Q. Should we practice open or closed communion?
A. The Churches of Christ have always practiced open communion. Following Alexander Campbell’s counsel to neither “invite nor debar,” the Churches never refuse communion to anyone present (other than an unbaptized child).
Most Churches of Christ pass communion without announcing a rule for who can and cannot participate. Some announce that communion is available for any “baptized believer” or “baptized believer in good standing.”
It’s easy enough to compare our contemporary communion practices with the practices of the First Century and see a huge difference. We’ve managed to turn a real meal involving real fellowship among believers into a symbolic meal involving virtually nothing akin to fellowship.
Indeed, some of us are so focused on the vertical dimension of worship that we take offense when church members enter into the assembly talking to one another, as though actual interaction among people might offend God — a God who evidently called us into assembly so we can ignore one another!
The problem is easily traced: it’s the form of the assembly itself. We structure church as though we are going to a theater production or concert: a stage, an audience, chairs facing the stage, and a few specially approved performers and all else required to sit and quietly watch the show. Continue reading
(1Co 11:27-28 ESV) 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
This is one of the several most horribly misused verses in all of scripture. Which says a lot. Context! Context! Context!
When I was a kid and for long afterwards, some very foolish preachers taught that this means you damn yourself if you take the Lord’s supper when someone is holding a grudge against you. Meaning, of course, that Jesus damned himself when he took the Last Supper because nearly the entire Sanhedrin wanted him dead! Continue reading
(1Co 11:22 ESV) 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
One possible interpretation is that Paul considers it wrong for the church to eat a common meal together. He can’t be saying that it’s wrong to eat in the building or to have a kitchen in the building since the church met in private homes — where people ate and had kitchens.
After all, since the church was not licensed by the Roman government, it could not own property or build its own buildings. In some communities, a friendly synagogue or Grecian official might allow the church to occasionally borrow a facility to gather as a whole, but routine, weekly meetings had to be in a house.
Abusing the Lord’s Supper
(1Co 11:17-19 ESV) 17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
These are sad accusations. The assembly of the saints does more harm than good! How tragic. After all, it’s in assembly, when we are physically together, when we should best be able to demonstrate the unity and the love that comes from God. But in Corinth, they evidenced selfishness, which led to division.