Why Can’t I Take Communion at Another Church?

communion_meme

At some churches, non-members are not allowed to take communion and this can seem insulting or even sacrilegious. Why would any church not allow a believer to take communion? It depends on what that tradition thinks communion is all about.

The answer is easier to understand once one realizes the difference in significance that traditional churches place on communion vs. the Zwinglian/Baptistic memorial-only view. For most traditional churches, communion is not just a symbolic-memorial act shared by any given group of Christians. rather, it is equivalent (in a mysterious way) to the very Body of Christ. Thus, as church members (the Body of Christ) partake of communion (the Body of Christ) they become the Body of Christ!

This view of communion is that it is not only the “high point” of the traditional service, it is the point at which Christ truly becomes present, and John 6 (not just Matthew 26) is to be fulfilled and the Body of Christ made one. Because of this, it would be a serious offence to take communion in a church when one is not really part of the commun-ity (especially if one is under discipline of ex-commun-ication). It could be seen as lying to act as though one is a part of a church that they are not.

It could also be dangerous – Paul, for example, says they could die (1 Cor. 11:30). So for a church to let just anyone take communion is to put their lives at risk. (In fact there are times when even members are not to partake.)

Because the Bishop / Priest / Pastor is in charge of dispensing the Eucharist meal, it is his job to insure that communicants are legitimate. Non-members could not receive this oversight, because he would not know them. And, even though communication between churches is not always black and white (for example, there is some orthodox-catholic overlap sometimes), for a Christian  who rejects communion with a given body, it would be disingenuous at best to take part in the very act that unites them and communicates their unity.

Because this notion of communion is not prevalent among more modern baptistic churches, it can be hard to see – but the above ideas are part of the communion “package” for traditional churches. (Consider how a Baptist would feel if a non-believer got baptized just because that’s what people do in that church. The unbeliever may not mean anything bad by it, but it would not be appropriate.)

The safest bet is to just ask beforehand. And if one is not allowed to partake in communion, one should not be insulted – the church is just trying to protect people from danger and sin.

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5 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Take Communion at Another Church?

  1. So, recently someone pointed me onto your website and asked me to look at this article on the Lord’s Supper. I was not aware of all the topics that you addressed on this site. For whatever it is worth coming from a Baptist trained student, I thought I should at least try to best represent the Baptist position!

    I think this article, whild rightly representing the issue of open and closed communion, fails to represent to total and complete history of Baptists on the Lord’s Supper. Yes, it is true that many Baptsits have held to the symbolic view. But that does not represent the whole tradition of Baptsit theologians and congregations.

    Timothy Geroge, world class Baptist history scholar and Reformed theologian, addresses this in the cited article below. In fact, I know for sure that many contemporary Baptists’ in the Reformed tradition affirm Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. Myself being one of them!

    http://www.sbts.edu/resources/files/2010/02/sbjt_063_forum.pdf

    Timothy George: Have you ever heard
    someone describe the Lord’s Supper as
    “merely a symbol,” “a mere memorial,”
    or an ordinance at which we “merely
    remember” what Jesus did for us on the
    cross? I am against the theology of
    “merely.” Baptist Christians need to
    recover a robust doctrine of the real spiritual
    presence of Christ in the Lord’s
    Supper, a teaching that avoids both the
    crass literalism of sacramentalist views
    and the bare memorialism of left-wing
    reductionist views.

    At the time of the Reformation, the
    Lord’s Supper was a matter of great dispute
    and became an occasion of division
    among the Protestant reformers. Of course,
    none of the reformers accepted the Roman
    Catholic dogma of transubstantiation.
    Luther, however, appealed to what he took
    to be the clear literal meaning of the words
    of institution, “This is my body.” This led
    him to affirm the real bodily presence of
    Christ, “in, with, and under” the bread and
    wine of the Eucharist. At the Colloquy of
    Marburg in 1529, Luther and Zwingli
    parted company over this issue. Zwingli
    insisted (rightly) that the body of Christ
    was at the right hand of the Father in
    heaven. The Lord’s Supper was an occasion
    to remember the event of Calvary. The
    bread and wine were only signs of a reality
    far removed in time from the believers
    who gathered (once a year in Zurich) at the
    Lord’s Table.

