I have one last question for you and hope you know that I am not asking to criticize but to test stereotypes I have been taught. Do you as a pastor practice open, closed, or close communion? I look forward to your reply and maintain more than ever that you have one of if not the most scriptural web site I have found.
The following definitions of Communion may vary somewhat, depending upon whom you ask. The definition of “Closed Communion” is “the Lord’s Supper is restricted to only members of that particular local church, who are in good standing with the church and with the Lord.” The definition of “Close Communion” is “only members of that local church, and visitors from churches of like faith and practice, who are saved and baptized, may partake of the Lord’s Supper.” “Open Communion” is defined as “anyone in the service who is saved may partake of the Lord’s Supper,” or some have defined it as “anyone who says that they love Jesus, may partake.”
I Corinthians 11:17-34 says, “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.”
The first requirement to partaking of the Lord’s Supper is that a Christian must be right with his fellow believers. “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
The Lord’s Supper is to be preceded by a time of self-examination and willingness to repent of sin and ask forgiveness. But that requires that we also search our hearts and see if we are not forgiving others for where they may have wronged us. We need to take care of those matters first. Matthew 6:14,15 says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. Matthew 5:23,24 says, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER, and then come and offer thy gift.”
The second requirement mentioned naturally follows: it is a time for reverence, and a time for courtesy in regard to the other people present in the service. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.”
The Lord’s Supper is not a time to selfishly think about oneself, but to be courteous of others. It is not a time to greedily gobble down the food and drink, but to prayerfully meditate upon the meaning of those elements. It is a time to be sober and reverent.
We can contrast this attitude with that of the Pharisees. Luke 18:10-14 says, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are not to be thinking of how great and spiritual we are, and how lowly and unspiritual others in the service may be. Our attitudes are to be quite the opposite. I am afraid that in churches with “Closed Communion,” visitors in the service may very well feel like they are the publicans, and the church members are the Pharisees.
The next section deals with the actual handing out of the elements and the meaning of them. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
It is sad today that companies are making it too convenient for churches, because it is causing them to be unscriptural. Companies make nice little square or round unleavened crackers for use in the Lord’s Supper. But they do not picture the Lord’s BROKEN BODY for us, any more than sprinkling for baptizing pictures death, burial, and resurrection. The unleavened bread needs to be broken to give the right picture of how Jesus suffered for us.
The same is true of the cup. The fruit of the vine, grape juice, is what was used by the Lord. A popular radio preacher made light of the fact of observing the Lord’s Supper in a jail cell with a prisoner using potato chips and Coke. Grape juice is not blood (nor does it turn into the literal blood of Christ, like the Catholics teach. The Bible forbids us to drink blood. Genesis 9:4 says, “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”) But grape juice is used because it does have the appearance of blood. It is a deep, dark red, like blood. Genesis 49:11 says, “Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in THE BLOOD OF GRAPES.”
The Lord commands us to periodically partake of those elements, “in remembrance of Him.” He does not say how often we are to observe the Lord’s Supper, but that when we do, we are to do it in this certain manner. So it is up to the local church as to how often they want to observe the Lord’s Supper.
The next section deals with a person being truly born again, and truly willing to judge sin in his life. “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
Eating of the bread or drinking of the cup “unworthily” is defined as “being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” If a person is not truly saved, then he is partaking of the elements, but really despising what the Lord did for him on the cross. If he did not despise what Christ did, then he would receive the Lord as his Savior. If a Christian partakes of the elements, but is not willing to judge sin in his life, then he is also despising what Jesus went through to save us from our sin. He knows full well how Jesus suffered because of our sin; but if he continues right on in sin with no remorse, then it shows that he does not really care that Jesus had to suffer and die for us.
This is the passage that goes into the greatest detail of instructions in regard to the Lord’s Supper, and you will notice that THE EMPHASIS IS UPON A MAN EXAMINING HIMSELF — NOT THE CHURCH EXAMINING THOSE ASSEMBLED THERE. Verse 28 says, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” You will notice that the church is not held accountable for those who partake, as to whether they are worthy or not. It is the individual person that is held accountable. Verses 30,31 say, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” CLOSED COMMUNION turns that emphasis around the other way — THE CHURCH IS DOING THE JUDGING AS TO WHO IS WORTHY OF PARTAKING. But the Scripture is very clear that it is not the pastor or deacons who are judged, if unworthy people go ahead and partake of the Lord’s Supper — it is the individuals themselves who will get sick or die.
There are only two scriptural offices of the local church; pastor, and deacons. And the Bible only gives us two ordinances of the local church; baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This matter about “Closed Communion” reminds me of an incident that took place in a Baptist church. A boy was visiting the church, and got saved. He wanted to be baptized, but the church leaders would not baptize him. The reason they gave was, “The boy is just visiting, and he will obviously not be going to church here. So he just needs to find a church near his home who will baptize him.” When I heard what happened, I could hardly believe my ears, that a Baptist church would refuse to help someone obey the Lord in the first command after being saved — to be baptized.
