On the Faithful Administration of the Sacrament of the Altar
[The following article by Dr. James Kalthoff, president of the LCMS Missouri District, was first published in the May 1999 issue of The Voice of Missouri, the official newspaper of the Missouri District.? It was reprinted on the LCMS Commission on Worship?s website and is now reprinted here with permission.]
More and more congregations in The Lutheran Church?Missouri Synod are having communion services each Lord?s Day.? I personally feel this is a good trend, for the Sacrament of our Lord?s body and blood has always been a precious means of grace for Christians.
In the book of Acts we see that the custom of celebrating Holy Communion on each Lord?s Day (the first day of the week) began rather early.? Luke relates: ?On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul preached to them…? (Acts 20:7).? We note that ?to break bread? is a term which the early church used to describe the sacramental eating and drinking of the Sacrament.? They gathered for the express purpose: ?to break bread?; i.e. to celebrate the Lord?s Supper.? And connected to this was ?preaching? ? ?Paul preached to them…?
So, from the earliest times, the church celebrated a weekly Lord?s Supper on the first day of the week.? Our Lutheran Confessions assume and envision a weekly celebration of Holy Communion.? In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession we read: ?In our churches Mass [i.e. the Sacrament of Holy Communion] is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals…? [Art. XXIV].? About a hundred years after the Reformation, the Lutheran Churches began to have communion services less frequently.? Preaching services became predominant and have been so up to the present.? But now many sense a need to return to a more balanced worship ? one that embraces Word and Sacrament as the ideal.
I realize, of course, that while a communion service on every Lord?s Day may be an ideal, it cannot be demanded.? Our Lord left simple instructions: ?This do… often…? (1 Cor. 11:25).? He did not lay down any particular command as to how often the Sacrament of his body and
blood was to be celebrated in Christian congregations.? The decision for this is left up to the congregations to whom Christ gave the Office of the Keys, which they, through the divine call, have entrusted to their pastors for public administration.
More frequent communion services in our congregations means that pastors will be taking on more responsibility for the proper administration of the Sacrament.? Pastors are called to be ?stewards of the mysteries of God? (1 Cor. 4:1); i.e. managers of God?s gifts of Gospel and Sacrament.? A ?steward? or ?manager? does not indiscriminately manage that with which his master has entrusted him.? Rather, he uses these gifts in accord with his master?s instructions.? ?Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.? Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful? (1 Cor. 4:1?2).
Now concerning the preaching of the Word, a pastor has been given the command to ?preach the Gospel to every creature? (Mark 16:15).? But with regards to the Sacrament of the Altar, the good steward tries to determine as much as possible who is worthy and well-prepared to receive it.? Scripture teaches us that those who partake of our Lord?s body and blood unworthily do so to their great harm.? For this and other reasons, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is not to be offered indiscriminately to all.
It is a meal for those who are baptized into Christ and who know how to examine themselves with regard to the meaning and purpose of the Sacrament, as well as with regard to their own spiritual state.? Paul says: ?Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup, for he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord?s body? (1 Cor. 11:28?29).
You may argue that this passage speaks of ?self-examination,? not of a ?pastoral examination??and yet, as a ?steward of the mysteries,? a pastor needs to discern as much as humanly possible if a communicant is ?worthy and well-prepared.?? This is why our Lutheran Confessions state several times: ?In our churches… the Sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved? (Apology 24, 1; c.f. AC XXV, 1).
Who is responsible for examination and absolving in our congregations?? It is the pastor.? Visitors and guests who are not members of a sister congregation of The Lutheran Church?Missouri Synod, but who desire to attend Holy Communion at that congregation?s altar, ought to present themselves to the pastor before so doing.? Pastoral responsibility is one aspect of our Synod?s position on ?close [closed] communion.?
Our Synod has again and again reiterated that member congregations are to practice ?close communion.? Pastors, as members of the Synod, ought to follow this practice very carefully.? Bulletin as well as verbal announcements should be made concerning this practice.
The Commission on Theology and Church Relations has released a ?Model Communion Card Statement? which says, in part: ?…Any who have not been instructed, in doubt, or who hold a confession differing from that of this congregation and The Lutheran Church?Missouri Synod, and yet desire to receive the sacrament, are asked to speak with the pastor…? Such a statement recognizes the pastor as being ?the steward of the mysteries of God.? This is all part of what we often refer to as ?responsible pastoral care.?? May such care increase among us!