05 January 2009

An Open Letter to LCMS Pastors Who Practice Open/Welcoming/Evangelical/Etc. Communion

Dear Brother in Christ,

I wish you God's abundant blessings in the Epiphany season as we each seek to serve the flocks to which God has sent us. Indeed, I'm writing today because we are brothers in the Lord each seeking to serve God's people in an ever more connected world.

You and I are connected by serving together as pastors in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and we are even more connected as some of my parishioners occasionally travel down your way in the winter and visit your church. When they do, they find that you and I live out our practice of fellowship at the Lord's Altar in very different ways.

OK, not that open. . .

Now, I'm not writing today either to harangue you or even to try to convince you of the correctness of my practice of fellowship at the Lord's Table and the incorrectness of your own. I'm writing today merely to encourage you to perhaps view things from a brother's perspective and also ask you for a courtesy.

In my parish ministry – both in the Chicago suburbs and now in rural Illinois – I have sought to practice closed communion as the Synod has expressed it in synodical resolutions and official documents, like this summary from the CTCR's 1999 statement on Admission to the Lord's Supper, “The LCMS, therefore, also teaches in accordance with the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the historic tradition of the church when it asks that fellow-Christians, who are confessors of a different doctrine not participate in the Lord's Supper at our altars.”

I can see from your congregation's worship bulletin which my member brought me, that this is not your practice. Rather, you invite to your altar all who share your faith in the Real Presence, without regard to disagreements in confession over other topics like Baptism, Predestination, the authority of Scripture vs tradition, etc.

Again, in this letter I do not wish to wade into the arguments between these two viewpoints (though I would be happy to discuss such matters if you like). Instead, I'm writing to ask you to try to view this situation – this disagreement between our practices – from your brother's perspective and ask the Golden Rule question: What would I have my brother do for me if the roles were reversed?

Here I am in Illinois seeking to maintain the stated and historic position of our Synod – something that has been reaffirmed several times in the past decade. When my people have questions about why we practice altar fellowship the way we do, I answer them from the Scriptures and also note that this is the practice of our Synod as stated in convention resolutions, my seminary course work, and official documents from the CTCR - and has been for years.

Imagine their confusion, and the frustration this causes all around, when they travel on vacation and come upon a sister LCMS congregation who does not practice in accord with the Synod's stated position.

Here is where I would ask a courtesy of you. If you can put yourself in my shoes and see things from my perspective, this is what I would ask: could you include some wording within your statement to visitors that would remove any confusion by acknowledging that the practice of your congregation is not the stated practice of the Missouri Synod? Looking at your current statement, perhaps the last two sentences could be reworked along these lines, “While our denominational church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, discourages communion with Christians of other confessions, we here at __________ invite all Christians to our altar who share our faith that the body and blood of Jesus is truly present in the Lord's Supper, together with bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.”

With such a statement, LCMS members from other parishes, and visitors from other Christian confessions, would find it easy to understand both your position, and the fact that this position differs from the public position of the Synod at large. I think such a statement actually serves both of our ministries more effectively. It allows my parishioner's to see that, yes, the Synod does have an official position – and it allows you to clearly and publicly highlight the fact that you believe this position of Synod to be incorrect, and thus your intention not to practice it.

I wish you all the best in your ministry – and should you ever wish to discuss this or any other topic in a fraternal manner, please do not hesitate to call.

All the best,

Pr. H. R. Curtis


wmc said...

This is an excellent idea, and I commend the original post for suggesting it. I will propose a somewhat more detailed version for our congregation's use, probably along the lines of Luther's 20 Questions which we already have on a laminated card in our pews.

I would also further suggest that everyone who reads this post consider carefully and honestly whether he actually practices what is called "close(d) communion" according to the letter of our synodical resolutions. This would mean no mulligans to former, favored members, crony pastors who are no longer in official fellowship with the LCMS, and confessional Lutherans who are not now in fellowship with the LCMS.

I believe open honesty is the first needful step toward a more practicable and catholic practice.

Again, thank you for a refreshingly constructive suggestion.

Mike Keith said...

An excellent idea. I am presently working toward closed communion at the parish I serve. We have amde some strides and I am confident that we will get to where we ought to be. However, I am very much in favour with what you have stated and I believe I will discuss it with my congregation as it will eb a good way to discuss the issue. Thank you kindly for this post!

Reformationalist said...


This is a serious, and a difficult, issue. When I say "difficult," I'm not referring to the difficulty of maintaining a closed communion stance. I speak of who it is that falls within, rather than without, a proper and Scriptural closed communion circle. I hold that closed communion starts with synodical membership, in that it assumes that the conditions of closed communion in faith and practice actually exists between a congregation and a potential communicant from outside of the congregation. But, in reality, these condition don't exist between our congregation and every single other congregation in Synod. Moreover, these conditions do exist between our congregation and persons who are not attached to another congregation in Synod.

To pretend that these potential communicants are in a "closed" stance as we have it (presumably) in Synod just because they are attached to a congregation in Synod is wrong -- it violates the very reason which undergirds having a closed communion standard in the first place.

Moreover, to pretend that faithful, confessional persons, with whom the members of my congregation have complete unity in faith and practice, are to be barred from the altar, is to abuse them. I have heard brothers say that no abuse occurs, because they don't "have" to partake with us -- they have God's grace given from the sermon, readings, etc. This very view abuses the blessed Sacrament, treating it as some sort of optional, spiritual dessert, when in fact it is, as the ancients have taught us, the very medicine of immortality.

