April 1, 2020

Reader Request: Problems With Baptists and the Lord’s Supper

lseUPDATE: Other IM posts on this topic: Baptist Reasons For Not Celebrating the LS, Confessional Resources, Discerning the Presence of Christ, Intro to the Baptist Way. LOTS of links to Baptist material on the supper in this posts, especially the last one. If you want to study our view from the best sources, I’ve brought together a lot of material here.

A commenter in the previous post asks,

For those of us who live in pretty close knit baptist circles, give us a short run down – playing devil’s advocate- of the weaknesses you mention in the Baptist view…Other than the whole “real presence” argument, I’m not aware of any other complaints or criticisms.

This gives me an excuse to write about the Baptist and evangelical situation involving the Lord’s Supper, which I’m always glad to do.

For starters, it might do us good to consider what happens when the various traditions articulate a theology of the Lord’s Supper at their best. In my opinion, the primary difference isn’t the issue of “real presence.” Baptists and the Reformed can come up with language that’s so close to the language I hear in some Eucharistic prayers that the differences become matters for theologians. No, the primary differences, in my view, are transubstantiation, i.e. [I was going to offer a simple definition, but that’s a fool’s errand], and the issue of the nature of the bread and wine themselves, which in my view eventually becomes a discussion of some aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit, no matter what you believe. Of course there are other issues, but these two seem to stake out the largest differences on a practical level. I don’t see any real possible progress on either, so we should move on.

As to Baptists- well, it’s a mess and I challenge anyone to show me that it’s not a mess. Really, it’s embarrassing and quite a personal matter. If my tradition of Baptists had some kind of moderately serious approach to the Lord’s Supper my wife and I would probably not be looking at the reality of never communing together again. I place that painful disaster at the feet of the Baptist failure to understand their poverty in this area. Don’t get me started.

Even more grievous is the knowledge that this failure isn’t necessary. Baptists took the Supper seriously in Spurgeon’s church. The 1689 Confession takes it seriously. Our failure to do so is simply an example of gnosticism traveling in a Protestant disguise and sheer, unapologetic neglect. Most of the Baptists that I know who have thought about this have come around to Calvin’s view of the nature of the Lord’s Supper anyway (which is what you have in the 1689 Confession.) Most Baptists wouldn’t defend our practice of the Lord’s Supper if they were paid to do so. The sermon by Chanski- like it or not- couldn’t be preached in 95% of the Baptist churches I know because no one has thought that long about what’s going on.

The singular worst part is the mad rush to deemphasize the meaning of the Supper so as to not have a shred of sacramentalism anywhere in sight. Most pastors are afraid that anything other that constant assurances that the supper means nothing will lead to rampant fascination with magic. When someone suggests emphasizing the supper more, all these pastors see is problems: sacramentalism, Catholicism, high church liturgy, issues of church discipline, boredom, confusion. The idea that Christ is present and preached in the supper seems to be intolerable. Now if you said the highest possible sacramental things about the Bible, they would be all over it. But not the supper.

The current reign of church growth pragmatism has virtually killed the Lord’s Supper among many evangelicals. It’s a high crime, as bad as any liberal betrayal of the Gospel. If it were an innocent omission, I could understand. But it’s not. It’s been radical surgery, and if you said that our church is only going to do this once a year, you’d hear very little opposition.

Talk about your “Jesus disconnect.’ “Yeah, Jesus inaugurated it and commanded we continue to do it, but I think we need to be careful not to emphasize it too much or else it will mean nothing.” Follow that path for a couple of generations, and it will mean nothing. It gives me a headache.

So here are the weaknesses enumerated. Enjoy.

1. The historical problem. How do Baptists relate their view of the Lord’s Supper to the ancient church’s far more eucharistic, real presence language? Do we believe the ancient church was wrong until the Baptist reformation? Yes? No? What?
2. Articulation. Despite having helpful confessional resources that articulate the Supper beautifully, all Baptists can do is denigrate the supper as “not this” and “not that.” We need an entire revolution of the language- liturgical and confessional- we use with the Lord’s Supper.
3. Frequency. Four times a year or less. Insane.
4. Teaching. No one teaches on this subject in any depth or seriousness.
5. The theology of the supper itself. Our view should be far more open to the Lutheran and Reformed approach, but we’ve simply gone over the edge in refusing to come out of our bubble, so we have a lobotomized practice of the Lord’s Supper and we are the only ones who can’t admit it.
6. The elements themselves: Baptist Chiclets and shot glasses are not Biblical. One loaf. One cup. And lose the grape juice. Good grief. Can’t we do the simple things right?


