Closed or Close Communion, the LCMS’s peculiar (and recent) use of the term “close[d]”

The following article has been a useful resource in the past. Unfortunately, as it is dated, it has disappeared from the web. I was able to find it using the Internet Wayback Machine here:

I believe the resources below show that the term the LCMS, despite its misguided resolution in 1983, is “closed communion.”

Text from Minister to Minister, Sept. 1997
Gerald Kieschnick, President Texas District

A Note On Close Communion

From time to time, I have opportunity to see bulletin annoucments concerning a congregation’s communion practices. Occasionally the word “closed” is used. On other occasions the word “close” is used.

As a loving and evangelical reminder, the practice of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is “that the pastors and congregations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod continue to abide by close communion, which includes the necessity of excersizing responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances . . .” (underlinings mine) – 1986 LCMS Convention Resolution 3-08.

Copy from Franz Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics in German (the first edition). Note in the middle of the page the English words that are quoted. You don’t even have to know German to know what term Pieper used.

Dr. Nagel says: “The term “close communion” was put into our use this century by the American Lutheran; it came from Baptist sources, and is in danger of blurring the primary reference by slipping into lateral and anthropocentric ways of thinking.”And: “In 1920 Pieper wrote: Auch die apostolische Kirche praktizierte nicht “open, ” sondern “closed communion.” Christliche Dogmatik (St. Louis: Concordia, 1920), 111, 444: The ET (Editorial Team) of 1953 excised “closed communion.” Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia, 1953), 111, 381. What villainy!” (See the footnotes below.)

Pieper Dogmatics - Closed


Copy from Dr. Nagel’s Article Footnotes giving the background of “closed communion” and how the term “close communion” usurped popular usage.

11The Liturgy of St. Basil and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, LEW 321,3. In the Didascalia (11, 56,6) a deacon is responsible at the door for those who come in (AC 11, 57.21; V111, 11, 11). Canon 22 of the Council of Laodicea. The one responsible for the doors being closed was in Latin ostiarius, still listed by Trent as the seventh sort of clergy. Denzinger 1765. Luke 13:25 clauserit ostium. John 10:3. Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives salvetur 39,2. Psalm 118:20.

Whence also in the liturgy comes entrance. In discussing the Didache Rordorf asks, “Was the eucharist celebrated in another room? Father Audet thinks that it was, on the basis of archeological discoveries at Dura Europos” (p. 8).

For keys see Strack Billerbeck 1, 736-41, 792f. Quoted by K. Hein, Eucharist and Excommunication (Bern and Frankfurt: Lang, 1973), p. 76. There is doctrine which is “loosed,” and false doctrine which is “bound.” “It is important to notice that Paul asks that the ban be imposed in view of the ‘leaching’ he has given.” I Thes 3:6; p. 92, n. 6; 2 Tim. 4:15. Apology 1, 66, 1: “This food we call eucharist, and no one may receive it unless he believes that our teaching is true, and has been washed with the washing for forgiveness of sins into regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as though they were common bread or common drink . . . as we have been taught they (the consecrated bread and wine) are the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus.” Smyrnians 7, 1: “They keep away from the eucharist and place of prayer because they do not confess that the eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in his goodness raised. They speak against the gift of God; they perish while they dispute.” Trallians 8,1; Romans 8:1; Philadelphians 4. Chrysostom, Hom. on Matthew, 23:3: “The holy things are profaned by them, not knowing what they are . . . The Mysteries we also therefore celebrate with closed doors, and keep out the uninitiated, not for any weakness of which we have convicted our rites, but because the many are as yet imperfectly prepared for them.”

12 Our neighboring Orthodox priest said that they do not speak of closed communion. They never needed to; everybody always knew. “The doors” in the liturgy are expression enough. The Vincentian Canon does save a lot of bother.

The term “close communion” was put into our use this century by the American Lutheran; it came from Baptist sources, and is in danger of blurring the primary reference by slipping into lateral and anthropocentric ways of thinking. The muddle is evinced by the antonyms. “Close” is capable of degrees; the Gospel is unfractionable. One day a retired pastor came hot-foot from his researches in the library and announced he had come upon the American Lutheran in flagrante delicto.. Contact has been lost with him and his research. “Close” does appear in the American Lutheran of November 1941, p. 16. Does anyone know earlier instances?

Webster knows “close communion” as a usage peculiar to the Baptists, New Unabridged Dictionary (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979), p. 367.

Likely place the American Lutheran got it from (if he is in fact the culprit) is Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, ed. John McClintock and James Strong (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968 reprint; first published 1868), p. 443. Or perhaps Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan. 1895, pp. 97-112 and April 1895, pp. 297-322.

And what are we to make of Krauth’s usage/translation and quotation marks? First Free Lutheran Diet in America,, ed. H.E. Jacobs (Philadelphia: Smith, 1878), p. 64f.

In the official documents of Missouri “close” does not appear. The Worthy Communicant (St. Louis: Printing House of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, 1878). Nor when the English Synod became the English District of the Missouri Synod in 1911. They brought the Lutheran Witness with them. C.S. Meyer, Moving Frontiers (St. Louis: Concordia, 1964), pp. 266f., p. 349, n. 22. The first hypothesis was that they were some loose Lutherans out East, and when this did not survive the evidence, I transferred the prejudice to the American Lutheran and the ALPB. It has proven difficult to pin the perpetration of “close” on them. American Lutheran becomes a code word for those making the move out of German into English. The evidence prior to 1911 (witnessed to by S. Bartelt [Research Paper, 19701 and Nafzger to COP, 1989) points to the Lutheran Witness. Feb. 21, 1900, p. 138 (responding to its use in the Lutheran Evangelist);); March 26, 1903, p. 50; Aug. 8, 1907, p. 121 (these two responding to its use in the Lutheran World). After 1911 it does seem to have lain fairly dormant until quite recently.

In 1920 Pieper wrote: Auch die apostolische Kirche praktizierte nicht “open, ” sondern “closed Communion Christliche Dogmatik (St. Louis: Concordia, 1920), 111, 444: The ET of 1953 excised “closed communion.” Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia, 1953), 111, 381. What villainy!

Fritz speaks of “close communion” in Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia, 1932), p. 130. Fritz pushed the movement into English and would have known similarly motivated Frederick Kuegele’s tract entitled Why Must Lutherans Practice Close Communion (Pittsburgh: American Lutheran Publication Board, 1912). This is No. 8 of Lutheran Witness Tracts. It states, as also does Fritz, the traditional doctrine and practice. The problem lies in the sensitive weighing of the English word to be used, hence we ought not to be too exacting with the first generation involved in doing this.

In 1938 George Luecke used the term “close” in Distinctive Doctrines and Customs of the Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia, 1938), p. 43. In 1955 Deffner commended it for its lateral reference: “. . . the close spirit and unity of faith which; exists in the Christian congregation.” Why Close Communion (Berkeley: University Lutheran Chapel, 1955), p. 3.

The first use in an official document seems to be in a resolution of the 1967 convention where it appears in quotation marks (Res. 2, 19).

The LCMS story of “close” would seem then to have three parts: 1) Moving with some uncertainty into English, a problem of language and not of doctrine and practice; 2) submergence of “close” when the Lutheran Witness became an official organ of the Missouri Synod. During this period some use of “close” continuing from the first period. High-water mark for “closed communion” is in Pieper’s use of the term; low-water mark his translator’s suppression of the term; 3) recrudescence of “close” no longer as a translation but as an English word favored by some because of its accommodation of lateral degrees and fractions or levels, and defended by some who hold that “close” and “closed” are identical. Degrees, fractions and levels are impossible ways of speaking, if one is speaking in the way of the doctrine of justification, and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

Apart from some Baptists and some in the LCMS the rest of the world speaks of closed communion. Where the apostolic and catholic usage is observed the term serves with; reference to those on their way to the Holy Communion and to those outside. It disavows the irresponsibilities and lovelessness of open communion. Thus it runs in the way of keys and door (in the way of the Gospel and in the way of the Law.)

2 thoughts on “Closed or Close Communion, the LCMS’s peculiar (and recent) use of the term “close[d]”

  1. This and a few other issues (including nascent receptionism) plague Mueller’s work, though let me be clear, it is not without merit. Sadly, the usage of the term “close” undermines the intent of “directing attention to the opposing tendencies of… synergism, and rationalism,” especially as it is a borrowed term from Sacramentarians with a false teaching of the nature of the Lord’s Supper.

Comments are closed.