Questions Listed Under Lord's Supper

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  • 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.

  • The other day after church a non-member asked me why everyone looked so sad and serious after just having their sins washed away through communion. I said that even though my sins are forgiven I realize the cost of that through Christ's death for me is very serious and that I will sin again. What are your thoughts on this?

    What an important question you have asked! I hope many people read this and find greater joy in the sacrament.

    The cost of forgiveness through Christ's death for me does indeed make Holy Communion a serious matter, but not a somber event.

    For various cultural and historic reasons, some Lutherans may focus too much on their guilt or feeling "sorry enough" rather than focusing on the main point: that a loving and gracious God pours his love, forgiveness, and power for Christian living into our lives through this sacrament.

    What is the dominant mood of Holy Communion? I have asked this question in several adult Bible classes. Many participants say "serious" or "repentance," but the dominant mood really is joy—granted, a serious and not giddy joy—but still joy.
    The sacrament is pure gospel. That's why joy is the dominant mood.

    We can learn something from our hymns, especially the text of Johann Franck's great communion hymn:

    Soul, adorn yourself with gladness; Leave behind all gloom and sadness.
    Come into the daylight's splendor; There with joy your praises render.

    Now I kneel before you lowly, Filled with joy most deep and holy,
    As with trembling awe and wonder On your mighty work I ponder.
    (Christian Worship, 311:1,4)

  • How can we say that in communion we receive Christ's real body and blood?

    The clear promise that Christ gives to his church is, "Take and eat, this is my body," and "This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28). Together with the bread and wine that we receive, Jesus, the Son of God, says he gives us his body and his blood that were given into death and poured out on our behalf.

    The real presence of Christ's body and blood is a special, sacramental presence that is beyond our full understanding. We say this to avoid crass, cannibalistic ideas that have no place here. This eating is real, but it is supernatural. We do not see or taste the body and blood. It cannot be detected by our senses. We do not digest it like ordinary food.

    In summary, we believe that Christ's body and blood are present in the Sacrament and received because of the promise of Christ and because Christ’s body is the body of the Son of God.

    A more thorough study of this is available by reading Articles VII and VIII of the Formula of Concord, which deals with the connected subjects of the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper and the person of Christ, the God-man.

  • Why isn't the Lord's Supper celebrated every Sunday (especially during Lent, Advent, etc.)?" It seems that as a sinner, I need that grace and forgiveness as much as possible.

    Our Lord Jesus, in instituting this sacrament, did not address the issue of how often we should offer or receive it. His words merely indicate it is to be done repeatedly and until he returns again in glory. In short, the frequency is and will remain a matter of Christian freedom and the frequency of offering and receiving the Lord's Supper will remain a decision to be made by the local congregation and the individual child of God in consultation with the pastor. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther emphasized this aspect of the freedom that we have and then said the right way that the frequency is increased is when the people of God ask for it and insist on it from among themselves.

    Your words might indicate unnecessary concern about the forgiveness of sins. You possess this continuously through faith in your Savior Jesus Christ and this faith with full forgiveness is conveyed and strengthened through the Gospel that you read in your home, hear in sermons and Bible readings, and ponder throughout life. So even when you do not receive the Sacrament on a given day or week, for example, your possession and enjoyment of pardon and peace need not be considered diminished. This is by no means said to downplay the value of the Lord's Supper -- which is pure Gospel -- but to avoid allowing the written and spoken Word to be considered lacking whenever the sacrament is absent.


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