A common question that people have about worship at Living Hope Church is our practice of close or closed Communion (Lord’s Supper). First of all, a disclaimer: we do not practice close Communion to be exclusive or judgmental. Nor is it out of a “holier than thou” attitude. Our greatest desire is that all people might be able to join us for this heavenly banquet. So please don’t think that we want to exclude you or relish it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That being said, Scripture does have some very definite things to say about who is to be invited to the Lord’s table. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives us some very specific “provisions” concerning communicants at the Lord’s Supper.
- First of all, St. Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28 NIV). In other words, the Lord’s Supper is only for those who realize and confess all their sins before God.
- Secondly, St. Paul writes: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1Corinthians 11:27 NIV). What does Paul mean: “in an unworthy manner”? The Christian church has traditionally understood Paul to be writing about someone who is living in impenitence or denying some clear word of Scripture. The Lord’s Supper is only for those who accept all the teachings of Scripture, nothing more and nothing less.
- Thirdly, St. Paul writes: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29 NIV). One specific belief of the Christian church that Paul mentions is the belief that in the Lord’s Supper all communicants – whether believer or unbeliever – receive Jesus’ very own body and blood. The Christian receives it for his benefit; the unbeliever receives it to his judgment. Many in the Christian church deny this central Christian truth, however. For such a person Paul has a stern warning: that he “eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
Dr. Martin Luther summarized these three points in his Small Catechism, writing: “… he is properly prepared who believe these words: ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is not prepared, because the words ‘for you’ require nothing but hearts that believe.”
Now, what if you agree with all these “provisions” set down in Scripture? What if you confess all your sins, believe that Jesus has freely forgiven all your sins, accept all the teachings of Scripture and believe that in the Lord’s Supper you are truly receiving Jesus’ very own body and blood? Are you welcome to commune at Living Hope Church, even if you’re a member of another Christian church body? In such a case we would ask you – out of love for your fellow Christians at Living Hope Church – to refrain from receiving the Lord’s Supper until being received into membership at Living Hope Church or another WELS congregation. However, this decision rests with the individual communicant. Church membership is a confession of faith. Needless to say, holding membership in one church body while communing in another is a confusing and a potentially unloving action. That’s why we ask even Christians who are not members of our congregation to refrain from the Lord’s table until they have been educated about the Holy Scriptures, their Savior, our church body, and until the pastor has been educated about their beliefs.
We encourage all visitors to speak with Pastor Jeske or an Elder if you have questions about communion and church membership. We have a Bible information class designed specifically for those interested in becoming a member of Living Hope.
We thank you for respecting our communion practice and the Scriptures which teach us.
Here, O my Lord, I see you face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon you lean.
This is the hour of banquet and of song:
Here is the heavenly table spread anew.
Here let me feast and feasting still prolong
The brief bright hour of fellowship with you.
Too soon we rise; the vessels disappear.
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove, but you are here,
Nearer than ever, still my shield and sun.
Feast after feast thus come and passes by,
Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb’s great marriage feast of bliss and love.
~ Horatious Bonar, 1808-89