Questions on Lord’s Supper

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In my church we have now gone to both the individual cups and the common cup. Should the wine that isn't used from the common cup be put back in the wine bottle for the next service? To my surprise it is. I am having second thoughts about taking the Lord's Supper now. Not wanting to start trouble in the church. Who should I talk to? Thank You.

Wine in individual cups that were not used in the Holy Communion service can certainly be used in a future service.  That is not the case with wine that remains from usage of the common cup.  The wine that remains in that cup is to be disposed of.  Practices for disposing of wine can vary from one congregation to another.  I would direct you to contact your pastor to seek clarification about your congregation’s practice toward unused elements in the Communion service.

Can I take communion if I live with my fiancé? We are getting married in about a month, and I have not been taking communion.

Thank you for your thoughtful approach to this important kind of question. Your spiritual well-being is of utmost importance and your desire to receive the Lord’s Supper in a fitting way is a good evidence that you need clear answers to your concerns.

One of the requirements for a proper reception of Communion is that the person is not guilty of willful sin (that is, sinning when you know it is sin but for some reason continue to commit that sin). While we are all sinners, God calls us to express daily sorrow for sin and repentance, which includes reliance on Jesus as our Savior. Living with someone who is not your marriage partner (even a fiancé) is a sin since, as normally defined, it involves sexual immorality and causes others to stumble spiritually when they observe your lifestyle and get the impression this is compatible with Christian lifestyle. This calls for repentance that involves a rejection and turning away from the sin as well as a turning to Christ for pardon and new life.

In short, as long as you fail to repent of this sin, you are not in a position to receive Communion in a proper and beneficial way. It would be spiritually harmful.  You are to be urged to stop this sinful lifestyle, cast your guilt on Christ by faith, and then see yourself as a perfect candidate for blessings through the sacrament. Don’t seek to excuse your living arrangement on the basis of your scheduled marriage in a month or so. And don’t deceive yourself into thinking that once you are married you will then express sorrow for what you did and think everything is okay. You and I and all others are called by God to repent daily — now — and to reject sin and cling to Christ. And live a new life, starting every day.

I repeat: I am thankful that you have asked this question and that you still have a desire to take Communion. I believe this indicates that you are wrestling with a guilty conscience and understand within yourself that there is a special need for special assurances of God’s love. May you keep first things first, by rejecting sin and expressing repentance with faith. And may the same be true of your fiancé, who is equally guilty of sin and equally called to repent and rely on Jesus Christ.

I also recommend that you sit down with your pastor to discuss this more fully. He knows you and the situation better than I do and can give you more specific encouragements and counsel.

Why does WELS not practice open communion including the communion of children?

There are several reasons. These may be simply stated here, but each point deserves more discussion with attention to specific Bible passages that guide us in applying these principles. So I’ll give you a brief list here and now but strongly encourage you and your husband to sit down with your pastor to discuss the issues that surface. The pastor may then expand the Bible points that most need attention and best serve you and your husband as you seek appropriate answers to your questions.

The practice of close or closed communion refers to our desire to speak with potential communicants prior to their receiving communion with us and to make sure adequate Bible instruction as well as a unity in our beliefs is present prior to communing together. The main reasons why we do this are these:

  • We want to protect souls who might do damage to themselves since the Lord’s Supper is for believers who are not only baptized but also instructed and knowledgeable about what they receive in the sacrament and why.
  • We want to protect souls since those who commune are to examine themselves prior to communing, so we want to be sure those who commune with us have been trained how to do this and possess the level of understanding and maturity to make it meaningful.
  • We want to protect souls and show integrity as we publicly confess Bible truths since all who commune together are expressing unity in the Christian faith and in their allegience to the Bible. We want this expression to be genuine and not a sham or hypocritical pretending we have unity if indeed we don’t.

So we want to speak with potential communicants when we are not sure about their preparation to receive the sacrament.

Hi there, While I am not a member, I have been attending a WELS church. I have been told why your congregation does \"close\" Communion and respect your stance on it. However, I have chosen not to be a member because I feel that me being a member of the body of Christ trumps any other membership. So, I was wondering what God is going to say on judgement day that other Christians have denied me the right to partake in the Lord\'s Supper because I would not become a member of their church. Does being a member really guarantee your congregation that one is truly partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended? Isn\'t that between me and the Lord? I ask this lovingly and just can\'t wrap my head around this practice. I would graciously accept any insight. Thank you and God bless.