    John Calvin forged a middle way
    between Zwingli’s minimalism and
    Luther’s literalism. He agreed with
    Zwingli that the literal body of Christ could
    not be present on the altars of Christendom
    for the ascended Christ was with the
    Father in heaven. But he agreed with
    Luther that the bread and cup were more
    than “naked signs.” They were symbols
    that conveyed through faith the reality of
    that which they signified, namely, the real
    spiritual presence of Christ with His
    church. How did this happen? Calvin was
    not big on metaphysics, but his answer was
    that the Holy Spirit so united the believers
    on earth with the risen Christ in heaven
    that “their souls are truly nourished from
    the flesh of Christ.” Moreover, this communion
    does not happen by bringing
    Christ down from heaven and locking him
    up in the elements of bread and wine, as
    the Lutheran teaching seemed to imply.
    No, in communion the Holy Spirit lifts our
    hearts up to the heavenly sanctuary where
    Christ is the Host at the banquet table of
    the redeemed. There is a strong eschatological
    dimension to this Eucharistic
    theology. Every celebration of the Lord’s
    Supper is a foretaste of the Marriage
    Supper of the Lamb.

    The fact that the Lord’s Supper is not
    absolutely necessary for salvation does not
    lessen its significance as an efficacious
    “means of grace.” It must be admitted that
    for much of our history, Baptists have been
    drawn toward the Zwinglian side of the
    Eucharistic debate. For good reason, we
    have wanted to avoid the sacramental
    imperialism so evident in Roman Catholic
    and some Anglican teachings about the
    Holy Meal Jesus gave to his disciples. But
    there is another stream of teaching about
    the Lord’s Supper in the Baptist heritage,
    and our worship would be much richer if
    it could once again become the mainstream.

    The Second London Confession
    (1677-1689) declares that in receiving the
    Eucharist, we “spiritually receive and feed
    upon Christ crucified and all the benefits
    of His death: the Body and Blood of Christ
    not being corporally or carnally but spiritually
    present to the faith of believers.” This
    is what Calvin meant by the real spiritual
    presence of Christ in the Supper.

    Charles H. Spurgeon also understood
    the Lord’s Supper to be one of the external
    means of grace through which believers are
    spiritually nourished in the Christian life.
    In the Lord’s Supper, he said, believers
    have the blessed privilege of going “right
    through the veil into Christ’s own arms.”
    Because the Lord’s Supper offers nothing
    less than an encounter with the living
    Christ himself, we must not let it degenerate
    into a drab, funeral-like “mere
    memorial.”

    Spurgeon criticized the “downgrading”
    of communion among Baptists in
    his day and his words still ring true in ours:

    Whenever we repair to the Lord’s
    Table, which represents to us the
    Passover, we ought not to come to it
    as a funeral. Let us select solemn
    hymns, but not dirges. Let us sing
    softly, but nonetheless joyously.
    These are no burial feasts; those are
    not funeral cakes which lie upon this
    table, and yonder fair white linen
    cloth is no winding-sheet. “This is
    my body,” said Jesus, but the body
    so represented was no corpse; we
    feed upon a living Christ. The blood
    set forth by yonder wine is the fresh
    life-blood of our immortal King. We
    view not our Lord’s body as claycold
    flesh, pierced with wounds, but
    as glorified at the right hand of the
    Father. We hold a happy festival
    when we break bread on the first day
    of the week.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out, Bill. Like trying to give an account of “Evangelicalism’s view” on any given doctrine, attributing much of anything to “Baptists” generally can be dangerous! I tried to simplify and use “baptistic” and “evangelical” as generic categories in case readers were unfamiliar with the “memorial” and “real presence” categories. As the above article states, “Baptists have been drawn toward the Zwinglian side of the Eucharistic debate.” Thanks for providing more to read on the topic!

