(Note: I wrote this piece below as a FB post back in 2014. During that year I took a break from being a pastor and visited a number of churches looking for a 'home.' I was on a spiritual journey - still am! - and am still thinking about this topic, communion. In 2015 I returned to pastoral ministry and last year I wrote this piece on the Eucharist. Now I'm thinking about writing another reflection on how this issue divides believers; the following thoughts can serve as my jumping off point. So that's the context. Hope this is of interest.)
March 23, 2014.
Visited another church today. As you might guess, I’m sort of on a journey to find a spiritual home, post-pastorate. Have recently experienced a few contemporary churches – which, although supposedly visitor friendly, left me dissatisfied. I’ve already ranted about the shallowness of band-centered worship and won’t go into that here.
So I went for the opposite end of the spectrum and worshiped at a liturgical church this morning. Lutheran – WELS. And, as is often the complaint of many who are unfamiliar with the liturgy, it wasn’t very visitor friendly. But not because I had to juggle the hymnal and lectionary.
It was because of communion.
Though we didn’t ‘commune’ (partake of communion) this morning, I doubt I would have been allowed to had the church celebrated it. Most conservative Lutheran churches practice ‘close communion’ – which I’d always thought was spelled closed. There’s a slight difference, and you can google it like I did.
But my take away is this: Want to turn away visitors? Card them.
That’s right. There was a card in the pew that I had to sign and give to the pastor before the service if I wanted to commune. I had to affirm that I belonged to a church that was in fellowship with theirs before I could share in the Lord’s Supper. (Oh, whose supper? Ah, just checking.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Communion’s not a free-for-all. But verbalizing that the meal is for serious disciples of Christ is one thing. Telling Christians they can’t participate in the Lord’s Supper unless certain hoops are hopped is another. I’ll tip my hand right now, I’m an advocate of open communion.
First, communion is a picture of grace. It’s the body and blood of Christ offered freely to sinners. The meal is not for perfect people, it’s for repentant people. All Christians are sinners, therefore all Christians should be invited to eat at the table, regardless of church or denominational affiliation.
Second, communion is for the universal community of believers (called the communion of saints). Who determines membership in this communion? God’s Holy Spirit. Upon one’s confession of faith (Rom 10.9) one is saved and therefore an invited participant at the table.
To place non-biblical hurdles before the table isn’t just visitor unfriendly, it’s a misrepresentation to the seeker what God’s free offer of salvation is all about, imo. The Lord’s Supper is for Christians who want to be right with God and right with others – regardless of church/denominational standing.
Now, I get it. Those who advocate for close communion are seeking to protect the sacrament. But, you know, I just don’t hear God calling us to protect something he’s offering us free of charge.
Not that communion is for everyone - it makes no sense for a non-believer to participate in this spiritual activity. So really, if someone’s not a Christian, why would they want to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ?
But even then, that’s between them and God. I’m not a bouncer.
And I’m not going to card someone at the door.