1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (FAQs)

250px-Agape_feast_03Q. 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.”

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (FAQs)

  1. Unless I misunderstood this post, children at your congregation take part in the communion.

  2. Jay Guin says:


    I said nothing about my congregation’s communion practices because it would have been irrelevant to the topic. The question at hand is the teachings of the scriptures.

  3. For too much of my life I’ve observed churches spending much more time in trying to get the ritual right, even to the point of dividing the church that is supposed to be a call to unity (1 Cor 10:16). It is refreshing to see an emphasis on remembering and proclaiming Jesus in the frequent observance of theLord’s Supper.

  4. Orion says:


    When I was a child in NW Tennessee, it was a “rule” that communion was only for baptized believers. Do you know where that “rule” originated? Which scriptures would have been used to justify this practice?

    Thanks for your insights.

  5. David W. says:


    I think the answer to that question comes from the Catholic understanding of who should take communion which most Protestant Churches adopted in some form without really questioning.


    What I find more interesting is that the CoC, in its purely symbolic understanding of Communion, has tried to define much tighter rules about how, when and where to take Communion than many churches that believe there is more going on than just symbolism. You will not hear many of the debates you find in the CoC amongst Catholics, Anglicans or the Orthodox, despite their beliefs. I think it suggests a real misunderstanding of Communion when, despite being nothing more than a “symbol” it “fails” if it is not done in the right way, with the right elements and at the right time.

  6. Dwight says:

    In many other groups there is no argument made by the laity against the clergy in matters of ritual or faith, but is readily accepted as fact and many of thier rules are extremly tight.
    In regards to the Lord’s Supper we find a progression of thought…saints are told to assemble and in assembly they are to partake of the lord’s Supper, thus the saints are partaking of the Lord’s Supper, thus non-saints don’t. But there are non-saints present in the form of children.
    Another argument goes that only the circumcised and part of that family could partake of the Passover and only the spiritually circucised should partake of the Lord’s Supper.
    Wine was used in the Passover/ Lord’s Supper and I do not know if children were supposed to partake of the four cups blessed and offered. But then again the wine wasn’t technically part of God’s command in the Passover and could have been omitted without offense to God. But in the Lord’s Supper it was part of the “ritual”. Many would have a problem with children partaking of wine, even a thimble worth.

  7. Dwight says:

    I think the communion is closed simply due to the fact that only the saints are coming together to partake of it. It is a familial meal. Those who have a relationship with Christ are those who have a relationship with each other in Christ. But to deny the Lord’s Supper might be a stretch, after all it will only have meaning to those who understand it. I look at it like I look at children baptism. Is it wrong to baptise children? I do not know why it would be. If a parent wants to baptize thier child to show dedication, then that is their perogative.
    But there also must be an understanding of it first for it to remove sins and become a covenant relationship with God, which is why the child baptism means nothing in regards to salvation, even though it might mean something to the parents. Parents often named thier children with names that invoked God, even though that child might not have lived up to it later. In most assemblies it is preached and understood that the saved partake of the Lord”s Supper, but it is never preached that the unsaved shouldn’t partake and I have never noticed enforcers either.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    Limiting the communion to baptized believers predates the Reformation and goes back to early church history — probably at about the time the LS was separated from the agape feast (different dates at different locations). While the two were combined, which is likely the original practice, it’s hard to see how a host might invite a non-Christian guest while denying him bread and drink at the common meal. But once the LS was separated from the agape, it would seem odd to take a symbolic meal in memory of a Messiah with a non-believer.

    The Passover could be celebrated with a sojourner but only if he submits to circumcision (and thereby becomes a proselyte, we assume):

    (Num 9:14 ESV) 14 “And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.”

    (Exo 12:48-49 ESV) 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

    Hence, the logic would be that the LS is like the Passover and only members of the covenant community may share in it. However, Christianity is an evangelistic faith, unlike Judaism, and it’s assumed that non-members will be present in the assembly — whereas the Passover was shared by a family at home just once a year. And the fact that visitors are expected and desired changes things.

    To me, it’s a matter of hospitality. Of course, the guest is invited to dine with us. Nothing could be truer to Jesus’ gospel teachings.

    (Luk 14:21-23 ESV) 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.'”

    So it’s a matter of attitude toward the stranger and visitor, and I think Jesus plainly tells us what that attitude should be.

    Now, my analogy only makes sense if we combine the LS with the Love Feast. Just as we invite visitors and guests to participate in a covered dish meal on the grounds or at small group, we invite them to share in the bread and wine courses — but with an explanation of what this means to us.

  9. need4news says:

    The early church eventually fell victim to fear. As the theology and doctrine became more standardized and the power over those things more centralized, the free-flowing emotions and communications and even power that flowed through the agape feasts threatened that standardization and that centralization. The meal became a ritual. The power and promise and fellowship both horizontal and vertical gave way to standardization. The heart left the meal. The Spirit and all it represents left it, too, perhaps.

  10. Branton says:

    Jay, Thanks for sharing this article with everyone. Have you always felt this way? I was wondering if you allowed your unbaptized children to partake of the LS when they were growing up. What were your reasons either way? As an elder, is this the practice at your congregation today and how should we treat others that don’t feel the same way? I ask a lot of questions because our youth minister preached a sermon about this today at the Preston Rd Church of Christ in Dallas.. He has three small children and he said that as a family they partake of the LS. Do you have any sermons or articles that go into this topic in further detail? Thanks for all that you do. Keep on pressing on.

