Sunday, June 15, 2008

So Let Him Eat of the Bread and Drink of the Cup

This morning FBC Farmersville is observing the Lord's Supper.

When someone asks you, "Who ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?" you probably will take that question to mean, "Of those attending today who are not members, which, if any, ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?" The latter question is an important one and worthy of serious study. I do not belittle the work that has gone into seeking to answer that question biblically. However, I fear that our noble and worthwhile efforts to answer that question have distracted us from what may be a larger and more important question.

How often do you ask yourself, "Of those attending today who ARE members, which, if any, ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?"

The Bible presumes the Lord's Supper as (at least) a predominantly local-church activity. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly address the question of people other than members of or apostles to the local congregation participating in the Supper. What it DOES contain in spades are careful instructions regarding the participation of local church members in the Lord's Supper. The congregation is to "celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth," (1 Corinthians 5:8) by maintaining redemptive church discipline that removes from the table those Christian believers caught in unrepentant profligate sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Clearly the New Testament presumes that the Lord's Supper will take place (at least) predominantly among a group of people who have voluntarily subjected themselves to the judgment of "those who are within the church" (1 Corinthians 5:12).

The loss of redemptive church discipline and regenerate church membership therefore corrupts a church's observance of the Lord's Supper, regardless of whether that church practices open, close, closed, strict, or whatever they wish to label their policy regarding non-members who attend. The local church has an obligation to remove grossly errant members from the table before observing the Lord's Supper.

The Bible commands that every believer is to "examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). Clearly, the danger of "[eating] the bread and [drinking] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner" (1 Corinthians 11:27) is one that threatens members of the local church to whom Paul's warning was delivered.

Let us who are preachers beware the miscommunication to our members that, so long as they are members of this congregation, they may consume with wanton abandon. Each of us has been charged by our Lord to come to His table in circumspection, contrition, and confession. Apart from that, we are in peril of sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:30). And now that we have passed a resolution about regenerate church membership, let us press on all the more to recover it and thereby to redeem our celebrations of the Lord's Supper.


Anonymous said...

Good questions for consideration.

I wonder how a church of, say, 3000 people attending can possibly police this?

From a practical standpoint, I have always considered it best to ask all of those intending to take to examine their own hearts and lives before doing so. It's awfully hard to police others. It's interesting to contemplate whether the publican or the pharisee in Jesus' parable about prayer would have been welcome at the Lord's Supper. From what Jesus says, the publican would have been in the correct spiritual state to take the supper, and the Pharisee would not have been. And yet, if people were to judge who would be living the kind of life that might exclude them from the supper, I wonder if the publican would have been excluded and the pharisee welcomed.

I do have a quick question for all of the folks out there and for you. In my experience in Baptist churches during the last 31 years, I have never been to a Baptist church that practiced close or closed communion. By Baptist History professor, Albert Wardin (a first rate scholar) taught in the early 80s that close or closed communion was the minority position in SBC churches.

My own experience from the first Baptist church that started attending at age 16 (which was a very conservative church theologically, and was a leading church in the CR) had the position that if one was a believer that was sufficient to allow them to join in the supper.

I am now hearing more discussion about only allowing members of the local body, or people who are from Baptist churches, or people who are from churches that immerse should be allowed to take the Lord's Supper.

I would be interested in any thoughts folks have not only about their positions, but what they believe the majority of SBC churches practice.


Bart Barber said...


You raise some good questions in response to the good questions that you say I have raised.

Your first question has to do more, I think with the question of regenerate church membership—how can a church of 3,000 people have regenerate church membership. I do believe that it is possible, but that it will require a commensurately large pastoral staff for a church that large.

I would separate 1 Corinthians 5 from 1 Corinthians 11. Matters of egregious public sin are such that the congregation can know about them and exercise church discipline. Redemptive church discipline removes from a person the privileges of church membership, including participation in the Lord's Supper. Obviously, once a congregation attains even a moderately large size, it becomes impracticable to keep up with who is and who is not partaking in a given worship service, but the congregation has made known to the person excluded that they are not to participate in the celebration of the feast.

