Saturday, July 25, 2009

Close Communion and Extraordinary Situations

Close Communion as a policy in the LCMS ranks high among the most misunderstood, reviled, and abused practices in the church today. The Synod has reaffirmed its support for this practice time and again all the way back to the late 1960's, yet we have still to arrive at a common understanding of how to implement it in the real world. In the LCMS today one can find the spectrum ranging from blatant "open communion" all the way to a faithful upholding of the ancient fellowship practice.

In 1967 Res. 2-19 was passed that instructed that "pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods which are now in fellowship with us." In 1986 in Res. 3-08 further stated "that the pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances." Res. 3-0 in 1995 further reminded the church that "situations of emergency and special cases of pastoral care' or 'extraordinary situations and circumstances' are, by their nature, relatively rare."

These resolutions, it would seem, define the parameters of the practice sufficiently for all reasonable minded people to understand and faithfully implement. "Extraordinary" limits fellowship in the Sacrament to those situations outside of normal fellowship (i.e. synods with which we are in altar and pulpit fellowship, such as the AALC at present) that are by nature "rare," and often within "emergency" occurrences, such as imminent death. One can imagine few instances where such situations might occur. One possible scenario could be a college student away from home who is a member of a smaller conservative Lutheran denomination for which there is no church available within reasonable driving distance. Or one might have a situation involving someone from another country. Yet all in all such occurrences are going to be rare.

Still, "extraordinary" in many LCMS parishes is defined by their pastors as anything but rare. It is interpreted to be any visitor, first time or not. The charge for clergy to exercise "responsible pastoral care" is often thrown out the window when decisions for fellowship at the altar are reduced to the private answering of a handful of questions in the bulletin that usually are inadequate to define a person's theology as orthodox. Yet members, after visiting these churches, return and query their pastor about how unloving and callous their own practice now seem by comparison. Close Communion, at present, in the LCMS, is anything but a unified practice, and remains terribly confusing for the church-at-large. This confusion, if not remedied by consistent and orthodox practice, will only continue to errode the faithful witness of the LCMS, and cause more division and pain within our fellowship with each passing year.

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