14 March 2010

Admission to the Holy Supper

A Lutheran church body (not the LCMS or the ELCA) has the following statement on admission to the Sacrament of the Altar:

Do you practice open or closed communion?

We practice “responsible communion,” which is neither open nor closed. That is, according to the Bible we have a responsibility to tell people what we believe (“we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins”), based on Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-28. The person has the responsibility to check with the Bible to ensure that it does teach that, and that the person agrees with that. Administration is left with the local pastor as part of his pastoral care.

This strikes me as a lot of bureaucratic gibberish designed to evade an uncomfortable question. Am I misreading this? Is this statement in accordance with what we confess in the LCMS? How about LCMS practice?

--- Rev. Larry Beane


Carl Vehse said...

Sounds like "libertarian communion."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Carl:

It sounds more "Republicrat communion" to me - political doubletalk. I find libertarians to be far less spin-oriented and more straight-shooting (both figuratively and literally). :-)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You are right on, Father. Of course this sort of policy is hardly surprising. The part of your post that deserves the most attention is the last sentence, for today there is a great variety of actual communion policies, even among the Confessional Lutherans, especially when the question is not merely what one's ideal is in theory, but what a pastor is actually willing to do.

Guillaume said...

Well that seems to take care of the vertical fellowship, what about the horizontal relationship.

Sounds more like minimalist communion.

Anonymous said...

You are not misreading the statement. No, the statement is not in accord with what the LCMS confesses. Nor is it in accord with what the LCMS should practice. Sadly, however, many in the LCMS do not practice what they should.

Pr. H. R. said...

I find the statement refreshing in this regard: it's an honest expression of what, I fear, is the prevailing practice in the MO Synod.

How I've had it explained to me is like this: we have a responsibility to warn people about what Communion is and what the consequences of misusing it, or receiving it unworthily are. And that is where our responsibility ends.

I actually think that makes a lot of sense when it comes to our members. For those who have been examined, absolved, and admitted to the Lord's Table in our congregations, what more can you do besides continue to preach the Word and encourage them to live in repentance? You can't know beyond any doubt what is in their heart, whether they woke up in an adulterer's bed that Sunday morning, or if they have just come from robbing the 7-11. So, sure: we must continually preach the Word and warn and call to repentance. We're not magic, we can't see the heart, etc.

But to then say that this is our only responsibility when it comes to non-members is just nuts. It's apples and oranges. Our confessions say that we do not commune people before they have been taught, examined, and absolved. That's what this practice disposes with.

I think that this statement from the Confessions is actually where we should take pastors who practice open communion. It is a failure of pastoral duty. It is a refusal to have an actual pastoral relationship with those who commune.


Father Hollywood said...

The statement just comes across to me as "closed" without saying "closed," but so subjective as to be, for all intents and purposes, "open." We've been doing this for 2,000 years - it shouldn't be this difficult. We shouldn't be reinventing the wheel every ten years.

The subjectivity, though certainly in accord with the spirit of our postmodern age, is ultimately not very helpful. Can a person who denies the Trinity or the Deity of Christ - and yet who agrees with those passages cited - be in fellowship with us? What about those who do not interpret these passages literally?

Chad Myers said...

It has been my observation (and experience in some cases) that when a congregation starts to decline in faith, the Eucharist is the first thing that gets messed with. It's sort of a bellwether. You can get a decent idea of the faith of the congregation by how well they respect and revere their Eucharistic practices.

I'm currently Catholic, but I noticed this even when I was a Lutheran -- various congregations had different practices and it *seemed* that ones that treated the Eucharist with great reverence and offered it more often were generally more holy. The pastor at these holy congregations was usually solid and not afraid to preach tough things from the pulpit, etc.

Anyhow, just a personal observation/anecdote.

Jonathan said...

The *fence* has been set pretty low in this statement. By its terms, it just requires agreement with the doctrine of *real presence*, and nothing else. It is more wordy than the statements I'm used to seeing in most LCMS congregations, but the intent of the requirement is the same. These statements never use the word *closed* as it's too unkind, I presume. I have been in congregations who commune RC, ELCA and even PCUSA based on that fence.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

The point is made that Holy Communion is both vertical and horizontal. This is where "closed communion" comes in. Our faith in God is not merely a private matter but is also united to the one true faith of the Church. The pastor is responsible for catechesis and pastoral care.

