Why Not Commune Everyone who wants to?
"Why not commune everyone who wants to?" Hasn't that question occurred to you? It has to me 10,000 times 10,000. So in tonight's sermon I'm really providing aids to my faith and answers for my life just as much for me as for you.
Why not commune everyone who wants to? It would be so much easier and popular. The Methodist call to commune is, "Let everyone who loves the Lord come." Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that sensitive? And it's even historic. The Didache which dates to the late first or early second century says, "He who loves the Lord come" (10, 6).
Communing everyone who wants to bows to the greatest American Idol of all: choice. The tag line of financial institutions is, "We know you have a choice where to do your banking." Town governments post on their city limits, "Worship at the church of your choice." Take away an American's choice and you've disenfranchised him, dehumanized him, disrespected him. Think how mad you get when you don't have a choice. Well that's what we're doing when we say people can't choose to commune with us.
If we just let everyone who wants to commune, we would appear loving, open, and accepting. No one would say to me after service, "You have a heart blacker than sin." No would yell at me, "How dare you!" No one would stomp away mad. No one would taunt me with, "All the other LCMS churches in town commune me!" Feel sorry for me yet? Well, no one has gambled for my clothes. No one has nailed me to a cross. And God certainly hasn't forsaken me. All that happened to Jesus, and what happened to His Body and Blood there impacts what we do with His Body and Blood here.
Communing everyone would be easy and popular, but would it be faithful to the Jesus you see tonight pouring out His lifeblood for us while His body is nailed to a cross? Do you like it when other people put words in your mouth? Would you agree different people should be permitted to claim you have said opposite things? The Roman Catholic Jesus says, "Pray to My mother; you're going to Purgatory, and Communion is a daily sacrifice to make God not angry with you." The Baptist Jesus says, "Don't baptize your babies; I'm not really on this altar; and you're decision is your part in salvation." The Pentecostal Jesus says, "Be baptized by the Holy Spirit; speak in tongues; and listen as I speak to you apart from the Bible."
Communing at their altars, communing them at this altar, or communing at Missouri Synod altars who invite all Christians is Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, and God's forsaking all over again. What I do with the consecrated Wafer and Wine is done to the Body and Blood of Jesus. So if I commune those who pray to Mary, won't baptize their babies, or speak in tongues, I am betraying Jesus into the hands of those I know don't believe in the same Jesus I do. If I commune those who deny the Jesus I preach and teach, I am complicit in their denial. Communing everyone who wants to is forsaking the Jesus who was forsaken by God in my place because it says anyone who wants to can have Him.
Yet most do it. Not true. The official doctrine of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Confessional Lutheranism is closed Communion. The majority of Christians worldwide believe that only those sharing the same faith should commune together. And only these 3 communions really have the Body and Blood of Christ on their altar. Ever since the earliest centuries of the Christian Church those who believe it really is the Body and Blood of Christ practice closed Communion. Those who don't believe it is commune everyone one who wants to.
Zwingli who denied it was Jesus' Body and Blood compared Communion to a parish fair. Luther commented, "It used to be said concerning parish fairs that they were held in order that friends might meet one another and friendships might be strengthened. So too, Christ's supper here has been made into a parish fair" (LW, 27, 141).
Even those denying it is the Body and Blood at first did what they called "'fencing the table'" (Oxford History of Worship, 479). In 1635 they brought in a rail "'defending it [the altar] with a decent Rail from all profanations" (Ibid. 506). Closed Communion does this today, and what we are building a fence around is the Gospel. Communion is the Gospel in a nutshell. That's why when Luther reformed the liturgy he had the Words of Institution chanted to the same tone as the Gospel (Luther on Worship, 83, fn. 76).
This is the opposite of what Pharisees, Baptists, and Pentecostals do when they build a fence around the Law. The Pharisees invented over 600 laws to prevent the Sabbath from being broken. Baptists prohibit all drinking lest you get drunk; Pentecostals prohibit dancing lest you get lewd thoughts. When you build a fence around God's Law with manmade laws you make more sinners. Closed Communion puts a fence around the Gospel lest we loose the precious Good News.
