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August 20, 2007


I like being the first-- or only-- to comment on my own posts. :)

The framing of this has thus far been that Dever and Mohler would deny their friend, Ligon Duncan, access to the Lord's Table.

Let's imagine a second way to frame this. What if Dever, Mohler and Duncan were worshipping with a body of believers that would admit Duncan to the Table? Would Dever and Mohler refuse to participate in the Supper because Duncan's participation compromised the ordinance? To say it another way, in Frame #1 Mohler and Dever are speaking about what they would do at their own churches. But Frame #2 is about being at another church that doesn't share Dever's and Mohler's perspective. In Frame #2, would Dever and Mohler walk out on the ordinance because their friend Duncan were admitted to the Table?

Now hypothetical Frame #3. Assuming Duncan is not so chary with the means of grace given at the Lord's Table, would Dever and Mohler, if worshipping with Duncan's church, decline to participate in the Lord's Supper?

It's really quite astonishing, this charge that Duncan and other paedobaptists are persistently disobedient. It's remarkable that Dever and Mohler don't disfellowship Duncan. If Duncan were engaging in a different unrepentant sin, say lying or sexual immorality, would Dever and Mohler be as boisterous in their public camaraderie? If the sin of not getting baptized as an adult is so great as to warrant denial of the Lord's Supper, why the public ministry together, why the sharing of platforms and pulpits, and why the bonhomie?

I'm not sure other bloggers have mentioned this yet, but maybe they have: does this cause anyone to think again about the "Together for the Gospel" statement of faith? I remain unconvinced that that the statement was not 1) central Gospel elements PLUS 2) the kitchen sink of non-essential issues roiling the culture in our moment. For a statement about the Gospel, #1 should have been it. There is a place for statements about #2, but not under the rubric of the first-order essential of "the Gospel".

I always use the "prison test," for reasons I won't explain.

If you were all in prison for Christ, with whom would you NOT commune?

I tell ya, heaven is gonna be a hoot for reformed Baptists.

You know, I once experienced the opposite of this, but the principle is the same. A group of us went to Honduras in January. There were 3 or 4 denominations represented. For an entire week we ministered side by side, worshiped together each night in the village, ate together, slept on the ground together, laughed together, worked together, cried together. On the last night we all gathered to celebrate the Lord's Supper...only to have have one of the team doctors (LCMS I believe) excuse himself from the gathering because he could not take the Lord's Supper with us as a matter of principle.

I'm trying to figure out how that works in light of the common ministry we did together all week in the name of Jesus.

I think this is the question that naturally arises from the "Together for the Gospel" conference as well. We can preach Jesus together from the pulpit but we cannot worship Jesus together at the table?

This is odd to me. I am a Baptist but I have never practiced closed communion and I will not do so. The table is open to all who are in Christ.

You can also read the article at Sam Storms' personal website- www.enjoyinggodministries.com. No registration is required.

I am committed to the practice of open communion among all baptized orthodox Christians (though that raises the question of what counts as "baptized" and as "orthodox"). But I also understand and sympathize with other positions.

For one thing, those who would exclude others based upon doctrine or schism certainly have the force of church history on their side. Historically, broken communion does not necessarily require a judgment that another person maintains damnable heresies, but only that the person so excluded has put himself already outside of the catholic faith and order of the church.

In such a case, the practice of broken communion functions as a sacramental recognition of what is already held to be, in fact, the case.

Historically, the church in the early centuries excluded sects that, even if orthodox in terms of the creeds, had nonetheless broken with the church in terms of order and discipline, without thereby committing itself to the notion that such persons were necessarily hell-bound or beyond the possibility of salvation.

At the time of Reformation, such a break occurred between Protestants and Catholics and, among Protestants, between Lutherans and Reformed, though the Reformed were more willing to share communion with Lutherans than vice versa.

Nonetheless, even the Reformed ended up excluding Arminians and Baptists from communion in their churches. In the case of Arminians, communion was broken for reasons mostly of doctrine and the refusal of the Remonstrants to submit to Dort. In the case of Baptists, communion was broken for reasons mostly of schism in rejecting the validity of the church's sacraments and persistence in the sin of cutting off their children from baptism.

