A Case for a Closed Communion

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Baptist_Pastor/Theologian, Aug 15, 2006.

  1. Baptist_Pastor/Theologian

    Baptist_Pastor/Theologian
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    Let me offer for discussion my take on the matter of a closed communion. Closed communion in the way that I define the term means communion of professed believers who desire to enter into a mutual relationship accountable through a professed faith in Christ expressed through a local church membership.

    We as Baptists would more than likely not get overly concerned about a fellow Baptist believer visiting our church and participating in the Lord’s Supper, however, if that someone were an Episcopalian we might have a greater degree of concern. Moreover, reverse the roles, if we were visiting a sister church and they had the Lord’s Supper we would more than likely participate, however, I would dare say that if we went to a Roman Catholic wedding we would not partake of the Lord’s Supper.

    I began to consider the need for a closed communion when I wrote my ThM thesis on Balthasar Humbaier’s view of church discipline. One of the things that Hubmaier argued was that if there is was no church discipline the church was not valid. This doctrine dealt in large part with the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is where the visible church is held into account. That is not to say that there is not recognition of the universal church. The universal church has more to do with a divine perspective. The particular church or visible church is the organization that was formed in the book of Acts. The NT church is visible and accountable initially based on a public profession of faith at baptism and on an ongoing basis through the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, it is not practical to have an open communion if you are truly attempting to enforce church discipline.

    When it comes to an open communion and church discipline the issues that arise give one pause. The same reasons we ought to practice a closed communion are the same reasons we can give for joining a church. Spiritual Disciplines Within The Church by Donald S. Whitney offers several compelling reasons why we should join a NT church. Some of the more compelling reasons are:

    The New Testament church practice of keeping a list of widows makes sense in the context of membership

    We know that churches in the days of the Apostle Paul made and maintained at least one type of list. "No widow may be put on the list of widows," Paul instructs Timothy, "unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband," etc., (1 Timothy 5:9, NIV). As easily as the churches had lists of widows, they could have had lists of members. There would be no difference except for length for a church to keep a widows' list and a membership list.

    The meaning of the word "join" in Acts. 5:13 makes sense only in the context of membership

    In Acts 5:13 we read of the reaction of the non-Christians in Jerusalem after a couple within the church, Ananias and Sapphira, had died on the spot when it was revealed that they had lied to the church. It says, "Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly." The unbelievers had great respect for the Christians, but after this incident none of them who claimed to be converted but were outward-only believers wanted to join the church.

    In the Greek language in which Paul wrote this letter, the word he used that's translated here as "join" literally means "to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly." It doesn't refer to an informal, merely assumed sort of relationship, but one where you choose to "glue" or "join" yourself firmly to the others. Again, that kind of language only makes sense in the context of membership.

    That same "glue word" is used in the New Testament to describe being joined together in a sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 6:16) and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17). And it's the very same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when he says "not to keep company with" any so-called brother who continues in immorality, but rather to "put away from yourselves the evil person." Clearly this kind of language doesn't refer to a casual, superficial, or informal relationship.

    So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer "dared join them," the "glue word" used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership.

    The instructions for church discipline make sense only in the context of membership

    In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave us instructions on how the church should respond when someone within the church persists in living like an unbeliever. We read of a specific case of this in 1 Corinthians 5 and how the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed the Christians in the church at Corinth to handle it. In verses 11-13 Paul says, "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves the evil person.'"

    There was a sexually immoral man in this church. Was Paul simply telling them not to let this man come to church with them because he was acting like an unbeliever instead of a Christian? No, he couldn't have meant that, for we know from other places in this letter (cf. 14:24-25) that unbelievers were welcome to attend church meetings. Even when they obeyed Paul's instructions to "put away from yourselves the evil person" and considered the man an unbeliever, they would have allowed (even welcomed) him to come and sit under the preaching of God's Word like any other person in town. So in what sense would they have "put away" ("remove"-NASB, "expel"-NIV) this man?

    The best way of explaining how they would have "put away" this man is to understand that they removed him from the membership of the church and generally stopped associating with him outside the church meetings.

