Q: In our ELS Catechism four points are listed for a person’s examination before receiving the Lord’s Supper: 1) true repentance of sins; 2) believing in Jesus as one’s Savior; 3) believing that the true body and blood of Christ are offered for the forgiveness of sins; and 4) sincerely desiring to amend one’s sinful life. On this basis, how can we in the ELS and WELS refuse Communion to someone who has examined himself/herself properly according to these points and yet is of a different Lutheran Synod not of our fellowship?
A: There is a connection between point number 4) above and confessing one’s faith, even in terms of one’s synodical membership. If there is a sincere desire to amend one’s sinful life, this includes and certainly implies that one will also wish to confess all the doctrines of Scripture in their truth and purity, for this is what allegiance to Christ means (. . . “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matt. 28:20).
When people partake of the Sacrament together at the same altar, doctrinal agreement is being indicated publicly. Besides the most important aspect of the Supper (being strengthened by the forgiveness through the very body and blood of our Lord!), there is also this aspect to “communing” (fellowshipping): It is an expression of confessional fellowship, giving evidence of unity in the faith.
Many Lutherans have a difficult time seeing how their synodical affiliations affect the doctrine they confess. Our Communion practice in the ELS and WELS reminds all that these “membership connections” should not be taken lightly. In love we have a duty to warn our neighbor about every manner of false teaching, and we know that our Lord has forbidden fellowship with errorists (Rom. 16:17, Matt. 7:15, 20, Gal. 1:8,9, etc.).
Careful pastoral advice and direction especially is needed when dealing with those who may privately profess agreement and yet unsuspectingly hold membership in a Lutheran synod which permits error. But in general, we would have to say that one has not examined himself/herself “properly” if there is a disregard for the way in which synodical affiliations have a bearing on one’s public confession of the Christian faith.