Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A Plea to Those Who Bring Visitors to Our Churches

Thank you for bringing visitors to our churches that they might hear the Gospel and that we might have the opportunity to meet them and to potentially welcome them, eventually, into our fellowship. As you know, the congregations of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod all agree to practice closed communion.

What this means is that none of our members are to take communion at churches that aren't in fellowship with us unless some member is on his deathbed, is deathly afraid that he is not absolved and will go to Hell if he dies without communion, and can only get that grace from a pastor who is not in fellowship with us. In such a case, by all means receive the Body and Blood of Jesus under bread and wine from a heterdox pastor, though, it would be better if you had the confidence and comfort of what God promises and gives in Holy Baptism so that you could face death as a Christian. Presumably, in any case, our members won’t often be taken by ambulance into other churches and should rarely find themselves in such dire straits or need.

So also, closed communion means that our churches refuse communion to those not in fellowship with us at our altars, unless, of course some Christian comes upon us in an emergency like that described above is in another extremely unusual and temporary circumstance so that pastoral care requires an exception.

Explaining this to the public, what closed communion is, typically falls to the pastors, but this practice is not based upon some difficult and esoteric theological position. (Here is an attempt at that). It is the common and constant practice of the Christian church and has always been the practice of the LCMS without a single gap or change in our entire history. While explaining it to the public, in general, might fall to the pastors the laity and synodical officials and others on the clergy roster but not in the position of parish pastor might well also explain this practice to their family and friends that they bring to church. It doesn't have to be that the laity bring the visitor to the pastor and look at their shoes while he does the difficult and awkward task of explaining both that he isn't going to give the visitor communion and why.

If the laity really are too timid to do this, we, the parish pastors, will. We must. It is our job. But it is unfortunate when the impression is given that the lay person or synodical official or member of the roster not in a parish who brought the person had no idea what was going to happen or what was going to be said and that this is simply a matter between the particular pastor and the visitor and not of the entire LCMS and her relationship to those with which we are not in fellowship.

All that to say, there is no joy in telling people they can't have communion. It is particularly distressing to have to do this within a few minutes of the actual Worship Service and makes it difficult for pastors to get their minds clear and focused on what they need to be focused on. If you're up to it, you really could help us out some and carry a bit of the burden and not leave us feeling as though we are alone. After all, this isn’t just the position of the clergy. This is what we do because we believe that it is right, that it is the required and reverence response to the bodily presence of Jesus and the sad reality of the divisions in the Church and we should not be ashamed of what we believe in.

David Petersen2 Comments