Project Wittenberg

Theology and Practice of
Part III

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
as preapared by its
Social Concerns Committee

May 1983

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1. Is it proper for a Lutheran to attend the Lord's Supper at the altars of churches not in doctrinal agreement with the church body of which he/she is a member?

2. Is it proper to celebrate Communion as a device for furthering or attaining pulpit or altar fellowship?

3. Is it appropriate to have Holy Communion in private homes or other settings and at times other than Sunday's congregational worship?

4. Is it appropriate to have Holy Communion on synodical campuses?

5. Is it proper to celebrate Communion at a wedding?

6. When is private Communion appropriate?

7. May the elders take the consecrated elements to the sick and to shut-ins after the Communion service?

8. What constitutes worthy reception of the Lord's Supper?

9. Is it appropriate to commune infants?

10. What special considerations should be taken into account regarding the participation of mentally impaired persons in Holy Communion?

11. How often should the Lord's Supper be offered in a congregation?

12. How often should one participate in the Lord's Supper?

13. Can a qualified male assist with the distribution of the elements in the service of Holy Communion?

14. May women serve as assistants in the distribution of the Lord's Supper?

15. Is it fitting that noncommuning children join their parents at the Communion rail?

16. Is Communion in which the communicant receives only the bread or only the wine an adiaphoron in the church?

17. Does it matter whether a congregation uses individual glasses or the common cup to distribute the consecrated wine?

18. What is the propriety of intinction?

19. Is a particular posture to be assumed in the reception of Holy Communion?

20. Does the celebration of Holy Communion require a specific liturgical setting?

21. How appropriate is a Seder meal in conjunction with Holy Communion?


[1] Luther writes in his Large Catechism: "But outside the Christian church (that is, where the Gospel is not) there is no forgiveness, and hence no holiness. Therefore, all who seek to merit holiness through their works rather than through the Gospel and the forgiveness of sin have expelled and separated themselves from the church" (LC II, 56; cf. AC V).

[2] "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom"' (Matt. 26:26-29; cf. Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

[3] Ex. 12:2-13. The Lutheran fathers were confident that the sacraments were present, in prefigured form, in the Old Testament. Martin Chemnitz writes: "God in all ages of the world, by giving a certain Word, revealed His will concerning the mystery of redemption to the human race, concerning the gratuitous reconciliation and acceptance of believers to life eternal through faith, because of the sacrifice of His Son as Mediator. He also added to the Word, by His own divine institution, certain external signs, by which to seal and confirm more clearly the promise of righteousness by faith. The institution and use of Sacraments did not, therefore, first begin in the time of the New Testament; but the fathers in the time of the Old Testament, even before the publication of the Law, had their certain signs or Sacraments divinely instituted for this use, which were the seals of the righteousness of faith. Rom. 4. But though it is the same God, the same Mediator, the same grace, righteousness, promise, faith, salvation, etc., yet those external signs or seals are sometimes changed for others, substituted in their place by divine institution, so that the mode of revelation was constantly rendered more clear, which at first was like a lamp shining in a dark place; afterwards the morning star succeeded, until at length, the night being past, the Sun of righteousness arose" (Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. II, First Topic, Section II, par. 1, quoted in H. Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [Minneapolis Augsburg Publishing House,1961], p. 536; cf. Charles P. Krauth's "The Passover Is a Type of the Supper," in The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963], pp. 592-97).

[4] Even those scholars of critical persuasion find overwhelming evidence for this Passover setting. For example, Joachim Jeremias writes: "The fourteen observations that have been made above concern not only the framework of the narrative but also its substance. It cannot be said therefore that only later embellishment has made the Last Supper a Passover meal. It is much more the case that the Passover character of the last meal of Jesus is unanimously supported..." (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [London: SCM Press, 1964], pp. 61-62).

[5] The doctrine of the Real Presence is succinctly confessed in Article X of the Augsburg Confession.

[6] One study stands out in the secondary literature, namely, Hermann Sasse's This Is My Body (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1959), passim. Commenting on Luther's confession of the Real Presence, Sasse writes: "His belief in the Real Presence rests solely on the words of Christ. ... It was not stubbornness that moved Luther to retain the words 'This is my body' in their literal sense. It was simply reverence for Him who spoke these words and neither gave nor commanded to give another explanation" (p. 107). Other studies which convincingly demonstrate Lutheranism's reliance upon the verba of Christ include: Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Treat-- Part II, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978), pp. 217-548; Martin Chemnitz, The Lord's Supper, trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979), passim; Werner Elert, The Lord's Supper Today, trans. M. Bertram and R. Norden (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973), pp. 5-43; Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, trans. Walter A. Hansen (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), pp. 300-21; Holsten Fagerberg, A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions, trans. Gene J. Lund (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), pp. 184-205; Charles P. Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), pp. 585-830.

