The Closed Communion Conversation

Speaking with friends and family about the Lord’s Supper

by Mark J. Buchhop

“Pastor, I want to invite my friend to church, but I don’t know how to explain our Communion practices. Could you please help me with that?” That question might be one of the most important questions any pastor could answer. It really matters how parishioners deal with closed Communion when they visit with friends or family members who are not members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). This question might even be a reason why some are afraid to invite someone to church.

A difficult conversation

A growing number of people in our midst, including our family and friends, simply do not attend any congregation at all. They may have little or no biblical knowledge of the Sacrament. Or they may think that there is little difference between the many different Christian denominations regarding the Lord’s Supper. But this certainly is not the case. Christian denominations hold many different beliefs and practices, some of which oppose the biblical view of the Lord’s Supper.

To make the conversation a bit easier, first review Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther writes, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink” (SC VI; see also EP VII 6–9, 15).

Start with Jesus

Start the conversation with Jesus. Our family and friends probably know a little about Him. It is a good starting point in your conversation.

Jesus is true God and Man. He is our Brother. He is our flesh and blood, yet without sin. He is our substitute, Savior and Redeemer. We attend the Divine Service to learn about and grow in His love, grace and forgiveness. He is not simply a wise man, a wonderful example of how to live a good life, but someone to be revered and respected because He is true God.

To explain this, you might use an illustration from C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He gets at this reality of Jesus when he discusses Aslan. “Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. … “Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”[1]

Attending the Lord’s Supper means entering the presence of Christ the King. It is His meal, not ours to do with as we please. With that in mind, our conversations about the Supper should focus on entering the presence of God.

How dare any sinner approach the Lord’s Table and come into direct physical contact with the King? St. Paul instructs us to examine ourselves before we come (1 Cor. 11:27–28). This examination will always show our need for forgiveness, rescue and salvation. Discussing this examination may help your family or friend see their sin and need for forgiveness.

Then explain how we confess our sins each Sunday, and how God, who is faithful and just, forgives our sins and cleanses “us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Jesus desires that all repent and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3–4). For this reason and in spite of our sins, Jesus comes in the Lord’s Supper to serve us forgiveness.

At the cross

Now this conversation about the Lord’s Supper is headed in the right direction; it is headed to the cross. The cross of Jesus is the only reason anyone may approach Christ the King. Jesus makes us worthy by taking all our sins to His cross. Thus, as the pastor distributes Christ’s body and blood, he speaks Jesus’ words: “given” and “shed for the forgiveness of your sins” (LSB, p. 199).

Our enemies — the devil, the world, our sinful flesh — have not changed. Only Jesus has the medicine of life. In the Divine Service, He serves us His risen, living body and blood, hidden under simple bread and wine. He unites us with His victory over all our enemies, making us citizens of His kingdom. For, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (SC VI).

The conversation

Now it is time to turn the conversation with your family and friends to closed Communion. It is always best to have this conversation before the day of the Divine Service. If you are concerned that the conversation will be especially antagonistic, ask your pastor for additional guidance. Encourage your guests to speak with your pastor also; he often has the closed Communion conversation and can help diffuse a tense conversation.

Explain how closed Communion is a loving practice. As St. Paul taught, those who receive the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner eat and drink to their harm and not their blessing. We would be unloving to commune those who would receive the Supper to their harm. Jesus gives His Supper as a blessing.

Also emphasize the gifts and giving of Jesus. You might say, “I’m glad you asked about the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is such a powerful and beautiful meal. We would love to have you receive these gifts. Our church invites non-LCMS members to learn more about it so they may receive it too. Pastor would love to visit with you to offer instruction about this wonderful Sacrament, so you may commune with us soon. Would you like me to join you when you visit with him?”

As you share about the Lord’s Supper, focus on the Lord Jesus and all He has done for us.

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Harper Collins, 1950): 79–80.

This article originally appeared in print in the November 2020 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

13 thoughts on “The Closed Communion Conversation”

  1. Jesus is Host. He knew Judas and his fault yet he was not denied. It is between me and Jesus. It is not between me and our Pastor or Priest or Preacher. To me such reliance’s are man made. They seem not ordained by Jesus.

