Who Can Take the Lord’s Supper?: My Response

This is a response to Dr. Russell Moore’s latest blog post, entitled “Who Can Take the Lord’s Supper?” I did post my response as a comment on his blog, but felt that this is important enough an issue to share with those who read this blog.

Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location. Moore is the author of several books, including The Kingdom of Christ, Adopted for Life, and Tempted and Tried.

Excerpt from the article:

A man walked out of my church in protest. I didn’t notice it as it was happening, but he told me about it, in a note, a few weeks later. He was angered that he had been excluded. At first, I feared that maybe he hadn’t been spoken to. In a church this size, that’s certainly a possibility. Or maybe, I wondered, had one of our elderly church members looked askance at his wearing jeans or shorts? Turns out, he wanted the Lord’s Supper, and I’d turned him away.

PLEASE read the rest of his article before continuing to read this post.

The Response:
Dr. Moore, I am deeply disturbed by this, for a couple of reasons.

Before I get started in explaining why this disturbs me, it is not out of disrespect or not valuing your position as a pastor or role at SBTS. Quite the opposite, actually. I had the privilege of hearing you speak at Criswell when I attended a few years ago, and have come to respect and value your insight into Scripture. It is precisely because of this level of respect that I find this article so shocking.

1) “…only baptized Christians in good fellowship with a local congregation were invited to commune.”

2) “First of all, open communion usually rests on the all-too-typical Evangelical presumption that the Lord’s Supper really isn’t that important.”

The first statement is practical nonsense. I am a member of The Village, and we only have baptism services once a quarter (or at least it seems like that’s the frequency), are we to say that those who legitimately confess and profess Christ as Lord are not allowed to join with us in the Lord’s supper until they have been baptized, possibly three months after they initially confess Christ? Additionally, even if one confesses Christ and is baptized at The Village, how is your congregation supposed to know the person’s relationship to the local church he or she is part of when he or she visits your church? The only way to really validate any of this is to limit it to being in good fellowship with YOUR local church. Do you really think the gospel lends toward being that exclusive?

The second statement is simply a generalization that may be true, but I feel doesn’t really address the counter-part of the issue. Some churches, and pastors, may indeed say that baptism is merely a “symbol” of an internal work. This is, of course, unbiblical as Paul tells us in Romans 6 that baptism is when we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. It is not merely a symbol, it is not salvific, it is a mystery, and I feel we do it an injustice in trying to explain further. So, there may be some doctrine that needs to be corrected in that area, but there is a greater point that I feel those who practice open communion embrace: The unifying work of Christ. It is Christ which unifies us as ONE body, though there are many local manifestations of that body. If someone confesses Christ, and He has added them to His body, who are we to tell them they don’t belong at His table?

Additionally, and I may have missed it, but I don’t recall a single story about the disciples ever being baptized. They were given the Lord’s supper before He even gave the command to baptize, which, as you know, took place after Christ’s resurrection. Should Jesus have not served them communion because they hadn’t been Biblically baptized yet?

Lastly, I understand the need to focus on what defines us as Christians. Unfortunately, Baptist Distinctives and Doctrines make a poor substitute for being in Christ. Focusing on what makes us different most often blinds us to what unites us. Focusing on what unites us gives grace for what makes us different. Focus on unity. Focus on Jesus.

8 responses to “Who Can Take the Lord’s Supper?: My Response

  1. David (Not Adrian's Son) Rogers

    I submitted the following to Dr. Moore’s site. It is in moderation for consideration for posting. I thought I would go ahead and also post it here on your site.

    I’ve been looking for discussion of how the following would affect the matter of coming to conclusion about the “open-closed-ness” of the Lord’s Supper.

    Luke 22:19-21 (NASB)
    19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
    20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
    21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.

    Looking at this sequence here in Luke it seems very clear that Judas Iscariot partook of the Last Supper. The other Gospels have other sequences but none of the others indicate that Judas did not partake of this portion. Matt. 26:27 has Jesus saying “Drink from it, all of you.” Could this be a subtle indication that Judas was included? (Note: John 13:26-27, 30 does not explicitly mention the New Covenant statements and do not contradict a conclusion that Judas partook.)

