COME IN, WE ARE CLOSED
COME IN, WE ARE CLOSED. By Tyrel Bramwell. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018. 146 pages. $8.50.
Come in, We Are Closed is a book about the Scriptural rationale for the practice known as “closed communion.”
This fictional tale is set in a diner on a wintry day. The nameless main character (hereafter: NMC) finds himself in the smoking section and striking up a conversation with “Shep” who is a former (retired?) pastor. Upon learning of Shep’s previous vocation, NMC asks him a series of genuinely inquisitive questions concerning the practice of “closed communion.” Thus the book unfolds with each chapter highlighting another, always interconnected, aspect of the practice.
With the wisdom and gentleness of the aged, Shep answers the probing questions gracefully. He is always prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within him. He also offers up an apologetic for the practice of closed communion, its Scriptural foundations, and practical implications. The NMC is a good listener and an eager student. By the end of the book, he is predictably persuaded by Shep’s defense of the practice of closed communion and leaves the diner with a renewed interest in his own life of faith.
Full disclosure, I am a pastor of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), a church body that has repeatedly upheld and affirmed the practice of closed communion as scripturally faithful at multiple Synod Conventions. Anecdotally, closed communion is frequently a hot-button issue and a tender subject among parishioners (and clergy!) of the LCMS. Thus, this book seeks to contribute helpfully to the discussion about one of our most unpopular practices.
One of the challenges with this practice is that it does not lend itself to an easy “explanation” for those who are skeptical or offended by the practice. Often times, people learn of it only minutes before a worship service. Only rarely is the pastor granted the requisite length of time to adequately explain the matter. Come in, We Are Closed is an example of what that conversation might look like if sufficient time was granted.
The Lord’s Supper, because it is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is the place where theology is most concentrated. A conversation about the Lord’s Supper is not as simple as “what is it?” Intimately connected to the Lord’s Supper is a proper understanding of ecclesiology, sin, faith, Scripture, grace, justification, and the two natures of Christ. Of course, as soon as you start talking about ecclesiology, you must also take up the issue of the Office of the Holy Ministry. As soon as you start talking about sin, you need to address original sin as well. As soon as you talk about faith, you need to talk about the object of faith . . . etc. There is so much going on. For that reason, Bramwell receives praise for staying on task. There are numerous places where he could fall down a rabbit hole, but he doesn’t.
Bramwell seeks to explain the practice of closed communion to the uninitiated. This book is not an exercise in pedantry. He does not spend time discussing whether it should be ‘close’ or ‘closed’ communion. He does not talk about how young someone can be and receive the Sacrament faithfully. He does not (to the best of my recollection) ever cite the Book of Concord. Other than a reference to Ignatius of Antioch, he stays away from conversations of the Church Fathers. He does not take up the matter of hymnody or worship wars. He does not pontificate on various aspects of the liturgy. There is no reference to the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, or Nunc Dimittis. He stays, almost exclusively, within Scripture. Only once does he make a passing reference to the matter of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper.
One of the greatest strengths of the book is its use of analogies and metaphors, such as wedding banquets, pharmacies, the gym, and the family table. These analogies often reveal the inconsistency of a person’s frustration. A visitor at church finds it “unwelcoming” that they weren’t allowed at the communion rail, but makes no similar objection when they are not allowed to sit at the head table during a wedding reception (which is also “closed”).
As a work of fiction, the story moves along well-enough. There were a number of times when I rolled my eyes at a predictable line or a forced attempt at humor, but this isn’t a book you’re going to read because you’re searching for a good novel. The fictional nature of the book is only a foil for the education that the book offers.
Come in, We Are Closed is not a book that addresses every issue that the practice of closed communion raises. No book this brief (only 146 small pages of 12 point font in what looks like 1.5 line spacing) could do that. But that’s exactly the point. This book does a good job of showing how many different things need to be taken into account for a faithful administration of the sacrament, and it doesn’t even touch on them all.
I didn’t detect any animus in this book toward any given “faction” within the LCMS, but I confess that I didn’t need persuading. Holy Communion is an emotional topic. It should be. It’s the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins…perhaps I would have felt differently if I had been on the other side of the fence.
I cannot speak to the book’s persuasive power. I do not know how it would be received by one who objects to the practice of closed communion, but if you’re willing to be good listener (i.e., a good reader), you’ll find it edifying, no matter where you stand.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch. Pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Milbank, SD.