The Musical Setting and Closed Communion
Our sincere desire is to present a welcoming face to our visitors, to include them and get to know them, but two obstacles often arise before we get the chance. The first is that our worship resembles what some would call Catholic or High Church and the second offends those who come from church’s with a different understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
The Difficulty of “High Church”
The simple reality is that our services can feel foreign to many protestants in America – including those who grew up in the Lutheran Church. “High Church” is the term often used by such people as a pejorative implying that we value aesthetics and art over content.
In fact, our services are very similar to the sort of worship practiced by Martin Luther in Wittenberg after the Reformation. We do not prize aesthetics and art over content, but we do contend that form follows function and the medium often is the message in and of itself. Our ceremonies are not accidental. They are very deliberate and always based on historic practices. Though they are aesthetically pleasing to many, their intent is not to convey beauty but to communicate God’s presence among us in Word and Sacrament.
The founding document of the Lutheran Church is the Augsburg Confession. That document refers to the Communion Service as the Mass. There Redeemer finds its defense and also its marching orders:
“Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious, without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences. In this way, the people are drawn to Communion and to the Mass. At the same time, they are also instructed about other, false teaching concerning the sacrament. Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people. For after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.” (Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000, 68).
We are fully committed to The Book of Concord and seek to carry it out faithfully in all our practice.
The Lutheran Service Book (hymnal) is the basis for all our worship services at Redeemer Lutheran Church.
The Difficulty of Closed Communion
The traditional Lutheran understanding of communion is absolutely foreign to the majority of American protestants and to the pious members of the ELCA. Whatever else they believe about Holy Communion, they almost always seem to regard it first and foremost as an act of hospitality. For them to deny people communion is to be unfriendly, rude, and even judgmental.
We have a different understanding – one that requires us to deny communion to those we do not know. And we are well aware that Redeemer visitors can find this unwelcoming.
We are sorry for this and do not wish anyone ever to feel unwelcome or judged. At the same time, the difficulty is born of doctrinal division. Our understanding of the Holy Communion is that it is an expression of unity, not hospitality. We feel that hospitality is conveyed in providing coffee and donuts and a warm greeting.
We are glad to have visitors. We welcome non-Lutherans to join us. But there are intimacies attendant to participation in the mystery of Christ’s bodily presence in the Holy Communion that are reserved only for the immediate family.
We realize that this view of Holy Communion feels wrong to many Christians. We ask, however, that you would respect our wishes and get to know us. Please believe that our deepest desire is not to commune alone. We want you to join us. But some things are reserved for the “wedding night,” and we want you to join us understanding what it is you are getting into and what it means to be a part of our growing family.
If these obstacles seem like too much for you and you would like to talk about them, please don’t hesitate to contact Redeemer Lutheran Church, Salt Lake City. We welcome the conversation.