Questions Listed Under Lord's Supper

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  • As we approach another national election, I realize there are Christians on both political sides of the fence who support candidates that are accepting of a woman's right to choose and gay marriage. Although we can speak to them out of love and respect for their right to vote their conscience, the question remains, are they fit to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar? The second part to this is for those who oppose these blatant violations of Biblical Principles, are we showing acceptance of their sin when we join them at the Lord's table and do we become unworthy to receive His Body and Blood because of the pain in our hearts?

    The section of the Bible I see reflected in both your questions is 1 Corinthians 11:27-28:  “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”  It is possible for communicants to have sinful attitudes and wrong motives in their hearts by being fully knowledgeable of a candidate’s immoral positions and still actively support that person.  Hearts need to be examined and sins confessed to God.  It is also possible for communicants to have sinful attitudes in their hearts by harboring ill will toward fellow church members who might vote differently than they do.  Hearts need to be examined and sins confessed to God.  In this context, impenitent attitudes would lead people to receive the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner.”

    Since the subject matter under consideration is the attitude of the heart, we have to recognize that we cannot look into the hearts of others; we can examine only our own hearts. 

    You questions certainly underscore the dilemma Christians can face when they cast a ballot.  There are other moral issues, in addition to abortion and gay marriage, on which candidates take a stand in varying degrees.  Sometimes Christians find themselves in a position in which they seem to be voting for the lesser of two evils—looking to vote for the candidate who will have a lesser negative impact on society.  Your questions are also a reminder that when people vote, they are empowering an individual to act in their behalf—also in issues of morality. 

    Your questions remind me of a prayer that is sometimes used in chapel services at Martin Luther College:  “Lord God, we praise you for our fellowship in Christ.  Keep us kind in judgment and ready to help in need.”  Our fellowship with Christians on earth is far from perfect.  When I receive the Lord’s Supper, I do so with sinners, and when they commune with me, they are communing with a sinner.  I need to remember the petition in that prayer so that I do not rush to judgment about other people or assign false motives to their actions.

    There is much information on this Web site and the Web site of Christian Life Resources regarding Christians and their privilege and responsibility to vote.  I commend that information to you and others so that, also in this part of our lives, we may do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.


     

     

  • I recently went to church with my parents when I was visiting a while back. I was confirmed at that church and wanted to do Communion there with my parents. My mom told me not to, as I haven't been to that church in years. I didn't realize that was an issue. I thought I could do Communion at whatever church I happened to be at. Could you explain this for me, please?

    It sounds from your question that you were confirmed in a WELS congregation and had membership there at one point, but now you do not belong to a congregation of our synod.  It is with that understanding that I proceed.

    In your confirmation classes at the WELS congregation where you were confirmed, you learned that a person’s reception of the Lord’s Supper is a confession of unity in faith with others who are receiving the sacrament (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  In other words, you learned that when you receive the Lord’s Supper, your actions say that you are expressing agreement with the confession of that church and its members.  When you were a member of that WELS congregation, your reception of the Lord’s Supper was an accurate expression of agreement with fellow members.  What I do not know is where you currently have membership.  I assume that you belong to a church outside our fellowship.  If that is the case, your reception of the Lord’s Supper in one of our churches would have sent the false signal that your current church and our churches are united in doctrine and practice.   

    What is also not clear to me from your question is what you mean by thinking you could receive Communion at “whatever” church you happened to be at.  If “whatever” means “any, regardless of denomination,” I hope you would recognize that your reception of the sacrament in any church would indicate that you express agreement with that church’s confession.  For one thing, you would have to ask yourself if you know entirely what that church confesses and, secondly, would you want to express agreement with a church that has a false confession?

    It seems to me that the church where you were confirmed has been consistent in practicing what you learned in your confirmation classes.  The historic practice of “closed communion” has the intent of expressing a genuine picture of unity in the faith (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), not one that is false or forced, and ensuring, as far as humanly possible, that those receiving the sacrament will do so to their benefit and not their harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

    If you were not able to receive the Lord’s Supper when you attended your former church, you were able to receive food for your soul through the reading and proclamation of God’s word.

    I would encourage you to strike up a conversation with the pastor of your former church the next time you visit.  He could address this matter more thoroughly or explain the route to membership in one of our congregations if that is your wish.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

     



       

  • HELLO! First of all, thank you for all you do! Please help me to understand differing thoughts on the Last Supper. Who was present? Was there a female present? In advance, thank you!

    You are very welcome.  The evangelist Matthew tells us that Jesus and “the Twelve” were in the upper room celebrating the Passover meal (Matthew 26:20).  Mark describes Jesus and “the Twelve” reclining at the table (Mark 14:17).  Luke speaks of “Jesus and his apostles” reclining at the table (Luke 22:14).  The three narratives point out that only Jesus and his twelve disciples, also called apostles, were in the upper room on Maundy Thursday evening when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

  • I am a member of an ELCA church, but we are looking for a new congregation to worship with that has families with children closer to our own children's age range. If we attend a WELS service, will we be allowed to partake in the sacrament of Communion?