Close(d) Communion is the historic and biblical practice of the Christian Church.  The practice has the purposes of ensuring that, as far as humanly possible, those receiving the Sacrament do so to their benefit and not their harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), and that the oneness that is expressed in receiving the Sacrament is genuine and not contrived (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Reception of Holy Communion is an expression of unity and fellowship with others who receive it.  How do we know that those who receive the Sacrament are united in the faith with one another?  We certainly cannot look into their hearts, but we can hear their common confession of faith.  That is where church membership enters the picture.  We see church membership as a way in which Christians acknowledge Jesus before others (Matthew 10:32) and publicly indicate their unity in faith and doctrine with fellow believers.

Does this practice “guarantee” that every person, without exception, “is truly partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended?”  No.  That is not our assertion.  We cannot control the attitudes of others’ hearts.  What we can do is see to it that, as far as humanly possible, those receiving the Sacrament in our churches will be partaking in Communion in the manner Christ intended, and will be providing a genuine picture of unity.

On the last day Jesus will acknowledge his followers’ fruits of faith (Matthew 25:31-40).  Faithfulness to the Lord’s word describes what fruits of faith are all about.  If you have not had any face-to-face conversations with a WELS pastor about this subject matter, I would encourage you to do that.  Christian fellowship is a wonderful blessing (Psalm 133:1).

I've read that a (major) difference between Catholic and Lutheran theology is the doctrine of transubstantiation. At first glance, the Lutheran and Catholic approach to Holy Communion seem to be quite similar. Could you explain?

The Catholic church believes that only priests ordained by bishops in communion with the Pope or in the apostolic succession of the Eastern church have the power to consecrate the bread and wine so that they become body and blood of Christ and that nothing of the substance of the bread and wine remains, only body and blood. They also believe that the elements remain Christ’s body and blood even after the mass is over. The elements can be reserved in a special place. The elements can be bowed to and prayed to. They believe the mass is a sacrifice. They also curse everyone who does not accept this view.

We believe that, together with the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood are truly present, however, this does not depend on papal ordination but on Christ’s institution. We do not accept the adoration (worship) of the host, nor do we believe that a sacrifice takes place. We stick just to what the Words of Institution say.

We have a member in our congregation who has abstained from taking alcohol in any form due to health and other issues. It has been my experience with some other WELS congregations that in cases such as this, grape juice has been offered as an acceptable alternative. Is this, in fact, acceptable to the synod and can we follow the same procedure in this case? Thank you in advance for your response.

Since the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place during the celebration of the Passover meal, we know that wine—mixed with water, as was often the case in those days—was what Jesus and his disciples used.  In addition, any grapes that were harvested in the previous fall and pressed into juice would most likely have been going through the fermentation process in the following spring (the time of the year for Passover).

And yet in the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17), Jesus spoke of the “fruit of the vine.”  What does that expression mean and not mean?   Allow me to reference an answer to a previous question on this topic:

“The ‘fruit of the vine’ was used in one of the prayers at the Passover. This term was used to refer to the contents of the cup. There’s little doubt that it was often used to refer to wine. But to say that every Jew at the time of Jesus understood this as a reference to wine might be overstating the matter a bit.

“We also note that the wine used in the Passover was usually mixed with water. So the issue is not the amount of alcohol in the contents of the cup. When Scripture uses the term ‘fruit of the vine’ and not ‘wine’ in reference to the contents of the cup in the Lord’s Supper, it is not telling us whether or not this fruit of the vine should contain alcohol. It is saying it should come from grapes.

“We believe that the use of grape wine should be the usual practice because this most closely resembles what Jesus probably used. But in exceptional cases we believe the scriptural term ‘fruit of the vine’ is broad enough to include non-alcoholic wine or grape juice. Therefore in exceptional cases we believe it can be used.”

Finally, there is a brief article that was published in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly that addresses this subject.  You may find it valuable reading.

I was baptized, and my confirmation was at Salem church in Stillwater, Minnesota (a WELS church ). My confirmation was over 55 years ago. I moved from the area and have not been a member of Salem church for 50 years. I have attended ELCA churches through the years but not a member of any church at this time. My question is, I will be in Stillwater, Minnesota area this summer and would I be welcome to participate in Communion (Lord's Supper) at Salem Church? Thank You.