    Judas would have been “baptized” but the tone of the rest of Scripture seems to indicate that he was not “saved.” And Jesus gives indication of his own awareness of the condition of Judas’ heart and yet he presents the elements of the Supper to Judas.

    So we have a situation where Jesus “tolerated” an “unsaved” person partaking of this covenant meal, and yet those who teach an absolute “closed” or “close” communion “fence” the meal from those whom otherwise would be recognized as true believers.

    An interesting situation in my eyes.

    • This is definitely an interesting question. One that I don’t think I’m remotely qualified to answer accurately, so much of what I’ll respond with is conjecture.

      It would be easier to answer is Jesus wasn’t omniscient, because we could then just say that He didn’t know He would be betrayed and end the discussion there. Scripture’s clear that in the very least He knew He would be betrayed and who would do it. So, as you said, Jesus allowed Judas to take communion even though he wasn’t “saved”. If we look at this from a higher level, coming from the Matthew 7:21-23 perspective, it appears that many more people who aren’t saved take communion. These people whom Jesus rejects saying “I never knew you” at the least claimed to know Him in some capacity, even if it’s mere mental assent, and would have taken communion at some point in their life, if not frequently. Perhaps Jesus is setting an example in showing us that the requirements for communion is one who outwardly professes Christ, as we can never truly know if one inwardly professes Christ. That’s really the only thing I can think of to explain this within a Reformed evangelical understanding of communion.

  2. David (Not Adrian's Son) Rogers

    From my understanding, the meal is an invitation to fellowship within the covenant. The primary issues of covenant fellowship are soteriological with structural ecclesiological matters coming afterward. Our first measure of meal fellowship is that professed trusting commitment of discipleship to Christ. Then, the practice of harmonious ethical fellowship among the assembly. The invitation of the meal is an invitation toward harmony within the assembly and that harmony is most emphasized in soteriological agreement and the ethical harmony practice of love. Matters of baptism details, while important, should not be so divisive that it inhibits the first priorities of fellowship in assembled worship.

    • Your last sentence doesn’t make sense to me in light of Moore’s argument, because his whole point is that the first priority of fellowship within the covenant community is “repent and be baptized” and then one is able to experience the other actions of fellowship.

      That said, I don’t believe that communion is an “invitation to fellowship,” or perhaps I need more of an explanation of what you mean by that phrase. Communion is clearly a looking back and remembering what Christ has done for us on the cross. Communion is an act of celebration (though sober at times) and remembrance of what has already happened in the life of a Christian. Christ’s work on the cross is what brings us into fellowship with God and each other. So, taking communion together is so that we can collectively remind ourselves of the fellowship we already have. Granted, I believe this fellowship to exist independent of whether or not someone has been baptized, as long as they are not actively refusing baptism out of a rebellious heart.

      The use of “invitation” makes it sound like we’re asking them to become part of the fellowship.

  3. David (Not Adrian's Son) Rogers

    I do need to clarify what I mean. The act of partaking in the meal is an invitation for believers to fellowship with each other, to see their lives as intertwined as fellow disciples. The Last Supper was a meal tha Jesus used as a means to succinctly and ritually symbolize that disciples are in a covenant relationship with him as their Savior and also with one another as a covenant people. The invitation to participate is an invitation to evaluate their love for God and their love for each other. The Passover, from which the Lord’s Supper derives, served as an identifying meal that occured within the covenant community. It reminded them who they are as a covenant people.

    Baptism is the confession of faith in Christ. It is also a ritual of identification. Now while I believe the biblical model is believer’s immersion and thus that is what I preach and perform as a minister, I also believe that rigidly using its ritual forms as a dividing act to “fence” genuine believers from the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper tends toward a misunderstanding of what the meal is to be about.

    It would be more consistent for the supporters of closed or close communion to go ahead and pronounce that those who have not undergone believer’s immersion are not fully exercising saving faith due to their rebellion against the ritual requirement of obedience. The fencing of the meal would be due to the absence of outward demonstration of a saved status symbolized by the immersion ritual. The Churches of Christ denomination is actually more consistent.

