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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
THE Lord’s Supper in its institution, and also as to its symbolic import, as well as in its relation to Christian life and doctrine, has already been considered. It would be useless, in this place, to attempt a history of the rite, especially a detail of the perversions of its uses, the bitter controversies concerning it, or the false claims set up for its sacramental efficacy in working grace in its subjects.
The one question with which we are now concerned is a purely denominational one, having reference to the proper subjects of the ordinance, and the spiritual and ritual qualifications of those who partake of it. Also as to the proper and rightful authority of the Church in restricting its use, and judging of the qualifications of the participants.
The following propositions may be stated:
PROP. I.—The Gospel calls on all men, everywhere, to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. This is the first act of submission to divine authority required of men.
PROP. 2.—Such as have exercised saving faith in Christ, and are thus born of the Spirit, are commanded to be baptized, as a declaration of that change, and a profession of the inward washing of regeneration, which has transpired in them. And no one is required to be, or properly can be, baptized till he has believed.
PROP. 3.—All persons, having savingly believed on Christ, and having been baptized into His name on a profession of that faith, are expected, and required, to unite themselves thereby with the company of disciples as members, in fellowship with Church which is Christ’s visible body. And no one can properly become a member of a Church till he has believed and been baptized.
PROP. 4.—It becomes the privilege and the duty of all who have thus been regenerated by the Spirit, baptized on a profession of faith, and are walking in fellowship with the Church, to celebrate the death of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, it is the duty of all who believe they love the Lord to be baptized, and unite with His Church, in order that they may obey His command, “This do in remembrance of me.” No true disciple should neglect it.
PROP. 5.—It becomes the imperative duty of the churches, to whom the ordinances are committed, to see to it, as faithful guardians of so sacred a trust, that these regulations be faithfully observed, according to the will of the Master, by all who are members, and by all who desire to become members with them.
PROP. 6.—The pastor as “the chief executive officer” of the Church, acts as its representative under instructions in his sphere of service. But it is not his prerogative to determine who shall be baptized into its fellowship, or who shall enjoy its privileges, including a right to the Supper. The right and responsibility of deciding those questions belong to the Church itself, and not to its officers.
PROP. 7.—The pastor, in the exercise of his Christian liberty, is not under obligation to baptize any, though the Church may approve, unless he believes they are fit and suitable subjects. Nor can he baptize any into the fellowship of the Church without its consent.
Open and Close Communion
The difference between Baptists and other Christian denominations on this question has principal reference to what is usually known as open and close communion. These terms do not very accurately define the distinction, but they are in common use in popular discussions on the subject, and are quite well understood.
Open, free, or mixed communion, is, strictly speaking, that which permits any one who desires, and believes himself qualified, to come to the Lord’s table, without any questions being asked, or conditions imposed, by the Church where the communion is observed. But ordinarily the term open communion is applied to the practice of the greater part of Pedobaptist churches, in which they permit and invite, not all persons, but the members of other evangelical churches to their Communion, whatever may be their views of doctrine, or Church order, in other respects.
Close, strict, or restricted communion is properly that which does not invite all, indiscriminately, who may choose to come to the Lord’s table, but restricts the invitation to a particular class. But ordinarily the term close communion is applied to the practice of Baptist churches, which invite to it only baptized believers, walking in orderly fellowship in their own churches. And by baptized believers, they mean, of course, immersed believers; since they hold that, nothing but immersion is baptism.
Nearly all Baptists in the United States, and a large part of those in foreign lands, are strict communion in practice, as are also a few smaller denominations; while the Latin, Greek, and Oriental churches, and the greater part of Protestant churches practise free communion. Which are right? Let us compare them by the infallible standard.
Editor’s Note: In those days there was no such thing as close communion, only open or close(d) communion, like a door, it was either open or closed.
The Open Communion View
Those who favor and practice open or free communion justify their course by various and somewhat divergent reasons. The following constitute, in the main, the arguments they use:
1. Sprinkling Held to be Baptism
The first class of open-communionists are those who hold that none but baptized persons should be invited to the Lord’s table, and that the Church is the rightful judge of the fitness of persons to be received to its privileges; yet they assert that sprinkling is lawful baptism, and that persons sprinkled only, and not immersed, should, therefore, be admitted to the Supper. This, Baptists deny, and have, as they believe, proven the contrary, that sprinkling is not scriptural baptism.
2. Baptism not Prerequisite
The second class of open-communionists assert that the ordinances sustain no necessary relation to each other; that baptism can claim no priority over the Supper, and, therefore, it is not a condition, nor perquisite to it. Consequently, unbaptized persons, if believers, for they do make faith a condition, may partake of the Supper as lawfully as baptized persons. Therefore immersion or sprinkling, either or neither, is equally indifferent. This theory virtually denies the memorial and symbolic character of the ordinance, and regards it chiefly as a sign and service of Christian fellowship. This course of argument, however plausible, is rejected and condemned by the great body of Christians the world over, both Baptists and Pedobaptists.