So, I argue, maintain, and am willing to stake my own status within Synod on this point, that "closed communion" STARTS with the position of "only LCMS members and any LCMS members," until or unless specific circumstances arise that would DENY the very unity that we have around the Sacrament -- either a heterodox person who happens to belong to a synodical congregation or a faithful, orthodox, confessing Lutheran who happens not to belong to a synodcial congregation.

I have heard from brothers that I should solve this difficulty by using synodical channels and bylaws to deal with the errant members of LCMS congregations. I must, "Not my job, man!" The challenge to do it that way, in face of the huge numbers of congregations that practice a TRULY errant violation of true closed communion practice, is beyond what individual pastors or congregations can complete.

Meanwhile, if this position that I have openly articulated happens to be viewed by others as, itself, an abused and denial of closed communion, then those who see it that way ought themselves do whatever they find that the Synod demands of them. I cannot see how this difficult situation can otherwise be treated.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP
Falcon, Colorado

wmc said...

But, in reality, these condition don't exist between our congregation and every single other congregation in Synod. Moreover, these conditions do exist between our congregation and persons who are not attached to another congregation in Synod.

My point precisely.

William Weedon said...

Amen, Robert. Dealing with what is.

Pr. H. R. said...


I think you have evangelically and accurately described what a true "pastoral exception" entails - which has always been part not only of traditional Lutheran Altar fellowship, but of the history of the Church catholic.

What becomes divisive, confusing, and frustrating is when a brother pastor does not practice our standards of fellowship with exceptions (which by their nature are rare) but rather writes up his own lesser standards of fellowship - the most popular of which is some description of the Real Presence in the bulletin along with something along the lines of, "If you believe this, come on up."

Such practice is, I believe, not only troubling to fellow pastors in the Synod, but also bad pastoral practice to those so invited to come forward.

I should know those whom I commune - for when I commune someone I am saying Amen to his spiritual life. When visitors from other LCMS parishes come to my altar, I am essentially trusting that their pastor, with whom I am in fellowship, knows them: I'm taking his word for it that their spiritual life gets the Amen.

And that's why I can't, except in the rarest exceptional and exigent circumstance, commune a Roman Catholic or a Presbyterian: there is something there in their spiritual life that cannot receive the Amen.

That, at any rate, is how I approach Altar fellowship - I would never condemn a brother for making pastoral judgments in exceptional circumstances: it's avoiding having to exercise judgment and essentially making every visitor on every Sunday morning an exceptional circumstance that I find troubling.


wmc said...

Since the author of the original post has issued an open, fraternal appeal in light of the published communion statements of others, it would seem good, right, and salutary if he would publish here his own congregation's communion statement and describe those rarest of "exceptional and exigent circumstances" in which he might commune someone who is not a member of a congregation in official fellowship with the LC-MS.

Pr. H. R. said...

Pr. Cwirla,

Can do:

"Today we are celebrating the Sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ's true body and true blood. Since reception of the Lord's Supper expresses not only fellowship with the Lord, but also fellowship and agreement with the teaching of the pastor and congregation, we follow the Biblical practice of closed communion. All guests are kindly asked to please speak with Pastor Curtis before communing at our altar. Normally, members of Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregations are welcome to partake, as are people from churches in fellowship with the LCMS."

I've not had many experiences with exigent circumstances that required me to make exceptions to this. I have communed a dying man with very little catechesis - but I also baptized him, so he was a member of our parish. I like the practice of Rome on this score: if a dying man requests the sacraments, he is given them, even if he's Lutheran, Baptist, whatever.

The next question that inevitably arises in this discussion: What about somebody who shows up at the altar who hasn't talked to you beforehand?

Depends - in general I trust my elders to know visitors that I don't know: so if somebody comes up and seems to "know the score" I commune them and make a point to talk to them later. If someone looks confused at the altar I'll stop and whisper, "It's good to have you with us today - I'm Pastor Curtis. What is your home church?" If it's not one of our churches, I give them a blessing - and catch them after the service for a conversation.

The other practice I have engaged in - which undoubtedly stems from my own weakness and cowardice on occasion, not from any conviction - is communing someone of doubtful worthiness when they show up at the altar. One, for example, was a fellow I was pretty sure was shacking up with some gal, but through laziness I had put off going to see him, and now here he was at the altar with his family. To my shame, I communed him and then talked to him later. And then went to I went to confession. . .

And I've had my fair share of unpleasant turn-aways too: my ELCA cousins who flew from Phoenix to Chicago for my ordination, an ELCA former son of the congregation who was quite irate at not being communed, a now Methodist former member back home with mom for a visit, etc.

I have not had occasion to encounter some of the situations which you and Robert mentioned: faithful Lutherans who because of strange circumstances find themselves beleaguered in a church body they'd rather not be in. As I mentioned above, I think Robert's statement for how he handles that sounds pretty good: these are certainly cases for pastoral judgment and exceptions.

On the flipside of that, I have not had much occasion to encounter the quandary of what to do with an LCMS member who is heterodox rather than living an immoral life (had plenty of the latter!).

Within the parishes I've served, I certainly have had folks who have their doubts on certain areas of doctrine: for example, who don't really see a problem with women's ordination, or who don't believe that Absolution is an effective Sacrament.

We talk about those topics, I show them the Scriptures, they are not exactly convinced - but they keep coming to this church to hear the Gospel preached in accordance with our teaching. And so I accept those facts, taken together, as evidence of their being weak brothers and commune them - they are, in Bart Simpon's words, "trying to try" to repent. If someone was vociferous in their support of some false doctrine, encouraged others to believe the same, and was active in opposing our teaching - that would be another matter.

But I was once on a shut-in call when I was new to a parish and even as I was setting up for communion, the conversation that this person and I had made it clear that there were doctrinal issues that had to be cleared up before communion could take place - so I packed up and we talked about that instead.

