What is “Closed Communion?"
Why does Pathway Practice It This Way?
One of the things Pathway does as a church that is different from most other Christian churches is the practice of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. There are three main ways people practice communion:
- Closed – only members of the church partake
- Close – people who say they are similar (or identical) in faith as the church partake
- Open – anyone from any religious background can partake
Most of what you see performed in churches is what we call “close” communion. At Pathway, we understand the reasoning behind this practice but the only evidence we have from scripture suggests we should practice closed. Here’s why…
First off, most people who have been to a communion service a few times have probably heard the verses saying that a person must examine themselves as worthy before partaking.
1 Corinthians 11: 27-29
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
These verses show us a personal responsibility to examine our hearts before taking the Lord’s Supper. But what about the responsibility of the church when there is open sin that the individual isn’t addressing? While most people have heard the personal charge in 1 Corinthians 11, few pastors teach about the church responsibility in 1 Corinthians 5. In this passage dealing with various sins, they are referencing the Passover meal (Festival) after which the Christian church took the Lord’s Supper together. Paul said that not allowing a person who is sinning defiantly to take the Lord’s Supper was an expected act of church discipline.
1 Corinthians 5: 7-13
7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Pathway practices closed communion (local members only) because we believe in this passage the church refers to the local body of believers. Also, the church was instructed to not eat with people who were sinning openly. This discernment can only be performed within the local church congregation.
The discussion of church discipline is for another time, but know that God has instructed His churches to discipline people in love with the intent to see them turn from their sin and follow God’s will in their lives. While 1 Corinthians 5 is clear that we must do this as a church, it is also very clear that we can only make this discernment among those who are part of our church. If someone isn’t a member of Pathway, we have no right to discipline them. Yes we can address sin in any situation, but discipline can only be done over someone of which you have authority. When you join a church, you’re joining to serve God and each other, but you’re also submitting yourself to accountability. That is an essential part of Christianity.
One can argue that you could practice “close” communion and only allow people who you know believe the same and who are following God, but where do you draw the line? As soon as you go outside of partaking with church members only, you open the door for the church to make a mistake or to create dissention within the membership over a moving line on who can and who can’t take the Lord’s Supper. Plus, you’re allowing people to take it of who you have no authority as a church.
While some people view this as being exclusive, as a church we don’t see it in a negative light. Taking the step to become a church member is about accepting the responsibility of continuing a church's ministry and making yourself accountable to each other. Our church practice of communion is also a matter of responsibility and accountability. We have the responsibility to only take the Lord’s Supper with those who are accountable to our church.
If you have any questions about this or any other practice of Pathway Baptist Church, please contact our pastor at the information provided below. This and other key beliefs & practices of our church are covered in “The Pathway Class”. Ask for times and class material.