Open Communion—the practice of communing those confessing something contrary to the Bible—is strange to God and His Word. God’s Word is clear: It teaches us who should and shouldn’t commune. Before we learn this, however, we first need to remember what the Lord’s Supper is. It’s what Jesus says it is: “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19), and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; cf., Luke 22:20, “…the new covenant in my blood”). The Apostle Paul does not ‘interpret’ Jesus’ words, he confesses them as He received them: “This is my body,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Not only has our Lord told us what the Lord’s Supper is—His true Body and Blood—but He has also told us what it is for—The forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).
What’s more, the Bible teaches that it can be received either for our benefit or detriment. The benefit is God’s forgiveness; the detriment, God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 11:29). Who receives forgiveness and who receives judgment? Those who receive it in a worthy manner do so for forgiveness, and those who receive it in an unworthy manner, to their judgement. But what does it mean to receive it worthily? Scripture says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).
What does it mean to examine yourself? Elsewhere, Scripture uses this same language: “Test yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5), and “Let each person examine his own work” (Galatians 6:4). The first text teaches us to examine our faith; the second, our work. St. Paul exhorts Timothy and all pastors to examine their life and doctrine also: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persevere in these things, for by so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). These commands simply repeat Christ’s summary of the eternal Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). We are to examine ourselves according to the Law of God: our faith toward God (First Table), and our love toward our neighbor (Second Table).
Examination means repentance. We examine ourselves and then repent. If you lack faith in any of God’s Word, repent and trust God. If you lack love toward your neighbor, repent and love him. Repentance is essential to a worthy reception; impenitence, to an unworthy reception.
Most agree repentance is necessary for the Second Table of the Law, that is, the final seven commandments (i.e., Honor your father and mother; You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery, etc.). Let’s look at the Eighth Commandment—You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pastor who communes a gossiper, slanderer, and liar. Pastors (I hope) would rebuke that man and bar him from the Lord’s Supper so long as he continues to spread lies and cause divisions in the church. It would be a fake repentance to say, “I’m sorry in my heart,” while purposely spewing lies that cause heartache and pain—That’s false repentance. Whoever does this uses Christ’s forgiveness as a license to sin (Read Romans 7). True repentance means you fear the wrath of God against sin, confess it, and beg for forgiveness. As a result, this faith in Christ’s forgiveness gives us the strength to mend our ways. That’s true repentance. Only when this happens can you receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner, for forgiveness.
Most (again, I hope) completely agree with everything I just said, and that this would be considered an unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. It would be a scandal to commune those who deliberately break God’s Commandments and use forgiveness as a means to dwell in sin (Read Romans 6). In my experience, most recognize that it’s wrong to commune impenitent and godless liar and slanderer. What many don’t recognize, however, is that if those who impenitently sin against their neighbor bars them from receiving the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner, how much more for those who impenitently sin against God. Repentance applies to all of God’s Law—The Second and First Table.
Think of a situation like the one I described before, but instead of a man lying about his neighbors, imagine him publicly and persistently lying about God. What if he said that God couldn’t do the things He clearly said He could do? What if he said things about God that God never said of Himself? What if he denied what God said and revealed of Himself? And what if that man had no remorse or sadness because of it, but stubbornly persisted in it and tried to get others to believe it? Would he receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner? Would someone who calls God a liar receive the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness or judgment? Is this a worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper? Of course not! For the man to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner again, he would have to repent and bear fruits of repentance which means to stop calling God a liar, stop saying things about God that God never said of Himself, stop denying what God actually said, and to finally believe and confess the truth of what God has said! If he does not repent, then he is guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of Christ (a sin like that of Judas, Pilate, and the Jews who murdered our Lord). The man is communed unto his own judgment.
This is exactly what churches do when they practice Open/Close Communion—They are communing with those who impenitently call God a liar and who add and subtract from God’s Word (Read Revelation 22:19). To teach false doctrine is a sin against the Second Commandment (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God); to believe false doctrine is a sin against the Third Commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy). Since false doctrine is a sin, and since repentance is necessary to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner, you must repent of believing or teaching your false doctrine in order to receive the Lord’s Supper for your forgiveness.
The common refrain is, “As long as we all believe in Jesus, we should commune together.” What they don’t realize is that they are seeking to commune with those who call Jesus a liar. When you commune with Baptists, you commune with those who say “Baptism doesn’t save you,” even though God clearly said, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). When you commune with Presbyterians, you commune with those who say “Christ is not bodily present in the Lord’s Supper,” even though Jesus clearly said, “Take, eat; this is my Body” (Matthew 26:26). When you commune with members of the ELCA, you commune with those who provide funds for their women to abort their children, even though God says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20). And when you commune with Roman Catholics, you commune with those who say “You are saved by faith and works,” even though the Holy Spirit said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The list goes on and on. (Sadly, some pastors think this is “close enough” for communion fellowship. How far do you take this? Who determines this? etc.)
Some might say, “The Bible doesn’t talk about denominations. So, we should all commune together.” It’s true that the Bible doesn’t talk about denominations, because what we call “denominations,” God calls divisions. And denominations exist because sin exists. Denominations aren’t formed because of disagreement with man, but because of disagreement with God. The Apostle Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Again, the Apostle Paul teaches us why divisions exist in the church: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Why do so many denominations/divisions exist? Because of the idolatrous sin of false doctrine (1 Corinthians 5:11). God tells us to repent of it ourselves, and to avoid those that don’t—This means don’t commune with them. He teaches us to avoid them because in fleeing false doctrine we are fleeing from the devil, since all false doctrine is demonic (John 8:44; 1 Timothy 4:1). Avoid those who disturb and splinter the unity of the Church (sadly, those who point out and avoid false teachers have been falsely accused of causing the division).
We avoid false doctrine in order to keep it from breaking apart the body of Christ and the unity that God alone gives through His Word. To commune with those who disagree with God is not true comm-union (literally, “with union”). Before we receive the Lord’s Supper together, we should eliminate, with the Word of God, divisions caused by false doctrine. We should have one mind and judgment, and let God’s Word judge. Reason and tradition don’t determine who preaches truth; God’s Word alone determines that. If we cannot be united in confession, we cannot be united in communion. If we cannot believe the same thing, we should not receive the same thing. How can we eat the indivisible body of Christ if we ourselves are divided? We cannot commune with the impenitent—One of us has to change: Either they abandon their false doctrine, or we abandon God’s Word; either they renounce their lies, or we renounce God. Until then, we are strangers.
Open Communion is False Communion (and, perhaps, it should be called that from now on). It pretends there is unity when there is no unity; it says there is peace when there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). What a strange concept! It’s a fake, false, flawed communion—not in the sense that Christ is not truly present, but in the sense that unity is not truly present. It’s a mockery of the True Unity and the True Communion that God gives us through the flesh and blood of Christ. False Communion is a work of the devil, but True Communion is a work of the Holy Spirit. Only He can give us faith to believe, teach, and confess the same Word to be true.