  1. Dan Crawford says

    Nearly every Catholic priest I know would have a problem with your statement about transubstantiation:
    “transubstantiation, i.e. the view that Christ gave to the church and its priests the ability to perform the miracle of the mass”. They would point out that the miracle of the mass is God’s doing, not the priests’.

    Other than that, I appreciate the clarity of your exposition, and your refusal on most instances to sink into the polemics of another age.

  2. Why did I know that was coming? 🙂

    Thanks ***sigh*** Edited.

    So if it’s not a grace given to priests, what’s the difference between the Lutheran and RC view of the role of the minister?

  3. Good quote from Robert Webber, “Churches today seemed to have replaced the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine with the doctrine of the real absence of Christ. Don’t worry folks, we’ve barred all the doors and locked all the windows and in this Church God doesn’t show up…”

    RIP Dr. Webber – I miss your wonderful thoughts.

  4. I love Webber, but if the only choices we have are the Catholic view and an exiled God, then my whole Christian life has been a waste.

    I miss Bob, too. I’d like to get some relief from that relentless either/or. Apparently I’ve never been in a service where God was present or wanted in my life.



  5. I grew up hearing my parents joke about the great evangelical miracle: turning wine into grape juice.

    I do have confidence that the Baptists will figure it out eventually, mainly because there are people like you reminding them about what really matters.

  6. Steve Newell says

    As one raised SBC and now an LCMS Lutheran, I have written a post on Extreme Theology on this subject. Please read it as a Lutheran review of Holy Communion.


  7. It’s a tribute to the Lutheran failure to communicate what they believe that they aren’t growing by a hundred thousand evangelical ship-jumpers a year. 🙂

  8. Fabulous Post!! Thank you, iMonk, for being intellectually honest & calling out your fellow Baptists on this. As a former Baptist & now licensed preacher in the PCA, I shake my head sometimes at some of the ways most baptists think about the Eucharist. I would love to see Baptists recover their confessional view of the Supper (as you linked to in the post) not so I can say, “Hey, I told you so!” but so that baptists may enjoy the benefits of the sacrament as the Reformed are supposed to. I don’t like the baptist view of Memorial-only b/c a)I don’t think it’s the best jive’s w/ what Christ said & b) the baptist view really robs the taker of the benefits of the Supper, or, as you say, lobotimizes it.

    Oh, & to reply to your tweet about non-Baptists & Baptists…Consider this an e-hug from a non-Baptist to you, a baptist.

  9. sue kephart says

    I was/wasn’t surprised by Dan’s comments. Yes, it is God’s doing. But in the RCC the priest ‘makes’ it happen. In my tradition the people of God ‘make’ it happen as community. We need an ordained Clergy to’safe guard the elements’ make sure it is done right.

    This makes a huge difference between Luther and the RC. Because the RC priest can celebrate Mass all by himself. We need a community. The Word is made flesh and dwells(tabernacles, pitchs a tent, abides) among US.

    One of the things I love the most about my tradition (ELCA) is open communion.

  10. So, without getting into a long discussion of the merits of each view, can you explain why you distinguish so sharply between the Real Presence and transubstantiation? I’ve always considered the RP to be the important thing, with TS as just a particular theory about how and why it happens.

  11. We can talk about the real presence without localizing it. We don’t have to exclude it as some Baptists do. I’d prefer to see a greater emphasis on the presence of Christ in word, promise, sign, etc. Then the argument just becomes about localized presence, lab tests, accidents, etc and that argument is exhausted and we won’t agree.

    I think the confessional resources I have in other posts make it clear Baptists have no reason not to speak generously about the presence of Christ or the sacramental aspect of the supper.

    Our RC friends use memorial language in several of the eucharistic prayers. If we don’t get down to autopsies, we can actually talk about the presence of Christ. We just need to be less obsessive about driving out those who disagree with how we localize (or don’t) the presence of Christ.

  12. I’m not in much of a huggy mood, but I’ll save it. Much appreciated. The division over this matter runs through the heart of my family and makes me really hate the subject.

