Christianity,  Theology/Bible

The argument from irony against close communion

Well, I suppose I would be better off letting Mark Jones’ essay attacking close communion go by without comment. I am reminded of the Proverb, “Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own” (Proverbs 26:17). Jones’s post wasn’t addressed to me specifically. Still, I do feel like this is as much my quarrel as anyone’s. I am a Baptist pastor who holds to close communion. That is the position of my denomination, and it is the position of my church. I happen to believe that it is the position of scripture as well.

Jones, however, would have me and other Baptists set all of that aside in favor of his scripture-free arguments defending open communion. And I really do mean “scripture-free.” Jones is not taking his stand on scriptural teaching, but rather on what he perceives to be the ironies of the Baptist position. I will be the first to admit that there may be some ironies in the credo-baptist position. But no one should let their conscience be bound by another person’s perception of irony. At the end of the day, this should be a discussion about what the Bible teaches, but that is not what you will find in Jones’s essay.

We believe that Jesus commanded us to make disciples of every nation (1) by immersing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and (2) by teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). That is the essence of the great commission, and it involves immersion. That is not theology by etymology (as Jones alleges). It’s simply listening to the words of Jesus. Again, if Jones wants to engage the meaning of baptism, maybe he could start by explaining his interpretation of baptize.

There is much more that can and should be said on the subject. But for now I will leave the last word to Baptist theologian John L. Dagg. Dagg argued that we may know and love many unbaptized Christians, but that does not give us the right to overrule God’s word on the meaning of baptism. Dagg writes:

The members of a church, who understand the law of Christ, are bound to observe it strictly, whatever may be the ignorance and errors of others. For them to admit unbaptized persons to membership [and thus to communion], is to subvert a known law of Christ. Though there be unbaptized persons surpassing in every spiritual excellence, and though the candidate for admission excel them all, yet the single question for the church is, shall its order be established according to the will of God, or shall it not.



  • Joel Griffis

    Hi, Denny. I’m a credobaptist who is thoroughly persuaded that the immersion-only position is flat wrong — both lexically and theologically. I’ve discussed the issues at length here: And I welcome your interaction with it, either here or on my blog. Grace and peace.

    • jamesattebury

      Joel, credobaptism which allows for pouring and sprinkling has never survived in church history for good reason. I recommend that you read “The Meaning and Use of Baptizen” by T. J. Conant and “Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects” by Alexander Carson. They are available for free on Google books. I will just reply to one of your arguments based on Mark 7:4 with regard to “dining couches” being immersed. This is a historically anachronistic argument based on reading into the term our modern concept of a couch. This would of been a rug that could have been carried as in the case of the paralytic in Matthew 9:6 who picks up his bed and goes home. Jews practiced ritual immersion for themselves and nearly everything in their home. Just search for “Mikveh” on Google.

      I’ve written about this if you would like to read:

      • Joel Griffis

        James, why is it credobaptism specifically that doesn’t accommodate pouring and sprinkling? The mode of baptism is a different question than the recipients, and the two issues ought to be treated separately. If pouring and sprinkling were so obviously unbiblical, then why shouldn’t paedobaptists be able to recognize it just as well? I don’t think the dominant preference for sprinkling amongst paedobaptist Christians necessarily has anything to do with bare practicality. Sprinkling has unique theological significance. And after all, infant immersion is perfectly feasible; just ask the Greek Orthodox.

        I haven’t read the two works that you’ve mentioned, but I appreciate the recommendations. I have, however, read oodles of modern defenses of immersion-only, and by and large, I find them unpersuasive. Returning the favor, I would recommend to you R. W. Dale’s astonishingly exhaustive multi-volume treatment of the lexical data surrounding baptizo ( Pretty sure those are available on Google books as well. I look forward to reading your own article, and I’ll leave a response at your blog once I do.

        One last thought: It’s striking that immersionists tend to pride themselves on being rigorously biblical while resting their view largely on extrabiblical Jewish tradition.

  • James Harold Thomas

    I guess I’m ignorant of the differences in communion practices. I always thought that closed communion meant only members of the church could participate, and open communion meant any confessing believer could. How is close communion different from these?

  • Andrew Schmitz

    Dr. Burk, Mark Jones links to Joe Thorn’s blog post on the positions on communion, and says that his church holds to open communion. Is that problematic for a SBC church, in your view?

    • Denny Burk

      Well, it certainly contradicts our denomination’s statement of faith, which says this:

      “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

  • Don Johnson

    Since I see an open communion taught in Scripture, I assume that unless told differently and I respect the decision of any group to restrict me for any reason they have. So if I am informed they do not think I should partake, I do not.

