THE BAPTIST MESSAGE
Is Close Communion Right?
Rev. Claude W. Duke
in Religious Herald, July 28, 1910.
Text - 1 Corinthians 11:28: "Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup."
I very earnestly wish it might be possible for all Christians to come together at the Lord's table. It seems to me a very unfortunate state of religious affairs when Christian people are not able to meet together at the Lord's table. If it is the table of our heavenly
Father, surely all his children should have a right to come to their Father's table. This seems to me an inevitable conclusion.
Having made this broad statement, I feel that I should make it broader still; so I wish to add that I feel also that all Christians ought to be able to come together before they come to the Lord's table. In fact, I fail to find any argument in reason or Scripture why Christians ought to come together at the Lord's table that does not hold with equal force as an argument for their coming together before they reach the Lord's table. For the life of me I am not able to discover the consistency in Christians who are willing to come together at the Lord's table, separating themselves into denominations, warring and contending with each other when they are absent from the table. I am sure that Jesus not only wishes us to come together at his table, but he equally wishes us to remain together when we are away from the table. In his memorable prayer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John he prays the Father that his disciples may all be one as he and his Father are one. Paul reminds us that God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. It seems very desirable, according to Scripture, that all Christians should be together, not only at the Lord's table, but before they reach and after they leave it.
Baptists are in the habit of practicing what is called close communion - i.e., they do not invite members of other denominations to join with them in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, nor do they participate in the ordinance when it is celebrated in other denominations. Some persons have thoughtlessly charged us, on this account, with a spirit of selfishness. Mark you, I say "thoughtlessly," for scarcely would a fair-minded person make such an allegation except in a moment of thoughtlessness. The suggestion that a denomination of more than five millions of earnest, active, self-sacrificing Christians would wantonly engage in a practice calculated to subject them to so much criticism simply from a motive so un-Christian as selfishness, is totally unworthy of an intelligent and fair-minded critic. The honest critic must look deeper than this for a motive. Surely such people must have what to them is a good and sufficient reason for their practice.
Personally, I do not invite anyone to the Lord's table, for the very simple reason that the table is not my own to do with as I please. I may invite people to my own table, but to the Lord's table we should let the Scriptures teach us who are invited and who are not. If I do not invite I do not command any one to stay away. Surely no one can take offense at me in that.
The question resolves itself into this: What would Jesus do? Were he here in bodily form this morning, what would he say upon the terms of admittance to this ordinance? This is the great question, the essential question. It is reasonable to suppose that Jesus would be consistent with himself. We should expect him to throw around his table the same restrictions that are already placed around it in his holy word. We should expect also that upon a matter of such importance as this there would be specific teaching in the New Testament concerning the ordinance. We are specifically enjoined by Paul to keep the ordinances (traditions, under which he included the ordinances), as they were given to us. It was Jesus who said that if we love mother or father, brother or sister, husband or wife more than him, we are not worthy to be called his disciples. We are told that obedience is better than sacrifice. It is, then, a matter of great concern to all Christians to know what restrictions are placed about this ordinance, and to keep the ordinance where it was placed. If this should keep some Christians from coming to this ordinance, surely no blame should be attached to those who set forth the restrictions that are laid down in the word of God.
What are these restrictions? It seems to me that they may be summed up under five heads:
1. Discipleship. In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we are told that they who had gladly received the word were added; and that they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and in the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread there seems to refer to the Lord's Supper. We notice that they first received the word - i.e., they became disciples. In the great commission Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded. This seems so clear and reasonable that it is quite unnecessary to tarry upon it. I do not know of anyone who contends that the ordinance should be offered to Jews, Mohammedans, Buddhists or infidels. In this all Christians agree to practice close communion. There are some churches in which the ministry do not commune with the laity, and there are those also in which certain of their membership - i.e., infants, are invited to the Lord's table. Baptists are not so close as that; they invite all members of their churches in good standing to come to the table - i.e., they understand them to be included in the invitation as it should be repeated.
2. Another restriction is baptism. In the second chapter of the Acts we are told that they who gladly received the word were baptized the same day. The commission reads:
Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them - i.e.., the disciples, teaching them - i.e., those who are baptized, "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." In addition to the teaching of Jesus, we have his example and that of his disciples. He was baptized at the beginning of his public ministry and instituted the Supper about the end. His disciples were all baptized, for most of them were disciples first of John the Baptist, and we are told that they all engaged in the administration of the ordinance. It would be the height of inconsistency for men to administer the ordinance under the very eyes of Jesus if they had never obeyed the command.
