Closed Communion as Mere Christianity

Russell Moore does a great job defending closed communion as a valid expression of “mere Christianity.” Here’s a little bit of it:

It seems sectarian to say one can’t come to the table unless one has been baptized by immersion as a believer, unless one realizes that, for Baptist Christians, this is what baptism is. Along with Eastern Orthodox Christians, Baptists affirm that Jesus meant “to immerse” when he commanded us to baptize. Unlike the Orthodox, Catholics, and the magisterial Reformers, Baptists believe a baptism is only valid when conferred on one who is in Christ, and who professes him as Lord. Ironically, it is here, where Baptists stand the most alone, that we are the most catholic.

Virtually every Christian communion in all places and at all times, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, holds that baptism is a prerequisite to participation at the Lord’s Table. Regardless of our differences about the sacerdotal efficacy of baptism, we all acknowledge that this, at least, marks out the boundaries of church fellowship. There is, the apostle says, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). In this, the dividing line isn’t whether one must be baptized to take the Supper, or whether one must be part of the church, but rather, what is “baptism” and what is “the church.”

At my church, we take communion every week, and we fence the table along these lines. We do it not because we like division, but because we think it’s good to obey the Lord’s command (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Sometimes this leads to honest differences among Christians, but what is the alternative? Transgressing the Lord’s command by inviting unbaptized persons to take communion?

Baptists get the most heat for staying consistent with their ecclesiological convictions. After all, a paedobaptist Presbyterian could invite a Baptist to his communion table with no inconsistency, but a Baptist cannot do the same. This exclusion offends many brothers and sisters from different traditions, and so credo-baptism has become the step-child of the broader Christian community. The result historically has typically been the marginalization of Baptists. Spurgeon said it this way:

If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right. If we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us, that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.

-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Susannah Spurgeon, Joseph Harrald,
The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 1
(Chicago: F.H. Revell, 1898), p. 155.

Read the rest of Moore’s article here.

46 Responses to Closed Communion as Mere Christianity

  1. Ethan August 24, 2011 at 2:06 am #

    Curious to your views/attitudes if one of your daughters (assuming you have one) planned
    on marrying a nice Reformed Presbyterian fellow.

    Also, what is your view on the table? I get the idea for you it is “just a symbol”, but your just a bit more serious than Flannery about who gets to take it.

    One more question, what is more important, the sermon or the table?

  2. Reg Schofield August 24, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    I can see the Baptist view over immersion in the exclusion of Church membership but not at the Lord’s table. Baptism does not make one a Christian . Is not the Lord’s table open to all who confess Him as Lord and Savior . We may disagree on the mode , even though I believe immersion and believers baptism is the most consistent with scripture , I’m not so sure that it should exclude the likes of R.C Sproul or Micheal Horton. Plus as implied would it also not make them open sinners , defying God when they take communion. That would include Luther,Calvin.Owen etc… sorry don’t see it.

  3. Dillon August 24, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    I appreciated Dr. Moore’s article but was saddened by it as well. I doubt if there’s anything new to any theological argument one could bring but the difficulty Dr. Moore speaks of is the Spirit telling him it’s not right as well. Men/God/Men/God/Men/God to whom shall we listen to.

  4. Denny Burk August 24, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Reg, So you would invite unbaptized persons to the Lord’s Table? I don’t know any tradition of Christianity that would allow such a thing.

    • Reg Schofield August 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

      Just to clarify , the Lord’s table should be for those baptized. Those who have been baptized within their reformed traditions I consider valid within their understanding. I may argue that that I understand the mode differently but I did not mean those who have never been baptized in any sense of the word.

      • Ethan August 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

        Thanks Reg. Very clear and succinct and and exactly the type charity that should be shown among brothers.

  5. Denny Burk August 24, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Ethan, I affirm The Abstract of Principles:

    “The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, to be administered with the elements of bread and wine, and to be observed by His churches till the end of the world. It is in no sense a sacrifice, but is designed to commemorate His death, to confirm the faith and other graces of Christians, and to be a bond, pledge and renewal of their communion with Him, and of their church fellowship.”

    According to 1 Corinthians 11, every time we take the supper “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In other words, the supper itself is a visual proclamation of the gospel. In that sense, it is a means of grace that “confirms the faith and other graces of Christians” (as the Abstract has it).