    The main import of baptism is the idenification of the believer with the covenant community. While paedobaptism in coordination with confirmation is not ritually consistent with the biblical model of believer’s immersion, it does retain a resemblance of the identifying character of actual biblical baptism. The important key is the openness of a person to identify himself or herself as a disciple of Christ.

    My hope is that further instruction in the faith would lead those who have been paedo-baptized or non-immersed to faithfully give diligence to the proper form of baptism, but I do not see that the denial of the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper is where one should begin, or actually, end a believers fellowship of salvation by grace through faith and not by ritual works.

    • Yes, that makes much more sense. I tend to agree with that overall. I wouldn’t boil baptism down to a “ritual requirement of obedience”, as I believe it’s much more than simply an act of obedience, but less than a requirement for salvation. I would agree that whether someone is allowed to take communion or not based on a baptism requirement should be an evaluation of the heart, not simply the act.

      If a person isn’t baptized because baptism services are held monthly, quarterly, etc. then I see no reason why this should bar them from communion in the interim time. If a person isn’t baptized because they want to really understand what baptism is, to the best of our ability to explain, then this type of search for truth should be encouraged and not stifled by withholding the Lord’s supper from them. If, however, it is clear that the person understand what baptism is, and is simply rejecting baptism in disobedience and rebellion, then that should prevent them from taking communion, for their own good because we do not want them taking communion while living in willful rebellion against God.

  4. David (Not Adrian's Son) Rogers

    “If, however, it is clear that the person understand what baptism is, and is simply rejecting baptism in disobedience and rebellion, then that should prevent them from taking communion, for their own good because we do not want them taking communion while living in willful rebellion against God.”

    I agree with that, but I would want to clarify what determines “willful rebellion”. Unfortunately “baptism” traditions have developed through the years (paedo-baptism, alternate mode traditions) for which their adherents have supposed theological reasoning. Their resistance to what we call “believer’s immersion” is not a rebellion against identification with Christ, which they have readily done through their paedo-baptism and confirmation, but their not being convinced of their need to do what they would see as something “extra” (namely, post-conversion immersion). Instruction takes time as you said. The key is attitude. Their willingness to be under regular instruction which is contrary to their tradition says a lot about their openness.

    I will be counseling a couple about church membership: she is Baptist (and has been immersed, but not Southern Baptist, and thus not in the same “order” as Southern Baptist churches) and he is Lutheran. The baptism issue will have to be approached and explained. I believer her immersion is biblical and ecclesiologically legitimate. His paedo-baptism/confirmation is another issue ecclesiologically and will have to be addressed.

    I do agree that baptism is more than a “ritual requirement of obedience.” Unforturnately it seems to take on that aura to people when we it becomes a gate for the “fence” for the table, in my opinion.

    • I ran into a similar issue when I started going to a First Baptist church in my early twenties. I had grown up in church, claimed to believe in Jesus from a young age, and was baptized as a teenager. Then it seemed that God really got a hold of my heart when I was 20. So, looking back, I’d have to say that’s when I was “saved”. When I decided to become a member of this First Baptist church, they had an issue with the order of baptism, even though it was by immersion. As such, I wasn’t able to become a member of the church until that was resolved.

      Now, whether that makes sense or not, I was still allowed communion and such, just not to be a member of the church. What really pressed the issue for me was an issue of authority. If I really felt God calling me to be at this church, then I should submit to their authority and be baptized again. First, because they had a better understanding of Scripture than I did. Second, because I felt God pressing me to be a member of this church, I didn’t want any doors closed to me because I wasn’t a member. Granted, it took about several months before I reached this decision and they were very gracious in allowing me the time to reconcile the differences in opinions and convictions with Scripture. Now, if I had said “I realize this is what you think is best, and I don’t really care” we would have had a different issue altogether because if I claim to follow Christ, how can I so openly reject those He’s placed to lead me?

      The hard part about this is that there’s no hard and fast rule as to what’s right when it comes to baptism. Personally, I believe that baptism should follow confession of Christ as Lord, and feel I can defend that Biblically. Yet history is filled with dead guys far more brilliant that I am, who condoned infant baptism, sprinkling, etc. It’s easy enough for me to sit here and say “Yes, well, I think my friend is wrong in his opinion about paedo-baptism.” It’s entirely more difficult for me to say that of Augustine.

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