I think that's a pretty fair summary of my practice of Altar fellowship, warts and all.


The Rev. BT Ball said...

Below is ours. I suppose it could be tinkered with to include our sister synod members from around the globe or the AALC.

In almost 10 years I've had situations galore, from people walking out of church prior to the service when I told them to refrain because of their confession to my being threatened with the dispute resolution process by another pastor of our fellowship because of my refusal to commune an ELCA employee of an LCMS RSO who was present at a winkel to the telling members of our separated sister synods of the synodical conference to refrain because of their own public doctrine. It is not easy, nor will it ever be. If it starts being easy, then we are in trouble. Anyway, here is our statement.

"To our Guests and Visitors: Saint Paul's congregation confesses that the Sacrament of the Altar is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. Participation in the Sacrament is a declaration of fellowship that is evidence of oneness in faith and doctrine; for this reason Saint Paul's practices closed communion. In faithfulness to our Lord's Word and in Christian love, only members of Saint Paul's or of a sister congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod may commune this day. All first time LCMS visitors are requested to announce your intention to commune prior to the service with one of the pastors. Let us pray that our Lord would, through His Holy Word, bring about unity in doctrine, faith and life."

wmc said...

And here's ours. A word of explanation - the first paragraph addresses our regular communicants since the Scriptural injunction is that a man "examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." We sometimes forget that and think it only applies to visitors. We also forget that it is self-examination that the apostle is speaking of, not pastoral examination. The second paragraph addresses our guests.

The Holy Scriptures say, “Let a person examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor. 11:27). In preparation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you should ask yourself the following questions: Am I baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? Do I acknowledge my sinfulness and trust Jesus Christ and His atoning death for my forgiveness, life, and salvation? Do I believe the words of Jesus Christ concerning His Supper, namely, that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood, given and shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins? Do I recognize my union in faith and confession with all baptized believers in Jesus Christ as a member of His Body, the Church? For further helpful questions in this regard, see the laminated card in the hymnal rack in front of you.

We believe, according to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in His Holy Supper Jesus truly gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink under the forms of bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and salvation He won for us by His sacrificial death on the cross. We also believe, according to the Holy Scriptures (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), that Holy Communion is both a personal communion with Jesus Christ and with one another as fellow members of the body of Christ. As such, we respectfully ask that those who are not members of this congregation speak with the Pastor prior to receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood at this congregation.

I will admit that my admission of guests to the Lord's Supper is considerably more generous than the letter of our synodical resolutions would allow, though it is not what some would call "open communion." The absence of an LC-MS reference is intentional, as many members and non-members alike were perceiving communion admission as similar to dining room privileges at the Elk's Lodge (ie show your membership card at the door).

I have taken to heart what our brother has written in his fraternal letter and will seek to find a way to make clear to what degree we depart from the practice of synodically closed communion as expressed in 1967 Res2-19, 1986 Res 3-08, and 1995 Res 3-0 under Synodical Constitution Article VII.1 and Bylaw 1.8

Father Hollywood said...

To paraphrase The Incredibles: "When every situation is an exception, then no situation is an exception."

In the Southern District, one former district official went to far as to opine that whenever a non-Lutheran presented himself at a Lutheran altar for communion, this was, by definition, an exceptional circumstance - and the person should always be communed.

How's that for bureaucratic circumlocution?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Weedon said...

Our statement is brief:

A hearty welcome to our visitors! Please consider us your Church home - at least for this day. Be sure to introduce yourself to the pastor on the way out. Today we celebrate Holy Communion. At St. Paul's, this Sacrament is given to those baptized Christians who have been examined and absolved and publicly confess the faith professed at this altar. If you have not previously communed here, please speak to the pastor before approaching the sacrament.

I've been here long enough (mostly) to get away with "if you have not previously communed here." I can tell you of one pastoral exception I made. A young man who lives in the Caribbean has through his studies embraced the Lutheran confession; sadly, on his Island there is no Lutheran Church. He asked if I would hear his confession and grant him absolution when he was visiting in St. Louis, and if it were possible then to welcome him to the table. He did not demand this, he merely requested. Through correspondence with him over several years I knew his confession, and so after absolving him, I did indeed commune him at the Divine Service following our time for private confession. He's contemplating a move to the US and plans to hook up with a Lutheran parish when he does.

wmc said...

A young man who lives in the Caribbean has through his studies embraced the Lutheran confession; sadly, on his Island there is no Lutheran Church.

I'd be happy to go there and be his pastor. Does he own a boat by any chance?

David said...

Stolen nearly word for word from Scott Bruzek at St. John, Wheaton. This is basically what he had in the bulletin when he served here in the mid-1990s:
The Lord’s Supper is joyfully received here today. At the altar, our Lord Jesus Christ delivers His True Body and Blood into our mouths. His gift of Body and Blood, given in, with, and under the bread and wine, bestows tremendous benefits. His Body and Blood forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, binds us to the Lord, and unites us with each other. In this is life and salvation.

All members of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have publicly confessed this sacred gift and its blessings, and so are encouraged to commune. Other guests wishing to join our confession and receive this Holy Sacrament are encouraged to speak with Pastor Juhl before communing for the first time. Those not having received communion from Pastor Juhl before are asked to announce your intention to commune to him before the Divine Service.

When you have examined yourself according to Christ’s bidding (1 Corinthians 11:28), come to His Supper rejoicing, just as Jesus asks, knowing that our Lord meets you at His altar with joy.
I've taken flak from some of my brothers about the "blessing" bit. Understand that Our Savior practiced open communion for nearly 25 years before Pr. Bruzek's arrival here in 1993 when he fenced the rail.

