The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod practices closed communion. Below are excerpts of common questions about the practice of closed communion found in Admission to the Lord's Supper: Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching. The full text can be found here.
If you have questions not addressed here or wish to discuss the practice further, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common Questions about admission to the lord's supper
1. How can we possibly say that all those Christians from other church bodies are unworthy to receive the Lord's Supper? Isn't that what we are saying?
Absolutely not! There are two reasons why people can be refused admission to the Lord's Supper. The first has to do with faith and discerning the body. Those who do not have such faith and discernment would commune in an unworthy manner and thereby receive God's judgement. But the second reason has to do with the need for a fitting confessional unity among those who commune together. Roman Catholic Christians, for example, may be perfectly prepared to receive the Lord's Supper in their own churches in a worthy manner and so to their own great blessing. But it would be unfitting for them, as confessors of their church body's error, to receive the Sacrament in our churches.
2. Why are we so unfriendly? When we tell some Christians that they can’t commune with us, it seems so unfriendly!
It is probably inevitable that, when we ask people— including some fellow Christians—not to commune at our altars, some may conclude that we are “unfriendly.” This is why it is so important that we explain ourselves and our teaching to others who, quite frankly, may not understand it at all. But when we explain, with genuine interest and friendliness, our doctrine that the Lord’s Supper is both a gift and a sign of unity, others will come to see that we do what we do not because we are unfriendly but because of what we firmly believe.
3. What about our mobile society? “Snowbirds” spend months away from their home congregations, and many people travel overseas and around the country. Doesn’t that change the way we should think about admission to the Lord’s Supper?
Vacations and brief periods of travel ordinarily do not create any particular situation of intense spiritual need or crisis. When visitors from other church bodies come to our churches or when our own members attend worship out of town at other churches, there is normally no pressing reason to override their identity as “confessors” of a certain doctrine.
The case of “snowbirds” or others who are away from their home congregations for long periods of time raises a more difficult question. It would be a difficult situation indeed for a Christian to be bereft of the Lord’s Supper for many months or even years. If in such a situation a pastor’s discretion led him to admit members from other churches to the Lord’s Supper at an LCMS congregation,
it would have to be done after much discussion and discernment, and with the understanding that the “long-term visitor” was in agreement with our doctrine and had placed himself under the pastoral care of our pastor. Moreover, the future confession of the “long-term visitor” should be an item of discussion.
4. What about relatives who are very close to us but who are members of other church bodies? On special occasions such as baptisms, confirmations, or weddings, can’t they be admitted to the Lord’s Supper if they have genuine faith and repentance?
This question is often a very difficult and sensitive one on an emotional level, because we feel united with those whom we love—and all the more when they are fellow Christians! As powerful as those feelings can be, however, they must not override the spiritual realities involved. The situation can be eased if we can talk with our friends and relatives openly and lovingly about the differences that divide orthodox Lutheran churches from heterodox Christian churches. Many Christians may not even be aware of the differences, and such discussions would be of benefit to all.
5. Question: Well, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He communed Judas, didn’t He? How can we dare exclude anyone, if the Lord gave His Supper even to the man who betrayed Him?
We cannot determine with certainty on the basis of the Gospel accounts whether or not Judas was present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But even if he were present, we cannot take all the historical details of the institution of the Eucharist as patterns that we must follow today. If we did so, we might have to conclude that only a certain inner circle of Christians should receive the Lord’s Supper, for only the Twelve were present that night. Or, on the assumption that Judas was not repentant (since Satan had already entered into him, Luke 22:3), we could conclude that unrepentant persons should be welcomed to the Eucharist. One can see the specific errors that are created when we try to make the historically unique aspects of the institution of the Lord’s Supper into patterns
On the positive side, however, the historical example of Judas could well reinforce the sound pastoral principle that pastors are not expected or required (or even able) to judge the hearts of communicants. Judas was a hypocrite, one who presented himself as a believer
on the outside but was an unbeliever in his heart (cf. FC SD VII, 60; Tappert, 580).
6. Question: I understand and support our teaching on admission to the Lord’s Supper, but it bothers me that no one else has the
same perspective. Why are we so different?
As a matter of fact, our teaching stands in line with the history of the Christian church and with the majority of Christendom to this day. Both the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox churches teach something very similar to what our Synod does regarding admission to the Lord’s Supper. In North America, however, the Protestant churches that do not accept the truth that all who eat and drink the Eucharist eat and drink the body and blood of Christ with their mouths have had an inordinate amount of influence in the thinking and practices of many churches today. Such churches have lost the understanding of the seriousness of harm that threatens a communicant who does not discern the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, these churches are less likely to ask, out of love, that such people refrain from participation.
7. Well, how much correct doctrine does a person have to know in order to be able to commune “worthily”?
The question confuses the two ways of looking at a communicant. As individuals, we do not receive the Sacrament worthily because we know a certain “laundry list” of correct doctrines. Repentance, faith in Christ’s words in and about the Sacrament, and the desire for repentant living in unity with one’s fellow communicant are the components of communing in a worthy fashion.
But communicants are also confessors and members of church bodies. As such, it is not merely what the individual knows that is in
view. It is the doctrine confessed by his or her church body that is the important thing. We ask those who join our church if they accept the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions even though they may have only studied the Small Catechism. In a similar manner, members of other churches who are heterodox in their confession have bound themselves to a confession, even though they may not know all of
8. What is the “passing of the peace”? What does this custom, increasingly common in our congregations, mean?
The “passing of the peace” is a modern application of the ancient custom known as the “kiss of peace” (see Rom. 16:16). Although some perhaps see this as a mere token of friendship and friendliness, its historic meaning could be understood, taught, and received for great blessing in our churches. As practiced in the ancient church, the “kiss of peace” was a “mutual greeting of the faithful in the Eucharistic liturgy, as a sign of their love and union. It is first mentioned by St. Justin Martyr (2nd cent.) and is probably a usage of the Apostolic period (cf. Rom. 16:16, 1 Pet. 5:14, etc.).” Those who were to commune together first showed a sign of their mutual faith, love, forgiveness, and unity. The teaching value of this ancient custom, given our current setting where Christians often see themselves as “free-standing individuals,” is evident. When individual communicants approach the Lord’s Supper, it is not only a matter between themselves and their Lord. Rather, the relationship of love and unity with the fellow communicant is equally in view and must also be preserved with equal dedication. Understood properly, the unity that is expressed is not mere friendship or even love, but a spiritual unity based on a common faith and confession.