  11. Jay Guin says:


    My kids were grown before I studied that issue and the elders of my church never discussed the issue while I was active as an elder (on leave of absence presently due to health).

    We may have parents to who let their kids participate. I don’t really know.

    I’ve not gone into much detail. John Mark Hicks addressed the question at his blog before I did. I’d count him a major influence. I have great respect for him and his work.


    I’ve not discussed the issue in depth that I can find or remember. Every time I start writing about the age of accountability, I get so much flak it’s just not any fun.

    Very short and very incomplete answer: The Jews from the beginning of the Passover included their children in the meal at God’s command.

    (Exo 12:24-27 ESV) 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

    When did God tell us to stop including children?

  12. Jay Guin says:

    PS — How should we treat others that don’t feel the same way?

    With the grace of God. Always. They should feel loved, accepted, and honored for obeying God as they understand him. Whichever side of the controversy you are on. It’s a Rom 14 kind of thing, and no other attitude should be tolerated. I mean, we should have no tolerance for intolerance — that is, Rom 14 is not optional or negotiable.

    (Rom 15:7 NIV) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

    Christ accepted me because of my faith/repentance/trust (all called pistis or faith) and baptism. That should always be enough.

  13. Dwight says:

    I guess the question would be are non-Jews allowed to partake of the Passover and if so, then what is the point as they don’t have the connection between being liberated from the Egyptians? According to Exodus 12:43-49 to partake of the pashal lamb a foreigner would have to be circumcised, but no circumcised poerson could eat of it. “He shall not eat of it,” but he may eat unleavened bread and the bitter herbs. (Pesachim 96a quoting Exodus 12:45)
    But again the connection would not be there for the non-Jew.
    But children were Jewish from birth, so they were allowed.
    I would think this would apply to the lord’s Supper. A person must be converted to Christ, circumcision of the heart, to partake of Christ, otherwise it is not relatable to them. A young child is not a Christian, unlike being a Jew. To partake of Christ you must be in Christ.
    Now having said that, many children eat of the bread and drink of the cup, after the offering, so to do so during the offering is not so different, but they would not understand the depth of it.

  14. John F says:

    “Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday. He said nothing about limiting the practice to the first day.”

    This is a sidebar: Jesus may well have instituted the LS on Wednesday (See Leeper: Prelude to Glory who lays out the considerations; also Edersheim for the more traditional view) Does it really matter in the final analysis? No. Is it interesting? Well, it is to me and at least a few others, and a Thursday crucifixion allow the sign of Jonah to be literally fulfilled.

  15. Dwight says:

    The Lord’s Supper was for a purpose. To gather around int the rememberance of Jesus. We have examples of them doing this on the first day of the week, but does this mean we can’t do it on ohter days to remember Jesus. I guess if we are to be legalist we must then forget Jesus on all other days so we can remember him on this Sunday.
    The Lord’s Supper basically took the place of all of the other feast, where the people gathered together to remember something (Passover- deliverance from Egypt). In the Old Testament they had to have certain feast at certain times, but they were not restricted from having more feast and in fact at certain times they had double feast.
    If I told my wife we must have steak every Sunday, this doesn’t place the restriction on every other day to where we can’t steak on those days. There was no command for Sunday, but there was an example of them gathering on the fist day of the week, but then there are examples of them gathering on other days as well.

  16. Jay, thanks for your view on this, particularly on the inclusion of children in participating in the Lord’s Supper. I find their exclusion to be simply indefensible.

    I was, however, a little disappointed in the lawyerish posture you have taken when asked about how they do things at your own congregation. If you would have me believe that your congregation’s leadership does not have a de facto view on this subject, or if they do, that you are entirely unaware of it, well, please forgive my incredulity. I have noticed over time that you try to keep the practices and positions of your own congregation mostly outside the range of the discussions here on the blog, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I understand the risks involved in taking your contrarian positions (with which I generally agree) into a CoC congregation. Perhaps “discretion is the better part of valor” among your folks. When I diverged from traditional CoC teaching on such things, it got me in lots of trouble– once I went to the pulpit with it.

    OTOH, I often find myself hoping to learn from your experience as a leader how your own congregation addresses questions (and disagreements) on topics such as these. I had hopes of hearing evidence of some process besides “ignore it until you need to quash it, then declare for battle” –which has been the traditional method in the CoC. I would love to hear of better things regarding such challenges.

  17. Dwight says:

    Charles, just because you question something or don’t stick to the traditional doesn’t mean that you have to enforce it either. It would be just as wrong to condemn as it would to command. The congregation I go to is non-instrumental, which I personally like, but I am not non-instrumental, except where the instrument overpowers the singing and becomes a show, which happens a lot. Sometimes keeping things simple is the way to go. I don’t teach that we have to or should have instruments, but I am not going to condemn those who do either.
    Now having said that there are some thing that are traditonal that go against scripture and these we ought to teach against and there are some things that we teach as command that are just tradition and these things we need to stop and back away from.

  18. Monty says:

    Just because I have learned over time with much study, reading, thoughtfulness of my own and listening to the thoughts and insights of others to unravel a tangled up ball of string doesn’t mean that I should now take that same ball of string and retangle it and toss it in my members laps(who for the most part don’t have the luxury of the time to study, or the resources I’ve been exposed to) on a 45 minute Bible class and say ,”OK, I did it, you can too!” Talk about feeding babes without teeth steak. And then we wonder why most wouldn’t think we’ve gone off the deep end.

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