Our Lord has given to his church two specific signs to be enacted continually until he comes again. These two practices, which we call ordinances, are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When churches practice the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called communion, their practice can be categorized most generically in two ways – open or closed. In simple terms, closed communion means restricting the Lord’s Supper to those who have been baptized (and the implications of that). Open communion means extending the Lord’s Supper to all professing Christians.
Those who support open communion argue that the ordinance is for all who belong to the Lord, whether they are baptized or not. Since baptism is not required for salvation, they believe that it is unloving to exclude any who are Christ’s. Baptism, in their view, is not sufficiently important to be a bar to communion.
Those who support closed communion point out that the Lord’s Supper is for the church, and the church is only entered through baptism. In connection with this, they demonstrate that open communion is logically consistent with open membership, that is, the idea that any person who professes to be a Christian should be accepted as a church member. A second reason for closed communion is that the Lord’s Supper inherently means a commitment to a body of believers. A third reason for closed communion is the importance of baptism. Open communion denies the need to follow Christ’s instructions for baptism. Closed communionists ask, “How can one who is living in open disobedience to Christ by not being baptized be admitted to the Lord’s Supper?”
While open communion has good intentions, it simply cannot fit with the NT revelation about the church, being a Christian, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. In NT teaching, no one is considered a Christian (one who is identified with Christ) who has not been baptized. Therefore, to admit someone to the Lord’s Supper who is not baptized is basically to admit a non-Christian.
Historically, the vast majority of Christian churches held to some form of closed communion, simply because it makes much more sense biblically. Baptists have been no exception, as can be seen by their confessions. To give one example, the New Hampshire Confession states:
[We believe] That Christian Baptism…is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the church, by the [sacred] use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination (Section XIV).
At HCBC, we believe that closed communion best matches the teachings of Scripture and enables us to experience the full meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, we have used the term “close” instead of “closed.” Why is that?
The reason is simply to acknowledge that we are not the only true church in the world, and therefore we are happy to admit to the Lord’s Table those members of sister churches who have been scripturally baptized. It is really our attempt to recognize the good intentions of open communionists without partaking of their scriptural error.
By doing so, we endeavor to experience all the blessings and benefits that Christ has given to his church in his Supper.