After I had spoken in a church and was standing by the door shaking hands with the people, a man, who was obviously a visitor, out of the blue asked me if the church practiced closed communion. I said the church in fact did practice closed communion and also told him that some Lutheran churches also practiced closed communion. He told me that he was a Lutheran and assured me that no Lutheran church would do such a thing. I smiled and let the matter drop even though I knew for certain that some Missouri Synod Lutheran churches do in fact practice closed communion.

Catholic churches practice their form of closed communion. A person who is not a Catholic is not invited to partake of their Eucharist, or communion. No one seems to be overly upset with Lutherans or Catholics but when a Baptist church practices closed communion people seem to be highly offended.

In fact, almost every major denomination puts some sort of restrictions on who may partake of communion, at least on paper. None invite an unbeliever to partake of communion. They would certainly exclude Buddhists, Muslims or Hindus. They would not invite an openly immoral person. They all, to some degree, restrict their communion. So, it is not a matter of drawing a line, it is a matter of where to draw the line.

I suppose we should define some terms. "Open communion" normally means that anyone present during a communion service is invited to examine himself and partake of the elements. "Close communion" usually means that people of "like faith and order" are invited to partake of the Lord's Supper even though they may not be a member of the church observing the ordinance. "Closed communion" means that only the members of the church observing the Lord's Supper, after serious self-examination, are to partake. Sometime in the past the term "close communion" was also used to mean "closed communion."

Close communion is the historic position of Baptist churches in America. In a history of the Disciples of Christ, it states that Alexander Campbell and the Baptist churches of his time had some differences of opinion, but both practiced close communion. "One might expect to find a difference in the matter of open or close communion, since it is well known that close communion was the universal Baptist practice."

Many of our forefathers in the faith have written books on the subject of close and closed communion. However, historic position does not justify a doctrine or practice. Only the Bible does. Our forefathers held some teaching that we do not generally believe today. I just bring up the history to show that close and closed communion are now something new.

So what does the Bible teach about restricting communion?

First, there is the biblical order for communion. In the New Testament it was first salvation, then baptism, then church fellowship and then the Lord's Supper. I personally think this in an indisputable fact. That being true, baptism is a prerequisite of communion. Since Baptists hold that immersion is the only biblical mode of baptism, to be consistent, only those who have been immersed should partake of communion in a Baptist church.

Second, in First Corinthians chapter five, Paul told the church at Corinth not to eat the Lord's Supper with brethren who were fornicators, covetous, idolatrous, railers, drunkards or extortioners. Paul's instruction here was not for the individual to "examine himself" but to the church to examine its members. If a member were involved in any of the above named sins, he was to be put out of the church and not allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper. This could hardly be construed as open communion. So, a church has a biblical obligation to examine its members and not to partake of the Lord's Supper with those who are living a sinful life. One church does not have the right to judge the members of another church and therefore does not have the biblical right to invite members of other churches to their communion.

Third, First Corinthians 11:18-20 clearly states that when there are divisions in the church is not time to take the Lord's Supper. If a church is not to observe the Lord's Supper unless the members are in harmony, then it would hardly seem reasonable to invite someone completely out of doctrinal harmony with the church. That in itself would create a division.

Proponents of open communion ultimately quote First Corinthians 11:28, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." What they are saying is "let any man examine himself." That is not what the verse says and it is poor Bible exegesis to try to make it say that. To whom is Paul writing? Not to just any man but to the church at Corinth. Let a member of the church examine himself. Examine himself about what? The church had made a mockery of the Lord's Supper. Some came early and ate all the bread and drank all the wine. Some even got drunk. For that reason God's judgment fell and some were made sick and some even died because of their disregard for this sacred ordinance.

The examination to which Paul was referring was for a person to realize the manner in which he had been taking the Lord's Supper. First Corinthians 11:29 says, "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation [judgment] to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." The word unworthily is an adverb and modifies the verbs eateth and drinketh. It describes the manner in which they were eating and drinking. They were eating and drinking in an unworthy manner that brought God's judgment. It has nothing to do with whether or not a person is personally worthy to eat the Lord's Supper. None of us are worthy of such an honor.

From this passage it is quite clear that God takes the Lord's supper very seriously. He wants it to be observed correctly. And what is the correct manner? The correct manner is to do it the way the New Testament teaches.


by Raymond McAlister
January 2007