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The church I pastor, New Salem Baptist Church, practices close communion. We welcome anyone who has been baptized by immersion after professing Christ to come with a repentant heart and participate in the Lord’s Table with us. We exclude unbelievers. We also exclude those who have not been baptized, or who have an illegitimate baptism: those baptized as babies, those who were not baptized by immersion, those who believe baptism saves you, etc. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 argues in favor of close communion:
VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.
What’s interesting is that a recent survey carried out by Lifeway Research reveals that the majority of Southern Baptists do not agree with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 concerning close communion:
Who may participate in the Lord’s Supper?
52% – anyone who has put their faith in Christ
35% – anyone who has been baptized as a believer
5% – anyone who wants to participate
4% – have no specifications
4% – only church members
In light of these statistics, why do I still agree with the BF&M2K? Paul Chitwood, the executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, made a great case for practicing close communion in the September 25, 2012 issue of the Western Recorder:
Churches practicing close communion typically welcome to the table any who have repented of their sin, trusted in the atonement secured through the cross and resurrection, confessed Jesus as Lord, and submitted to scriptural baptism. Being a member in good standing of a church of like faith and practice is another qualifying mark often stipulated.
The distinction between open and close communion is easy to make. Open communion invites anyone present who claims to follow Jesus to partake of the Supper. Though commonly practiced in churches of various denominations, open communion can be spiritually dangerous for a host of reasons. And, according to the Apostle Paul, the stakes are high. In his instructions concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul wrote, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
Paul’s admonition is more than a strict warning against missing the symbolism of the elements. In the broader context of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul expresses concern about the self-centeredness, gluttony and drunkenness characterizing the Corinthian believers and their participation in the Supper. These sins, of which they were not repenting, led Paul to alert them of God’s impending judgment (verse 29).
On these and other fundamental issues, open communion fails to offer the warning of 1 Corinthians 11. Believer’s baptism is a good example. With baptism being the symbol of one’s profession of faith and a clear command of Jesus, is not the rejection of it a sign of willful disobedience at the most basic level? Offering the Lord’s Supper to the unbaptized is unwise at best; at worst, it leads them into temptation.
Chitwood states clearly and concisely what’s at stake in open communion. The issue is “loving one’s neighbor.” Can pastor(s) and the local church welcome those who are openly unrepentant (rebelling against the command to be baptized) to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and still profess to love them? The Bible is clear that believers who partake of the Lord’s Supper with unrepentant hearts are in danger of temporal judgment: sickness and even death (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
Furthermore, does it not diminish the Lord’s Table for all repentant believers to welcome those who are openly unrepentant to partake? For example, would you invite representatives from Westboro Baptist Church to speak at your “God loves America Rally”? Of course not! Why? Because even though these people are American citizens, they trample the blood of soldiers. How we treat the symbol reveals what we believe about the reality the symbol represents. What’s a greater symbol of American Freedom than a soldier who has laid down his life to secure it? The people who protest a soldier’s funeral don’t care about the blood shed by thousands of soldiers to secure their freedom. In similar manner the person who approaches the Lord’s Table with an unrepentant heart tramples the body and blood of Christ that was shed to secure the freedom of sinners (1 Cor. 11:27). Their “protest” is silent, but even more insulting, since they’re silently protesting a symbol of redemption (baptism), and thus, redemption itself! To welcome such a person to partake of the Lord’s Table diminishes the Lord’s Table for everyone else who is present. If openly unrepentant Christians are welcome to participate, then what’s the point of the other believers approaching the Lord’s Table with repentant hearts (1 Cor. 11:27-31)?
Finally, I’m not advocating head-hunting. People know their own hearts more than I do. Even if I knew someone had not been baptized, after I explained the prerequisites for partaking of the Lord’s Table with us, their blood is on their own hands. If they choose to partake, I won’t prohibit them. They know they’re unwelcome. The reality is that the Lord will judge them. They’ve been warned.
What are your thoughts?