Among Lutherans—nay, among Christians—the very cornerstone of confessional unity is the Sacrament of the Altar. We in the Missouri Synod believe and teach that our doctrine and practice is guided by God’s Word, and when we consider Communion, one question punctuates our understanding of “confessional unity”:
Who is invited to the Lord’s Supper?
Perhaps the answer can be found in a different question: Who is not invited to the Lord’s Supper?
I read a paper by a Lutheran pastor which makes the point that “Jesus nowhere commands the church to invite everyone to this Supper. The gospel, the good news, we are to preach in all the world. And regarding baptism Jesus says, ‘Baptize all nations.’ Never, however, does he say: ‘Give my body and blood to everyone.’ It was instituted in the close fellowship of the twelve. It is not for everyone. The Lord has to tell us under what circumstances or to whom this sacrament is a blessing.” And so He did, through the Apostle Paul, whose exhortation in 1 Corinthians is the law of the Communion rail, so to speak:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ESV)
But how does confessional unity fit into Paul’s exhortation about (un)worthiness? The church in Corinth was not Roman Catholic, nor Lutheran, nor any other denomination or sect. Paul’s letter was addressed to “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 1 ESB), the Christian Church.
Luther wrote that “those who are cold and careless, who use Christian freedom as a cover for their disinterest with respect to God; the impudent and wild, who discount their sins and grace” ought not to approach the altar. Such persons place their soul in peril by drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner.
Faith creates the desire to amend one’s sinful life. The repentant sinner who approaches the Lord’s Table in genuine faith does so, then, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Paul did not intend for the overseers of the church in Corinth to determine who was invited to Communion, but that right administration of the Sacrament requires oversight.
1 Corinthians 11 does not forbid anyone from the Lord’s Table. Communion is to be administered and received in conformity with our Confessions and God’s Word. By diligently ensuring that those who desire to approach the altar have been sufficiently instructed (with regard to Baptism, repentance, faith, self-examination, and confessional unity), our church—and our congregation—finds the answer to a question no longer needed to be asked: Who is invited to the Lord’s Supper?
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 4” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!Pastor E.B.