What do you say/do when a pastor publicly admits, without seeming to have any qualms about it, that his communion practice is “loose”? Yesterday an LC-MS pastor, speaking on the Doctrine of Fellowship in the WELS, described in a somewhat misty-eyed manner how he could not turn away the “innocent stranger” who might happen to show up at his altar on Sunday.
I was glad that someone spoke up afterward and asked him what he thinks about what Chrysostom said (The priests stand daily at the altar, receiving some, and turning others away). When pressed on the matter by the pastor simply said: “My practice is loose.” Now, to his credit I will say that he follows up with these “innocent strangers” who commune at his altar, and I’m sure the pastoral follow up there is worlds beyond what many pastors do. Still, this disturbed me not a little bit, and I think took everyone by surprise.
I have refused people at the altar before. I have asked people right at the altar that I do not know if they belong to a Missouri Synod congregation. It doesn’t happen very often since I have such a small congregation, but every now and then someone slips in after the opening hymn and I do not have a chance to visit with them before the service. I’m sure this makes the person uncomfortable, but when I explain to them after the service why I could not give them communion, they usually are very understanding. There have been times when for one reason or another there are a lot of visitors, like Easter. And even though I have our communion policy printed in the bulletin, I will announce before the Communion Service what our practice is. I really don’t get misty-eyed about turning them away. Communion can wait. Holy things for holy people, says the Didache. So, let the person prove to me, the dispenser of Christ’s gifts, that he is worthy.
I do not make exceptions. I don’t leave the policy open to interpretation. I am a pastor in the Ministerium of the LC-MS, and my congregation is in fellowship with the other congregations of the Synod. Until that changes, then I feel dutibound to commune only those with whom we are in fellowship. If the person wants to take communion, let him or her be examined and absolved, as the Lutheran Confessions state. I hope that said pastor will consider tightening his practice.