Why We Observe “Close” Communion

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Sunday - 930 Morning Worship - 1115 Sunday School | Wednesday - 7PM Prayer Meeting & Bible Study

by: Pastor David Huffstutler

03/28/2021

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There are three labels that describe how churches

practice communion with respect to who participates

or not: unrestricted, restricted, and strict. We know

them more commonly as open, closed, and close.

Unrestricted or open communion allows any

believer to participate in a church’s communion. It is unrestricted and

open to all who profess Christ. We have three objections to this view.

First, if no restrictions are given, then baptism is downplayed because it

not necessary to this communion. No one knows whether or not a given

participant may or may not have been affirmed in his or her salvation

(which is pledged in baptism – cf. 1 Peter 3:21) by the host church or

some other church.

Second, if no restrictions are given, then church membership is

downplayed as well. Opening communion to someone who is not

baptized and thus not confirmed by other believers in their salvation

functionally says that the affirmation of other believers is not important to

one’s salvation. Open communion thus devalues the notion of formal

unity in a local church.

Third, unrestricted communion downplays the role of church discipline.

If a participant’s baptism and thus the affirmation of salvation by other

believers are not necessary for communion, then the continued role of

other believers in keeping the participant accountable for godliness is not

necessary either. Were a participant to be living in persistent, open sin,

the unity expressed in open communion (1 Corinthians 10:16–17) would

be false, since persistent, open sin requires a church to exclude the

individual from its fellowship since such a one is no believer at all

(e.g., Matt 18:15–18; 1 Cor 5:1–11) or, at best, a sinning brother who has

forfeited his right to fellowship in general and thus communion in

particular (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15).

Restricted or closed communion allows only members of the presiding

church to participate in communion. While this practice theoretically

guarantees the purity of the ordinance, the NT suggests a better option

is strict or close communion, which allows for a church to open

communion beyond its own membership to other Christians who are

members of a church of like faith and practice. We see this option in the

practice of Paul who was mostly accountable to Antioch (cf. Acts 13:1–3;

14:26–28) and yet participated in communion at Troas (Acts 20:7, 11)

and Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:23) and likely all the churches he visited.

Stated in brief, close communion assumes baptism, which assumes a

profession of Christ and the confirmation of that profession by a church

who administered that baptism. This church would then be responsible for

ongoing accountability, which assumes church membership and even

church discipline if necessary. As we have seen, a proper observation of

communion through strict or close communion carries with it the

safeguarding of these important features of our theology of the church.

All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.


There are three labels that describe how churches

practice communion with respect to who participates

or not: unrestricted, restricted, and strict. We know

them more commonly as open, closed, and close.

Unrestricted or open communion allows any

believer to participate in a church’s communion. It is unrestricted and

open to all who profess Christ. We have three objections to this view.

First, if no restrictions are given, then baptism is downplayed because it

not necessary to this communion. No one knows whether or not a given

participant may or may not have been affirmed in his or her salvation

(which is pledged in baptism – cf. 1 Peter 3:21) by the host church or

some other church.

Second, if no restrictions are given, then church membership is

downplayed as well. Opening communion to someone who is not

baptized and thus not confirmed by other believers in their salvation

functionally says that the affirmation of other believers is not important to

one’s salvation. Open communion thus devalues the notion of formal

unity in a local church.

Third, unrestricted communion downplays the role of church discipline.

If a participant’s baptism and thus the affirmation of salvation by other

believers are not necessary for communion, then the continued role of

other believers in keeping the participant accountable for godliness is not

necessary either. Were a participant to be living in persistent, open sin,

the unity expressed in open communion (1 Corinthians 10:16–17) would

be false, since persistent, open sin requires a church to exclude the

individual from its fellowship since such a one is no believer at all

(e.g., Matt 18:15–18; 1 Cor 5:1–11) or, at best, a sinning brother who has

forfeited his right to fellowship in general and thus communion in

particular (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15).

Restricted or closed communion allows only members of the presiding

church to participate in communion. While this practice theoretically

guarantees the purity of the ordinance, the NT suggests a better option

is strict or close communion, which allows for a church to open

communion beyond its own membership to other Christians who are

members of a church of like faith and practice. We see this option in the

practice of Paul who was mostly accountable to Antioch (cf. Acts 13:1–3;

14:26–28) and yet participated in communion at Troas (Acts 20:7, 11)

and Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:23) and likely all the churches he visited.

Stated in brief, close communion assumes baptism, which assumes a

profession of Christ and the confirmation of that profession by a church

who administered that baptism. This church would then be responsible for

ongoing accountability, which assumes church membership and even

church discipline if necessary. As we have seen, a proper observation of

communion through strict or close communion carries with it the

safeguarding of these important features of our theology of the church.

All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.

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