The American Presbyterian Church holds to the doctrine of “Close (near or intimate, not closed) Communion,” which means that “the Lord’s Supper is to be administered to those who have been baptized and are of years and ability to examine themselves and are members of the church in good standing, either of the congregation which is observing the sacrament or of other congregations of the church. This standard of admission to the sacrament is that commonly referred to as ‘Close Communion.’” The reasons for this practice is given in the Testimony of the RPCNA.
The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church contains the following: “The Christian Church, as a society of rational beings, must have explicit terms of communion to which every member gives his assent. It is not to be expected that all men will think alike on every object of thought, but Christians cannot cooperate unless they are of one mind about the general principles of Christianity. Terms of Christian communion should embrace nothing but what is divine truth, and reject nothing for which the Church hath faithfully contended. “We therefore condemn the following errors, and testify against all who maintain them:
“Error 6. That any person ‘may be admitted to communion who opposes any of the terms of Church fellowship.
“Error 8. That occasional communion may be extended to persons who should not be received to constant fellowship.”-Testimony Chap. XXII, Sec. 4, Errors.
In these passages the doctrine of close communion is distinctly affirmed. It will be the object of this lecture to show that the position is a Scriptural one. Let us consider:
The Different Theories of Church Communion. 1. The Latitudinarian Theory. This theory admits to sealing ordinances, at their own option, all who will accept them. It is the theory of the anti-evangelical party, and would destroy the Church as a Christian organization. It would admit all, believers and unbelievers, who desire to come.
The Visible Discipleship Theory. This theory extends the privilege of communion to all who give outward evidence of being Christians, whether they are members in any Church or not; or whatever Church they may belong to. This theory admits to communion all believers and excludes all unbelievers.
The Restricted Communion Theory. This theory invites to participation in the Lord’s Supper all members in good standing in any of the evangelical Churches. It would exclude Unitarian, Universalist and Catholic.
The Occasional Communion Theory. This is the theory that the Church may extend communion for a limited time, or in certain circumstances, to members of other denominations who are away from their own churches and providentially present at communion season. They may not agree with her profession, or desire to become members, but they desire the privileges of communion; or they may claim to agree with her profession, but, owing to family relationships, or absence from her bounds, they are not in her fellowship, nor do they intend to be, but they wish to commune.
The Close Communion Theory. This is the theory set forth in our standards: that the Church is to have terms of communion; that they are to be strictly Scriptural; and that no one is to be admitted to communion except on these terms. By proving that this is the true theory, all other theories will be seen to be false.
The Theory of Close Communion Presents the True Doctrine of Church Fellowship. 1. Because on no other theory can the Church be a witness for the whole truth. “The end of Church fellowship is to exhibit a system of sound principles, to maintain the. ordinances of Gospel worship in their purity, to promote holiness, and to prepare the saints for heaven.” -Testimony, Chap. XXII, Sec. 3. If this is the end, close communion is the Scriptural means to that end. That the Church is to bear witness for the whole truth is proved.
2. Because Christ has commanded it. Matt. 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The Church is here commissioned to proclaim the doctrine of Christ to all nations: baptism is made the badge of Church membership, and the condition of receiving baptism that they should observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded them.
3. Because the apostles made the acceptance of the whole truth the condition of admission to sealing ordinances. Examine the following instances:
A. On the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:42 “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The persons here received into the Christian Church were Jews and Jewish proselytes, and had already professed all the doctrines of the Jewish faith. The account shows how fully the doctrines of the New Testament were exhibited, and how unqualifiedly they were accepted.
B. In the case of Philip and the eunuch. Acts 8:26-40. The eunuch was a Jewish proselyte. He had accepted the Old Testament. He was reading in Isaiah, and asked to have it expounded. Philip began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus. When he asked to be baptized, Philip said: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”
C. In the case of Peter and Cornelius. Acts 10:24-40 Cornelius says, verse 3, “Now therefore are we all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Then Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.”
- Departure from the truth was made the ground of casting a member out of the Church.
A. Rom. 16:17-18: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
Dr. David A. Wallace says on this passage: “A certain system of doctrine had been preached to the Romans. Some among them maintained doctrines in some respects different, and thus caused divisions and offenses. Paul directed the Romans to avoid them; ie., if such were in the Church, they were to be cast out; if out, they were to be refused admittance.”
B. 1 Tim. 6:3-5: “If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness… from such withdraw thyself.”
That he refers to separating such a man from Church fellowship is evident from the character which he ascribes to him in the 5th verse.