As I understand, it was really only in the 19th century, in the context of American denominationalism and interdenominational cooperation, that such broken communion began to fall by the wayside.

In light of those sorts of considerations, it would make sense to me that Reformed Baptists would exclude cradle Presbyterians from communion, thought not so much because of their doctrine (or, if they have children, their practice), as because, from the perspective of the Baptist, the Presbyterian is not validly baptized and thus not an official member of the church.

From the other direction, it would not surprise me that some Presbyterians might exclude Baptists from communion because, by rejecting infant baptism, Baptists have broken with the sacramental order of the church catholic and thus are schismatics and by failing to baptize their infants, Baptists are showing contempt for the sacrament, cutting themselves and their children off from God's covenant.

From the other direction - refusal to receive communion outside of one's own context - part of that has to do with the sorts of reasons outlined above. If one, for instance, sees a particular group as schismatic, then that would not incline one to commune with them.

But such a refusal to receive also may be for reasons of ecclesiology and order. Catholics and Orthodox, for instance, do not see Protestant ministers, for the most part, as validly ordained within a proper succession and thus do not see their celebration of the Lord's Supper as valid. Thus Catholics view Protestant eucharists in a different way from how they view Orthodox eucharists, which goes beyond the mere fact of schism.

While Protestants generally would not take quite such a position, analogous concerns can arise. Lutherans might well ask themselves whether God is truly present and blessing the sacrament of the altar in a context in which the real presence is not properly confessed and maintained. The failure to recognize and receive Christ in faith where he is present and offered is a misunderstanding of the gospel.

Along similar lines, the English Presbyterians at the time of the Westminster Assembly were very concerned about the growth of Independency since, as a matter of church order, they questioned the validity of any ordinations that stood outside of some kind of presbyteral succession and, in that context, the celebration of the Lord's Supper within congregationalist churches was regarded as suspect and a violation of proper, biblical order. So why would one even want to commune in such a context?

Almost all varieties of the Christian faith make some exceptions for in extremis cases. For instance, a Catholic priest can commune a non-Catholic in a case where the non-Catholic is near death, expresses a desire for communion, confesses the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, and no non-Catholic minister is available.

But hard cases make bad law. So I'm not sure how much traction the iMonk's prison example would have with those who have theological objections to the regular practice of intercommunion or open communion.

At any rate, none of that is meant as an apology for closed communion and the like, but I think it is helpful to try to think through the variety of perspectives on this.

I only write to point to an excellent article on the subject: "Baptism: Patristic Resources for Ecumenical Dialogue" in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology, by Stephen R. Holmes (Baker, 2003)(at: http://www.amazon.com/Listening-Past-Place-Tradition-Theology/dp/0801026423/ref=sr_1_4/103-3877323-2670245?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187721569&sr=1-4). The article, by a Baptist theologian, points out that for the first five centuries of the church, "varying baptismal practices, and indeed theologies, coexisted in an undivided church," that the caliber of theologians who failed to challenge it included Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine (not lightweights), and that how they dealt with the issue may give us insight for today. The article concludes with the point that our call to unity (and the unity of love in the church) must remain in the picture even as we are working through our theological understandings. I am not doing it justice here, but the chapter is very worthwhile reading.


Forgive my anecdotal response but this conversation evokes a memory which became for me a parable. In about 1996 I and others from New England attended a conference on Christian ecumenism at the World Council of Churches retreat center near Geneva. Painful as it was to be inside a building and only seeing through windows but not (yet) hiking the Alps, I listened to many hours and days of doctrinal discussions from Orthodox and Catholic and even a few Protestant believers regarding the unfortunate but somehow necessary exclusiveness regarding Communion and fellowship between believers. It seemed ironic to me to allow Jesus' body and blood as a point of division, given that he offered up his body and blood to "bring us near" the Father and one another, to "destroy dividing walls of hostility," to woo us into a life of intimacy and fellowship. But I'm no theologian. I just read the Book and it may be a simple reading out of context (Jew/Gentile) but here is what I was thinking about:

Ephesians 2:12-16 (NIV)
"remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility."