  3. Seems, for having studied ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’, you’ve come away with the false idea that they do not believe in the ‘Immaculate Conception’. That is incorrect. In fact, I’m an Eastern Catholic (Byzantine Rite), and we are ‘very much’ like the Orthodox, in Liturgical and spiritual emphases (terminology, etc.) We believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, with different emphasis. There is no division of beliefs between East and West, in the Catholic Church. In fact, we are considered the ‘other lung’ of the Church. On December 9th, we celebrate the “Conception of the Theotokos, by Saint Anne”. http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0246.html. Also, the following:Concerning the Eastern Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception, I will offer a very brief summary of the issue. First, the theological seeds of the Immaculate Conception originated in the East, and were later spread to the West. Since the earliest centuries the Eastern Churches have celebrated “St. Anne’s Conception of the Theotokos,” on December 9. Only later was this feast transplanted to the West, where it is celebrated on December 8.

    In the Eastern Catholic Churches we have maintained much of the theological heritage of the Eastern Church Fathers. We try to be very Patristic in our theology, and generally model our theological approach after the great Eastern Fathers. In the West theology has developed somewhat differently. Beginning in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a whole new style of theology developed, known as Scholasticism. Scholasticism utilized a great deal of philosophical terminology from the writings of Aristotle. It essentially created a whole new way to approach theological questions, and answered them with very specific philosophical terminology. Scholasticism was the dominant theological system in the Western Church until the beginning of the 20th century.

    In 1854 Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Being a good Western theologian, he used a great deal of scholastic terminology in the definition. Here it is, with the specifically scholastic terms emphasized by me:

    “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the MERITS of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every STAIN of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”

    There are two terms used in the definition that are completely foreign to Eastern Christian theology: “merits” and “stain.” Both of these terms are of very late origin, and came to mean very specific things in the scholastic system. But to us Eastern Christians, who still use only the theological expressions of the Church Fathers, these terms are completely alien. So is this a problem, or isn’t it?

    I don’t believe that this a problem at all. If something is written in a language that you can’t understand, you simply TRANSLATE it! With some very basic knowledge of scholastic theological terminology, what Pope Pius IX is saying becomes very obvious: From the very first moment of her existence, Mary was miraculously preserved from all sin. We Easterns would go even a step further: she wasn’t just preserved from sin, but was graced with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    Also, the definition speaks of Mary being “free from every stain of original sin.” In the East we have always spoken of Mary’s perfect holiness. The language “free from every stain of original sin” is really a somewhat negative formulation in comparison. In fact, this definition speaks of Mary as being “absent of something (the stain of sin),” while we would prefer to speak of her as being “full of something (the Holy Spirit).” In this regard I think that the Eastern approach makes a marvelous contribution to the understanding of this dogma. So does Pope John Paul II:

    “In fact, the negative formulation of the Marian privilege, which resulted from the earlier controversies about original sin that arose in the West, must always be complemented by the positive expression of Mary’s holiness more explicitly stressed in the Eastern tradition.” (Pope John Paul II, General Audience June 12, 1996)

    So, the Holy Father agrees that the Eastern understanding of the Immaculate Conception actually helps to elucidate the meaning behind the definition”

  4. Rachel,

    Thanks for your comments, but I am not sure what connection they have to what I have written here. In any case, there is a confusion I would like to address in your response. You say, “Seems, for having studied ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’, you’ve come away with the false idea that they do not believe in the ‘Immaculate Conception’. That is incorrect. In fact, I’m an Eastern Catholic (Byzantine Rite), and we are ‘very much’ like the Orthodox.” This might be true, but there is still a distinction between “them” and “you” (as implied in your response). Being “very much like the Orthodox” is not the same as “being Orthodox.” What matters, then, is the difference – and that difference has not been shown to be incorrect, as your response implies it would.

    Dogmatic belief in the Immaculate Conception is a feature of Catholicism (whether eastern or western rite), but not Orthodoxy. As far as I know, the Orthodox Church has never made any definitive pronouncement on the matter, so I suppose there may be the odd orthodox believer who affirms the Immaculate Conception. But that it is not part of their dogma and is usually not held among them, still seems to be the case.

  5. Pingback: “Anathema” – You Keep Using That Word . . . | Soul Device

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