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Martin Luther preaching to the faithful

Why do we at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church practice “closed” (also called “close”) Communion? This practice may be troubling to some, especially if we must turn someone away from communing with us at our altar, but it is based on Scriptures and the historic practice of the Christian church.

In our day, many churches no longer believe in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. And, if the bread and wine only serve only as symbols of Christ’s body and blood which were given and shed for us on the cross, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to allow all to partake of those symbols. Whether they believed or not, it wouldn’t really matter since it is counted as nothing more than a reminder or symbol of what Christ has done.

But, as the Scriptures plainly teach in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11, Christ does offer and give to all who partake of the Supper His true body and blood which were given and shed for us upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. As God’s people under the Old Covenant ate of the Passover lamb which was sacrificed and its blood smeared upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes (Exodus 12), so we are given to partake of the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant. We partake of the body and blood of Christ, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It may be helpful to note who was permitted to partake of the Passover meal. As we read in Exodus 12, the Passover meal was closed to all those outside of the Old Testament (or Old Covenant) faith.

We read in Exodus 12:43ff.: “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: but every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof … All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you….”

When we remember that the Lord’s Supper replaced the Old Testament Passover as the New Covenant meal and that Baptism replaced circumcision and is called a “circumcision made without hands” (Colossians 2:11ff.), it may help us to understand that reception of the Lord’s Supper is reserved for those who are baptized and instructed in the Christian faith. As strangers were not permitted to eat of the Passover meal until they were instructed and circumcised into the faith of the Old Testament Church, so also attendance at the Lord’s Supper is restricted to those who have been baptized into Christ and have been instructed and confess the true Christian faith.

We might note also in regard to the Old Testament sacrifices, that God said in Leviticus 22:10: “There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing: a sojourner of the priest, or an hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing.” It wasn’t enough to be a family member or friend.

And, in some cases, the Word of God included a stern warning: “And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death” (Numbers 1:51; cf. 3:10; 3:38). If it was a serious offense for one outside the faith to partake of animal sacrifices which pointed ahead to Christ, how much greater an offense it must be to allow those outside of the true Christian faith to partake of the true body and blood of Christ Jesus!

Ezekiel 44:9 says, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.” Those who did not hold to the faith confessed by the Old Testament Church, even if outwardly circumcised, were not permitted to enter into the sanctuary of the LORD to serve.

In Ezra 4:1ff., God’s people were approached by their heterodox and syncretistic neighbors, asking if they could help in rebuilding the temple of the LORD, and the answer of God’s people was no because these neighbors held to a mixed confession.

And whom did Jesus welcome to the first Lord’s Supper? It was His disciples who had traveled with Him and had been instructed in the true doctrine over a period of three years. They were familiar with His doctrine and professed to believe it as Jesus’ disciples.

Some may object because Jesus certainly knew Judas would betray Him and Judas is listed in Luke’s Gospel as still being present when the Lord’s Supper was instituted (Luke 22:19ff.). If Judas did partake of the Lord’s Supper, we must keep in mind that the public confession of Judas was still one of discipleship. He had not stated to Jesus or anyone else among the disciples his plans to betray Jesus; and, had Judas repented as did Peter who also denied Jesus that same night, Jesus stood ready to forgive him. It was when Judas saw that his betrayal would lead to Jesus’ death by crucifixion that he despaired of God’s grace and went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:1ff.).

As I mentioned earlier, when considering who is welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is so much more than just a reminder or symbol of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Jesus actually gives us to partake of His sacrifice for the sins of the world by giving us to eat and to drink (called sacramental eating and drinking because it occurs only in the Sacrament) of His body and blood which were given and shed upon the cross for the sins of the world. In this Supper, Jesus offers and conveys to us the forgiveness of sins and salvation He won for all when He suffered and died upon the cross.

In all four accounts of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians), Jesus clearly and plainly says of the bread, “This is My body,” and of the wine, “This is my blood.” And, if there remains any doubt about what those who commune receive, the Scriptures declare: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Thus, when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup in the Lord’s Supper, we partake of and share in the body and blood of Christ Jesus, the Son of God who took on human flesh and blood and was sacrificed to redeem us.

And, as St. Paul points out, “whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Such are not guilty of abusing a symbol but are guilty of not recognizing and using aright the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:28-29).

We consider also St. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian congregation for not observing the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Christ. He points out that because they did not recognize the gravity of what was being offered and given in the Sacrament, many were weak and sickly and spiritually asleep (1 Corinthians 11:30).