    When we talk about this, in about an hour I’ll feel like I’m not a Christian and I wasted 30+ years of ministry. It’s an awful feeling.

  13. Yeah, you hit all those points dead on. I read through the 1689 London Confession on the Lord’s Supper and was at first surprised by the memorial language. Then I realized the memorial language is being used against the idea that Christ is sacrificed again, not, as I have always heard it, that the Lord’s supper is just a memorial and it has no real power. But it makes sense that if there is no real power in the Lord’s supper that Baptist churches should not celebrate it frequently. There is that ever-present concern that if it occurs too often, people will get bored with the simple memorial. Eat This, Drink This, Think about Jesus. I think I just rambled….Anyway, one of my professors said concerning frequency and boredom with the Lord’s supper: Do you have sex once a quarter in your marriage so you don’t get bored with it?

  14. Nah, dr webber grew up abcusa and eventually became an epicopalian who appreciated how Bible churches tried to be immersed in the Biblical narrative. His jibes are never either/or.

  15. JS: My own best view of the LS is at this link. Really the heart of the matter for me.


  16. As a Baptist, here would be my thoughts …

    1. The historical problem: If one holds the symbol-only view this is more problematic. I hold a Reformed view, which affirms a real presence while denying corporeality to this presence.

    2. Articulation. Agreed–there is much we could learn from our Presbyterian/Reformed brothers and sisters by incorporating elements of their liturgy into what we do.

    3. Frequency. Agreed wholeheartedly–move it to monthly at least!

    4. Teaching. I think that’s because of (2), above. If we’re only saying what it isn’t, it’s tough to do much teaching except of the most polemical sort.

    5. The theology of the supper itself. Agreed–again, the Reformed view has much to commend itself here.

    6. The elements themselves. Again agreed, except for the grape juice aspect. This is an element–no pun intended–on which the local church needs to make a call, based on the sensitivities of that particular congregation. “Oinos” could function as fermented or unfermented. Why not leave the ambiguity ambiguous and allow the local churches to make the call there? I do agree on some sort of common cup and common loaf, though.

  17. sue kephart says

    ps By flesh I didn’t mean actual body parts in the Eucharist. But the reality of Christ’s presence. As He was really present in the Incarnation in a special way, He is really present in the Eucharist in a special way.

    How is He really present in ‘flesh’? I think that is something personal. To me there often is a physical ramafication. That may not be true for everyone. God knows us individually so come to us personally.

  18. Monk,

    there are a lot of things in baptist life that are coming to a head for me, On one hand I cherish greatly my baptist heritage and all that entails,

    on the other hand, having grown somewhat disgusted with anti-intellectualism, legalism, and a seemingly un-tame able worship beast with an obsession on every church does what it wants, I’m to the point where I can say

    1. after sitting thru some crazy confernces I might not object so much to a different style of church governance

    2. after sitting thru services that just dont’ seem to be focused on anybody buy man I might not mind a liturgy

    3. after listening to just every Tom Dick and Harry decicide to “make a preacher” I might not mind stricter oversight of that with a bishop or something

    4. I want more meaning, dare I say it, sacrementalism in the Supper


    And here is the but

    I’m still convinced of the rightness of believers baptism

    What are baptist like me supposed to do?

    On one hand I tell myslef that since baptist don’t really do a good job of stressing the importance of baptism anymore to just swollow it and join a good solid AMiA church

    On the other hand is my beliefs on baptism


    What can baptist like me do?

    i suspect, just a hunch, that there are hundreds of baptist like me


  19. I don’t think were talking about simple subtle theological differences about the subject matter being addressed. I am a rational person made of body soul and spirit, likewise the Catholic view declares Jesus Christ body, soul, spirit, and divinity is completely their. I can talk to the Eucharist as person because I believe it is Jesus Himself in sacramental form. If a relative has died we might say they are with us, I’ve heard people even say that they sensed the deceased presence, never have I heard a loved ones hole entire person is present under the appearance of bread and wine. I just don’t want to lessen or make light of the great divide here. If that is really Jesus we should all fall down and worship if it is not let us run for our lives. Their really is no middle ground here, either Christ incarnation is real her whole and entire or it is some sort of spiritual view.

