The crux of the issue of open or closed Communion is whether or not the Lord's Supper should be made available to people outside of a local church's membership. The Bible teaches that Communion should only be taken by believers in Jesus Christ, but it stops short of instructing on how this relates to church membership. Some churches only allow their own members to take Communion (closed Communion). Other churches allow any believer to take Communion, regardless of church affiliation (open Communion). Sometimes, this latter position is referred to as "close" Communion, with the idea that "open" Communion would be letting anyone take Communion, saved or unsaved.
The argument for closed Communion is based on a desire to ensure that only believers partake in Communion. Since church members are already on record as having professed faith in Jesus, the restriction helps prevent an unsaved person from participating in the ordinance.
However, the Bible itself does not mandate such a restriction. Rather, the Lord's Supper is something shared among all believers (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Two principles relate to those who would desire to partake in Communion:
First, Communion is only for believers in Jesus Christ. Why? Communion is a remembrance of what Christ has done on the cross on our behalf. Only a believer accepts this teaching and has embraced it. Further, only a believer can "examine himself" as Scripture teaches as part of the requirement for taking Communion (1 Corinthians 11:28). This self-examination would include confession of sins.
Second, Communion is to be taken in a worthy manner. Paul taught that some in the Corinthian church were judged because they partook of the Lord's Supper flippantly or greedily. "That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Corinthians 11:30). This verse clearly reveals the importance of taking Communion in the proper spirit.
The relevance for today's churches remains. In all instances, Communion should be taken only by believers who have examined themselves before the Lord. If a person has not made a profession of faith or is unwilling to take Communion in a worthy manner, he or she should refrain from taking part in the Lord's Supper. If a believer is visiting a church which practices closed Communion, it is best to refrain from partaking, so as not to give offense.
On a related note, some churches argue that only baptized believers in Christ should take Communion. This stresses the important role baptism plays in one's public profession of faith. Salvation is by faith, but baptism is a public proclamation of salvation and an act of obedience to Christ. Like the rules governing closed Communion, the rule of being baptized first is not commanded in Scripture; however, it does reflect the pattern set by the early Christians, who were baptized immediately after believing.
The question of open or closed Communion is one that each individual church must decide. However, Scripture reveals the Lord's Supper can be and most likely should be left open for all believers who are in right standing with Christ.
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