Communion

Who is Communion For?

Anabaptists have through history practiced “closed Communion” or “close Communion”. In “closed Communion”, only members of that specific church will partake in Communion together. “Close Communion” allows those of “like-minded faith” to also partake with the congregation.

I personally attend a church that practices “close communion”. As a young believer, I never questioned this. But as I got older and saw how this affected other believers who worshiped with us but did not dress or practice everything that the rest of the congregation did, and I began to wonder about it. I saw the hurt and rejection in their eyes, and I wondered why Communion had to be refused to them. I decided to go to Scripture to see what God’s Word says regarding Communion.communion bible I already knew what our church taught, I knew why they had this particular tradition, but I wanted to see what the Bible itself had to say regarding Communion. I wanted to know why Communion was only for certain believers but not others.

The Body of Christ

From the following verses in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, two things stood out to me.

“16. 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?

17. For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

This phrase in particular seemed to leap out at me: “For we being many are ONE bread, and ONE body: for we are ALL PARTAKERS OF THAT ONE BREAD…”

The first thing that I concluded was that we as Christian believers are all part of the same body of Christ. Different denominations may be different parts of the body, but we are all part of the same body of Christ. We are not many different bodies of Christ. He has only ONE body.

The second thing that I saw is that there is only ONE bread. We are all partakers of that ONE bread. No matter where you partake communion in, when a fellow believer who is part of that ONE body of Christ offers you the communion bread, it represents the same ONE bread that is offered everywhere– in every denomination. That ONE bread represents Christ’s physical body being broken for us. No matter what denomination, all who believe the Bible agree that Christ laid down His life for us and we do this in “remembrance of” Him. (Luke 22:19)

As I read these verses, I also wondered if there was another aspect of Communion that we have missed. Could it be that the Church,one bread one body spread over the world, who now represent Christ’s body, is also supposed to remember that they are all ONE body– because of what He did– as they partake in the communion bread?

Remembering Together

Denominations have differing viewpoints regarding what partaking in Communion does for the believer. Some believe it is a holy ritual that you must partake in order to “stay saved”. Some believe Jesus is physically part of the elements; some believe He is spiritually part of the elements. Mennonites take the view that the elements represent what Christ did only in a symbolic way. But all denominations believe that we remember how Jesus’ body was broken for us and we remember with gratitude that He laid down His life so that we could be forgiven for our sins.

1 Cor. 11:24-26

And when He had given thanks, He brake it and said, Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lords’s death until He comes. (Emphasis mine)

So if all believers have a common belief that we are remembering what Christ has done for us (regardless of differing views of the elements– which is all extra-Biblical anyway), why can’t we just all remember together? Do we as Mennonites believe Christ’s body was broken for only certain believers and not others? If not, than why can we only remember what He did with certain believers and not all?

In both close and closed Communion, we give the bread and wine to only those who believe the same and dress the same as we do. Closed Communion requires that you believe the same as I –on pretty much everything. Close Communion is a little less rigid. Basically, it says you must be Mennonite. (And for conservative groups, that includes only Mennonites that wear a head covering.)

All churches that practice close or closed Communion, can give you a good explanation of why they do, but none have a Scripture reference to back themselves up with. And regardless of their reasons, when another believer visits our church and we do not allow them to participate in Communion with us, this is the unspoken message they receive (or perceive that we are telling them): “We don’t really believe that you are a member of the body of Christ, regardless of what you tell us. You must be a Mennonite in order to prove to us that you are really part of the body of Christ.”

Is this really what we believe? Is this the message we want to give them?

The only other time that Mennonites refuse to give someone communion is when someone is excommunicated. A person who is willfully sinning and refuses to repent–even when they have been confronted (following the Matthew 18) gets excommunicated (following 1 Corinthians 5). Are we equating anyone who is not Mennonite with this?

Excommunication

The passage in 1Corinthians 5 that speaks of excommunication was the source of the schism between the Amish and Mennonites in 1693. Disagreement over whether we are to only withhold Communion or whether we are to socially shun anyone who refused to repent of outward sin was the source of the split.

1Cor. 5:7-13

Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be an new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with idolaters; or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then ye must needs go out of this world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

We are not to keep company with, we are not to eat with, and we are to put away from ourselves people who claim to be believers but live in obvious sin.

Whether the phrase “with such a one no not to eat” is speaking of communion or a social meal, the rest of the verses are just as important. If this is speaking of communion, then the rest must also be followed. We are not even to keep company with such a person.

If we have people in our midst that are believers, but we refuse to give them the communion cup because they aren’t members, or because they don’t wear a covering, we cannot use these verses as the reason we are refusing them because we aren’t following all of it.

If it is not speaking of eating communion bread and only speaking of eating a meal together, we must still follow the rest of the commands. We are to “put away from among” us that wicked person. They should not even be in our midst.

DAMNATION

1 Cor. 11:28-29

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Does this apply to all believers or only Mennonites? Aren’t we all accountable to God when we participate in Communion? If we have hidden sin in our lives, we “eat and drink damnation” to ourselves. Not to others.

