British agency is requiring open communion

A British commission is refusing to allow a Plymouth Brethren church to be registered as a charity because it practices closed communion:

A government agency that oversees charities in the United Kingdom has decided that a local Christian congregation cannot be registered because it does not open its communion services to just any outsider.

The decision by the U.K.’s Charity Commission is being reported by The Christian Institute, which has been working on the case of the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Devon for seven years.

Without registration, the group would be subject to a number of government restrictions that do not apply to charity organizations.

The decision “would have a huge impact on the group’s tax relief and would also have other implications,” said the institute in a report.

The report said the congregation’s elders testified to a select committee of Parliament last week.

The government has determined the group cannot be registered because it has decided that its communion services are for members only.

“During the evidence a letter from the commission’s head of legal services emerged claiming that churches cannot be assumed to be acting for the public good,” the report said.

The institute said it is working on the case because of the need to protect religious liberty for all church groups.

A statement released by the government agency said, “The application [from the church] was not accepted on the basis that we were unable to conclude that the organization is established for the advancement of religion for public benefit within the relevant law.”

The institute said Conservative Member of Parliament Charlie Elphicke speculated whether the government agency was “actively trying to suppress religion in the U.K., particularly the Christian religion.”

According to a report from the Telegraph of London, the faith group is planning to take the battle to the European Court of Human Rights if needed.

via Government regulates church communion.

I don’t pretend to understand church-state relations under British law, and I think I must be missing something.  Roman Catholic churches don’t practice open communion.  Are they registered as “charities”?  Also, there is a small but vibrant group of confessional Lutherans in England.  Are they in the same jeopardy?  And what does it mean to be a registered charity in England?  Is that the same as our “non-profit” status, with all of the tax deductions that makes possible?  If anyone knows anything about this, please comment.

Is this an example of the state control of churches in a country that does not have our separation of church and state?  Or is it a foretaste of what American Christians will face also if they are not sufficiently “inclusive” according to the canons of state-mandated toleration?

Why Lutherans can’t take Catholic Communion

Russell E. Saltzman, a pastor in the North American Lutheran Church (the relatively conservative off shoot of ELCA), wrote a post at the First Things blog plaintively asking, “Why Can’t Lutherans Take Catholic Communion?”  After all, he says, Lutherans and Catholics are agreed on justification–as of that Joint Declaration on the subject–and we are pretty much OK about other things, properly conceived.

Rev. Saltzman exhibits the annoying quality of speaking for “Lutherans” while ignoring those millions of us in that tradition who are conservative theologically and don’t go along with the Joint Declaration and other ecumenical overtures.   The mostly Catholic commenters tried to explain why he can’t commune at a Catholic altar, and in this case we conservative Lutherans do agree with conservative Catholics that this would be highly inappropriate.

You’ve got to read Anthony Sacramone’s discussion of this issue, which concludes with a vivid account of the differences between Rome and Lutherans, especially when it comes to the Gospel:

Let’s cut to the chase: would the Roman Catholic Church today accept as doctrinally true the Lutheran teaching of the alien righteousness of Christ, of the great exchange of His righteousness for our sin, of our sanctification as being in Him, even though we are called to good works — but for the sake of our neighbor and not in aid of increasing our justification? If not, again, who are these Lutherans Reverend Saltzman is talking about whose differences with Rome are now of little significance?

Do these Lutherans now accept the existence of a Treasury of Merits? Or has Rome admitted that this was a bankrupt medieval invention and is now, in the interest of ecumenicity, disposable? Have indulgences, the flashpoint of the Reformation, also become irrelevant?

I ask this honestly: what is the true nonnegotiable here?

Let’s discuss the papal office for a moment: Was Pope Urban II Infallible, “evangelically understood,” when he declared, in regard to the First Crusade:  “If anyone who sets out should lose his life either on the way, by land or by sea, or in battle against the infidels, his sins shall be pardoned from that moment. This I grant by right of the gift of God’s power to me.”

Did the bishop of Rome have this authority? Urban II is addressing men who are off, he hopes, to kill the enemies of the Faith and to retrieve stolen property. Is this the true nature of the power of the keys as described in the Gospel of Matthew? Does this notion of dying in a holy war and going straight to Paradise sound familiar?

Here’s another question: Does the pope have this same authority today—to proactively forgive the temporal punishment for sins that would otherwise send someone to Purgatory (or to a purgative state), thus promising them a straight ticket to heaven in the event they died trying to kill someone else? I’m not interested in whether or not it is likely to be exercised in this day and age, nor whether the Muslims in the 12th century invited this response for overrunning the “Holy Land.” I’m only interested in whether Benedict XVI, by virtue of his office, has this authority, given him from Christ.