If I commune Catholics or you commune with them, you're saying God's wrath isn't satisfied, and so Jesus was wrong when He said tonight, "It is finished." If I commune with Baptists or Church of Christ or you commune with them, you call into question your own non-immersion, infant Baptism where the Body and Blood of Jesus were first applied to you. If I commune Lutherans who are in open communion with all those errors or you commune with them, you open the Pandora's Box of theological error and so many fly out that the Gospel sun is blotted out.
But this is difficult for you especially when it involves family and friends. Have you missed the fact that Scripture clearly says Jesus will divide family and friends from one another? Still you're bothered. Our Augsburg Confession is sensitive to your concern. The Latin translation for scholars speaks of the "errorists," the people in error. The German translation for lay people speaks of the "error," to avoid giving the impression that closed Communion is about personal animosity between people (Krauth, 664).
But I don't agree that communing everyone who wants to is really friendlier, and even if it is, so what? The Church is about something more important than friendless. Stores, banks, government are about this life and being friendly is highly valued in a mean world. Closed Communion is about eternal salvation; not that those we don't commune go to hell, but is God's Word clear? If it's not clear about whether Mary should be prayed to is it clear about God answering prayer? If it's not clear about God's anger being satisfied, how can I not walk about with a guilty conscience? If it's not clear that He chooses no one to go to hell, how do I know I'm not so chosen? Communing conflicting faiths says God's word isn't clear.
And why am I being unfriendly when I won't commune your Baptist aunt, your Catholic brother-in-law, your ELCA sister, or your LCMS mother who believes Communion should be for everyone who wants it? Do you think those who proscribe and dispense mortal medicine are unfriendly for not giving it to everyone who wants it? Go to Walgreens tonight and ask for a bottle of Vicodin. When they say "No" tell them how unfriendly they are. Tell them it should be up to you to decide if you get the medicine. Stomp out of their made as a hornet. If it's foolish to expect doctors and pharmacists to give mortal medicine to everyone who wants it, how come it's not foolish to want the Medicine of Immortality proscribed and dispensed that way?
Do you think doctors and pharmacists who the government has put in charge of keeping dangerous drugs under lock and key are unfriendly, unloving, narrow minded? We heard last week that the Medicine of Immortality can make you weak, sick, and dead. A person can take the Body and Blood of Jesus to his own temporal and spiritual condemnation, but the pastor who is put in charge of this Medicine by God Himself, and is responsible to God almighty for what he does with it is unfriendly, unloving, and narrow-minded because he won't commune who you think he should!
How come politicians on both the left and right are applauded when they won't compromise with differing political opinions about earthly matters? How come rather than being considered unloving, heartless, and narrow-minded, they are applauded for being principled, uncompromising, defending the truth they believe in? How come they're not considered unfriendly yet I am? How come the politician can refuse to budge on something that has no bearing beyond the grave and be applauded, yet the pastor who refuses to budge on what has eternal importance is booed?
How come no sport's team at any level except for Pee-Wee would tolerate a coach letting a player for the other team switch jerseys to play on his team for one game? Let's have RG3 play for Tony Romo just for one game. Why that would make the game a joke! That wouldn't be honest. That would be ridiculous and the coaches involved would be run out of town. Remember we're talking about a game. Yet pastors are expected to let Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or ELCA Lutherans switch jerseys for just a Sunday, and the ones who do that are regarded as big-hearted, understanding, lovers of their fellowman, rather than the unfaithful fools they really are.
I mentioned that officially more Christians practice Closed Communion than Open. The denominations that do Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Confessional Lutherans are also the only 3 denominations that don't ordain women or homosexuals and do speak out in defense of the unborn. Do you think this is by accident? If you take the presence in Communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus seriously, you will take all His Words seriously.
But what about the divisions between even these 3? They've existed for over 500 years, and they are sad, but you don't heal a division by pretending it's not there. You can only address a division if you recognize it. There is more sadness among those who pretend there is no divide because they can only do that by admitting God's Word isn't clear. If His Word isn't clear how do you know Communion is what His Word says it is: His Body and Blood given and shed for you for forgiveness? And so you're left with a faith infected with doubt and a life with indefinite answers. Jesus gave His Body to make your faith surer and shed His Blood to give you answers not questions. We don't commune everyone who wants to because everyone doesn't believe that. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris, Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas, Lenten Vespers VI (20150325); Communion III, Passion Reading 6