I've had to make inquiries at the rail here more times than I can tell you, including this past Sunday when a Roman Catholic came forward to receive the Sacrament. I queried him, found out his confession, and blessed him. For a while I communed a fellow that I found out later was delinquent ELCA. I told him I could no longer commune him and he hung up the phone in my ear. Haven't seen him since.

Closed communion bothers a few of my members after many years of open communion. I keep working with my elders (who are on my side) and those who have a problem with closed communion. These things take time.

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior, Momence, IL

David said...

Oops! I realized I have taken the bit about receiving a blessing out of the statement recently. My mistake.

Pr. H. R. said...


Don't let anybody give you guff about the blessing - it's a handy tool: and we should rejoice in giving blessings. I have a family that the blessing thing at the altar helped a great deal.


wmc said...

We always bless those who do not commune, for whatever reason, out of their Baptism.

You know, this thread has got me thinking, which doesn't happen often on the internet. How does this post tie together with the previous post from Rick on episcopal polity and pastoral practice? One thing that comes through very clearly in Werner Elert's "Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries" is that communion fellowship was linked to one's bishop. When you replace a bishop with a synodical convention/institution, that changes how you look at this.

Also we need to come to grips with the American phenomenon of denominationism which is the attempt to create the unity of a territorial church without having a territory with the unintended consequence of creating a bunch of confessional ghettos.

All of this is bundled together with communion practice and how people perceive and relate to it.

Although it exceeds the capacity of this post and comment stream, I would also welcome a discussion on whether closed communion as we have it is de jure divino or de jure humano.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Pastor Cwirla has written in part: "How does this post tie together with the previous post from Rick on episcopal polity and pastoral practice? One thing that comes through very clearly in Werner Elert's 'Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries' is that communion fellowship was linked to one's bishop."

Yes, exactly. This is precisely part of the point to which I was getting in my post, previously.

Our synodical fellowship is not simply a political arrangement, but presumably is (or should be) a churchly fellowship in the means of grace, on the basis of a common outward confession of the catholic faith. If the true catholicity of our fellowship is at odds with, or significantly out of sync with, our synodical polity, then something is already broken and either needs to give way or be repaired through repentance and confession of the Word of God.

While I understand, appreciate and sympathize with Robert's frustrations and his approach to the difficulty of admittance to the Sacrament of the Altar, I'm not entirely clear on his criteria. I guess I'm not sure what is meant by "starting" with our synodical fellowship, in particular when it comes to those outside of it.

This particular thread points to a real dilemma. "Open Communion" is not simply a break from our agreed upon practice; it establishes a new and different fellowship. In doing so, it implicates all of us who are already in fellowship with the local bishop who openly communes those of a different confession of the catholic faith.

This is part of my point in saying that "church fellowship" is not simply the basis of communing together; rather, communing together IS "church fellowship." This is why who we are as a synod is more than merely a political arrangement, and why the bonds and boundaries of our synodical fellowship ought to grow out of, and follow the contours of, our common confession of the catholic faith in preaching and practice.

If our political ties are not in harmony with our confessional fellowship (or lack thereof), then it is wrong to base admittance to the Holy Communion on synodical affiliation, and we frankly need to reestablish the foundations and rebuild from the ground up. Not because the political structures and governance of a synod are ever the heart and soul and life of the Church, but precisely because they are not and cannot be; nor should they be allowed to redefine the boundaries of the Church's catholicity.

Reformationalist said...

My friend, Richard, as to the status of how we understand closed communion, here's our Communion Statement:

As intended by Christ and as practiced by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church throughout history, "closed communion" is observed here, in which the Lord's Supper is distributed only to those who:

(a) are baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;

(b) have been instructed in the truth of Holy Scriptures as taught in the Lutheran Confessions, have been confirmed in this Lutheran faith and practice, and now embrace this same Lutheran faith in the same way that it is believed, taught, confessed, and practiced in this congregation;

(c) believe that in this Sacrament the real body and blood of Christ are truly distributed to them and orally received by them, bestowing on them the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation;

(d) repent of all their sins, and desire to receive God's forgiveness in this holy meal.
Guests at our services who are able to affirm these facts should speak to our pastor or the elder on duty before receiving the Sacrament.

To other guests with us today, we express to you our sincere interest, friendship, and concern, and we assure you that it is for the spiritual welfare of all that we practice "closed communion," even as we continue to work toward the day in which all divisions over doctrine and practice within Christ's Church will be resolved.

Those desiring to learn more about our beliefs are encouraged to speak with one of our pastors.

Our Synod is the churchly jurisdiction under which we live, spiritually. Leaving this jurisdiction is not a matter of some sort of free choice or preference. It is where God has placed me and my congregation, so we recognize those who are also under this same churchly jurisdiction to hold a common confession and practice. Hence, we start with the presumption that visitors to our congregation from our Synod's congregations hold to this same common confessional and practice. When, however, congregations holeding errant view of our common confession and practice comes to our knowledge, then that changes our receptiveness of members of such congregation.

At the same time, it is clear that people outside of our churchly jurisdiction also hold to the same confession and practice as we, and when persons in this situation come among us at the Divine Service, they are embraced as being at one with our closed communion.

That's our practice, flowing from the statement posted above.



Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

wmc said...

"At the same time, it is clear that people outside of our churchly jurisdiction also hold to the same confession and practice as we..."

This might include, for example, the Siberian Lutheran Church with whom the Ft. Wayne seminary works or those Lutherans of the Lutheran Church in Australia with whom we were formerly in synodical fellowship.

Pr. H. R. said...

