I read with rare dismay Richard John Neuhaus' imprimatur on the Roman Catholic practice of closed communion ("Getting Along at the Altar," Public Square, October 2003). As a former Catholic and a Presbyterian minister who attended the papal mass during the Pope's visit to St. Louis a few years ago, I was reminded of how painful it was to be told that we are "brothers in Christ" but not welcome at the altar. My reasons for questioning the practice are not merely emotional, however (there is enough emotion driving theology today to make one's head ache), but biblical and theological.
Father Neuhaus argues that the core issue is ecclesiology. I respectfully disagree. The core issue is eschatology. The question, simply put, is: When "people come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29), who will be there? Will that table be only for Roman Catholics? If it is not the case that the eschatological banquet is a Roman banquet (or a Lutheran one), then should not our table fellowship here reflect that reality? Biblical eschatology should drive our ecclesiology.
It remains a stain upon the Church that while Jesus was renowned for eating with tax gatherers and sinners, certain denominations cannot manage to share the table with others who trust and believe in him. The truth is that it is not a Roman table or a Lutheran table, but Christ's table, and he has always welcomed those who put their trust in him, much to the chagrin of the religious authorities.
(The Rev.) Thomas C. Pfizenmaier
Bonhomme Presbyterian Church
Since Richard John Neuhaus makes reference to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) in "Getting Along at the Altar," some clarifications about the LCMS understanding of ecclesiology are in order. The central figure in the founding of the LCMS, C. E W. Walther (1811-1887), did not think "that God established the true...