    Notice that Paul refers to those who are "inside" and to those who are "outside." Outside of what? As we've noted, anyone could attend their meetings. This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership of converted people. For what authority does a group have to remove someone who is already "outside" and not a member of the group? You can't fire someone who doesn't work for you. You can't vote in your country to remove a government official elected by another country. You can't appeal to a court to discipline someone who isn't within its jurisdiction. In the same way, you can't formally discipline someone who is in an informal relationship with you; you have no authority to do so. These people in Corinth had voluntarily committed themselves to a formal relationship and they knew who were official members of the church and who were "outside."

    Church discipline must be done by the "church" (Matthew 18:17) and occur "when you are gathered together" (1 Corinthians 5:4). Who is to gather together? How do you know who the "church" is? How do you determine who does and does not have the right to speak and vote on such matters? Does the person subject to discipline have the liberty to bring in his extended family or coworkers who have never been to the church, or even people off the street, and expect them to be given an equal say with those who have been faithful to the church for years? No? Why not? Do you exclude them from involvement because they've never been part of the church? Then what about the person who attended once five years ago? Or those who came at Easter and Christmas last year? Or those who regularly watch the church services on television or listen to them on the radio, and perhaps even send money, but never enter the building? Or those from distant cities who visit several times each year because of family members in the church? Obviously, Biblical church discipline must be limited to a specific group and that must mean the church members.

    The expressed purpose of the communion I believe is given to the local church and not the universal church. When you take communion with another you are affirming their Christian faith. How then if you take communion with a bunch of say recalcitrant Methodists could you then turn around and go door to witnessing to them. This may sound crazy but think about it. You have a community communion at your church, and the whole community is invited. Then your outreach team goes door to door and comes to man who participated. Let’s say that the man sharing the witness was the deacon who handed out the elements. It seems kind of backwards to give a man, in this case a local Methodist, the Lord’s Supper and later ask him do you know Jesus? Should we assume everyone knows Jesus who participates in the Lord’s Supper? No. But when they are members of your church and their lifestyle does not match up to what they profess to believe there is a process by which we confront the disparity of their professed belief and their apparent lack of fruit as to the authenticity of that belief. Faith without works is dead. Church discipline is the key to a regenerate church and a closed communion is the key to church discipline.
     
  2. saturneptune

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    Believe it or not, I am in total agreement with you on church discipline. The rolls of our churches are a travisty. There are rolls out there with well over 50% of the people who havent entered the church in years. Another 20% come very sporadically on Sunday morning. Only 5-10% really participate in the minsitry of the local church around here.

    Having said that, and would like others to chime in, I am against closed communion. The number one reason would be the shape of our church rolls. You used the example of a Methodist, and asking him after the fact about if he is saved. If in fact the purpose of closed communion is to make sure we know the witness of those participating, then the witness of the 50% who havent darkened the door in years, well, their witness can be well testified to. Closed Communion by defintion uses the church roll as a standard.

    The Biblical standard is not a man made, corrupt church roll, it is to "examine yourself." The Bible gives warnings to those who take the Lords Supper lightly. In other words, the responsibility of who takes it is on the believer, not on a man made list of names.

    Lets say a traveler stops in your church to worship while on his way to somewhere. Next to him comes in a church member who hasnt darkened the door in 10 years. They are sitting side by side. You are serving the Lords Supper. Which one are you going to exclude? The answer is obvious.

    I have seen one closed communion service in 54 years, and it was quite destructive. I have no intention of ever watching another one.
     
  3. Tom Bryant

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    "So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer "dared join them," the "glue word" used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership. "

    Why does that follow? Although, I think you are reading too much into the word, I can glue myself to something without joining it formally in a 21st church membership sense. They simply were always together.

    I believe in what is called "close communion". If someone has trusted Christ and Christ alone for salvation, and is in fellowship with Him, we allow them to make the decision to take or not take of the Lord's Supper. We talk about confession of sin and 'partaking in a worthy manner, but we act this way for a couple of reasons.
    1. It's the Lord's Supper and he decides who can come and he invites all believers.
    2. As was mentioned, the scripture states, "let a man examine himself"...

    I believe in church discipline. We have told people that they will not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper.

