on Close(d) Communion
21 August 1996
[Editor's Note: This document was distributed with the 1995 LCMS Convention Resolution 3-08. A longer document is being prepared.]
We, the members of the Praesidium of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wish to express our joy in the fellowship the members of the Synod enjoy with one another in the true faith. We thank God for this blessing. We treasure the wonderful opportunities God gives our Synod to reach out to the world with the Gospel, bearing witness to the truths of God's Word, in a bold confession of our Lutheran faith. We recognize as part of this opportunity the responsibility to administer the Sacrament of the Altar in a faithful manner, being mindful of the need for careful instruction to those who desire to commune at the Lord's table. In accord with the Scriptures' and the Confessions' teaching about the Lord's Supper, and the nature and basis of church fellowship, our Synod continues to reaffirm the historic, confessional church practice of close(d) communion.
We are keenly aware that our Synod faces a critical moment in the history of the Lutheran church in America. Decisions are being contemplated by other churches to enter into eucharistic fellowship with one another, without the resolution of the long standing and critical differences that divide the Reformed and Lutheran churches. This is a time for our Synod to affirm boldly the great truths of our Lutheran confession and to offer an alternative to an increasingly pluralistic and secularized view of the Christian faith. Rather than being caught up in the times in which we live, we as a Synod are able to offer a unique and faithful Lutheran witness to those struggling with questions about truth and the meaning of what it is to be a Lutheran church in our world today. Rather than conforming to the spirit of our age, we have before us the opportunity for faithful confession and catechesis.
We recognize the pastoral responsibility the church has not merely to accept minimalistic concessions to ill-defined and un- examined confessions of the faith, but instead to lead people into the truth of the Scriptures, so that they may enjoy the fellowship of the church as it gathers at the altar to receive her Lord's body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Because of our great respect for our Synod's fellowship in the Faith, and because of the opportunities which are presenting themselves to us to be and remain a strong, confessional Lutheran church in this country, and a voice for genuine confessional Lutheranism around the world, we must express our fraternal concern with the document, "A Declaration of Eucharistic Understanding and Practice." We regret the fact that some members of our synodical family have persisted in their public advocacy of an erroneous position in regard to close(d) communion. Sadly, they have done this in spite of the fraternal, pastoral and faithful admonition of our Synod's president, and of our Synod's district presidents, who have counseled with them about this situation.
Therefore, we affirm and commend to our Synod, the pastoral application of the faithful and evangelical resolution adopted by our Synod in convention last summer reaffirming our Synod's scriptural position on close(d) communion, Resolution 3-08. We ask that all members of the Synod, both church workers and congregations, receive, respect and conform their practice to this resolution. We, as the Praesidium of The Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, commit ourselves to its implementation among our fellowship and support our district presidents as they do the same. We recognize that it is the responsibility of the district presidents to maintain the integrity of our fellowship in our faith as they correct and reprove error in the discharge of the duties of their office. We offer our fraternal encouragement to them as they carry out their duty of doctrinal supervision in this matter.
We pray for God's continued blessing on our Synod. May He keep us ever steadfast and faithful, for the sake of our stewardship of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Praesidium of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
Adopted August 21, 1996
To Reaffirm the Practice of Close[d] Communion
Our teaching and practice of the Lord's Supper begin with the clear words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself regarding His gift in the Supper: "This is My body, given for you." "This cup is My blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:17-29). Therefore we believe, teach and confess that the Lord Himself gives to each communicant His very body and His true blood in, with and under the forms of bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins (Real Presence-AC X, XXIV; Ap XIII, XXIV; SC VI; LC V; FC VII, Ep and SD). This "Real Presence" is not simply a general presence of Christ in the Supper, but refers to the fact that Christ's true body and blood are truly present in the consecrated bread and wine and received in the mouths of the communicants (1 Cor. 10:16). The presence of Christ's true body and blood does not depend on the faith of the recipient nor on the character of the one administering the Sacrament, but on the Word of Christ Himself, whose last will and testament the Supper is. By the power of His own Word He gives His body and blood (FC VII, Ep & SD). Though all communicants receive the body and blood in the bread and wine, only those who believe Christ's Word of promise regarding the Supper receive its benefits, namely, the forgiveness of sins. "He who believes these words has what they say and declare, namely, the forgiveness of sins." (SC VI, Tappert, p. 352; See also AC XIII). In other words, the Lord has provided His Supper for sinners who believe His promise: "This is my body. This cup is my blood of the new testament shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." Accordingly, the Sacrament is more than a simple assurance of grace. Rather, the body and blood of our Lord in the bread and wine are gifts by which our Lord Himself offers, gives and seals to us the forgiveness of sins.