[7] John 19:30. The Greek grammars appropriately stress the perfect tense of tetelestai. Cf., for example, C.D.F. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 16; and Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Volume III-Syntax, James Hope Moulton, ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), pp. 81-89, for a thorough discussion of the perfect and its force in the New Testament period.

[8] 1 Cor. 11:27-34. The public nature of the sacrament and also the implications of doctrinal confession are stressed by the Lutheran Confessions' exegesis of 1 Cor. 11:26 in Ap IV, 210, and Ap XXIV, 35.

[9] Martin Franzmann, in commenting on "in an unworthy manner" (1 Cor. 11:27), aptly combines these two dimensions when he writes: "As 29 makes plain, the 'unworthiness' lies in not discerning the body in its sanctity and significance for man, eating and acting as if the present Lord were not present but had failed to keep His promise, as if His redemptive death did not signify, as if His 'Drink of it, all of you,' did not bind all His disciples together" (Concordia Bible with Notes [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 310).

[10] The confessors direct these words to the case of private self- Communion. They would not preclude public self-Communion where the pastor has no assistant. Martin Scharlemann underscores the corporate aspect of the sacrament by focusing on the word koinonia: "When reference is made to the Lord's Supper, it is spoken of as having both a vertical and horizontal dimension, as is evident from the use of the word koinonia at 1 Cor. 10:16; for this term signifies a sharing in something with others; in this case, in the body and blood of the Lord" (Some Remarks Regarding the Celebration of the Lord's Supper, Faculty Forum Paper, March 2,1976).

[11] Early Christian Fathers, trans. and ed. Cyril L Richardson, in The Library of Christian Classics, Vol. I (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), p. 175.

[12] Ibid., p 178

[13] Origen, Contra Celsum, III, 51, 10. Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 41:1 ff. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses Mystagogicae, I, 4.

[14] Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), p. 133. The procedure of excluding the heretics from the Eucharist meant that the early church had devised a means of dealing with the anonymous heretic. The local congregation or bishop personally could indeed impose the regular restrictions. But the anonymous heretic, particularly the layman, was not known locally. As a defense against this sort of thing, the church developed a system of written credentials that were presented. In the year 306, the Council of Elvira used the term "letters of fellowship." These were certificates intended for travelers to give proof of their identity as they came to another place and there sought to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. The Council of Carthage (345-48) directed that no person, clerical or lay, could commune in another congregation without a letter from his bishop. Two things were involved in these certificates or letters: first, a declaration that there was no impediment to a man's being received and that he enjoyed full church fellowship in his home congregation, thereby permitting his admission to the celebration of the Eucharist, and secondly, by presenting his certificate he came under the care of the bishop of the new congregation.

[15] Hermann Sasse writes: "Perhaps nothing reveals the profound difference between Luther's and Zwingli's understanding of the sacramental words more than the fact that for Luther and the Lutheran Church the words of institution have always been also the words of consecration, while Zwingli and all Reformed churches reject the idea that the elements are consecrated by reciting the words of Christ" (This Is My Body, p. 164). In keeping with the centrality of the sacramental verba, the consecration should be spoken over all the elements. To separate, by distance or liturgical action, a portion of the bread or of the wine from consecration moves in the direction of a Protestantism wherein the verba need not be held in sacramental proximity to the elements (cf. FC SD VII, 75-84).

[16] Martin Chemnitz's reply to the question of whether the body and blood of Christ are present in the consecrated elements if they are laid up, enclosed, or carried about, and not used and distributed, is most appropriate: "Christ did not institute this Sacrament in such a way that, even if no one uses it, or if it is changed into something else than He Himself commanded, it nevertheless is His body and blood, but in the very words of institution He prescribed the form of that which was commanded, how it is to be observer and used, and that not only for a time but to the end of the world, 1 Cor. 11:26. And use surely does not make a Sacrament, but the Word, ordinance, and institution of Christ. And there is a difference between the essence of a Sacrament and its use. But Christ so ordered and arranged the words of institution in the form of a testament, as He wanted the Sacrament to be an act in which bread and wine are taken, blessed, or consecrated, as they say, then offered, received, eaten, and drunk. And Christ says of that which is blessed, which is offered, received, eaten and drunk: This is My body; this is My blood. Therefore when the bread is indeed blessed but neither distributed nor received, but enclosed, shown, and carried about, it is surely clear that the whole word of institution is not added to the element, for this part is lacking: He gave [it] to them and said, Take and eat. And when the word of institution is incomplete there can be no complete Sacrament. In the same way it is also no true Baptism if the Word is indeed spoken over the water, but if there is no one who is baptized" (Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, trans. Luther Poellot [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981], p. 121).