C. Titus 3:10: “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that such a one is subverted and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
A heretic is anyone who takes up any doctrine in opposition to, or inconsistent with, the truth of the gospel. This passage is clear. Heresy disqualifies for Church membership.
(4) There is no suggestion of non-essential truth in the Bible. The modern device is that only essential truth should be included in the terms of communion, and hence all who accept what are termed “the essentials” should be admitted to communion. The distinction is without basis in the Word of God. In the structure of the human body, some members are more essential to life than others. It is easier to live without a hand than without a head. But a little finger is as really essential to a perfect human body as is the heart. There is also a body of divinity, and every portion of revealed truth is essential to the perfection of that body.
(5) To maintain and hold forth the whole truth is the very purpose of the Church’s existence,
A. 1 Tim. 3:15: “Which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
B. Ps. 60:4: “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.”
The visible Church has been instituted by God to be a witness for the whole truth: hence no one who does not assent to the whole doctrine of the Gospel is to be admitted to her holy sacraments, and those who after being received make defection from their profession are to be cast out. It is impossible to reconcile such a view of the Church with any theory of open communion.
- Because in no other way can the Church maintain the ordinances of Christ in their purity.
This is the second great end of the Church’s existence and of Church fellowship as stated in our Testimony. Baptists refuse to admit Paedo-Baptists to the Lord’s Supper, because they hold that baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper: and that immersion is essential to baptism, and hence no one can be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper who has not been immersed.
Professor Strong, in his, Systematic Theology, says: “Since baptism is a command of Christ, it follows that we cannot properly commune with the unbaptized. To admit such to the Lord’s Supper is to give the symbol of Church fellowship to those who, in spite of the fact that they are Christian brethren, are, though perhaps unconsciously, violating the fundamental law of the Church.
“To withhold protest against plain disobedience to Christ’s commands is, to that extent, to countenance such disobedience. The same disobedience which in the Church member we would denominate disorderly walking, must, a fortiori, destroy all right to the Lord’s Supper on the part of those who are not members of the Church.”-Systematic Theology, p. 549.
Again: “Since Pied-Baptists hold and propagate false doctrine in regard to the Church and its ordinances, doctrine which endangers the spirituality of the Church, the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and the Lordship of Christ, we cannot properly admit them to the Lord’s Supper. To admit them, or to partake with them, would be to treat falsehood as if it were truth.”
Applying Dr. Strong’s logic to the conclusions reached in our former lectures on purity of worship, we affirm that those who introduce instrumental music or uninspired songs into the worship of God hold and propagate false doctrine with regard to the Church and its ordinances, and, to use his own words, since they hold doctrines which “endanger the spirituality of the Church, the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and the Lordship of Christ, we cannot properly admit them to the Lord’s Supper. To admit them or to partake with them would be to treat falsehood as if it were truth.”
- Because in no other way can the Church maintain the standard of Christian morality.
According to our Testimony, this is the third end of Church fellowship: “To promote holiness and to prepare the saints for heaven.” 1 Cor. 5:9, 11: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to keep company with fornicators; . . . 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 an one, no, not to eat.”
The verses just preceding refer to the Lord’s Supper. Lange quotes Neander as saying, “Here we learn what sins justify excommunication.”
The Christian standard of morality cannot be maintained by any theory of open communion. For instance, our Church regards the man who marries his deceased wife’s sister as a fornicator, and suspends him from Church fellowship while living in such incestuous relation. The Presbyterian Church, or the United Presbyterian, will receive the expelled member without censure. The doctrine even of restricted communion would permit him to return as a member in good standing in an evangelical Church and receive the holy sacrament from the hands of the elders who had suspended him. Under such a theory Christian morality cannot be enforced.
The same is seen in the case of secret orders. The law of Christ, Ephesians 5:11, says: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Margin, “Convict them.”) “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” In accordance with this law of Christ, our Church refuses to admit to her fellowship members of secret lodges. But they find ready admittance to almost all evangelical Churches; and under any theory of either open or restricted communion, after having defiled their lips with the oaths and blasphemies of Masonry, could return and profane the elements of the Holy Supper. Any theory of Church fellowship, which renders it impossible for Church courts to maintain among her communicants the Christian standard of morals, is unscriptural.
- It is inconsistent for a Church to admit members of other Churches to its highest privileges on terms on which it will not admit its own members.
(1) No branch of the Church admits members without assent to its denominational views.