  20. Since my own family can’t commune with me as a fellow Christian, even though we are all joined to Christ, then no, it’s not a subtle difference. It’s a difference that ought to be labeled for what it is: the very definition of receiving another person as one with Christ.

    It’s an ugly difference and most of the time, it makes me hate the entire subject of the LS.

  21. Dan Crawford says


    If priests or the congregation “make” it happen, then it seems to me that they are the ones performing the miracle. But that would get us into a long discussion about matters Michael would mostly prefer we not get into. As for the priest celebrating Mass “by himself”, I am reminded of the morning I came to celebrate with Eucharist with only one lovely elderly woman in attendance. Before beginning, I turned to her and said, “Well, June, it’s just me and you”. And she replied, “Oh no, Father, it’s you and I and all the host of heaven.” And she was absolutely correct. Most priests, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, believe that the Eucharist is but the extension of the great heavenly liturgy: one end of the table is in heaven, the other is on earth. Perhaps too mystical for Baptists, but it consoles me mightily since I don’t have to worry about being perfect when I stand at the altar.

  22. Just for some added clarification, technically, transubstantiation and the Reformed view of ‘sign and the thing signified’ are attempts to provide an answer to “how” Christ is present in the Supper. The RCs lean on Aristotle and the Reformed lean on Plato for an answer. Scripture does not answer “how” Christ is present but answers “what” the Supper is – bread and wine, body and blood.

    “It’s a tribute to the Lutheran failure to communicate what they believe that they aren’t growing by a hundred thousand evangelical ship-jumpers a year.”

    What can I say? That is our great embarassment.
    Things are changing in that regard however slowly.

  23. >Perhaps too mystical for Baptists, but it consoles me mightily since I don’t have to worry about being perfect when I stand at the altar.

    Well thankfully Dan, neither do I nor any Baptist I’ve ever met. We believe the Gospel proclaimed in Hebrews and Romans too. There’s one mediator and I stand in him.

    BTW, I’ve heard a lot of folks won’t take communion if they haven’t had confession. Yes? No?

  24. iMonk –

    please educate me with regards to “some” Baptist congregations that deny the LS to non-members. is this just an Alabama thing or do most Baptist churches deny the LS to non-members (i.e. non Baptist)??



  25. Thanks for this Michael. It seems to me that if the first issue you list could somehow be addressed, the others in your list would tend to naturally recede. It’s the one I focused on because it seems to me to be very near the core of the matter. However, I always feel disjointed in these discussions because it seems like most people start with the idea of transubstantiation and then try to frame the discussion in the context of their agreement or disagreement with it (whether they actually understand it or not). That was the case in the sermon you linked to on twitter and in the other post. It was the case in the Lutheran link posted above.

    The problem with that approach is that the language of transubstantiation comes very late historically itself. The Summa Theologica was penned in the 13th century after all. And when I’m talking about the history of the church, I tend to stop there, not begin there. I have read it because it’s an important Christian writing, but I have not studied in detail later developments in Roman Catholic eucharistic theology. So I’m no expert on the RCC perspective today, though I do believe it’s returned to something more like what Thomas Aquinas actually had in mind after its medieval detour.

    I’m not sure that Aquinas used helpful categories in his description because I don’t think most people really try to wrap their head around Aristotle’s categories of substance and accident in order to read Aquinas through the lens through which he was thinking as he wrote. Moreover, I don’t think Aristotle’s categories actually describe reality any more than Plato’s division of physical and spiritual describe reality — at least from a Christian perspective.

    I’ve always found the best theological revelation of the eucharist is in the theological gospel. But then, John’s gospel and first letter were pretty central to the time I actually began shifting into Christianity. Yes, I know John places his theology of the eucharist in chapter 6 rather than in the context of the actual last supper. I know that bothers some people, though I haven’t figured out why. And in it Jesus flatly refuses to use the language of symbol, to divorce physical from spiritual, or to give any convenient explanation of his meaning, even though it costs him almost all of his followers. And even the twelve seem more fatalistic than anything else. “Where else are we going to go?” is hardly a ringing endorsement.