The Scriptures admonish us in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Therefore, for the spiritual wellbeing of those who attend Christ’s Supper, we ask those who wish to partake of the Lord’s Supper to examine themselves, confess their sins and receive God’s absolution or forgiveness through faith in Christ. Since rightly partaking of Christ’s Supper requires a right knowledge of what Christ gives us in the Sacrament and the Scriptural knowledge and ability to examine oneself, we admit to the Lord’s Supper only those who have been instructed in the Christian faith and who can examine themselves in accord with God’s Word.

Secondly, the Scripture says: “Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (1 Corinthians 10:18). It is for this reason that we say and teach that partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a profession of agreement with the doctrine taught and proclaimed from that altar. And, since the Scriptures go on to say, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (v. 21), we believe it is wrong to commune where doctrines introduced by the father of lies (John 8:44) are also proclaimed.

In fact, the Scriptures clearly tell us to mark and avoid those who teach falsely (Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 6:3-5), to come out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Matthew 7:15-23), and to have no fellowship with them (2 John 8-11; Ephesians 5:11). Certainly, communing together with those of a mixed confession (part truth and part error) is not doing what God tells us to do in His Word.

So, why do we at Good Shepherd, only allow those from our own congregation to commune with us at the Lord’s Table? Let me explain.

1) We care about the spiritual wellbeing of those who come to God’s services among us, and our pastors are to be good and faithful stewards of the mysteries of God entrusted to them (1 Corinthians 4:1ff.). Therefore, we do not wish to have someone who is not baptized and instructed in the true Christian faith or who is not able to examine himself come forward to partake of Christ’s true body and blood to his damnation. We seek to instruct first and to be of aid in helping people to examine themselves before partaking of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

2) We desire to uphold the truth of God’s Word and not compromise that truth by acting as if it doesn’t matter whether one holds to all that Christ taught and commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, we receive at the Lord’s Table those who have had the opportunity to hear and learn the teachings of Scripture and who profess their agreement with us in accepting the true doctrine of God’s Word. And, since we cannot look at the hidden faith in the heart, we must look at the public profession of believers — do they profess to believe all that is taught in the Holy Scriptures?

A big part of one’s public profession is one’s church membership. If one is a member of a congregation or synod which persists in a doctrinal error, he or she shares in that error unless he is admonishing the error and leaves if the erring church body or congregation refuses to repent and preach and teach in full accord with the Bible. If we welcome to the Lord’s Supper in our congregation members of churches and synods which are less than faithful to all that God has revealed to us in His Word, we become partakers of those same doctrinal errors.

3) Not to practice closed or close communion is to disregard the real presence of Christ and treat the Lord’s Supper as no more than a symbol and reminder, and it is to disobey God’s commandments regarding practicing fellowship with the truth and rebuking and avoiding false teachers and erring doctrine.

4) While historical precedent alone cannot be our basis for doctrine, it can help assure us that we are in agreement with the church catholic’s understanding of the Scriptures when we review the practice of admission to the Lord’s Supper in congregations from the first century onward.

The Scriptures tell us that the believers in Jerusalem (immediately following Pentecost) “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). They continued in the apostolic teaching which we now have recorded in the Bible and summarized in the creeds. They practiced fellowship with those who continued in this same apostolic doctrine. It is in this fellowship and connected with this teaching where they broke bread (an early name for Holy Communion), and it is in this fellowship where they joined together in prayer and worship.

And, it is clear from historical records that churches did not practice open communion. In fact, those who were not baptized and confirmed members of the congregations were asked to leave after the service of the Word, and the doors were closed before the service of the Lord’s Supper began.

The Lutheran Confessions, contained in the Book of Concord — confessional statements to which you have placed me under oath before God to uphold — teach the practice of closed Communion. For example, The Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV: Of the Mass, states: “5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.”

Luther in his Large Catechism explains: “In the same manner as we have heard regarding Holy Baptism, we must speak also concerning the other Sacrament, namely, these three points: What is it? What are its benefits? and, Who is to receive it? And all these are established by the words by which Christ has instituted it, 2] and which every one who desires to be a Christian and go to the Sacrament should know. For it is not our intention to admit to it and to administer it to those who know not what they seek, or why they come.”

Closed Communion is still practiced today among those churches and church bodies that hold to the real presence. The pastors of ELDoNA practice closed communion, allowing only communicant members of their fellowship to partake of the Lord’s Supper in their congregations.

Though upheld in varying degrees of strictness, the larger synods which still uphold the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture practice or uphold the practice of closed communion in their congregations. Though one can find a variety of Communion practices in the LCMS, the synod’s official position is to allow only members of LCMS congregations, or of church bodies in formal fellowship with the LCMS, to partake of the Lord’s Supper in LCMS churches.

