Friday, September 04, 2015

The Lord’s Supper: Close, Closed, or In-Between?

There has been a long-standing debate among Baptists about whether the correct position on the Lord’s Supper is close communion, where baptized members of Baptist churches other than the assembly in which the ordinance is being celebrated partake along with the host church’s members, or closed communion, where the ordinance is restricted to the members of each particular assembly only.  The view of open communion is clearly unscriptural and will not be examined in this post.

Arguments for Closed Communion

The arguments for closed communion are strong.  1 Corinthians 10-11 identifies the Supper as the “communion of the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and the body of Christ is the local, visible assembly (1 Corinthians 12:27) to which one is added by baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13).  Furthermore, both baptism and the Supper are church ordinances, and since the church is a local, visible assembly, the ordinance is naturally understood as pertaining to each assembly and its members alone.  The members of the church are to discern the body (1 Corinthians 11:29) to avoid judgment.  Pastor Brandenburg makes a good case for closed communion in his expository sermons on the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians, and J. R. Graves likewise makes a good case in Chapter 7 of his book Old Landmarkism.

In response to the close communion argument that the Apostle Paul partook of the Supper with the church at Troas in Acts 20, many believers in closed communion argue that there was no church at Troas at all.  Others argue that the breaking of bread at Troas was a common meal, not the Supper, since the breaking of bread can be a reference to a simple meal (Acts 27:35).  Furthermore, they argue that examples must be interpreted in light of precepts, not the other way around, so the precepts in 1 Corinthians require that the example of Acts 20 does not involve Paul taking the Supper with the Baptist church at Troas.

The closed communion position is very attractive, and if it has a reasonable explanation for Acts 20, its position is conclusive.

Arguments for Close Communion

Advocates of close communion affirm that Paul partook of the Supper with the church at Troas in Acts 20, so closed communion cannot be required by Scripture.  They believe that, as the study here argues, it is not possible to explain Acts 20 as anything less than an assembly of a church and a participation in the Lord’s Supper.  They argue that the verb sunago, “came together” in Acts 20:7, is a church assembly word, since the verb is used for church assemblies in Matthew 18:20; John 20:19; Acts 4:31; 11:26; 14:27; 15:30; 20:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 5:4 (cf. also Acts 15:6). The references to sunago in the perfect tense in Acts only speak of church assembly (Acts 4:31; 20:7, 8; cf. Matthew 18:20; John 20:19). The related word sunagoge is used for the Christian place of assembly in James 2:2. The related word episunagoge is used for the Christian “assembling” in Hebrews 10:25 in the classic command, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” The grammar in Acts 20:7, “the first day of the week, when the disciples came together,” is very similar to that of the church assembly of John 20:19, when “the first day of the week . . . the disciples were assembled.”  Therefore, they argue, church assembly is in view in Acts 20:7, a view supported by other exegetical arguments, as well as historical evidence for a church at Troas from Scripture and early church history (see here).

Furthermore, advocates of close communion argue that the reference in Acts 20 to the “breaking of bread” is to the Supper, not just to a common meal, because the purpose of the gathering in Acts 20:7 was the breaking of bread; they “came together to break bread,” a purpose clause. In the view of advocates of close communion, the fact that the purpose of their getting together was the breaking of the bread proves it was the Supper, not a common meal. If the breaking of bread was just eating some food in this passage, it would hardly have been the reason that the church at Troas assembled. On the night before the great apostle Paul and his fellow laborers in the work of God were leaving, would they have come together, not to bid him farewell, but to fill their bellies? Would the rare, precious opportunity to be taught by and fellowship with the apostle to the Gentiles have been passed over as a reason for assembling, in favor of eating some food? Paul’s preaching was hardly a surprise. would they have been so ungodly as to have said, “we are not gathering together to hear the apostle Paul preach, but we are coming together for the more important purpose of having dinner.” Only if this breaking of bread is the Lord’s Supper is it reasonably given as the purpose for the church assembling. If the “breaking of bread” is the holy Supper of the Lord, and the church at Troas was coming together to obey that great command, “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25), the importance placed on this event as the most important part of their celebration is natural, and preaching in conjunction with a church service is expected. Coming together for the purpose of celebrating the Supper is also the pattern in 1 Corinthians 11:20, which has similar syntax to Acts 20:7.  While they quite likely had a meal as well as taking the Lord’s Supper (taking a break for refreshments somewhere in the process of many hours of preaching is very natural—as it is natural to expect that they did not send the apostle and his companions away on empty stomachs—especially since Paul was going to walk to Assos from Troas, v. 13, a distance of c. 20 miles), this does not alter the fact that the purpose of their coming together and their breaking of bread referred to the church ordinance.  What is more, why would they wait until the first day of the week to “come together” to eat a normal meal?  Finally, advocates of close communion argue that while the breaking of bread is not always the Lord’s Supper, it very commonly—the large majority of the time—is (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Acts 20:7, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:24; also Acts 2:42).