3. The Church is Not to Judge
The third class of open-communionists are those who claim that the privilege of the Supper is based on no ground of prescribed conditions, on no ritual preparation, but entirely upon one’s own sense of fitness and duty. That the Church has no right of judgment in the case, and no responsibility concerning it, but is simply to “set the table,” and leave it to each and all to take or to refrain; whoever wishes, and judges himself fit, may eat and drink in that holy service without hindrance or question.
To this attitude as to the ordinance, and to this mode of reasoning, Baptists strenuously object; as do the great majority of Pedobaptists themselves. It is not only the right, but the duty of each Church to guard the sacred trusts committed to it, and to judge whether candidates for its privileges are, or are not, scripturally qualified to receive them. Each Church must be its own interpreter of truth and duty. It would be absurd to claim that the convictions of an individual must be the authoritative standard by which the body is bound to act.
If the judgment of the Church must yield to the convictions of individuals in one thing, it may in all, and then all order, government, and discipline would be prostrated before an anarchy of conflicting personal opinions. If the privilege of the Supper becomes common, all others may be, since this is the highest and most sacred of all. It would be a criminal indifference to the Master of the household to allow safeguards with which He has surrounded the sanctity of His institutions to be broken down.
The Baptist View
The following will express with general accuracy the view held by Baptists as to the condition of the communion, and the qualifications of the communicants.
1. Baptists hold that there are three scriptural conditions to the privileges of the Lord’s Supper, which are imperative on the part of the Church to be observed:
A. Regeneration; being born of the Spirit, and thus becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus. Without this, no one can be a member of His spiritual family, or can rightfully be a member of His visible body, the Church.
B. Baptism; an upright Christian life, orderly walk, and godly conversation as a Church member. For though one may have been truly converted, and rightly baptized, if he be a disorderly walker, violating his covenant obligations, living in sin, and openly disobeying his Lord, he has no claim on the Lord’s Table.
2. Baptists claim that the Communion, strictly speaking, is a Church ordinance to be observed by churches only. That it cannot be administered, or received by those outside the Church; that members, in their individual capacity, cannot administer or receive it. Nor can the Church authorize individuals to administer, or receive it. The body must act in its organic character in the use of it; and persons must be within the Church legitimately to enjoy it.
3. Baptists insist that they neither may, nor ought to, invite to the Supper any except persons converted, baptized, and walking orderly according to gospel rule. They believe the Church is bound to judge of the fitness of those admitted to its ordinances as well as those admitted to its membership. To invite, or permit persons to receive the Communion without conditions, is to allow the vile and the profane, the carnal and the impure, to drink, unworthily, the symbolic flesh and blood of Christ. For, the rule be allowed, to this extent will the abuse be sure to go.
4. Baptists are firmly convinced, that, to maintain the purity and spirituality of the churches, it is absolutely needful to restrict the Communion to regenerated persons, baptized on a profession of faith, and walking orderly Christian lives in Church fellowship. To adopt any other rule, or allow any larger liberty, would break down the distinction between the Church and the world; would bring in carnal and unconverted membership, with which to overshadow the spiritual, and control the household of faith; would virtually transfer the Communion from the house of God to the temple of Belial. To keep the churches pure and unperverted, both as to their substance and their form.
5. Baptists give the following reasons in justification of their course in the following cases:
A. They do not invite Pedobaptists to their Communion, because they do not regard such persons as baptized; they having been only sprinkled. The fact that they think themselves baptized, does not make it so. If they desire to commune, let them be baptized according to Christ’s command.
B. They do not accept invitations from Pedobaptists to commune with them, for the same reason; they do not consider them baptized Christians. Therefore their churches are irregular churches according to the New Testament standard, both in the misuse of the ordinances, and in the admission of infant Church membership. Therefore to commune with them would be disorderly walking, and would encourage them in disorderly walking, by upholding a perversion of the ordinances.
C. They do not invite the immersed members of Pedobaptists churches to their Communion, because, though such persons may be truly converted and properly baptized, they are walking disorderly as disciples, by remaining in churches which hold and practice serious errors as to the ordinances, as such persons themselves judge. These churches use sprinkling for baptism, and administer the ordinance of infants; both of which are contrary to Scripture, as such persons themselves allow. And yet, by remaining in these churches, they give their countenance and support to uphold and perpetuate what they confess to be errors, and thus help to impose on others what they will not accept for themselves. This is not an orderly and consistent course for Christian to pursue.