Another of Pr. Cwirla's questions: is this de iure divino or humano?

Since closed communion is an exercise of the Office of the Keys - I think it's clearly a pastoral function de iure divino. But it's a sort of "third key" if you will. . .

I think of it this way. What is sin? Any act, thought, or word contrary to God's will. We don't commune (or absolve, or baptize) people who are not repentant of their sins.

Amongst the baptized, these sorts of people fall into two categories: the willfully unrepentant and those who fail to repent for lack of knowledge.

The former are those who know that what they do is wrong and keep on doing it - thus endangering their spiritual lives gravely - 1 John 5:16-17, "the sin that leads to death" Obviously, these folks are warned, rebuked, and barred from the Table: the minor ban, excommunication in everything but a voters' assembly tally.

As for the latter - those who are unable to repent due to ignorance would include a good, solid Southern Baptist. He holds a thought, says a word, and commits an omission against God's will: that is, he thinks babies should not be baptized, says that God doesn't want them baptized, and refuses to baptize his own children.

That is contrary to God's will. He should repent. But he fails to repent not because of willful wickedness, but because he is truly ignorant of the truth.

I cannot commune men in this latter category even as I cannot pronounce eternal damnation on them: they get a "third key." Call it Pieper's felicitous inconsistoncy or the different between error and heresy, or whatever you like. But this remains: we're on a middle ground with these folks. We must call them to repentance - we cannot give them the Amen that communion at the Lord's Table announces. And yet, we cannot treat them as non-Christians.

The Romanists and their "separated brethren" talk have it about right, I think.

I use Baptists for the sake of clarity. But Pastor Cwirla and others keep coming back not to Baptists but to Lutherans with whom our Synod is not in fellowship.

That's more difficult to be sure.
What of those faithful few who languish in the ELCA (or pick your synod) while calling out against the errors of that body (from a health plan that pays for abortions to women's ordination to condoning the ministry of the UCC and ECUSA, etc. by being in fellowship with them)? That's the sticky wicket.

My response: What's the rush? When this ELCA fellow asked to commune and you run him through your catechism questions and he gets them all right - next ask: So why do you belong to a church that supports women's ordination and communes with churches that forthrightly deny this very sacrament?

If he says, "huh? What are you talking about?" Then I think your duty to him is to educate rather than commune and thus give him the imprimatur on his spiritual health. This brother is in spiritual peril - help him out.

If he says, "Well, because I think that women's ordination is just hunky-dory and the Reformed don't teach anything different that we do about the Supper." Then I don't see how one could commune him.

If he says, "Don't I know, pastor! It's a mess. But what can I do? I live in Squatter's Loo, KY and the ELCA is all I gots." Well then, we might have an exceptional circumstance.

And in those truly exceptional circumstances why play it Cowboy Americano style? Why not seek advice and consent from circuit brothers, visitors, DPs - or at least give them a call on Monday morning and say, "Here's what I did. Do you think I was right? Should I do it again if he comes back?"

In other words: Preciously because to commune or not to commune is an exercise of the pastor's proper spiritual authority it should not be done lightly, in hast, or without counsel.

If exceptions were handled like this - I think we would have a lot less angst. . .


wmc said...

I intentionally did not use the ELCA as an example, since it's such an easy target. Of course, the WELS and ELS uses the same arguments against our institutional heresies.

I agree that this is a pastoral function, but I am not convinced that it is a de jure divino function. As I said, that is beyond the scope of this humble thread and is a rather esoteric question as to whether we are dealing with Scripture or tradition here.

I've never met a Baptist, southern or otherwise, who wanted to commune when he found out it was really wine and we actually believed it was Christ's Body and Blood and his communing with us would imply that he believed the same thing.

Most Catholics are deterred by the information that they are sinning against the 4th commandment by disobeying their spiritual fathers including the Holy Father in Rome, plus their Holy Father has decreed that we do not have a valid Sacrament since none of us are actually true ministers.

"Why not seek advice and consent from circuit brothers, visitors, DPs - or at least give them a call on Monday morning and say, "Here's what I did. Do you think I was right? Should I do it again if he comes back?""

What if they all say "yes"?

CaptainCatechism said...

You're a wild man Pr. Curtis. As a Pastor in AK who holds faithfully to the witness of Holy Scripture and my ordination vows as well I like your thinking.
Not only do I like to personally inform visitors of the HC policy of the LCMS (I never say "our Church's" policy). I have a written announcement in the bulletin and another one on the first page of each hymnal. To date, NOBODY I have refused HC to has complained and several have entered my adult classes.
What I like about your letter is not only should faithful Pastors put in a note of policy, but Pastors who disagree with it should BE HONEST and put a notice in as well. Very nice.
Good post. Warmed my heart on this -20 degree day.


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I don't have time for anything of great substance at the moment, but I do want to offer a clarification.

I may have given the wrong impression with my previous comments, and I'm sorry for that. Dear Robert, my words of criticism were not directed at your practice, nor in response to your practice, but with reference to the current state of our synodical polity and practice. What you have described as your practice betrays the very problem to which I do refer; but, as Brother Weedon has observed, you are endeavoring to be faithful in dealing with a broken situation.

I think that it is possible to be in fellowship with those who belong to a different jurisdiction of the Church catholic. My concerns are with the fellowship that is openly practiced (in the sharing of pulpit and altar) with those who do not share the actual fellowship of a common outward confession of the catholic faith. And I'm searching for the way in which synodical polity ought to coincide with that real fellowship, rather than standing in contrast and competition with it.

Of course, we must individually make the best of it, as we are given to serve as stewards of the mysteries of God in our parishes. But the sort of situation that Brother Curtis has described to begin with, in his "open letter," is one that is recognized as rampant, yet is simply permitted to continue synodically. That is wrong; it should not be so among us (and "us" ought to be definable and mean something).

