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