Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Communion Worthiness Revisited

In my last post on communion, a vicar named Greg posted a very interesting response. There were a lot of questions and considerations in it, and I must admit, I had some difficulty adequately replying in the “comments” section. Since there were a lot of issues brought up, obviously the response is even longer. If you’d like to see his original post, it is here. I tried to edit what I could. I did ask Greg for permission to post parts of his note, but did not hear back. He will undoubtedly learn that the life of a pastor means that plenty of times, opinions that are NOT his will be attributed to him, so I took the liberty of doing so anyway, since he did already choose to post publicly.

As a part of a synod, what impact might there be on other congregations (community, circuit, district, etc.) when the decision is made to welcome children to the table on an individual basis?

I see two issues as being pertinent. Maybe you could share others. First, when a young communicant visits a congregation and comes to the table. Knowing this is not always the practice, parents often take the lead and contact the pastor before Sunday, and ask if the child may commune at his church. I have also seen a pastor handle this well at the table. When he got to my son, he simply asked “confirmed?” and when I shook my head no, he simply blessed him and moved on.

The other issue is if a family transfers in. This can be a bigger issue. But I think that it is a good situation for raising the issue, because a congregation should have a process for confirmation only because they have thought about it and believe that it is right….not because it is what we have always done. Considering how many of our confirmation practices were developed during the ages of Pietism and Rationalism, its about time that we looked at them again.

At any rate, the congregations will have to face this issue. In the Agenda for the new hymnal, there is a Rite of First Communion, which was determined to be a need since over 25% of all LCMS congregations are now separating first communion and confirmation.

(regarding his student) For the sake of good order, might it be helpful to ask her to refrain until she is confirmed with her class?

Absolutely….but we are not quite talking about the same thing. I am talking about children who have been baptized in the faith and raised in the faith…hopefully catechized by their parents or in school and believe in the real presence; are aware of their sinfulness; have a basic understanding of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Words of Institution. These are the general requirements that Luther specifies for admission to the table…for all Christians. This kind of knowledge is easily attainable for your average seven or eight year old (and often younger) whose parents read and discuss a small section of the catechism on a regular basis and pray Luther's Evening Prayer with their kids. Of course, the pastor still has the responsibility of examining anyone who wants to come to the table.

But then our children are strengthened by one more Means of Grace that God gives us and commands all believers to partake in. In this world which the devil prowls so visciously, getting our children to that point should be of the utmost importance, to further strengthen their faith, and to not delay it any longer than can be otherwise justified.

Our standards for the children that we have raised in the faith since infancy are often harder than the ones we have for adults who have lived their entire lives separated from proper doctrine. Four to eleven weeks as opposed to two years? Some churches require papers and speeches from their 13 year olds that they wouldn’t dream of asking their adult confirmands. And these are from people that we have seen grow in the faith since birth.

You should explain to your student that when she partakes of the body and the blood of Christ that she is confessing that she believes what everyone else here at the table believes. The purpose of the class is to go over that, so that when she does take communion, she is aware that she is confessing that she believes the same thing (namely, who God is (Apostles Creed), what he does for us (Lord's Prayer), that we are sinful and need a Savior (Ten Commandments) and in the Real Presence (Words of Institution), because by partaking, she is confessing that she is one in faith with us.


So often, when using 1 Corinthians 11 to "stretch" the agreed upon understanding of "close" communion, people ignore the fact that Paul is writing to a specific congregation, and that those individuals he is addressing have been previously taught. So, if Paul sees it fit to withhold the Supper from members of a congregation, might it follow that we may need to do the same-youth or adult?

Yes, and the EXACT same argument you are using (though you have made it clear it is not your argument, but one you hear from liberals) was the one that the Catholic Church used to justify withholding the blood of Christ/wine from the laity in Holy Communion in Luther's time....pretty much word for word.

There is a difference between withholding the Lord’s Supper from someone who is in unrepentant sin, which is what was going on in 1 Corinthians 11, and just withholding it because they are not the age that the current school of thought thinks is appropriate. If a child knows what is needed and desires the comfort and forgiveness that Holy Communion gives, he should be admitted to the table.


As for the argument that I Corinthians 11 is addressed to one congregation, Luther says specifically regarding this particular chapter:

“What could be more ridiculous and more worthy of our precious friar’s intellect than to say that the Apostle wrote that passage, and gave that permission, not to the church universal, but to the church at Corinth, a local church?....When the church universal accepted and read the epistle, and obeyed it completely, did it not also obey this passage? If we admit that any epistle of Paul’s, or a single passage in them, does not pertain to the church universal, all Paul’s authority is nullified….Away with the idea that there is a single syllable in the whole of Paul which the whole church is not obliged to follow and obey. That was not the view of the Fathers, up to the perilous present.” - The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

What did Luther, Melancthon, and the other reformers mean when they confessed that "he who believes" takes his rightful place at the Sacrament? Did they commune children before they had received proper, sometimes years, of instruction? No, in fact, those who had not received sufficient instruction left the sanctuary just prior to the "Service of Holy Communion."

I know that the ancient church had catechumens and non-believers leave before the Lord’s Supper, but I honestly do not know of the church in Luther’s time. Also, children of believers did not leave. Parents still needed to watch their children, whether they communed or not. From what I've read, it was common in Luther and Melancthon’s time for the focus of the sermon to be on catechizing the congregation regarding Holy Communion EVERY time they celebrated Mass, since the people had never been educated as to what they were doing, other than it was a work required by God. Then, after the sermon, the congregation partook of the Lord's Supper. The baptized faithful were not kept from the table while they were being educated. Consider Luther's patience over several years while he allowed some to continue taking only the bread because their faith was so weak.


The increasing strictures that were put on communing children were a result of contamination by reformed doctrine (see Confirmation in the Lutheran Church, by Arthur C. Repp, 1964). Melancthon and Bucer, two who set up standards for confirmation of youth, were influenced by Erasmus, according to Repp. Luther and those who followed him closely weres against confirmation as a rite, because they did not want it confused with the Catholic teaching that it was a sacrament and necessary for salvation. Luther eventually acquiesced, but only with clear understanding that it was different and not necessary.

Thank you for your thoughts. You’ve made me think on many things. I really enjoy discussion on this topic and I look forward to continuing to learn.

God bless


go to part III

6 comments:

Marie N. said...

Thank you for posting your discussions so we can all benefit too.

Greg said...

Once again, thanks for your thoughtful response.

"As a part of a synod, what impact might there be on other congregations (community, circuit, district, etc.) when the decision is made to welcome children to the table on an individual basis?"

I want to affirm your thoughts here. I simply hope that if/when a congrgation practices early/individual first communion, there is an open dialogue with the pastors of other local (circuit) congregations especially.

I do agree that confirmation and first communion are not synonomous, and have been treated as such all too often.



"(regarding his student) For the sake of good order, might it be helpful to ask her to refrain until she is confirmed with her class?"

Once again, I like what you have to say. I simply bring this up as an example to think about. Even if first communion is done early, there are practical questions to think about. While good hard work is not something to shy away from, do you have any ideas how to implement such a practice?



So often, when using 1 Corinthians 11 to "stretch" the agreed upon understanding of "close" communion, people ignore the fact that Paul is writing to a specific congregation, and that those individuals he is addressing have been previously taught. So, if Paul sees it fit to withhold the Supper from members of a congregation, might it follow that we may need to do the same-youth or adult?

This is a lesson learned about the importance of clear communication. I was not in any way hoping to echo Rome's indiscretions. This passage is, however, used by the extreme left, who argue for a more "open" communion policy. The problem is, they do not practice good hermeneutics. They ignore the immediate context of the Letter and the fact that Paul is addressing a congregation-one in which people have already been instructed (Catechized). This passage is not therefore to be used to say that we should welcome ANYONE who says they believe in the "real presence."

For example, Presbyterians say they believe in the "real presence." What they mean is a real spiritual presence, but they deny the physical and bodily presence.