Then there are the matters of inward, private sin. These, I believe, come under the instruction given in 1 Corinthians 11. The congregation is in no position to know about these and cannot act. Or, there may be matters that do not rise to the level of disciplinary action by the church, depending upon how the church practices church discipline. In such cases, as you have noted, 1 Corinthians 11 places the responsibility upon the individual, not upon the congregation (as in 1 Corinthians 5), to examine himself and so partake.

I do not know how to speculate about the majority conviction of SBC churches, since many of them have not spoken about it for quite some time. The de facto position of a great many SBC churches is even more open than "open"—is more like "don't ask; don't tell." A Bahai adherent could walk into a great many SBC churches, partake of the Lord's Supper alongside the church members, and never hear a word from pulpit or pew suggesting that he would be acting amiss.

Anonymous said...

You wrote, with emphasis, "The local church has an obligation to remove grossly errant members from the table before observing the Lord's Supper."

What is a gross error? Greed? Envy? Strife? Gossips? Arrogant? Disobedient to parents? These are all of the "depraved mind" list of Romans 1. My concern would be that "church discipline" would be focussed on those who get the outside of their cups dirty but ignore those who are full of dead men's bones (to use Jesus' analogy of Matthew 23). It could easily be applied to the alcoholic or the adulterer, but how would we practice it against the power hungry religious leader, or the church elder who spews hateful gossip in the back corridors of the church, or the "Rick Warren wanabe" pastor who envies the success of others, or so on and so on.
On some level, none of us are ever worthy to partake of the table, but that is the story of grace. Shall we use our liberty to continue in sin? May it never be, but none of us will be totally sanctified this side of glory.
Todd Pylant

Bart Barber said...


The fact that it is difficult to practice church discipline perfectly is no reason to abandon any attempt to practice it at all. This is a prime example of the "Hoover Hermeneutic" of which I have written before: We have no exhaustive list of exactly when, how, or for what we should practice church discipline; therefore we have no idea what this part of the Bible means; therefore, anyone calling for us to attempt to live out these biblical commands must be suspect; therefore, what we wind up doing is ignoring these portions of the Bible. All in the name of grace.

Perhaps it is an exercise of the grace of God that He chose to give us these instructions to help us.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and my comments did not mean to imply that we should not attempt that which seems difficult, but we should approach it with the caution of not becoming as the Pharisees of Matthew 23. Your distinction between inward, private sin and sin that impacts the corporate body is helpful.

Chris Bonts said...

Contextually, the admonition to "examine" yourself in 1 Corinthians refers specifically the presence of factions and divisiveness in the church. ONE of the symbolic aspects of the Lord's Supper is to be the unity of the body (Paul said it was communicated by the eating of "one loaf").
If most churches just focused on the sin of divisiveness prior to partaking of the supper it would discourage many active members from participating without first repenting and seeking unity.

I always remind my congregation that the Lord's Supper is a corporate sermon ("You proclaim the Lord's Death until he comes"). It is a sermon that makes three statements: 1) it makes a statement about the past - Christ's past (his death and shed blood for sin) and our past (That we have trusted in the shed blood to save us from our sin). 2) It makes a statement about the present. When I partake of the "one loaf" I am testifying to my solidarity with body of Christ, contra the divisions and factions of which Paul spoke. 3) It makes a statement about the future. As we partake of the supper we are reminded that Jesus said he would not share such a meal until his return (Luke 22:15). When we partake, we look forward to and long for the day when we celebrate and sup with our Lord and Savior.

Thanks for your blog, Bart. Keep up the Good Work.

Chris Bonts

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for your clarification.


I concur with you that divisiveness is both the specific public sin that gave rise to Paul's comments in chapter 11 and among the specific public sins most prevalent and ripe for correction in many churches today.

Wayne Smith said...


Some Suggestions for Pastors, that they should give a Warning in Guarding the Table before Serving and a note in the Church Bulletin one week prior to Communion to ask everyone to exam themselves and prepare for the Lord’s Supper next Sunday.

Wayne Smith

Tim G said...

Great discussion! Some think that participating in the Lords Supper is a right rather than a privilege.

When one reads the warning - one must go to their knees - at least I do!

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Bart, you raise some good points on which to meditate. Your post made me think of an exchange that took place between two missionary Baptist friends of mine debating "like faith & order" communion (visitors from sister churches allowed to partake) versus local-church-only communion (only members of the church observing the supper allowed to partake). Local-church-only communion is usually rooted in, or at least supported by, the practice of church discipline. One preacher thought he had caught the other one, only to have his words turned back on him. I'm putting it in dialogue based on my memories of the exchange.