    Good article to be read more than once and to be heavily pondered. Thank you.

    1. I’m not sure using Judas as the indicator of whether or not we should commune someone is a good tactic. On the one hand, there’s no guarantee that Judas as at the table. According to the Gospel of John, Judas leaves the table at some point. On the other hand, if he was at the table, he bore the judgement for his sin. It’s yet a further reason to practice Closed Communion.

      Now, you are correct that the Lord’s Supper does not take place between you and the pastor. But the pastor is not work on his own behalf; he is there as Christ’s representative (cf. John 20:19–23). He cannot speak more or less than God’s Word because he does not have anything to offer but what Christ offers; he has nothing to speak except what Christ speaks. But when he does speak, he speaks from the authority of Christ (Luke 10:16).

      Furthermore, also note my comment below. Faith is personal, but it’s never private. We publicly confess what we believe in a number of ways, not the least by virtue of the church to which we belong. That must have a bearing as pastors provide loving care for those entrusted to their care.

    2. I agree with you. I think it is ridiculous for an elder to approach someone before church and decide if they are worthy to take communion. That is between that person and Jesus and no one else. They may have not laid eyes on that person and they quiz them. A lot of people are really put off by it. I am a Lutheran and I am put off by it.

  2. Tim Klinkenberg

    just saw this…glad it was posted pre-pandemic, seems issues have changed for many of us pastoring congregations. A bigger, and I think more significant question would be, “How do we reengage God’s people in weekly on site worship. Deciding to exclude before we invite seems to be a bit out of context. I always seem to be swimming upstream on this stuff.

  3. Robert Sternitzke

    Who am I, who is the Pastor, who is the LCMS to judge a person’s mind and heart? Only one who has that right is God himself. Therefore I say these things should be stated before Communion and each individual be thier own judge.

    1. Robert,

      Faith is personal; I cannot believe for another. But faith is never private. “With the mouth one confesses and is saved,” writes St. Paul; we publicly confess what we believe. Part of the way we make this public confession is by virtue of the church body to which we belong. Christ also gives the responsibility to pastors to be faithful stewards of His gifts (1 Cor. 4:1–5). The pastor who does not faithfully steward the office does not answer to men, but to God. See also God’s warning of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3. Or, again, the writer to the Hebrews exhorts his hearers to submit their “overseers” (pastors, today), since those pastors will have to give account — before God — of their service. As an overseer, part of their responsibility is to judge the public confession of those who come to their altar and withhold the sacrament from those whom it would harm. The pastor and the LCMS does not judge the heart; we do judge the outward confession (Romans 16:17–18).

  4. Preparation for Communion goes beyond learning what The Lord’s Supper is. It includes learning the entire confession of our Faith since Communion at an altar is a confession of the unity of doctrine at that altar.

  5. Yes, agreed, overall, an excellent piece written by Pastor. This conversation DOES start with Jesus, Almighty God/perfect man. Certainly “we learn and grow” in our attendance in HIS Divine Service. However, we are not the focus. Almighty God Lord Jesus Christ is serving us Himself, Body and Blood, in HIS Divine Service. Our focus is HIS Service, HIS delivery of Salvation, forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the Sacrament. The Service of the Word and the Service of The Holy Supper are always focused on Christ, HIM crucified for the sins of the world and for our sins. Our Almighty Savior is the Subject of the action, and not us. HIS Gifts are for us. He is sacramental Absolution, Word&Sacrament our monergistically, and HE deigns to receive our thanks in the sacrificial responses of His Divine Service. We joyfully welcome visitors of another confession to join HIS Confession Given to us, knowing that unity of Doctrine and Unity of Confession precede the communion of saints, the Communion of His Holy Body and Blood.

  6. What does it mean to say that it is in Communion that Christ is “making us citizens of His kingdom”? Isn’t such citizenship obtained as soon as someone comes to faith? (Phil. 3:20) Are not even the youngest children of God “citizens of His kingdom” years before they begin to come to Communion? (Matt. 19:14)

    How does one explain that less than an hour after sins are completely forgiven in the Absolution during the Divine Service, parishioners will go to Communion for more forgiveness?

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