Why “Close” Communion?
To Those Who May Not Understand:
If you happen to attend our services when Holy Communion is being celebrated you may notice that we surround the Sacrament with usages and practices which may be unfamiliar to you. One practice is announcing your intention to receive the sacrament to the pastor before the service. This practice is related in part to our practice of what is called “close” communion. In “close” communion all those and only those who have openly expressed agreement with the doctrine our church confesses are permitted to receive the sacrament. In the contrasting practice of “open” communion, anyone who makes a claim to Christianity is welcome to partake, with no test of that claim being made.
How Dare You?
Some might ask: “How dare you do this? What right do you have to question the validity to one’s claim to Christianity? Isn’t this disrespectful? Doesn’t this have overtones of legalism? Aren’t you going beyond human capability and judging faith?”
When we use the terms “practice,” “custom,” “usage,” we are not talking about something that is arbitrarily and only humanly imposed. Close communion is a matter of what Scripture says. What we practice has a biblical background. We do not judge faith, but within the limits of our human capabilities, we do judge confession. This is what we want to determine before one partakes of the Sacrament.
What We Look For -
Our “close” communion practice is based on the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26-29. After repeating the words of institution, he says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.”
And also these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “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? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”
In these passages we see that there is such a thing as an “unworthy” participation in the Sacrament to the point of incurring a judgment upon one’s self. This is what we want to prevent by our practice of “close” communion.
See The Body
One requirement for “worthy” reception is “discerning” (seeing) the Lord’s body in the Sacrament. Scripture sets forth the doctrine of the Real Presence, that the Lord’s body and blood are really present in the Sacrament in the earthly elements of bread and wine. It is within our powers to determine whether one understands this and expresses belief in it.
Proclaim The Lord’s Death
The apostle Paul also says that we “proclaim the Lord's death till He comes,” which makes the Sacrament a public confession of Christ and what He has done. This calls for an understanding of the entire work of redemption, how God has brought about our salvation in the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, and how the benefits of this become ours. This is why we have the custom of going through a rather long and thorough course of instruction before permitting participation in the Sacrament. We want our people to know what they are proclaiming concerning the Lord’s death as they partake of the Sacrament.
Confess A Unity
Paul further speaks of the Sacrament as an expression of fellowship, a “communion” of the body and blood of Christ, and “we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” A fellowship relationship is expressed both with the Lord and with each other. We cannot have this if we do not know and believe what the Lord says. Disagreement on what is received in the Sacrament and all that is included in the Lord’s death precludes a “communion,” a oneness with Christ and each other. This is why we ask for confessional agreement before we permit partaking of the Sacrament. Our custom of “close” communion and announcing to the pastor is one way we try to carry out this desire of our Lord.
A Loving Concern
At one time, after completing a study of the Sacrament in an adult information group, a young woman, who in the past and in ignorance of the spiritual requirements had participated in the Sacrament in various Protestant churches, asked a pertinent question: “How could they let me do this?” How could they let me incur spiritual hurt? Why didn’t they find out first what I believed? This is what lies behind our practice of “close” communion - a loving concern that when one partakes he receives the blessing it is meant to impart.
Note: This study was prepared for use at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew
based on the work of other CLC pastors.
If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew