Letters to the Editor (June)

Military chaplaincy

This is in response to the May Reporter article about LCMS and ELCA representatives discussing military chaplaincy.

I am an LCMS Reserve Component Chaplain in the U.S. Navy and pastor of a growing LCMS congregation.  Presently I am serving at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

The U.S. Navy Chaplaincy has always operated under the guideline of “Cooperation without Compromise.”

It hasn’t been easy to live and work in a pluralistic setting, but when keeping focus on the mission of the Church as a called and ordained pastor, and the mission of the Navy as a commissioned Navy Officer serving as a Chaplain, the guidelines of both organizations are not necessarily blurred or conflicting. 

Since a military Chaplain wears the uniform of the armed forces he/she represents, there is a responsibility and Uniform Code of Military Justice that must be followed.  Since the Chaplain also wears the cross (or other insignia for their faith group), he/she has a responsibility to follow the guidelines for ecclesiastical endorsement to be upheld.  It boils down to honor, courage, and commitment on both fronts.

With many men entering our LCMS ministry as “second-career” people, this does not necessarily have a negative impact on our recruitment for military chaplaincy (prior military experience can adjust the entry age).

I believe we need to keep our LCMS military chaplaincy active and growing.  Our mission is focused (Ablaze!), our doctrine is sound, and our approach to people is pastoral.

Rev. F. Paul Liersemann
Prince Frederick, Md.

Consecrating elements

I read with interest Rev. Paul Harris’ letter last month about consecration of elements at a district convention.  He hit the nail right on the head when he said, “I am reducing this to the absurd.”

But I’m not sure I agree with what Rev. Harris surmises about the purpose of consecrating the elements.

Unless I’m mistaken, the consecration of elements adds nothing to the Sacrament. From confirmation class back in the ’40s through seminary classes in the ’60s, I have always understood the purpose of the consecration is the setting aside of the elements for the special use in the Lord’s Supper for God’s people. 

The idea that the pastor must be in close proximity — or for that matter is present at all — to make the elements fit for usage is an interesting concept.  But where is that found either in Scripture or the Confessions?

I wonder if Rev. Harris would agree that when and where the elements are consecrated neither adds to nor detracts from the validity of the Lord’s Supper.  If he disagrees, I would be interested in hearing how he distributes the Sacrament to his shut-ins.

By the same token, I agree wholeheartedly with Rev. Harris if his concern is to maintain decency and order in every worship service.

Rev. Edward M. Geschke
Plainfield, Ill.

‘Close’ or ‘closed’ Communion

Dr. Oscar A. Gerken expresses “dismay” in his letter (May 2006 Reporter) at the use of the term “closed Communion” to describe our Synod’s doctrine of Communion fellowship.  He states that “close Communion (not closed) … indicate[s] a spirit of togetherness rather than slamming the door on people.”

A couple of comments are in order.

First, both the terms “close” and “closed” equally describe our Synod’s practice of Communion fellowship.  The Sacrament is to be shared, in all but very rare cases of pastoral exception, with those of our Missouri Synod fellowship, to signify our agreement in doctrine.

Second, for a pastor or congregation to faithfully practice closed Communion is not one and the same as “slamming the door on people.”  Rather, it is to take the stewardship of the mysteries of the faith seriously.

I highly recommend the video “Church Fellowship and the Gospel” to those who have questions on the subject.  This excellent presentation was offered to the Synod’s 2001 convention by Dr. Cameron McKenzie of our Fort Wayne seminary, with an equally fitting reaction by Rev. Scott Blazek of Clovis, N.M.

Rev. Paul E. Gramit
Clinton, Mass.

We want to respond to Dr. Oscar Gerken’s May letter.  His concern is correct.

As we noted in our recent topic papers presented to the pastoral meetings we attend, using “closed” Communion terminology finds absolutely no support in any of the Synod’s official catechisms, and only the 1943 edition (Luther’s Catechism, CPH) uses “close Communion.”

Furthermore, a Concordia Tract study titled “Why Close Communion,” published in 1955, ends with a paragraph titled “Never Closed But Always Close.”

This leads to a concluding observation: Since there are so many sources of non-definitions or conflicting definitions of these terms, it is impossible to equate them or postulate “Synod’s doctrine of closed Communion,” a term used in the April Reporter story about the Southern Illinois District convention.

Rev. E.J. Rutter
Rev. D.G. Young
Wahpeton, N.D.

The Lutheran theologian and pastor will recognize that the “theo-logic” of closed Communion as taught and practiced in the Lutheran church is not only or even primarily concerned with treating individuals nicely.  That can be done by greeters and servers at the local restaurant (where they are paid to do this).

The church is not a restaurant, pastors are not hired hands, and Holy Communion is not a love meal that produces fellowship, but rather a fellowship meal (based on agreement in the Scriptural Gospel doctrine and all its articles) that produces love.

Historically, the Missouri Synod has understood the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal to be given only to those individuals who are members of churches with which we are in doctrinal agreement.

So, the Lord’s Supper is not only or even primarily about individuals, but rather about churches.

Communion should never be a one-way street — for instance, our churches receiving people from the Roman Catholic Church or the ELCA, or visa versa.  That would be a necessary implication if we understand the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal. 

The Lord’s Supper is the seal of (doctrinal) fellowship and the beginning, the root, and fount of love.

Rev. Matthew Johnson
Maple Grove, Minn.

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