I would like to address one phrase, "we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the bread and wine." I appreciate that recognition is given to Jesus' Body and Blood in the Sacrament. However, the word "with" raises in my mind a question of how the Body and Blood comes with the bread and wine. In other words, does this wording offer the possibility of a Nestorian understanding of the Real Presence?

Father Hollywood said...

There also seems to be a rationalistic understanding of fellowship. In other words, if you believe, in an intellectual way, a few doctrines (and in the case of this specific statement, only those doctrines related to the mode of Christ's presence), one is admitted to the Supper.

The idea of fellowship, of communion, of being organically connected to Christ (the vine) as a church (the branches) - the idea of parish to parish fellowship is lost.

It is reduced to an individual rational (and also subjective) decision.

Anonymous said...

This looks similar to the former ALC's 'selective fellowship' doctrine applied to Holy Communion in that the final statement gives the pastor the responsibility to choose for himself who is communed.

Chad Myers said...

@Jonathan: I've seen some of these shenanigans come when well-meaning evangelical/Calvinists start asking why they can't receive communion (since their view of communion is completely different from Lutherans/Anglicans/Catholics). Faced with an uncomfortable and complicated explanation, some Pastors will yield.

@Fr. Timothy D. May: As I understand, isn't the Lutheran position on Real Presence that the Bread and Wine still remain after the consecration? I have read that "Consubstantiation" is not an accurate description of what Lutherans believe, but that Lutherans do not agree with the Catholic "Transubstantiation" doctrine either. Could you please clarify for me? I am ignorant on this matter.

Jonathan said...

A Calvinist can easily assent to *real presence* even *with* the bread and wine, and thus feel right at home at the rail. But Ask her how He is present, and, well, you get the idea. I think the *with* word in these statements (which is all I have ever seen used in LCMS) is just another weasel word that makes the fence even lower. At least we should make that part more clear--if that is the true intent.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

"@Fr. Timothy D. May: As I understand, isn't the Lutheran position on Real Presence that the Bread and Wine still remain after the consecration? I have read that "Consubstantiation" is not an accurate description of what Lutherans believe, but that Lutherans do not agree with the Catholic "Transubstantiation" doctrine either. Could you please clarify for me? I am ignorant on this matter."

I am not qualified to give the answer on this distinction. However, if I remember, the Lutheran fathers argued against both "Transubstantiation" and the naming of the Lutheran position as "Consubstantiation." (the what, how and why are beyond my response here). My understanding is that from the time of consecration and afterwards that we are dealing with Jesus' Body and Blood in spite of appearances. Therefore I would emphasize instead that the Body and Blood remain. In other words, why would we say that Holy Communion is about the Body and Blood of Jesus but then argue that after the consecration it is the bread and wine that remain?

Father Hollywood said...

At the risk of oversimplification, I think consubstantiation is like a chocolate chip cookie. It is both dough and chocolate - assuming that you bite in the right place. The cookie-dough is joined "with" the chocolate, and becomes a conduit for the chocolate. Another way the Reformed sometimes try to explain Lutheran sacramental theology is the sponge illustration. They see our view as like that of a sponge which *contains* water - that the bread similarly contains Christ's body. That is just not what we confess at all.

I think this is the essence of the ambiguity of the word "with" as well as the danger of imposing reason on a sacrament. The word "is" goes deeper than "with." It is a mystery (sacramentum) and so we're never going to be able to explain it rationally and philosophically. Luther's "in, with, and under" is also often misconstrued as a confession of a kind of conduit view of the elements - which he did not believe.

Our beef with transubstantiation is not that there has been a change owing to the Word meeting the element and that the Body and Blood are there (which we confess), rather our objection is the denial that the Lord's body is *also* bread and the Lord's blood is *also* wine - which is contrary to St. Paul's referring to the consecrated bread as "bread" (e.g. 1 Cor 11:26).

We reject both the Reformed and Roman "either-or" dichotomy in exchange for a biblical, Christological, and incarnational "both-and" approach that predates both transubstantiation and denial of the Real Presence.

I'm sure I just made it even more incomprehensible - and if so, I apologize!

Chad Myers said...

@Fr. Timothy: Thank you for replying, I appreciate your response.

What you describe sounds like the Catholic position, also which is that the bread and wine really change completely into the Body and Blood. But the "accidents" remain and our senses are not able to detect the change -- it is only by faith we know that the change happened.