    But I do have some questions about when you do the Lord's Supper if you believe in closed communion.

    1. Do you have it on sunday night when probably unbelievers will not be present?
    2. Do you dismiss people who are not members?

    I think this is an important discussion and glad you have brought it up.
     
  4. npetreley

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    Confession of sin is not a biblical part of the Lord's supper.

    On the subject of confessing one's sin, I wouldn't put it to people in terms of "examine yourselves" but in terms of "ask the Lord to examine you and reveal to you any hidden bitterness, sin, etc., and confess these sins". But IMO this is just good advice at all times, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Lord's supper.

    Personally, I wouldn't ever tell people to "examine themselves to see if they are partaking in a worthy manner" in today's church. I suppose someone in the church might be drunk and I don't know it, but I'm not sure that remote possibility calls for telling people to examine themselves.

    If there's a problem now, it's probably the opposite of the problem in the Corinthian church. The Lord's supper has become very mechanical ("okay everyone, please synchronize the lifting the little cracker to your mouth like a bunch of good little robots"). If anyone is not properly discerning the significance of the Lord's supper, it's probably because it has become such a mindless ritual that they no longer focus on the meaning.


     
  5. Baptist_Pastor/Theologian

    Baptist_Pastor/Theologian
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    Nept,

    Your main concern with a closed communion is quite legitimate. The roles as they stand in many churches are not necessarily reflective of those who enjoy a genuine commitment to Christ. Instead they are an inventory of those who have been willing to associate themselves with the church. Membership to most people means where they go to church and very little more. When I look into the NT Church model I see a group of believers that understood that they belonged to each other and to Christ in a way that transcended all else.

    I know you do not like me to restate myself but let me rehearse some the things that I stated in my initial post, admittedly on the lengthy side.



    So while you state that closed communion by definition uses the role as a standard, and your scenario understands the role to include many Christians in name only. While I can appreciate your concerns let me suggest this to you, my definition does nothing of the sort. My definition understands closed communion to be a means by which we can realize a vibrant and regenerate membership. The fact is that the roles as they now stand are loaded with Christians in name only because we do not practice church discipline.

    Let me state one other thing that I stated previously.



    In order to realize a regenerate church membership there must be a process in place by which we determine who is truly converted and who has only gone through the motions or is a Christian in name only. That process is church discipline. Church discipline really must utilize a closed communion in order to be effective.

    Your given scenario would be unquestionably less problematic if we had a means of culling the role of marginal Christians. If our role truly represented something of a genuine indication of who is committed to Christ and belongs heart soul and mind to the church in membership then we would have a better means of understanding what communion truly signifies.

    My thoughts were offered based on my conviction that the communion is a practice that has been given to the church for a specific purpose. It is not effectual but it has deep spiritual meaning, that of which I am afraid the contemporary church has all but lost in the process of what npetreley describes in his post.

    Tom,

    Let me just say that I very much appreciate your thoughts on this subject which is very dear to my heart. I really like your spin on the closed communion phrase as you prefer the term ‘close communion.’ It may be a semantical nuance worth noting.

    Yet, in your given scenario you want to enforce church discipline, which I certainly applaud. You go as far as to say that your church has told people that they will not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. I am not sure how what you call a close communion and what I refer to as a closed communion really differ from each other.

    The teaching that I offer is nearly impossible to practice in a culture of ecumenism and moral decay. In my mind I believe this to be the case and as a pastor I work very hard to education those with whom I have opportunity, and I try to show much grace to those who believe differently.

    What I am offering is more of an ideal or a biblical norm. Many of the things that Bible presents as normative simply are not practiced in the contemporary church, e.g., role of women, role of deacon, role of pastor, laying on of hands, sharing things in common, etc. However, having said that I am fully convinced that the more closely we follow the NT model the more truly we will experience the NT experience.

    As to your questions they are legitimate ways of trying to address the problem of an open communion. From my perspective the first thing that needs to be decided as a body of believers is that you are going to lovingly practice church discipline. From that decision you will need to develop a plan of enforcing church discipline. The communion would certainly be a reasonable and biblical place to do that. Nept, expressed a horror story of having gone to a closed communion. I am sure there are those experiences out there, but what I am shooting for is not the worst case scenario. I want to paint a picture of church that lives out the calling that Christ has so richly provided. According to npetreley the contemporary church is spiritually bankrupt in that regard.
     
