Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Close vs. Closed Communion?

When debates rise about the fellowship policy of the LCMS with respect to participation in Holy Communion, inevitably we are subjected to the supposed semantic distinction of "close" vs. "closed." Often in synodical literature the word is merged into one with the "d" encased in parentheses, indicating that understood properly the words are synonymous.

Try convincing anyone of this who is committed to a "functionally open" policy and you encounter a losing battle. Unfortunately language has changed and along with that the older word "close." Dr. Kurt Marquart in his article "Gold, Silver, and Bronze - and Close Communion," notes:

Actually "close" is simply an older form of "closed"-as in "close carriage." So, despite the touching stories that have been made up about "close" communion-and why that is so much better than the "exclusive," and therefore politically incorrect "closed" communion-the fact is that "close communion" and "closed communion" mean exactly the same thing. The opposite of both is "open communion," not something like "distant communion"!

Unfortunately many pastors in the Synod long ago began making the unfortunate distinction between these words, forever contaminating their use.
Personally I am done with the words. They only end up in a losing debate, for the person proposing an open practice will always appeal to the more modern understanding that "close" has nothing to do with "closed."

I commend the article referenced above for your complete review. Marquart was my professor at seminary, a man for whom I have the greatest respect.


David said...

With all due respect to Prof. Marquart, I disagree. Read Dr. Norman Nagel's article from a 1991 issue of Concordia Journal about the two terms. They mean two separate things.

Don Engebretson said...

Thank you for pointing this out, David.

The quote you are referring to I believe is contained in a footnote to his 1991 article "Closed Communion: In the Way of the Gospel, in the Way of the Law." The full quote is helpful to read, especially in the sense that it underscores the the difficulty with the term "close" and how it is interpreted. Dr. Nagel writes:

"The term 'close communion' was put into our use this century by the American Lutheran; it came from Baptists sources, and is in danger of blurring the primary reference by slipping into lateral and anthropocentric ways of thinking. The muddle is evinced by the antonyms. 'Close' is capable of degrees; the Gospel is unfractionable...'Close' does appear in the American Lutheran of November 1941, p. 16. Does anyone know earlier instances?.....Webster knows 'close communion' as a usage peculiar to the Baptists, New Unabridged Dictionary (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979), p. 357....In the official documents of Missouri 'close' does not appear." Nagel traces the use of the term "closed" as far back as at least 1911 or even 1900, then adds: "After 1911 it does seem to have lain fairly dormant until quite recently."...."In 1920 Pieper wrote: Acuch die apostolische Kirke praktizierte nicht 'open,' sondern 'closed communion.' Christliche Dogmatik (St. Louis: Concordia, 1920), III, 444: The ET of 1953 excised 'closed communion.' Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia: 1953), III, 381. What villainy!"

Don Engebretson said...

I'd like to add another point in response. In defense of Prof. Marquart, one of the definitions of "close" according to Webster's Third Unabridged International Dictionary is "having no openings:CLOSED," as in "having a close hatch," or as Marquart pointed out, "drove off in a close carriage." In general usage the terms "close" and "closed" have often been used interchangeably, with the understanding that they mean the same thing when applied to fellowship at the altar. Thus the common designation: close(d).

It appears that separating the terms and utilizing the definition of "marked by being near" appeals to those who wish to define the practice by one definition of the word, as opposed to the actual historically scripturally accepted practice.

In the end, it's the confusion that results that bothers me most. Officially the LCMS does not believe that those who commune together are "close" in faith, as in similar, but not the same. Technically the altar is "closed" to those who are not prepared, or who hold a different confession. Unfortunately, the use of "closed" has been given a very negative sense, as in 'standoffish' or aloof, and so people work hard to distance themselves from it.