Holy Communion elements ctrcccomThis year, a number of clergy from different Protestant denominations have blogged on their ‘open’ Communion policies.  These appear to be, in many cases, based on allowing anyone interested to come forward for Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.

‘Open’ Communion is actually an invitation to baptised Christians from other denominations.  What the aforementioned clergy are actually doing is promoting universal Communion, by which anyone — even the unbaptised — can receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Lord.

There is an increasing tendency for some clergy to fall prey to emotional blackmail.  ‘Gee, Christians are supposed to be so nice, yet they exclude people from Communion.’  Some of these clergy, well-meaning as they are in so many respects, now think this is a situation to be remedied, to be set aright, as it were.  ‘Oh, it’s so nice to have everyone gather at the Lord’s table.’  So, to be inclusive and make a few more people happy, they are willing to discard centuries-old Church teaching as if Calvin, Luther and the others had no clue about receiving the Sacrament?  Please, give me a break.  And, unfortunately, some Catholic parishes are also fairly lax.

A few questions for these clergy:

– Can you be certain that the host will be reverently consumed and not slipped into someone’s pocket and taken home or left in church inside a book or on the floor?

– Are you sure that the person actually is aware that they are receiving the Presence of Our Lord — a sacrament?

– Are you aware that almost all Christian denominations consider that improper reception of the Sacrament is impious and offers no salvific benefit to the unchurched? 

What on earth did you learn at seminary that this subject is even coming up?  Liturgical dance choreography?  The proper decibel level for son et lumière?  The five best PowerPoint presentations for church?

Let’s examine what four main churches say on the subject (emphasis mine):

Catholic Code of Canon Law:

Can.  842 §1. A person who has not received baptism cannot be admitted validly to the other sacraments.

§2. The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist are interrelated in such a way that they are required for full Christian initiation.

Can.  843 §2. Pastors of souls and other members of the Christian faithful, according to their respective ecclesiastical function, have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, attentive to the norms issued by competent authority.

39 Articles of Religion (Anglican):

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Martin Luther

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Westminster Confession (Presbyterian):

Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.  (Chapter 29, ‘Of the Lord’s Supper’)


These passages illustrate the gravity and the importance of receiving Communion.  Baptism is a prerequisite.  Why?  Because it acts as the remission of Original Sin.  Therefore, how can one worthily receive Communion unless he is free of the sin inherent unto all of humanity?  How can the grace of the Holy Spirit work in an unbaptised person?  How can Communion work in an unbaptised person?

Some say, ‘If they receive Communion, they’ll be more likely to receive Baptism.’  What? 

Well, if you think this will bring in more ‘bums on seats’, you’re sadly mistaken.  If you think this will increase the reverence of a casual drop-in, you might wish to think again.  If you’re doing this to placate your congregation — the worst reason of all — you need to educate them, fast.

Dr R Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, author, and Associate Pastor at Oceanside United Reformed Church (Carlsbad, CA), lays it on the line as far as the Reformed confession is concerned.  In ‘Fencing the Table or the Scandal of the Church’ on Heidelblog, he says:

The claim made by American evangelicals that one has had a personal encounter with the risen Christ does not, according to the Reformed confession, constitute one a ‘Christian’ and thus eligible for communion in a Reformed congregation. Communion is for Christ’s gathered people, who’ve been initiated into the visible, covenant community in baptism, who’ve professed his name. It’s for ‘the church’ as a community, not for a collection of private persons pooling their private religious experience together temporarily.

‘But isn’t this a private matter? Isn’t this something between me and my Lord?’

‘No, not really. Jesus did not entrust the administration of the supper to you. He entrusted it to the disciples, who became apostles and they, in turn, entrusted its care to the visible, institutional church and to her officers.’

The Corinthian congregation communed whenever they met, on the Lord’s Day. In that same body, Paul recognized the authority to exclude impenitent sinners from the congregation (1 Cor 5). Indeed, according to Paul, it’s possible to so corrupt a sacrament as to make it no longer a sacrament (1 Cor 11).

Further, the Supper has jeopardy attached to it. In the Corinthian congregation some, who abused the supper, became ill and died (1 Cor 11). The supper is no mere funeral or memorial. It is a communion between the living Christ and his people in which the ascended and glorified Christ feeds his people on his true  or ‘proper’ and ‘natural’ body and blood. It is a covenant renewal ceremony and as such it is for blessing to believers but it is for judgment to unbelievers, just as Noah’s flood was a blessing to the church and a curse upon the rest of humanity (See Heb 6 and 10)

The church is a divine creation not a merely human contrivance for the advancement of personal, spiritual experience (ecstasy). The demand by every autonomous American to be admitted to every communion at will is, at bottom, nothing more than a repudiation of the notion that Jesus has established a visible church. This is why it’s a scandal. To insist that he has instituted a church, and to claim that not every entity that calls itself a ‘church’ actually is one, that strikes Americans as positively bigoted and elitist. It isn’t of course, unless Scripture itself is elitist … The real problem here isn’t the refusal by Reformed congregations to commune everyone but the refusal of American evangelicals to reconcile themselves to the existence of a divinely-instituted and disciplined church.

A message to clergy who favour universal Communion: please take a leaf out of Dr Clark’s notebook. Let your congregation and their guests know how the Sacrament will be administered and why. Preach a sermon on it. Put a notice in each weekly bulletin. Explain at each service who may approach the altar rail for Communion.