Baptism Is Prerequisite
If the Supper was intended to be limited to those converted, baptized, and brought into fellowship of the churches, it may be asked, Why was not this fact made plain and explicitly stated in some command or precept of Christ or His Apostles? Why was not his command as positively given as that which enjoined baptism? The reply must be, It was plainly and explicitly enjoined. The form of the ordinance was exhibited when instituted by Jesus; the command enjoined its observance was, “This do, in remembrance of me.”
The qualified subjects were those before Him, baptized believers. But not the following considerations:
1. The example of our Saviour at the institution of the Supper. Whom did He invite to partake of the symbols of His body and blood? Not an indiscriminate company; not all who deemed themselves fit, and chose to come; not all of His professed disciples even. But a small and very select company, who had received John’s baptism, or His own, not including His own mother, brethren, and other family connections. That first Communion service, at the close of, or during the paschal supper, was a very strict one. Certainly no unbaptized person were present in that upper chamber to receive the elements.
2. The language of Christ in the Great Commission, and other similar forms of speech, if not conclusive proof, are very short of it, in favor of the necessary priority of baptism to the Supper. He commanded to teach all nations, baptizing them; His promise is to those who believe and are baptized. This order is uniform; teaching, believing, baptizing, and thus being “added to the Church.” There is no room for it before. But if it comes before, then where is before? Before the teaching, and before the believing? Why not?
If the divine order is to be changed, then why not have the Supper come before the teaching and believing, and be given, as Pedobaptists give baptism, to infants incapable of either instruction or faith. Infant communion, as practiced from the third to the ninth century by the Latin Church, and still practiced by the Greek Church, is equally scriptural with infant baptism, as now practiced by all Pedobaptists, whether Catholic or Protestants. Nor would infant communion after baptism be any more inconsistent than adult communion before baptism.
3. The New Testament history affords no instance which can be supposed to favor the theory of communion without baptism. But abundant evidence is furnished, in facts and circumstances mentioned, to show that all communicants were baptized persons. Apostolic instruction, with reference to the Supper and reproofs administered for an abuse of that sacred ordinance, all are addressed to churches and Church members. Those who believed, and gladly received the Word, were baptized, then added to the Church; then they continued steadfast on the Apostles’ doctrine , and in the breaking of bread, and prayer.
4. The almost unvarying testimony of Christian history through all its ages should be accepted as important evidence in this case. Both Catholics and Protestants, Baptists and Pedobaptists, with singular unanimity, declare baptism to be prerequisite to the Communion.
Justin Martyr, one of the early Christian Fathers, about A. D. 140, says of the Supper:
“This food is called by us the Eucharist, of which it is not lawful for any one to partake, but such as believe the things taught by us to be true, and have been baptized.”
Mosheim, in his Church History, says:
“Neither those doing penance, nor those not yet baptized, were allowed to be present at the celebration of this ordinance.”
“The sacred mystery of the service was deemed so great as to exclude the unbaptized from the place.”
Neander, the great Church historian, says:
“At this celebration, as may be easily concluded, no one could be present who was not a member of the Christian Church, and incorporated into it by the rite of baptism.”
Cave, one of the most reliable writers on Christian antiquities, says the communicants in the primitive Church were those:
“That had embraced the doctrine of the Gospel, and had been baptized into the faith of Christ. For, looking upon the Lord’s Supper as the highest and most solemn act of religion, they thought they could never take care enough in dispensing it.”
Bingham, in his able work on the antiquities of the Christian Church, says of the early Christians:
“As soon as a man was baptized he was communicated,” that is, admitted to the Communion. Baptism, therefore preceded the Supper.
Wall, who searched the records of antiquities for facts illustrating the history of the ordinance, says:
“No Church ever gave the Communion to any before they were baptized. Among all the absurdities that were ever held, none ever maintained that any person should partake of the Communion before he was baptized.”
“It is certain that, so far as our knowledge of primitive antiquity reaches, no unbaptized person received the Lord’s Supper.”
“What man dares go in a way which hath neither precept nor example to warrant it, from a way that hath full consent of both? Yet they that will admit members into the visible Church without baptism do so.”
“An uncircumcised man was not permitted to eat the Passover; and the unbaptized man should not be permitted to partake of the Eucharist.”
“It is an indispensable qualification for this ordinance, that the candidate for communion be a member of the visible Church, in full standing. By this I intend that he should be a man of piety; that he should have made a public profession of religion, and that he should have been baptized.”
“The communion was a regular part, in fact, the most important and solemn part of Sunday worship, . . . In which none but full members of the Church could engage.”
“None, indeed, but believers, in full communion with the Church, were permitted to be present.” “But agreeably to all the laws and customs of the Church, baptism constituted membership with the Church. All baptized persons were legitimately numbered among the communicants as members of the Church.”
These witnesses to our position, not being Baptists, may command the more regard from those who do not agree with us.
Editor’s Note: How could we conclude any other conclusion other than, the true Baptists practiced closed communion.
Dr. E. T. Hiscox, 1893