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“Are Strict Communionists Less Exclusive than Paedobaptists?” or “Should the Water Divide Us?”

August 28, 2008

The Open Communion vs. Strict Communion debate has once again enticed a generation of Baptists holding to competing views. The question is an old one, “Should our churches invite all Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper or just those who have been baptized?”

The open communicant answers, “All Christians should be invited to partake of the Lord’s Supper.”

In contrast, the strict communicant (under which I include both “close” and “closed,” though I disagree with the latter) answers, “Only those Christians who have obeyed Christ and have been properly baptized (baptism meaning “immersed as a believer upon profession of faith”) may be invited to take the Lord’s Supper.” This sort of answer immediately brands persons of this persuasion as exclusive, divisive, and more committed to ecclesiasticism than Christian love.

For the sake of putting my cards on the table, I confess I lean closer to the strict communion tradition, although I do not claim to speak for the other authors here at Standing on Shoulders.

This nuanced debate is unique to Baptists, as far as I can tell. Baptists are concerned about how to treat a Christian of another denomination if he should attend a Baptist worship service in which the Lord’s Supper is being served. Is excluding him from the Lord’s Table equivalent to an insult against his godliness?  Or could it be that strict communion may not be quite so “exclusive” as it might appear?

The best argument I have heard on the subject is quite simple. I encountered it in John Quincy Adams’ (not the U.S. president of the same name) Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers (1876).

To paraphrase Adams’ argument:
1. In the New Testament churches, all who were baptized and members of the church were admitted to the Lord’s table.

2. One considered a proper subject of baptism would never be excluded from the communion.

3. Baptists receive all proper subjects of baptism (i.e. believers who have been immersed upon their profession of faith).

4. Paedobaptists consider infants who are sprinkled to be legitimately baptized and members of the visible church.

5. According to this logic (of #4), all baptized infants should be admitted to the Lord’s Table.

6. Yet, these infants are excluded, and thus the “paedobaptists are most inveterate closed communionists.”

7. Paedobaptists have no argument against strict communion Baptists, who “refuse to receive persons whom we consider unbaptized, when they will not receive their own baptized members.”

John Quincy Adams, Baptist thorough Reformers (1876), Reprinted: Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, 1982, 160-161.

Solid paedobaptists and the like all believe that no one should be admitted to the Lord’s table without being properly baptized. I find it ironic that on this particular point, strict communion Baptists agree with them 100%. The disagreement is on what constitutes a proper baptism. At the risk of sounding cliche, I suppose it all depends on what your definition of “is” means.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2008 6:45 pm

    >” According to this logic (of #4), all baptized infants should be admitted to the Lord’s Table.”

    While John Quincy Adam’s logic is somewhat sound, it is oversimplified and excludes some additional instructions in scripture regarding the reception of communion, such as an examination of conscience (1 Corinthians 11:28-31).

    Catholics and Eastern Orthodox follow paedobaptistism with teaching their children about their conscience and the need to examine their conscience. Also, since these two branches of Christianity hold that their Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ, additional instruction is also provided to their children regarding the proper disposition and manners to be accorded the Eucharist. However, these two groups of Christians do include their baptised children in their Sunday worship services which include a communion service. Their children are not relegated to “children’s church”.

    Also, in the case of baptised infants, after baptism they are living Saints, without sin, and in perfect communion with God and have no need of the Eucharist.

    God bless…

    +Timothy

  2. August 30, 2008 7:42 pm

    Thanks for the thoughts, Timothy. 🙂

  3. September 3, 2008 11:37 pm

    The RCC and EO view of the sacraments clearly stands apart from the teaching of Scripture as they see the grace conferred ex opere operato.

    As a Baptist who has spent a lot of time with Presbyterians, I do think Adams has oversimplified the Reformed paedobaptist view of children being members of the covenant community. The PCA church in my area distinguishes between members and communing members. While I disagree with their practice of infant baptism, I do not believe they are disorderly or inconsistent in their observance of the Lord’s Table. They require a person to evidence the new birth by profession of personal faith in Christ and a life that adorns the gospel.

    Our Baptist church practices open communion. We believe this is consistent with both the retrospective (OT passover and fellowship offering culminating in the cross of Christ) and prospective (Marriage Supper of the Lamb) aspects of the ordinance.

    Soli Deo Gloria

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