Acts 8:35,36 says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” What did Philip say? “I am sorry, Mr. Eunuch, but after today, I will probably never see you again, because you are going back to Ethiopia, and I am going to be taking flight to Azotus, very shortly. What you need to do is find a church, when you get back home, that will baptize you. You will obviously not be going to church with me, so I do not want to baptize you.”
Is that what Philip said? No! Philip was an ordained deacon, as we have seen, and he gladly helped the Ethiopian eunuch obey the Lord in believer’s baptism. Acts 8:37-40 says, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”
The first thing that a Christian is commanded to do after he gets saved, is to be baptized. In Acts 16:25,26, we see Paul and Silas in jail, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” They had been singing at midnight, and God sent an earthquake that opened all the jail doors and all the bands on the prisoners were loosed.
The earthquake woke up the jailor, and when he saw the situation, he was ready to kill himself, but Paul called out to stop him. In verses 29-33 we read, “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”
Notice that Paul did not tell the jailor, “I am sorry, Mr. Jailor, but after tonight, I may never see you again. I am not going to baptize you, because you will certainly not be going to my church. You just go find a church around here that will baptize you.” That would have been causing the jailor to disobey the first command of the Lord to a new believer. So Paul gladly baptized him the same hour of the night.
Why do I bring up the matter of baptism when we are supposed to be talking about the Lord’s Supper? Because they are the two ordinances of the local church that we are told to observe. If a local church will ONLY baptize new converts that will definitely be members of their church in their locality (and staying there), then they are disobeying the Word of God, because they are hindering the growth of new Christians. If a new Christian wants to follow the Lord’s command and get baptized, then we should rejoice and gladly baptize him or her!
In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is also an ordinance of the local church. IF THE BIBLE TELLS CHRISTIANS TO OBSERVE THE LORD’S SUPPER IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIM, BUT IF THE LOCAL CHURCH REFUSES TO ALLOW SOMEONE WHO IS BORN AGAIN TO PARTAKE, JUST BECAUSE IT IS NOT THEIR HOME CHURCH, IS THAT HELPING CHRISTIANS OBEY THE LORD, OR DISOBEY HIM? I Corinthians 11:23-26 says, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
In our church, we observe the Lord’s Supper every other month. We do not follow any man-made definition, but I suppose that some would classify us as practicing “Close Communion.” We carefully read and explain I Corinthians 11:17-34. It gives people the opportunity to understand that they must be saved, and willing to judge sin in their lives. If they do not, then it gives them a strong warning about the judgment of God. We also bring up the matter of baptism, that if a Christian is unwilling to get baptized, then he should not partake, because that is God’s first command to a new Christian. If a Christian is unwilling to get baptized, then there is sin in that Christian’s life. To go any farther with restrictions, is to go farther than the Bible goes.
Please notice how Paul ends his instruction in verse 34, “And the rest will I set in order when I come.” He was definitely talking about any further problems with the Lord’s Supper would be dealt with by him, personally, when he came to see them. Obviously, then, Paul was going to observe the Lord’s Supper with them when he came. If “Closed Communion” was actually the correct position, then Paul would not have been able to observe the Lord’s Supper with the Corinthians. He may have been used of God to begin that work there, but Paul was not a member of that local church — Corinth was not his home. That would put that church in the ridiculous position of denying Paul to observe the Lord’s Supper with them.
The whole context of the Lord’s Supper is surrounded by “others.” It starts by directing their attention to the needs of others (verse 21), and it closes by mentioning thoughtfulness and courtesy for others (verse 33). Are we not commanded to love the brethren? John 13:34,35 says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Does that just mean the other Christians who are members of our local church? Of course not. It would include Christians who visit in our services as well.
Offering food and drink to others is a practice of courtesy taught throughout the Old and New Testaments. Hebrews 13:1,2 says, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Abraham was a man of faith, and the first thing that he did when he saw three strangers was to offer them food and drink. Genesis 18:1-5 says, “And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.” Leviticus 19:34 says, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
If the Lord places such an emphasis on being kind to strangers, would the requirement not be even higher to visitors that are fellow Christians? Closed Communion reminds me if how Simon the Pharisee treated Jesus. Luke 7:36-50 says, “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” Sadly, it seems common for those pastors and churches who practice Closed Communion, to look down upon other pastors, missionaries, and churches that do not restrict it after their manner.
In Christ, have not all Christians received refreshment from the Lord? Acts 3:19 says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” To deny another Christian visiting in a church service the right to partake of the Lord’s Supper, is a very uncourteous practice. Has he not also received refreshment from the Lord when his sins were forgiven? Has he also not as much right in Christ as we? Is he unworthy, because he is not of our group, to remember the broken body and blood of the Lord that was shed for him, as well as for us?
Jesus Himself said that He would come in and sup with us, if we would but open the door. Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” For a church to say to another Christian, “No, you are not welcome to sup with us as we observe the Lord’s Supper,” is uncourteous, and going beyond what the Bible teaches.