The line must be drawn here! Or, why closed communion?

By this time there are a number of responses to Mark Jones’ piece at Reformation 21 “A Plea for Realism”. This will not be a response, per se, but rather an exploratory article. The main question in the article was this: if you deny the Lord’s Supper to a professing Christian of a persuasion that does not baptize by immersion, are you claiming that they are not a Christian?

My initial thought I had when reading the piece (besides “What about the children?”) was the thought that yes, it does seem unfair to prohibit those who profess to be Christians to come to the table. After all, aren’t Baptists all about professions of faith? However, while the famous Baptist John Bunyan allowed open communion, most of the signers of the 1689 did not. Was this due to hard-headed stubbornness, a reaction against the critiques by Presbyterians? Possibly, but how then does that reconcile with the words of the introduction to the 1689, which calls Presbyterian brethren? And deigns to show love in explaining their differences?

William Kiffin, one of the signers of the 1689, wrote “A Sober Discourse on the Right to Church-Communion“, addressing the very reasons why he practiced “closed communion” (restricting the Lord’s Supper to only those professors who had been baptized by immersion). Why did he restrict the table? Because of Scripture:

OBJECTION #10:  This is a dividing principle, and ’tis very censorious to judge none fit for communion in a Church, but such as are baptized thereby, unchristianing all other persons that are of another mind.

ANSWER: This is no other principle but what Scripture doth everywhere justify, as hath been largely proved before. And this objection rather chargeable on the contrary opinion, as being that which divides the ordinance from its proper use and by putting it out of its place, where God in his Word hath set it. There being no division by principle, but what is made by the ignorance of the persons that oppose it about the rule and order by which Christians ought to walk; or by their wilful neglect of that which is required by the Lord, of those that desire communion with the Church. For if the Lord of the family prescribe an order by which it should be governed, can it be reasonable that this rule should be broken for the sake of the servant’s ignorance or wilfulness? We censure none so rigidly as to take upon us to unchristian or unchurch them; all that we do (in discharge of our duty to God, and Faithfulness in our places) to labour to keep the Lord’s Ordinances in that purity and Order the Sacred Records testify they were left in, and in a spirit of Love and Meekness to contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; which we conceive to be a duty enjoined upon all Christians, &c.

Scripture is to regulate the Church’s practice. The elements of worship (which would include the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are to be administered the way Scripture proscribes. If one sees that proper baptism is immersion according to the Scriptures, and that Christians who are baptized should be the ones to receive the Lord’s Supper (again, according to the Scriptures), then to allow those who are not baptized to the table (for sprinkling nor pouring is considered baptism) would be inconsistent with one’s view of Scripture. If you are not going to allow everyone to the table, then lines are to be drawn somewhere. This should be a reminder to always return to “WDSS?” or, “What Does Scripture Say”? Emotional pleas and intelligent rhetoric may be appealing, but if they are not rooted firmly and clearly in the Word then they must not be compelling.

There is no statement in the 1689 regarding whether baptized believers alone should take the Lord’s Supper. Since not all were in agreement on the issue, the Confession stated that “worthy receivers” partook of the elements, leaving the definition of worthy to individual churches. Obviously there is still disagreement today. However, if you respect Baptists despite disagreeing with them, then you should be able to respect those who decide to fence the table.

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8 thoughts on “The line must be drawn here! Or, why closed communion?

  1. What I find interesting is that most of the churches that I have attended when I asked if they fenced the table they looked at me as if I said do you mind if I park my elephant in your foyer. Nobody knew what I was talking about. Now given where I live there are no Reformed Baptists (besides me ) which may account for the lack of knowledge but still you’d think somebody would have read something.

    • I do not have much experience with truly closed communion churches. Usually the churches I have visited restrict to being a member in good standing at a Bible-believing church. Oddly enough, the most “restriction” of sorts I experienced was at an RPCNA church (Presbyterian) that took the names of visitors and their home churches before service if they wished to receive the Lord’s Supper.

  2. I did too! As soon as I saw your title I read it as Picard. Ha!!! Very good. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think that hardline, Baptist have to say yes, we believe you can’t come to the closed communion table, but I can also see a pastor making a choice to allow a Presbyterian brother to enjoy communion with them. And yes, what about their children?

    • Yes, Picard is always present in my mind when lines are drawn. 🙂 I currently do not have strong convictions regarding the open/closed debate, but I did want to explore the why’s of closed communion. I recently read on an FB forum a comment to the effect that those who favor closed communion just did so without truly studying the Scriptures. While that may be true of some, I think we can see that is not the case with all. Is it better to err on the side of caution, or on the side of charity when it comes to the Lord’s Supper?

      • All good questions. We practice closed communion at our church in that we ask that people refrain if they haven’t been baptized and aren’t members of a church making caveats for those who are in transition. But, our elders don’t interview everyone before we enjoy the Lord’s supper, so in some way it’s left up to the conviction of the hearer. I’m going to have to ask them more about it now that I’ve read articles going all different directions. I think the debate is a very healthy thing. 🙂

  3. Pingback: “A Sober Discourse on the Right to Church-Communion” by William Kiffin [Free E-book Friday] | The Confessing Baptist

  4. I feel as if this is somewhat of a theologians debate. Although I much appreciate the intellectual gymnastics, not many churches today actually enforce “closed” communion in practice ( in my experience anyways). I must say it’s a rather logical and coherent interpretation of immersion baptism. I read an interesting article regarding the fact that those baptist who hold an open communion do so on the principal that the “authentic faith” of these brothers superseded their interpretation of baptism. Anyways, it’s really interesting but, personally, I would not deny the lords table to any real Christian but, that’s just a personal interpretation 🙂

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