    When you attend a Holy Communion service in a WELS church, you may or may not read something like the following in the church bulletin:

    “The Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, will be celebrated in today’s service. The Bible teaches us that Jesus offers us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins in the Lord’s Supper. The Bible also instructs us that receiving the Lord’s Supper together is a public expression of our complete ‘oneness,’ or unity of faith.

    “Because the Lord’s Supper is an expression of our unity in faith, we invite to the Lord’s Supper only those who have expressed that unity with us through membership in our congregation or one of our sister congregations in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), or our sister denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).

    “If you are a guest from another Christian church, we kindly ask that you refrain from participation in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper today. We don’t want to be presumptuous and put you in the position of declaring your agreement with our beliefs before you have had a chance to learn more.

    “We would like you to be able to join us for the Lord’s Supper in the future. If you would like more information, please speak to our pastor after the service.  We look forward to any opportunity to discuss the Christian faith with you and to work toward a common confession of faith! “

    If the WELS church you attend does not have that much detail in their bulletin regarding Holy Communion attendance, their practice will be the same.  So, while you will not be able to receive Holy Communion, you will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed.  And the gospel in Word brings the same blessings as the gospel in the sacrament.  Please do contact the pastor of the church you visit.  He will be happy to explain in person the historic and scriptural practice of closed communion.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.





     

  • In the answer to the WELS Q & A Question "Communion," it is stated: "In cases where there are no pastors available, however, due to persecution or some other circumstances, a congregation could arrange for a man from their midst to serve as their minister of Word and Sacraments."

    I believe that I am correct in asserting that it is not an uncommon practice for WELS congregations to authorize a layman, such as an elder, to administer the Sacrament of the Altar for a regularly-scheduled Communion Service in any absence of the/a pastor, including pastoral vacations, if the services of another pastor cannot be secured for that Communion Service.

    Since the answer to the WELS Q & A quoted above does not make mention of this circumstance, I would like to ask if such a "non-emergency" practice of a lay-administered Sacrament of the Altar is to be considered an "abuse" of the "emergency provision" mentioned in the answer, and is to be discouraged if not discontinued. Thank you!

    I am not sure which particular question and answer you are referencing, but the first paragraph of your quotation looks to be in the context of extraordinary circumstances in which public ministers are not available at all, and Christians elect a layman from their midst to serve them in the capacity of a pastor.  In dire circumstances, that can be done.

    Your question though involves the occasional absence of a pastor (e.g., away on vacation) when Holy Communion would normally be celebrated.  Let me pass along an answer from a previous question that deals with this situation: 

    “It is quite common in our congregations for elders or male teachers to assist the pastor in the distribution to the members or to give Communion to the pastor, if they are properly instructed and called by the congregation to do so.

    “Vicars and seminarians who have received sufficient training may administer the Sacrament in the absence of the supervising pastor, if the congregation has approved of this practice.

    “Although ordination and seminary training are not an absolute prerequisite for administering the Sacrament (to be rightly called is a requirement), under normal circumstances it should not be necessary to ask a layman to administer Communion in the absence of the pastor. If the pastor's absence is extended, the congregation should be served by a vacancy pastor. If the pastor's absence is brief, a ‘reading service’ in which the pastor is responsible for the contents can be held during his absence. Except in cases of extreme necessity, preaching and administration of the sacraments should be conducted only by men who have been both thoroughly trained and properly called.

    “This subject is discussed in considerable detail in Volume III of Our Great Heritage, a set of doctrinal essays available from Northwestern Publishing House, which is recommended for laypeople who want to undertake a more thorough study of Christian doctrine.”

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

  • We have a member in our congregation who has abstained from taking alcohol in any form due to health and other issues. It has been my experience with some other WELS congregations that in cases such as this, grape juice has been offered as an acceptable alternative. Is this, in fact, acceptable to the synod and can we follow the same procedure in this case?

    Thank you in advance for your response.

    Since the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place during the celebration of the Passover meal, we know that wine—mixed with water, as was often the case in those days—was what Jesus and his disciples used.  In addition, any grapes that were harvested in the previous fall and pressed into juice would most likely have been going through the fermentation process in the following spring (the time of the year for Passover).

    And yet in the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17), Jesus spoke of the “fruit of the vine.”  What does that expression mean and not mean?   Allow me to reference an answer to a previous question on this topic: 

    “The ‘fruit of the vine’ was used in one of the prayers at the Passover. This term was used to refer to the contents of the cup. There's little doubt that it was often used to refer to wine. But to say that every Jew at the time of Jesus understood this as a reference to wine might be overstating the matter a bit. 

    “We also note that the wine used in the Passover was usually mixed with water. So the issue is not the amount of alcohol in the contents of the cup. When Scripture uses the term ‘fruit of the vine’ and not ‘wine’ in reference to the contents of the cup in the Lord's Supper, it is not telling us whether or not this fruit of the vine should contain alcohol. It is saying it should come from grapes.

