Why Must Lutherans Practise Close Communion ?

by Frederick Kuegele

This trenchant exposition of Scripturally correct practise with respect to Holy Communion, by the first president of the English Missouri Synod, appeared in the Lutheran Witness September 21 and October 7, 1892 (Vol. II, Nos. 8 and 9)

Close communion is one of the four points on which there has been, and yet is, so much controversy in our American Lutheran church. Next to the exchange of pulpits, altar fellowship, or open communion is the demand of the liberalistic elements in our church. It is claimed that throwing open the communion table to all-and inviting the members of other churches manifests a spirit of broad charity and liberality, whereas close communion is represented as betokening a spirit of bigotry and narrowmindedness, and those insisting on close communion are said to be far behind the times.

What the signs of the times are we will here not examine. Some say, the times are drifting towards a broader liberality; some say people are beginning to tire of the loose and shallow theology and practice which has prevailed so extensively since the introduction of Newmeasureism (akin to Methodistic revivalism); and in many quarters many are beginning to inquire after something more substantial. However this may be, we “Missourians” are close communionists. We make no secret of it, and we offer no apology for it; we do practice close communion. We hold that all who are Lutherans at heart will and must practice close Communion. With us it la a settled thing that open communion is neither Biblical nor Lutheran, nor charitable. This is what we desire to show in these lines.

Before His ascension to heaven Christ instituted the means of salvation, such means through which the salvation which He earned and prepared for every man la offered and conveyed to men, and these means He gave to His church on earth. So the church on earth has the means of salvation. It has the Gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation;” it has Baptism, which is “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” It has the Lord’s Supper, which is the external seal of the sonship of God. It is of course not actually the church which saves,-Christ alone can save -but the administration of the means through which He saves souls Christ has committed to His church on earth.

The church therefore, is not the sovereign lord over the means of salvation, it has only the stewardship of them. What St. Paul says of ministers applies also to the whole church: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” 1. Cor.4:1,2. Now a steward has not the right to do with his master’s goods what he pleases, he must dispense them agreeably to his master’s instructions, and if he deals with the goods after his own notion or the wishes of others, contrary to his master’s instructions, he is found an unfaithful steward. The church -pastor and people -has not the right to do with the Means of Grace what it pleases, it must administer and apply them according to the instructions of the Lord to whom also the Church will be required to render an account. “There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship.” Luke 16:1,2.

If the Church dispenses the treasures of Christ to those for whom they are not intended it will be found as wasting the Master’s goods. To baptize a man who declares that he will not abandon sin would be an abuse of Baptism, because the Lord instituted Baptism for those who want to be rid of sin, and not for those who want to continue in sin. Even so with the Lord’s Supper. Because it is the Lord’s Supper, it must be celebrated according to the Lord’s directions, and not after the opinions and wishes of men. In his own house, at his own table, a man can do as he pleases, invite whom he pleases, and in every way accommodate himself to the tastes and wishes of his guests; but in the house of the Lord, at the Lord’s table, we must be governed by the Lord’s instructions. Here the whims and wishes of men are to have no place. Here those only must be invited whom the Lord invites, and those must be refused whom the Lord refuses. To invite and to give the Lord’s testament to those for whom it is not intended is wasting the Master’s goods. In celebrating the Lord's Supper we must be governed by the Lord's instructions and must not look to what is customary or popular in our times.

What then are the Lord’s instructions as to who is, and who is not, to be admitted to His table? The latter, those not to be admitted, may be classified in the following manner:

1. The unbaptized. Baptism, being the sacrament of initiation into the Christian church, must in its very nature precede the participation of the Lord’s Supper. In the Old Testament no uncircumcised male person was admitted to the Passover: “No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.” Exodus

12:48. And likewise in the New Testament no unbaptized person shall partake of the Lord’s Supper. An unbaptized person is yet outside the pale of the Christian church; and that such “strangers and foreigners” are not to be admitted is acknowledged by all who call themselves Christians.

  1. Baptized children. These are not admitted because the apostle commands: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” 1 Cor.11:28. Baptized children are, indeed, members of the Church, heirs of heaven, nevertheless they are not admitted to the communion for the reason that they cannot examine themselves.