Our Testimony says, Chap. XXII, Sec. 4: “The Christian Church as a society of rational beings must have explicit terms of communion to which every member gives his assent.”
The Discipline of the Methodist Church, Chap. 11, Sec. 2, orders, “that none be received into the Church until they shall on examination by the minister in charge before the church give satisfactory assurances both of the correctness of their faith and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church.”-Discipline, Chap. 11, Sec. 2.
The United Presbyterian Church requires the following: “Do you profess your adherence to the doctrines received by this Church and set forth in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms Larger and Shorter, and declarations of the Testimony; and do you approve of the Form of Government and of the Directory for Worship adopted by the Church, as far as you have been enabled to understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”
Similar ‘ engagements are imposed by the Presbyterian, Baptist, and other Churches. No branch of the Church acts upon the principle that anyone who merely gives evidence of being a child of God is entitled to membership in that particular denomination.
Dr. Strong maintains that open communion logically leads to open Church membership, and is virtually an identification of the Church with the world; and, without protest from Scripturally constituted bodies, would finally result in its actual extinction. Strong’s Systematic Theology, p. 552.
It is enough to say that any Church, which admits to the Lord’s Supper the members of another Church on terms other than it admits its own members, confesses, either that its own terms of communion are unscriptural, or that it is willing to dispense the communion o n unscriptural terms.
- Those only should be admitted to the holy sacrament who accept the covenant which the sacrament ratifies.
The Lord’s Supper is a social ordinance. It is also a covenanting ordinance. The sacrament is the seal of the covenant. No one is entitled to the sacramental seal who does not give assent to the covenant engagement. You are many of you familiar with Rev. W. W. Carithers’ interesting illustration of the doctrine of close communion by the Indian council and smoking the pipe.
Objections to the Doctrine of Close Communion. 1. That it is inconsistent with brotherly love. Answer:
A. Love to brethren is subordinate to love to Christ.
B. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”
C. True love for brethren requires a testimony against their errors.
- That it is a hindrance to union among Christians. Answer. A. The only true Christian union is union in the truth.
B. Open communion sacrifices the truth and makes true union impossible.
C. Mixed communion is not union, but confusion.
To admit members of secret orders to the Lord’s table is to attempt to unite light and darkness. To admit rumsellers is to join the table of the Lord with the table of devils. Open communion promotes union, but it is union with the world; close communion promotes union, and it is union with the Lord.
- That evangelical Churches agree on essential truth, and non-essentials should not be a bar to communion. Answer: A. The Church is a witness for the whole truth, and no truth of divine revelation is non-essential to the completeness of her testimony.
B. The willful rejection of any revealed truth is disobedience to God and imperils salvation.
C. If truth is of sufficient importance to justify separate denominational existence, it is sufficient to be made a term of communion.
If any is separated from sister Churches by what it regards as non-essential truth, it is guilty of schism: and any denomination which regards its distinctive principles as involving essential truth, cannot, in loyalty to the truth, admit to communion those who reject these principles.
- That it is the Lord’s table, and we have no right to exclude from it any of His children. Answer:
A. Because it is the Lord’s table, it must be conducted according to His requirements. If it were our own table, we might invite to it whomever we would.
B. If any Church has what it regards as unscriptural terms, it should change them; if not, it should enforce them alike upon all.
- That we expect to commune with Christians of other denominations in heaven and should not refuse to commune with them on earth. Answer:
A. In heaven we will commune with them on the basis of truth and holiness; therefore we should not commune with them on any other basis on earth.
B. We do have fellowship with all members of the Church invisible, even though we cannot have ecclesiastical fellowship in the Church visible.
Let me close with the words of the Covenant of 1871: “That believing the Church to be one and that all the saints have communion with God and with one another in the same covenant: believing moreover that schism and sectarianism are sinful in themselves and inimical to true religion, and trusting that divisions shall cease and the people of God become one catholic Church over all the earth, we will pray and labor for the visible oneness of the Church of God in our land and throughout the world, on the basis of truth and Scriptural order. Considering it a principal duty, of our profession to cultivate a holy brotherhood, we will strive to maintain Christian friendship with pious men of every name, and to feel and act as one with all in every land who pursue this grand end, and as a means of securing this blessed result, we will by dissemination and application of the principles of truth herein professed, and by cultivating and exercising Christian charity, labor to remove stumbling blocks and to gather into one the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness.” Taken from Lectures in Pastoral Theology by R. J. George