Friday, March 20, 2009

Eucharistic Fellowship

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a Benedictine monastery. It was a wonderful experience, as usual, but with one hijink: it was Catholic. Since it was a Catholic monastery and I am a Lutheran both my governing body, and their governing body forbade my sharing in the Eucharist. Both the Catholic’s and Lutheran’s(LCMS and WELS) practice close communion.
Now some of those who know me may be rejoicing thinking that I have changed my stance on close communion, but I have not. I still support and believe in close communion, but I find terribly frustrating and depressing the reasons we need close communion, namely the schismatic nature of the church. Eucharistic fellowship was never a question in the early centuries of the formal church (after council of Nicea to about the 11th century), there was one catholic church, and therefore no need for close communion in the modern sense. It wasn’t until the east west split, and later the reformation which necessitated the institution of the modern form of close communion. Before the schisms close communion merely meant withholding from the unbaptized and uninitiated, but after the schisms the meaning was changed to being: withholding Eucharistic fellowship from those who believe differently than us.
You may want to argue whether or not close communion is right, but I am not here argue the validity of close communion. I am a supporter of close communion who is here to mourn the necessity for it. Every time we close off the Eucharist to a fellow Christian of a different denomination we are announcing the disunity of the body, and the terrible reality of sin within the Church. I am not saying that all Christians are the same, if I did I wouldn’t support close communion, but I am saying that Christians should be the same. Some of the strongest condemnations in the New Testament are against those who would divide the Body of Christ. It is a sad reality that the Body of Christ is divided, whether by politics, theology, or practice. This does not mean that we should forget all differences and make a goopy form of Christianity, which is a mixture of all. Quite a few denominations stand diametrically opposed to one another on certain issues, and it would be unwise to throw out such distinctions just for the sake of unity.
I desire unity for the Body of Christ. I dream of a day when we can over come schisms and meet in a catholic Church, one in which Christ is present and the True faith is taught unadulterated by the fashions of the times. Such a day may never come this side of eternity, as sin distorts and corrupts the thinking of the faithful, and heresies run rampant and seek to destroy the church. But God in his odd ironic way has turned the plethora of denominations into modern day Athens in which we can argue and discuss the faith, and ever strive toward the perfection, which is the One True Church. We may never be able to realize a true catholic faith this side of eternity, but we can certainly try.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I am sure that there have been others who have questioned your definition of "close" communion, because you definition seems to equate to the usual definition for "closed". For the sake of the discussion, I wish you soundly supported the practice you favor, without begging the issue by saying you mourn the need for it. That view might perhaps, maybe, sort of apply to something you believe in but wish were not needed and didn't yourself have to act upon.

An analogy would be a person who is in favor of the death penalty but wishes it were not necessary, despite fact that the supposed necessity for it will never go away, and then sadly flips the lever. One cannot really be sorrowful over the rightness of something, we can only have sorrow for what we do, even when all it is show concern. The tragedy of great sorrow for what He was about to do applied to Jesus' singular act, and He already did that thing.

Our theology requires the Pastor to make the decision about the distribution of the elements, and that decision is not reviewable on a human scale. AND, when we talk about close, close, and open communion, who is the audience, anyway? Our own "faithful" don't have any reason to listen, and our enemies could care less. Who is the audience of this discussion, unless it is we clergy who are afraid of our own theology, and justify ourselves by stating [on all three sides of the issue] how sad and painful it is to see what we see.