In relation to 1 Corinthians 10-12, advocates of close communion argue that the passages do indeed teach the Supper is a church ordinance, but that this fact does not eliminate the possibility that a church can allow other baptized saints to participate.  They argue that it is still the communion of the body of Christ even if a tiny percentage of people who are not part of that particular body are present, just as it is still the communion of the body if unconverted people who are false converts yet are church members partake.  Furthermore, many advocates of close communion argue that 1 Corinthians 10:16, because of its parallel references to the “communion of the blood of Christ” and “communion of the body of Christ,” refers to the actual physical body and blood of the Redeemer rather than to the church as the body of Christ.

A Mediating Position Between Close and Closed Communion?

While I am definitely interested in hearing comments, arguments, and interaction with the material above for close vs. closed communion in the comment section below, I would in particular be interested in hearing comments on the following proposed mediating position.  This mediating position argues:

1.) The Lord’s Supper is clearly a church ordinance from 1 Corinthians 10-12, and so is properly the domain of the members of each particular Baptist church.

2.) Nevertheless, Acts 20 teaches that Paul partook of the Lord’s Supper with the church at Troas.  However, this does not by any means establish that a church is obligated to let people who are baptized members of other assemblies participate with them in the Supper.  It is a different thing for a church to have the option of allowing others to partake and for a church to be obligated to allow others to partake.  Furthermore, the Apostle Paul was clearly right with God, was the preacher on that occasion, and was the one God used to organize the assembly in that location.  Thus, the church at Troas had as good a reason to believe Paul was right with God as they did any of their own church members.  It is a different thing for a church to allow a preacher from a church that it works very closely with, and one who that church knows is right with God, to participate in the Supper and for a church to allow strangers who claim to be members of a Baptist church somewhere to partake.  The former allows the assembly to still take care that unworthy participation is excluded, while the latter does not.

3.) Thus, this mediating position is stricter than the large majority of churches that practice close communion, in that it only permits outside participation—if a church wants to exclude everyone other than its own members, it has the liberty to do so, and practice entirely closed communion.  Furthermore, it only derives from Acts 20 the lawfulness of participation of people that the particular assembly knows very well are right with God, not anyone who simply professes to be a Baptist or a Baptist separatist.  In this way, this mediating position contends that it can deal fairly both with the evidence in 1 Corinthians 10-12 and Acts 20.

Where am I on this topic?  I have been a member both of churches that practice closed and of churches that practice close communion.  Bethel Baptist Church, where Pastor Brandenburg shepherds the flock, switched from close to closed while I was a member there, a decision of which I was glad.  As a local-only church advocate, an opponent of alien immersion, a believer in an actual succession of churches, a believer that Bible-believing Baptist churches are the only true churches on this earth and that (in this dispensation, though not in eternity) Christ’s bride is the church, I naturally really like closed communion.  However, I have difficulty explaining Acts 20 in a totally closed way.  Thus, at this particular time I am essentially at what I have called the “mediating position” above—more closed than the large majority of “close” churches, but more open than the strictly “closed” churches.

Feel free to try to convince me with Biblical, exegetical, and theological arguments to leave my mediating position one way or the other in the comment section—or to support me in my mediation.


