OPEN COMMUNION:
Is It Scriptural?
by Bro. B.A. Delaney
INTRODUCTION
Open communion has been defined as the practice of the church allowing all, whether they
have been baptized scripturally or not, to come in and sit at the Lord's table in observance of
the Lord's Supper. One might ask, "What's the purpose of dealing with a subject like this
among Baptists who have held to the view of communion that restricts it to the members in
good standing of the Church that's observing it?" The reason is that such churches are in a
minority in many parts of our nation today and of our world. One going throughout our nation
today would be hard pressed to find churches that hold to the view of communion that should
be practiced among those calling themselves Baptist. Sooner or later members of the Lord's
churches are going to come in contact with these folks that hold to the practice of open
communion and when they do, they need to present the biblical reasons and thought behind
the opposition to this practice and defend the claim that it is not a scriptural practice for
churches to follow.
We live in an age today when our distinctive Baptist doctrines are being downplayed on every
hand. In fact, many churches today wearing the name Baptist are little more than a
nondenominational type of gathering. If we do away with our distinctive doctrines we are
merely a group of people getting together to have some sort of religious assembly. In this
de-emphasis of our distinctive Baptist doctrines, one area that has received much attack has
been this matter of the Lord's Supper. As you listen to what people say today, you will see
that a lot of individuals say the Lord's Supper is not something significant enough to disagree
over its proper observance. To them it is something that should not be a source of division,
nor should it be a source of unnecessary contention. Their approach is to water it down and
not rock the boat over this subject.
Personally I believe that Lord's Supper is an important issue. I believe it is a matter of which
we need to be concerned. We need to be sure that we are scriptural about it, and remember
it's something that is of vital importance because of what it portrays to the New Testament
church. My personal opposition to open communion falls into three categories. First, I am
opposed to the practice of open communion from a biblical standpoint. Secondly, I am
opposed to the practice of open communion from a historical standpoint, and thirdly, I am
opposed to the practice of open communion from a practical standpoint or what the practical
result of it will be. (II Thessalonians 2:13-17 is the text)

I. BIBLICAL STANDPOINT
I am opposed to open communion from a biblical standpoint. As we search the Scripture, this
ought to be an area of supreme importance to us because Baptists are a people whose faith
and practice are founded upon the Word of God. Therefore, the Scripture is the basis for our
faith. Most Baptist churches confession of faith begins with, "We believe that the Holy Bible
was written my men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction...truth
without any mixture of error for its matter. .the supreme standard by which all human
conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried." So it is natural to assume the logical starting
point for a Baptist, who builds his faith upon the Word of God, is the Word of God itself. As
we think of this subject, does the Bible give us instruction on the matter of the Lord's Supper?
Yes, it does, but one searching the Scriptures would be hard pressed to find an argument
supporting open communion. In fact, I believe just the opposite is true. I believe the more a
person searches the Scriptures and studies the New Testament doctrine of the church without
preconceived ideas, the more they will come to the closed position on the Lord's Supper. Now
there are three specific biblical examples that I simply want to present.

1. Example of Christ
I want us to consider the example of Christ himself in Matthew 26. Here we find the
institution of the Lord's Supper. At the beginning of the last supper, those present with the
Lord Jesus Christ were the twelve Apostles. I want you to notice one verse of Scripture, verse
20. It says, "Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve." I believe this is a
very important statement. In this portion of Scripture, it tells us exactly with whom Jesus
instituted the supper. Notice it says, "When even was come he sat down with whom? With the
twelve. Now this is very clear and plain. He's referring to the twelve apostles that were the
nucleus with whom he started his New Testament Church. We can read over in Acts 1:22
these individuals had been baptized by John the Baptist. We can see in I Corinthians 12:28 it
tells us the Lord set first in the church the apostles. Just a casual reading of the New
Testament until this point in the life of Christ will reveal plainly that Jesus had more followers
and disciples than simply these twelve. I believe there is a specific reason that when he
instituted the supper He instituted it with just those twelve, and it was not open to everybody
that was one of His followers. Why? Because He was instituting it with those twelve with
whom He founded His New Testament church during His public ministry. I have a hard time
finding an argument in favor of open communion when I think of the example of the Lord
Jesus Christ himself. I just don't see it there. In fact, I find an argument very strongly in favor
of the position we take today on the Lord's Supper.