    And when you dive back into the first thousand years, that’s the tension the church largely maintained. Many of the writers were deeply familiar with the negative influence the platonic division of spiritual and physical had when merged with Christianity and fought against it. In the sermon you linked to in the other post, Michael, the statement that the Lord’s Supper is spiritually the body and blood, but not physically the body and blood is essentially platonic in perspective. The historical christian perspective was always exactly what we find in John 6. It’s bread and wine. And it’s the body and blood of Jesus. When you consume the bread and wine, you are consuming God. You are participating in the one sacrifice of Jesus brought forward into that moment in time. That’s what’s happening and we don’t know how. But the spiritual and the physical are undivided. I think that’s the core problem with the idea of transubstantiation. Even though it uses Aristotle’s terms, it is still dividing the physical reality from the spiritual reality.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that the ancient writings are not organized in the western scholastic manner. You can’t find an orderly, structured point by point confession or analysis. Maybe that’s why people like to start with the Summa Theologica. I don’t know. In the first millenium, you have to try to understand where and in what circumstances a person was writing, then try to absorb his whole writing — not bits of it, possibly reading it several times, and then you’ll begin to see what he was saying. It’s not in one neat bundle somewhere.

    Unlike the sermon you linked, my church is very strongly in the “nothing actually happens — it’s just a memorial” camp. It’s funny, in a way. I hadn’t been there very long when I realized that though we very often use 1 Cor. 11, we almost always skip over the inconvenient verse about people getting sick and dying. The theology of the NT on the eucharist is found in John 6. At least, that’s what the church of the first millenium believed. That gospel is the reason St. John is one of only three to be given the appellation “Theologian” in the sense of a title. (St. John the Theologian, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Symeon the New Theologian) But even with the distinctions in that sermon (and I presume in the 1689 confession), I can’t draw any connection between that belief and the universal belief of the church for the first thousand years of its existence.

    If there is no way to connect it, then Baptists basically do say that the church got it wrong until they came along to set it straight. If there is a way to connect it, then I wish someone would explain it to me. I’ve immersed myself in the writings of the church throughout the first millenium for fifteen years now and I don’t see the connection. I’m sorry to write such a long comment. But this is the point where the identity I had built as a baptist began to deconstruct. So far Jesus has held firm, but I live within an unending whirlwind of deconstruction. I try on spiritual perspectives easily, but very few endure. I don’t even know that I’m a baptist anymore. I don’t attend that much, because it’s hard for me to listen without my mind constantly deconstructing statements and claims made. But if I’m not baptist, I don’t really know what I am. I’ve been a lot of things that aren’t Christian. But as a christian, I’ve only really been a baptist. Oh, I’ve been to many, many different churches over the course of my life and know a great deal about them, but my christian identity has only been centered in this one church. If it can’t be centered there anymore, where do I put it?

    Sorry again for the torrent of words. If you don’t want it here because the topic is too personal for you, that’s fine. Feel free to delete or ignore my comment. Thanks for at least acknowledging the problem even if you don’t have an answer for it. Most baptists I know won’t even acknowledge that there is a problem.

  26. Most of the SBC practices open communion. Only Baptist Landmarkers and a few fundamentalists do closed communion. Even Reformed Baptists do a modified open communion. Savastio defends that in the linked talk.

  27. Wow.

    iMonk, thank you for the post. I have been frustrated for years at the Baptist treatment of both ordinances. It seemes like whenever we were about to partake in communion, the officiant would have to say something along the lines of “Now, there is nothing special about these elements. They are just juice and bread.” At that point, I would want to throw my hands in the air and yell “Then what the hell are we doing this for?!?”

    Scripture treats Lord’s Supper with much more reverence and emphasis than Baptist worship services. That is a disconnect I hope we can soon bridge.

  28. sue kephart says

    Fr. Dan,

    Let us agree that we are saying things that are hard to put into words. “Make it ” happen. God makes it happen. It is just our traditions are different for it to happen. You must have an RC priest. So looking at it from that side, you need that Priest to have it be valid. We need a community. The rest about the whole company of heaven I am in agreement with.


  29. Michael, my church always says that if you aren’t someone who has decided to follow Jesus of Nazareth, then you would be partaking in an unworthy manner. And they ask those who are not Christians to refrain. I’ve only recently learned about Landmarkism and I’m pretty certain we’re not that. For instance, we check that somebody was baptized by immersion, but we don’t care where or by who.

    Or does open communion mean something else in the sense you’re using it?

