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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


Close Communion

Norman H. Wells

From the book, The Church That Jesus Loved, 1973 (Chapter 2)

Editor’s Note: Mr. Wells uses the term “Close communion” to describe what is currently referred to as “Closed communion.”  The term “Close communion” has now come to mean denominational communion; that is, communion for members of the same denomination regardless of their local church. As you read, you will clearly see that this is NOT what the author was referring to in his use of “Close communion.” Rather, he uses this term as we now use the term “Closed communion”; that is, limiting communion to only Scripturally baptized members in good standing of a local Baptist church. “Open communion” still refers to the practice of allowing communion to all people regardless of their affiliation, baptism or church membership.


True Baptists have always been the recipients of much abuse and unjust criticism because of their position concern­ing the Lord's Supper. The enemies of Baptists have always centered their attack upon "close communion." They re­cognize that "Close communion" is necessary not only to the well being but to the perpetuity of Baptist churches.


How often the enemies of Baptists will declare to the world, "They refuse to receive people that the Lord Jesus receives." Many times it has been stated concerning Baptists that, "In heaven they are going to have a separate table from the rest of the redeemed."


Because of the attack that is continually made upon this great truth there is much sincere misunderstanding. There are those who are Baptist upon every point, but upon this truth they are perplexed and confused. To this group we prayerfully direct these remarks


This age is characterized by the abandonment of any principle or doctrine which is distasteful to people or which is difficult to apply or enforce. Because of the reluctance of the ordinary Christian to receive this truth many Baptist churches and Pastors have refrained from teaching it. God help us!! In order to make a popular appeal such great truths are completely forsaken.


The Baptist position concerning the Lord's Supper needs to be stated again and again. Baptists believe that Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer; in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the authority of the local church, to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Savior, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life: that it is prerequisite to the privilege of a church relation and to the Lord's Supper, in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine are to commemorate the dying love of Christ, preceded always by a solemn self-examination.


The truth concerning the two church ordinances stand or fall together — they are inseparable. When a Baptist hutch is wrong on the Lord's Supper it follows that they are wrong on Baptism. The sins of "open communion" and "alien baptism" are generally found together.


In order to avoid further confusion let us define what is meant by "Open communion" and "Close communion." "Open communion" occurs when the restrictions that God has placed upon the table are lifted and everyone is invited to partake. "Close communion" is when the church administering the Lord's Supper limits the invitation to participate and maintains the Lord's restrictions.


Those who practice "Open communion" would invite to the table of the Lord those who are lost and those who are unbaptized. Those who are under church censure and those who have been disciplined are welcome. Those who deny the Lord and His truth are invited to partake of the bread and wine.


True Baptists do not practice "Open communion." They accept the Lord's restrictions to His table.


The doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper is so closely interwoven with the other distinctive Baptist beliefs that they stand or fall together. For a so-called Baptist to prac­tice "Open communion" he must deny what Baptists believe about baptism and the church. He becomes guilty of presenting a false picture of salvation.


The true Baptist position has always been that God placed the two ordinances, Baptism and the Lord's Sapper in the church and that the church, and the church alone, has the authority to administer these ordinances.


In Matthew 16:18 we have the record of Christ' esta­blishing the first model church.


"And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."


In Matthew 18:15-17 the power of judgment and discipline are placed the local church.


"Moreover: if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell l him his fault between thee and him alone: if he will hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.


"But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one of two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.


"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."


In Matthew 26:26-28 the authority to observe the Lord's Supper was placed in the church:


"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.


"And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.


"For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."


In Matthew 28:19, 20 we have the Great Commission given to the church:


"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:


"Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."


The church and the church alone has the authority to go forth "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Also the authority to teach them to observe the Lord's Supper is in the church.


Christ Himself located the Lord's Supper in the church.


The practice in the New Testament was to observe the Lord's Supper in the church. In I Corinthians 11:17-34 we have Paul's discourse on the disorders at the Lord's Table in the church at Corinth. The whole discourse reveals that the Corinthians were observing the meal in the church. Read it and notice the language:

"that ye come together not for the better but for the worse." Verse 17.


To observe the Lord's Supper they came together as an assembly — the church.


"when ye come together in the church." Verse 18.


An honest inquirer cannot mistake language such as this.


"When ye come together in one place." Verse 20.


The established practice and accepted doctrine in these New Testament churches was that of observing the Lord's Supper in the church.


Paul states in verse 23 that the ordinances had been delivered unto the churches."For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you — "


In I Cor. 1:2 we find that Paul had addressed himself unto "The church of God which is at Corinth" and unto this local church he had delivered the ordinances.


"When ye come together to eat." Verse 33.


The proper place to eat the Lord's Supper was when they came together as a church. In this entire passage the church, as a church was censured for a wrong observance of the meal. Surely if the church was admonished, as a church, for the wrong observances of the Lord's Supper the responsibility for a right observance rested with the church.


In this passage also, the church, as a church, received praise for faithfully keeping the ordinances.


