The practice of closed communion among churches seems to me to at least be growing fewer and farther between. Somehow the idea, or notion that the Lord restricts participation in the supper to the membership of the local church body seems to be an affront to the common idea among Christianity that all things are for all believers, regardless of their standing in the church.
In this day when the ordinary view of the local church is diminishing into a more of a Biblical suggestion than a divine directive, the natural consequences are that the ordinances of the church become more watered down as well. The Lord’s Supper is a precious picture that we have been given, that should not be handled with great care, but should be handled with Biblical care.
One of the things that has always bothered me about many good men and brethren, who love the Lord, and are genuine saints, is a prevailing tendency to think that the Lord left us with ordinances to carry out according to our own preferences, rationales, and ideas. I have always understood that every man should be fully persuaded in his own mind. I have never understood the notion that the Lord left us a precious picture of Himself to be administered according to our individual consciences. In the same way that Baptism must rise to the level of Biblical description, so should the ordinance of the Lord’s supper.
Without claiming to be an exhaustive study, here are at least two reasons that the Biblical practice of the Lord’s Supper should be an ordinance for the membership of the local church alone.
#1 – The Descriptions Given – After citing a particular passage that describes the Biblical protocol for observing the Lord’s Supper, a good man charged me with making a “descriptive” passage a “prescriptive” passage. To which I plead guilty in the first degree. In all doctrinal matters, descriptions are prescriptions unless there are instructional passages with clearer explanations. In other words, examples are as Biblically authoritative as are commands when no commands are given. Too many people view examples as possibilities or suggestions; the examples God gave are expectations for man to meet not opportunities to make his own decision. Now all of that being said, what descriptions of the Lord’s table are we given that picture it as a limited ordinance.
First – when it was instituted by Jesus it was limited by Jesus. He certainly didn’t institute it in a setting for all of those that believed in Him to partake of it. He limited it to His twelve (eleven.) There were certainly other believers, and followers, that were even within local reason of being there on that night, yet He chose not to include them. He limited it to what is in essence and substance the first local church (called out assembly of baptized believers in covenant together with Christ as her head.) He did not institute it as a “Christian Ordinance” but as a “Local Church Ordinance.”
Second this example is carried out and expanded for us in the book of Acts 2:41-42. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” There in black ink on white paper is the example of the Biblical progression that God desires for every believer; salvation, baptism, membership, discipleship, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and prayers. There are no other instructions that explain contrariwise how these things progress. The examples that we are given are pictured for us with limitations.
#2 The Discretion Expected – One of the things that rarely gets discussed is the fact that the local church is warned about who they take the supper with. 1st Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul explained to the Corinthians that they could not partake of the cup of devils, and the cup of the Lord. It is forbidden. 1 Corinthians 10:21. Furthermore the church is not to take the supper with those who take of the cup of devils. Now that being said, there is no practical way for a church to enforce this outside of the practice of closed communion.
Some have the idea that if you come into the church of my membership, and you think you and the Lord are alright, then the supper is there for you to take. The issue is that our church body is to be careful about who we partake of the supper with. In other words, the issue is not just, “if you’re happy with things between you and the Lord we are too;” the issue is whether or not “we are happy with partaking of the supper with you, if we know you’re not right with the Lord.” Furthermore, if our church gathers to observe this supper, and strangers come in, how on earth do we know their testimony? How do we know if they regularly partake of the “cup of devils?” How do we know if they have been baptized the Biblical way? How does our congregation know if they have been saved? Of course no one knows if someone else is saved, but at the very least within the confines of church membership their testimony has been received, and their baptism has been accepted, and they can be subject to the discipline of the church body.
The Lord’s Supper is a Biblically guarded ordinance full and complete with warnings and examples of punishment for abuse. It is incumbent on every believer and every church to protect it rigorously, practice it Biblically, and cherish it spiritually. Following any example other than the Biblical example is not a change worth making.