Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are We Confirming Errors?

The following quotes are taken from Dr. Cameron MacKenzie's paper "Uses and Abuses of Power In the Church," which was presented at the Rocky Mountain District Pastors Conference in 2000.

Of course, the question immediately arises that if, as Walther says, the sacraments are the bonds between Christians and not just Lutherans, how is that we refuse to commune any except those in our fellowship? The answer lies, as I indicated earlier, in Walther's understanding of the true visible church, since to commune those who do not belong to that church is to confirm them in the errors of the churches to which they do belong. Against those Lutherans who in his own day did not practice closed communion, Walther writes:

If the leaders of the Church Council [i.e., General Council] would accept [these Scripture passages], they would have to give up their false principles and practices; but they will not accept them until they have recognized that there actually is a true, visible church of God in an unqualified sense. They do not say to their heterodox communicants that through partaking of Communion with us they hold to our doctrine and our church. They allow them to remain stuck in error and plunge them and themselves into the sin of hypocrisy.
Since in Walther's view, it is a grievous sin to belong to a non-Lutheran church, we should not comfort the non-Lutheran or even the unionistic Lutheran in his error by communing him at our altars. For Walther, it is a grave misuse of church power to practice open communion.

But doesn't this mean that we are withholding the consolations of the gospel from such persons who might be visiting our churches? Walther answers no, because, of course, he can still hear the preaching. Furthermore, Walther reminds us that the eucharist is not an evangelistic tool to convert the unbeliever but was instead "instituted to strengthen the faith of those who are already are true Christians. Therefore Communion should be administered to no one who has been revealed as a false [i.e., erring] Christian."

Far from being a loveless approach to members of other churches, Walther contends that closed communion is actually an act of love. Referring to Lev. 19:17, "Do not hate your brother in you heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt," Walther writes, "Rebuking is so often presented as lovelessness; but unjustly, for we hear here: If you do not love someone you will not rebuke him. So then, to warn your fellowman against a false and destructive way is certainly true love."

...Walther's final thesis in his 1870 essay is also an important one for our purposes because it too reminds us that the purpose of closed communion is to preserve the purity of the marks of the church. Walther writes:

The more unionism and syncretism are the sin and corruption of our time, the more the loyalty of the orthodox church now demands that the Lord's Supper not be misused as a means of external union without the internal unity of faith.
Once again, and it bears repeating, we can know of no internal unity of faith apart from one's confession of faith. That confession includes one's church membership. We simply cannot say that a member is in no way responsible for the teachings and practices of his church. After all, this is America. If he does not like what his church does, he can leave it. And should, according to Walther, if his church is heterodox. Then - and only then - can we express our unity in the sacrament - when there is also unity of confession.

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