I might add here the fact that being a member of one of these more conservative church bodies includes an agreement not to take Communion outside of one’s church fellowship. Thus, a member of an LCMS, WELS or ELS congregation would be breaking his or her agreement with his own church body by taking Communion in our church or another congregation outside of his or her own fellowship. And, at least historically, pastors respected those fellowship commitments and would not commune those of another fellowship (except, possibly, in the case of an emergency) but would direct these members to their own congregations and pastors.

A difficulty we face in our congregation at the present, since we are not in any formal fellowship with other churches or church bodies, is that practicing closed Communion limits us to welcoming only our own members who have been instructed and professed the true faith. Should we enter into fellowship with another church or fellowship of churches, those allowed to commune at our altar would include communicant members of these other congregations, as well.

With all of this said, practicing closed communion is not always easy to do. It is painful for a minister of Christ to have to turn someone away from the altar and ask for the opportunity to first instruct so that both the minister and those desiring to partake of the Lord’s Supper can be assured of a right understanding of the Lord’s Supper and a common confession of the true faith.

And, as I indicated above, there might be exceptions, such as giving Communion to one who is on his deathbed and cannot be served by his own pastor, even though he has not been able to be fully instructed and make a public profession of his faith, or to one who is admonishing his church or church body in regard to error and has temporarily suspended fellowship until the outcome of his attempt to correct is known. We don’t, however, wish to go against God’s Word and make emergency exceptions into the general rule or practice. Where there is no emergency, we seek to instruct first and be sure that those coming to the altar know what is being offered and given there and that they also accept and agree with the doctrine proclaimed among us.

Not to practice closed or close Communion is to treat the body and blood of Christ as a common thing, to elevate our own opinions and preferences above what God has revealed in His Word, to disregard the Word of God regarding the practice of church fellowship, to fail in truly caring for souls by instructing them in the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper before communing them and to be dishonest and unfaithful to our own profession and subscription to the Lutheran Confessions as a pastor and as a Christian congregation. In so many ways, not to practice closed Communion would be not only unLutheran but unChristian.

May God help us to be faithful to His Word and to treasure the Lord’s Supper and all that He offers and gives to us by means of this Sacrament!

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“So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.” John 4:46-54

The Scriptures tell us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). What does this mean? It means standing under and taking hold of the things promised to us in God’s Word even though we can’t see them with our eyes. It means seeing with the eyes of faith what we cannot see with the eyes of our flesh. And, indeed, we as Christians live and “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; Rom. 8:24-25).

God promises to all of us who trust in Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross His pardon and forgiveness for all our sins. Can you see this forgiveness? Do the heavens open, and does God’s voice sound audibly from heaven saying, “I forgive you all your sins”? No, we have only the word of the Gospel in our Bibles and preached by God’s ministers telling us it is so.

When we are sick and facing our mortality, do we see Jesus on His throne of glory and God’s angels descending from heaven to carry us home? No, we have only God’s promise that His angels will carry our souls into the bosom of Abraham because Jesus died for our sins and rose again (cf. Luke 16:22; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23).

Many, of course, do not believe this. Because they can’t see it with their eyes or understand it with their minds, they do not believe. Because they cannot see Jesus Himself announce to them that their sins are forgiven, they do not believe it when the Gospel is preached or Christ’s ministers absolve them. Because they do not see Jesus and His angels when they are on their deathbeds, they die in unbelief and despair.

But Jesus would have us trust Him and His Word and live our lives with faith in His promises.

Consider the nobleman who came to Jesus. While Jesus was in Cana, this nobleman from Capernaum came to Jesus because his son was deathly ill. He asked Jesus to come down to Capernaum (in the valley along the Sea of Galilee) and heal his son.

But what does Jesus say? “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” The nobleman had heard of Jesus and was, perhaps, ready to believe Jesus could help in this hour of desperate need … if Jesus came down to Capernaum and to his house. But did Jesus, the eternal Son of God who created all things by His almighty word need to go and be visibly present in this man’s home? Jesus desired that this man have faith in Jesus’ words even if he could not yet see it with his eyes. He told him, “Go thy way; thy son liveth.”

A remarkable thing happened. This man who had begged Jesus to come down before his son died now believed and returned to his house. Jesus’ words not only expressed a truth; they had power, power to create faith in this nobleman. And he believed and walked by faith all the way down to Capernaum, where his eyes saw the truthfulness of what he had believed. As a result, both he and his household came to believe and trust in Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior!

Though the world views Jesus as a great teacher and religious prophet, the Word of God tells us Jesus is none other than God Himself in human flesh, come into this world to redeem us from sin and eternal death. The world views Jesus’ crucifixion as a horrible death and perhaps a great injustice; the Word of God tells us that He died as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world — in John the Baptist’s words, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Though the world views Jesus’ resurrection as a questionable miracle; the Word of God tells us that Jesus’ resurrection on the third day is proof that His payment on the cross was sufficient payment for the sins of all mankind (Rom. 4:23-25). Though the world would tell us we need to live a godly life to please God and merit His mercy and forgiveness, the Word of God tells us that Christ lived a perfect, godly life in our stead and made full atonement for all our sins that we might be forgiven by God and counted righteous and holy in His sight through faith alone in His name (Rom. 3:21-28).