    “We believe that the use of grape wine should be the usual practice because this most closely resembles what Jesus probably used. But in exceptional cases we believe the scriptural term ‘fruit of the vine’ is broad enough to include non-alcoholic wine or grape juice. Therefore in exceptional cases we believe it can be used.”

    Finally, there is a brief article that was published in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly that addresses this subject.  You may find it valuable reading.

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.



  • Hi there,

    While I am not a member, I have been attending a WELS church. I have been told why your congregation does "close" Communion and respect your stance on it. However, I have chosen not to be a member because I feel that me being a member of the body of Christ trumps any other membership. So, I was wondering what God is going to say on judgement day that other Christians have denied me the right to partake in the Lord's Supper because I would not become a member of their church. Does being a member really guarantee your congregation that one is truly partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended? Isn't that between me and the Lord? I ask this lovingly and just can't wrap my head around this practice. I would graciously accept any insight.

    Thank you and God bless.

    Close(d) Communion is the historic and biblical practice of the Christian Church.  The practice has the purposes of ensuring that, as far as humanly possible, those receiving the Sacrament do so to their benefit and not their harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), and that the oneness that is expressed in receiving the Sacrament is genuine and not contrived (1 Corinthians 10:17).  

    Reception of Holy Communion is an expression of unity and fellowship with others who receive it.  How do we know that those who receive the Sacrament are united in the faith with one another?  We certainly cannot look into their hearts, but we can hear their common confession of faith.  That is where church membership enters the picture.  We see church membership as a way in which Christians acknowledge Jesus before others (Matthew 10:32) and publicly indicate their unity in faith and doctrine with fellow believers.  

    Does this practice “guarantee” that every person, without exception, “is truly partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended?”  No.  That is not our assertion.  We cannot control the attitudes of others’ hearts.  What we can do is see to it that, as far as humanly possible, those receiving the Sacrament in our churches will be partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended, and will be providing a genuine picture of unity.

    On the last day Jesus will acknowledge his followers’ fruits of faith (Matthew 25:31-40).  Faithfulness to the Lord’s word describes what fruits of faith are all about.  If you have not had any face-to-face conversations with a WELS pastor about this subject matter, I would encourage you to do that.  Christian fellowship is a wonderful blessing (Psalm 133:1).  

    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.


     
     

     

     

     

  • In my church we have now gone to both the individual cups and the common cup. I am OK with this. My question is: should the wine that isn't used from the common cup be put back in the wine bottle for the next service? To my surprise it is. I am having second thoughts about taking the Lord's Supper now. Not wanting to start trouble in the church. Who should I talk to? Thank You.

    Wine in individual cups that were not used in the Holy Communion service can certainly be used in a future service.  That is not the case with wine that remains from usage of the common cup.  The wine that remains in that cup is to be disposed of.  Practices for disposing of wine can vary from one congregation to another.  I would direct you to contact your pastor to seek clarification about your congregation’s practice toward unused elements in the Communion service.
      
    Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

  • If my husband belongs to the LC-MS , and they are also closed communion...Can he take communion at the WELS church also? Thank you.

         Your question suggests that there may be some confusion regarding terminology and its implications.  Close(d) Communion is the official practice of both the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).  Close(d) Communion means that each church body communes only those individuals who are in fellowship with their respective church bodies. 

         Therefore, LCMS congregations are to commune only those individuals who are in their fellowship.  WELS congregations commune only those individuals who are in their fellowship.

         Because LCMS and WELS are not in fellowship with one another, there is no communing at each other’s churches.  While there is similarity in that each synod has a close(d) Communion practice, that likeness does not enable communing across these particular synodical lines. 

         You might want to read more about close(d) Communion practices.  Put “closed Communion” in the search box on the WELS website and you will find numerous articles on the subject. 

         Finally, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation.  Speak to the pastor of your local WELS congregation.  He will be able to address your specific concerns and questions.

  • Why does WELS not practice open communion including the communion of children?

    There are several reasons. These may be simply stated here, but each point deserves more discussion with attention to specific Bible passages that guide us in applying these principles. So I'll give you a brief list here and now but strongly encourage you and your husband to sit down with your pastor to discuss the issues that surface. The pastor may then expand the Bible points that most need attention and best serve you and your husband as you seek appropriate answers to your questions.

    The practice of close or closed communion refers to our desire to speak with potential communicants prior to their receiving communion with us and to make sure adequate Bible instruction as well as a unity in our beliefs is present prior to communing together. The main reasons why we do this are these:

    • We want to protect souls who might do damage to themselves since the Lord's Supper is for believers who are not only baptized but also instructed and knowledgeable about what they receive in the sacrament and why.
    • We want to protect souls since those who commune are to examine themselves prior to communing, so we want to be sure those who commune with us have been trained how to do this and possess the level of understanding and maturity to make it meaningful.
    • We want to protect souls and show integrity as we publicly confess Bible truths since all who commune together are expressing unity in the Christian faith and in their allegience to the Bible. We want this expression to be genuine and not a sham or hypocritical pretending we have unity if indeed we don't.

    So we want to speak with potential communicants when we are not sure about their preparation to receive the sacrament.

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