What about Communion in other Churches?
I've preached the 6th Chief Part of the Catechism every 4 years for 25 years. Yet I still hear the same questions that I believe I have answered time and again. I can't very well be aiding your faith or answering your life questions with the Sacrament of the Altar if I'm not adequately answering: What about Communion in other churches? Some mean what is it? Others mean what if it's the only church available, may I commune there?
What is Communion in other churches? We heard last week that in some it's not the Body and Blood of Jesus given to Christians to eat and drink. Even though they use Jesus' Words of Institution, those words aren't a magical incantation which as long as you say them correctly they produce what they say. They are the Words of Jesus that instituted, started, the Meal of His Body and Blood. No Protestant church wants His Body and Blood on their altar let alone in their mouths. They don't believe those Words mean what they say. And woe to them if those words did work like magic. Then they would have the Body and Blood of Jesus without recognizing it, so according to St. Paul, they would be eating and drinking condemnation.
When I say that the Protestant churches don't have, can't have the Body and Blood of Jesus on their altars, I'm not saying that they don't have a Means of Grace. Because they do use the Words Jesus gave us, they are hearing the Gospel preached to them. That's what we say in our Explanation tonight. The benefit of Communion is shown in these words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." These "show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness, life, and salvation are given through these words."
What Jesus accomplished in 30 A.D. by giving His Body over to death in payment for sins and by shedding His Blood to cover them is declared in 2015. The Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist who hears these words and says, "Jesus gave His Body and shed His Blood for me" has the forgiveness of sins even though he doesn't have the Body and Blood of Jesus present on his altar or in his mouth.
Other Christian churches do have the Body and Blood of Jesus, but only while they are using it according to Christ's institution. Jesus instituted this Meal for eating and drinking. He says, "Take Eat; this is My Body. Take drink; this is My Blood." He didn't give His Body and Blood to be paraded around in a festival, to be displayed in ornate receptacles, to be reserved in Tabernacles, to be offered up for the sins of the living and the dead, or to not eat and drink of them in Private Masses. Jesus doesn't give His Body and Blood for any other reason than for eating and drinking.
Should I partake of Communion in other churches if there is no confessional Lutheran church around? First recognize, contrary to what you're thinking, it is not Lutherans but Catholics and Reformed who posit "have to" situations for Communion. For the Catholic, a "have to" situation is the deathbed; for the Reformed it's any emergency. That's funny to me. The Reformed don't believe it is the Body and Blood and yet think an emergency warrants it being celebrated by a layman. The Reformed don't, however, think there's any emergency warranting Baptism by a layman. For us, there is an emergency Baptism, but no emergency Communion.
Remember where Paul says to the Corinthians that because of the present circumstances the weepers, rejoicers, and buyers shouldn't weep, rejoice, or buy? I say because of how few churches do actually celebrate the Lord's Supper according to His institution, don't live as if you're not fully Christian or saved without Communion.
First, you can commune all day every day at an altar that doesn't have the Body and Blood of Jesus and your faith can't put there what is not there. All you will get from a Protestant altar is bread and probably grape juice. Second, Catholic and Orthodox do have the Body and Blood, but you're getting a whole lot more than that. You're getting a compromised conscience. Actually, you get that at a Protestant altar too.
Whatever altar you receive Communion at you profess to be in Communion with the Jesus preached at that altar. You commune at a Baptist altar and you testify your Jesus doesn't want babies baptized. You commune at a Catholic altar and you testify your Jesus wants His mother prayed to. You commune at an Episcopal altar and you'll get the smells and bells of high liturgy, but you'll come away without the Body and Blood of Jesus having testified that Jesus embraces abortion, homosexuality, and other ways to heaven apart from Him. You commune at a Catholic or Orthodox altar, and you'll come away with the Body and Blood of Jesus having testified that Communion is a bloodless sacrifice of Jesus to appease an angry God.
How many of you would attend a testimonial dinner where by eating and drinking you pay tribute to someone or some cause you don't believe in? Would you attend a testimonial dinner for Jihad John? Of course, not he butchers Christians. How about for the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan? Probably not. If you're a Democrat would you attend a testimonial dinner for a Republican? I don't think many of you would even attend a tribute dinner for the star of an opposing sport's team. Yet you think there could be an emergency that would warrant you testifying to a Jesus you don't believe in? You know that attitude not's so far away from Pilate and Herod. These enemies came to be friends over compromising Jesus.
