Closed communion is the practice of permitting only recognized church members the opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly. While there is no definitive evidence this was a first-century practice, by the second century and beyond it had become an issue (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 66).
In addition to the Lord’s Supper, our singing, praying, Bible study, and collection are also important aspects of our worship assemblies. The biblical concept of “fellowship” [koinōnia] is more than what we do. It is a spiritual relationship we either have or do not have with one another based on our relationship with God (see What Does 'Fellowship' Really Mean?).
Should we ban non-Christians from our worship assemblies? The first-century church apparently did not (1 Cor. 14:23-25). When we have non-Christian visitors, can/should we keep them from engaging in any aspect of worship? If a non-Christian participates in the singing, listens to the sermon and prayers, puts money in the collection basket, and eats unleavened bread and drinks grape juice, he is no more saved and no more lost than before engaging in these activities. There is still no koinōnia with God and God’s people.
Other than an erring member who has been disciplined by the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13), there is no hint in the NT of an alleged danger of allowing those who ought not participate in the Lord’s Supper to partake of it. However, the NT does specifically address the issue of excluding those who ought not be excluded (1 Cor. 11:17 ff.). In larger assemblies, I am unaware of any fool-proof or practical way to determine and monitor all who are and are not qualified to observe communion. This is not only a collective activity; it is also an individual responsibility (1 Cor. 11:28).
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Frequency of the Lord's Supper