Pastoral Care and the Lord’s Supper
When God created the universe He included in His creation two very special features. The first was Adam. God chose to create man in His image and in His likeness, and to entrust him with the authority to rule creation in His stead and by His command. The second feature was the seventh day or Sabbath. This was the blessed, holy time set aside by God for man to enjoy fellowship with his maker. When Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree of which it was said, “You shall not eat,” he destined himself and all his descendants to eternal separation from God by virtue of their sin. Yet God desiring that man should not perish but that the fellowship should be reestablished, spoke forth a promise in the midst of the curse.(1) From the seed of the woman would come the One who would crush the deceiver’s head and thus destroy him and once again reunite Yahweh with His people. The Scriptures boldly proclaim that Yahweh remained faithful to His word. He chose a certain people and covenanted them to Himself for the purpose of bringing the Messiah into the world, Who would shed His blood to establish the covenant of Yahweh with all people.
This covenant we see manifested in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The covenant was sealed through His blood which was shed upon the cross of Calvary. The covenant of which Jesus spoke on the night in which He was betrayed fulfilled the one He made with His people in Exodus 24.(2)
We, as His chosen people, “Amen” the covenant through faith receiving the gifts. In the scope of human history God has revealed Himself to be a God of order, who desires to covenant Himself to His people. The same is true today. God desires to establish, or rather reestablish, the fellowship which was lost when Adam chose to reject what God had established.
In light of God’s desire to make Himself known to His people there is no doubt that the way in which this is done has not been left to us to determine. God has established the means by which He chooses to make Himself known to the world. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it comes to us through the Means of Grace. For the preached word enlightens both heart and mind through the working of the Holy Spirit Who creates and quickens faith. In the same way when the child is brought before the Lord at the font, it is the Spirit who brings forth the new birth at which time we rejoice in true life having been given. These two means (Gospel proclamation and Baptism), God has established to bring forth life from death and establish the covenant with His people.
God has also determined that the proclamation of His word and the administration of the sacraments is to be done by His instruments whom He places in the Office of Holy Ministry and entrusts with the Keys of the Kingdom. This is recorded for us in the words of Scripture, “Jesus breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”(3) No doubt the entire church holds the keys as the Small Catechism says.(4) But he goes on to say that they are used in the Church by those who God has called to be His instruments in administering the Keys. Dr. Luther writes,
“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”(5)
It is the pastor who has been entrusted by God with the authority to proclaim the Gospel. Not his own authority, but the authority given by God as to an instrument or ambassador of Christ. He speaks not his own words, but the words of Christ. The servant is but an earthen vessel with hands and a mouth. Hands to pour water, and a mouth to speak words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(6) Thus it is God who engenders faith and covenants Himself to the individual and the individual only says “amen” and receives the gift given.
In the same way it is the pastor who as Christ’s ambassador, instrument, servant, is entrusted with the responsibility and authority to provide care for the members of the flock. This is what for our purpose we call “Pastoral Care.”
Within the entire realm of pastoral care one premise is to be understood and applied. The pastor is Christ’s instrument to apply Law and Gospel to sinners that they might believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. It is the pastor who proclaims the Word and administers the sacraments. Not only Baptism but in the realm of pastoral care, also Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. For to those whom God has covenanted to Himself the pastor proclaims the Gospel, calls to mind one’s baptism, gives absolution to troubled consciences, and administers the blessed Body and Blood of our Lord. All for the purpose of building and strengthening the faith of God’s people, thus “pastoral care.”