That is, there is no bread and wine, it only APPEARS to be bread and wine (smell, taste, touch, etc). All efforts to scientifically detect the change will fail -- it will appear to be bread and wine, even though it has substantially and completely changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

As far as I can tell, this is very close to what you said. I believe that Lutherans and Catholics are very close in this regard and that the differences are minor in the grand scheme of things.

It reminds me of the 'filioque' argument with between Catholics and Orthodox which is important, but not sufficient enough to justify schism and disunity.

Jonathan said...

Chad you may have written prior to Fr. H above your last post, but he explains that there is a difference between trans-sub and Lutheran real presence. The former says it is no longer bread/wine--even though we see/touch it. The latter says it is and remains "both-and", not unlike the nature of the mystery of the incarnation.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

Thank you Fr. Hollywood for a clear explanation of the Lutheran position and Chad for clarifying the Catholic position.

If I read both explanations there is an understanding, explained differently, that bread and wine remain. I agree too that the positions on this teaching are close and difficult

Chad's explanation describes well what my understanding of the Sacrament is; that is, if I am to err on the Sacrament, it would be in the Catholic direction. And I would not see this necessarily as a rejection of the Lutheran position in that this fits with our understanding of the Word's ability to do what it says ("This IS My Body", etc.). So, it is understood that the bread and wine remain but "how" they remain just as "how" the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus remains a "mystery (sacramentum)".

In terms of treating the elements after the consecration, however we may explain how bread and wine remains, my understanding remains that these ARE the Body and Blood of Jesus.

William Tighe said...


"Luther's "in, with, and under" is also often misconstrued as a confession of a kind of conduit view of the elements - which he did not believe."

I recall reading, either in Pastor Killinger's 1991 "Hoc Facite" Th.D. thesis, or in Pastor Peter's 1968 "Origin and Meaning of the Axiom ..." thesis, that Luther generally used only "in and under" and Melanchthon only "with," so that to use "in, with and under" itself is an adumbration of a problem that has beset Lutheran eucharistic theology from the very beginning.

Christopher Gillespie said...

With this "pastoral discretion" actively taught at at least one of the seminaries, it's no surpise that a conscientous pastor would reconcile their statement to match their pracitice. Don't misunderstand, we are taught to pracitice close/d communion but with "pastoral" exceptions. It would be accurate to say this is a double standard.

Father Hollywood said...

The sad part is that there truly are "pastoral exceptions" - but they are *exceptions.* When "exceptions" are cited in the rule, they become the rule rather than exceptions. What has become the true exception is the congregation that practices closed communion.

One local former district official actually said that any time a Baptist presents himself at a Lutheran altar, he should be communed - since Baptists at Lutheran altars are, by definition, all exceptions. He claimed that this policy of communing all Baptists to be "close(d) communion."

The same fellow said that Muslims should even be communed, since "they need all the Jesus they can get." But he did not practice open communion.

I have never met even one single LCMS pastor who claims to believe in open communion. We all practice close/closed/closeted/clotured/cloven communion - even the guy that communed Baptists.

Kind of like when I was a corrections officer. of the hundreds of inmates I encountered, only one was actually guilty.

Chad Myers said...

@Father Hollywood: I just want to make sure I understand the distinction:

Would I be correct if I put it this way:

Lutherans believe that, after consecration, it is BOTH the Body of Christ AND Bread.

Are both now present? Wholly or in part?

The important part, in my mind, is whether Christ is present, not whether the bread/wine remain and to what extent. That is the lesser part and doesn't seem to be a significant point of disunity between Eucharist-practicing Christians (Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, etc).

So it seems that Lutherans agree on the important part: The Real Presence.

A totally side tangent question: At what point do you believe (or does the Church of Luther*) Christ become present in/with/instead-of/etc the bread? At the consecration? At the point of consumption?

* "Roman" is considered a pejorative among Catholics, so I'm just poking you by calling you the "Church of Luther" as you are poking me :)


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

First of all, I meant no offense in saying the Roman Church. I only meant the churches under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. And I take your poke in good humor! :-)

Your understanding of our confession is correct. The Lutheran confession is that the consecrated bread and wine are both bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ at the same time - along the same lines as the incarnate Christ is both 100% human and 100% divine.

Although there are some Lutherans who express, and have expressed, a belief in the Presence of Christ not happening until the consumption ("Receptionism"), this is really not in accordance with our confessions - especially Luther's Large Catechism, which clearly confesses that the divine presence begins at the consecration ("Consecrationism"), not at the reception. Apart from that, we avoid any more minute analysis as to when and how this happens than simply confessing that it does.

