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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Don E. McFarland
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As stated in the title, there are the three basic views of communion which are generally embraced among Baptists and Protestants alike. But which is correct? Since all differ from one another, they cannot all be right.
But, before we go any further, we must agree upon "Who" or "What" will determine a correct or an incorrect position on this subject. And, also, "Who" or "What" will be the final authority governing what we believe about this ordinance.
The Bible must he our Final Authority on this subject, (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Now, let us briefly examine these three positions to see which of them most closely adheres to the Bible pattern.
OPEN COMMUNION (The Interdenominational Way)
The basic position of those who hold to open communion is two-fold:
† The Supper is open to all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth.
Question: Who should determine who loves the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth, the prospective participant, or the church to whom the Lord Jesus has entrusted this ordinance?
† Since it is the Lord's Supper, no church has the right to prohibit anyone from partaking.
Question: Is the Lord's Supper a Christian ordinance or a church ordinance?
• If it is a Christian ordinance then every Christian has a right to partake of it when and where he may choose.
• If it is a Christian ordinance, then is baptism also a Christian ordinance, or are they both church ordinances?
• If these are both church ordinances then the observing church has Christ's authority to govern them.
CLOSE COMMUNION (The Denominational Way)
Those who hold to close communion are opposed to both open and closed communion.
These are "Middle Ground" Christians.
Their position is also two-fold:
† All of the same "faith"(of the same denomination) are free to observe the Supper with any church in their denomination.
† Membership in their denomination is the determining factor as to who can and who cannot observe the Supper with them.
Question: Where is denominationalism found in the Bible'? If it can be found in the Bible then close communion is the correct way, and both open and closed communions are wrong.
Question: Which term is used most often in the New Testament: "denomination" or "church"?
• The word "church" is used 76 times and "churches" (plural) 37 times in the New Testament with not one hint of denominational association among them.
• The teaching or principle of denominationalism cannot be found in the New Testament.
• Denominationalism is a man-conceived and man-promoted idea.
• There is no such thing as "The Baptist Church" or "The Baptist Denomination" taught in the New Testament-both are unscriptural terms.
CLOSED COMMUNION (The Bible Way)
That closed communion is Scriptural may be proven using the following arguments:
† Its Institution Acclaims it
It is my firm conviction Jesus instituted the Supper as a closed ordinance since all the church was not allowed to observe it that first time. Acts 1:15 reveals the membership of the Jerusalem church at that time: "And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty)."
But, how many were in attendance when the Lord instituted His Supper? There were only eleven. Where were the rest of those 120 members'? They were observing the Passover with their families in obedience to the Word of God. Jesus had not invited them to be with Him and the apostles when He instituted the Supper. Therefore it began as a closed ordinance.
† It Was Closed To Unbelievers When It Was Instituted
Mark 14:18-20 says, "And as they sat and did eat,(the Passover) Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with Me shall betray Me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? And He answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with Me in the dish."
When we compare this passage with John 13:27-30 we can see exactly when Judas left this group to betray the Lord. "And after the sop (the Passover sop, 'he that dippeth with Me in the dish') Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the hag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop (Passover sop) went immediately out: and it was night."
Judas left the group as they were observing the Passover and the Lord waited for him to leave before He instituted His Supper.
Thus, in its institution the Supper was closed to unbelievers.
Question: If the Supper is open to all, how would the observing church know whether the visitors in their midst were genuine believers?
• Without doubt, Judas had also claimed to love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth.
• One thing is for sure. The Supper was instituted with only saved, faithful church members present.
† Church Discipline Demands It
In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul first introduced his teaching on the Lord's Supper in chapter five and then concluded it in chapter eleven. "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (I Cor. 5:11).
This command to not eat the Lord's Supper with ungodly people was given to a local church. And, the Supper is to he observed only in a local church.
This command also requires the local church to judge and to exercise authority over all with whom they observe the Supper.
It is unlikely and improbable that those who observe open or close communion will obey this command.
Question: If a stranger came into their midst who claimed to love the Lord Jesus or who was a member of a Baptist Church in a distant city, how could they know whether this person was a godly Christian? And, if they let this person eat with them, could they be sure they were obeying this command governing the Table?
• To disobey the Scriptures is a sin. The only way a church can be reasonably sure it is obeying the Word of God in regards to communion is to practice closed communion.
† New Testament Practice Confirms It
One of the questions often asked by those who practice open and close communion is, "What about the apostle Paul, didn't he observe the Supper with the churches he ministered to?" The answer is a simple and straightforward, "NO."
"But what about Acts 20:7 when he ‘came to Troas'? Wasn't he observing the Supper with the church in that city?" The answer is the same, "NO."
Question: What does this verse actually say? "And upon the first day of the week, (Sunday) when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight."
After midnight a man sitting in the balcony went to sleep and fell out a window and appeared to be dead. Paul ministered to him and revived him, and then in verse eleven we are told, "When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed."
If breaking bread in verse seven means to observe the Lord's Supper, then so does it also in verse eleven. If this is so, then Paul and the church observed the Supper on Sunday and then again on Monday.
They were not observing the Supper because there was no cup mentioned in either instance. The Lord's Supper requires both the bread and the cup.
• "Breaking bread" was a term used when sitting down to a common meal. This term is still in use today.
• There is no proof in the New Testament that Paul ever observed communion with any church.
• If this cannot be proven then open or close communion cannot he proven as a New Testament practice.
Question: Which of these three practices, open - close - closed, most closely follows Biblical teaching and pattern?
• From a careful examination of the Scriptures, it is evident that closed communion most closely adheres to the Biblical pattern.