Scriptural Reasons Why a New Testament Church Should Commune Only with Its Own Members at the Lord’s Table
We welcome all sincere visitors to our public assemblies. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are among friends. We would enjoy nothing more than to worship with you and help you serve Him until He comes again. For this very reason we have separated from the world and joined together in a society of baptized believers called a church.
If you happened to be in attendance when we held the Lord’s supper, then you were gently told it is our conviction from the Word of God to observe closed communion. That is, we believe the Lord’s supper is limited to the membership of each local church.
It is never our intention to be offensive, and we hope our desire to please the Lord Jesus Christ and obey His Word did not offend you.
The Supper is the Lord’s Supper. Since this is true, He alone makes the rules regulating and governing it. He alone is to say who and whom and what and how and why and where concerning it. This He has done in His Word.
Men have no authority or right to set aside the Word of God. It is not their table. If the table belonged to us, we might invite whomsoever we would. But it is the Lord’s table and the Lord’s supper. Therefore, we have purposed to observe communion according to the Word of God.
There are basically three policies of observing communion – open, close, and closed. Open communion allows anyone to participate without distinction or qualification. Close communion restricts the supper to those within the denomination or fellowship of a church based on specified standards of agreement. Closed communion restricts participation to only the members of each local assembly.
This simple study is to kindly state our conviction with Scriptural reasons as to why we believe the Lord’s supper should be observed only by the members in good standing of each local church.
Each local congregation of saints by itself is the body of Jesus Christ and temple of the Holy Ghost (I Cor 3:16-17; 12:12-27; Eph 2:22; 4:16). Only official members by mutual consent are part of this local body and temple of God (Acts 9:26-28). Visitors, no matter how godly or spiritual, have not been placed by God in that particular body (I Cor 12:18). Therefore, church members have a relationship and responsibility one to another that exceeds any relationship with those outside the membership. And communion is the focal point of this relationship as the body of Jesus Christ (I Cor 10:15-17).
Since a pure Lord’s supper is the objective of church judgment, a local congregation can only commune with those whom it can discipline. Each church is responsible to judge those within its membership and not to commune with known public sinners (I Cor 5:6-8; II Thess 3:6,14-15; Rom 16:17-18; II Cor 6:14). If we extend participation beyond our own membership, we may invite the leaven of malice and wickedness to the table, for we do not know visitors as well as our own members, and we have no discipline authority over them (I Cor 5:8).
The Lord’s supper is a congregational ordinance requiring the participation of all members of a church in a full assembly in one place. It is observed by a church in a public assembly, for it is a congregational ordinance. Those outside the congregation, or church, are not part of the ordinance. Therefore, theories of a universal church or denominational organization or religious relationship allowing worldwide communion are false (I Corinthians 11:17-22 cp I Corinthians 14:23; Acts 20:7).
Since the Lord’s supper follows initial gospel teaching and baptism, it is necessary for a person to have a valid baptism before partaking of the Lord’s supper (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:37-42; 19:1-7). Baptism comes before communion, just as repentance and faith come before baptism (Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21). Both Catholics and Protestants require this same rule (baptism before communion), but we are different because we require a baptism satisfying Scripture. It should be remembered that infant communion has as much Bible authority as does infant baptism. About 95% of professing “Christians” have never been Scripturally baptized, so they must be kept out of the Lord’s supper for this reason, if no other.
Communion, or common union, can only be had by those united in doctrine and practice around the Lord Jesus Christ. Visitors, no matter how orthodox or affectionate, have not been confirmed as being in common union with our convictions. It is easily observed that the church at Jerusalem found their unity in apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42; I Cor 1:10; 10:20-21; 11:18; II Cor 6:14-18; Eph 5:11; Amos 3:3).
A person can be a member of only one local congregation of saints at a time, and it is the Lord Who places them in that body (I Cor 12:18). Visitors, no matter how well known and respected, are not members of the body they are visiting. Consider Paul’s careful description of Onesimus and Epaphras (Colossians 4:9,12).
We insist that it is the Lord’s table, not ours (I Cor 10:21); and He alone has the right to say whom shall sit at His table (Matthew 20:15). No amount of so called brotherly love, ecumenical spirit, or political pressure should cause us to invite to His table those who have not complied with the requirements laid down plainly in His inspired Word (Psalm 119:128).
Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a serious matter. Those who partake unworthily bring judgment on themselves, leading to illness or even death (I Cor 11:29-30). We are not doing visitors a favor, if we invite them to partake of something to which they are not entitled. In the case of our own members, we generally know whether or not they are worthy to partake without bringing judgment on themselves; but with respect to visitors from other churches, we really do not know.