Pax Christi!

Father Hollywood said...

PS: I was unaware that "Roman Church" was in any way pejorative. I thought of it as simply the same term as "Roman Catholic Church" - a neutral term.

Usually when Lutherans want to be obnoxious (which is all too often), they will use the word "Papist." I once heard the word "Papist" in a sermon, and could only offer thanks to God that my Roman Catholic mother-in-law was not visiting on that day to hear such uncouthness from a Lutheran preacher.

William Tighe said...

I have no objection to "Roman Church" as a kind of metonymical expression, particularly as "Curia speak" for the "Catholic Communion" has long been "Sancta Eomana Ecclesia."

Chad Myers said...

@Fr. Hollywood:

"Roman" isn't as insulting as Papist, granted, but it's seen as a sign of disrespect. Mormons prefer to be called the "Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints" (LDS for short) even if you and I argue that they don't have much to do with Jesus Christ, it's respectful to call them what they wish to be called.

Likewise, we like to call ourselves the Catholic Church or Catholics. I realize you disagree with the claim of catholicism (universality), and we can argue that separately. Anyhow, it doesn't bother me, but I just wanted to let you know FYI in case you come across someone with more delicate sensibilities.

As coincidence would have it, I was reading a book last night about Catholic and Protestant (mostly Calvinist) differences and I got to the chapter on the Holy Eucharist and the author (Dave Armstrong, noted Catholic Apologist) quoted frequently from Luther and noted how close if not exactly Luther's arguments match the Catholic Church's and even used Luther's arguments (verbatim, quoted) against Calvin. Luther had some less than kind (but truthful) words for the Calvinists and others who believe that it is merely a "symbol" of the Body and Blood.

Anyhow, he made a point that Luther made a point not to delve into the metaphysics of the Consecration saying that it was enough to simply believe that Christ is really present. I agree with this. I don't think the Catholic Church is wrong, but I don't think that someone would be wrong for not wanting to concern themselves with what happens with the bread and wine. The important part is what happens with the Body and Blood at Consecration. On this we agree.

Now, one of the first things that struck me as I was investigating the Catholic Church is their reverence for the consecrated Body and Blood. They even adore it as God incarnate. If one were a "Consecrationalist," would not the Consecration be cause for prostration and worship? Is Christ not wholly incarnate and present in front of you and worthy of Godly worship?

With that argument, I could say that Catholics don't pay ENOUGH adoration and worship to consecrated hosts and the cup because we should all be on the floor prostrate before the Lord incarnate in front of us. Indeed some Catholics and Orthodox DO do this during the consecration.

In my limited experience with Lutheranism in Fort Wayne, IN, I did not see this practice of adoration during the consecration or afterwards in Lutheran congregations (I haven't seen it in many Catholics churches, either, btw, even though the Church itself teaches the faithful should adore the Eucharist).

Do Lutherans do Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (holding up the consecrated Host in a monstrance and making the sign of the cross over the congregation and then proceeding to sing the Tantum Ergo and recite the Divine Praises?

According to Wikipedia, some Anglican and Lutheran churches *do* do this. I'm curious what your practice is and those of your audience.

Chad Myers said...

Note: by "audience" I mean your readership of this blog, Lutheran or otherwise.

I'm interested in this because I feel that Lutherans, Anglicans, and Catholics are growing closer together in recent times (certainly in the last generation) and that commonalities, especially important and crucial ones like the Holy Eucharist are a point of unity and communion by which we stand more or less together and that it is important for brothers of like mind to explore their similarities more than their differences.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

I agree with your observations.

Lutherans (and many Roman Catholics) seem rather indifferent to the miraculous presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. I think Vatican II has dragged us all down.

I'm afraid we've all been influenced by the behavior of those who do not confess the Real Presence.

When I was a student at Ft. Wayne (2000-2003), there were some brothers who were extremely reverent during the consecration and the elevation. Some knelt on the floor in the choir loft. The kneelers did typically come down for the consecration at Kramer Chapel.

I've never seen a monstrance used in a Lutheran church - as the early Lutherans were trying to abolish the notion that simply looking at Jesus was a substitute for consuming Him in the Sacrament - and hence the abolition of Corpus Christi processions and the like. But I do use the host to make the sign of the cross over each communicant, and I give them a moment to adore Jesus, before putting the Lord's Body on their tongues.

