The Communion Dilemma
in the LCMS
There is no institutional language respecting Holy Communion in Scripture. Every last word describing the Lord's Supper is strictly theological. Yet, within the LCMS there are those who would like to understand their participation in this most Holy Supper on a primarily institutional level and subordinate actual theology to an institutional standard. Others in our Synod subordinate their participation theologically to an individualistic emotional level. The reasoning goes, "If I feel like I am in fellowship with other Christians, then unity in doctrine does not determine fellowship at the altar." (Note: the ACELC addressed this very issue at our 2012 Free Conference, which was held in Lincoln, Nebraska – and this year's Free Conference in Nashville, Tennessee will be looking at, and perhaps approving, a recently crafted document from the ACELC entitled "Five Theses on Holy Communion")
The institutional view goes something like this: "Since we are all members of the LCMS, then we are in fellowship at the altar." There is no Biblical rationale in support of this view. It is also an inadvertent admission that our Synod no longer enjoys the unity in doctrine and Biblical practice that we once knew. This reasoning was true in the past, but it isn't true any longer. It used to be true that all members of the LCMS shared, taught, and confessed the same doctrine in every article and therefore fellowship at the altar was based, not on our mutual institutional membership, but rather in our unity of confession. When this was true, we used the "shorthand" of Synodical membership as a standard of doctrinal unity at our altars.
In some LCMS congregations you will now be communing with other LCMS members who openly support women's ordination, openly advocate for participation in unionistic or syncretistic worship, embrace a theology of missiology that is nothing but an expression of the false teaching associated with a theology of glory, and openly support open communion. You might well be joined at an LCMS altar with members of the ELCA who support abortion for their own church workers through their health plan and who advocate for homosexual clergy and same sex "marriage." In other LCMS congregations you might well be joined at the altar with non-Lutherans who do not even believe in the real presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the Sacrament. This last error even steps over the line of institutional participation!
Others mistakenly believe that it is simply participation at the altar which creates fellowship between Christians who commune together – despite their doctrinal differences. There is absolutely no Biblical support for this view. Our Lord instituted the Holy Supper as the very expression of unity (inclusive of doctrine) He intends His Church to have! Our Lord has never been OK with "multiple choice" theology – a theology that violates His own divine nature, a theology that would not at all be a portrait of the true unity of Christ and His Bride, the Church.
This is why the ACELC has found it sadly necessary to adopt resolutions addressing these very real concerns. At our 2014 Conference we resolved:
"...that whenever possible, the member congregations and associate members of the ACELC be encouraged to exercise sound theological judgment, within the congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, respecting where and from whom they hear God's Word preached and taught, and where and from whom they receive the Lord's Supper." (ACELC Res. 14-01)
This plight has also prompted the ACELC to resolve:
"...that the pastors of the ACELC be encouraged to exercise sound theological and pastoral judgment with respect to those who wish to commune at their altars both among their own membership and especially also with respect to those who are visiting from other LCMS congregations to ascertain, to the best of their ability, those they may commune rightly and those who may not commune without drawing God's judgment on themselves or whose participation would compromise the integrity of our confession of faith." (ACELC Res. 14-02)
If our Synod were still truly an orthodox Lutheran church body, then these resolutions would not be needed. This is precisely why the ACELC continues to seek resolution for the doctrinal differences and unbiblical practices tolerated within the LCMS. It is our sincere hope and prayer that our efforts will help to bring about the correction of errors and their toleration within our Synod so that these resolutions will no longer be needed among us.
We pray you will consider joining us in Nashville April 26-28 for our Sixteenth Annual Free Conference as we look at the issue of Dispute Resolution. You can sign up and pay online by clicking here.
Rev. Richard A. Bolland, Emeritus
Pagosa Springs, Colorado