The sticky wicket in this sermon is the question about communing with other Lutherans. If Jesus had said in our text, "My kingdom is of this world, and My servants will fight for it," you would have an argument that for the sake of a united front in this world, we ought to commune at least other Lutherans. Through the 50s that was the position of the Liberal Lutherans: Lutheran altars were for Lutherans only. Now these Liberal Lutherans commune any baptized Christians and many commune anyone who wants to baptized or not Christian or not. But let's start with Confessional Lutherans.
Not all Confessional Lutheran churches will commune you. We're still part of the Missouri Synod and other Confessional Lutherans recognize what even the secular press has. In 2004 the LCMS lurched to the theological left. We accepted praying with pagans, denied the Order of Creation applies in all creation, and accepted open Communion practices. In edition we don't discipline those who believe in evolution or the ordaining of women.
Don't think ill of the Confessional Lutherans who won't commune you. They're defending what Jesus died for: the truth. While the rest of the world believes as Pilate did that truth can't be known, they believe as we do that truth is revealed by God. Jesus is on trail though proclaimed innocent because we are truly guilty for our sins. Jesus suffers all God's wrath and all hell's damning because that is what our sins truly deserve. Jesus is able to pay for the sins of the world because He truly is God the Son. Communion gives forgiveness of sins to those who receive it in faith because it truly is the Body and Blood Jesus gave 2000 years ago.
There are Confessional Lutheran Churches where you will hear the Gospel truly preached, but who won't commune you. They're testifying to you that your soul, my soul, is truly in danger as long as it remains in communion, even on paper, with error. ELCA Lutheran churches and those that have splintered off because of the homosexual issue will commune you. But I told you last week once they declared fellowship with church bodies that have always denied the Body and Blood of Jesus is in Communion, they ceased to have the Real Presence. If you believe otherwise, know you are saying that these churches are giving the Body and Blood of Jesus to people who don't believe that and so are giving them condemnation not salvation.
The stickiest wicket of all is the open Communion churches in the LCMS. Sure they will commune you as they will commune most everyone else. The best of them don't invite all but only those who agree with a published brief confession of what Communion is and why a person should come. At the end of the day, their altar is open to anyone who believes he should come. At the end of the day, they reduce what is truth to only the truth about the Sacrament. Those who are for abortion end up kneeling beside those who aren't. Those who support gay marriage are opening their mouth and receiving the same Jesus with those who believe in God's institution of marriage. Those who believe truth can be known and must be confessed are in Communion with those who don't believe either.
If you do commune at open Communion LCMS altars, you shouldn't commune here. You are either being a hypocrite here or there; it's not the right thing to do. You know Passion Reading 4 could be titled "Do the Right Thing." You see how desperately Pilate wanted to do the right thing and release an innocent man. You see how God helped him to do the right thing. He gives Pilate the opportunity to get Herod's judgment, and Pilate finds to his amazement his enemy agreed that Jesus is innocent. Then God sends to his wife a clear dream: "Leave this innocent man alone."
In the end Pilate didn't do the right thing with the Body and Blood of Jesus. Will we? When we eat His Body and Drink His Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we are. When we don't give His Body and Blood to those who don't know it's the Body and Blood of God, we're doing the right thing. When we don't give Jesus' Body and Blood to those who don't believe in the same Jesus we do, we're doing the right thing. When we don't commune where Jesus is not or a Jesus is proclaimed contrary to the true Jesus, we're doing the right thing. When we give His Body and Blood to sinners who know what it is, why they come, and bow before the same Jesus we do, we're doing the right thing.
But guess what? We're not saved by doing the right thing. We're saved by Jesus doing all things perfect and dying to pay for our doing wrong things. This Jesus - the forgiving, giving, suffering, saving Jesus is the Jesus who has empowered men and women to even die for the right thing. I think He has empowered us to commune in the right way. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek IV (20150311); Communion II, Passion Reading 4