  6. Mexdeaf

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    BPT and all,

    I also practice closed communion. I have always thought the issue was one of 'authority'. As a pastor I do not have any authority to offer communion to one who is not a member of my local congregation.
     
  7. saturneptune

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    If one accepts the local church as the adminstrator of the Lord's Supper, what does that have to do with who may partake? What gives any pastor the authority to give the Lord's Supper to those on church rolls he knows are not saved, and deny it to those who seek out a place to worship? Why is it so hard to accept the authority of "examine yourself"?

    One would think that the denominations of Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, and Mormon which practice closed communion would raise a red flag.
     
    #7 saturneptune, Aug 16, 2006
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  8. Tom Bryant

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    BP&T,
    The only ones we have told may not participate in the Lord's Supper were those who were involved in open and unrepentent sin. We spoke to them before the service had ever started.

    I agree that in this present culture, it is very hard to set a standard and hold to it.

    I have a friend who believes in closed communion but still every Christmas eve in a service that is loaded with both unsaved and non-members, he has communion. I keep kidding him that he has sent more people to the hospital and the morgue than anyone I know.

    Another question: If someone is a saved, biblically baptized member of another local baptist church, would you ask him to partake?

    Mexdeaf:
    "As a pastor I do not have any authority to offer communion to one who is not a member of my local congregation."
    For me, it is also an authority issue, I would say that I don't have the authority to not offer the Lord's Supper to someone else.

    I like the tone of this discussion.
     
  9. Tom Butler

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    Baptist Pastor/Theologian makes the case for closed communion the way I would have made it if I had thought of it. Well done.

    Since Saturneptune and I are deacons in the same church, I am familiar with the "closed communion" story. The fact is, that this was the first CC we had observed in the church in more than 40 years, and when the pastor did it, he caught everybody by surprise. A couple who were not members, but had been faithfully attending for a long time were denied the Lord's Supper, although they had taken it regularly before. If memory serves, the pastor asked all members to gather at the front for the ceremony, thus leaving them seated out in the auditorium, pretty much by themselves. They felt publicly embarrassed. They were offended and soon left our congregation.

    If our church had had a firm closed communion policy in place, since it would have been well-known by everybody, and the incident could have been avoided. If you're visiting a church and prior to the Lord's Supper, the pastor announces the policy, you might not agree with it but you wouldn't be offended, since you would grant the church the right to set its own policy.

    Saturneptune and I are close brothers in Christ, serving the same church, but we obviously see this issue differently. Currently, his view prevails in our church. We disagree over it, but we don't fight over it.
     
  10. AresMan

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    Does anyone have to have the "authority" to "administer" the Lord's Supper in the first place? I don't see where this is Scripturally mandated. Yes, of course, Jesus broke the bread. How else would He teach the observance unless He actually taught it? This by no means implies that someone must fill the shoes of Jesus in future obervances. In Corinthians 11, there is no mention of an administrator.
     
  11. saturneptune

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    This is the best tone I have seen on a thread in a long time. Brother Tom and I, as he said, serve in the same church, and unless the issue is a matter that deviates from the Gospel or the inerrancy of the Bible, we value church unity greatly.
     
  12. rlvaughn

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    This may vary from place to place, but all the non-instrumental Church of Christ/Campbellites around here practice open communion.
     
  13. saturneptune

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    Well, around here the Church of Christ is closed. Baptist churches are a mix. I think Presbyterian and Methodist are pretty much open. Roman Catholic is for sure closed. Again, I want to thank all especially Brother Tom and B/PT for the good spirit of this thread.
     
  14. Tom Butler

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    The authority to baptize was given to the visible assembly in the Great Commission by Jesus himself. Paul, in I Cor 11:2, reminded the visible assembly at Corinth that the ordinances had been committed to it.

