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unity

Is the Communion Table open or closed? Since all Christians recognize the Communion Table is restricted to professing believers, at the exclusion of all unbelievers, it is safe to say that there is no such thing as a purely open Table. And, since all discerning Baptists recognize the Communion Table is restricted to professing Christians that have been baptized, it is safe to say that there is no such thing as a purely open Table among Baptist churches. It therefore reeks of hypocrisy when the ‘Open Communionists’ accuse their brethren who subscribe to a restricted Table as being uncharitable, unkind, judgmental and legalistic. Unlike the open Communion Baptists who recognize only two restrictions on the Table (regeneration and baptism), I believe there are four restrictions—(1) An evidential…

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Separation.

In no acrimonious spirit, but from love to the truth of God, would we urge upon our friends the importance of separation from the profession of the day. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Can there be real union upon a basis of compromise, or upon an understanding that vital matters should be suppressed? How can the friends of a particular redemption walk with the friends of a universal one, or the lovers of free grace unite with the…

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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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Membership of church is not a right, but a privilege. When the body of Christ assembles together, you should be there, not because you deserve it, but because you are grateful to God for it.

We live in a secular age in which popular society has invented for itself the illusory concept of ‘human rights’. God however is not bound by His creation’s self-centred expectations of any rights they feel they may merit. Salvation is therefore God’s invention, His instigation as sole originator of the scheme, His gift of totally unmerited favour to Adams’s universal fallen race of naturally blackhearted blasphemers, children of Satan, enemies of God.

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Most Christians have a fairly clear understanding of the wine as the obvious red liquid representing Christ’s blood shed in payment for our sins and the purchase of our souls, but frequently less clearly understand or even much discussed in today’s churches is the symbolism of the bread. Adherents of the Roman Catholic cult claim that it ‘transubstantiates’ into Christ’s body, and once ingested, imparts holiness and saving grace to the recipient, or at least, the world’s millions of nominal Catholics misunderstand it to do so. Protestants of course reject the error of transubstantiated bread, but what teaching on the meaning of the bread in the communion service do they put in its place? Very little in fact, to the detriment of the communion service and to the church itself. So we must go to scripture to learn what the bread teaches us about the Church and the Communion.

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The communion supper is not an impartation of grace. It is not a ‘topping up’ of spirituality. It is not a bonus or a treat. It is not an ice cream. It is the prescribed solemn opportunity for self examination and judgment of your own performance as a member in your local church.

Churches who refuse communion to visiting believers, or even to visiting preachers, are not judging such visitors. But they are setting up and maintaining conditions which will encourage a visitor to make a more effective job of judging himself.

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The communion supper is God’s appointed time and place for church discipline. Discipline in the local New Testament church has largely gone out of fashion these days, but in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul discusses discipline, and says that the leaven must be purged out of the church. He says that fornicators, coveters, extortioners, drunkards, idolaters, slanderers and argumentative people should be purged out, literally expelled from the membership, temporarily or permanently. Titus 3:10: “A man that is an heretick, after the first and second admonition, reject.”

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Not even ‘Likeminded sister churches’ or ‘likeminded brethren’ should share communion.

The communion service is frequently used as a tool to promote so-called evangelical unity, in which Protestants and Roman Catholics get together for shared communion services. On a fundamental level, not only does this completely jar with the correct definition of the church as already outlined in previous articles, but moreover, it is especially important to note that ecumenicalism is nothing more than a strategy invented by Catholicism to induce Protestants and non-conformists to convert to Catholicism. In all ecumenical ventures involving Roman Catholicism, it is noticeable that it is always the Catholics who call the tune and set the terms of the merger. At ‘interfaith’ communion services, the Catholics hardly bend one jot or tittle of their liturgy and process, and it is always the unwitting Protestants who find themselves partaking in a Catholic mass, rather than Catholics being enticed away from papal liturgy.

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A frequent objection which closed communion churches hear is “What about Christians who are visiting your church because they are on vacation? Should not they be given communion?”

The answer is no. No communion supper is necessary or should be granted to the Christian tourist. For it must be remembered that the travelling holiday is a relatively modern phenomenon. People have only been doing it for about two hundred years.

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Membership of your church should be more important than where you take your vacation, or even where you live. If you ever think of moving house to another area, because of more comfort, or easier travelling to work, you should always first consider if there is a good Bible-believing church in the area to which you are thinking of going. If there isn’t, then don’t move there, unless you are capable of starting a new church there yourself.

It is a fact of record that many fine, active Christians fall away from the faith, leave church completely, fall into sin and become adulterers and even murderers. This sad chain of events often begins when they move house to a different area, an area with no church. They wanted a bigger house. Or a ‘safer’ neighbourhood to live in. Or their employer promoted them to a different regional office. For whatever reason, they thought they were moving to something better. But in becoming geographically disconnected from their church, their life changed to something worse.

