Dan Popp
"Open Communion"
By Dan Popp
April 13, 2013

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? – The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:16, NAS95)

One Sunday morning I was sitting in my evangelical, non-denominational church. Toward the end of the service one of the pastors said, "If you've made a commitment to Christ this morning, feel free to join us as we partake of Holy Communion."

This was very disturbing to me. So Monday morning I emailed this leader, explaining my concern. We should invite people to believe and be baptized, I wrote. (See Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, etc.) Admission to the Lord's Supper comes after official admission into the Body of Christ via baptism. He replied that he would never refuse Communion to someone who desired it.

I don't doubt the sincerity or the intelligence of this man of God, but I was struck by the similarity of his argument to a typical leftist slogan. He framed the issue in terms of rights denied, rather than qualifications unmet. I myself would never "refuse" anyone Communion either – that is, anyone who meets the requirements. In the same way, I'm sure this pastor would never refuse to baptize anyone who desires it – and who is qualified to receive it.

Since then I've visited a number of churches who seem to take pride in offering the Lord's Supper to those who may not know what they're receiving, and perhaps to some who don't even know the Lord.

If "Open Communion" means "open to Christians other than members of our local church or denomination," that's beautiful – in theory. In practice, I wonder how we prevent cultural Christians and other "tares," as Jesus called them, away. No serious person can deny that there are plenty of self-identified "Christians" in this country that have not been born again and have no intention of following Jesus, except, perhaps, where His path might accidentally intercept theirs. But even worse, I've attended services in several churches in which "Open Communion" corresponded more or less to the phrase, "open bar." On Easter Sunday I was worshiping in an Assemblies of God church, and I heard an echo of my former pastor's invitation: "If you'd like to receive God's grace for the first time," just dig in.

I wonder with whom these Christians think they're communing? Yes, with God, but who else? Isn't the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing with others who, like us, have been washed in the blood and made members of the body here pictured? I have no desire to commune with children of the devil, though I hope and pray they will become my brothers and sisters in Christ. At that time I will joyfully take the bread and the wine with them to commemorate the Lord's death until He returns.

I can even make this essay ecumenical, as I'm an equal opportunity annoyer. I know a young man who visited Rome and the Vatican on a class trip. He attended a Mass at which the Eucharist was offered. He went up, took the Host in his hand and was proceeding back to his pew with it, when the priest or someone stopped him. No telling what he might have done with what his fellow congregants believed to be the very flesh of the Lord. But he meant no sacrilege. He was merely sampling the local flavors, as it were – he was a Eucharist tourist.

Jesus said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine...." (Matthew 7:6a, NAS95) The Passover that became the first Lord's Supper was a private affair for disciples only. Today I'm seeing leaders in Christ's church use Holy Communion as some kind of evangelistic tool – Believe in Jesus today and get a free snack!

Early Christians had to carry letters of commendation with them from one local church to another (see 2 Corinthians 3:1), no doubt to guard against infiltrators in a time of persecution. They wouldn't have understood the concept of "Open Communion." Book II of The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, dating perhaps to the third century, testifies, "...we receive the heathen, when they wish to repent, into the Church indeed to hear the word, but do not receive them to communion until they have made the seal of baptism, and are made complete Christians...." (emphasis mine) Now, "communion" in that quotation almost certainly means the full life and fellowship of the body of believers – not just the sacrament they would have called the "Eucharist." The same passage uses the phrase "communion of prayer." But the larger term includes the smaller. Early Christians did not admit unbaptized people to the Lord's Table.

Why is this important? Handing out sacramental elements as if they were complimentary hors d'oeuvres shows our ignorance of not only what Holy Communion is, but also what baptism is, and even what the church is. We are much further from the church of the New Testament than we're willing to contemplate. Why is America in such decline? Because the church in America is in decline. Why is the church in decline? Many articles could be written about that, but perhaps one reason is that we just don't care to go to the trouble of doing God's things in God's way.

When the Thanksgiving feast will be celebrated in its fullness in heaven, Jesus describes the scene this way: "And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29) But, He adds, "Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying." (Revelation 22:15)

© Dan Popp


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