The responsibility for a proper observance of the Lord's Supper rested with the church. The Lord, not Baptists, in His word has placed certain restrictions and qualifications upon participants of the Lord's Supper. He has placed the responsibility of carrying out these restrictions and requiring these qualifications upon the individual church.


God teaches in His Word that baptism is a pre-requisite to partaking of the Lord's Supper. All denominations teach that baptism must precede communion. It is an accepted truth for many reasons.


First, baptism was instituted and practiced before tip Lord's Supper. John the Baptist never observed the Lord's Supper. Jesus was baptized before He instituted the Lord's Supper.


Second, baptism was given first in the commission to the church in Matt. 28:20. The order here is (a) make disciples, (b) baptize them (c) teach them to observe the Lord's Supper.


Third, the apostles practiced this order. On the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2:41-42, we find this order of events.


"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 steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers."


Notice the order, (a) received His word, (b) were baptized, (c) breaking of bread.


Fourth, the apostles so instructed the churches. The people Paul was writing to in I Cor. 2 were those spoken of


in Acts 18:1-11, " — and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized."


Fifth, the Scriptures make baptism the initiatory ordinance. It is the emblem of the beginning of spiritual life. Communion is the emblem of the nutrition of that life.


It must be agreed then that baptism is a prerequisite to the Lord's Supper. True Baptists will require scriptural baptism for all participants of the Lord's Supper. Baptism, to be scriptural, must meet the following requirements:


1. There must be a proper candidate. Only born again believers can be candidates for baptism.


2. There must be a proper mode. The only baptism in the Bible is by immersion.


3. There must be a proper motive. Our baptism is to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem our     faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour,with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to     a new life.


4. There must be a proper administrator. As the responsibility for a proper observance of the     ordinances was placed in the local New Testament church, that church, and that church alone, has     the authority to baptize.


This is the Baptist position concerning baptism. This scriptural baptism must precede the Lord's Supper. All who hove not been scripturally baptized are restricted from participation. This is God's restriction and the responsibility for carrying it out rests with the local church.


The scriptural observance of the Lord's Supper is in­separably connected with efficient church discipline. There is none who would deny that the authority to judge and administer discipline was placed in the local church.


Every organization which proposes to work smoothly, and yet efficiently, must have certain rules and regulations to be billowed; certain laws for the individual members to obey. God has set these rules, regulations and standards in the church and given unto the church the authority to enforce them.


That churches have a right to exercise a watchful supervision over their members, to reprove them when erring, and withdraw fellowship from them when incorrigi­ble, is a necessity arising from the very constitution of their organization. This right was recognized by Christ and His apostles and was exercised by the first churches.


"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." — Matt. 18:17


Christ established the model church in the 16th chapter of Matthew and in this church was placed the authority to exercise discipline. It is needless to emphasize that this could only have been a local church. How foolish it is to think of a universal, invisible church exercising discipline.


We find this discipline carried out in all the New Testament churches.


"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." — II Thess. 3:6


"A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." — Titus 3:10


"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." — I Peter 4:17


"I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep com­pany, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." — 1 Cor. 5:9-13


God set the standards for membership in the local church and gave unto the church the command to maintain these standards. Those who refuse to abide by these stan­dards were to be subject to discipline. Note these phrases from scriptures given above:


Can anything be more clear than this? Church members who would not live according to God's standard were to be excluded from the membership of the church. Those who walked disorderly, heretics, fornicators, covetous, idolaters, drunkards, extortioners, etc. were to be excluded. The identity and privileges of church membership were to be withdrawn! This would include the Lord's Supper. The scripture describes these from whom the church was to withdraw and then states, "WITH SUCH AN ONE NO NOT TO EAT." This is God's Word! To invite those to the table that God did not invite is to break the command of God! Has any church the right to tempt a man "To eat and drink damna­tion to himself."? — I Cor. 11:29


I Cor. 5:12 plainly states that the church is to "judge them that are within." A church that refuses this responsibi­lity rejects God's way.


Each individual local church is responsible for the disci­pline of its own members. One Baptist church does not discipline the members of another Baptist church. Each church is independent. The members of one Baptist church do not have a voice and vote in another Baptist church. Likewise, each Baptist church is only responsible for serving the meal to its own members over whom it has the authority of discipline.


From our study then, we see that "Close communion" is nothing more than carrying out God's commands concern­ing the Lord's Supper.


"Open communion" leads to an acceptance of "Alien baptism" and the universal, invisible, church theory. This is where the enemy attacks because here is where the lines of our identity are drawn. To lose this key position is to be swallowed up in the chaotic confusion of inter-denomina­tionalism.


The first step that sound Baptist churches take that leads them on into modernism is "Open communion."


We believe we have stated the historic Baptist position concerning the Lord's Supper. All have the right to disagree! The strange thing, however, is why will churches and preachers deny the historical Baptist beliefs and yet still want to carry the name Baptist! If you are a Baptist, be one, if not, leave our beloved name alone!