  30. Dan Allison says

    I’m late to the discussion so please excuse. Michael, you are so right about most Baptists I have known, and most fundamentalists in general, taking such an overly high view of the Bible and a sorrowfully low view of communion.
    I really do believe God offers us grace through the Lord’s Supper — if for no other reason, for being obedient to observe it — and it needs to be monthly at the very least. We also need to stop arguing about it, and just do it. Can’t all Christians agree that — I’ll try to Paraphrase NT Wright here, forgive my ineptness — can’t we all simply agree that the Lor’s Supper is a place wher Heaven and Earth overlap, where God provides grace and mercy and “infuses” them into our lives, where we connect with and meet with and commune with Christ? Please, let’s stop slaughtering each other over the footnotes. The table should be a place of unity, not division.

  31. Modified open communion would be believers immersed, i.e. credobaptism. Open communion is all believers. Closed communion is local cong only. The apostle Paul couldn’t commune if he wasn’t a member of FBC.

  32. Dan Allison: Yes we should and No we won’t.

  33. sue kephart says

    Paul and Jesus couldn’t commune in the FBC or the RCC. oh ,oh, people could take that a fur piece down the road!!

  34. The singular worst part is the mad rush to deemphasize the meaning of the Supper so as to not have a shred of sacramentalism anywhere in sight. Most pastors are afraid that anything other that constant assurances that the supper means nothing will lead to rampant fascination with magic. When someone suggests emphasizing the supper more, all these pastors see is problems: sacramentalism, Catholicism, high church liturgy, issues of church discipline, boredom, confusion. The idea that Christ is present and preached in the supper seems to be intolerable. Now if you said the highest possible sacramental things about the Bible, they would be all over it. But not the supper.

    The former associate pastor at our church (conservative congregational; which recognizes two sacraments — baptism and communion — as sacraments) would preside over communion from time to time and would say, “Jesus said, ‘This bread represents my body…this cup represents my blood’.” I tell you, it was harder for me to take communion when he presided, than it would have been for me to sign onto transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or anything short of full-on, self-proclaimed priestcraft.

    Eventually, because we had a friendly relationship, I spoke to him about saying that Christ ‘said this represents‘. I said I wasn’t trying to convince him about any metaphysical realities about communion (sacrifice, vs. memorial, or anything in between), but that I hoped he would reconsider saying that Jesus said the word represents, since, no matter how an individual Christian thinks of the Lord’s Supper, that is not how scripture reports Christ’s words.

    When he argued that it is what scripture says, I gave him a look. I’m 3 years older than he. I’ve been a Christian since I was a child. I went to the same Christian college where he did his undergrad (Gordon, in Wenham, MA). He knew he was talking to someone who knows thost particular scriptures. He then said, “It’s what Jesus meant. He didn’t really mean is IS his body.”

    I didn’t want this to turn into something that separated us, so I just said that I never meant to address his interpretation of the meaning of the institution. I was only asking him to reconsider the words he used during the service, because I felt he was misrepresenting the Gospel text and left it at that. If he did, he didn’t change his presentation, and the subject was one of those things I had to put aside for my own good. He moved on to another church, probably within a year (or less) of our conversation, so that was the end of that.

    When we talk about this, in about an hour I’ll feel like I’m not a Christian and I wasted 30+ years of ministry. It’s an awful feeling.

    Michael, I’m sorry this subject can have such a negative effect on you. My marriage started out as a mixed Christian marriage (my husband was raised RC) and it hurt me that we could not take communion together. We were married 10 years before we ever shared the bread and the cup. I would doubt my own traditions and understandings, but I also just found it painfully lonesome.

    One thing that helped me was deciding that I had to approach communion as a child. Jesus said, “This is my body[…]this is my blood.” That’s now my doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in its entirety, and I believe that I’m in communion with the church catholic when I celebrate communion.

    I’m still interested in the various explanations by different denominations, etc., but at the end of the day, I accept the Eucharist as a gift from the Lord and I believe and do what he told me. Of course, this is why our former associate pastor’s words troubled me, so it isn’t a panacea for dealing with all of Christendom. It’s just where I’m at on this journey, thus far.

    Communion is a mystery to me. At first I had to struggle to accept the fact of its mystery. Now I embrace it.

  35. Hmmm. Interesting. I’ve only encountered the term “open communion” in the context of discussing whether or not to allow anyone to partake who presented themselves whether or not they are christians. In other words, open to everyone who comes. The question of which christians can commune with you is not a question that is or even could be addressed in this context in the first millenium, though schismastics were often discussed. Are all christians today actually communing, becoming one, being one in christ, or however you want to put it? If so, in what sense are they? Not sure I see it.