Those question given in the Small Catechism, which Luther prepared for those who intend to go to the Sacrament, were not, I believe, intended to be a way to practice open communion, but were a way for the previously catechised, to affirm their preparedness.

"If we admit that any epistle of Paul’s, or a single passage in them, does not pertain to the church universal, all Paul’s authority is nullified….Away with the idea that there is a single syllable in the whole of Paul which the whole church is not obliged to follow and obey."- The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

Of course the whole Church is obliged to follow God's Word, as He has revealed it to us in 1 Corinthians 11. When pastors argue that 1 Cor. 11 justifies a more "open" communion policy because many people acknowledge the "real presence," they are ignoring the immediate context of Paul's letter-a congregation with catechized people-not visiters from other congregations. That is all I am saying.

I am not trying to use Paul to deny commuion to individuals who are not yet finshed with 8th grade. :) Unrepentant sinners, as well as those who do not discern the real presence of Christ's body and blood are those who are unworthy-Not necessarily a seventh grader!

Once again, I am left wondering how best to carry out a plan that upholds Paul's instructions to instruct, and yet does not confuse confirmation with first communion.


There are many other questions to consider on the topic of confirmation. What about a church with a school, as opposed to a church without? What about the public-school kids at a church with a day school?

May the Lord bless you and your husband, and thanks again for your thoughtful response.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Your second post made your position much clearer. Thank you for clarifying. I am greatly relieved.

As far as implementing earlier communion, with love and gentleness. This has been the hardest part from my perspective, because my son is more than ready to go to the table, but the congregation is not ready. This breaks my heart. It is one of the few issues where his being the pastor's son is a big deal. I try very hard not to make that an issue the lives of my kids.

So right now my husband is working with his boards, and then he is going to go through a study with the congregation, at least those that go to the Bible Study. At least for a while, he will probably work regular confirmation concurrently.

When a person, any person is ready, he will examine them. This is where your other concern comes in. You don't stop at the "do you believe in the real presence?" you go on to "Tell me what the real presence is." etc. When you are satisfied, then you decide to allow them at the table.

When visitors or new people comes to the congregation, our congregation asks that they talk to the pastor before they commune with us for the first time. As the pastor is usually not available before the service, then a time will have to be worked out where they can actually talk.

With a school, the teacher is also someone who can say "this student really seems to be ready for communion" and let the pastor know. They can be catechized and quizzed in the classroom. In all cases, the parents should know their responsibility as the true teachers of their children. When kids are in public schools, then it is primarily the parents' responsibility to teach and to say "I believe they are ready" and then the pastor can examine and either allow them to the table or point out areas that need a little more work.

Obviously, we do have the right to keep someone from the table if they do not believe or are in unrepentant sin, at any age. Luther would say that if a believer shuns catechesis (at any age) they should not be allowed at the table. This is probably something we don't do enough.

Honestly, we've been in two different congregations, and for this congregation, this is a huge issue. In our previous one, which was 30 people and we had the only kids...this probably would not have been an issue at all. Getting closed communion there in the first place was the issue. After that, most things were easy. You have to wait till you get your flock to see what can be done. There may be bigger issues at hand.

The book that I referred before, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church, by Arthur Repp is really very good. I'd be surprised if it is not in the Concordia library. The copy we are reading is from Fort Wayne's so you could get it that way. It describes how confirmation came about and how the rites developed. The big decision is if First Communion is a rite, or if it is private. I personally like private, with the parents and sponsors present. The other then is when and if to do Confirmation at all or set up a system of periodic or continual catechesis. At least that's how I see it, but thankfully, I'm a wife and a mom...and not a pastor.

Joshua 6:27 said...

contamination or not, we love the Lord and his word.

here's the PCA's two cents on the issue.

http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-498.pdf

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Thank you for posting that...I am looking forward to reading it.

William Weedon said...

"Paul sees fit to withhold..." - where? Paul says: "So let a man examine himself" (imperative!) and then he says "and so eat" (imperative!). Paul has two choices: unexamined eating and examined eating. He does not allow anyone the choice of remaining in unrepentance and so declining the Lord's gift of life.