2. The Jerusalem Church
There is another area in the Scriptures that I find in opposition to open communion, and that's
the order that was observed by the Jerusalem Church. When we look in Acts 2 we find the
order that was observed in the Jerusalem Church. In verses 41 and 42 it says the following,
"Then they that gladly received His word were baptized and the same day there were added
unto them about three thousand souls and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine
and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers." Now what do we find here? First, we
find the biblical experience of grace. It says, "they that gladly received His word." Then those
individuals were baptized. Then we read church membership came because it says, "and were
added unto them about three thousand souls." Verse 47 tells us what it was they were added
unto, ".. .the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." So what do we find up
to this point? We find salvation; we find scriptural baptism; we find church membership, and
then we find fellowship with the church because it says in verse 42, "And they continued
steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship," then "in breaking of bread and prayers."
There again, I have a hard time finding any support for the practice of open communion.
When I think of the example of the order that the early churches of Jerusalem followed, what
do I find? I find a strong argument in favor of restricting communion to the local church that's
observing it.

3. The Nature of the New Testament Church
There's another area in the Bible in which I find opposition to open communion, the biblical
teaching concerning the nature of the New Testament church. Considering this, I see no way
communion could be open in it observance.

A. The Church of Corinth-One Body
Consider what Paul told the church at Corinth about this very subject. In I Corinthians,
chapter 10, we read in verse 16 and 17, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the
communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the
body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of
that one bread." Now, quite simply, He is teaching, by way of the Lord's Supper, the nature of
the Lord's New Testament Church. It is a unified, visible, organized society of believers.

B. Each Church Is A Body In Christ
As we study the Scriptures, we find the Bible presents to us the fact that the New Testament
church, described as a body, is local in its nature-not a universal, invisible thing that can never
assemble, which has no officers and no ordinances. We find the Bible presents to us the fact
that the New Testament assembly is local and visible in its nature. The very term assembly
(ecclesia) can't mean anything but that. Notice what he tells the Corinthian Church. The Greek
term in this passage is translated "body" in Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:23. Both of these
verses tell us that the body of Christ is the New Testament church, the local assembly. Look
at I Corinthians 10:17. What does he say in this passage of Scripture? He speaks about
symbolism that is involved in the supper. He says, "For we being many are one bread, and one
body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." Keep in mind to whom he was writing. He
was writing to the Church of God which was located at Corinth. He was writing to a local new
Testament assembly and he addresses that local New Testament assembly as a body in itself.
What does he say in I Corinthians 10:16? He says that the one bread used in the supper
pictures the physical body of our Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 17 the bread pictures the New
Testament church. He writes, "We being many are one bread and one body..."

C. Divisions In the Church of Corinth
First Corinthians 11:17-20 says, "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye
come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in
the church...:" Notice what he says, "I hear that there be divisions among you and I partly
believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be
made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat
(or make a feast of) the Lord's supper." Notice one thing that Paul was strongly writing to the
Corinthian Church about the matter of division. In the beginning of his letter to this church he
writes, "Some say I am of Paul, some say I am of Apollos." There was a division within that
New Testament body located in the city of Corinth. Now if that division in that body was
going to be a hindrance to their properly observing the Lord's Supper, how do you think they
could possibly observe the Lord's Supper with folks that are members of other bodies and
there not be a division present. You see, open communion is contrary to the nature of the
New Testament church that we find presented for us in the Scriptures.

