Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.