July 2016

July 2016

Closed Communion: How Do We Practice It When We Travel?

We all know that as a congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Holy Cross follows the historical and biblical practice of closed Communion. I administer the Lord’s Supper only to those who are publicly united with us in our confession of faith and who repent of their sins. This leads, of course, to some awkward moments, and it can be difficult to explain our practice to other faithful Christians who are unable to commune at our altar, but Jesus never promised us that faithfulness to Him would be easy!

But what about when we ourselves are in attendance at other congregations? Closed Communion works both ways. Not only do we administer the Lord’s Supper only to those who are in public agreement with our confession of faith, but we also do not approach the altars of churches outside our fellowship. To do so would be to engage in a false expression of unity when in fact disunity prevails, and to unite ourselves with false doctrine. If I, for example, commune in a congregation of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), that means that I am expressing my own agreement with the false teachings of their church, such as women’s ordination, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage.

What does that mean for us in practice? It means a couple of things. First of all, and most obviously, when we are traveling, or when we are visiting the churches of our friends and family members who are not within our fellowship, we are not to approach the altar for the Lord’s Supper. This doesn’t have to be done offensively. There’s no need to make a scene. We just remain quietly in the pews throughout the distribution of Holy Communion, and if we are in a church where the Supper is distributed directly to the pews, we simply pass the bread and wine along without partaking. If someone has questions about your decision to decline to receive the Lord’s Supper with them, offer to talk about it after the service. You can even refer them to me. Feel free to share my contact information with anyone who asks you about your practice of closed Communion.

Our practice of closed Communion also means that we will show courtesy to other congregations and pastors within our fellowship. When you are visiting a Missouri Synod congregation, make sure that the pastor knows who you are well before the service begins. Take a moment to introduce yourself, and make sure you include the following information: that you are a member in good standing of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa, a congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Only approach the altar if the pastor invites you to do so. If for some reason you are unable to speak to the pastor beforehand, for the sake of his conscience do not approach the altar that morning. Ideally, however, you can approach the altar with his knowledge and permission. What a beautiful expression of unity within our fellowship for faithful members of sister congregations to be able publicly to commune together!

If you cannot commune for any reason, remember that you can still benefit from reflecting upon what it is that is given at a Christian altar, and why. Remember that Jesus’ body and blood were offered up on the cross as a sacrifice for your sins, and that there are distributed to us for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Such an exercise of faith is possible whether we commune or not, and leads to great blessedness.

Closed Communion is difficult to practice, both as a pastor and as a layman. But by following those brief guidelines, we can make it easier for everyone concerned, while also maintaining faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. As always, let us continue to pray for the visible unity of all Christendom in the true confession of the faith on every point, so that we may all commune together. And let us take heart in the knowledge that in the life to come, all error will fall away and we will all be in perfect unity.

In His love,

Pastor Neuendorf