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.”
Q. May unbaptized children participate?
A. Most Churches of Christ do not allow this, but their logic is badly flawed, in my view. If we ate a common meal in a home, when the bread was passed to be shared among the family members, the children would be welcome to share. They might even be served first.
In the Jewish Passover, the children participate. In fact, one purpose of the Passover is to include the children in expectation that they’ll ask for the story of the Passover to be told.
I can’t help but think of —
(1Co 7:14 ESV) 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
As we discussed earlier, I think Paul is primarily thinking about the Jewish mamzer laws, dealing with children of a forbidden marriage. But I think the same logic applies in the case of the Lord’s Supper. The children of a Christian are holy and therefore allowed the privileges of their believing parent.
“Holy” is the adjective form of “saint.” Our children are saint-ish. It’s not just that they aren’t tainted because one parent or the other is an unbeliever, but that having a believing parent brings them into holiness. We don’t treat them as strangers to our own table. What would be the logic in banning a child from his or her parents’ table?
Q. May someone take communion more than once a day?
A. Of course. Why must we invent laws? Notice how Paul quotes Jesus:
(1Co 11:25-26 ESV) 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
He doesn’t say, “When you are supposed to think of me on a Sunday, eat and drink.” Rather, the idea is that when you eat and drink, think of me. Hence, when the church gathers to eat, whenever and wherever and whyever, the church should eat and drink remembering Jesus.
I grew up in a church that, like most Churches of Christ, had a Sunday morning and Sunday evening service. We took communion during the morning service. During the evening service, a time was set aside to serve communion to those who’d been “Providentially hindered.” And only those partook — standing to receive communion quite uncomfortably while the rest of the congregation sat and watched — quite uncomfortably.
Why didn’t the rest of the church take communion with their brothers and sisters? Well, it would be against a rule that we invented out of nothing. I mean, imagine having a Thanksgiving meal at lunch, and then having beloved relatives show up late, having been hindered by the weather or airlines. Who would imagine that it would be best if the family who’d eaten together at lunch watched in stone-faced silence while those Providentially hindered ate alone?
This sort of thinking comes from treating the Lord’s Supper, not as gathered family, but as a magical ritual.
Q. May we take communion on a day other than a Sunday?
A. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday. He said nothing about limiting the practice to the first day. Acts 2 does not limit the common meals to the first day, but indicates that the early church ate together daily.
(Act 2:46-47 ESV) 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
There is significant evidence that “day by day” should be “daily,” as in several translations. Hence, although Acts 20:6-7 refers to what was likely a weekly event, the first church ate together daily — or very nearly so.
There is certainly no evidence that it was considered sinful to take communion more often than weekly, and the supposed rule that it must be taken on a Sunday and only on a Sunday rests on very, very slim evidence.
Q. May we take communion during a small group meeting even if we took communion at church that morning?
A. Of course.
Q. Should communion be served as wine or as unfermented grape juice?
A. Do you seriously think that God cares? Again, it’s not magic. It’s not about getting the ingredients to the potion right and then uttering the proper incantation over it. It’s a family gathering.
Q. Should the bread be leavened or unleavened?
A. It’s interesting that the cup is not mentioned in any of the Old Testament Passover passages. It is truly a human addition, added without the least scriptural authority. And yet by the time of Jesus, the cup had taken on powerful symbolic significance, which Jesus borrowed in instituting the Lord’s Supper. And we have not a word of scripture on fermentation.
But the fact that the bread was unleavened is a major point of the Passover ritual. The week prior to Passover was spent cleansing the house of all leaven.
It’s was a bit surprising to me when I learned that the Eastern Orthodox insist on leavened (yeasty) bread, whereas the Catholics insist on unleavened bread. The Orthodox argument is explained here. They ultimately conclude,
In the Christian East there is no concern for using the exact type of bread used at the Last Supper—known in the Orthodox Church as the “Mystical Supper.” Christ “leavens” our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to “recreate” or “reproduce” a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord’s command.
We should be silent where the scriptures are silent. There is no command, and there is symbolic meaning found in both leavening and the absence of leavening.
Moreover, exercising freedom in this area will allow for creativity in the baking and presentation of the bread — and I’m all for finding creative ways to retell the story of Jesus when we eat together.
If this is uncomfortable to you, remember this. If we do it our traditional way, we use unleavened bread because the Jews used unleavened bread in the Passover, and we use unfermented grape juice because it’s not necessary to do it the Jewish way.
That’s right. Since 1869 — ever since Welch’s grape juice was invented to allow for unfermented communion “wine” — we’ve been utterly inconsistent in our logic.
And God doesn’t care. And neither should we.