In this restriction many denominations are obedient. The Disciples (Campbellites) are not, according to their interpretation of the meaning of baptism. The Methodists are not in this day, though they were in the days of John Wesley. He refused to admit persons to the Supper when they were not baptized by ministers who were not episcopally ordained. I think, however, it is now the almost uniform custom among Methodists to invite all Christians, whether they are baptized or not. In this they would include Quakers; I am not sure whether Unitarians, who deny the deity of Christ, and Mormons, who practice polygamy, would be included or not. So far as I
know the Presbyterians agree with us, as do the Episcopalians, in inviting no one who has not been baptized. The only point on which they differ from us in this regard is upon the form of the ordinance of baptism. We contend that immersion, and immersion only, is baptism. We insist that sprinkling and pouring for baptism are not known in the New Testament, and hence should not be practiced by the churches. Dr. Cornelius Tyree has taken the pains to investigate the use of the Greek words for sprinkle, pour and immerse, as found in the New Testament. This is what he finds: The word for sprinkle is rantizo, and it is used six times. It is never used for the ordinance of baptism. One word for pour is ekcheo, and it is found in the New Testament 152 times. It is never used in reference to the ordinance of baptism. The word for wash is louo, and is used 139 times. It is never used in reference to the ordinance of baptism. The word for immersion is baptizo, and in every case where baptism is referred to this word is used. It is even used in the same sentences with the other words, thus making the distinction absolute. If I do not know that Jesus Christ was immersed, and that this was the uniform New Testament mode of baptism, I do not know that Jesus arose from the dead, or that Paul was a converted Pharisee. It is very clear
that those who have not been immersed have not been baptized according to the teaching of the New Testament. But do not other people believe that this is baptism? we are asked. I am quite sure they do. They are evidently quite as conscientious people on the whole as are any of us. But I am quite sure they are mistaken. Whose judgment shall I follow, theirs or mine? I read the other day that a certain man thought he was president of the United States, and so presented his claim at the White House. President Taft did not happen to agree with the man. Do you think he ought to have vacated the White House for the mistaken American citizen?
3. Another restriction is church membership. Paul, in the eleventh chapter of First Corinthians, referring to the Lord's Supper, says: "When ye come together in the church." That cannot refer to the church building, for they did not have them in that day. In the second chapter of Acts we are told that they engaged in breaking of bread from house to house, but they were meeting thus for worship. Jesus, when he instituted this ordinance, did so only in the presence of his disciples, and in all probability Judas was absent at the time. In the very nature of the ordinances they are committed to the churches and are to be celebrated as church ordinances. For this reason
we do not celebrate this ordinance in private homes, except by church authority. When I was in Jerusalem a number of tourists held a moonlight service on the Mount of Olives, and in connection with it they celebrated the Lord's Supper. I did not participate, not for the sake of being singular, for I greatly dislike to be, but because it was not celebrated by church authority. For this reason we do not celebrate the Supper at the meetings of the State Conventions, or of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this many people of other denominations agree with us. In the New Testament the churches are made the custodians of the ordinances. This does not mean, however, that they are to define at will the terms of its administration, for they are given in the New Testament.
4. Another prerequisite is fellowship. Again, in the second chapter of Acts we are told that they continued in the apostles' doctrine, and in breaking of bread, and in fellowship. There seems to be two conditions of fellowship set forth in the New Testament. One is that of character, and the other is that of doctrine. As to that of moral life, there can be no question. In 1 Corinthians 5:11 we read: "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." Men of bad character ought to clearly be excluded from the Lord's Supper. It would seem also that doctrinal differences should exclude from the Supper. 2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which they have received of us;" and again, in Romans 16:17: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which are causing divisions and occasion of stumbling contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and turn away from them," would seem to indicate that the Supper is not to be offered to those whose doctrinal teachings are such as to cause divisions. Exclusion from church does not seem to mean anything unless it involves exclusion from the Lord's Supper. If we should practice the custom of open communion, exclusion for heresy would mean nothing in the way of exclusion from the Lord's Supper. Suppose, I should tomorrow engage in sprinkling an infant in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This church, hearing of it, would perhaps exclude me from its fellowship, unless I recanted. If I then presented myself for membership in a Methodist church, they would be very apt to receive me. They would like me to
do that very thing for which yon excluded me. That is the thing their preachers are always glad to do, and are doing every chance they get. To be sure they do not get as many chances as they used to get, for their people are turning away from the custom, as they should, but the preachers are glad to do it. Next Sunday I could come to this church, which had excluded me from the communion for what you regarded as wrong and hurtful, and demand, if you practiced open communion, that you sit with me at the very communion from which you had a week before excluded me, and you could not help yourselves.
5. Self-examination. This brings us to the text: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." This is clearly a restriction within the local church. How strange that this passage should be so often quoted as an argument for open communion, as if it were the only restriction thrown around the table. It is one more added to the others, and is a restriction within a local church. It is a very solemn thing to come to the Lord's table. Jesus suggests that if in coming we think of a brother that has aught against us we ought to go first and make peace with the brother. If we eat the Supper in an unworthy manner we are guilty of great sin. I wonder if this is
the reason why so many of the church members leave the house when the table is spread?
I repeat the words with which I began. I wish it were possible for all Christians to come together at the Lord's table. It seems to me that they ought to be willing and able so to do. I trust the day may soon come when they shall. I am very sure that Baptists do not wish these differences to exist among Christians. Just so soon as men shall cease teaching the decisions of councils instead of the word of God, just so soon as they come to be willing to follow the Master in all his commands and precepts, just that soon shall all Baptists be willing to welcome all Christians to the table of their Lord.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB / SBC, 1911, p. 68-44. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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