  2. Such adults who have not the use of their mind, as idiots, maniacs, delirious and unconscious persons. If insane persons possessed the grace of God at the time when they lost the use of their reason, they certainly remain children of God and are saved, but they are excluded from the communion for the same reason as children: because they cannot examine themselves.

    1. Such persons who have never obtained any Christian instruction and are so ignorant as not to know what the Lord’s Supper is, and what it is for; for from lack of knowledge these are not able to properly examine themselves, neither can they receive the sacrament for the purpose for which it was instituted. Bearing on this point Dr. Luther says: “The sacrament must not be cast to the multitude, as the pope did.” “Henceforth this shall be the order, that no one be admitted to the sacrament except he be first asked and examined as to what his heart’s sentiment is, whether he knows what it (the sacrament) is, and wherefore he receives it. We have practiced indulgence and tolerated the old abuse long enough; but now, since the gospel has again been propagated in the world, we must see to the matter and reform the abuse.” Walch, Vol. 11, p. 834, 841.

    2. Under popery, before the Reformation, the communion was free to everybody, and was given to everyone who chose to come, and the priests never thought of going to the trouble of instructing the people as to what the sacrament is, and how they should worthily receive it. So it was under popery. Now in many Protestant, and even in many so-called Lutheran churches, the communion is free to all, and is given to everyone who chooses to partake of it. Is then not this practice of open communion virtually a RETURN to the old abuse under popery? Certainly the sacrament should be given to no one who has not been previously instructed and knows not what the Lord’s Supper is, and for what purpose it was instituted; for giving it to those who know not what it is, and what it is for, is verily wasting the Master’s goods, seeing it is giving our Lord’s testament to those who can in no way appreciate it.
  3. Manifest and impenitent sinners are not to be admitted. Because the eating and drinking is for the remission of sins, it is evident that the Lord’s Supper is for those only who want to be rid of sin, and not for those who want to continue in sin. Upon that which is secret the Church can of course not pass judgment; hypocrites must be left to the judgment of God; but the question here is concerning manifest and impenitent sinners, such whose un-Christian life is known to the Church. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord says: “Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” Matt. 7:6. In the language of the Bible dogs frequently signify despisers of God’s Word, and swine, the servants of vice; and the Lord distinctly forbids to give them that which is holy. Now if a church extends a general invitation to the communion, an opportunity is offered for manifestly wicked persons to present themselves at the Lord’s table, and so that church renders itself guilty of giving the

holy unto the dogs. And this the Lord does not account a small matter, for His language is strong. Paul says: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11:27. And this he repeats, saying: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” v. 29.

The impenitent, whose hearts are full of wickedness, receive the sacrament with a mouth given to sin, and so they become guilty of profaning the Lord’s sacred body and His holy blood, and thus eat and drink damnation to themselves; and the church which extends a general invitation to the communion offers the opportunity to such who have not examined themselves, and are not prepared and not worthy, to come to eat and drink damnation to themselves. So that church helps such persons into greater damnation. People call it charity to throw open the communion table to everybody, but this is not charity, it is an abomination; for the Lord’s Supper, being a communion of His own body and blood, is the Most Holy of the New Testament, and it is the duty of the Church to watch over the testament of her Lord and Master and as much as possible to guard it against abuse, whereas extending a general invitation is exposing that which is holy to profanation.

  1. Those who have a quarrel with each other and have not yet done all in their power to effect reconciliation. The Lord says: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt. 5:23-24. Christians who have fallen into a quarrel should of their own accord abstain from communing until a reconciliation has taken place. They should, of course, go to church also on a communion occasion; but they should not approach the Lord’s table, because the Lord has forbidden it and because they, being adversaries, could not eat of one bread and drink of one cup in the frame of mind as brethren ought to do. If indeed the one party has done all in its power to effect a reconciliation and the other party is not willing to be reconciled, then the willing party is to be admitted.

  2. Finally, those are not to be admitted who are of a different faith, or rather, those differing in faith are not to commune together. Least of all are those to be admitted who do not believe that the Lord’s body and blood are really and substantially present with the bread and wine and are sacramentally received by all the communicants, both worthy and unworthy. One who does not believe the real presence may indeed be at heart a believer in Christ, hence a true Christian. Certainly there are true Christians also among the adherents of Calvin’s and Zwingli’s doctrines. The Lutheran Church has never advanced the claim of being the only saving church. In the preface to the Book of Concord we read: “We have no doubt whatever that also in those churches which hitherto have not altogether agreed with us there are many pious, innocent people who walk in the simplicity of their hearts, do not rightly understand the matter and have no pleasure in the blasphemies of the Holy Supper.”