[17] Representative of such a consensus are the following commentaries: A. Schlatter, Der Evangelist Matthaus (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1948), pp 741-45; William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 504-09; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 792-807; C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 264-70; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. Norman Perrin (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1966), pp. 41-88.

[18] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 110.

[19] "Fruit of the vine" is, exegetically, synonymous with wine. Cf. H. Buechsel, "genema," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), p. 164; W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 508-09; H. Seesemann, "oinos," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, V (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), p. 164; Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark (London: St. Martin's Press, 1966), p. 547.

[20] Martin Luther, Luther's Works, American Edition, 36 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), p. 231.

[21] The problem with the "consecrationist-receptionist" discussion is that each side runs the risk of separating in one direction or the other what has been Biblically joined together.

[22] Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, trans. Paul F. Koehneke and Herbert J.A. Bouman (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), p. 245.

[23] The Greek Word in 1 Cor. 11:29 is krima. The term used by Paul of wrongful participation in the Lord's Supper is the equivalent of our English "condemnation." cf. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, pp. 450-51. For additional material on the force of this word see Friedrich Bueschel "krino," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 921-54.

[24] While the term "closed Communion" has a longer history (cf. W. Elert, ch. 7) and is regarded by some as theologically more proper than "close Communion," the latter term, which has been used in more recent history by writers in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, may also properly be employed as a way of saying that confessional agreement must precede the fellowship of Christians at the Lord's Table. Whatever term is used, it is clear that the LCMS' official practice is consistent with the historic practice of the church, which has regarded unity of doctrine as a prerequisite for admission to the sacrament (cf. 1967 Res. 2-19).

[25] Martin Chemnitz, The Lord's Supper, trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979), p. 21.

[26] H.P. Hamann, Studies in Holy Communion (LCA, S.A. District: Church Development Committee, 1977), p. 12.

[27] Donald Deffner, "Why Close Communion?" Berkeley, Calif., 1955, p. 14.

[28] 1967 Res. 2-19. See also 1969 Res. 3-18 and 1981 Res. 3-01. Cf. Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, III, p. 381. Pieper begins his discussion concerning who is to be admitted to the Lord's Supper by stating: "Christian congregations, and their public servants, are only the administrants and not lords of the Sacrament. ... On the one hand, they are not permitted to introduce 'Open Communion': on the other hand, they must guard against denying the Sacrament to those Christians for whom Christ has appointed it." To be sure, a heavy responsibility rests on pastors in making decisions as they evaluate those exceptional cases of pastoral care where persons who are members of denominations not in fellowship with the LCMS desire to receive the Lord's Supper. However, part of the pastor's responsibility in such situations involves informing individuals desiring Communion also of their responsibility regarding an action which identifies them with the confessional position of the church body to which the host congregation belongs and their willingness to place themselves under the spiritual care of the pastor in that place.

[29] An announcement in the service folder may request those who wish to commune as guests to speak with the pastor prior to the service. Elders or ushers may be instructed to provide guidance to visitors regarding the Communion practices of their congregation. Members of the congregation should be instructed to encourage relatives and friends to indicate in advance their desire to commune.

[30] The questions which follow have been selected in response to the specific assignment given to the commission to deal with the questions of close Communion and extra. congregational Communion services, and in response to inquiries often received from members of the Synod on other matters of concern.

[31] Thesis 25 in C.F.W. Walther's Proper Form of a Lutheran Congregation in Walther and the Church, trans. Th. Engelder (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1938), p. 101; also found in Selected Writings of C. F. W. Walther, Aug. R. Suelflow, Series Editor, Walther on the Church, trans. John M. Drickamer (CPH, 1981), p. 140.

[32] Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, pp. 131-32.

[33] The term "Mass" was used in the Reformation period to designate the service of Holy Communion. The Confessions, of course, removed all the connotations of propitiatory sacrifice in their usage of the term.

[34] Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, p. 128.

[35] With respect to the distribution of the sacrament, attention may be called to Rubric 28 in the Altar Book of Lutheran Worship, pp. 31- 32. For instance, it may be well to point out that "Since the administration of the Lord's body is the decisive act of admission to the Sacrament, the presiding minister, as the responsible minister of the Sacrament, distributes the body of the Lord. The assisting minister(s) may distribute the blood."


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