It is therefore extremely important that the pastor not mingle the Law with the Gospel or the Gospel with the Law. For to mingle the two causes both to lose their power and the person to continue either in sin with a false sense of security, or seek comfort for sin through their own efforts. Dr. C. F. W. Walther wrote concerning the mingling of Law and Gospel,
No Gospel element, then, must be mingled with the Law. Any one expounding the Law shamefully perverts it by injecting into it grace, the grace, loving-kindness, and patience of God, who forgives sin. He acts like a sick-nurse, who fetches sugar to sweeten the bitter medicine, which the patient dislikes. What is the result? Why, the medicine does not take effect, and the patient remains feverish. In order that it might retain its strength the medicine should not have been sweetened. A preacher must proclaim the law in such a manner that there remains in it nothing pleasant to lost and condemned sinners. Every sweet ingredient injected into the Law is poison; it renders this heavenly medicine ineffective, neutralizes its operation.(7)
Dr. Walther’s point is well taken. To mingle Law and Gospel is to cause both to lose their effectiveness. Dr. Pieper echoes this conviction when he writes of the proper use of Law and Gospel;
The Law is certainly to be preached without diminution, but solely for the purpose of bringing man to a realization of his sinfulness and deserved condemnation. As soon as this purpose is attained, as soon as man asks in contrition, “What must I do to be saved?” the preaching of the Law should cease. It is a divine requirement, and not merely a church regulation, that terrified hearts should hear not the Law, but only the Gospel, which for Christ’s sake assures them just as they are of remission of sins and salvation without the Law or the works of the Law.(8)
Throughout the history of Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and indeed the Church throughout history, the need to distinguish Law and Gospel has been a primary task of the pastor or under-shepherd of Christ. John H. C. Fritz quoted Walther as saying that anyone who does not properly divide Law and Gospel but preaches the two mingled so as to lose their distinction is guilty of preaching false doctrine.(9) The Confessors of our church understood this great truth when they confessed,
The distinction between Law and Gospel is an especially brilliant light which serves the purpose that the Word of God may be rightly divided and the writings of the holy prophets and apostles may be explained and understood correctly. We must therefore observe this distinction with particular diligence lest we confuse the two doctrines and change the Gospel into Law. This would darken the merit of Christ and rob disturbed consciences of the comfort which they would otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached purely and without admixture, for by it Christians can support themselves in their greatest temptations against the terrors of the law.(10)
With all the proceeding having been affirmed, it is necessary in the realm of pastoral care to have both the authority and the ability to administer both Law and Gospel effectively. As noted above, the pastor is the one whom God has called to administer the Keys publicly on behalf of the Church. It is therefore necessary for the pastor not only to be able to rightly divide the Word of Truth(11), but also have the authority and the fortitude to apply Law and/or Gospel to individuals as is needed.
When considering the proper use of the Means of Grace, it is incumbent upon all pastors to see them as “pure Gospel.” All the means of grace are pure Gospel. Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper contain no Law but are given as gifts and they work to comfort the terrified conscience and build faith in the vicarious atonement of Christ. This is not to lose sight of the fact that those who abuse or misuse the gift receive judgement and not blessing. This, however, is a result of the denial of the gift, which does not overshadow the fact that the gift given is given.(12) We see this specifically in the Lord’s Supper when the Lord Jesus speaks the words, for you and for the forgiveness of sins. As the Confessions state,
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.(13)
In order for the pastor to know which to administer, Law or Gospel, he needs to know the sheep who have been entrusted to his care. The Apostle Peter writes to the pastors of Asia Minor, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.”(14) In order for a pastor to shepherd the flock, he must know the flock. This goes beyond the casual greetings of the Sunday morning reception line. The need is there for the pastor to be involved in the lives of the flock to the point that he knows what is needed in their lives, Law or Gospel. While this is not possible in every case, the pastor should avail himself to every opportunity to gain such an intimate relationship with his parishioners. This pastoral care is also seen in the way the pastor handles the means of grace. If the pastor views the “means” as either so much ritual which must be preformed or a special authority to lord it over others, the flock will not take comfort in his guidance. Rather the pastor should seek every opportunity to uphold the Means of Grace as precious gifts to be cherished and used by every believer, and freely given by him to all repentant sinners.
