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August 25, 2011 / Daniel

Closed Communion?

Denny Burk has a post this week on the practice of closed communion.  Burk, a Southern Baptist, believes that only immersed believers can partake of communion.  The message is clear.  People who baptize babies are second-rate members of the family of God.  One of the commenters  even implied that if someone does not get baptized by immersion, then he must be ashamed of the gospel.

Now I’m a Baptist in my theology and I hold to believer’s baptism.  However, there are folks that I respect that disagree with this position.   Some of my teachers at Wheaton believed in infant baptism.   They believe that this is the best interpretation of Scripture and it fits best with church tradition.  I disagree, but I would not exclude proponents of viewpoint from the Lord’s Supper.

My question is, “Does Scripture support the exclusion of paedobaptists from the communion table?”

Burk implies that a person who has not been immersed partakes of communion in “an unworthy manner.”  Why?  Because he is sinning by not being baptized by immersion.   This goes way beyond the evidence in 1 Corinthians 11.

Paul’s problem with the Corinthian church is the abuse of the Lord’s Supper.  He describes the situation in vv.  18-22.

In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

Paul’s focus is on the divisions within the Corinthian church.  The perpetuators are the wealthy.  These wealthy Christians had more time on their hands.  They could arrive at the meetings early.  The poor had other responsibilities.  They would arrive at these meetings late.  The wealthy were not waiting for the poor.  They would participate in the meal to the exclusion of their brothers.  Paul calls the Corinthians’ actions “unworthy.”

By excluding the poorer Christians from the communion table, the Corinthians were acting as if the gospel was only for the wealthy.  Jesus did not die just for rich people.  He died for both rich and poor.  This was a sin against the body of Christ.  Notice the play-on-words.  Paul mixes his metaphors.  The bread and wine represent the body of Christ.  The church is metaphorically the body of Christ.   A sin against the church is a sin against Jesus.

Paul’s solution is given in v. 33.  “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”  The meal is for everyone.  Not just the rich.

This is why I believe that the exclusion of paedobaptists from the communion table is a violation of the intent of 1 Corinthians 11.  Everyone who has been justified by faith in Christ should be welcomed to the table.  Baptism is an important issue.  However, our differences should not be a cause for exclusion.

To paraphrase NT Wright’s words on Galatians 2.  “The doctrine of justification means that both credobaptists and paedobaptists can eat together at the same table.”  Communion is for all who embrace the gospel.

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14 Comments

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