    So the authority to baptize and administer the Lord's Supper resides in the local church, which may designate who will actually carry out the functions. In my church, the pastor baptizes and presides over the Lord's Supper. On one occasion, the church authorized a former pastor to baptize a new convert because of a close relationship.

    In the absence of the pastor, the congregation may designate anyone (usually a deacon) to preside. The preference is for someone ordained to lead the church in the ordinances, but the scripture does not mandate it.

    The Baptist debate over the ordinances centers on whether one views them as Christian ordinances or church ordinances. If they are church ordinances, then the congregation is mandated to protect their integrity. So it has the right to determine who are the proper participants. If they are Christian ordinances, then the individual is king.
     
  15. tinytim

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    And if a local church determines that it wants to have open communion, it has that right. Yes the ordinances rest in the authority of the church.
     
  16. Jeep Dragon

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    I also saw someone claim when someone would not be alowed to partake. Where in the Bible does one find authority of one to disallow another to partake of the Lord's Supper. Did not Jesus command us to do it often in remembrance of Him?
    Paul criticized the church in Corinth because of their exclusions of people who were not of their social status and some people came there to fill their bellies. Where in the Bible did Jesus say that it must be administered by a church, must be scheduled by the church, and that "administrators" of it have the "power" to exclude people from partaking? Paul tells people to examine themselves and let them partake.

    If we want to obey Jesus' command to remember His body and blood, shouldn't we have the privalege to do such freely in a personal heart of worship between ourselves and the Lord instead of being limited to an organized gathering that says "Ok, now we may remember Jesus' body and blood" and "Now, you must examine yourselves in order to partake"?

    Think about it...
     
  17. rbell

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    That surprised me...I would have figured almost all of them were closed.
     
  18. ituttut

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    When we take communion, are we communing with God, or the people in a church? Our communion with God is just that, closed between He and I, but should we close out others? That will send those not acceptable to us to others in Christ, or force them to have their Supper with Him alone.

    I question that the only place to "remember Him" is in a local church, and only when the church decides. Jesus said to do this in remembrance of Him, as oft as we will. He gives no timetable, and no setting one way or the other. Are we to say sorry about all of you folks in the nursing homes, shelters, hospitals, etc? But each member in His Body needs to be fully persuaded in his own mind, for peace of mind.
    I can't find your reference will apply to the Body of Christ Church, but a church of "works" gifted with the working Power of the Holy Ghost. These of Israel are justified by faith and were before the "Christian" was known. Christians are justified through faith, and include we Gentiles. Those people are on another foundation of Jesus Christ than we today. They are of another gospel of justification.
    The setting is all are of the nation Israel. They were "corporate", to all be of one accord in all things, as this is what will be in the "kingdom". This is that "kingdom that is at hand" as soon as Israel accepts Messiah. They didn't. They sold all their land, homes, jewelry, and everything in that first year before they (Israel) were cut-off. All things were common. This is the reason the Christians had to take up collection for those in Jerusalem. Those you refer to that were killed lied in the Holy Ghost as they were in that "kingdom mode" that will be in the millennium. If we endeavor to equate with "that church", we need to drastically change our ways and our thinking to do what would be expected of us. The first step would to be circumcised and then onto the other required works, and living in a combine.

    I personally am for all that believe Jesus Christ for their salvation to be accepted by Christ as worthy to partake, in any place, and in any setting for we are joined with Christ. But not to cause strife, one should endeavor to work in harmony with the majority on this matter, in order to not have any stumble.


     
  19. Tom Bryant

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    In 1 Corinthians 5, it was Paul who said that the man was to be treated as unsaved man, that is, to not be allowed to partake in the Lord's Supper. Unsaved people and even some saved people were not allowed to be involved.

    The Corinthian church's exclusion of people was based not on spiritual matters but on exterior matters, such as who had baptized them or who was their favorite Bible teacher. This was what Paul condemned.
     
  20. rlvaughn

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    That has always seemed contradictory to me, too.

    "The practice is to partake in the Lord's Supper each Sunday (Acts 20:7.) Theologically, members believe in practicing closed communion, but most participate in a form of open communion where it is up to each person to know whether or not they should partake accordingly." -- From Wikipedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Christ
     

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