In a practical application of this principle in relation to the Lord’s Supper, it has long been established for the pastor to distribute the Body while the assistant distributes the Blood.(15) This is important for two reasons which go hand in hand. First, it is the pastor’s responsibility as the instrument of God, called by Him to shepherd the flock, to receive his members to the table. He has been placed in a position of steward and as such is the only one who has the authority to admit to the table.(16) Secondly, and in unison with the first reason, it is the pastor alone who, having been designated by God, can withhold the sacrament from an individual who is not worthy, because of unrepentance.(17)
The pastor’s responsibility to be the one who admits to the table is seen most clearly when it is seen Whose table it is and Who is the Host. As stated previously, the pastor is the instrument called by Christ to shepherd His flock. When the Verba are spoken, it is not the pastor who speaks, but the One to whom the words belong–the Lord Jesus. When the pastor stands and speaks, he is the mouthpiece of the Lord’s Words. This has been described by some as an “incarnational presence of Christ.”(18) It is the Lord’s Supper. He is the Host as He is the gift given. His instrument, the pastor, receives to the table according to the mandate and institution of the Lord.
In the same way, it is the pastor who as steward of the mysteries of God must deny the sacrament to all who are unworthy because of unrepentance. There has been much discussion in recent years concerning “judging one’s brother.” Many are prone to quote Jesus, “Judge not lest you be judged,”(19) and thereby brush off any accountability. It must be stated and affirmed from the beginning that the pastor and indeed no man has the authority or the ability to look into the heart of another. The pastor stands in the stead and by the command of Christ. It is His table. It is His body and blood which are given as gifts. The pastor is only the steward who administers to all except those who have clearly demonstrated or confessed themselves to be unworthy. The Lord Himself declared we would know a tree by the fruit it produces.(20) This is not a judgement which the pastor makes with the use of His own standards. This is rather Spirit guided judgement or discernment ()(21)and it moves a pastor to suspend someone from the sacrament. The purpose should also be acknowledged for such withholding of the sacrament. The pastor as the servant of Christ has been entrusted with the awesome task of administering both Law and Gospel, whichever an individual needs at a given moment in time. When a person has demonstrated himself visibly to be unrepentant, that person needs to hear the Law proclaimed in all its fullness. The purpose is always to show the individual his sin and lead him to repentance when once again the forgiving words of the Gospel might be proclaimed. Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that all men might be given the forgiveness of their sins. Yet, when a person is unwilling to repent of a sin but desires to hold on to it, there is no forgiveness. Thus the necessity of preaching the Law. Since the Lord’s Supper is Gospel and only pure Gospel, it is imperative that the unrepentant individual must not be allowed to commune, for thereby the pastor has mixed the Law and Gospel and both have become impotent. Dr. Pieper has graciously included a very important quote from Dr. Walther in his work which addresses this very issue.
A pastor, though without authority to excommunicate a member of his congregation, must suspend a member from Communion when he has committed or lives in a manifest mortal sin and will not repent; has committed a theft and will not return the stolen goods; has insulted or offended someone or the whole congregation, or has been offended by someone, and in either case will not be reconciled, Mt. 5:23-24; 18:28 ff.; Lk 17:3; etc. In such a situation it becomes necessary to suspend from the Holy Supper, that is to say the pastor refuses to commune such a member until his offenses has been removed, or demands that the member postpone his Communion until he gives evidence of repentance, or of readiness to be reconciled, and the like. A pastor may not and must not become partaker of other men’s sins, I Tim. 5:22. Certainly he must, then, have the right of suspension from the Lord’s Supper in all cases where he by admittance to the Lord’s Table would knowingly assist in the commission of a grievous sin and thus become partaker of other men’s sin. As emphatically, therefore, as our old orthodox theologians deny the right of pastors to excommunicate without the congregation, so emphatically they defend the pastor’s right to suspend from Communion.”(22)
It is an aside, but also interesting to note that Maundy Thursday historically was the day set aside for those who had been under discipline, and were repentant, to be received back into the Church. The bishop would conduct the Divine Service while those who were desiring to return to the church lay prostrate outside in sackcloth and ashes. Following the service the bishop would go outside and address the people. After having examined them he would pronounce Holy Absolution on them. They would then clean up and join the waiting congregation for the reception of the Lord’s Supper.(23) As with the early church practice during Maundy Thursday, when a penitent declares his sorrow over his sin and there is no visible reason why the should not be restored, the pastor is bound to receive him once again to the Lord’s table. The pastor can discern only what he can see and hear. Therefore he freely administers the Gospel except where sin and unrepentance is manifest and thus prevents him from doing so.