Gary Webb said...

There are a number of pastors and missionaries who pastor more than one church. Closed communion is the logical conclusion in the application of Scripture. When you put these two facts together, it becomes clear (to me) that ordained men commissioned or supported or ministering in a church under right authority would be welcome to participate in the Lord's Supper. This conclusion would match the example of Scripture in the case of Paul in Acts 20, and it does no harm to the Bible's teaching on who participates in the Lord's Supper observed by a local church. We send missionaries out from our church. They have started churches in other places and countries. They are the members of the churches they start. Why would we, as their sending church, deny them participation from the Lord's Supper when they are at home with us?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I wrote the chapter on the Lord's Supper in the book, A Pure Church, and in that book I argued for the separating position of communion was the protection of the Table. With whom do we separate over the position on the Lord's Table? Our church will not separate from a church which takes a close position that is a separatist church that practices church discipline, that is interested in protecting the table. This is communion, and we don't want to dumb down communion to include false doctrine and practice.

For another consideration, I ask "closed" churches, like ours, why you will take missionary support from "close" churches, but why you will not support close churches' missionaries. I think that is an inconsistency that betrays your closed perspective. I see this all the time among closed churches. I know of close churches where you go for support, but whose missionaries you won't support. Please explain.

The Preacher said...

"Furthermore, both baptism and the Supper are church ordinances, and since the church is a local, visible assembly, the ordinance is naturally understood as pertaining to each assembly and its members alone."

So, Ross, are you telling me that if you go to Bethel Baptist church you are not allowed to take communion???? Are you kidding, or what. That is biblical ignorance of the entity of the body of Christ, the church, to the core. This is the foolishness of this autonomous local assembly that goes too far the other way and pushes toward Briderism! Can you not see the obvious?

You all need to be taught the balance of the biblical entity of the church (one of many) and how it should operate.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Webb,

Thanks for the comment. Are the missionaries/world evangelists you send out members of your church until an assembly on the field is organized? I mm interested in why they are members of the church on the field.

Dear Bro Brandenburg,

Thanks for the comment. I agree.

Dear George,

Yes, closed communino means members of the church participate. No, I am not kidding.

And yes, your presbyterian polity religious organization is not Christ's Bride.

Also, adding extra question marks does not contribute to the logical force of your argument.

Furthermore, if you really believe Jesus is the Father you won't be in the New Jerusalem that is like a bride adorned for her husband in the future. And that is not a joke--its tragic.

The Preacher said...

"Furthermore, if you really believe Jesus is the Father you won't be in the New Jerusalem that is like a bride adorned for her husband in the future. And that is not a joke--its tragic."

This is personal to you Ross-- just read it and delete it.

Your just a proud no-it-all who is so FULL of himself, that you have very little concept of the bride of Christ. Son, you are in the back of the line when it comes to Christianity, a spiritual child, who believes in DOGMA instead of the living Christ. Thank the Lord God, there is room for your stupidity, and your not saved by communion, but by the living Christ. Your not saved by your short comings in Trinitarianism, but by the Lord Jesus Christ and if he was the Father (he is and he is not!), then all is well for me.

The reason you keep bring this up is you are proud knowing nothing, and your stupid Greek will not help your cause. Your ignorance of the scriptures when it comes to your private interpretation is obvious.

Grow up in Jesus Christ and quit being a divisive and schismatic Christian because the Lord our God DISPISES such a one.

KJB1611 said...

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and IDOLATORS, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)

George, it is actually loving to warn you that your false god cannot save.

Anonymous said...

1) Presbuteros is the biblical model for Church governance; that is a ruling body of elders, in every assembly. Churches that have a "Pastor" who is the only elder, and dictator, are not biblical Churches. I have been in independent Baptist Churches who practice this abomination, and I could not stay.

If you do not have a Presbytery you are not practising the biblical model of Church governance.

Clearly 1 Tim. 5:17 indicates that not all elders preach, but all elders do have power, and all deserve honour.