  36. sue kephart says

    In my tradition ELCA: Lutheran (not LCMS, which practices closed communion)’open’ is to baptized Christian who have that privilegde (communing) in their own tradition. Although I have seen pastors knowingly commune unbaptized person who come forward. (As I have seen RC Priests knowingly commune nonRC Christains.)

    As to my own tradition’s pastors. Those who do it say if an unbaptized person asks to receive I commune them. Then I trust Jesus do His work.

  37. The issue of “open” or “closed” communion reaches into the LCMS too. They officially practice closed communion, except in extraordinary pastoral circumstances. So, a Baptist couldn’t commune at a LCMS church. The particulars are found here;


  38. sue kephart says


    I an ELCA Lutheran can’t commune in a LCMS Church. And they let you know that at the door. Our ELCA members who where raised in an LCMS Church and moved away and joined an ELCA Church in their new town, when they go back home aren’t allowed to commune in the Church they were baptized, confirmed and first communed in.

  39. As I was getting dressed for a wedding we’re going to so my wife could have the bathroom, this question kept running around my head. I understand the tension in the question of, in this day and age, communing everyone who comes forward without question of restriction. That’s clearly different from the practice of the ancient church, but that church did not face the sort of christian pluralism we face today. That doesn’t mean it’s safe. There’s a wildness to it. But I think of Sara Miles’ experience in Take This Bread and I think of some of my own childhood experiences and I think perhaps it’s a risk worth taking.

    But when you start making any divisions, even the one between christians and non-christians, I’m not sure I see how the phrase open communion really fits. Moreover, I’m not sure I see how you draw lines. Is it really any christian? How about modern adherents to ancient heresies? It’s not too hard, for example, to find entire denominations that reject the orthodox view of the Trinity in one way or another. It’s not hard to find examples today of just about every ancient heresy about Jesus. Is your christian only communion open to them?

    How about iconoclasts? Historically, iconoclasm entered the church through the influence of Islam and resulted in centuries of turmoil. It was eventually denounced as heresy in what came to be recognized as the last great ecumenical council of the first millenium, but it’s back with a vengeance today.

    So if you commune all christians, does that include all heterodox christians as well (whether they know they are or not) or just the orthodox ones? What if your particular schism is actually heterodox? Those sorts of questions are why I wonder if the wildness of a truly open communion is not appropriate today. In the first millenium, most people at least knew what the lines were even if it wasn’t always clear for decades or more which perspective would be recognized by the church as orthodox. These days a person can spend their entire lives in a “denomination” and never even realize their denomination actively embraces an ancient heresy.

  40. Steve Newell says

    I will not participate of Holy Communion at a church that doesn’t hold to the view of Holy Communion that I do. By taking part, I am affirming what that church believes about Holy Communion. Likewise, if a person is partaking of Holy Communion at my church, I am assuming that that person affirms what my church believes about Holy Communion.

    How many of you would be willing to take Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic parish?

  41. (I removed the post by the “other” Scott who was condemning the entire discussion. Also removed responses to him.)

    Scott M: I totally resonated with Sara Miles view of the Lord’s Table. Mainly because I think that Jesus is God’s invitation to the world to come and eat, not an invitation to the church to sort themselves out because of doctrine.

    I’m supposed to believe that Jesus doesn’t want me to commune with my wife because I don’t agree with some theological footnotes of a bishop somewhere. Uh-huh. Right.

    Where in the gospels, I wonder, does Jesus say “I’ll set up the eucharist, and you guys can sort our who is qualified to come?”

    God loves the world. We preach the Gospel. We aren’t the mediator and it’s not OUR table. Let God sort them out.

    The Corinthians were making a mockery of the LS, not eating when they we’re in total agreement with the right bishop.



  42. Steve: So communion is about doctrine? Not Jesus but doctrinal agreement?

    I’d commune anywhere I was invited to the table as a believer in Jesus.

