Closed communion

Closed communion

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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
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 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 Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...


The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 (including all its component particular Church
Particular Church
In Catholic canon law, a Particular Church is an ecclesial community headed by a bishop or someone recognised as the equivalent of a bishop.There are two kinds of particular Churches:# Local particular Churches ...

es, 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
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, comprising 14 or 15 autocephalous
Autocephaly , in hierarchical Christian churches and especially Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, is the status of a hierarchical church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop...

 Orthodox hierarchical churches, is another closed-communion church. Thus, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

 attending the Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy is the common term for the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine tradition of Christian liturgy. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, use the same term...

 in a Greek Orthodox Church
Church of Greece
The Church of Greece , part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church, is one of the autocephalous churches which make up the communion of Orthodox Christianity...

 will be allowed to receive communion and vice versa, but a Protestant
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 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
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 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
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a North American Confessional Lutheran denomination of Christianity. Characterized as theologically conservative, it was founded in 1850 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As of 2008, it had a baptized membership of over 389,364 in more than 1,290 congregations,...

, and ELS
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod or ELS is a US-based Protestant Christian denomination based in Mankato, Minnesota, USA. It describes itself as a conservative, Confessional Lutheran body.-Membership:...

) practice closed communion and require catechetical
Luther's Small Catechism
Luther's Small Catechism was written by Martin Luther and published in 1529 for the training of children. Luther's Small Catechism reviews The Ten Commandments, The Apostles' Creed, The Lord's Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, The Office of the Keys & Confession, and The Sacrament of the...

 instruction for all people before receiving the Eucharist. Failing to do so is condemned by these Lutherans as the sin of unionism. 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. This is ascribed as akin to letting someone drink poison without stopping him

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran Church in America, however, practices open communion
Open communion
Open communion is the practice of Christian churches that allow individuals other than members of that church to receive Holy 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).

The Apostolic Christian Church
Apostolic Christian Church
The Apostolic Christian Church is a religious body in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay, and Japan that originates from the Anabaptist movement....

, Church of God in Christ
Church of God in Christ
The Church of God in Christ is a Pentecostal Holiness Christian denomination with a predominantly African-American membership. With nearly five million members in the United States and 12,000 congregations, it is the largest Pentecostal church and the fifth largest Christian church in the U.S....

, Exclusive Brethren
Exclusive Brethren
The Exclusive Brethren are a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848....

, some Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

, Amish
The Amish , sometimes referred to as Amish Mennonites, are a group of Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches...

, some churches in the Reformed tradition and Primitive Baptist
Primitive Baptist
Primitive Baptists, also known as Hard Shell Baptists or Anti-Mission Baptists, are conservative, Calvinist Baptists adhering to beliefs that formed out of the controversy among Baptists in the early 1800’s over the appropriateness of mission boards, bible tract societies, and temperance...

s also practice closed communion. Other groups that practice closed communion are Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...


"Close Communion"

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
Reformed Presbyterian Church of Australia
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Australia is a Calvinist denomination in Australia. It is a small Australian Presbyterian denomination numbering less than 200 persons with its largest congregation in the area of Geelong, Victoria. The first church, in Geelong, was started in 1858...

 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."

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
Real Presence
Real Presence is a term used in various Christian traditions to express belief that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is really present in what was previously just bread and wine, and not merely present in symbol, a figure of speech , or by his power .Not all Christian traditions accept this dogma...

 or who are otherwise 'unworthy', i.e. who are not in the 'right place' to accept the Eucharist (free of mortal sin
Mortal sin
Mortal sins are in the theology of some, but not all Christian denominations wrongful acts that condemn a person to Hell after death. These sins are considered "mortal" because they constitute a rupture in a person's link to God's saving grace: the person's soul becomes "dead", not merely weakened...

). 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
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

 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
Heidelberg Catechism
The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confessional document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine...

, 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
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 does not practise open communion, holding that reception of Holy Communion is reserved for those who are baptized. In general it permits access to its Eucharistic communion only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. 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
Eastern Christianity
Eastern Christianity comprises the Christian traditions and churches that developed in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Northeastern Africa, India and parts of the Far East over several centuries of religious antiquity. The term is generally used in Western Christianity to...

 who are not in full communion
Full communion
In Christian ecclesiology, full communion is a relationship between church organizations or groups that mutually recognize their sharing the essential doctrines....

 with the Catholic Church (Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy is the faith of those Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon...

 and Assyrian Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
The Assyrian Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East ʻIttā Qaddishtā w-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Āturāyē), is a Syriac Church historically centered in Mesopotamia. It is one of the churches that claim continuity with the historical...

) 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
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

 judges to be in a situation similar to that of Eastern Christians with regard to the sacraments. For other baptized Christians (Anglicans
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

, Lutherans
Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation...

, and other Protestants
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

) 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.

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
Holy Orders
The term Holy Orders is used by many Christian churches to refer to ordination or to those individuals ordained for a special role or ministry....

 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.

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. 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
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

. It applies this rule also to the Anglican Communion, a position that the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 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
Communion token
A communion token is a metal token issued to members of Presbyterian churches in order to provide them entrance to the Lord's Supper. There were many types issued in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries, but they were largely superseded by communion cards....

, 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.

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