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Landmarks, Lutherans, and the Liturgy

I’ve been reading Jeffrey VanderWilt’s Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (The Liturgical Press, 2003). It is shaping up to be a gentle encouragement for the Catholic Church to liberalize its policies regarding how and under what circumstances Catholics and non-Catholics can celebrate Holy Communion together.

I applaud the effort, in some part because of my personal history. I grew up in a church heavily influenced by the Landmark movement. This means that for us, it wasn’t enough that you were a fellow Baptist. For you to partake of the Lord’s Supper with us, you had to be a member of our local church body.

I grew to despise this policy shortly after I was old enough to understand it, and I was pleasantly surprised when I went to college to find out that this was not the rule in most Baptist churches. I knew that participants in the Lord’s Supper were supposed to be Christians and I was still uneasy about the thought of receiving Communion in a church of a different denomination. (Does that mean I endorse everything about them? You don’t receive Communion with just anybody, do you?). Still, I couldn’t for the life of me find the passages in the Bible that were supposed to limit my participation to Middlebelt Baptist Church, or that were supposed to prevent folks from Merriman Road Baptist from joining with us whenever they came by to visit.

Then there was the time Connie and I visited a Lutheran church in Louisville. It was during a difficult time for us due to some personal crises. We wanted to be in church–we needed to be in church–but our regular local church was not an option that Sunday. (Long story, maybe I’ll tell you some day.) Anyway, something about their website attracted us and so off we went to worship with the Lutherans. We were treated to an adorable children’s Christmas pageant, some hearty Lutheran hymn-singing, … and Holy Communion! All three things helped heal our souls. It was around that time that I was just beginning to understand the power of ritual action and especially the healing power of the Eucharist.

From then on, my policy has been that I will almost certainly receive the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper in any church where I am invited to do so. As a Baptist, I have the freedom to make that decision. There are no rules on my end that would prevent me from receiving what ministers in other denominations offer.

I realize that is not the case with everyone. I enjoy traditional liturgies and have sometimes slipped off to Catholic Mass (“just to see if you changed anything since last time,” I once told a priest friend). I won’t receive Communion in the Catholic Church because, although I don’t agree with their restrictive rules about who may communicate, I want to respect them. “Our house, our rules” is just a basic matter of civility as far as I’m concerned.

It strikes me as a different thing entirely, however, to excommunicate oneself because one’s theology or one’s church’s rules of discipline require it. Once at a ministers retreat, our guest speaker wanted to conclude the day with a simple Communion service. For most of us, this was no problem, but two of the ministers belonged to (very different) groups that frowned on open Communion. One of the two excused himself from the meeting early, explaining that he had “other obligations this afternoon.” The other stayed and participated, although he made a quip about us not informing his denominational superiors. He later confided in me that the entire thing made him very uncomfortable.

I felt sad for both of them, and more so because I consider both of them to be genuine Christian brothers. But that is not to say I don’t understand their reservations. I used to be a Landmarkist, remember? Sharing Communion with other kinds of Christians raises all kinds of thorny issues, some of which I’ll try to spell out over the next few days.

Next: The Eucharist: Handle with Care

technorati tags: communion, eucharist, eucharistic hospitality, eucharistic sharing, jeffrey vanderwilt, landmarkism, lord’s supper


  1. You don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t receive Communion with just anybody, do you?).

    Well, Jesus had it with Judas Iscariot, so who could be ruled out? I’ve always considered Landmarkism to be a Baptist heresy. Do you think it’s dying out?


  2. D. P. says:

    I hope it is, Michael, I hope it is.


  3. PS says:

    I am glad that the day you went to the Lutheran church all were invited to take and eat. Unfortunately, this is not the case with all Lutheran groups. I would not be invited at the church of my baptism, and my DH would not be invited at the church of his confirmation because we live where there isn’t that group, so we attend a church with open communion. When we attend with relatives, this is a problem.

    My grandmother used to take communion in her daughter’s churches and said she couldn’t be truthful with her pastor about this.

    The pastor at our church says, “The Lord invites you…”

    I’ve heard (not confirmed) that a person could be turned away at the communion rail in some churches. That begs several questions: what characteristics would the pastor use to pass judgment? What if the pastor is new at that church and really doesn’t know the people? What if the communicant was new to the community?

    I don’t think that our Lord wants these stumbling blocks to be put in front of His people. Our doctrine should help us view God more clearly, not present hurdles to jump over and hoops to jump through to be part of his Kingdom.


  4. Timothy says:

    “Well, Jesus had it with Judas Iscariot, so who could be ruled out? ”

    I have strong doubts that Jesus had communion with Judas.

    John 13 seems to have Judas leaving at the start of the passover meal. Jesus hands Judas a piece of bread, which Judas takes, but does not seem to consume. There is no mention of Judas consuming any wine or the passover meal.


  5. Pastor Randy says:

    As a Lutheran pastor in the evangelical catholic tradition, all I can say is AMEN! You folks are certainly changing my impression of Baptists.. I owe a great deal to “captain sacrament” for all his intereting links . . .(no Kyle, you are not a Baptist. You are a Lutheran, you just don’t know it yet)

    Your negative experience in a Lutheran setting was obviously not in a congregation of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). We practice open communion — it is the Lord’s supper, not ours. We are all guests at God’s altar-table. The grave danger in the church when it comes to handling the “mysteries of God” is our human weakness toward being so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good. The Word made visible is our food for the journey . . . learn to share.

    By the way, on the issue of Benediction (THAT Benediction, not blessing), even Lutherans who idenfity as evangelical catholics get sqimish . . . we don’t like to play with our Food.


  6. D. P. says:

    Thanks, Pastor Randy. I appreciate your comments. It’s interesting that you assume one of the ministers who excommunicated themselves was Lutheran (maybe LCMS or WELS?). I’m not saying they were, and I’m not saying they weren’t. It’s just interesting how people see things in terms of their own experiences. 🙂


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