A Lutheran pastor (who was a cradle Catholic) wrote to me the other day saying that he didn’t understand why anyone should be refused communion. The call to the Lord’s table, he opined, was not a human call, but the decision to fence off the Lord’s table was simply a human action, and one which he could not support in any way. If a person felt he or she wanted to come to the Lord who was he to say they should not?
This sort of sentimental relativism sounds all well and good, but let us press it just a little.
Does the liberal Lutheran really not have any fences around his communion table? I can understand that he wishes to welcome other nice, intelligent middle class Christians from other mainstream Protestant denomination. I can understand that he wishes to welcome Catholics of a similar persuasion, but does he really welcome everyone?
Would the “communion should be open to all” pastor admit Mormons? Seventh Day Adventists? Christian Science? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Unitarians? Moonies? All these groups claim to be followers of Christ and are baptized. Would the nice, liberal Lutheran admit Christians who perhaps he finds more disagreeable? What about Westboro Baptists? Snake Handling Fundamentalists? Billionaire Prosperity Gospel Preachers? Rabid, Right Wing Christian Ku Klux Klan members? Would his charity and open arms reach that far?
Let us press it further. Should communion be open to all–even to the unbaptized? After all, there are “good Christians” who have not been baptized. Members of the Salvation Army and other sects repudiate all sacraments and many Baptists aren’t baptized until adulthood. Shall they all be admitted to communion?What about non baptized people of goodwill who are “still on their journey” shall they not be welcomed to communion? What about Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Sikhs or anyone who is spiritually minded?
Either the “open communion” people must be completely open–in which communion ceases to be a Christian rite at all, or they have some sort of boundaries.
If they do have some sort of boundary, who decides what that boundary should be? Must the person be baptized? What then of the “good Christian soul” who loves and follows Jesus but has not been baptized?
You see where this leads. It leads back to something called “closed communion”–that some people may receive and others may not.
The fact of the matter is, while all are welcome to join the church, there must be some way of identifying who is a member and who is not. If everyone is a member, then there is no church.
From the beginning the Christian Church has had ceremonies and procedures of initiation. Communion was the sign and seal of the commitment that was made after proper catechesis.
For Catholics communion is also the sign and seal of full communion with Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which subsists in the Roman Catholic Church.
All open communion does is muddy the waters, confuse people and water down the faith.
Instead of open communion with Protestants we should welcome them heartily to the Catholic Church and call on them to do what they can to further the cause of Christian Unity by becoming Catholics.
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