Open/Closed Communion

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I had opportunity this week, as many of you know to spend time at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The place is absolutely beautiful. If I think to, I’ll attach a few pictures of the Abbey later. I haven’t taken any this trip, but I might be able to find a few from previous trips. Or, I”m sure you could find it online through a simple Google search.

Anyhoo… when we attended the “Mass” today it struck me how the Catholic church truly reveres the Lord’s Supper. It is, of course, much more than a memorial for them, it is a celebration of the actual presence of Jesus Christ. According to Catholic tradition in the process of a Lord’s supper the bread actually becomes the “host” of the body of Jesus Christ. It is a process that they call “transubstantiation.” It is, as they understand it, an actual change of substance from the bread to the body.

It also struck me how they practice closed communion. One must be (in theory) a Catholic to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a Catholic Church. When I went to Mass this very morning it struck me that I don’t really enjoy feeling like an outsider. I don’t wish I was Catholic, nor do I have any aspirations to do so, but I do wish I could share communion with these good folks.

My good friend and co-worker Daren Lugafet was saying this morning how being here helps us in two ways. It helps us to see how we could do a better job revering Jesus Christ through the Lord’s Supper. It also shows, by contrast, the fantastic gift of being able to share an open communion with all those who believe in Jesus and who claim him as Savior. For that reason, I have appreciated our time here at St. Meinrad as well.

I pray that the church will continue to grow in its willingness to share communion with other believers. The very church In attend has, as her history, a great desire for Christian unity. The America Restoration movement, from which the Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the churches of Christ were “birthed” (so to speak) was at the onset, a unity movement. I wonder what the unity of the church will look like as we move into the future? The challenge will be to maintain deep spiritual and theological convictions on a personal and congregational level even as we move toward a greater and much needed ecumenicism.

May God continue to bless his church with knowledge of Jesus Christ and the magnitude of his love for all the saints.

(The picture below is actually a picture of the chapel at Ferdinand where the “Sisters of St. Benedict” do their work and worship.) But the idea is the same. Notice how, on their “altar” the “host” or “eucharist” is encapsulated and given special place and reverence. I believe that God’s exaltation of his body today is not in the “host” that is the bread, but in his “church” that is the living and active body of Christ in the world).


Unhailed Grace

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Acapella churches of Christ, and Christian Churches (instrumental) hold to a fairly sacramental view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While we don’t hold to the Orthodox and Catholic view of “transubstantiation” per se, we would agree that one finds the very real presence of Christ in both the supper and in baptism itself.

We have a high and healthy, I believe, view of both of these sacraments, and might not be at all uncomfortable calling them such. (Though some in the restoration movement would be hesitant to use the term merely out of a fear of being associated with the Catholic church).

What folks in my church may not know is that the Catholic church participates in another sacrament that is both biblical and very very spiritually healthy if not entirely necessary to get one “into heaven” as it were. That is the sacrament of “Confession” or as it is often called now – “Reconciliation.” I say that with some hesitation because we do practice confession, we just don’t do much in terms of practicing the whole POINT of confession, which is absolution or more simply put… forgiveness.

My experience is that there is a great deal of “confessing” going on to some degree but not much in terms of the priesthood (understanding here that I believe in the priesthood of all believers) offering forgiveness in the name of Christ. Nor do we often direct the one confessing sin to make any kind of restitution (or penance). I would understand a protestants hesitancy in offering some form of work as “penance” since there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or the grace from which our salvation comes. But it is my understanding that both restitution and penance is not done for God’s sake, but for the sake of the sinner and the other person (human) against whom a sin has been committed.

Let me summarize my experience with confession, and then share how we might learn to do it better… or at least in a way that brings greater blessing upon the one offering his or her confession.

My experience is that true confession … specific sin to a specific person acting on behalf of Christ as “priest” is extremely rare. Many, as I have observed, prefer to keep their sins between themselves and God. If one does come to me as a pastor or minister to confess a sin, it is often to get “advice” on how to do better, or how to feel saved again, or someone just “getting something off their chest.” The failure is not theirs, it is mine.

What I have never really done is to consider myself serving in a priestly capacity here. I have never really considered that it is my duty and privilege to humbly serve in as the presence of Christ in giving people the words they so desperately need to hear: “Friend, your sins are forgiven you! Go in peace… sin no more!” After all, what authority have I to forgive sins? And of course, the answer is… none outside the name of Jesus Christ. Sins can only be forgiven in his name. But has he not left the right and authority to forgive sins in the hands of his church… his Presence in the world today?

My prayer is that we can reclaim the priesthood. Partially this will mean reclaiming the sacrament of Reconciliation or “Confession.” A sinner confessing to a believer (priest) the true nature of their sin. The priest offering forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ and directing the other to offer up restitution and give penance for their own sake. To give, through these graces, the very grace of God in Christ … the gift of forgiveness.

So, my protestant friends, lets keep confessing our sins, one to another. And when someone comes to us to confess, let’s put on our clerical garb (figuratively speaking) and act the Priest that God by his Holy Spirit has ordained us to be. May we boldly forgive in his name … and continue to preach the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

Surely our world needs to hear the words more often, “Friend, your sins are forgiven. Go in peace, and sin no more.”