This morning, while waiting for my compute to install some updates, I picked up a biography of William Kelly, noted early leader of the Brethren movement in the last half of the 19th century. Although Mr. Kelly belonged to the "exclusive" branch of the Brethren movement, his biographer notes that he had friends and acquaintances across a broad spectrum of British church life. He wrote that he gladly would extend fellowship to all genuine Christians regardless of their denominational background. The book then quotes C H. Mackintosh (another early Brethren leader) who says the following:
There is a place at the Lord's table for every member of the body of Christ, provided always that the proper discipline of the assembly does not call for exclusion. (p. 86)
Mackintosh goes on to explain both sides of that statement:
That there are two things which must never be lost sight of, in connection with the question of reception at the Lord's table, and these are, first the grace which will not allow of the exclusion of any who ought to be admitted; secondly the holiness which cannot allow the admission of any who ought to be excluded. If these things were allowed to act in the assembly, we should not have so much discussion and practical difficulty in the matter of reception. (p. 86)
That seems to me to be a remarkably well-balanced statement. Generally speaking, we welcome all true believers to the Lord's table. This is the call of God's grace. But this necessarily excludes non-Christians, and all false prophets, false teachers, and those professing Christians who claim the name of Christ but persist in a disobedient lifestyle. Not everyone who wants to come to the Lord's table should be admitted. Some come for the wrong reason; others use the Lord's table to justify their own sin, i.e., "I took the Lord's Supper today, therefore I must be in good standing with the Lord."
I admit that it is easier to say this than to practice it. In today's transient society, with large congregations of people who come in and out quickly, we often do not know the spiritual condition of every person who partakes of the Lord's Supper. Some churches solve this by practicing "closed" communion, meaning they limit the Lord's Supper to the members of that particular congregation. Certainly Mackintosh's principle can only be upheld where there is clear teaching of the Word and some degree of spiritual oversight in the congregation. It's simpler to handle this when the church has 75 people than when it has 7500. This much seems clear to me. When church leaders know of a person in their midst who denies some fundamental teaching of the Christian faith or who persists in deliberate obedience and refuses all calls to repentance, they should refuse to serve communion to that person. Such "tough love" will rarely be appreciated either by the person or by his friends or others in the congregation. But true love doesn't always say yes. Sometimes for the good of the whole body of Christ, true love says no.
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