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What about travelling missionaries who are ‘on the road’ all their life? Should they be given communion when they visit another church, even their sending church? No, because a missionary, wherever he is in the world, should never be too far away from his home church to be able to get back there regularly to take communion. This reinforces the purpose of missions, to plant churches. The missionary should therefore concentrate on planting a church wherever in the world he has been sent, and then call it his home church and join it as a member. The local church on his mission-field, or the one he has planted himself, should be the one in which he takes communion.

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We might get lots of other things in our church management wrong at first. But if we get the Lord’s Supper right, making it a closed table for members only, the rest of everything we have to do will fall into place correctly.

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In the same way as church membership is not optional but mandatory for the Christian, neither is taking communion optional. It too is mandatory. It is not the right of an individual church member to refuse the supper.

Some Christians mistakenly think that it is in their individual power to discipline themselves, or to point out the faults in others within the membership, by unilaterally choosing not to partake in the communion supper, using such abstinence as an attempt to either ‘punish’ themselves, or to instigate a controversy within the membership.

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The first wrong reason for a church member refusing of his or her own accord to partake in the communion supper is that they are annoyed with someone else in the church, and so, as a visible protest, they refuse to partake in the same communion supper with them. But that is both wrong, and childish. Scripture enjoins us to make things up first with the brother we are annoyed with, and then eat the communion supper together. Matthew 18:15-17

If necessary, the communion supper for the whole church should be delayed, by hours, days or even weeks until this reconciliation has been made. Of course, if a church cannot resolve the problem within a few minutes or hours, it is an indication of how poor, loveless, unscriptural, far from the Lord, and deeply rooted its problems really are.

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The second wrong reason why church members sometimes abstain from the communion supper, is that, because of some recently committed sin which besets their conscience, they think themselves unworthy.

This wrongheadedness is yet another manifestation of the devilish cultural influences of Roman Catholicism, poisoning unlearned Christians and unschooled churches with the incorrect notion that the elements of bread and wine are sacraments imputing grace, thus in a wholly unscriptural and therefore misguided display of false humility, they choose to openly ‘punish themselves’ by denying themselves the supper. Those who commit this error have entirely missed the point both of the communion supper and indeed of Christ’s death.

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Eschatologically, there is in fact a time for open communion, but that time is not yet. There is a Divinely prescribed time, indeed a day in world history set aside for the practice of closed communion to cease altogether. That time is when Christ returns. 1 Corinthians 11:26: “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come”. That is to say, after He comes, we are to cease holding communion, for its purpose will then be redundant.

In recent years, many churches have discarded the doctrine of Christ’s pre-millennial return, and indeed many strands of Christendom, including destructive liberal cults such as the so-called ‘Emergent Church’ and the ‘Purpose-Driven’ movement, have deliberately ceased teaching or become woolly-headed about eschatology altogether. Those such churches who dismiss the clear scriptural teaching on Christ’s Second Coming as being “too vague to be worth teaching” or “of only secondary importance” therefore deny themselves the logic and rich encouragement of its tandem doctrine, the communion supper.

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William Jeyes Styles was a Strict and Particular Baptist pastor who ministered in several churches at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, he published “A Guide to Church Fellowship, as Maintained by Primitive or Strict and Particular Baptists.” This article is the first of seven parts to his chapter on Restricted Communion.

“Strict,” is here simply an abbreviation of “restricted” (re-strict-ed), and is applied to the practice of such as welcome to the Lord’s Table those only for whom they judge it is scripturally spread.

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Baptism by Immersion is often thought to be all we require as a prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper – some inadequate Confessions of our Faith countenancing the idea. Our real conviction is, that not Baptism only, but Membership with a Baptised Church, and what this expresses and involves, should always precede and be conjoined with this act of devotion.

This Position we prove, firstly from plain and positive teachings of Scripture:

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This Position has been proved from the plain and positive teachings of the Scriptures. Our Position is further substantiated by these considerations;-

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This Position is affirmed by the consensus of all Baptist Communities – whether Open or Strict, General or Particular – whose final act of admitting new Members into Fellowship, invariably occurs at the Lord’s Table, when such receive the “right hand of Fellowship.” (Galatians 2:9; 2 Kings 10:10)

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Our position is established by the Nature of the Lord’s Supper itself, which, we submit, can be observed in accordance with it’s high design by no congregation but a Church. When such an Assembly is gathered together for the “breaking of bread” then only does this Ordinance receive Scriptural and consistent attention.

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