    Thanks,
    Denny

  6. Ethan August 24, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    There are bigger guns with more time for this one than me. I appreciate you are sticking to what you view is proper and right but to me the splinter is the mode of baptism and the log is barring your brothers and sisters in Christ from fellowship. Do you serve juice or wine by the way?

  7. Caroline August 24, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Although I agree that a profession of faith is required before the Lord’s supper I don’t agree that immersion baptism is consistent with scripture. Baptism does not save…it is only a symbol. Infant baptism is a continuation of the Old Testament command of separating our covenant children by circumcision just like the Lord’s Supper is a continuation of the Passover. If there was not an opportunity to be baptized as an infant then a baptism after conversion is the next course of action. But why immersion? Is the amount of water so important? I do not find this consistent with scripture. What about the prisoner’s family? Did they go out into the night and find a river? Could they have used the water basin used to wash hands? What about the thief on the cross?
    Just a thought…It is sad that I could not participate in the Lord’s Supper at the Baptist church because of their rules. My baptism as an infant wasn’t good enough? I will be with all of you for eternity and I will not be immersed.

  8. Denny Burk August 24, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Caroline,

    Thanks for reading and for your comment. You asked “Why immersion?” Jesus commanded every disciple to be “immersed” in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). Since Jesus and the apostles prescribed immersion as the proper mode, we believe that we need to obey what they have taught us.

    In short, we make much of immersion because the BIble makes much of it.

    Thanks,
    Denny

    • Caroline August 24, 2011 at 10:56 am #

      Yes, the bible makes much of Baptism but not immersion. There are differing views as to what is the meaning of Baptize. But I am just a housewife and very non-confrontational..surprise. This article explains it better than I could ever try to. http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH00/0007b.html

      Regardless…one day we will all know who is right. As I gaze upon Jesus’ face I have to know that I will not care about the methods of baptism, disputes on whether there be a rapture, and why I was restricted from the Lord’s supper because I didn’t have enough water on me. I have my kids memorizing Philippians 2:1-2 this week. “…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” And what a day that will be.

      • JohnnyM August 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

        Caroline the word baptize in the Greek literally means immersion.

        • Caroline August 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

          Johnny…We believe it could mean immerse or sprinkle.

          • JohnnyM August 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

            The literal translation of Baptism is immersion. So you essentially said, the Bible makes much of immersion but not immersion. Or the Bible makes much of baptism but not baptism.

            Do you have any evidence, sources, texts that baptism means sprinkling?

        • Ethan August 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

          Is it wine or grape juice or both at your church Johnny?

          • JohnnyM August 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

            I have done both. I think the only requirement is that it is the fruit of the vine as Jesus describes it in Mark. Can you give me a definition of Baptism in the Bible that refers to sprinkling?

          • Ethan August 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

            For some reason I can not reply to your comments Johnny. The technical details of the debates are out there, no need to hash them out here, look them up. I think the majority of churches I am familiar with pour water over the infant, although our church has immersed the infant at the request of the father (still not going to be good enough I am guessing for Dr. Moore). I have not read the book but have been enjoying some quotes lately from “To a Thousand Generations”. The entire book is available free online if you do a Google Book search for the title. I believe ultimately the answer was given already by others here.

  9. Ethan August 24, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    And if visited one of your Elders homes for dinner and saw a photo of his baptism, in which for some odd reason his hair was still dry…you would do what?

  10. Gus August 24, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    I guess Calvin and Luther won’t be coming to your communion table.

    • Nate August 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Gus, Luther disagreed with Zwingli and wouldn’t go to his table

  11. Daniel August 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Denny,

    Is there a particular passage in Scripture, which confirms this approach to closed communion?

    I don’t see how Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 teach that only immersed believers can participate in the Lord’s Supper.

    Shouldn’t the Lord’s Table be open to all who have embraced the gospel?

    • JohnnyM August 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      I follow the 1 Cor model. During communion let everyone know the consequences of partaking in an unworthy manner, then let it be “open” to all. Anyone can enter our church and worship with us. We dont interrogate them or know the hearts of all who enter, so it is really up to them whether they partake or not. I think it is our responsibility as believers to let them know the consequences of partaking in communion when they are not right with God or are unbelievers.

      • Daniel August 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

        All true believers in Christ are right with God. To modify a NT Wright quote, “The doctrine of justification implies that credobaptists and paedobaptists can sit at the table.”

        To exclude paedobaptists from the communion table implies that they are second-class members in the family of God.

