Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Strict Communion Less Exclusive than Paedobaptists?" or "Should the Water Divide Us?"

The Open Communion VS. Strict Communion debate has once again enticed a generation of Baptists holding to competing views. The question is an old one, "should our churches invite all Christians to partake of the Lord's Supper or just those who have been baptized?"

The open communicant answers, "All Christians should be invited to partake of the Lord's Supper."

In contrast, the strict communicant (under which I include both "close" and "closed," though I disagree with the latter) answers, "Only those Christians who have obeyed Christ and have been properly baptized (baptism meaning "immersed as a believer upon profession of faith") may be invited to take the Lord's Supper." This sort of answer immediately brands persons of this persuasion as exclusive, divisive, and more committed to ecclesiasticism than Christian love.

For the sake of putting my cards on the table, I confess I lean closer to the strict communion tradition.

This nuanced debate is unique to Baptists, as far as I can tell. Baptists are concerned about how to treat a Christian of another denomination if he should attend a Baptist worship service in which the Lord's Supper is being served. Is excluding him from the Lord's Table equivalent to an insult against his godliness?

The best argument I have heard on the subject is quite simple. I encountered it in John Quincy Adams' (not the U.S. president of the same name) Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers (1876).

To paraphrase Adams' argument:
1. In the New Testament churches, all who were baptized and members of the church were admitted to the Lord's table.

2. One considered a proper subject of baptism would never be excluded from the communion.

3. Baptists receive all proper subjects of baptism (i.e. believers who have been immersed upon their profession of faith).

4. Paedobaptists consider infants who are sprinkled to be legitimately baptized and members of the visible church.

5. According to this logic (of #4), all baptized infants should be admitted to the Lord's Table.

6. Yet, these infants are excluded, and thus the "paedobaptists are most inveterate closed communionists."

7. Paedobaptists have no argument against strict communion Baptists, who "refuse to receive persons whom we consider unbaptized, when they will not receive their own baptized members."

John Quincy Adams, Baptist thorough Reformers (1876), Reprinted: Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, 1982, 160-161.

Solid paedobaptists and the like all believe that no one should be admitted to the Lord's table without being properly baptized. I find it ironic that on this particular point, strict communion Baptists agree with them 100%. The disagreement is on what constitutes a proper baptism. At the risk of sounding cliche, I suppose it all depends on what your definition of "is" means.


  1. Adam,
    I think you (or perhaps I should say our former President John Adams) makes very good points.

    However, I still like spelling of "paedo" over "pedo".

  2. Anonymous1:32 AM

    We, the Orthodox are paedobaptists and yet, we do not exclude our kids-even infants- from Communion. We also practice closed Communion.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. I think infant communion is a misunderstanding of the Lord's Supper, yet it is consistent within the paradigm of paedobaptism.

  4. Anonymous3:39 AM

    Misunderstanding or not,infant communion was the universal practice of the ancient Church, all other practices, whether Roman or Baptist being deviations from it.

  5. I hope your working on your monthly update; only 8 days left . . .

  6. It's been over a month!!!!