This “Ask the Pastor” question is one I have encountered numerous times throughout my ministry. It is a very thoughtful and significant question pertaining to our practice regarding the observance of the Lord’s Supper, specifically, who should partake in the observance…
I have a question about who can take communion. First Corinthians 11:28 says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup;” yet our church requires that a person be baptized my immersion before being allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Why is that? Are there other verses that make baptism by immersion a prerequisite?
Let me begin my response by describing the various approaches pastors and churches take in whom they invite to participate in the communion service. These approaches have been described as open, close, and closed. The distinctions are as follows: Churches practicing open communion invite everyone, with no distinction, to participate. Churches practicing closed communion limit those who may participate to those who are members of that specific local church. Churches practicing close communion invite those believers who come from churches of similar conviction and practice to participate.
The overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist churches are in the last two categories, and primarily within the close communion approach. In our commonly held confession of beliefs, The Baptist Faith and Message, we as Southern Baptists have stated what we believe regarding baptism and the Lord’s Supper:
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.
[Matthew 3:13-17; 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; 14:22-26; Luke 3:21-22; 22:19-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; 20:7; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:23-29; Colossians 2:12.] (BF&M, Article VII)
Within this context I have arrived at the following convictions and thus lead our church to practice our observance of the Lord’s Supper accordingly:
- The Lord’s Supper is an act of worship of a great and good triune God. Thus only those who have reason to worship, namely those who have had their sins forgiven and have been adopted into His family, should participate. (1 Corinthians 10:16, 21; 2 Corinthians 6:15-16)
- When Jesus instituted the observance of communion, He did so, as we read the combined testimonies of all four Gospel writers (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:19-20; John 13:21-30), only with those disciples committed to following Him. Judas was not present.
- The Great Commission that Jesus has given to His church commands us to make disciples through going, baptizing, and teaching (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, the New Testament most frequently speaks of Christ’s people—His church—in terms of those individuals who have responded in faith for forgiveness of sins and then followed the Lord in baptism as a demonstrative act of obedience.(Acts 2:41-42; Colossians 2:12)
- Southern Baptist churches have long stood on the conviction that local, New Testament churches are comprised in our membership of people who are born-again believers who were subsequently baptized by immersion—”Being a church ordinance, it (baptism) is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership” [BF&M, Article VII]. Therefore we see the instructions given by Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to the church in Corinth having “a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup,” as applying specifically to believers as have been described—”it (baptism) is a prerequisite…to the Lord’s Supper” [BF&M, Article VII].
This describes as concisely, and hopefully clearly, as I know how, the biblical basis for the way we approach our observance of the Lord’s Supper as a church. This is why I do my best to make a point of repeating these instructions during our communion services. I take it as my responsibility to clearly describe the purpose and participants in the observance so that everyone avoids the penalty (1 Corinthians 11:27-31) for wrongly approaching the Lord’s Table. After that instruction has been given, everyone is ultimately responsible for how they proceed during our communion service.
What a privilege it is for us as followers of Christ to remember what Jesus has done for us in securing our redemption as we eagerly anticipate His return!