We should all be more reverent overall when in the miraculous Presence, but as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. And no, that is not a secret code word for becoming a Roman Catholic. Just a pun. Theology can get pretty dry and boring without temporal and eternal PUNishment.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

Regarding the latest comments between Chad and Fr. Hollywood here is a link to brief notes I have on the practice of eucharistic adoration among Lutherans in history:


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

For the record, neither Papist nor Roman is inherently offensive. It depends on the context, the intent, etc. And I agree that sensitivity is all too lacking in this regard. Nevertheless, this is worth pointing out. For I have known several Roman Catholics who fully embrace the "Papist" word. And lest my circle of friends is considered inadmissable, let me add that one can find this in modern Catholic literature as well. For example, I recall that Ralph McInerny in his book, What Went Wrong With Vatican II, said that precisely what is needed in today's Catholic Church are more Papists, by which he meant Catholics who are obedient and loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium.

I am not at all unaware, to be sure, of how offensively many Catholics would take this term, however. So I fully agree with Fr. Hollywood that sensitivity, tact, and comon sense need to be taught, at the remedial level for many preachers. Surely the pulpit would hardly be a good context for such language.

Having said all that, I would love if this discussion would actually take on the topic of the post.

Jonathan said...

Why wouldn't the SC's "Christian Questions And Their Answers" be enough for admission to the Supper. Other than just the integrity of *membership* can I know that my brother or sister holds with their head/heart to every doctrine across the horizontal spectrum, and we are of one mind/heart?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jonathan:

I think this is a great question that cuts to the heart of the matter. Here is how I would respond (speaking only for myself as a parish pastor, not in any "official" or synodical capacity):

First, admission to the Supper is not just a matter of articulating correct doctrine. Demons can do that. Fellowship is organic - vine-to-branches fellowship with the Lord and His church. There is more to it than scoring a 100 on a Luther quiz. Confessing the correct doctrine is necessary, but not sufficient. Communing a person is a matter of pastoral care to those in fellowship with the church. Faith is not knowledge.

Second, the Christian Questions presume certain things: that a person believes the Bible is literally true, that the resurrection and virgin birth (and all other miracles) are not mythical or figurative, etc. These were not at issue in the 16th century (neither were women's ordination, homosexuality, and evolution). The Questions are a high-level overview summary of the faith - they are not intended to be our entire confession (else there would be no Book of Concord). For example, should we commune a person who believes the pope is the head of the church by divine right, or a person who refuses to baptize his children? What about Masons who can answer the questions correctly?

This is why I'm not a huge fan of taking the "Justification is the article by which the church stands or falls" too far. For example, a person can hold to Justification and yet deny the Trinity and/or the Incarnation.

Third, there are many "Lutheran" church bodies around the world that are not even Christians. For example, in the mainstream "Church" of Sweden (allegedly a Lutheran body), a few years ago, the "bishop" allowed a mural in the Cathedral of Upsala that depicted our Lord and the apostles in the form of homosexual pornography (this is a sad and shocking fact, and not hyperbole). Those who advocate such an abomination of desolation, would certainly give the right answers to the 20 Questions - but should not be given communion in a Christian Church. The things that separate our congregations are not exposed by the Christian Questions.

Altar fellowship (as well as pulpit fellowship) is about holding the whole of the faith in community with one another. If I were to commune an ELCA pastorette or a "Lutheran" who thinks the resurrection is a myth - based only on belief in the Real Presence or on being baptized - this would be living a lie. I think this is why fellowship shouldn't be individual, but communal; not person-to-person, but rather altar-to-altar.

I think our ancestors had the right idea - even though it's hard to carry out in our postmodern day and age. But just because it is difficult doesn't mean we should cut and run and look for an easy way out.

Of course, I may well be missing something and may need to reconsider my thinking on this - which is why such discussions are valuable. Thanks again for framing the question so well. These are precisely the kinds of discussions we need to be having.

Chad Myers said...

@Fr Hollywood: There's a lot of this kind of debate going on right now in the Catholic Church in America about what to do with high-power political figures and (nominal) Catholics like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and VP Biden when they present themselves for communion.

Some Bishops and Archbishops have said that they should be denied. The problem is, Pelosi and Biden have not been excommunicated (for some reason that's beyond me -- I suspect weakness in the resolve of the Bishops).

Some Bishops argue that we should not make communion a political battleground. Either excommunicate them or let them receive.

Most of the arguments hinge on 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 and later. If the person appears to be trying to be faithful, even with severe defects in their theology and obedience to truth, perhaps we should respect that and not deny them. Ultimately, as St. Paul seems to imply, it's between the communicant and Jesus under the pain of serious condemnation.

