This is part 2 of a series of posts advocating the practice of Close Communion in Southern Baptist Churches. Click here for part 1.
Close communion stands between polar extremes: open communion and closed communion. It is critiqued on two fronts: for, while some argue that “it is the Lord’s [Supper], not the church’s, and that it is harsh, unloving, offensive, and wrong to exclude from the Lord’s Table any who belong to Him,” others claim “that when an ordinance or act symbolizes or implies church relations, it is pre-eminently a church ordinance, and must be confined to the members of a particular church only.” The delineation between open, close, and closed communion rests in differing definitions of two words: baptism and church.
The impetus to restrict the Lord’s Supper against those of dissimilar baptismal practice stems from a Baptist definition of baptism. This conviction—that the Biblical witness defines baptism as the immersion of a professing Christian in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as an act of obedience to Christ’s command, an act that symbolizes the believer’s death, burial, and resurrection in Christ, and an act that bears witness to the saving work of Christ—creates immediate parameters for the Lord’s Supper. Only believers “who have been biblically baptized and are in right fellowship with their local churches,” may approach the Table.
This distinction is the most visible and most important result of differing definitions of baptism: paedobaptists cannot claim to have been baptized according to this definition. Their disagreement with this definition—or their disregard for the importance thereof—is not an argument for participation, but rather against it. They do not believe as Baptists believe, and—more importantly—have not been baptized according to the New Testament model. Therefore, they cannot stand alongside Baptists at the Table and claim to be in unity. Defining baptism by New Testament standards, then, eliminates open communion as a viable option.
A strict definition of “church” provides the foundation for closed communion. Graves writes simply, “assembly is the meaning of the term, ‘church.’” Building on this strict definition of church as the gathered assembly, which though not the universal definition throughout the Scriptures, admittedly is the authorial intent in most occurrences, many in favor of closed communion seek to defend the practice in terms of church ordinance. Once more, Graves demonstrates the argument:
If the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, as must be admitted, and a symbol, among other things, of our visible church relations in the same particular church with which we celebrate it, then it is a violation of the truth symbolized to invite members of other Baptist churches to participate in it.
For Graves, then, the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, and there is no church apart from the local assembly. Garrett clarifies Graves’ concerns with intercommunion: “it abrogates congregational independence, subverts congregational discipline, and is divisive among Baptists.”
Absent from Graves’ definition (and that of many who practice closed communion) is any notion of “the totality of Christians living in one place,” or that of “the church universal, to which all believers belong.” While the New Testament primarily refers to local bodies of Christians as churches, it uses the same term (εκκλησια) when referring to believers in a given region as well as when referring to all Christians everywhere. Any practice based upon the conviction that the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance must be held with a certain degree of reserve, for the church exists beyond the scope of any given local assembly.
Therefore, closed communion may indeed be the correct practice, however, there is also the possibility that the church ordinance is granted to the universal body of obedient believers. The driving question, then, is “Are there any instances in Scripture where the Lord’s Supper was commemorated outside of the membership of a local church?” Paul’s actions in Acts 20 may provide the needed insight to provide clarification.