The adventure that Sharon and I began a couple of years ago continued today at a Lutheran church. We have attended Catholic, Methodist, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Independent, non-Denominational (although not sure the difference between those last two) and of course Baptist churches during that time. In fact, this was the second Lutheran church for us.
The first was somewhat unusual. It is the closest Lutheran congregation to our house, just a few blocks up the street. Although I have studied a great deal about Martin Luther in college and seminary, I knew little of the Lutheran church today. I expected to encounter a formal, liturgical style of worship, which is something I typically enjoy.
However, this particular Lutheran church was no different than any other church we have visited that is enamored with what is known as contemporary worship. It began with the first beat of the worship team. The base was so loud and the pounding so strong that Sharon almost had to leave.
The most unusual thing that morning was the announcement that the men’s Bible study group would be meeting next week at a nearby brewery. If you attend and pay the twenty dollar entrance fee, you will not only be able to participate in Bible study, you will also receive two pints of their finest brew. That part does sound like something Martin Luther might have enjoyed, but it is not something I have ever encountered in church before.
But the Lutheran church we visited today was nothing like that. It was extremely liturgical, which I had deduced from their website, and I was looking forward to the experience. Although the liturgy was a little different than what I expected that was not the most noticeable thing about our church experience this morning.
One of the first (and last) folks to speak to us was a pleasant gentleman standing just outside the door leading into the sanctuary. He asked if we were visitors. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect he already knew the answer to that question. When I confirmed his suspicion he didn’t introduce himself or ask anything about us. He simply handed us a card and said we would need this. That was the unusual part, because unlike what I expected, it was not a visitor’s card requesting name and contact information.
The purpose of the card was “Registration for Holy Communion.” It read as follows:
Attendance at the Lord’s Table is limited to communicant members of _______ Lutheran Church and to visitors from Lutheran congregations in altar and pulpit fellowship with us. If you have not communed in the past six months please speak to the Pastor before communing at this altar.
This statement was followed by an admonition from the Apostle Paul to examine myself in several different categories. Finally, it provided a place to date and sign the card and a note to update my address on the back of the card.
I’ll be honest. I read this card before the worship service started and it didn’t sit well with me. In fact, we didn’t make it to the end when they had communion, choosing instead to make our way to the exit during the collection of the offering.
Essentially this church was saying to me, a visitor, that I’m not welcome at the Lord’s Table. By not participating, according to the card, I was declaring that I’m not a believer, or I’m not a Lutheran, or I have wandered away from the faith for at least six months.
My problem is that I’m not sure the Lord’s Table was established for that purpose. Now don’t misunderstand, this is not something new to me. I’ve been around the block, so to speak, when it comes to churches. My father was a Baptist preacher out of the Landmark tradition (look it up) and he believed that only members of the local church should take the Lord’s Supper. He believed that, but he would have never told a visitor that they couldn’t participate. He would have never let it be a stumbling block.
In addition, I have even preached at a church on a Sunday when they were sharing the Lord’s Supper, and since I was the “visiting preacher” I was not invited to participate.
But that’s not right. I do not understand how folks have come up with the notion that the purpose of communion (Lord’s Supper, Lord’s Table, whatever you want to call it) is to make a declaration of faith and church membership. That is the purpose of baptism.
When Jesus instituted the Supper, he even included Judas in the meal, even though he already knew Judas wasn’t with him. What I see is perhaps a final plea for Judas to recognize that Jesus really is the source of life and sustenance; one more effort to keep him from carrying out his plan of betrayal.
Why would we not invite everyone to participate? It is the Lord’s Table. How dare we presume to tell someone else they are not worthy. I’m not worthy—neither are you.
The only thing Sharon and I heard from this particular Lutheran church is that we are not qualified to share at the Lord’s Table. Why would we ever want to become a part of that fellowship?
Communion has provided some of the most memorable worship experiences in my life. It is an awe inducing-privilege to be invited to share the meal that Jesus instituted, and to share it with others who are also seeking to make their way through life. I would even go so far as to suggest that rather than being a means of identifying who is in and who is out, it is an evangelistic opportunity (think about it).