A responsible Lutheran practice surrounding the Lord's Supper will take into account the fact that the Supper is also an expression of the oneness of the congregation in Christ and in His Gospel. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26 RSV). One who eats and drinks at an altar confesses what is taught from that altar (1 Cor. 10:21). Each communicant is called on to examine himself before God (1 Cor. 11:28), to avoid creating divisions within the assembly (1 Cor. 11:17ff), and to hold no malice toward fellow communicants (Matt. 5:23-24). In addition, those who commune without discerning the body of the Lord or faith in Christ's promise eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor. 11:29). They are guilty of profaning, not bread and wine, but the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27). This is why the Confessions of our church assume a careful pastoral practice in connection with the Lord's Supper: "The custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been examined and absolved." (AC XXV, Tappert, p. 61).
Our desire to honor and obey the Word of Christ leads us in our pastoral practice to reserve the Sacrament for those who share this desire and confession. Since fellowship at the Lord's Table is a confession of faith in the Lord's promises professed at our altar, it would not be truthful for those who affirm Christ's gift of His body and blood in the bread and wine and those who deny it to join one another at the table. The last will and testament of Christ cannot be interpreted in contradictory ways. Pastors are called by God through the congregation to be faithful "stewards of the mysteries" (1 Cor. 4: 1-2), that is, faithfully to administer the Sacrament according to the Lord's institution. Love also requires that pastors and congregations keep from the Lord's Table those who by their profession (or lack of it) show that they could be eating and drinking judgment upon themselves (1 Cor. 11:27). As part of this practice the pastor will seek to prevent a profession of confessional unity in the faith where there is, in fact, disunity and disagreement.
In 1983 the CTCR reminded the Synod that "In keeping with the principle that the celebration and reception of the Lord's Supper is a confession of the unity of faith, while at the same time recognizing that there will be instances when sensitive pastoral care needs to be exercised, the Synod has established an official practice requiring that `pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods which are now in fellowship with us'" (CTCR, "Theology and Practice of the Lord's Supper," p. 22; 1967 Res. 2-19; 1969 Res. 3-18; 1981 Res. 3-01); therefore be it
Resolved, That the Synod reaffirm 1967 Res. 2-19 that "pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods which are now in fellowship with us;" and be it further
Resolved, That the Synod reaffirm 1986 Res. 3-08, "that the pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances," and beseech one another in love to remember that "situations of emergency and special cases of pastoral care" or "extraordinary situations and circumstances" are, by their nature, relatively rare; and be it further
Resolved, That the Communion Card statement of the CTCR be recommended to the member congregations of Synod for guidance: The Lord's Supper is celebrated at this congregation in the confession and glad confidence that, as He says, our Lord gives into our mouths not only bread and wine but His very body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins and to strengthen our union with Him and with one another. Our Lord invites to His table those who trust in His Words, repent of all sin, and set aside any refusal to forgive and love as He forgives and loves us, that they may show forth His death until He comes.
Because those who eat and drink our Lord's body and blood unworthily do so to their great harm and because Holy Communion is a confession of the faith which is confessed at this altar, any who are not yet instructed, in doubt, or who hold a confession differing from that of this congregation and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and yet desire to receive the Sacrament, are asked first to speak with the Pastor or an usher. For further study, see Matt. 5:23ff; 10:32ff; 18:15-35; 26:26- 29; 1 Cor. 11:17-34;
and be it finally
Resolved, That because we are "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3), any members of the Synod who advocate a different practice of Holy Communion be fraternally reminded of the commitment all the members of the Synod make to one another by subscribing the Constitution of Synod to honor and uphold its doctrine and practice and, where there is disagreement, to follow the proper channels of dissent as outlined in the synodical Bylaws 2.39 c.
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