IIRC, Jesus offered the Last Supper to Judas whom He knew had already betrayed him.

The other issue here is that of scandal. If everyone knows, say, Pelosi is proclaiming heresy and actually profaning the Catholic Church and then presents herself to communion without the Celebrant hesitating to give it to her, might the other faithful get the wrong idea and perceive that the Church is condoning her actions?

Is the celebration of the liturgy the correct time for the Church to make a political statement? It seems that the time for that is before or after Mass, not during. Excommunicate her, Denounce her publicly in the press, etc to make the Church's frustration known in public, but do not deny her the Sacrament (unless she's excommunicated) as that would be a major form of judgement-of-soul which Christ told us not to do.

Just some thoughts to consider and some persuasive arguments I have heard in the past few years.

repristinator said...

It is functional open communion. See Dr. Biermann's article, "Step Up to the Altar: Thinking About the Celebration."

Chad Myers said...

Clarification: I'm coming from a position of closed communion. The person should, in the case of an LCMS church, be at least a nominal LCMS registered person and not, say, a Catholic or a Hindu or something.

Even if that person is extremely confused and is leaning towards the papacy or new age theology or some other stuff that's contrary to LCMS teaching, if they identify themselves as LCMS but are very confused/conflicted, they should at least be a candidate for communion.

I worry that about where you draw the line. You could easily get yourself drawn into a "Who's more Lutheran than whom" argument -- possibly even during a service while handing out communion. At what point is someone "Lutheran enough" (or "Catholic enough" in my case) to be worthy of communion?

I believe this is why St. Paul is careful to put the onus on the communicant and not on the celebrant. Having said that, they at least have to be in the same ballpark (i.e. self-identified, baptized, confirmed Lutheran or Catholic) for any of these problems of "level of faith" to even be considered in the first place.

Fr. Timothy D. May said...


Your point of concern about who is more "Lutheran" or who is more "Catholic" is a good one in that the focus then shifts to the individuals and perception and shaky ground.

Closed communion is about both communion with God in Christ and communion with fellow members of the holy Church, also in Christ. This is not only a matter between the communicant and God.

The onus, in part, is on the communicant in the sense that he/she is baptized and catechized in the faith and in the faith frequently seeks to come to the altar. Most faithful know to discern faithful teaching and practice in terms of the Sacrament of the Altar and also the teaching and practice of the pastor/priest/congregation. Someone earlier pointed out that how a church conducts itself with regard to Holy Communion demonstrates what place the Sacrament has in their church life. Also, the faithful usually know to read the statements and talk to pastor/priest/celebrant when visiting.

However, the responsibility of the pastor/priest/celebrant is also there. He stands in the stead of Christ as we see in Holy Absolution and so too, as Paul says, is an Apostolic "steward of the mysteries." For example, Jesus communed Judas but this was the Lord's decision, not that of Judas.

Pastor/priest/celebrant provide pastoral care to the faithful by standing at the altar and serving them the Gifts. (This is both vertical and horizontal care.) So there is onus on both communicant and pastor/priest/celebrant.

Ultimately the communion is there in the Body and Blood of Christ. This is where that two-fold Communion is created and strengthened. The Holy Ministry is intimately tied to both the preaching and the administration of the Sacraments. Therefore the onus is not only on the communicant but it is also shared by the pastor/priest/celebrant.

PS Regarding an earlier question, I agree that Lutheran theology and practice connects the Real Presence to the consecration (ie, the Real Presence is not dependent on the reception although reception is included in the overall action).

Jonathan said...

Thanks, Fr. H,

I suppose that is the heart of the question though in the altar-altar fellowship though; that, in reality, you do have differences in doctrine among membership.

For example, in my large congregation, I know some members who are very outspoken advocates for WO, some who are critical of inerrancy and the Genesis creation, etc. If we took a poll of the membership, Lord knows what else we'd discover.

As one who approaches the rail with my brothers and sisters, how far can/should I take the horizontal? Obviously, I am in no better position at reading the heart than anyone. But, as far as basic integrity goes, I *feel* that it is enough for me that my brother/sister has examined him/herself and is confessing like me what is happening to/for them in the LS. That is why I find the Christian Questions useful.

William Tighe said...

Question re:

"For example, in my large congregation, I know some members who are very outspoken advocates for WO ..."