Bro. Like Faith & Order: Communion with baptized believers in sister churches is scriptural and in accord with our past practice.
Bro. Local Church Only: But what about I Corinthians 5 and church discipline?
Bro. Like Faith & Order: How so?
Bro. Local Church Only: Well, what if a member of my church was a drunk and he was present at your church when you served communion? What would you do?
Bro. Like Faith & Order: Well, what if he were present at your church when you served communion? What would you do?

Dave Miller said...


Permit me to stir the pot a little. Aren't we, with the current emphasis on enforcing "regenerate membership" trying to do exactly what Jesus said He would do at the end - separate the wheat from the tares.

I have been in the pastorate for 26 years and have been careful to ask for clear testimony of salvation before I baptized someone or recommended them for church membership.

I don't think anyone can pin the SBC's inflated numbers on me.

But, I do not think it is my job to control who receives the Lord's supper. I lay before them the standards and leave that decision to them. If someone falls into gross and public sin, we will invoke discipline (my church has done it). But I am not going to follow the ushers up and down the aisle telling them who to give the elements to and who they should exclude.

I know, that is ad absurdum, but it makes my point. I set forth the standards but is it really my job to decide who can and cannot receive the supper?

Doesn't the scripture say that a man should examine himself?

David Rogers said...

It seems to me the context of biblical church discipline was the intimate relational fellowship of the "house churches," in which the various members knew each other well enough to know who among them was living a life consistent with their profession of faith, and who was not. In a larger congregation, this dynamic can perhaps be simulated by an effective small group, or deacon member care, system.

If one of the purposes of the Lord's Supper is to celebrate the unity of the Body of Christ, then it behooves us to do the best we possibly can to not admit anyone we have good reason to believe is not truly saved, and to not exclude anyone we have good reason to believe is truly saved. Beyond this, we should do as the Bible admonishes us, and have potential participants examine themselves before participating.

Dave Miller said...


I agree.

But Bart's comment, "The local church has an obligation to remove grossly errant members from the table before observing the Lord's Supper," led me to wonder if he was calling for something a little more.

If the church has disciplined an unrepentant member, I would see that he is excluded. But if the church has not disciplined him, I am going to leave it up to the person to examine himself.

Bart Barber said...

Dave Miller,

Perhaps I could provide a more constructive reply if you wouldn't mind indicating how you find my first reply to Louis less-than-helpful. From my reading, it appears to me that your question is basically his. Thus, I probably need help understanding you better.

Bart Barber said...

David Rogers,

I thought that we had already barked over this bone. 1 Corinthians 5 clearly assigns the final step of church discipline to the moment when the "church at Corinth" was all "assembled together" (and Paul with them in spirit).

David Rogers said...


I don't see that what you are saying and that what I am saying here are necessarily mutually contradictory. I am saying, though, when you treat personal matters publicly, in a large assembly, without the benefit of close, personal relationships as a normal pre-requisite, you have a recipe for a disaster.

I don't think you took it that way. But I hope you don't hear me "barking," so much as trying to be constructive. I think that when SBC churches begin to take practical steps as to how to put into practice the recommendations of the resolution, the small group and personal relationship component is going to be an important aspect.

Ray said...

My concern is with the practical aspect. How do we train our deacons to be "sin spotters?" Does there need to be a discussion prior to the service with specific names given, that if they show up they are to be denied?
Now I know that many of the offenses that are in mind here are the openly public ones and it has been my experience that people who do such things usually don't come back to Church.
If a Deacon withholds the elements from someone by mistake, that could destroy a Church.

Bart Barber said...


The only people from whom anyone should "withhold" the Lord's Supper are those whom the congregation has already excluded by church discipline.

The other occasion in which a member of the church ought to abstain is self-invoked—if one has not had a successful outcome in "examin[ing] himself" to prepare for participation in the Lord's Supper.

Dave Miller said...


I did not read his comment or your answer. I just read your post and commented from there.

Mea Culpa.

I don't know Louis, but the fact that he and I asked the same question certainly speaks well o f his intelligence.