2) Up until the mid 1800s all Churches, Baptist and otherwise knew that "oinos" was wine, and used it in their communion services. In the mid 1800s some Christians came along who knew better than God, and instituted a new doctrine where "grape juice" replaced wine (oinos). These people thought they had the right to add to Scripture.

In fact these Churches have departed from the truth even while strenuously contending that they proclaim it!

If you are using grape juice in your communion services you are not obeying Scripture. God had a reason why He chose this beverage to represent the blood of Christ. As in unleavened bread, the yeast represents sin. What happens in fermented wine is that the yeast produces alcohol, which represents the judgment of God. Sin produces judgment. At a certain point in fermentation the alcohol kills the yeast that made it. At this point the yeast is removed from the wine leaving only the alcohol behind.

Further to this as new yeast spores land on the open wine, it is instantly killed by the alcohol. Thus communion with wine as the beverage is the only communion that continues the picture of God's judgment.

In contrast to this picture of God's judgment, when you use fresh grape juice, you are actually drinking active yeast. It may not be readily apparent, but as soon as you open a bottle of fresh grape juice mold spores land in the juice and immediately begin fermentation. Sin is there, but it just can't be seen as yet. Boy that sure honours the Lord Jesus Christ!

3) With regard to open or closed communion, the Lord Himself on the night he instituted this ordinance, did so specifically with Judas Iscariot in the room, and specifically included this unbeliever in the feast. Luke 20:17-22 is clear that Judas was there when the Lord instituted this practise.

You don't know the heart of those you are associating with. Your very own children could be false believers. 1 Corinthians 11:27 clearly indicates that it is the responsibility of the participant that they alone are answerable for the manner in which they partake. It is between them and God. The Church is not commissioned to be the Lord's police force.

It is not your job to agonize over whether or not someone else is right with the Lord. You don't know, and can't know, their heart. It is your job to preach the word.

Be that as it may, if you are not faithful in 1) or 2) above you are already disobedient!

KJB1611 said...

Dear Daniel,

Did you know that water has a very small amount of radon in it-- probably about the same amount as there is yeast in fresh grape juice? So when you drink alcohol in the Lord's Supper you are consuming radioactive material in the water that is part of the alcohol. Clearly, that proves your position is wrong the Lord Supper. Great argument, no? It is as valid as yours is about the yeast.

We are all against having a dictator for a pastor. Furthermore, we all think it is great if there is more than one pastor or elder. That is a very different thing than stating that a church is in sin if it has only one pastor.

By the way, presbuteros is singular in Greek. Check your first sentence.

1 Tim 5:17 proves nothing of the kind.

If you are consistent with your argument about Judas, then you should let Muslim terrorists who are plotting to kill and betray Christians participate in the supper. Judas did not participate – after Christ gave him the sop he went out and then they celebrated the Supper, as John's Gospel makes clear. Jesus did participate in meal that took place beforehand.


d4v34x said...

Also, adding extra question marks does not contribute to the logical force of your argument.


I have a couple of co-workers I need to remember that one for.

KJB1611 said...

I was using dictation software (Dragon Dictate; I have not been impressed) and looking over my comment there were some serious typos. The program wrote down "Jesus did not participate" in the Supper, but it should have said "Judas."

"Clearly, that proves your position is wrong the Lord Supper" should have been "Clearly, that proves your position is wrong on the Lord's Supper."

Also, the word oinos isn't even used for the Lord's Supper. It just says "fruit of the vine." Therefore, for Daniel's argument to work in saying that it is disobedience to use grape juice in the Supper he should prove that grape juice is not juice from the fruit of the grape vine, which will be a little difficult to do.

KJB1611 said...

Dear D4,


Don said...

Hi Everyone,

I'm really late with this comment, but I wanted to chime in. The arguments for closed communion are indeed very strong, and that is the position that my sending church and I hold to. Having said that, I also believe that church planting evangelists should be able to partake of the Lord's supper in the churches that they have planted. Paul very clearly taught the Corinthians how to partake of the Lord's supper (I Corinthians 11:2, 23-27), and the logical conclusion is that he taught them this ordinance by example - that is, by participating in it with them.