But whilst we admit that there is a church, a company of saints, also among the adherents of Calvin’s doctrine, we can nevertheless not invite or admit them to the communion, for the reason that they do not believe that the Lord’s body and blood is there, and can therefore not receive the sacrament for the purpose for which it was instituted. The apostle says: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the-Lord’s body.” He who does not believe that the Lord's body Is there does not, and cannot, discern the Lord’s body; he takes the Sacrament as common food and drink, nothing but bread and wine, and here are the apostle’s words for it that he eats and drinks to the harm of his own soul. And is it charity, or is it right, to invite him to do this?

When Dr. Luther was informed that certain ministers at Frankfurt on the Main administered the Lord’s Supper both to Lutherans and to Reformed, at the same time, he wrote an earnest epistle of warning to the people of that city, in which he says: “To me. it is horrible to hear that in the same church and at the same altar both parties should obtain and receive one and the same sacrament, the one party believing that it receives nothing but bread and wine, and the other party believing that it receives Christ’s true body and blood. And often I doubt whether it be credible that a preacher or pastor could be so hardened and deceitful as to be silent about this and let both parties go, each in his opinion that they receive the same sacrament each after his faith. But if haply there is such an one he must have a heart harder than any rock, steel or adamant, he must verily be an apostle of wrath. For Turks and Jews are far better who openly deny our sacrament, wherefore we remain undeceived by them and fall not into idolatry. But these fellows must be the very high arch-devils who give me mere bread and wine and would let me take it for Christ’s body and blood, and would so miserably cheat me. That would be too hot and too hard; this God must avenge shortly. Therefore whosoever has such preachers, or has reason to suspect them thereof, let him be warned against them as against the very devil himself.” See Luther’s Works, Walch, Vol. 17, pg. 2446. That is strong language and it does not leave it doubtful as to how Dr. Luther regarded mixed communion. To him it was something revolting, chiefly because it is practicing deceit at the Lord’s altar with the Lord’s testament. This was something horrid to Luther’s honest and pious heart.

Should it require proof that in mixed communion, when Lutherans and Calvinists commune together, there is deception and delusion? The proof is very easily furnished.

It is not the communicant’s faith which makes the sacrament. Faith is necessary for the beneficial use thereof, but the communicant’s faith does not make, neither does his unbelief unmake the sacrament. It is the Word added to the element which makes the sacrament, and the faith or unbelief of the communicant cannot alter it. “What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3. The sacrament is what the words used make it. Now in the Lutheran church the words of institution are preserved in their native meaning.

The Lutheran church therefore has the true sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, that is, together with the bread and wine Christ’s body and blood is given and received with the mouth by all the communicants. But in Calvinistic churches the words of institution are changed and are made to say: “This signifies my body.” or, “This is an emblem of my body.” Those are no more the Lord’s words, they are words of man’s making, and so they have only a supper of typical bread and wine, and not the true sacrament. Hence the Lutheran communing in a Calvinistic church and thinking to receive the Lord’s body and blood is deceived, because he receives nothing but bread and wine; and the Calvinist communing in a Lutheran church is also deceived; for he receives the Lord’s body and blood whereas he takes it as mere bread and wine, and so he is not only deceived but also rendered guilty of not discerning the Lord’s body. Intercommunion between Calvinistic churches does not necessarily involve deceit, because they all teach the same, or nearly the same on the Lord’s Supper, but intercommunion between Lutherans and Calvinists necessarily involves deceit and delusion, because the Lutheran and the Calvinistic doctrines on the Lord's Supper are diametrically opposed to each other.