The practice of "open communion" is not simply a violation of some synodical "policy," but a bending and breaking of our real fellowship in the means of grace. It is not right for things to be "held together" by polity and politics, as it were, in opposition to the pastoral practice of the catholic faith.

Pastor Olson said...

Especially helpful in crafting a faithful communion statement is the second book listed at the following link entitled 'Lord, May Your Body and Your Blood Be for My Soul the Highest Good!
By Kenneth Wieting


The first book 'The Blessings of Weekly Communion' is also helpful toward teaching the laity concerning the recovery of weekly communion.

Epiphany blessings,


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm curious to read more of what the brethren think concerning the admittance of Lutherans belonging to WELS and ELS congregations to the Holy Communion.

Pr. JPF said...

What of the old heretic who said, "She who is truly worthy and well prepared is she who has faith in the words, 'Given and shed for you?'"

Reformationalist said...

Brother and Father Richard, I have taken no offense to your post or our exchanges. I've just tried to stake out a place from which to apply and secure "closed communion." We're not in opposition with each other, my friend!


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley
Falcon Colorado

Pr. H. R. said...

Pr. JPF,

Luther wrote that in his Catechism as a simple explanation for self-examination for those who were learning his Doctrine. I don't think we can so easily apply it to those who actively reject the doctrine of that Catechism. Just keep flipping around in that Book of Concord and see other things Luther says about Papists, Sacramentarians, Anabaptists, and even Lutherans who stay away from Absolution!


Pr. H. R. said...

Re: Communing WELS and ELS folks.

In regard to Pr. Cwirla's statement about WELS and ELS viewing us in much the way that the LCMS views the ELCA - that is, they would look at an LCMS visitor, run through the catechism with him and then say, "Well, you know your catechism - so how then can you support a church body that. . . "

But now, what would they say? "...supports the chaplaincy?" "...allow women's suffrage?" "...believes that Christ instituted an Office of the Ministry rather than just functions?"

If they said any of those, they are just pointing out to me why I am indeed not a member of the WELS or ELS and don't want to be. All those difference in teaching are important - and we are not of one faith with them on those teachings - we are not "teaching them to keep ALL I have commanded you" along with WELS and ELS.

As stated above, I can imagine situations where I would commune a WELS member and where I would commend one of my members to commune at a WELS church - but these would be rare indeed, usually dealing with great distance and hardship of getting to a church of the same confession.

This is not unlike the more formal arrangements that Rome and the East have: they are not in communion, but since they do recognize each other's ministries as valid, in situations of exigence, their priests may commune those of the other body.

The question that really puts LCMS members in the same position as the "faithful few" of the ELCA in my comment above is this. Imagine I'm visiting a town with an ELDoNA congregation. . . the pastor runs through the catechism with me and says, "Well then, how can you support a church body that ignores AC XIV. . . "


And the response I have is like until the one I put in the mouth of the faithful ELCA fellow, "Tell me about it. . . I'm doing my best to teach against that aberration in the LCMS and I believe that it can be repented of. . . "

But again, I come back to the fact that we need not even encounter these problems except in extraordinary circumstances. . .


Pr. H. R. said...

Pr. Cwirla,

If you came across an unusual circumstance, and then asked your circuit brethren, visitor, and DP about your decision and they all agreed with your judgment - I think that would be a pretty good indication that you had exercised wise pastoral judgment in dealing with an exceptional situation.

But one must also choose his counselors wisely - for example, if you want sage, rational, and objective advice about college football you should not ask me: I will always tell you the Nebraska Cornhuskers are, like, the best ever, man.

So if you already know that your circuit brothers, visitor and DP have an even looser communion practice than you do, they may not be the best counselors to seek - and I would seek others.

But I would seek those other counselors in addition to them not in place of them - because I think the lines of authority we have should be shown respect.


Pr. H. R. said...


More directly to your question about us communing WELS and ELS folks: I think Pastor Ball mentioned this above as well, but there is a fourth commandment issue besides our doctrinal divisions as well. I would ask a WELS/ELS member: "Does your pastor know you are seeking to commune here?"


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Worthiness to receive the Sacrament is found in repentant faith, which trusts the Word of Christ. Fellowship in the means of grace, however, necessarily resides in the outward confession of the catholic faith.

Here is where that sticky wicket of a distinction between the Church's "visibility" and "invisibility" is perhaps of some help. Worthiness belongs to the "invisible" faith and fellowship of the heart, which is a most precious thing, indeed, but outside our ken. That fellowship of the Church on earth which is a sharing of the means of grace, including a common participation in the Sacrament of the Altar, belongs to the outward, external, audible and "visible" confession of the faith; which is no mean thing, either, but our stewardship and administration of the very Mysteries of God.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Curtis,

A point of information:

Your paragraph beginning This is not unlike the more formal arrangements that Rome and the East have ... describes the attitude of Rome towards the Orthodox, but the Orthodox do not return the favour. The Orthodox Church is steadfastly agnostic about the "validity" (to use a Roman, not an Orthodox, concept) of sacraments outside her canonical boundaries. But that agnosticism does not extend to allowing her faithful to commune at Roman Catholic altars under any circumstances, nor to communing Catholics at an Orthodox altar.

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Jones,

Yes, with it's more strictly hierarchical structure it is always easier to nail down what the Romanists are doing.

