradoxical Lutheran edge.” (pp 9-10)
This sets the discussion and I want to emphasize that when in doubt, my preference is to have “closed’ communion. I’ve written about this before, but it is not to set some sort of “more worthy Christian”, but to assure that the recipient truly understands and accepts a correct understanding of what the Lord’s Supper truly is. I often tell those who are new to the Lutheran Church that we don’t want them to feel excluded, we want them to understand how seriously we take the Lord’s Supper, that it is for their spiritual health. As a member eligible to receive the Lord’s Supper a person stands before the church that, as a part of membership, they vow to accept the true understanding of what the Lord’s Supper truly is. I want to give people the Lord’s Supper, believe me it is one of the great parts of being a pastor. But I want to do it to the recipients spiritual health and nourishment and knowing that we both understand what we are doing.
Please feel free to discuss and I plan to have more discussion.