And how can a Lutheran pastor give, and how can a Lutheran congregation allow its pastor to give, the sacrament to those of whom it is known beforehand that they account communing as nothing more than eating a morsel of bread and drinking a sip of wine? Is not that treating the sacred testament of our blessed Lord as a trivial thing, of so little value that it would make no difference what you do with it? Will the man who possesses precious jewel give it to him of whom he knows that he will account it only a bit of lead? Surely he will prize his jewel too highly to give it to one who receives it as a lump of lead and not a jewel. Much rather will every Lutheran pastor, who really believes that the Lord’s body and blood is in the sacrament, refuse to give it to those who would receive it as nothing more than a type and an emblem. The preacher, therefore, who calls himself a Lutheran and yet invites Calvinists to the communion justly becomes subject to the suspicion that he himself does not believe the Lutheran doctrine, that he is at heart a Calvinist and falsely calls himself a Lutheran.

Hence Lutherans whose pastor extends a free invitation to the communion, have urgent reason to suspect him of being a Calvinist at heart and they should well heed Dr. Luther’s advice. In the epistle already quoted he writes: “Therefore this is my faithful counsel which before God I am indebted to give both to you at Frankfort and wherever else it is needed. He who knows his pastor publicly to teach the Zwinglian doctrine should avoid him and should rather do without the Sacrament for lifetime, than to receive it from him; yea, he should even rather suffer death and all torment. But if his pastor is one of the double-tongued who pretend with the mouth that Christ’s body and blood is truly in the Sacrament, and yet is suspected of practising deceit and meaning different than the words sound, then go or send to him freely and demand a clear answer as to what it is that he reaches you with his hands and you receive with your mouth, having no regard in this case to what he believes or does not believe in his heart; simply ask, what hand and mouth here grasp. If he is an honest Sacramentarian he will deal uprightly with you and will tell you that he proffers you mere bread and wine by which you should remember and believe Christ’s body and blood. But if he is one of the jugglers who play at hide and seek he will say, Mum, Mum, will turn the quid in the mouth and will babble after this manner: O it is sufficient, if you believe that body which Christ means.” Walch, Vol. 17, p. 2440.

These words certainly show that Dr. Luther was not a friend of dubious talk and double-dealing, and it indeed appears as something self-evident: The man who does not believe the Lutheran doctrine should not call himself a Lutheran preacher; and every congregation wanting to bear the name Lutheran rightfully should make certain that its pastor teaches and practices the Lutheran doctrine, and should tolerate no deceitfulness in the house and at the altar of the Lord. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8.

In this connection it must also be considered that we Lutherans go to Communion for a very different purpose than do those who deny the real presence. With us the Sacrament is given and received as the Lord’s body and blood, for a pledge and seal of His grace and forgiveness. The Lutheran communicant argues: “With my mouth I here receive the body which was delivered for my offenses, and the blood which was shed as the ransom of my soul, and seeing I am made partaker of my Lord’s testament it must be verily so that I am heir of all His riches.” To the Lutheran the Lord’s Supper is a pledge that Christ is his.

But with the Calvinists it is given only as an emblem and at best is received only for a memorial of Christ. How then could we invite them to our communion, and how could we go to their communion? “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3-We deplore the division; our heart’s desire is that those in error should discard the traditions of men and adopt the truth, that we might be united in one faith; but no one, not even a thinking man of the world, should expect us Lutherans to depart from the Word of the Lord in order to please men. If we can not be faithful to the Lord’s Word and also at the same time please men, we must abide in the former, even though we incur the displeasure of men. “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Gal. 1:10.

That even those who indeed believe the real presence but differ on other important points of doctrine and practice should not commune together is sufficiently evident from 1 Corinthians 10:17: “We being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” As the members of the human body are not at variance with each other, so there should be no divisions among those communing together. Eating of one bread and drinking of one cup they should be one in faith and one in love.

Of course the advocates of open communion also bring arguments for it, but most all of these bear the stamp of their futility on their very face. We shall mention a few examples. Some say: “It is the Lord’s table, therefore it must be open to all.” That is an argument worthy of an agnostic. Similarly that unjust steward argued: “It is the master’s goods, so I can make free use of them.” But for this making free use of them he was called to account. It is certainly something very self-evident: Because it is the Lord’s table therefore no man has a right to throw it open to everybody, but by all faithful stewards it must be closed against those whom the Word of the Lord excludes.

Another argument is this: “No truly believing Christian should be excluded from the Communion, and therefore alter fellowship should be practiced with all those denominations and sects among whom there are yet true Christians.”