Should not such people be, in effect, excommunicated? Is not the toleration of errorists -- or, rather, not so much mere "tolerance" as allowing them to conclude that they and their views had "droit de cite" (a right to be both held and propagated) in their denominations -- on eof the principal reasons why WO triumphed not only in sociologically liberal denominations (like ECUSA, ELCA, PCUSA and the like) but also in quondam "conservative" ones like, for example, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)? Is there a significant danger of the same happening in the Missouri Synod?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jonathan:

You make a great point. We do have to cut individuals under our pastoral care some slack. There are people who are confused on the role of women or the creation account, etc. It isn't even always practical to ascertain what people believe on such matters. I know of unitarians who attend Lutheran churches and take communion - probably (hopefully!) without the pastor's knowledge.

But the solution to the very real consequences of the fallen world is not opening communion, such as lowering the bar to the point of accepting all baptized Christians or those who believe in the real presence. That is an easy way out that is just not responsible pastoral care.

By contrast, we should make it very clear where our church body stands on these issues. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, those who believe in women's ordination, evolution, abortion, etc. will not want to belong to an LCMS church.

I do think *clergy* who hold such opinions (false teachers) should leave our synodical fellowship voluntarily or be defrocked - whether formally (which is next to impossible in the LCMS) or by being shunned by other clergy and laypeople.

Again, this is why the focus on communion fellowship needs to be communal (what do *we* believe, teach, and confess?) rather than on individual opinions.

It is also a huge problem with First Lutheran communes my Methodist Aunt Sally (a fictional person) while Second Lutheran in the same town does not. It pits pastor against pastor and parishioner against parishioner - and makes the pastor of Second Lutheran look like a you-know-what for simply doing what the church and synod have always done.

When entire congregations send memorials to the synod proposing, say, women's ordination (which happens every convention cycle), I believe that congregation needs to be removed from our fellowship - whether formally or informally. Would we allow a congregation to remain in the LCMS if it were to, say, propose that the pope is the head of the church by divine right?

The fellowship thing has to be addressed at the congregational and synodical level before it makes any sense at the individual level.

But again, in the current cultural milieu of postmodernism and individual choice and preference, our temptation is going to be to lower the bar and look the other way in matters of false doctrine. Our culture has changed, but God's Word hasn't. There are other communions for people to go if people believe the pope is the head of the church, if they deny infant baptism, if they don't believe in the Trinity, or want gay marriage or women clergy. There simply must be certain issues that are fellowship-busters - but nobody seems to want to go there.

So, it's a bigger issue than which individuals should get the Lord's Supper at our altars. That issue is subordinate to the larger issue of fellowship - and what constitutes altar fellowship.

The original statement that I posted is from a church body called The American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC) and the LCMS is now in full altar and pulpit fellowship with them. I just do not see how their "responsible communion" statement jibes with the LCMS understanding of communion and church fellowship. Why are we in full communion with this body and not in fellowship with, say, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church - whose doctrinal credentials and practice are without question?

I believe the technical Latin term is bubulum stercus.

In my opinion as a member of the LCMS, the LCMS has lost its collective stomach for giving responsible pastoral care by caving into open communion. The synodical leadership is taking the easy way out - which is not only cowardly, but blazing the trail for an eventual ELCA-like policy of opening the communion rail to those who deny the Real Presence.

Open communion, even with the best of intentions, is a slippery slope that eventually leads to places we definitely do not want to go.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

I would love to see the advocates of open communion appeal to Judas for justfication! I think it is a "good" argument, but they don't seem to want to go there. Of course, it would be a bit counter-productive in terms of "church growth" for all of these new members to hang themselves after Mass. But then again, it would help the old Ablaze!(tm) tote board for "critical events."

Again, I think there is a difference between exercising pastoral care and local church discipline for individuals in our congregations as opposed to laying out what constitutes church fellowship and what guests we accept at our communion rails.

Just because our Lord communed Judas I don't think it follows that Pope Benedict should commune me or that I should seek it from him. We're not in fellowship, and that is simply the sad, but real, fact. No amount of whitewash or wishful thinking can make it otherwise.

As far as political leaders go, I agree with the conservative Roman Catholic position. A public official in a position of power who publicly defends, advocates, and votes for infanticide has already excommunicated himself. There is really no need for formal proceedings any more than the Roman Catholic Church should have to hold a trial to excommunicate my wife. In becoming a Lutheran, she voluntarily left the Roman Catholic communion. These politicians know full well the position of the Church and of the Roman Catholic bishops. They have voluntarily broken fellowship, and it is provocative and diabolical for them to even come to the altar. In so doing, they are publicly giving God the finger and mocking Christ. And some priests want to *commune* these devils? Gads.