        • JohnnyM August 25, 2011 at 8:45 am #

          I think all believers should partake in communion. I dont think unbelievers should, nor should believers partake of it in an unworthy manner. There were believers in the Corinthian Church who had fallen ill because they were taking communion in an unworthy manner.

          I would also argue that anyone who is not baptized is partaking in an unworthy manner, since baptism is clearly a matter of obedience. All Christians should be baptized as soon as possible. Baptism does not save, but baptism is a public profession of our faith in Jesus Christ, so by refusing to be baptized we show that we are ashamed of the Gospel and that our faith may be just words..

          • Daniel August 25, 2011 at 9:12 am #

            Isn’t there any indication in 1 Corinthians 11 that partaking in an unworthy manner refers to not being immersed?

            That sounds like a giant leap for me.

            The phrase “unworthy manner” in 1 Corinthians 11 refers to the divisions among them (1 Cor 11:18). The rich are not waiting for the poor. They refuse to eat the meal “together.”

            The final command in the passage is to “wait for each other” (1 Cor. 11:33. Christ died for both rich and poor. Therefore, the communion table must be shared by together.

            The paedobaptists whom I know are definitely not ashamed of the gospel.

          • JohnnyM August 25, 2011 at 10:09 am #

            I think there are two arguments here. One is the definition of baptism. Is it immersion or not? The other is can someone who is not baptized partake of communion.

            As to the first, I believe baptism is by immersion. Infant baptism and sprinkling are not found in Scripture. Baptism itself means immersion and is a picture of death, burial. and resurrection.

            As to the issue of communion, I would encourage anyone who is not baptized by immersion to do so as soon as possible. I would walk them through the Scriptures to show why immersion is the only valid form of Baptism. At that point, they can either choose to partake of communion or not, and I will not forbid them. I will follow Romans 14 – “To his own master he stands or falls;” I am not going to deny communion to a believer because of their views on what constitutes true baptism.

            If a believer who has not been baptized by any method and refuses to be baptized then I would question their faith and recommend they do not communion at all until they have been baptized.

  12. Donald Johnson August 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    The primary meaning of baptizo is immersion, but that does not mean it does not have extended meanings. In the LXX, a person is said to be “baptized” in dew and dew is something that one simply cannot immerse into. And there is also a possible pouring aspect of baptism, for example, baptism with the Holy Spirit which comes “from above”.

    So I see baptism as an act of faith, without faith you are simply getting wet.
    Similarly I see taking communion as an act of faith, without faith you are simply eating a snack.

    So I would hesitate to draw lines, as I would be concerned to exclude someone that God includes and I really do not want to do that.

    • Tom1st August 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

      Donald, the more I read your comments on this page, the more I like you. I don’t write a lot on here, but I appreciate your willingness to engage these discussions. Thanks for being thoughtful and fair. That’s a rarity in the blog world.

  13. Chris Taylor August 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Hey Denny,

    Can you point to any good answers to Bunyan’s arguments, ancient or modern? I’d like to see his most powerful reasons placed over and against the Baptists most powerful responses.

  14. Henry August 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Denny,

    I like your argument, but does it not leave you in a very inconsistent position, in that you happily have very close fellowship and work with infant baptists (e.g T4G) thus seemingly undermining your expressed serious issues with their infant baptist beliefs?

    Also, on what basis do you elevate baptism as a requirement to partaking of the Lord’s supper? Should not the only requirement be that they are born-again?

  15. Caroline August 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Johnny M: Here is part of a response from a good friend of mine. I thought I would copy it here since it was the example you asked for.

    Mark 7:4 is a good example of a place where “baptize” cannot mean immerse.

    “and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash (“baptize”). And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing (“baptize”) of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.”

    Obviously, no one was immersing their couches. The more appropriate understanding is that they ceremonially sprinkled their couches. “

  16. Donald Johnson August 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Instead of trying to argue that a couch could be immersed, one can instead see what the Jews actually did, which was not to immerse but to wash. The Bible was written inside of a cultural context and to NOT avail oneself of that cultural context is to leave oneself open to mistakes that should never happen.

    • JohnnyM August 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      first of all there is much debate over the word “couch” in that verse. Whether it is even supposed to be there. As far as historical reference goes, from the link I posted:

      Historical Testimony

      Alfred Edersheim, himself a Jew and an expert in rabbinic literature, described the Pharisaic cleansing ritual:

      Earthen vessels that had contracted impurity were to be broken; those of wood, horn, glass, or brass immersed; while, if vessels were bought of Gentiles, they were (as the case might be) to be immersed, put into boiling water, purged with fire, or at least polished (1947, 15; emphasis added).

