by Rev. Timothy Scharr
The following was prepared as a response for a brief presentation on closed Communion.
1 Corinthians 10
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 11
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
In the Lord’s Supper there is a vertical component as the person receives the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine. This is genuine koinonia with Christ. There is also a horizontal element where the person shares koinonia with all who are communing at that altar and church. The Sacrament of the Altar is the highest form of koinonia Christians experience on earth. They are one with Christ and with believers who share the same devotion to the apostles’ teaching. The celebration of the Sacrament expresses unity on the horizontal level. The presence of division at the Lord’s Supper prompts Paul to address the church in Corinth. He indicates that division breaks the unity and has no place at the Sacrament.
We profess not only what we receive into our mouths but also confess our agreement with the teachings of the congregation confessed at that altar, pulpit and denomination. To admit people who hold a different profession of faith is both unloving and harmful to their salvation. We either make them into hypocrites who believe one thing and practice another, or we let them eat and drink judgment on themselves by not discerning the Lord’s body and blood (1 Corinthians 11:29).
Closed from the Start
From the beginning days of the Church, Christians followed closed communion. Only those who are baptized, instructed and confess the same faith in the Lord Jesus Christ received the Sacrament of the Altar. Visitors from other congregations needed examination or a letter of introduction from their bishop (pastor) before they would be admitted to the Lord’s Table. By the third century there was a rite of dismissal for those who were not baptized, receiving instruction or under church discipline. They would be dismissed with prayer from the Divine Service to continue instruction under a deacon while the faithful celebrated the Sacrament behind the closed doors of the church. Their rationale was simple. “The Holy Things of God for the holy people of God.” They cited Matthew 7:6 for not communing those who were not admitted to the Sacrament. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
The Universal Practice of the Church
Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutherans and other Christians practice closed communion today. It was during the 19th and 20th centuries where the practiced changed among Protestants who did not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. It was only in the latter half of the 20th century when Lutherans began to practice open communion. Lutherans remain divided on church fellowship and the Sacrament of the Altar.
The ELCA practices an extreme open communion policy and have declared themselves in altar fellowship with such diverse groups as the Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and the United Church in Christ. In some cases only baptism remains as the requirement for attending the Lord’s Supper. In this diversity one can believe about anything regarding the Sacrament. 1) It could be the real body and Christ for us Christians to eat and drink; 2) It is simply a memorial meal where we eat bread and drink wine while our thoughts ascend heavenward to Jesus; 3) It is a command of Jesus that we do this in remembrance of Him but it has no power to forgive sins or give us Jesus’ body and blood in bread and wine. The Lord Jesus is much clearer on this topic than many wish to believe.
Within the ELCA the Bible contains the Word of God. Missouri Synod Lutherans believe teach and confess that the Bible is the Word of God. The difference is the “continental divide” within Christendom today. When the Bible merely contains God’s Word it has other words mixed in and we can’t be sure of anything. The worst case scenario is that anything goes. The world writes the agenda and the church follows. This is the rationale behind women pastors and the acceptance of gay clergy. The next issue for apostasy will appear shortly as the world turns further away from Christ.
Closed communion remains the practice of the majority of Christians worldwide. It is the Biblical teaching of the Sacrament of the Altar that we retain in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.