This understanding also has its implications in the practice of “open” vs. “close(d)” communion. With all the above having been stated, it is not possible for a pastor who desires to faithfully fulfill his Office to practice open communion. He is called by God to shepherd the sheep. He is to administer the means of grace for their good in order that their faith may be strengthened. For a pastor to practice open communion demonstrates he does not love the flock as Christ does. Lutherans are many times wrongly accused of being unloving in regard to our close(d) communion practice. The truth is that a pastor who practices close(d) communion is far more loving a pastor than the one who practices open communion. The pastor is showing love when he does not allow a person, who is guilty of manifest unrepentant sin, to partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord. The pastor is showing love when he does not allow a person to commune at Christ’s altar who denies the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood which is give to us to eat and drink, thus denying the Gift given and thereby partaking in an unworthy manner.(24) The pastor is showing love when he does not allow a person to commune to whom he does not also have the right to proclaim the Law and hold him accountable to the Word of God. A lack of love is evidenced clearly when churches practicing open communion receive individuals to their altars with whom they have no spiritual oversight. If a person sees the practice of close(d) communion as judgmental and unloving, that person does not truly understand the Sacrament in its entirety. To see the Body and Blood of the Lord as pure Gospel and pure Gift is also to see that like any other Gift of God, the rejection of such a Gift brings condemnation.(25) The pastor, true to his heart, is the one who desires to protect not only the flock entrusted to his care, but all people from any condemnation of the Law. Therefore, he preaches Law and Gospel and administers the sacraments in accordance with Christ’s command and allows no one to attend who is unworthy or unprepared.
Throughout the history of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper has been guarded from all false teachings () which would lead to divisions (µ) within the Church. The first LC-MS president C.F.W. Walther understood this principle when he wrote his Thesis on Communion Fellowship With Those Who Believe Differently. Thesis X outlines the reason why the practice of open communion is a disregard of Christ’s institution. Walther writes;
Holy Communion is a mark of confession of Faith and Doctrine among those who celebrate together. Therefore the admission of members of heterodox fellowships to the celebration of communion within the Lutheran Church is in conflict with: 1. Christ’s institution; 2. The commanded unity of the church in faith and accordingly in confession; 3. Our love for those to whom the sacrament is administered; 4. Our love for our own fellow believers, especially the weak who by this action would be given serious offence; and 5. The command not to become participants in the sin and error of others.(26)
Within this thesis Walther quotes many orthodox theologians who uphold the understanding of having “concordia” before altar and pulpit fellowship is established.(27) To this end Walther states,
For the past two hundred years the enemies of a correct doctrine and practice on Communion have asserted that the use of the Sacrament should distinguish Christians from the heathen, not the orthodox from the heterodox. But this is false. All unbelief and all false doctrine is a part of heathenism. Communion fellowship with all those who believe differently is forbidden in the institution of Christ. . . . Therefore it is a crass contradiction and vile mockery of the institution of Christ if both parts celebrate one Communion in fellowship with one another.(28)
With this as our understanding of close(d) communion, it is increasingly troublesome for our Synod to be making a conflicting statement as to our practice. Such a statement has been put forth in the new CTCR study document, Inter-Christian Relationships An Instrument for Study. Within the section titled Admission to the Lord’s Supper, the CTCR committee correctly explains the practice of close(d) communion but then confuses the issue with the statement,
However, the church body’s declaration of fellowship is to be understood more as recognizing eligibility for Holy Communion, after due personal preparation and pastoral care, rather than as a principle absolutely excluding all others belonging to church bodies where no such fellowship has been declared.(29)
Then a hypothetical example is given of a visitor in one of our congregations who is a member of another Christian denomination who desires to commune. In times past the question was already settled by virtue of the fact that this person’s confession differs from our own, therefore it is impossible to have “concordia.” The document continues by outlining questions which should be asked of this individual,
Do such visitors share our confession of faith, perhaps in disagreement with the confession of their own congregation and church body? Do they understand that communion with our congregations gives witness to their acceptance of our doctrinal confession? Are such visitors under any pastoral or congregational discipline which should keep them from communing? Would their communing at our altars cause offense within our congregation on the grounds that such communing represents a weakening or compromise of the congregation’s confession of faith?(30)
While these questions are fine in and of themselves as a means of ascertaining the individual’s position and understanding of Christian doctrine, the CTCR’s conclusion stands in direct opposition to the teaching of Scriptures and the Synod’s stated position. They conclude, “When the answers to such questions are satisfactory, guests should be welcomed.”(31) Proper pastoral care has never understood “agreeing to disagree” as a true expression of love or concern for a person’s spiritual well-being. Quite in contrast, pastoral care upholds close(d) communion as a means of expressing love and concern for all, those who are members of the pastor’s flock and those who are not.