If you were to attend a Holy Communion worship service in the WELS church you referenced (or any WELS church), chances are you would read something like the following in the bulletin:

“Out of sincere love for the truth of God’s Word and precious souls, we practice closed communion in our congregation. This has been the practice of Christians for centuries and is thoroughly scriptural. It judges the heart of no individual, yet expects that there be full doctrinal agreement among those who commune. For this reason we ask that only members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) or the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) join us for the Lord’s Supper today. If you have any questions about this or any other matter of the Christian faith, please feel free to speak with the pastor. ”


“We practice closed communion. This means that we invite to commune with us only those who are members of this congregation or members of another congregation of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) or the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). By so doing, we are being faithful to the Lord’s teaching about his Holy Supper. He teaches that those who commune together express their agreement with all his teachings (1 Corinthians 10:17). Sadly, all Christians are not in complete agreement because of false teachings. By not inviting Christians outside our fellowship to commune with us, we avoid an expression of unity where it does not exist.  If you have questions concerning this practice, please speak with the pastor.”

Christians joined together by a common confession of faith—and demonstrating that common confession of faith by their church membership—express their unity through reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Perhaps you would have opportunity this spring or summer to re-establish membership with the congregation and the synod—I don’t know.  I would encourage you to establish membership in a congregation where you can regularly receive the Sacrament.  And, as the paragraphs above indicated, I could probably help you most by directing you to contact the pastor(s) of the congregation you intend to visit.

I am new to the Lutheran Faith. I was at one time Baptist but after spending time in the Lutheran Church and going through BIC I have come to believe that many of the doctrines I was taught (implied teaching I might add) were off. The sacraments were sacred in my church but they were more something I was doing for God not what God was doing for me. Shortly after becoming a member and being in fellowship with the WELS I was moved to a remote area of Alaska. I do not have a church nearby to participate in worship I accomplish this via internet services, devotions on WELS church sites, and this site. One of my concerns is that I do not receive Communion that often. My question is: 1. Does this put me in jeopardy of falling away from God permanently if I were to pass? 2. How do I or can I overcompensate for the loss of God's blessings I get through Communion just in my daily life? I sometimes feel like I do more reading and devotions to try and accomplish this but feel sometimes like I am spinning my wheels. Additionally, I have been tempted a few times to go to other church services or attend Bible studies that embrace my Christian faith but have not done so. I fear that being out of fellowship with those faiths puts me at more risk to fall away from God's true teachings, thus allowing Satan to confuse me or put doubt in me. So if you could add thoughts in your answer to this as well it would be appreciated. Thank you in advance for the answer and thank you for this resource that is available.

I can appreciate your desire to receive the Lord’s Supper.  The new self in us says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).  We look to the Lord’s Supper as a wonderful gift from our Savior.  It is a gift in which he gives us his body and blood—under the form of bread and wine—to forgive our sins, to strengthen our faith and to fortify us for more faithful Christian living.  Not receiving the sacrament as frequently as you are able because of your circumstances does not “put you in jeopardy of falling away from God if you were to pass.”  The infrequency (whatever it may be) of your reception of the sacrament sounds like it is due to logistical circumstances and not to any despising of the sacrament.

I think you answered your second question well.  You are “compensating” for the infrequent reception of the sacrament by more contact with the word of God.  You may recall from your Bible Information Class instruction that we speak of the “means of grace” being the gospel in word and sacraments.  That means that God works through the Bible and the sacraments (the word connected to earthly elements) to call people to faith and strengthen them in the faith.  And so while you currently may not be able to receive the Lord’s Supper as frequently as you would like, God is giving you the same blessings through his written word.  I say this not to minimize the importance of the Lord’s Supper but to remind you that God is giving you the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through the Bible—just as he does in a very personal way through the Lord’s Supper.

As far as receiving the sacrament more frequently, I trust you have talked to your pastor about this. You say you live in a remote area of Alaska.  I wonder if it is possible for your pastor to alert other WELS pastors of your situation, so that they might serve you with the sacrament if their travels take them anywhere near your location.

Regarding worshiping at churches beyond our fellowship, you do well to continue to recognize biblical fellowship principles, understand the dangers of false teachings, and supplement your devotional life with the online resources you mentioned.

Probably more than others who might be reading this question and answer, you—because of your circumstances—can appreciate the Lord’s promise of his continual presence in your life (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5b).  How wonderful it is for God to come to us through word and sacrament, and for us to be able to approach him through prayer.  God bless you as you use his gospel to stay connected to him in faith!

Are the mentally disabled allowed to take Communion? If not, why is this?

“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).  Christians need to be able to examine themselves before receiving the Lord’s Supper.  That means being able to recognize they are sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and realize that in the sacrament they are receiving the Lord’s body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine.  Christians who cannot examine themselves in this way will be served the gospel of Jesus Christ in word only, for the strengthening of their faith and the forgiveness of sins.  Pastors will consider, on a case-by-case basis, how they will minister to Christians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Why in close communion does the pastor seem totally responsible for the communicant? The gospels do not mention about possible punishment and 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 tells us that the communicant needs to bear the responsibility. My Concordia Self Study Bible (NIV) tells me in the explanation of v. 29 dealing with judgment: judgment, not God's eternal judgment which is to come to the unbeliever, but such disciplinary judgment as physical sickness and death (V.30). So my question then is why is close communion understood by most pastors as "eternal punishment?"

