I know that the confessional Lutheran practice of “closed communion,” in which you have to be a member of the church body (or a member of a church in formal doctrinal fellowship with that church body) to commune at the Lutheran altar, is offensive to many non-Lutherans. I don’t particularly want to debate that practice, which we’ve talked about extensively. Rather, I would like to ask those of you who are offended some questions: Have you ever been to a Roman Catholic mass or an Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy? Perhaps you attended a funeral or a wedding or had an assignment in a religion course or dropped in on a service for one reason or another. Were you offended because you could not commune? Did you expect to? Did you even want to, given your theological reservations about what was going on?
Though some Roman Catholic priests will commune anyone, this is strictly forbidden by canon law. I would say that there are proportionally more Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors who practice open communion, even though it is against denominational policy, than there are Catholic priests who do it. And, as an Orthodox commenter helpfully observed in one of our earlier threads, you will come close to never finding open communion practiced in an Eastern Orthodox church.Used to, one’s membership in a particular theological tradition was defined by whom you would take communion with. Then we had the ecumenical movement, largely among Protestants, and different churches–usually highly liberal–started sharing Communion with everyone.
Anyway, my impression is that few people feel insulted when they don’t join Catholics or Orthodox in their sacramental rites. After all, we think, I’m not Catholic or Orthodox.
So why is it different with Lutherans?