So what are we afraid of when we refuse to give the communion cup to other believers who are not Mennonite? Do we have a fear of what other Mennonites will think? Are we afraid if we give the cup to someone with hidden sin that God will punish us?

Does the possibility of a Mennonite with hidden sin in their lives feel safer to us than a non-Mennonite with possible hidden sin?

 

 

 

Why We Turn Others Away From Communion

One of key factors in the way Mennonites practice Communion today can be traced back to the meeting that took place in 1693, when Jacob Ammon called for a meeting with the other Anabaptist ministers of that region (Switzerland). The issues that he wanted to discuss were mostly all agreed on by the other ministers. Only the issue of social shunning was met with such confrontation and disagreement that it caused a schism.

One of the things that Ammonn wanted to discuss was whether those that did not “follow God’s Word could be saved”. During this time, there was still persecution, but many were sympathetic to the cause and helped them. But even while they were sympathetic, they were not willing to join their group and get re-baptized –whether out of fear of their lives or lack of belief.  Jacob Ammonn believed they could not be saved if they did not join the Anabaptists– thus should not partake in Communion with them.

So the conclusion of that discussion was, if you are not Anabaptist, you can not be saved.

Today most Mennonites would cringe at that. Most of us don’t believe that we are the only ones that will be in heaven. Some of us would even say the conclusion of that discussion was wrong.

But taking a closer look at what that discussion entailed brings some understanding as to why they came to that conclusion. What set Anabaptists apart from the rest of the world at that time? They were the only ones that practiced adult baptism upon the “confession of their faith”.

Jacob Ammonn may have had a good point in questioning whether someone who claimed to be a believer in Christ but was afraid to get baptized was really saved. That, after all, is the whole point of baptism. It is an outward symbol of what has happening inside. It is stating publically that “I am a follower of Christ”. But today in America that is not really an issue. Believers get baptized without fear of persecution and it is a normal occurrence.

So now we still hold to the tradition of withholding Communion from anyone who is not Anabaptist –even though those circumstances have changed. What sets Mennonites apart today from the rest of the world? It is usually the dress and head coverings that most conservative groups focus on today. So when we still come to the same conclusion of withholding Communion from those who will not join our group, we make our decision according to the head covering and our dress. And we draw that conclusion because that is our tradition.

But now, we no longer have a valid point in it all. Though we still withhold Communion from those who don’t believe as we do, most of us would never view those people as being unsaved or think they should be excommunicated. Yet we treat them as such by refusing to give them the Communion cup. We have carried our tradition for so many centuries without stopping to ask ourselves why we do this because we just naturally do what our fathers have always done.

Withholding Communion from someone who refuses to get baptized makes sense. Withholding communion from someone who doesn’t dress like us does not.

Taking Communion

Could it be that it is time for a some new reformation in our conservative circles on the issue of communion? I believe it is time we align ourselves with what Scriptures say about Communion and repent for the areas that we have fallen away from truth.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Communion

  1. Does your current congregation have a formal or informal inquiry process “Umfrage” before communion?
    I have experienced both sides of the closed/open communion scenario…both can be so hurtful and fatally damaging to ones personal salvation (even to the congregation) especially when you know “he is NOT one with you and or the church” OR alternatively when a influential member states “you are not one of them” Ironically I read somewhere in a Catholic History that way way back, only the leaders of the congregation would actually meet for communion. That certainly would not go over well in the modern world.

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  2. Hello Mr. Martin,
    Thank you for reading and commenting. Communion at my church used to be more formal in the past than what it is now but it is still fairly formal.

    Isn’t it rather ironic that communion can be so divisive when it was meant to be something to unify the body in remembrance of what Christ did for us?

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  3. Yes Indeed, I also read your blog re: baptism with great interest. I must tell you my first thoughts when comparing your insightful articles on communion and baptism; my immediate gut feelings were that baptism should be available sooner rather than later, especially when someone has experienced a very emotional conversion and acceptance of Jesus as their personal Savior,,,whereas Communion involves/impacts the whole congregation and the Church more, so a bit more caution might be necessary regarding communion. (the foregoing is just my own gut reaction) however then as I was thinking about your last paragraph the scripture at Luke 12:51 came to mind. I guess that is why some of my friends call me a Berean and others call me Thomas…please just call me delmer.

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    • I agree. Communion shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said though, I believe that if someone partakes in communion unworthily, they eat and drink damnation to themselves and not to anyone else in the congregation (1Cor. 11:28-29). So I don’t feel if someone partakes in communion unworthily that the act of taking communion itself will affect the rest of the congregation. However, having someone in your midst that is living in known sin will affect the entire congregation (1Cor. 5:4-13). So that should be addressed with or without communion.