In times like these, I do not understand why the pope doesn't use the authority he has and just put the hammer down. This sounds like a good time to take the ex cathedra vehicle out for a spin.

I mean, infanticide is a worthy hill to die on, I would think.

Jonathan said...

Thanks, again, Fr. H,

I don't know that this practice constitutes the fast-lane to ELCA. But, back to your question about TAALC's statement, I'll just repeat, my experience is that it is the same practice in LCMS by-and-large. I have not belonged to, or visited, a LCMS congregation that said close(d), if they said anything it was only less wordy (perhaps more vague) forms of the statement.

I don't think we will leave the Siberians out in the cold much longer, do you? TAALC just has the relative advantage of 'remnant status' of the ALC folk with whom we were once in fellowship.

Chad Myers said...

@Fr. H:

I'm certainly not advocating open communion or communion between traditions (i.e. Lutherans with Catholics and vice versa). I'm talking about self-identified and otherwise eligible Lutherans, who may be theologically confused, presenting themselves for communion at a Lutheran church of their own confession (i.e. LCMS at LCMS). The same situation could apply to a Catholic that is confused presenting themselves at a Catholic church.

The Pope has had strong words with Nancy Pelosi in private. I'm inclined to believe that he threatened her with excommunication if she speaks out again publicly and misrepresents Church teaching (as she did on Meet the Press about a year ago).

The US Bishops are divided on whether the communion rail should be a battle ground for political issues, even intensely grave ones like abortion. The Pope is not shy when it comes to rolling back silly policies of liberal "Catholics in name only", but on this issue (communion), he hasn't been as forceful.

I'm inclined to believe that the reason the Bishops and the Pope hesitate in this matter is because communion is so core to the faith life and because it is precisely intended for sinners. Of course, the Church also teaches, like Paul does, that the communicant must be properly disposed (having no unconfessed, unabsolved mortal sin, being in communion of belief and subject to the teaching of the Magesterium), and it teaches that to receive communion in a state of mortal sin or while persistently believing in heresy is itself a mortal sin and a grave profaning of Christ.

How aggressive the enforcement of these rules should be is a matter of pastoral discretion. If the Church began excommunicating people living in persistent defiance of the Church, it would probably involve excommunicating about half of the Catholics in the US and result in a massive schism or worse falling away of the nominally faithful Catholics.

You described the sorry state of affairs of the faithful in the US Lutheran bodies today, I'm sad to say that the US Catholic situation (not to mention Europe) isn't much better and likely worse.

The pastoral pressure of trying to keep together what little faith remains must be intense for you, all Lutheran pastors, Catholic Priests, Bishops, and the Pope alike. I try hard not to second guess these situations.

I'm inclined to believe that is needed is not necessary battles over the communion rail, but harsh, true, real preaching from the pulpit. Many Priests, Pastors, Bishops, clergy in general get soft when they approach the pulpit and fail to deliver the necessary truth to the congregation.

IMHO, it seems that if a pastor is at the point of denying someone communion, the fight is already lost. It should be fought from the pulpit and in meetings with the confused individuals.

I am not a pastor, so my thoughts here are next to meaningless I admit and understand. But it seems like withholding communion is the "nuclear" option and that there are perhaps better ways of bringing the flock in line or casting out the goats.

Theophilus said...


How about a fresh interpretation that people in the pew can understand?

We forget that the disciples on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion were eating the bread the OLD way as follows: The Psalmist once complained about evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread.” (Psalm 14:4, 53:4, 27:2, 41:9) Both Micah and Isaiah complained about those who hate the good and love the evil, who “eat the body of my people.” (Micah 2:2-3; Isaiah 9:20) This is what Jesus’ disciples were doing to him on the evening before his crucifixion. They were contributing toward his death.’

We, however, eat his body NEW in the kingdom of God. By our eating of Christ’s body, we now signify our willingness to throw in our lot with Jesus, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Jesus along the way of righteousness, counting the cost.

Institutional Christianity’s traditional interpretation plunges the church into endless conflict over whether it is transubstantiation, representation, or consubstantiation. This is not at all helpful.


William Tighe said...

So invent a new heresy instead? no thanks.

Anonymous said...

If it's not open, and it's not closed, is it ajar?