As far as Acts 20 goes, I personally don't believe that it's talking about the Lord's Supper just because it mentions breaking bread. As the author pointed out, there are several passages that mention breaking of bread that aren't talking about the Lord's Supper (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46; Acts 27:33-35). The other strong argument is the fact that the cup is not mentioned at all in this passage in Acts 20, whereas it is clearly mentioned in the passages that we know are speaking of the Lord's Supper(see Matt 26:26-30; I Cor 10:16; I Cor 11:23-27).

That's my two cents,

Brother Don Clough
Missionary to Scotland

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Clough,

Thanks for the comment.

Why would the purpose of their coming together be to break bread rather than to worship God, hear Paul preach, etc. unless a central act of Christian worship were involved in the act?

Don said...

Again, I don't see how this breaking of bread points to the Lord's Supper. It says they came together to break bread, but the vast majority of their time was actually taken up listening to Paul preach. (It's much like you and I saying that we're going to a fellowship meeting, when fellowship is just a part of what will be going on.) The actual breaking of bread, which I believe is in reference to a meal, occurred well after midnight. Again, the focus of their meeting was to hear the preaching of God's Word from Paul, and the breaking of bread was just a small part of that meeting.

Rather than the Lord's Supper, it seems much more likely to be a type of fellowship meal. We're told that Paul had eaten, which seems to me to indicate that he had a meal, instead of actually participating in the Lord's Supper. I personally don't have any problem believing that they came together for a fellowship meal and to hear Paul preach to them before he left. As to the meal, Paul would have needed refreshment before he took his journey on foot, as we're told in verse 13.

One friendly word of advice would be to avoid coming to a conclusion from these few verses in Acts 20. Especially when it's not clear that it's actually referring to the Lord's Supper.

God bless you Brother!

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Don,

Thanks again for the comment. I believe they also had a meal, but I don't see why the purpose of the church gathering on the first day of the week would be just to eat some food. I actually would like to have a good reason to get out of thinking that Paul partook of the Supper with the church at Troas, but I don't think I have one at this point.

I appreciate your church directory, and have it linked to on my website as the 1st one to look at before looking at Bro Cloud's 2nd. Perhaps, if you have the time, you could expand it to an international one also.

Thanks again for the comment.

Unknown said...

J.M. Pendleton in his book titled, "Landmarkism", on page 34, says that there are "not less than six terms in the original Greek of the Acts of the Apostles which are translated, "preach". The one used in Acts 20:7, is the meaning where we get the word "dialogue". It is not used of preaching the Gospel. It is used as "discussion", "to reason", or "declare". I am no scholar. Just wanted to share the info. Maybe someone could take a look at it and see if there is a point to be made. Hint: Bro. Brandenberg!

KJB1611 said...

Dear Charles,

Thanks for the question. The word in v. 7, dialegomai, is used for the sort of instruction that fits preaching. Later in the passage ("talked," v. 11) homileo is used also. The church assembled to hear preaching that probably had interaction. After midnight the discourse was more informal (homielo, not dialogidzomai). Below are the definitions of the two words in BDAG, mainly for the purpose of looking at the crossreferences:

διαλέγομαι impf. διελεγόμην Ac 18:19 v.l.; 1 aor. διελεξάμην (s. λέγω; Hom.; Polyaenus 3, 9, 40; 7, 27, 2) Ac 17:2; 18:19; pf. 3 sg. διείλεκται (Tat. 21, 3). Pass.: fut. 3 sg. διαλεχθήσεται (Sir 14:20); aor. διελέχθην ([Att.] LXX; Just., D. 2, 4) Mk 9:34; Ac 18:19 v.l. (Hom.+).
① to engage in speech interchange, converse, discuss, argue (freq. in Attic wr., also PPetr III, 43 [3], 15 [240 b.c.]; BGU 1080, 11; Epict. 1, 17, 4; 2, 8, 12; TestAbr A 5 p. 82, 3 [Stone p. 12] τὰ διαλεγόμενα ὑμῶν; Tat. 21, 3), esp. of instructional discourse that frequently includes exchange of opinions Ac 18:4; 19:8f; 20:9. περί τινος (Ps.-Callisth. 3, 32, 2; Just., D. 100, 3; Ath. 9:1) 24:25. πρός τινα (X., Mem. 1, 6, 1; 2, 10, 1; Ex 6:27; Ps.-Callisth., loc. cit.; Jos., Ant. 7, 278; AssMos Fgm. a Denis p. 63=Tromp p. 272) Ac 24:12. τινί w. someone (for the syntax, s. 1 Esdr 8:45 ‘inform, tell’; 2 Macc 11:20; EpArist 40; Just., D. 2, 4: the three last ‘discuss, confer’) 17:2, 17; 18:19; 20:7; sim. converse MPol 7:2.—Of controversies πρός τινα with someone (Judg 8:1 B) Mk 9:34. περί τινος about someth. (cp. Pla., Ap., 19d; Plut., Pomp. 620 [4, 4]; PSI 330, 8 [258 b.c.] περὶ διαφόρου οὐ διαλ.; PFlor 132, 3; Just., A II, 3, 3) Jd 9.
② to instruct about someth., inform, instruct (Isocr. 5 [Phil.] 109; Epict.; PSI 401, 4 [III b.c.]; 1 Esdr 8:45; Philo; Joseph.; EHicks, ClR 1, 1887, 45) δ. may have this mng. in many of the above pass. (e.g. Ac 18:4), clearly so Hb 12:5 (δ. of a Scripture pass. also Philo, Leg. All. 3, 118).—GKilpatrick, JTS 11, ’60, 338–40.—Frisk s.v. λέγω. M-M. TW. Sv.

ὁμιλέω (ὅμιλος) impf. ὡμίλουν; fut. 3 sg. ὁμιλήσει Pr 15:12; 1 aor. ὡμίλησα; pf. inf. ὡμιληκέναι Just., D. 62, 2 (Hom.+, prim. mng. ‘be in association with’ someone, and then ‘converse’) to be in a group and speak, speak, converse, address (Hom., Pla., et al.; LXX. Cp. our use of ‘meet’ in the sense ‘have a discussion’ about someth.) τινί (with) someone (Philemo Com. 169 K. ἐὰν γυνὴ γυναικὶ κατʼ ἰδίαν ὁμιλεῖ; Ael. Aristid. 28, 116 K.=49 p. 529 D.: θεῷ; POxy 928, 5 ὡμείλησας δέ μοί ποτε περὶ τούτου; Da 1:19; GrBar 7:3; ApcMos 16; Jos., Ant. 17, 50; Just., D. 59, 1 al.—Of God’s intimate association with the Logos τῷ λόγῳ αὐτοῦ διὰ πάντος ὁμιλῶν Theoph. Ant. 2, 22 [p. 154, 20]) ὡμίλει αὐτῷ he used to talk with him Ac 24:26 (Himerius, Or. 48 [=Or. 14], 18 ὁμ. τινι=confer with someone). Of Christ talking to martyrs (cp. Herm. Wr. 12, 19 [τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ] μόνῳ ὁ θεὸς ὁμιλεῖ) παρεστὼς ὁ κύριος ὡμίλει αὐτοῖς the Lord was standing by and conversing with them MPol 2:2. Also πρός τινα (X., Mem. 4, 3, 2; Jos., Ant. 11, 260 τούτων πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὁμιλούντων): ὡμίλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ πάντων they were conversing w. each other about all the things Lk 24:14. W. acc. of thing οὐ ξένα ὁμιλῶ I have nothing strange to say Dg 11:1. ἃ λόγος ὁμιλεῖ 11:7. Abs. (Diod S 13, 83, 1) Lk 24:15. ἐφʼ ἱκανὸν ὁμιλήσας ἄχρι αὐγῆς after talking a long time until daylight Ac 20:11.—RAC IX, 1100–45.—DELG s.v. ὅμιλο. M-M.