This argument :may seem very plausible to those who have not “their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb.5:14), but there is a principle laid down in it which those advancing it themselves fall to carry out, otherwise they must practice alter fellowship also with the Roman Catholics. Of “that man of sin” it is said that he “sitteth in the temple of God” 2 Thess. 2:4. Now the temple of God in the New Testament is the true invisible church. So there must yet be a company of saints under the Pope, or he would not be sitting in the “temple of God.” Were it true that we must fellowship all those among whom there are yet heirs of heaven then we must fellowship also the Papists.

But the principle is wrong, and the whole argument rests on a misconception. To judge even the hearts is a prerogative of the Lord, 2. Timothy 2:19; but we can judge only by the confession of the mouth and the works of the hands. Those making the right confession and doing right works we are to acknowledge as brethren, but “if any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, from such withdraw thyself.” 1. Tim.6:3-5.

One of the chief arguments for open communion is this: “A Christian should show himself charitable toward all, and should therefore commune with all in whatever church he may happen to be.”

This argument shows one of the most iniquitous fruits of intercommunion, because with many it has rendered communing a mere work of charity. The Lord instituted His testament to convey to us a legacy by it, and we are to partake of His testament to obtain this legacy, which is the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. What then could be a more woeful corruption of the Lord’s testament than to make it a work of charity, performed by the communicant? Under popery the people went to communion to do a good work before God, and to go to communion to do an act of charity towards men is, say the least, nothing better.

Another argument is: “If the Lutheran church would enjoy friendship and honor with the surrounding denominations it must practice open communion.” Here we readily concede that there is truth in this argument. It shows the fountainhead from which the practice of open communion and also pulpit fellowship flows. The Lutheran church which craves the friendship of sectarians must practice intercommunion, and the Lutheran church which craves popularity with all must open its communion table to all and give the world an opportunity to come and to commune with it. But whether it be right before God is a different question. “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” John 5:44.

Other arguments for open communion are of the same order and equally futile as these here mentioned. Whilst there is little to prevent Calvinistic churches from having intercommunion with eah other, because they all teach much the same on the Lord’s Supper, we Lutherans cannot practice intercommunion with them without denying our faith. Though a Lutheran congregation profess the right doctrine of the Lord’s Supper ever so loudly, if it admits Calvinists as such at its altar, then its practice contradicts its profession; and deeds speak louder than words.

It was the controversy on the Lord’s supper which originally divided the Protestant church, and if we Lutherans would keep our heritage, if we would continue in the Lord’s words and preserve His testament in its native purity, we must practice close(d) communion. For this we have also the Lord’s own example. He did not invite the Pharisees, neither did He invite the Sadducees, nor yet the disciples of John the Baptist; He extended no invitation to all; He quietly went with His own disciples to celebrate this supper. To follow the Lord’s example a Lutheran congregation must do likewise, quietly celebrate this sacrament in its own midst, welcoming all those of one faith with it, but it must not invite those of a different faith, must less must it by extending a general invitation offer an opportunity to the world to come to commune with it.

Every Lutheran congregation should beware of dealing lightly with the Lord’s Supper. In some Calvinistic churches the elements are carried around and offered indiscriminately to everybody, like cake and wine in a sociable gathering. Is that the way for Christians to deal with Christ’s testament? When the Corinthians fell into a light and loose way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper the Apostle Paul, moved by the Holy Ghost, earnestly warned them, and among other things he wrote: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” 1. Cor. 11:30. The esteem in which the Lord’s Supper is held, and the manner win which it is celebrated in a church, is a barometer by which the scriptural life of that church may be judged. Why are so many churches so fearfully pervaded by worldliness? Dealing lightly with the Lord’s Supper is one great factor to bring looseness, indifferentism and worldliness into a church; for if a church can deal lightly with the Lord’s testament with what should that church not deal lightly? Let us Lutherans take warning and be on our guard. Not by our wisdom and research, nor by our merit and worthiness, but by the grace of God our Lutheran church has the true doctrine and the right administration of the Lord’s testament. Let us watch over it, and let those Lutherans who have fallen in line with the Calvinists return again to the old paths; and then let us all heed the exhortation of the Lord: “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Rev. 3:11.

Thus saith the Lord: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!!!