Dear Saint of Grace congregation,
It is important that everyone understand that it is a pastor’s duty (as well as every Christian) to hold to a confession of God’s Word in its truth and purity. God’s Word proclaims in Hebrews 10:23:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
To aim for same mindedness is God’s desire (as is revealed in the example below). Where there is errancy that maligns the Word of God, pastors and laity are called to speak out against it. The first thing that needs to be made clear, though, is that errancy is NEVER to be pointed out with the intent of being boastful. Pointing out errancy should never be done in order “to be seen”. Christ warns of such self-centeredness in Matthew 6:1:
1 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
As last month’s Grace Notes article taught, the reason errancy is spoken against is for the hallowing of God’s name among us and for the love of our neighbor. Both of these happen where God’s Word is taught properly. Again, it’s very important that Christians stay watchful as to what is going on regarding the teaching of God’s Word - not only throughout the world, but especially within one’s own denomination.
So how are ALL congregations (including our own) properly measured? Answer: Evaluation is always according to God’s Word. But many churches “say” they are ‘Bible-based’ or “say” that they are ‘Lutheran.’ So how is such a confession of faith made known? Answer: A congregation reveals its doctrinal beliefs through practice. The phrase goes: Your doctrine should determine your practice, thus, your practice should reveal your doctrine.
In other words, what a congregation “says” should line up with how they practice. Now if their practice reveals a false doctrine, then confusion is being taught. Either they need to change their practice to line up with what they profess to believe or they actually believe differently.
Here’s an example: A congregation “says” they follow the guidance of God’s Word when it comes to the practice of Holy Communion.
God’s Holy Scripture proclaims in
1 Corinthians 11:27-29:
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
Now because a misunderstanding in the partaking of Holy Communion could lead to the harm of our neighbor, the practice of closed communion is supposed to be carried out by congregations within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This historic Church practice confesses that God’s true doctrine exists; and that a unified confession in the oneness of God’s doctrine be a prerequisite of communing together for God’s Holy Scripture proclaims in
1 Corinthians 1:10 and 10:16-17:
10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
So, again, closed communion is supposed to be practiced by LC-MS congregations as a Gospel-inspired act of love; a safeguard that the Sacrament be received in a steadfast confession of faith (a oneness in God’s doctrine) and only to one’s benefit. This, however, is NOT taking place. Congregations who “say” they follow God’s council are, instead, practicing open communion, where anyone is allowed to receive the Lord’s Supper without a verification of the unity of their confession with the congregation. What appears as non-combative is, however, not loving at all.
Do we care that this errant practice is taking place? Do we care that the council of God’s Word is not taking place? Do we care that our neighbor is given the opportunity to eat and drink judgment upon themselves within these congregations? Do we care that the practice of open communion causes much confusion; that many who errantly receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in such congregations then expect to receive it in congregations that practice closed communion?
Do we care? Do we speak out? And the answer is: Yes! We speak out because God’s powerful, living and active Word brings us to love His truth and our neighbor. HE brings us to address erring congregations so that they, by the grace of God, change their practice to teach His Word in its truth and purity. In so doing, God’s name is hallowed among us and the protection of our neighbor takes place.
The aim is always to preserve the truth of God’s Word (NOT man-made institutions). That preservation leads to the same confession of faith, which leads to living in peace; as God’s Word proclaims in 2 Corinthians 13:11:
11 Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (all verses NKJV, emphasis mine)
Sometimes, however, that same confession cannot be shared. Where erring congregations refuse to change their practice, clearly they would NOT be in line with our confession of God’s Word. What was thought to be a division between congregations is, sadly, confirmed.
Now the above illustration was just one example of what IS sadly taking place within the LC-MS. Before speaking out about open communion, however, there are other areas of concern regarding practice that need to be addressed, such as the proper practice of God’s Divine Service (specifically contemporary worship). Addressing this issue precludes whether fellowship in the Sacrament of the Altar should even be pursued.
It is understood that there will be fear and anxiousness as errancy is pointed out. Fear of man rather than God will be the temptation as the old nature attempts to avoid the ruins of reputation in the world. God, however, will bring you to hold fast to His truth and love your neighbor. His Word provides various biblical figures who were brought to be steadfast for God’s truth in the face of adversity. See Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel, chapters 1-3; Daniel himself in chapter 6; and Christ’s apostles’ in the Book of Acts, especially chapter 5.
God’s Word supplies these biblical figures to sustain His people while fighting for His truth. But God also brings His people to pray His very Word while in the midst of the battle, as in these words from Psalm 34:6-9,19 &,22:
6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps all around those
who fear Him, And delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
22 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be
I truly pray that this has helped you to see how God brings us to love Him and our neighbor by speaking out against errant practice. Next month I will supply how the practice of contemporary worship reveals errant doctrine.
With you IN Christ!