Should Communion Be Open Or Closed?
The Bible’s teaching on Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and it promotes “open” participation for believers. All those who are true believers in God through personal faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, are worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper by virtue of the fact that they have accepted the death of Christ as payment for their sins (see also Eph. 1:6, 7).
Some churches practice “closed” Communion. Their reasoning seems to be that they want to ensure that everyone who partakes is a believer. This is understandable; however, it places church leadership and/or church ushers in a position of determining who is and who is not worthy to partake, which is problematic at best. A church may assume that all of their official members are true believers, but this is not always correct.
The practice of restricting Communion to church members seems to be an attempt to make sure someone doesn’t partake in an unworthy manner, which some assume to mean that person is not a true Christian. However, the word is not “unworthy” but “unworthily.” This refers to the manner in which a person partakes of the bread and cup, not to his or her worthiness to participate in the first place. No one is really worthy to come into the presence of God for any reason, but by virtue of the shed blood of Christ on the Cross, all who believe in Him have been made worthy. First Corinthians 11:27-32 is clearly addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. Beginning this passage at verse 23, it is obvious that Paul is talking about believers partaking of the Lord’s Supper, thus “proclaim[ing] the Lord’s death till He comes” (verse 26). Also, Paul concludes the passage by calling the readers “brethren” (verse 33). Therefore, the passage is warning believers to avoid partaking in an unworthy manner. This unworthy manner is described as excluding others at Communion and partaking of the bread and wine to curb one’s hunger (verse 34).
So, Communion should be “open” to all believers, but those believers should examine their motives for partaking. If believers are irreverent in their attitude toward Communion because of prejudice or appetite, they should voluntarily refuse to partake or, in some extreme cases, should be counseled by church leadership not to partake. The Church Manual affirms, “The church practices open communion. All who have committed their lives to the Savior may participate.”1
May the Lord bless you as you understand the biblical message and meaning of Communion so that the practice can be a real blessing to you and to your church.
1 Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 22.