Questions Listed Under Lord's Supper

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  • I've been a lifelong Lutheran. My faith predates the formation of the ELCA. I am frankly becoming very confused with the ELCA's practices. One such practice is the denial of absolution during Lent. During Lent, as stated, absolution is withheld until Maundy Thursday. Yet, Communion is served. If I am not mistaken, in accordance to the teachings of Luther and the Scriptures, no man has the authority to withhold God's forgiveness being it Pastor, Bishop, Pope, etc. Am I mistaken? Also, doesn't one have to ask forgiveness of their sins and be "sort of" right with God before taking Communion? I'm becoming disillusioned.

    I have heard of people giving up many things for Lent but never the absolution.  This is a practice with which I was not familiar—as were several of my colleagues in the ministry whom I consulted.  I did find the practice online in a worship resource, but I’m with you in that this practice is puzzling.  The stated purpose of that practice is “to underscore the entire season of Lent as a time of repentance” and to underscore “the brokenness of our relationship with God.” 

    I can understand why you felt empty when, after speaking the confession of sins, there was no spoken absolution.  It would be comparable to King David saying in Psalm 32:5 – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and then omitting the end of that verse: “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  Luther’s Catechism explains on the basis of God’s Word that “Confession has two parts.  The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.” 

    Acknowledging that Lent is a time of repentance and a season that underscores “the brokenness of our relationship with God” is accurate, but there is more to Lent’s message than that.  The season of Lent holds up the gospel message in great detail, showing that God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  Lent demonstrates how “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

    Yes, Scripture does speak of unworthily reception of the sacrament and the need for self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).  At least speaking the confession in the worship service aided you in self-examination, and that confession was followed up with the message of forgiveness in the sacrament. 

    I hope you are addressing your concerns to your pastor.  That is the person who really needs to hear them.  God guide you in those conversations.

    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 new to the Lutheran Faith. I was at one time Baptist but after spending time in the Lutheran Church and going through BIC I have come to believe that many of the doctrines I was taught (implied teaching I might add) were off. The sacraments were sacred in my church but they were more something I was doing for God not what God was doing for me. Shortly after becoming a member and being in fellowship with the WELS I was moved to a remote area of Alaska. I do not have a church nearby to participate in worship
    I accomplish this via internet services, devotions on WELS church sites, and this site. One of my concerns is that I do not receive Communion that often. My question is:

    1. Does this put me in jeopardy of falling away from God permanently if I were to pass?
    2. How do I or can I overcompensate for the loss of God's blessings I get through Communion just in my daily life? I sometimes feel like I do more reading and devotions to try and accomplish this but feel sometimes like I am spinning my wheels.

    Additionally, I have been tempted a few times to go to other church services or attend Bible studies that embrace my Christian faith but have not done so. I fear that being out of fellowship with those faiths puts me at more risk to fall away from God's true teachings, thus allowing Satan to confuse me or put doubt in me. So if you could add thoughts in your answer to this as well it would be appreciated.

    Thank you in advance for the answer and thank you for this resource that is available.

    I can appreciate your desire to receive the Lord’s Supper.  The new self in us says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).  We look to the Lord’s Supper as a wonderful gift from our Savior.  It is a gift in which he gives us his body and blood—under the form of bread and wine—to forgive our sins, to strengthen our faith and to fortify us for more faithful Christian living.  Not receiving the sacrament as frequently as you are able because of your circumstances does not “put you in jeopardy of falling away from God if you were to pass.”  The infrequency (whatever it may be) of your reception of the sacrament sounds like it is due to logistical circumstances and not to any despising of the sacrament.

    I think you answered your second question well.  You are “compensating” for the infrequent reception of the sacrament by more contact with the word of God.  You may recall from your Bible Information Class instruction that we speak of the “means of grace” being the gospel in word and sacraments.  That means that God works through the Bible and the sacraments (the word connected to earthly elements) to call people to faith and strengthen them in the faith.  And so while you currently may not be able to receive the Lord’s Supper as frequently as you would like, God is giving you the same blessings through his written word.  I say this not to minimize the importance of the Lord’s Supper but to remind you that God is giving you the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through the Bible—just as he does in a very personal way through the Lord’s Supper.  

    As far as receiving the sacrament more frequently, I trust you have talked to your pastor about this. You say you live in a remote area of Alaska.  I wonder if it is possible for your pastor to alert other WELS pastors of your situation, so that they might serve you with the sacrament if their travels take them anywhere near your location.

    Regarding worshiping at churches beyond our fellowship, you do well to continue to recognize biblical fellowship principles, understand the dangers of false teachings, and supplement your devotional life with the online resources you mentioned. 

    Probably more than others who might be reading this question and answer, you—because of your circumstances—can appreciate the Lord’s promise of his continual presence in your life (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5b).  How wonderful it is for God to come to us through word and sacrament, and for us to be able to approach him through prayer.  God bless you as you use his gospel to stay connected to him in faith!

    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.


     

  • 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.

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