Closed communion

Closed communion
Part of the series on

also known as
"The Eucharist",
"The Lord's Supper"
"Divine Liturgy" or


Real Presence
Sacramental Union
Words of Institution

Theologies contrasted
Anglican Eucharistic theology
Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Eucharist (Lutheran Church)
Divine Liturgy (Orthodox Church)

Important theologians
Paul · Aquinas
Luther · Calvin
Chrysostom · Augustine
Zwingli · Basil of Caesarea

Related Articles
Sacramental bread
Christianity and alcohol
Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
Eucharistic discipline
First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament
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Closed communion is the practice of restricting the serving of the elements of Holy Communion (also called Eucharist, The Lord's Supper) to those who are members of a particular church, denomination, sect, or congregation. Though the meaning of the term varies slightly in different Christian theological traditions, it generally means that a church or denomination limits participation either to members of their own church, members of their own denomination, or members of some specific class (e.g., baptized members of evangelical churches). See also intercommunion.



A closed-communion Church is one that (perhaps with exceptions in unusual circumstances) excludes non-members from receiving communion.

The Roman Catholic Church (including all its component particular Churches, whether Latin or Eastern) practices closed communion. Christians that do not share its theology of the Eucharist (such as those who follow Reformed Protestant teaching on the matter) are absolutely excluded. Those who do personally share Catholic belief in the Eucharist are permitted to receive the sacrament in accordance with norms established by the episcopal conference and on condition that "the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament and be properly disposed" (Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 131). In the case of members of the Eastern Churches, which have the same belief in the Eucharist, the conditions are only that they "ask for the sacrament of their own free will and are properly disposed", but the Directory warns in the same context (125) that "due consideration should be given to the discipline of the Eastern Churches for their own faithful and any suggestion of proselytism should be avoided."

The Eastern Orthodox Church, comprising 14 or 15 autocephalous Orthodox hierarchical churches, is another closed-communion church. Thus, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church attending the Divine Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Church will be allowed to receive communion and vice versa, but a Protestant or a Roman Catholic attending a Greek Orthodox liturgy will be excluded from communion. In either case, non-Christians are also excluded.

Among some Baptist churches, closed communion is the practice of restricting communion (or The Lord's Supper) to only those who hold membership in the local church that is observing the ordinance. Thus, members from other churches, even other Baptist churches, will be excluded from participating in the communion service. This viewpoint is usually, though not exclusively, associated with Landmark ecclesiology.

Some Lutherans (such as LCMS, WELS, and ELS) practice closed communion and require catechetical instruction for all people before receiving the Eucharist.[1][2][3] Failing to do so is condemned by these Lutherans as the sin of unionism.[4] This teaching come from 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 which says, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf" and Paul's teaching of fellowship in 1 Corinthians 1:10, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought."

These Lutherans also take seriously God's threat in 1 Corinthians 11:27,29 that "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of hte Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of this cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." Therefore, the belief is that, inviting those forward who have not been first instructed would be unloving on the church's part, because they would inviting people forward to sin. [5] This is ascribed as akin to letting someone drink poison without stopping him [6]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran Church in America, however, practices open communion meaning the Eucharist is offered to adults without receiving the catechetical instruction, as long as they are a baptized believer in Christ's presence in the Eucharistic meal (cf. Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, ELCA, 1997).[7]

The Apostolic Christian Church, Church of God in Christ, Exclusive Brethren, some Mennonite, Amish, some churches in the Reformed tradition and Primitive Baptists also practice closed communion. Other groups that practice closed communion are Jehovah's Witnesses.

"Close Communion"

Franz Pieper, June 27, 1852 - June 3, 1931

The term close communion normally means the same thing as closed communion. However, some make a distinction, so the terms can be a source of confusion.

The most prominent distinction (which in some circles may be called "cracked communion") is one where a member of a congregation holding the "same faith and practice" as the hosting congregation (generally meaning being a member of a congregation in the same or a similar denomination) may participate in the service, but a member of another denomination may not.

For example, a Southern Baptist congregation practicing close communion might allow a member of another Southern Baptist congregation to participate, on the premise that both congregations are of the "same faith and practice" as they are both in the same denomination. Similarly, the Southern Baptist congregation might allow a member of an Independent Baptist congregation to participate; though the congregations are of different denominations the differences between them are mainly in the area of church organization and not in doctrinal issues, thus falling under the "same faith and practice" rule. However, the congregation would thus exclude a Catholic, on the basis that Baptists and Catholics are not of the "same faith and practice".