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  4. I appreciate this talk on communion. My family and I were converted in a radical church of Christ movement about twenty years ago. We have been in different groups for about the last fourteen years, but have found much anchoring in the Early Church studies we have done as well as spending time at AICs as well as KFWs as possible. We’ve spent some meaningful time with Brethren as well.
    I’ve seen comments on baptism and communion being symbolic, and the different degrees of admittance to both through the years. I believe, as much of the early church did, that communion must be closed. That being said, I can easily see how this would be incredibly hurtful to Christians who don’t understand a given church body’s stance on the issue, and speaks not to the validity of the closed practice, but of the lack of civility and/or trust of others. If we judge by outward appearance, we have violated the Lord’s teaching. But it does not negate the actual practice of closed communion – or what the early church just called communion. If anything, someone being outside communion may actually draw them in if it were explained properly! On another note it is worth examining the Gnostic views of these issues, because much if their heresy has trickled into our belief system, namely symbolism of both communion and baptism. I have seen a muddying of the waters in recent years visiting congregations where baptism is more symbolic and the focus is a ‘conversion experience’, and communion being purely symbolic as well. The Catholics pushed people away from the Cup because they believed in transubstantiation and were afraid of judgment if it spilled. If we hold the bread and wine to such a standard…. Will God really judge us if we mistakenly give communion to someone? Did not the Lord dip the bread and give it to Judas? It should be closed but if no vetting process is place, we are in the wrong. Far be it from us to take such a hard stance that pushes people away from the life keeping bread and drink.

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    • Hello Steve,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing a bit of your own journey. My life journey has been much different than your own, which might be why we have differing conclusions regarding Communion. In your interaction with Anabaptists, have you ever been allowed to participate in Communion with them?

      You say, “I believe, as much of the early church did, that communion must be closed.” Do you have Scripture that backs this up? I have not found anything in Scripture that supports the idea of “closed communion”.

      My thoughts on this would be to ask, how many “bodies” does Christ have? Are we not all part of the same body? There are Anabaptist churches that cannot partake in communion with one another because one group has mustaches and another doesn’t, or their clothing styles differ slightly, or their cars are the wrong color, etc. I can’t imagine that this is what Jesus had in mind when He said we are to “do this in remembrance” of Him or what Paul had in mind when he spoke of “for we being many are one bread and one body”.

      Is there any reason why we can not partake with other believers that are also part of the larger body of Christ? Do we find Jesus or any of the apostles warning believers to turn away any/all believers who do not look or believe exactly as ourselves? I find the opposite to be true. Throughout Acts and the epistles, I notice admonitions given to believers to extend grace to those who do not practice exactly like we do (Acts 11 and 15, Romans 14, etc.). I have not found any verses stating that we should not allow someone to partake in Communion. Perhaps you have one?

      You mention “closed” but with “vetting”. That might sound good on paper, but what would that process look like? What would you base that vetting on? What would determine who is worthy to receive Communion? Wouldn’t 1Cor. 10:17 cover all who are part of that ONE body? “For we are ALL partakers of that one bread”.

      “Far be it from us to take such a hard stance that pushes people away from the life keeping bread and drink.” Yet that is exactly what both close and closed communion do. And if Jesus still gave Judas bread and wine when He knew Judas’s heart was not right, why should we turn people away–especially when we can not even see their hearts?

      I speak out of my own life experience– and I am sure you are doing the same– but I have never seen anything but self-righteous condemnation and rejection come as a result of closed communion.

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  5. I hear ya. I think people’s frame of reference with ‘closed’ communion is the issue. To the early church, it was simply called ‘communion’ – whereby baptized believers who were in good standing could partake. NOTHING in scripture backs up vetting by mustache, etc. Communion is for believers, ‘open’ communion was and is where anyone who walks in the door can take it.
    I would surmise many in Anabaptist circles have tests of fellowship, convictions upon convictions (no internet, etc) – things that are truly ancillary in nature. Self-righteous condemnation is what I would expect from folks who do not know how to love people, if I’m being frank. I have seen as such also, that the religious tests given are not ‘vetting’ concerning major faith items, but rather trivial things that the Lord must shake his head at. I think it’s important to understand the nature of the so-called closed communion in principle, versus what men have done with it.

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  6. On the specific ‘vetting’ issue, I approach it from a stance of grace – i.e. believing the partaker as a default (otherwise with the measure I use it will be measured to me!) – I need to take people at their word, but I must at least hear their word, not just blindly hand out communion, etc.

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    • Aah… I think I understand better where you are coming from now.

      I believe we just have differing definitions of what closed, close, and open communion is. “Closed” in my world means you may partake in Communion only if you are a member of my specific church. Even if you have attended all your life and worshiped alongside me. If your name is not on the membership roll (maybe because you dress slightly different, or your car is not the right color, or your head covering is the wrong shape, size or color), you can not participate. Even if you are a visitor that is a member in good standing from the church across town that is “like-minded” to mine, you cannot take part in Communion.

      Then there is “close” Communion, that means as long as you are in a church that is fairly similar to mine, you can participate. For most of our churches, that basically means you must be a head covering Anabaptist.

      I would have defined “open” communion as you did your “closed”. That meaning any believer who worships alongside with me and can answer “vetting concerning major faith items” (to use your words). It would be based off their declaration of faith in Jesus Christ. It would mean we take the time to “hear their words” as you said so well. It would mean not turning people away based on outward appearance.

      Thanks for your response!

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