As a former Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) parishioner my advent into the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) was marked by many questions about communion. What is this closed communion thing? Why can’t different denominations commune at an LCMS altar, and likewise, why cannot LCMS members commune at those altars of another church body? Today, as a pastor in the LCMS, I explain there is no such thing as a true open communion. I explain that church fellowship matters because it mattered to Jesus.
Christian churches, like the ELCA and others, who profess open communion are denying the reality that they too close the altar to unbelievers, the unbaptized, and those not sorry for their sins. It’s not a true open communion, and instead they allow people to break the 8th commandment by giving a false testimony of fellowship at the altar.
Unless the church openly communes with every and anyone, or religion they’re lying to themselves about open communion. But, if that is their practice they ultimately find themselves ceasing to be Christian. Closed communion is the only faithfully Christian practice.
Another reason for this practice is the very nature of the “Last Supper” provided for us in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22). Here we find Jesus, who ate and drank with sinners, only welcomes his disciples to partake in the New Covenant. Judas, his betrayer, is likely sent out before the meal takes place. Still, even if Judas was present for the meal the context clearly shows he is unwelcome, being sent off later by Jesus to do the very evil of turning him over, ultimately for crucifixion. Jesus perhaps permits the scandal, showing how wicked of a thing it is to convey a false fellowship. Ultimately the Lord’s Table is just that, the Lord’s! He welcomes who he does and sends away who are not. It is the Lord’s table, and we are the Lord’s guests–only he can invite us to eat and drink in his home, his house of worship. So communion isn’t about what we feel or who we are, it’s about Jesus. Pastors who do the work of guarding the communion altar aren’t doing it for themselves, they have no real choice in the matter. Jesus has tasked them with this shepherding of the flock, keeping fellowship among the sheep.
Finally, in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, St. Paul entreats us to consider the bread and wine as Christ’s own Body and Blood. Harkening back to the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels, Paul makes it clear nothing has changed. The bread IS Christ’s Body and the wine IS Christ’s blood. He is diligent with the Corinthian people who seemingly have forgotten this truth. They have disregarded the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28) and so have made the participation in communion their own thing. In the forgetting the forgiveness of sins, for themselves and their neighbor, they do not discern the Body and Blood of Christ and so have made themselves unworthy of receiving it. We too are given to take Paul’s exhortations seriously.
The simplicity of the words of Christ and the handling of this instituted New Covenant with St. Paul makes closed communion a no brainer. We can try to use words like “close” or make excuses for the openness of communion but they won’t do. However, when we go back to what God’s Word says and find that Jesus is in charge of who is and is not worthy to receive, and that it’s based on fellowship with him and those kneeling with us, then things get easier. Trust Jesus, if he limits who receives and St. Paul continues in that pattern, then we should too. If we understand that fellowship and not feelings (like being left out) is what matters most then it’s not only easy but actually a wonderful and faithful thing to practice closed communion.