Two weeks ago at the ACELC conference, I reached a startlingly epiphany during one of the lectures on closed communions. The presenter was drawing mostly from Walther, and came to this assessment towards the end: with all these standards regarding communion of whom can partake of it, one almost wish there was no Lutheran church. Then it hit me: Communion in an orthodox Lutheran church is kind of frightening.
Close communion is a struggle, mainly because we want to be liked and because it hurts our perception in the minds of our Christian churches. But one thing I’ve learned from the Scriptures and the Confession, being a Christian isn’t about being liked. Being a Christian is about walking in the light, saying what we believe, and when you live in the light, you have acknowledge where you are different from others.
The temptation here is to say that the supper is a burden to our unity with other Christians and come up with a new doctrine of the supper. This was the temptation the ecumenical movement gave into, in an effort to build the visible church on earth, or the second tower of Babel, where everyone believes something different about what they are putting into their mouths. (And in my opinion, this open table is part of why they ended up throwing the scriptures out the window, because ignoring such differences in the interpretation of Scriptures will necessarily causes us to hold it in low regard.)
But such a large communion doesn’t deal with the real problem of close communion: if you believe in it, you have to acknowledge that the church is very small, on some level. As we keep our altars tight, we feel a burden of small unity, but the truth is, that is what we should feel. We need to encourage the others to maintain their own unity while we maintain ours.
Jesus discussed this with his disciples in Luke 13:23-24 “And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’” This passage shows us how we should concern ourselves: while it is good to maintain friendships with Christians in other denominations and to discuss our beliefs together, we need to acknowledge each others differences and respect each others altars. Not that we shouldn’t be encouraged if they are constantly in the scriptures, and we should go there with them. But we have to hold to the Bible’s full doctrine, as Christ has given it to us.
The Lord’s Supper is a declaration of the unity of faith, a unity that only God can give. While we can participate in the Supper, we can’t just bring in a bunch of non-dems, Catholics, Methodists, and every other denomination to our communion table and say, see? We believe the same thing, and this supper unites us. It is a paradox with the supper: it can give us unity, but we can celebrate it in such way that we make a mockery of Christ’s body. If we don’t fully agree with our Christian friends, it is better to acknowledge our disagreement and leave it at that.
Close communion is really just an admission that we are human, and that we disagree. Yes, it sounds harsh, but remember, there are lot of laws that God gives us to limit our own egos and pleasures, most notably about sexual purity. We must trust him in this matter.