But I think it is fair to say that there is a large swath of official Orthodoxy that is willing to go beyond mere agnosticism. See, for example, all these official Roman-Orthodox statements:

Undoing of mutual excommunication between Paul VI and Athenagoras the I (1965) - can't find that one Englished, here it is in the original French: ÉCLARATION COMMUNE

That same Athenagoras, as then Cardinal Ratzinger noted, freely used the term "sister Church" when referring to Rome: "The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I, was the first to once again use the expression sister Churches. In welcoming the fraternal gestures and the call to unity addressed to him by John XXIII, he often expressed in his letters the hope of seeing the unity between the sister Churches re-established in the near future."
(From Ratzinger's Notes on Dominus Iesus, 2000)

But the biggest thunderbolt had to be "Uniatism, Method of Union in the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion." approved by the Roman-Orthdox dialogue in 1993, which states,

" In this spirit Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I together stated clearly: "We reject every form of proselytism, every attitude which would be or could be perceived to be a lack of respect" (December 7th, 1987). "

And then in their own words:
"13. In fact, especially since the panorthodox Conferences and the Second Vatican Council, the re- discovery and the giving again of proper value to the Church as communion, both on the part of Orthodox and of Catholics, has radically altered perspectives and thus attitudes. On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church - profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops - cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches.

"14. It is in this perspective that the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches recognize each other as Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God in fidelity to the divine purpose, most especially in what concerns unity. According to the words of Pope John Paul II, the ecumenical endeavour of the Sister Churches of East and West, grounded in dialogue and prayer, is the search for perfect and total communion which is neither absorption nor fusion but a meeting in truth and love (cf. Slavorum Apostoli, n. 27). "

Thus, while many folks in Orthodoxy might reject these statements - there are many, many bishops in Orthodoxy (the majority?) who consider Rome a Sister Church validly offering salvation.


Pr. H. R. said...

I should say that Mr. Jones is right when he says the majority of Orthodox will not return the favor of communing with Rome - but again, they are not monolithic. A bishop in Romania just this year communed with the Romans. . .


wmc said...

With all due respect to my esteemed brother Rick, I don't think the practice of closed communion follows the ecclesiological distinction of visible/invisible or hidden/revealed. The reason I say this is that we acknowledge in our Confessions that "false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners remain among the godly" and therefore also outwardly associate with the Sacraments (see Ap VII/VIII on this point).

However, I would make a distinction between "worthy" participation and "appropriate" participation in the Sacrament.

Luther address worthy participation in the Catechism in terms of faith in the words of Christ, specifically the words "for you." This is coram Deo, and properly de jure divino, as it rests on solid Scripture. It addresses the issue of who may commune.

The practice of jurisdictionally closed communion is a matter of appropriate participation. It addresses where, when, and under what circumstances one may commune appropriately. It is coram hominibus, dealing with our mutual recognition of a common confession of the faith and our witness of this confession before men. I believe it is also de jure humano, resting on traditional practice and our covenental agreement as members of a confessional church body. By our common agreement, evidenced by a majority vote of the synodical convention, it is inappropriate to commune those outside of our synodical fellowship, except in rare exceptions for pastoral reasons, and it is also inappropriate to commune outside of our synodical fellowship.

What I appreciate about the original post and its spirit - and I do hope it receives a wider circulation in our synod than this humble little cage of birds - is that it deals directly with our scandalously differing practices as a matter of pastoral integrity as members of the LCMS who have voluntarily bound themselves to the resolutions of the synod. Pr. Curtis is absolutely right on this point. Since admission to the Sacrament is a public act of the Church, those members of the LCMS who do not adhere strictly to the letter of the synodical communion policy and practice as articulated in its resolutions and official position papers should make their dissent public, otherwise they are guilty of hypocrisy.

This would also serve finally to bring to a head a discussion that is long overdue in our synod and deal decisively with our institutional hypocrisy of saying one thing on paper and doing another in practice.

Pardon my Stuckwischian wordiness- smileys Rick! ;-) -but this will be my last comment on this post, and I offer it by way of summary, recognizing that mine is a somewhat dissenting chirp in this bird cage, though not in total disagreement by any means. I thank Pr. Curtis for what he has raised here, and I am most appreciative of the fraternal discussion carried on in this most refreshing stream.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Curtis,

I believe you are mistaken. I speak from experience, in the "liberal" OCA.

Pr. H. R. said...

Mr. Jones,

Mistaken about what, exactly? I think you must mean about my characterization of the majority opinion - and I may well be wrong there, as I said, it's tough to know.

But what of all those Roman-Orthodox statements where the Orthodox call Rome a Sister Church whose members should not be proselytized because salvation is found in Rome? That does sound like an admission of Rome's churchliness to me (even while both groups also recognized deficiencies in the other).

I'm certainly not wrong that they exist as I've just quoted from them :) But I could certainly be ignorant of what they mean for the majority of bishops. I'd be curious on your understanding of how those documents are received by the Orthodox bishops in America.

As very much an outsider in Orthodox affairs, all I have to go on are the documents - are they simply ignored? publicly repudiated? embraced?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts,

Pr. David Gallas said...

As a side note to this, does anyone know how ELDONA (www.eldona.org) handles pastoral exceptions concerning visiting LCMS members who desire the Sacrament?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I know you're done commenting on this thread, Pastor Cwirla, but I'll just say that I don't see quite where your disagreement with me is on this point. In fact, your comment that the hypocrites, wicked, etc., also remain among the godly and receive the Sacrament only serves to prove and underscore my point. If admittance to the Sacrament were on the basis of the invisible faith of the heart, then certainly the wicked and ungodly would not be communed; but admittance to the Supper is done on the basis of the outward confession of the faith, and, as such, the hypocrites do indeed commune with the godly.