The Lord’s supper is an important aspect of church fellowship, and we are bound by Holy Scripture to only have this level of fellowship with committed brethren (I John 1:1-4; Eph 5:11; II Cor 6:14-18).
Faith is essential to the supper, for it is a memorial based not on superstitious and sacramental reenactment, but rather upon believing and remembering Jesus Christ as pictured by the emblems (I Cor 11:26; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23). So any outside participation in a church’s common union, or communion, without full faith turns the supper into a displeasing act of service.
If not at the Lord’s table, how are the verses of withdrawal and separation practiced in the church? These verses (Romans 16:17-18; II Cor 6:14-17; Eph 5:11; II Thess 3:6,14-15; I Tim 6:3-5; Titus 3:10-11) must have an application, but where? We believe they are primarily, though not exclusively, applied at the Lord’s table.
Roman Catholicism is the Mother Church of harlots and abominations of the earth (Revelation 17:5; 18:4; 19:2; II Thess 2:3-12; Daniel 7:25), so we should not be surprised to find her promoting the following heresies with great zeal:
The church is a vague, worldwide, universal collection of all sprinkled Catholics.
Baptism (their heretical infant variety) is the door to the church and membership.
Mass is unofficially open to anyone, anywhere, in any condition, at any time.
Since this Mother Church has many harlot daughters (Reformation churches, modern cults, splinter groups, etc.), we find them generally observing some or all of these heresies also (Revelation 17:5; 18:4). Though in some cases they tried, the Protestants could not leave the sacramental system of Rome and follow Scripture alone.
If you make any restrictions for the Lord’s supper, upon which passages of Scripture will you depend? Will you exclude a known atheist? If so, upon which Scripture will you exclude him from the supper? For those Scriptures that prove any restriction will prove far more than what is usually applied.
If a church practicing closed communion excludes a member, then that member has no right to the Lord’s table until he repents of his sin and is restored to membership. But under a policy of denominational, or close, communion, that unrepentant excluded member can theoretically place his membership with another Baptist church, and then return to the church that excluded him to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The negative sanction against sinners, of withdrawing the fellowship of the Lord’s Table, is seriously impaired or nullified in a church which allows denominational, or close, communion.
Experience indicates that churches allowing open or close communion will not have the same level of spiritual zeal, holiness, and concern for the truth as those churches practicing closed communion. Closed communion is an imperfect indicator of a church that has more than the mere form of godliness without any authority, for they are protecting the integrity of the Lord’s table by their restrictive communion policy.
But did not Paul commune with all the churches (Acts 20:7-12)?
Paul may have communed at Troas with those brethren, and we may assume he communed elsewhere as well, even though his membership was at Antioch (Acts 11:26; 14:25; 15:35; 18:22). But he also spoke in tongues (I Cor 14:18-19), healed men by the use of handkerchiefs or aprons (Acts 19:11-12), visited the third heaven (II Cor 12:1-5), wrote inspired epistles (II Thess 3:17), and took up serpents (Acts 28:3-5). His apostolic office no longer exists, and neither do the offices of prophet or evangelist; so we are reduced to members, deacons, and bishops in and among a single local church (I Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). Paul was not an ordinary member or bishop, with responsibilities over and to one assembly; he had the care of all the churches (II Cor 11:28). We do not argue from the example of an apostle for a general rule covering all ordinary saints in the kingdom of Christ.
But are we not all members of Christ’s redeemed body, the church (Ephesians 5:25-27)?
Yes, all of God’s elect are members of His body, the redeemed family of God, and the general assembly (Hebrews 12:22-24). But that church does not assemble or have any function on earth. It does not assemble, sing, discipline, or commune on earth in one place, which is necessary for the Lord’s supper (I Cor 11:17-22).
But is it not selfish and antichristian to deny communion to sincere believers?
No, it is not selfish and antichristian to obey Christ. If a sincere believer wishes to commune around the Lord’s table, then he should hasten to his local church and assemble together with his fellow members and fellowship there after the Scriptural pattern. We might as well ask, is it selfish and antichristian to deny communion to someone who wants cookies and milk rather than unleavened bread and wine? We are to be first pure, then peaceable; and such heavenly wisdom comes from above (James 3:17).
But does not the apostle exhort us to receive those weak in the faith (Rom 14:1)?
Yes, Paul exhorts us to receive weak brethren who struggle with matters of Christian liberty like Jewish ceremonial laws and meat offered to idols. But the Lord’s table is no matter of Christian liberty; it is rather an ordinance of Christ with apostolic authority. It was delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ to Paul, and he in turn delivered it to us by way of inspired Scripture (I Cor 11:17-34). All participants in the supper are held to the inflexible standard of God’s infallible Word.