Faithful Christians will always have a dividing line that distinguishes between those who can and cannot commune at a given congregation. The issue is not whether or not there will be a dividing line but (1) where will it be drawn and (2) on what basis will it be drawn.
So today’s question is, “Why do we invite some people but not others to commune.” Justin Martyr, writing in the 2nd century AD, summarizes it well, “This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except [a] one who believes that the things we teach are true; [b] and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins for rebirth, [c] and who lives as Christ handed down to us. [d] for we receive these things not as common bread or common drink…[but it is] the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”
Justin rightly understood that the Lord’s Supper was a true heavenly food and so he recognized that there were certain things needed for Communion fellowship namely: unity of doctrine, baptism preceding Communion, and the expectation that one repents of his/her sins.
Let’s focus on the topic of unity of doctrine since, I assume, it is evident that Baptism and repentance are both important prerequisites for receiving the Lord’s Supper. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS) believes that it is particularly important that church bodies confess the Gospel and all its articles in order to enter into altar fellowship.
There are specific Bible passages that apply to this topic. For instance, Paul tells us to avoid false teachers (Romans 16:17). He tells us that those who do not recognize the body and blood of the Lord in the Sacrament sin against Christ if they partake of the bread and the cup (I Corinthians 11:23-34). Hebrews tells us that we have an altar where only God’s people can partake thereof (Hebrews 13:10).
The LC-MS stresses that unity in the Gospel and all its articles is necessary for enjoying Communion fellowship. It is the Gospel that creates the church and it must be on the basis of the Gospel that church bodies have fellowship. C.F.W. Walther (our first synodical president) puts it this way, “We are poor sinners.” Note that there is no room for pride. Pride is not why the LC-MS practices closed Communion. He goes on to write, “But we regard the pure Word of God as more precious than heaven and earth and therefore would rather lose everyone’s friendship than lose this.”
If a church body initiates fellowship without unity of doctrine, it will not be able to keep the purity of the Gospel. We do not have the right to discard any element of the Gospel.
Unity of the Gospel needs to be fleshed out a little more, so next week I will continue asking, “Why do we invite some people but not others to commune.”