In summary, true pastoral care is found in proper administration of Law and Gospel as it pertains to each individual who is within the flock which Christ has called a man to serve as pastor. The Lord’s Supper is clearly a proclamation of Gospel which is received as gift. As such, the Lord’s Supper must never be given to an individual who has clearly demonstrated himself to be unworthy by his actions or his confession. True love withholds the Gospel and proclaims the Law in hopes to bring forth the fruits of repentance whereby the Gospel may once again be freely given. This is seen most clearly within the local congregation in two areas. First, the pastor’s understanding of “pastoral discipline,” which when used properly is the proclamation of Law with a view toward proclaiming the Gospel. Secondly, in the area of “close(d) communion” which is never intended to be an expression of Law, but rather a true expression of love for all, both members and non-members. It is the hopes and prayers of this writer that the Lord Jesus will continue to work through His Spirit and Word to enlighten His Church and His pastors as to the correct understanding and administration of His Supper. To the end that Jesus and He alone is exalted and glorified.
Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the LC-MS. Inter-Christian Relationships An Instrument for Study. February 1991.
Fritz, John H.C. Pastoral Theology. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932)
Grant, Alexander H., M.A. The Church Seasons. (New York: Thomas Wittaker, 1893)
Muller, N. H. and Kraus, G. Pastoral Theology. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; 1990)
Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. 3. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953)
Scaer, David P. “The Validity of the Churchly Acts of Ordained Women” Concordia Theological Quarterly. Vol. 53, No. 1&2, 1989.
Small Catechism. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991)
Tappert. Book of Concord. “Formula of Concord–Solid Declaration” Art. V. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House)
Walther, C.F.W. Communion Fellowship With Those Who Believe Differently. Trans. Laurence L. White. (Concordia Theological Seminary Press; 1990)
Walther, C.F.W. The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991)
2. Verse 3 of chapter 24 reads, “All which the Lord has said we will do”. This has been understood by the Jewish Rabbis as well as those of a reformed position to mean the covenant was conditional. Thus, it could properly be termed a bi-lateral covenant, (A covenant in which each party must meet and keep the conditions of the agreement). This would follow in the way of not . Properly understood this is hw`hy+ coming to His people purely out of His divine grace and mercy and making them to be His own special possession.
3. John 20:22-23. Also see; Mt. 28; Mk.16; Lk.24; Rm.10; Ep.4; 1 Tim.3; Tit.1 The Lutheran Confessions also uphold this teaching of God’s establishment of the Office in Augustana XIV; “It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.” Tappert. Book of Concord. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) p. 36.
4. The Catechism states concerning the Keys, “The office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.” (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991) p. 27.
12. St. Peter states, “Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” I Pet. 2:7-8. The stone which is rejected, Christ, becomes a means of stumbling or offence. The Gospel rejected, brings death!
16. I Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul considered himself a steward of God. He had been placed in a position of authority by God and as such understood the accountability to God for the way in which he carried out his Office. Compare to the parables which deal with stewardship in Matthew chapter 25.
21. is used in I Corinthians 11: 27-34 and means to discern or judge between two options, what is right and what is wrong. This is in contrast to µ which carried the meaning to be condemned eternally.
27. “Concordia” is understood as complete agreement in all doctrine. This is distinguished from “unity” which belongs to the invisible Church. This is the “unity” which Christ has established and in which all true believers belong.