Confessional Lutherans get excoriated for not admitting members of other churches to the Lord’s Supper, though I don’t hear many people complaining when that happens in Catholic or Orthodox churches, which likewise practiced “close communion.” Some Catholics are taking this to another level by refusing to commune politicians who favor abortion. Some are considering refusing to commune regular laypeople who disagree with the church’s other moral teachings. Is that a possibility for Lutheran parishes, or does our different understanding of the Lord’s Supper and church discipline preclude that?
At any rate, Joel J. Miller, who is not Catholic but Orthodox, defends the Catholic practice from the ultra, ultra-liberal retired bishop in the Episcopal church Gene Robinson, who says that amounts to “playing politics” with the sacrament:
It’s absurd to trust the church for the grace of the sacrament and not the grace of its doctrine. The sacrament is a gift of God to his people, yes, and so is the church’s teaching. It’s not about being worthy or unworthy but being in communion with the church. No one is shocked if a Catholic priest denies the cup to a Protestant. Why should we be shocked if he denies it to someone who similarly dissents from church authority and teaching?
Second, as Robinson said, it is a gift. Conversely, it is not an entitlement. There’s no right to the Eucharist. It has always been the food of the faithful, and there has never been an open invitation. In the ancient church the unbaptized were not even allowed to witness it. To hear of people demanding the sacrament violates the very spirit of it. It’s something received with thanksgiving, not seized like a union benefit.
Third, the church has always barred people from the sacrament who live counter to the church’s moral teachings. That’s what Paul’s rant in 1 Corinthians 5 is all about. The man sleeping with his father’s wife was barred from fellowship and later restored to fellowship, as we discover in 2 Corinthians 2.
The sacrament is always administered pastorally, not robotically. If there are pastoral reasons to deny the cup, then denial is reasonable. That’s always been the case. As with the offender in Corinth, the point of such pastoral oversight and discipline is the ultimate restoration of the one barred. Repentance opens the way for the parched.