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Restricted Communion: Church Practice

These articles are about the historically, and more importantly, scripturally authentic church practice known as Closed Communion. The practice is also known as ‘Restricted Communion’, and it is from the word ‘restricted’ that ‘Strict Baptist’ churches take their title.

Although the casual or unsaved visitor to a Strict Baptist church may indeed find the congregation rather stern, dull or strange at first meeting, the designation ‘strict’ has nothing to do with any such behaviour or dress code which might exist in such a church.

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Actually Strict Baptists are still around, but on darker days sometimes it feels like there are only two or three of us left. To understand where the others went, it’s helpful to know where we started. Leaving aside the obvious contention that John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul were all Strict Baptists, (which I would be happy to prove from the scriptures on another occasion) let us zoom forward instead to Great Britain in the 1700’s to see where the actual title came from.

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The writer contends that closed communion is not merely a practice dictated by a certain theological view of the church. On the contrary: A church which practices closed communion as the beginning of its theological thinking for church management, and diligently follows all naturally occurring corollaries of the full doctrine of closed communion, will soon discover that a closed communion table favourably governs correct practices in all areas of church life, and will preserve the existence of the local church.

The reverse has been demonstrably proved time and again:

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Closed communion is superior to open communion because it more effectively helps to protect and nurture the sanctity and industry of the church.

Specifically, the purpose of the communion supper is fourfold:

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Because the communion supper is a command, there are rules for doing it correctly, because if it is not done correctly, some or all of the four-fold purpose will be not be properly achieved. The correct way of conducting the communion supper is at a closed table. This is known as ‘Closed Communion’.

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Churches steeped in heresy, faction and administrative difficulties will invariably be discovered to be practisers of open communion, and owe their lamentable condition in large part to that particular error as the origin of their troubles. Moreover, churches who practice open communion or other errant forms of it generally do so because they misunderstand the nature and purpose of the church. This is because the twin concepts of church and communion are inseparable.

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The word ‘member’ is an old English word meaning ‘limb’, or a part, component or organ of the body, for example, a leg, foot, hand, eye or nose, etc. Christ said that when believers are gathered together, then He will be in the midst of them, and Paul in this letter to the Corinthians reiterates “Yes, that’s right, Christ spoke the truth, and this is how it works”: When believers assemble together, they form the body of Christ.

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Membership of a single church is not optional, but mandatory for every Christian, with said membership characterized by regular attendance, and not just attendance, but additionally some role of active involvement carrying a degree of personal responsibility, however small, (1 Corinthians 12:22).

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The Purpose Of The Church is to do God’s business. The original civil Ekklesia of the city of Corinth was the assembly of citizens of the town for the purpose of discussing the affairs of the city, and conducting the business of the city, according to the will of the citizens. They might have been discussing the installation of new traffic lights, or disputing the question of whether or not Corinth really needed a new supermarket in an already heavily commercialised area. There were many such things they might have discussed. But the will of the people was the purpose of the assembly.

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Because of obvious administrative complications, a closed communion table can be managed best in numerically small church memberships, but, in much larger churches, only with difficulty, or perhaps not at all.

This not only suggests the invalidity of the 20th century ‘superchurches’ which boast thousands of members, but also perhaps dictates the ideal blueprint for church size at an absolute maximum of perhaps only a hundred or a hundred and fifty members, because any number larger than that is impossible to effectively administer a closed communion to, (ie, to teach, discipline, mature and mobilise the entire membership).

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Copyright © 2011, The Association of Historic Baptists