It’s been a while since I thought about open or closed communion. I’ve been fortunate to have served in churches who have for the most part welcomed all believers to participate in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. This practice is called “open” because non-members who happen to be attending a local church’s worship service may participate in receiving the elements of bread and juice.
“Closed” communion refers to the view that only members of the church may take part in the Lord’s supper. This latter view has its roots in the Landmark tradition, and I didn’t know there were many Southern Baptist churches that held to this position. The Arkansas Baptist Convention’s annual meeting revealed otherwise.
Messengers voted to maintain a little known provision in their Constitution that opposed open communion. The messengers failed to garner the 2/3 majority required to remove this exclusive language. Of course, state convention provisions are not supposed to be binding on the local congregation. But, it does make me wonder how many Arkansas Baptists are in compliance to the closed communion stipulation of the convention.
At a practical level, it raises the question of whether a believer in Jesus Christ who happens to be in a worship service in an Arkansas Baptist church would be welcome to partake of Communion. I don’t recall ever hearing a pastor instruct the congregation that those who weren’t members should let the plates of juice and wafers go by. It makes me wonder how Christians would feel about inviting their non-member friends to church only to see them excluded from a meaningful part of worship.
At a deeper and theological level, the Lord’s supper is truly that–the LORD’s supper. We gather around his table as the people of God, and all people should be welcome. It is an opportunity to show unity not necessarily as Baptists but as Christians in giving thanks for the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s supper should be an extremely meaningful time in the life of a local church, but this does not mean that fellow believers who aren’t members should be left out. Even if believers aren’t sitting in the pews of their home church, they don’t cease to be believers in Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s supper provides a unique opportunity to express our togetherness as a church. The community experienced and expressed around the Lord’s table has more than local significance. It means that there is a connection and unity with fellow believers around the world as well. After all, the church belongs to the Lord too.