Participation in the Sacrament is an outward fellowship, which ought to coincide with the inward fellowship of faith in Christ; but it can only be administered on the basis of an outward confession.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Curtis,

I was already feeling a bit guilty for taking this discussion on a tangent, and your questions really open up a can of worms.

But since you asked ...

The subject of ecumenical dialogue with Rome is very, very controversial within the Orthodox Churches. In particular, the 1993 "Balamand Statement" (from which you quoted at length) caused a firestorm of criticism and controversy in the Orthodox world. In fact, the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue pretty much collapsed because of the controversy over the Balamand statement. There was an abortive attempt to re-start the dialogue in 2000, but the dialogue did not really start up again until 2006 in Belgrade and 2007 in Ravenna. Thus the Balamand statement pretty much halted Orthodox-Catholic dialogue for over a decade.

I think it is safe to say that the Balamand statement has been rejected by Orthodoxy. Most of the Churches are actively hostile to it, and even those bishops and theologians who favoured it originally now realize that it is a non-starter.

... how [are] those documents received by the Orthodox bishops in America[?]

No better than they have been received in the "Old World" Churches.

are the documents ... simply ignored? publicly repudiated? embraced?

It's a combination of "publicly repudiated" and "ignored". They have been publicly repudiated by more conservative Orthodox (the clear majority, I think), and ignored by the rest. Certainly they have resulted in no change to the Church's communion discipline, even in those jurisdictions that are the most "ecumenically-minded." It remains the case that Orthodox do not commune Roman Catholics or any other non-Orthodox, and Orthodox Christians are forbidden to receive communion in any other Church.

Pr. H. R. said...

Thanks for the inside info, Mr. Jones. Good to know. . .


empesoumetha said...

Pr. Gallas,

My inlaws are members of an ELDoNA congregation which left the LCMS about a year ago. This is an extremely tough situation. While I am indeed in full doctrinal agreement with them, they have taken the position that my church is heterodox and broken fellowship. I cant say that I blame them, and I fully support them.

When visiting, my wife and I go up for a blessing. This is one of the harder things that any of us have ever had to do. Would it be easier to just ignore any fellowship issues? Yes. But they have made this move, and I take it seriously, as do they. There was never really any question that we would not receive communion. I dont think that we anticipated just how hard it would be to receive a blessing.

I know that they did have an issue with a family which was on a visit, but still members of an LCMS church. They were not communed. Its pretty simple. Its not easy... but its simple. If you are not in fellowship with ELDoNA, then you are not in fellowship. The tears of the congregation and pastor bear witness to just how hard these issues are.

I imagine, and hope, that other ELDoNA pastors act in the same manner.

Vicar Kyle Mietzner
Gloria Dei Lutheran - New Orleans

Todd Wilken said...

The strength of Heath's original post is that it highlights the issue of honesty.

Open communion is immoral in itself; so why compound that sin with another, namely, lying about it?

Really, what's stopping those who practice open communion from admitting that they are doing so, admitting that they think closed communion is wrong, and admitting that they are deviating from the historic practice of the Church and the stated practice of the LCMS?

Do they fear a District President's discipline? They shouldn't.

So, given the fact that the LCMS quietly tolerates, and therefore tacitly approves of open communion, why can't all parties simply be honest?

And while this diversity of practice and teaching persists, we, as a denomination, shouldn't pass one more synodical resolution, shouldn't issue one more CTCR statement, and shouldn't utter one more syllable affirming closed communion.

To do so would be a lie, on top of all the previous lies of conventions and commissions on this subject.

Let's all admit it. In this respect, the ELCA is more virtuous than the LCMS --they are honest about their communion practice.


wmc said...

- This is not a comment -

Pr. Curtis -
Shoot me your email address. I have a proposal for you.


- Sorry about the private correspondence -

forgivenx7 said...

I am in agreement, however I have this concern. If I somehow had a divine ability to read every thought of every Lutheran Christian that comes to the table of our Lord, I am sure that many if not most would have confusion and even disagreement over much Doctrine. Today, the % of a congregation that attends Bible Study or studies at home has sadly diminished greatly. Furthermore, most look at me as if I am crazy when I speak continually on the need to remain in the Word daily. Yet I am glad that God's people come to the altar of the Lord and say in their hearts, "while I have a simple understanding of the Lutheran confessions, nevertheless, here I am a sinful soul, seeking the gifts that come with the Lord's Supper. They might also recall that receiving the free gifts of our Lord demands no works of our own, in order to receive them. At times I have heard the explanation of Closed Communion shared by brothers in a works related language, which truly confuses the sinful soul which remembers Jesus' Words that say, "Come to me all who are WEAK and HEAVY BURDENED and I will give you Peace. I still have not found anywhere in Scripture where the Lord demands us to strengthen ourselves before the Lord strengthens us. (yes there is call to remain faithful in all of His Word). Since we believe that the Lord Himself comes to us in, with and under the bread and wine, can we not also believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit can instruct the believer and guide them into truth? For when I am weak, He makes me strong. Therefore, in thinking of this topic, I have comfort that although I try with God's help to correct with love the true Doctrine of our Lord, I do also know that whether a person of weak faith or of strong faith comes to the table, the Lord welcomes him/her, forgives them and equips. I also thankfully know that when I lay before the Judgment seat of God, and all my flaws are revealed to me, if I were asked, "why should I allow you into my Kingdom", I know I would answer it is not because I had your Doctrine committed fully in life, but because of the shed blood of Jesus, His continued presence in my life, by His Grace, am I promised welcome. There needs to be clarity that knowing Lutheran Doctrine is not a work that gains us entrance to the Lord's Supper but enables us to ponder it and receive it with all the more clarity, joy and of course community.