D. Each Church Has A Unity of the Spirit
Take two particular individuals. Two people could squeeze together as closely as possible and
yet there would still be two separate, distinct bodies present. Keep in mind the Bible describes
a New Testament church as a body of Christ. Therefore, how can two bodies come together
in observance of the Lord's Supper and there not be a division present? It cannot be! The
biblical teaching concerning the New Testament church contradicts any view of open
communion. Search the Scriptures and you'll find no support for open communion there. I
don't even see how a practice of allowing folks of like faith and order to come in that are
members of another body can be justified based on the teaching out of Scripture.
Another Biblical area that opposition to open communion would be found in would be church
discipline. This fits hand in hand with the biblical teaching concerning the nature of the church.
The Lord Himself gave the church the authority to exercise discipline (see Matthew 18:15-18).
In I Corinthians, chapter 5, Paul instructs the Corinthian Church in dealing with a member
involved with fornication. Here Paul tells them to exclude that individual (vs. 4-7, 13). Later
they are told not to keep company with Him and specifically not to eat with him (vs. 9-11). If
it is proper to observe the Lord's Supper in an open manner, you could have a church
observing it with one who had been excluded from her fellowship! If the church does not have
the authority to restrict participation in the Lord's Supper, what good is the authority to
discipline? In the New Testament teaching concerning church discipline I find opposition to
open communion.
I'm opposed to the practice of open communion from a biblical standpoint. I just don't find it
taught in the Scriptures, and as a Baptist my allegiance is to the Word of God and to my
Saviour. I'm duty bound to base my faith, doctrine, and practice upon what I find in the pages
of the Bible.

II. HISTORICAL STANDPOINT
Secondly, I'm opposed to open communion from a historical standpoint. I do believe, as
Baptists, we have a history that goes back to the days of Christ and the apostles. As we study
our history through those groups of people we hold as our forefathers through which we trace
our perpetuity, the one thing that stands out very clearly in history is the fact that our history
as Baptist people truly is a history that is written in blood, as Dr. J.M. Carroll in his book The
Trail of Blood points out. Now this presents a problem for us in Baptist history because much,
though not all, of what we find of our early history comes to us from the hands of our
enemies. Why? Because often they would gather together the writings of our forefathers and
burn them as they many times burned our forefathers alive. So what we have, in many cases,
comes down to us from the pens of those that were opposed to the truth, and it's just natural
to assume that they are going to stress in their writings the things that agitated them the most
about or forefathers. The majority of the time it was baptism. Why? Because our forefathers
would refuse to recognize as Scriptural the baptism administered by heretics and false
churches. So they would baptize Scripturally those that came over to them from these other
persuasions. This is how the familiar term Ana-Baptist originated. As we study through
history, one of the main things we find stressed is their insistence on Scriptural baptism, but
the communion issue isn't left untouched. As you study throughout history there are
statements that you can find that give us insight into what our forefathers believed concerning
this matter of open communion.
Quote 1: Dr. R.B.C. Howell wrote a book called Terms of Communion at the Lord's Table.
On page 51 he quotes from a Mr. Booth who says, "Before the Grand Roman Apostasy, and
in the very depths of that apostasy, and since the reformation both at home and abroad, the
general practice has been to receive none but baptized persons to communion at the Lord's
table." This statement is reinforced by other historians such as: S.H. Ford, Charles Duvall,
W.A. Jerrell, John Christian, D.B. Ray, and G.H.Orchard. Study the writings of these men
and you'll find there is historical testimony to the fact that our forefathers stood opposed to the
stand of open communion. Let me share two more quotations with you.
Quote 2: Dr. D.B. Ray in his book Baptist Succession, page 254, quotes Neander speaking of
the Lord's Supper in the early ages of Christianity. He said, "At this celebration, as may easily
be concluded, no one could be present who was not a member of the Christian church and
incorporated into it by the right of baptism." That statement is very plain. One should study
Dr. Ray's book, especially chapter 25 for quote after quote on this subject.
Quote 3: One of the most striking statements comes from G.H. Orchard. In his book, A
Concise History of the Baptist, on page 373, there is a footnote dealing with the year 1577. He
speaks of Socinus visiting Poland. Orchard says, "He found all the Baptist churches strict on
the terms of their communion.: Socinus persuaded them to abandon this stand." Orchard
further states, "This is the first record of mixed fellowship in Baptist churches." That was the
year 1577.
The practice of open communion is a relatively recent development that has been adopted by
churches that originally held to restricted communion. In fact, you really don't find open
communion openly being espoused until you get into the 1600's with the Baptists of Great
Britain. You find men like John Bunyan, and later on men like Robert Hall that very openly
taught open communion, but they were not without opposition in their stand. One thing stands
clear as you study our history, that's the fact that our forefathers taught that scriptural baptism
was a prerequisite to sitting at the Lord's table. If they would baptize those that came to their
churches from other religious assemblies because they didn't recognize their baptism as
scriptural, what makes you think they would allow those individuals to sit at the Lord's table
without experiencing scriptural baptism? The practice of open communion is one that as I
search throughout history I'm hard pressed to find an argument in favor of open communion. I
find our Baptist forefathers took a stand on distinctive doctrines. One of those distinctives was
restricted communion.

