In First Corinthians 5 Paul makes clear the relationship that should exist between a sinning individual and the congregation of which he is a member. To tolerate such a one causes the church to run the risk of being further harmed by his evil influence. Hence, they are commanded to “purge out” the old leaven, and are reminded that a “little leaven, leaveneth the whole lump.” It seems that the church accepted the instruction of the Apostle and took disciplinary measures against the identified fornicator. Once that action was made known, everyone realized that the “sinning brother” was no longer accepted by the church, both he and his behavior were rejected.
They were not to company with him, not even eat with him. Should they see him or be with him they were to reprove and admonish him to repent. They were not to have any association with him that would in any way give anyone the idea that they condoned his lifestyle or ungodly behavior. When any brother or sister has committed sins that justify corrective measures by the church, and when such measures are scripturally carried out, every other congregation should honor and respect that action. Does this action include barring the man from assembly? I cannot say that it does, nor can I say that such a course of action is in the best interest of the church generally.
While one from whom fellowship has been scripturally withdrawn is not to be received back into fellowship until he repents, to physically refuse him admittance to the building is without scriptural precedent. He already knows how the church feels about him based on their previous actions. For the church to over react because he shows up at a service by causing a scene or by forcefully trying to remove him would only compound the problem rather than solve it. When a congregation starts screening those who will be allowed into the assembly, they begin a journey down a road fraught with all kinds of dangers.
Closed communion is especially popular among the Baptist denomination. It has been defined, by them, as the “restriction by a church of participation in the Lord’s Supper to its own members.” The Scriptures teach that the communion of the body and blood of the Lord is to be observed by congregations of the church on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Proper procedure is outlined in 1 Cor. 11:23-29. The communion is not for nonmembers. The person serving at the table should explain this so as not to encourage anyone and everyone regardless of their situation to partake. But, suppose a visitor partakes anyway? What should be done? Perhaps more pointedly what can be done?
Suppose some member partakes who has been on a drunk the night before that no one knows about? Or suppose that some individual from whom fellowship has been withdrawn comes into the assembly and when the emblems are passed he partakes? Does this affect my communion? Is everyone in the assembly now wrong because someone has communed that should not have? Are we to have someone interrogate everyone before they partake to make sure they are all right? Surely not. There is a vast difference in someone partaking of the Lord’s Supper with our sanction and fellowship, and someone doing so on his or her own. After all, brethren, we are not running a police force.
Published in the OPA January, 2002