Can you see it? Does Jesus prove it before our eyes with modern-day signs and wonders? No, He tells us it is so in His Word. And that Word has power. St. Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” In Romans 10:17, the Bible says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Thus, how do you know your sins are really forgiven when your minister announces God’s grace and mercy to you in Jesus Christ and, in the stead and by the command of Christ, absolves you of your sins for Jesus’ sake? It is by faith in Jesus’ words and faith created by Jesus’ words (cf. John 20:21-23; Luke 24:46-47; 1 John 1:7 – 2:2).

When you are sick and face the reality that your body will one day die, how do you know that to die is gain and it is far better to be with the Lord? It is because Jesus tells us so in His Word. Cf. John 14:1ff; 11:25-26; 1 Thess. 4:13ff.; Phil. 1:21-23; Job 19:25-27. And His Word is powerful and creates and preserves faith in our hearts to live our lives and face our deaths in the sure hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

How do we know that in our baptisms, we are joined to Christ in His death and resurrection and all our sins are washed away? It is through the Word of God, connected with the water, that we are assured these things are so (cf. Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; Tit. 3:3-7; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:9-15).

As we partake of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, how do we know that Christ gives us “in, with and under” the bread and wine His true body and blood which were given and shed on the cross for the sins of the world that we might also receive and be assured of the forgiveness of all our sins and His gift of eternal life? Again, it is His Word that accomplishes what He says and gives to us the blessings He won for us upon the cross (1 Cor. 11:23ff.; Matt. 26:26-28).

As we live our lives in this world, Jesus would have us walk by faith and not by sight. He would have us take Him at His Word and not have to see signs and wonders before we will believe.

But, like the nobleman, when we get home, we will see with our eyes that His Word is true. When we are received into the glories of our eternal home through faith alone in the merits of Christ, we will see that indeed Christ did atone for all our sins, that God accepted His atonement as His resurrection proves, that when we have God-wrought faith in Christ all our sins are pardoned and forgiven and that, through faith in Christ, the eternal joys of heaven are indeed ours!

O God, graciously grant that we walk by faith in Your Word and not by sight, for only through faith in Christ will our eyes ever come to see the blessings which are offered and given to us in Him! Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11 (cf. 6:14)

This verse is found twice in the Book of Jeremiah — at 8:11 and 6:14. What does it mean?

When the prophets and priests should have been rebuking the sins of God’s people and calling them to repentance and a return to the “old paths” (Jer. 6:16), they glossed over the people’s sins and said nothing. When they should have been warning God’s people of the judgment of God which would come upon them if they did not repent and return to the LORD God and walk in His ways, they told the people that God would send them peace and blessing instead of the judgment which was coming.

Thus, God told Jeremiah that the priests and the prophets “healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”

Sad to say, that is what so many pastors continue to do today. Instead of rebuking sin as sin and meriting the eternal judgment of God, they gloss over sin and even speak as if God approves of it. Instead of warning people of the impending judgment of God upon all who continue in their sinful and rebellious ways, they heal the hurt of God’s people slightly by saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”

In other words, pastors often make people feel good and comfortable in their sins rather than warning them of the “wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23) and calling upon them to repent and place their hope and faith in the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (Gal. 4:4-5).

And how many souls will end up in hell because their pastors said, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace”?

As your pastor, God has commanded me to warn you concerning sin. With God’s Word, I must say to you that “the wages of sin is death” — spiritual and eternal.

I must say with the Apostle Paul, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10; cf. Gal. 5:19-21). Even liars will be excluded (cf. Rev. 21:8).

As your pastor, I am called by God to call upon you to repent of all your sins and place your faith and trust solely in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfilled all the righteous demands of God’s law for us and then suffered the full and just punishment for all our sins and the sins of the entire world when He was crucified and died upon the cross. When we confess and agree with the judgment of God about our sins and place our hope and confidence in Christ Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again, God is faithful and just to forgive us all our sins because Jesus Christ, the righteous, is the propitiation for our sins and also for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:2).

Therefore, I ask you before God, Do you acknowledge and confess your sins and guilt before God and do you desire His mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus and seek also His help and strength to amend your sinful ways?

Upon such confession, as a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I, therefore, forgive you all your sins in the name and in the stead of Christ Jesus, our Savior. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses you from all your sin (cf. 1 John 1:7). In Christ Jesus, you have peace. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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