I think I shared these verses but others (genuinely kind and deeply thoughtful people) weren't convinced of any particular relevance to the question of believers sharing Communion. The conversation tended toward doctrinal tensions rather than future unity and partnership on behalf of a world needing Jesus.

Road trip: One weekend our group of 25 or so escaped the meeting room and headed for the mountains near L'abri. The next day we explored ecumenical monastic life in the French villages of Cluny and Taize, and managed to fit in a good hike in the hills leaving us wrung out, thirsty, and hungry.

By evening we'd found a two-century-old stone restaurant in the Burgundy vineyards. I was the self-appointed "excursion director" (a good spin on my Adult Alpine A.D.D.) and I was making arrangements that delayed my arrival at dinner. Finally there, I ducked through the stone archway, observed the candlelit dining room, and paused to behold the moment before me, for several minutes. French waiters routinely placed bread and red wine before 24 Christian believers who quite naturally and unreflectively took and ate. I overheard several still discussing the exclusiveness of fellowship and Communion as signs of a false or not-yet reality of unity and so on. Debating while eating and drinking, I should say. I'm not arguing that this bread and wine was trans- or consubstantiated, but I will say that as the evening went on I sensed the Holy Spirit with us. And our group of ministers and theologians began to smile at one another, and laugh out loud, and ask about one another's children and lives, and the conversation turned to future hope and getting on with the business of the Kingdom of God.

Although I do not know Mark Dever, I have met him and we do have one very good mutual friend. After hearing him give a series of sermons, I concluded that he was one of the most intelligent people I had ever heard. I only know Al Mohler by reputation, but have had a great respect for him, based on what I have heard.

In this case they are wrong - completely wrong. There is no justification whatsoever for their stance in this matter. Not only is one's baptismal stance not a proper criteria for exclusion from the Lord's table - it is not the Pastor's role to exclude someone from the table (except possibly for cases of church discipline) It is responsibility of the church to explain the table, its significance and meaning, and to warn people of coming to the table in an unworthy manner. It is the individual's responsibility to examine themselves. It is the Lord's table.

In appreciation of everything that's been said above, I want to press on this a little more because it still bothers me.

First, personal confession time. I know the feeling of being excluded from table fellowship, and it stinks. No matter how much I understand it -- maybe because I understand it -- it feels like rejection. As a Protestant growing up with Catholic extended family, I hated going to any Catholic mass/wedding/funeral --even though I loved the ceremony and the people -- because I was walking into my own (and my immediate family's) rejection. It's one thing to stomach my own rejection, but to watch my brothers, sister, and parents be rejected as well does not leave a good taste. Our aunts, uncles, cousins could take communion at our grandmother's funeral, our cousin's wedding, our grandfather's funeral, but we could not. It hurt deeply. This isn't an argument, but rather an observation that if you are going to take the "exclude other acknowledged believers from communion" path, you better understand the implications and recognize that some people will draw their own conclusions.

Second, I actually think closed communion here -- between acknowledged believers -- is an affront to the Gospel. I don't care who started it, I think in moments when reality breaks through we know it is silly (e.g., Kelly Monroe Kullberg's reflection above, deathbed situations, the current T4G tension). Others may have less strong views, but I'll stake this position (the Lord hates a coward). I don't have a well-developed theology here, but I think the following passages are important:

1. John 17:21 - Jesus prays for the unity of the church and notes his missional credibility depends on this (and so contrarily, a lack of unity is a missional hinderance).

2. Acts 10-11 - the Holy Spirit comes on Gentile believers, who are invited into sacramental unity (baptism) reflecting the already God-given spiritual unity.

3. Galatians 2 - denial of joint table fellowship among believers is hypocrisy and a denial of the Gospel in practice.

Thanks for letting me share. And yes, I say this with great affection for Drs. Dever and Mohler, who could run theological laps around me.

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