      • Chris Taylor August 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

        Johnny,

        For this discussion, the authenticity of the word ‘couch’ in relation to the word ‘baptize’ the original manuscript in Mark 7:4 is irrelevant. The point is the same regardless of the answer to that question, namely that in NT times (or at the latest a couple decades later), the word ‘baptize’ was used in relation to the purification of a ‘couch.’

        • JohnnyM August 25, 2011 at 8:37 am #

          so why would it imply sprinkling? You can easily wash a couch of that era through immersion. Ritual washings of that time did full immersion, so you need more evidence then trying to envision some priest washing a sectional.

          Your argument is: since they washed a couch baptizo can also mean sprinkling, That is a non-sequitar.

          Plus, baptism is described as a picture of death, burial, and resurrection in the Bible. Sprinkling does not fit that metaphor.

          so you are going to claim that baptism (literally immersion) can mean sprinkling based on one controversial verse that in no way mentions or implies sprinkling and that goes counter to the symbolism of baptism itself.

          • Chris Taylor August 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

            Johnny,

            Please look at my post. I argued nothing. I merely pointed out that bringing up the authenticity of the word ‘couch’ was irrelevant.

            Though to be sure, for my part, I’m not convinced from the NT that baptizw must be thought of as immersion. Mark 7:4 (which I had not taken notice of until this post), would seem to at least permit the idea of sprinkling (though you are right in that it does not necessitate such a reading).

            Given how divisive this issue has become, I’m back to studying it again. For my part, it seems that John Bunyan’s works on this issue should be required reading for all Baptist seminary students. Even if they don’t agree, they should have ready answers.

  17. Mark August 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Even though I believe that ONLY believers should be baptized, I don’t believe that immersion is the only way (even though it is the preferable way).

    If we say that only fully immersed baptized believers can join the Table then we are excluding a whole groupings of believers from non-Baptist traditions from the Table that the Lord has given to all who have embraced him by faith for justification and life.

    In effect we are saying that if John Calvin were alive today we should not allow him to partake of the Lord’s Table that is given to us as a sign of Christ’s sacrificial work for our redemption.

  18. Donald Johnson August 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    Communion is SUPPOSED to be a sign of unity of believers, even if they do not have unity of faith that have unity in the Spirit and so can partake. So the excluders have it exactly backwards, as I see it.

    • Daniel August 24, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

      Donald,

      I agree completely.

      I don’t see how this position can be supported exegetically. Denny appeals to Baptist tradition. I would like to see this position defended from Scripture. Where in the Bible is it taught that communion is only for immersed believers?

  19. Donald Johnson August 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    The wiki article on baptism has a good discussion on the possible meanings.

  20. David Rogers August 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I emerge from my self-imposed exile and make the following comment.

    Luke 22:19-21 (NASB)

    19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
    20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
    21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.

    It is interesting that Judas could partake of the Last Supper, but J. I. Packer should not celebrate the Lord’s Supper with Baptists.

    I now retreat back into my self-imposed hole.

  21. Nate August 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    For all of you who are Southern Baptists, you do realize that the Baptist Faith and Message says that baptism, by immersion, is a prerequisite to the Lord’s table, right? And, since most SBC churches affirm this document, you may be in disagreement with your own church, regardless if they actually abide by it. You might want to bring that to your church’s attention at the next business meeting if they actually they say they hold to the Baptist Faith and Message, but don’t comply with it.

  22. RD August 25, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    So, the thief on the cross would be with Jesus in paradise, but couldn’t join the early Christians in Jerusalem around the communion table?

    In the Missionary Baptist tradition, one cannot partake of the Supper unless they are a member of the particular church which is conducting communion. It’s a closed-CLOSED communion. So even though I have been baptized by immersion, if I’m not a member of that particular church, I can’t participate.

    It all makes me quite sad. The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be the most unifying observance within the Christian family, and human beings have managed to place all kinds of requirements and perameters around it in order to ensure that it remains “traditional” and proper.

  23. Donald Johnson August 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    FWIIW, even tho I believe that the excluders are incorrect, if I am in a congregation that teaches exclusion and asks me not to partake for some reason, I will submit to their request.

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