“In contrast (to what the author calls “close communion”), open communion recognizes any baptism or no baptism, any church membership or no church membership, and makes membership and participation in its responsibilities optional and immaterial. Meaningful discipline is impossible in a church that practices open communion because the church cannot withdraw fellowship when it extends the privilege of communion to anyone who happens to be present. How can a church excommunicate when it has no requirements for communicants?”
My thoughts are these:
- The New Testament doesn’t say that baptism is a moral prerequisite to the Lord’s Table. Under 1st century evangelistic circumstances, baptism would be chronologically prior to the Lord’s Table, since a new believer would confess Christ, be baptized, and then begin their normal fellowship in a local assembly. This was the norm in the book of Acts. But we don’t live in the dawn of Christianity. Evangelistic ministry has been going on for centuries. Not everyone comes to Christ through traditional church-based means. Some people come to Christ by independently reading a Bible, or through evangelistic literature. Others come through electronic media like TV, radio, and the Internet. Some may come to Christ through para-churches organizations like Campus Crusade, which do not administer the ordinances since they are not churches. So someone might come to our service from no church-based evangelism, and as a result they have not been baptized. They ought to be baptized. But there is no explicit NT command to withhold communion from someone who has not yet been baptized.
- Nor is such a command implied by other NT truths. The New Testament never names “absence of baptism” as a condition for withholding communion. Paul lists causes for disciplinary separation in 1st Corinthians 5 and 6: immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and swindling in 1 Cor. 5. He further adds homosexuality and thievery in 1 Cor. 6. Paul names “divisiveness” in Romans 16:17 and Titus 3:10-11. But he never names “not baptized.” The absence of baptism could in some cases be the result of ignorance, or a particular set of circumstances. The person might be under age, and their parent has forbidden them to be baptized. But the simple absence of baptism is never named as a cause for discipline. (Absence of baptism could be the fruit of a refusal to publicly claim Christ as Savior, but in that case the question arises whether the person is really a Christian at all. That would be the reason to counsel against taking the Lord’s Table, not just the absence of baptism.)
- The NT does not mandate a specific mode of baptism. Some would say that immersion was the normal mode of baptism in the book of Acts, given that the normal meaning of the word baptizo is to dip or dye. This was likely true, though the book of Acts never clearly, specifically, or exclusively depicts immersion. In fact, other modes would fit with immediate household baptisms, such as we read about in Acts 10:47-48. Immersion is one proper mode of baptism, but it isn’t the only mode. The NT does not apply the words baptizo and baptizein to immersion only. The Lord Jesus and Peter called pouring “baptism” in Acts 1:5, 2:17, and 33. Peter used “sprinkled” to signify how Christ’s blood is savingly applied to us, which elsewhere is called spiritual baptism (Romans 6:3). Since no mode is mandated, we are not permitted to withhold the Lord’s Table based on baptismal mode.
- Church “membership” is a man-made administrative practice, and so should not be elevated up to the level of a precondition for the God-ordained ordinance. We know that not taking the Lord’s Table is a sin, but a lack of church membership is not. “Membership” is not the same thing as being in fellowship. Written membership rolls pertain to congregational government, which includes the legal right to vote when a legal quorum is present in an legal congregational meeting. That, in turn, pertains to the church being a legally-recognized 5013c corporation. Some church associations, from which a person might come, don’t even have written membership rolls. Some people come to us from no prior church involvement, so they were never members anywhere. Membership also doesn’t ensure right fellowship or service. There are many in fellowship with churches who support that church’s statement of faith, respect the leadership, and serve well. There are many church members who do none of these things.
- The NT church does not excommunicate; that is a Catholic idea, based on Catholic sacramentology. If someone has to be rejected by the congregation as an act of moral or doctrinal discipline, they would not be in the meeting at all, not just excluded from the table.
- The NT puts the decision to partake or not partake of the Lord’s Table in the hands of the participant. The man is to examine himself, not be examined by church officers (1 Cor. 11:28). The judgments that come upon him who takes the communion elements unworthily are inflicted by God (11:30), not by men (we don’t sicken or kill people, obviously).
We can see the wisdom in this, especially for very large churches like Antioch or Rome. Passover was celebrated in each private home, but the Lord’s Table was to be celebrated altogether as an entire congregation. The father of one family would know who was whom for Passover, but for the ever-growing NT church the burden shifts completely over onto the individual.
For these reasons, I support the Evangelical Free Church’s policy of open communion.