If the church approached Communion like the pharmaceutical industry approaches medicine, there would be a less problems. For one, there would be no assumption that Communion is open to all and therefore only the unloving try to regulate access. The assumption about medicine that could at worst harm you or kill you is that it’s not right for everyone and only a professional should administer it. The assumption about the Medicine of Immortality that could harm you in this life (make you weak, sick, or die) and maybe even in eternal life (condemnation) is that it is right for everyone and it’s totally up to you and your pious little heart to partake or not.
The CTCR latest foray into this question is “Guidelines for Congregational, District, and Synodical Communion Statements.” It’s dated December 11, 2014, and the title is in all caps. Do you think they’re shouting at us? That would be a welcomed change from their usual nonplussed, above the fray persona.
They give passing attention to the 1999 CTCR report Admission to the Lord’s Supper: Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching. Note this was back when we still believed we had a teaching a.k.a. a doctrine. That’s before Gerry’s World became a reality in 2004.
The current document doesn’t rise to the level of the former, and in fact takes away from it. The 1999 document emphasized: that fellowship is between altars not people; that “let a man so examine himself” was addressed to Paul’s members and not to other Christians visiting a Lutheran church; that not allowing someone to commune is not necessarily saying they would be an unworthy communicant and certainly not in their own church; that closed Communion is primarily about fellowship not worthy Communion.
So having muddied waters that were once clear, they proceed to befoul them. They quote the following Communion statement: Admission to Holy Communion is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized. Visitors who are baptized and who trust that Christ is truly present in this sacrament are welcome to join us at the Lord’s Table. They will not say: this is open Communion; this is wrong. They will only say it is “unhelpfully brief” and point out ways it could be better. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a pastor in a synod, much less lead one, that can’t even say open Communion is wrong.
In analyzing the CTCR’s 1993 “Model Communion Statement”, which statement in and of itself would be better than 60% of what is currently used in the LCMS, they say this: ii. The unrepentant person who does not seek Christ’s forgiveness for sins – either general or particular—or refuses to forgive someone is unprepared and should not commune. Do you think these men believe departures from God’s Word are always sinful, even when you’re ignorant of doing it? If ignorance of a human law is no excuse before men, it can hardly be before God. Therefore, the person who believes anything contrary to God’s word is unprepared and should not commune.
The 2014 document proceeds from the assumption that the problem among us is unworthy communion. If that is the case, then that is on the shoulders of the local steward of the Mysteries of God. However, I don’t believe unworthy Communion is the problem; open Communion is. Why don’t they address this head-on?
At the end of the day, however, the CTCR’s ends where I began. This is from their conclusion on page 7: Indeed, perhaps the single most helpful “Communion message” for guests that is consistent with Lutheran teaching and practice is that they should speak with the pastor before communing. There is no “perhaps” about it. If “ask your doctor” is the most responsible practice for getting medicine for the body, how much more so for medicine for body and soul. Unless you’re asking a doctor who doesn’t know his patient and/or his medicine or a pastor who doesn’t know his communicant and/or his theology.