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Australia allows communion to those who can assent to the first three terms of its Covenant of Church Membership, and discuss this with the elders ahead of time. They don't appear to distinguish the term "close communion" from "closed communion", though.

The earliest use of close communion comes from a mistranslation of the Lutheran theologian Franz August Otto Pieper's Christian Dogmatics. The term has since spread, although both the first edition and later translations corrected the error to "closed communion." [8]

Supporting belief

Complex reasons underlie the belief. In 1 Corinthians 10, it is written: "The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread." Since all Christians are now no longer of a unity that would allow common celebration of the Eucharist between them all, the bread being a visible sign of union, communion is not taken together between separated Churches and communities. Additionally as described in 1Co 11:29: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." It is deemed better to prevent outsiders from taking communion than to risk them taking communion "unworthily". Catholics thus see the communion as invalid and sinful for those who do not recognise the Real Presence or who are otherwise 'unworthy', i.e. who are not in the 'right place' to accept the Eucharist (free of mortal sin). Christian communities that keep close communion often also have accountability within those members that partake of the communion, so that they do not run afoul of this problem. Such communities will also delay taking communion until the members (the church body) can take communion in Christian unity, as required by 1Co 11:33 "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another."

Justin Martyr indicated that the second-century Christian Church had three requirements for sharing in the Eucharist: identity of belief, Christian baptism, and moral life. "No one may share in the eucharist except those who believe in the truth of our teachings and have been washed in the bath which confers forgiveness of sins and rebirth, and who live according to Christ's commands" (First Apology, 66).

Corporate responsibility is another argument often used in favour of closed communion. The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, says that those who "by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly" are not to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, for then "the covenant of God would be profaned, and his wrath kindled against the whole congregation." Church leaders are obliged to do all they can to ensure that this does not happen, and hence "exclude such persons... till they show amendment of life," (Q & A 82).

Position of the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church does not practise open communion, holding that reception of Holy Communion is reserved for those who are baptized.[9] In general it permits access to its Eucharistic communion only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life.[10] For the same reasons, it also recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities. Thus it permits Eastern Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and Assyrian Church of the East) to receive Communion from Catholic ministers, if they request it of their own accord and are properly disposed, and it applies the same rule also to some Western Churches that the Holy See judges to be in a situation similar to that of Eastern Christians with regard to the sacraments.[11] For other baptized Christians (Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Protestants) the conditions are more severe. Only in danger of death or if, in the judgement of the local bishop, there is a grave and pressing need, may members of these Churches who cannot approach a minister of their own Church be admitted to receive the Eucharist, if they spontaneously ask for it, demonstrate that they have the catholic faith in the Eucharist, and are properly disposed.[12]

The Catholic Church allows its own faithful to receive Communion from ministers of another Church, only if it recognizes the validity of the sacraments of that Church, and so it never allows reception of Communion as administered in Protestant churches, the validity of whose orders it denies. Other conditions are that it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, that it is a case of real need or spiritual benefit, and that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.[13]

Spiritual benefit is considered to accrue, for instance, when a couple receive communion together at their wedding. Some hold that a Catholic priest could give communion to a Protestant marrying a Catholic, even outside the conditions mentioned above, provided the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is not in any way contradicted.

The Roman Catholic Church thus makes a clear distinction between Churches according as it recognizes or denies the validity of their celebration of the Eucharist.[14] It does not allow a Catholic to receive communion in a Protestant church, since it considers that Protestant ministers are not ordained as priests by a bishop in a line of valid succession from the apostles. It applies this rule also to the Anglican Communion, a position that the Church of England disputed in Saepius Officio.

Fenced Table

In Protestant Theology, a fenced table is a communion table which is open only to accredited members of the Christian community. Fencing the table is thus the opposite of open communion, where the invitation to the sacrament is extended to "all who love the Lord" and members of any denomination are welcome at their own discretion.

The phrase goes back to early Scottish Calvinism, where the communion table literally had a fence around it, with a gate at each end. The members of the congregation were allowed to pass the gate on showing their communion token, a specially minted coin which served as an admission ticket and was given only to those who were in good standing with the local congregation and could pass a test of the catechism. Examples of this kind of church furnishing are still to be seen in a very few highland churches.

The phrase "fencing the table" is also used metaphorically for other kinds of group demarcation and restrictive practices.

Communion tokens

Many Scottish Protestant churches used to give tokens to members passing a religious test prior to the day of communion, then required the token for entry. Some US and other churches also used communion tokens.

See also


External links

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