Close communion is the Biblical practice of admitting to communion only those Christians who are members in good standing of Lutheran congregations which are in fellowship with their own congregation.
Participating with other Christians in holy communion is perhaps the most intimate expression of unity in faith. The Greek word for communion is koinonia, which means to have in common. Those taking communion are to have in common the same faith, teaching and practice. In Second Corinthians 10:16-17, Paul says, “Is the cup of blessing which we bless not a communion with the blood of Christ? Is the bread we break not a communion with the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for all of us partake of the one loaf” (emphasis added).
The Bible requires such unity in faith. St. Paul says, “Fellow Christians, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I urge you all to agree and not to divided but to be united in your understanding and judgment” (1Co 1:10). Paul does not mean that Christians should get together and agree to disagree, but that they should all believe and teach only what the Scriptures teach.
This unity of teaching and communing is not optional for the Church. Such unity of faith assumes that all who commune together agree in all the teachings of the faith.
But don’t Christians have a “right” to participate in communion? Considering the Lord’s requirement that agreement in Scripture’s teachings and its resulting unity be maintained, and the fact that communing together is an expression of that unity, communion cannot be viewed as a right to be demanded. Rather, it is the administering of God’s grace (undeserved love). Pastors are entrusted with the responsibility to administer holy communion only in accordance with God’s Word.
As a way of giving God’s grace, the Lord’s Supper imparts the forgiveness of sins to those who receive it in a worthy manner. Thus, as the pastor carries out his responsibility, he must have sufficient assurance that those who come to communion come worthily. St. Paul warns us, “And so anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy way is guilty of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood” (1Co 11:27). To receive communion “worthily” means to come in Christian faith, believing that Christ’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins are received. Therefore the pastor does not “judge” someone’s faith; he simply recognizes the “confession” a person makes by virtue of their church membership.
The practice of close communion is not a detriment to the Church. Rather, it communicates to the world a message of faithfulness to God’s Word. On the other hand, when member of churches which hold other beliefs are allowed to commune, other messages are implied: “we all believe the same things,” or “it doesn’t really matter what you believe.”
History has taught us that churches which tolerate false beliefs and practices move further and further from the solid ground of Scripture. Many people in such churches are bound to lose their faith altogether. Thus it is necessary for us as faithful Lutherans to explain the reason from our practice.
We hope that this explanation of close communion is received in the spirit in which it was written, that of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and love and concern for all. We invite you to inquire further concerning our faith and church.
(All Scripture references are from the New Evangelical Translation)