    I do find it ironic that an act of faith that is intended to show we are one body ends up showing we are not when groups decide to have closed communion.

  • Tim Keene

    What do those who practise closed communion think about the status of those groups of people who they would bar from communion? And what are those groups? I have been baptised as an adult at a Brethren church but if I were to visit, say, Denny’s church, I would not be a member of that specific church. Are all visitors, being non members of that local church, barred? Or would Southern Baptist members from other churches be welcome? And what about Baptists from other denominations/conventions?
    Do Southern Baptist churches ever celebrate communion with other churches, say for an ecumenical event (e.g. evangelistic crusade)? I am just interested to know how the practice actually works.

    • Christiane Smith

      Hi ROBERT,
      in my faith, most people who believed that would not want to receive communion, because at the communion rail, the minister says ‘Body of Christ’, and we respond ‘Amen’ in affirmation . . .
      so that places those whose belief is that ‘it is only bread’ in a position where they cannot honestly respond ‘Amen’

      It isn’t so much a matter of ‘exclusion’ in a case like ours, as it is an honest inability to affirm a belief

      Even people of my own faith who have the ability to affirm with an ‘Amen’ will abstain from communion if they have to go first and make peace with someone they have offended . . . there is a reference in sacred Scripture about this which is honored in actual practice in our church . . . so that those who are at peace with God and with their fellow men are then free to approach the Lord’s Table in good conscience

  • Michael Bird

    Most Baptists in the UK and Australia practice open communion with confession of Jesus as Lord the only criterion for participation. I would say that internationally restricted communion is a minority position for Baptist churches. If you’re interested, I discuss this in my Evangelical Theology.

    • Stephen Beck

      A Lifeway study from a year or two ago showed that open communion is the majority position among Southern Baptists as well, despite the implication of the BFM that either only credo-baptized believers or (more restrictively) only members of that particular church should partake. I don’t think there’s a lot of tension in the convention about it.

  • Roy Fuller

    My church (Baptist, CBF affiliated) embraced open communion many years ago. I find it somewhat strange to defend the idea that the standards for participation in communion (requiring believers baptism) should be higher than the standards for being a believer (profession of faith alone being required). Granted, Baptists believe that believers should be baptized, but to require baptism (setting aside the timing and mode questions) prior to receiving communion does not seem biblically mandated.

  • Steve

    Firm credobaptist here. Being unwilling to share the symbol of the atonement with those you happily acknowledge to be brothers and sisters in Christ is, in my opinion, a far worse error than believing children of believers may be baptized as infants. It entails a failure to “recognize the body of Christ” at the Table itself by deliberately excluding those for whom Christ died. If you acknowledge our paedobaptist brothers and sisters to be members of the new covenant community based on their profession of faith, you should be more than willing to share in the meal that anticipates the heavenly banquet we will share together. Let’s agree they botch the initiatory ordinance, but not compound things by introducing unhelpful division at the Table. In an increasingly post-Christian era I suspect we’re going to have to learn to get along WITHIN local churches notwithstanding differences over even significant secondary issues. Ironically, close communion and paedobaptism both miss the mark in identifying the new covenant community…it isn’t who your parents were nor whether you got wet in the right way, but whether you wear the badge of faith in Jesus. I’ll sup with my paedobaptist brethren anytime.

  • Robert Karl

    Yes, I understand if your belief is the Holy Eurcharist that is the real presence of Jesus, but if not then it is only bread so what is the big deal about that–It is just that-bread.

    This reminds me of the exchaneg of GK Chesterton in the Ball & Cross-when one person states that the Holy Eurcharist is only bread.The other counters with -if it is only bread then why don’t you eat it.

    Also, look at all the dvisions in this thread about baptism and communiuon. Truth is not this -but one unified holy belief. Not allcan be the Christian Truth.

  • randy curtis

    I was reared to believe credobaptism was wrong (except on a sick bed when it somehow becomes okay). I’m leaning away from that as understand more about OT examples that point to believer’s baptism to come as well as early (first and second generation) Church history. That is for disclosure. However, the statement that Baptists all over the world allow open communion should have no bearing in this discussion. Either close or closed communion is biblical or it is not. What others do may be wrong. I have some good PCA friends that would add more to the argument in favor of creobaptism with scripture references but I can’t do that.

    As an aside for a period of time I attended a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. The priest and I recognized each as brothers by our confessions. The first sermon I heard him preach was salvation through Christ alone by grace alone. His congregation learned to view me as a brother from a different communion. We both wished that I could join in the Divine Liturgy (with REAL wine!) but it wasn’t allowed. I understood this and I always received a bit of blessed bread from the same loaf from which the sanctified portion had come as well as a barucha from my friend.

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