  43. Michael, if it’s any consolation, the meaning of the Eucharist is oftentimes a mess in Catholicism as well. Yeah, I’m going to blame Vatican II again! (or rather, the Spirit thereof, which not only threw the baby out with the bathwater, but often times threw bath, plumbing, and water tank out as well). The emphasis on the sacrifice of Calvary re-enacted on the altar was downplayed or even abandoned in favour of the memorial and communal meal aspect. Some progressives adopted the rationalising view that the old understanding was due to mediaeval or ancient credulity, and too close to magic; a variant of some Protestant belief in a spiritual presence was preferred. Some went even further and abandoned any meaning other than as a symbol of community and hospitality: everyone gathered at the table in fellowship. I shudder to think of the idea about the Eucharist kids making their First Holy Communion have nowadays; I would be willing to bet most of them have no understanding of what they are receiving.

    As to the Baptist view of the Early Church and its practices, isn’t it the usual thing to blame Constantine? You know, making Christianity the state religion and adopting and adapting all the pagan customs to make it enticing to the masses, and then all the half-pagans and pagans who only pretended to convert for the social advantages joined up and took over and corrupted the pure Gospel understanding? 🙂

  44. “BTW, I’ve heard a lot of folks won’t take communion if they haven’t had confession. Yes? No?”

    You are supposed to be in a state of grace when receiving, or at least not in a state of mortal sin (the Eucharist itself removes venial sin), and the General Confession at the start of the Liturgy of the Word signifies our contrition and asking for pardon, but in matters of grave sin, you should have first have attended the sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation, as it is now). And of course, if you are not eligible to receive, e.g. under excommunication or non-Catholic or divorced and remarried, you should not go forward.

    Of course, how much that is honoured more in the breach than the observence nowadays…who knows? Attendance at Confession has gone down, but the numbers going forward for Communion seem to be much the same.

  45. Thank you for addressing this topic. It is one that cuts deep.

    It is very difficult for us to not be reactionary against people and institutions that have hurt us. When we finally break free from something that was hurtful and damaging, the tendency is to reject far more than what is necessary. We too often reject things that are good, nourishing, and even essential to healthful living because we cannot see these things apart from the those that were truly deadly poisonous. The Supper is surely one of those good and essential things that never should have been rejected, but was because it was too closely tied up with the poisonous things.

    I brought the topic of the Supper up in relation to the piece you did on incarnation a couple of days ago. My study of Eastern Orthodoxy profoundly influenced how I understand my faith. It convinced me that God loves his creation, and uses every part of it in ways that, if we pay attention, draw us to him and what he is doing in this world. I now see the Supper as manna Jesus left for us to be nourished with until his return. That we could be so dismissive and cavalier about it is astonishing.

    I find that the teachings of transubstantiation and consubstantiation go beyond scripture in their overly concrete explanations as to what happens to the bread and wine. But I also think it probable that the early Christians took the supper regularly and often, and I have to imagine they somehow believed Christ was with them when they did this. Do we need Christ less than they? I think not. And so let’s eat and drink to Jesus and the Spirit who is with us.

  46. Steve Newell says


    There is a doctrinal understanding when on one takes Holy Communion. If you come to an LCMS church and take Holy Communion, I would assume that you believe that you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine and that you are receiving the forgiveness of your sins by eating and drinking. Likewise, the Pastor would assume that your understanding of Holy Communion is the same as the LCMS.

    Doctrine does matter.

  47. sue kephart says


    I have received communion in the RCC, lots of mainline denoms and non-denoms. I would take it in the Baptist Church or Evangelical if they ever offered it when I visited. That hasn’t happened yet. Jesus is Jesus. It is truly your right to not receive in a Church if that is what you choose.

    So allow me to try again. This division over who gets to receive and who doesn’t, in my humble opinion is control freaking. I have hear all the reasons for doing it already. It hurts the People of God and causes much pain in families. And I think it makes Jesus cry.

  48. I believe doctrine matters too, Steve. But I don’t believe Jesus ever told anyone to ban another believer from the Lord’s table over theology footnotes. You’re saying doctrine matters to God more than faith. That’s fine. It would finish me off, because not only am I a sinner, I have no confidence that I have “right doctrine.” I have only Christ to show for my anything.

  49. When my best friend was received into the RCC, he/she had to affirm that everything the RCC taught was correct. Amazing. I mean, truly, truly amazing.

    Only churches and political parties have that kind of chutzpah.

  50. sue kephart says


    You and your wife would be welcome to the table in any ELCA Church.