III. PRACTICAL STANDPOINT
I'm opposed to the practice of open communion from a practical standpoint. It stands to
reason that if God's Word is abandoned, no good will come from that position. We have no
right to turn from Scripture and expect God to bless. So we need to ask ourselves today,
"What results from a practice of open communion? What's going to come out of the New
Testament church lowering her standards and allowing those who are not qualified scripturally
to come in and sit at the Lord's table with them?"
Open communion (a) teaches folks in a very graphic way that doctrine is not important. Let
me illustrate. Here's a Baptist church observing the Lord's Supper, and in the congregation
there are individuals of several different denominations. When the elements are distributed
everyone joins in and participates. What's the impression that's going to be given to those folks
in attendance at that service? Your average church member will walk away from that service
thinking that doctrine isn't important. The impression given would be that salvation by grace
alone, eternal security, baptism by proper immersion, our distinctive doctrines ought to be laid
aside for convenience by allowing any and all to come to communion. You are recognizing
their baptism as scriptural and their doctrinal positions as equally valid. Doctrine will be
downplayed by the observance of the Lord's Supper in an open manner. (b) It teaches in a
very graphic way that the church is a universal, invisible thing instead of a local New
Testament assembly. It will provide a false sense of unity for the people observing it. You see,
Christian unity has to be based upon the truth of God's Word, and the unity that is displayed
in open communion isn't a scriptural unity. It's a unity that's based on emotion. It's a unity
that's based on compromise. It's a unity that's based on the doing away with our distinctives
and the faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints. There's a lot of danger that
will come from this practice of open communion. (c) It will lead to unfaithfulness on the part
of church members toward the church of which they are a member. If a member of a certain
church feels it is perfectly alright for them to go to another church and take communion why
wouldn't it be perfectly alright for them on Sunday morning to go where ever they want to
instead of to the assembly of which God has made them part? It destroys loyalty on the part
of the church member toward the church of which God has made him a member. (d) It opens
the door for alien immersion and doctrinal impurity in a church. It's just one step further down
the road to accept alien baptism as it is to practice open communion. A Baptist church could
be opening the door to false teaching and confusion. Open communion is a step in the
direction of loosing our identity. Recently while on vacation we came across a church building
with an interesting sign. It said, "First Baptist Church," then "First Church of Christ, United."
It had dates for each congregation, then a date of unification. What kind of doctrinal stand
could they take? I wondered if that might have started simply with lowering biblical standards
of communion! It wouldn't be inconceivable.
I don't see how any good could come from a practice of open communion. In fact, I believe
the safest approach that one could take to this issue of the Lord's Supper is to be closed to
their observance of it, restricting it to the members in good standing of the local church of
which they are a member. You see, open communion will result in confusion, and the Bible
tells us that God is not the author of confusion. Open communion will result in false teachings
being allowed into the assembly of the people of God. From a practical standpoint, what good
comes from it?

CONCLUSION
I'm opposed to open communion from a biblical standpoint. That's my first and foremost
reason for opposing it. As a Baptist the Bible is my sole rule of faith and practice. Since I don't
find open communion taught in the Scripture, I don't believe it ought to be practiced in the
Lord's churches. But to further reinforce that we have the testimony of history. Search history
and you'll be hard pressed to find an argument in favor of open communion. Then we have
the practical standpoint of it. The end result is not going to be that which is honoring to God.
It's going to be that which glorifies man and man's way instead of lifting up the Saviour and
the instructions of the One who founded the church while He was here on this earth. Those
are the reasons why I'm opposed to open communion.