Whether the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals is inextricably tied to how justification is construed. The same can be said for the nature of the Eucharist, and the priesthood.

What is the wedding garment without which no one enters the wedding feast of the King? Is it something of our own, dry-cleaned, purified, and bleached? Or is it the gift of Someone else? Is it something we do to ourselves, by aid of grace? Something we endure, in the sense of suffer? Or is it something we receive, like the Eucharist, from Another?

For some, the alien, imputed righteousness of Christ is a legal fiction, and Luther’s image of the dunghill covered with snow is usually cited as evidence. And yet these same Christians have no problem with the transfer of the supererogatory merits of the saints to the accounts of the properly disposed.

The merits of Christ’s sacrifice transferred to the sinner, as a sinner, is a fiction, but the merits of Josemaria Escriva transferred by dint of papal proclamation — that’s real.

Really?

The issue remains the same today as on October 31, 1517.

via Reformation Day: Lutherans vs. Alien Righteousness « Strange Herring.

Paul’s rebuke of Peter as argument for open communion

Reformed writer Peter Leithhart argues against the closed communion practices of Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans on the basis of Galatians 2:

The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised. . .

For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.

Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.

I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?

via One Lord, One Table | First Things.

This strikes me as missing the point on many levels, but I’ll let you do the analysis:  What is wrong with this argument?

Closed communion, Catholic style

From an advice column in the U. S. Catholic:

Should you pass on communion at a Lutheran church or participate fully?

You are at the wedding of a beloved family member or friend, which is taking place at a Lutheran church. You gladly accepted the invitation to celebrate this happy day with the bride and groom. But then there is a call to come to the table of the Lord’s Supper, to receive communion. This is the awkward moment you knew was coming. Can you, and should you, a practicing Catholic, accept the invitation?

According to the Code of Canon Law, receiving communion in a Protestant church is generally not permissible. According to canon 844, “Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers.” The key term here is licit. If a Catholic receives communion from a Protestant minister, it is generally considered “illicit” or unlawful.

The reason for the Catholic Church’s general rule against sharing in the Eucharist with other churches is that a person can only be in full communion with one church. As a Catholic, the core of one’s union with Christ is union with the church. The center of this union lies in the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass, which is both a confession and embodiment of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.

But canon 844 includes an exception to the rule “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.”

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism said that, as a general rule, common worship and eucharistic and other sacramental sharing should “signify the unity of the church.” But it acknowledges that such sharing can also be seen as advancing unity. In fact, according to the decree, “the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends” it.

Still, within the confines of canon law, the exceptions to the rule are rather limited, and receiving communion from a Lutheran pastor during a wedding would normally be seen as “illicit” for Catholic wedding guests. At the same time, some Catholics would like to, and do, receive communion on these rare occasions.

These Catholics, after a careful examination of their conscience, find compelling reasons to “gain a needed grace” by receiving communion in a Protestant church. And it is also true that eucharistic sharing has occurred at the highest levels of the church. Even Jesus occasionally broke the religious law of his day, though he did so to fulfill the “spirit” of the law.

So it is possible that one could follow Jesus’ lead. In our example a compelling reason might be to demonstrate one’s deep love and commitment to nurturing the relationship of the newly married couple. Intercommunion could be a “yes” to God by witnessing to God’s presence in the marriage and committing to God’s work of salvation in their lives.

In the end, this may be fulfilling the “spirit” of canon law while going against the letter.

via Can a Catholic receive communion in a Protestant church? | USCatholic.org.

That last bit is casuistry of the highest order!  Breaking a canon law in order to fulfill it?  What’s surprising to me is that it’s taken for granted that a Lutheran pastor would be glad to commune a Roman Catholic visitor.   See too the first comment in the consequent thread that quotes the rest of the canon law cited here, that the communion can only be in a church with “valid” sacraments, which would be the Eastern Orthodox and some of the separated Catholic off-shoots.  Not Protestants, including  Lutherans and Anglicans, who are not thought to truly have the Eucharist.  This interpretation, though, makes liberal-Protestant-style ecumenism trump everything.

At any rate, is this argument for closed communion–actually, the rejection of altar fellowship–the same as what confessional Lutherans make, or is there a difference?  Note, for example, that the nature of the sacrament is not even brought up in this reasoning.

Closed Communion question

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?

 


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