Allow me to clarify a couple of assumptions.  I do not believe our pastors view the practice of closed communion as an expression of their understanding that they are totally responsible for communicants’ actions or attitudes.  That was never my approach as a parish pastor.  Communicants are instructed to examine themselves before receiving the sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Pastors do take seriously the instruction to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).  Pastors do take seriously the instruction to carry out their responsibilities faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:2).  Part of a pastor’s concern is doing what he can so that no one “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27), or that a false picture of unity is presented when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated (1 Corinthians 10:17).  The practice of closed communion addresses those concerns.

With your last statement I take it that you are referencing the situation of a person receiving the sacrament in an unworthy manner and bringing “judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).  In the verses that follow, the apostle lists examples of some temporal, and not eternal, judgments people brought on themselves.

In summary, closed communion is the historic and biblical practice of the Christian Church.  The practice has the purposes of ensuring that, as far as humanly possible, those receiving the sacrament do so to their benefit and not their harm (1 Corinthians 11:27-30), and that the oneness that is expressed in receiving the sacrament is genuine and not contrived (1 Corinthians 10:17).

I've been a lifelong Lutheran. My faith predates the formation of the ELCA. I am frankly becoming very confused with the ELCA's practices. One such practice is the denial of absolution during Lent. During Lent, as stated, absolution is withheld until Maundy Thursday. Yet, Communion is served. If I am not mistaken, in accordance to the teachings of Luther and the Scriptures, no man has the authority to withhold God's forgiveness being it Pastor, Bishop, Pope, etc. Am I mistaken? Also, doesn't one have to ask forgiveness of their sins and be "sort of" right with God before taking Communion? I'm becoming disillusioned.

I have heard of people giving up many things for Lent but never the absolution.  This is a practice with which I was not familiar—as were several of my colleagues in the ministry whom I consulted.  I did find the practice online in a worship resource, but I’m with you in that this practice is puzzling.  The stated purpose of that practice is “to underscore the entire season of Lent as a time of repentance” and to underscore “the brokenness of our relationship with God.”

I can understand why you felt empty when, after speaking the confession of sins, there was no spoken absolution.  It would be comparable to King David saying in Psalm 32:5 – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and then omitting the end of that verse: “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  Luther’s Catechism explains on the basis of God’s Word that “Confession has two parts.  The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.”

Acknowledging that Lent is a time of repentance and a season that underscores “the brokenness of our relationship with God” is accurate, but there is more to Lent’s message than that.  The season of Lent holds up the gospel message in great detail, showing that God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  Lent demonstrates how “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

Yes, Scripture does speak of unworthily reception of the sacrament and the need for self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).  At least speaking the confession in the worship service aided you in self-examination, and that confession was followed up with the message of forgiveness in the sacrament.

I hope you are addressing your concerns to your pastor.  That is the person who really needs to hear them.  God guide you in those conversations.

Do we physically chew the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Lord's Supper?

No, we do not.  Scripture explains that we eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord along with the bread and wine (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).  We do best to stay with the wording of Scripture.

Your question addresses the subject of “Capernaitic” eating—a reference to John 6:43-59, where some people in Capernaum misunderstood Jesus’ words about receiving him in faith (eating his flesh and drinking his blood) and took them literally in a cannibalistic sense.

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we receive the Lord’s body and blood, along with the bread and wine, in a way that we cannot understand but accept in faith.

Interestingly enough, the Lutheran Confessions address your question because of errors that were prevalent in the 16th century.  Here are just a few citations:

“1. We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine.”  (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Affirmative Theses)

“6. We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink…”  (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Affirmative Theses)

“21. Hence we hereby utterly [reject and] condemn the Capernaitic eating of the body of Christ, as though [we taught that] His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food, which the Sacramentarians, against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests, willfully force upon us, and in this way make our doctrine odious to their hearers; and on the other hand, we maintain and believe, according to the simple words of the testament of Christ, the true, yet supernatural eating of the body of Christ, as also the drinking of his blood, which human senses and reason do not comprehend, but as in all other articles of faith our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and this mystery is not apprehended otherwise than by faith alone, and revealed in the Word alone.”  (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Negative Theses)

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