What Closed Communion Is And What It Is Not

The following article is from Pastor Philip Hoppe's blog titled, "Meditations of My Heart."  Pastor Hoppe is pastor of Peace Lutheran Church of Finlayson and St Paul Lutheran of Bruno.  This most excellent article is re-posted here with his permission.

A man walks into church on a day when the Lord’s Supper will be served.  He says to the usher handing out communion cards, “You know.  I have been really good this week.  I should get two cards.”

This actually happened in my brother pastor’s congregation.  It is a shocking level of arrogance on so many levels.  And yet, I should not be so shocked I suppose.  For surely many view the way LCMS Lutherans have agreed to practice communion together as nothing more than a way of ensuring only people good enough get to come forward for the meal.

Our visitors surely think that is what we are doing.  Since there is not enough time to truly explain our practice or our beliefs in the three minutes before service, all they know  that others, presumably the good people, will go forward while they sit in the pew and feel like everyone else is staring at them.

And sadly, it is probably how many who are going forward think as well.   They think, “I went to years of midweek and confirmation classes to get to go to this.”  “I have been an LCMS member my whole life, that is why I get to go.” “I am a member in good standing in a LCMS congregation.”  Some laity police the altar themselves in order to make sure no bad person gets up there.

But here in the truth, closed communion is not a way of making sure only the good people get to the altar.  Much to the contrary, it is the way of seeking to assure that only those who know how bad they are come into Jesus’ presence to find forgiveness and life.

Yes, when you declare for communion, sign that card, or put your name in the register, you are not declaring that you are good enough to come forward but are confessing that you are painfully aware that you are the sick and are in need of the Physician.  This is not like getting into the nightclub because you are perfectly dressed.  It is instead like signing in at the doctor’s office in your tattered pajamas because you do not have the strength to change out of them.

Closed communion assures that only those who confess that they are not well come up to the rail. After all, Jesus only eats with sinners.  He eats with us sinners because He knows we need Him desperately.  Only those aware of their sin and seeking the forgiveness and life offered by Jesus in his body and blood should come forward.

We come forward singing, “So who am I, That I should live and He should die. Under the rod? My God, my God, Why have You not forsaken me? O taste and see the Lord is free.”

In order to assure that only the bad come forward, we ask that people study with us the very basics of our faith before communing.  We ask the to ponder the Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer.  We ask them to marvel at the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  We are not asking them to jump through hoops or prove how good they are.  Instead we are making sure that they with us are willing to confess how bad we are and how good God is to us.

We ask them to do this so that we can say with confidence that the people gathered at the altar have all confessed publicly that they are sinners who wish to dine with Jesus and believe He is present in this meal in His very body and blood giving forgiveness and life.

Closed communion does not insure that the only the good come forward.  In fact, that guy at my brother pastor’s congregation, if he was serious, should have been told that this meal was not for him.  Closed communion makes sure that only the bad come forward.  And when they do, they meet Jesus in his body and blood offering just the medicine they need.

We must make this clear to visitors, to our own members, and most importantly to ourselves lest pride rob us of the chance to dine with the One who sits down with sinners to eat.

To read more on the subject of Closed Communion, CLICK HERE.

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