Communion: Who Has Better Table Manners?

In a provocative post, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argues that Baptist churches who practice what is known as “closed communion” actually win the prize for best table manners.  From what I gathered from his article, if you practice communion any other way but closed, you are doctrinally sloppy.

While I disagree with Dr. Moore’s argument, I certainly can appreciate his clarity in presenting it.  There is no question as to where Dr. Moore stands on this issue.  He is free, as the Teaching Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, to “fence the table” according to how he interprets Scripture in regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  However, his interpretation is not binding on any other church apart from his own.  One of the wonderful principles which make Southern Baptists who we are as a Convention (not denomination) of churches is that no person — no matter the position he or she holds —  nor any entity — whether the SBC, State Convention, or local Association —  can exercise any ecclesiastical authority over the local church.

While belief in the autonomy of the local church remains strong (as of now), there are always going to be assaults on this cherished principle.  Some of those will be direct, but more often than not, most of the assaults will be indirect.  While I do not believe that Dr. Moore is seeking to violate the principle of autonomy that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists hold dear, I do believe there is always the danger of either trying to weaken autonomy or, in the case of Dr. Nathan Finn of Southeastern Seminary, to so redefine autonomy that it loses its plain and generally accepted meaning (at least as far as many Southern Baptists see it).

In his argument for closed communion, Dr. Moore relies more upon Baptist history than Scripture.  I can understand why that is the case.  It would be much harder to bolster an argument from Scripture which supports closed communion as the ONLY way to practice this ordinance.  Of course, one could make a compelling case that closed communion — which requires a person be baptized by immersion following their confession of faith (i.e., “believers baptism by immersion”) — is one of SEVERAL acceptable models for observing the Lord’s Supper.

But, that is not the case that Dr. Moore is attempting to make.  Rather, through the language he uses in his article, Dr. Moore attempts to convince all Southern Baptists that the only healthy, doctrinally sound way of taking communion is the way that he has proscribed at Highview — closed communion.  However, Dr. Moore defines “open communion” in such a way that unless one has undergone believer’s baptism by immersion — regardless of whether or not the person has been “born again” — that there has been no valid baptism and therefore no opportunity to participate in the Lord’s Supper, at least in a Southern Baptist church.

I believe that Dr. Moore’s definition of “open communion” (which he views as “just too narrow and sectarian” for him), distorts how many (most?) Southern Baptists — especially outside the deep south —  practice the Lord’s Supper observance.  For the church where I serve as Senior Pastor, I likewise “fence the table.”  Those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — who have trusted Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord because of what He did on the Cross of Calvary for their sins — and have been born-again are welcome to participate.  However, those who have never received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and who have never placed their faith and trust in Him should refrain from taking the elements as they pass by.  I will typically repeat those words verbatim prior to each quarterly observance of the Lord’s Supper.

I understand that Dr. Moore and others would erect a higher fence around the table.  How our church practices communion is not “open communion” in the sense that anyone and everyone — regardless of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ — is welcome to partake.  For Dr. Moore, there seems to be no middle ground.  It’s either closed or open.  And, for churches who practice open communion, Dr. Moore apparently thinks that these churches do not hold the Lord’s Supper in as high a regard as those churches which practice closed communion:

First of all, open communion usually rests on the all-too-typical Evangelical
presumption that the Lord’s Supper really isn’t that important. Communion is, as Flannery O’Connor’s infamous socialite conversation-partner once put it, “a wonderful symbol” but that’s about it. (full article here)
I can’t speak for any other Southern Baptist church which practices a “modified open communion,” but I would venture to guess that very few, if any, of these churches view the Lord’s Supper in the dismissive way that Dr. Moore seems to imply.  And, just because a church does not hold to closed communion does not mean that the church somehow views the ordinance with anything other than the “profound gravity” which the Lord’s Table commands.
In the end, Dr. Moore seems to acknowledge that his authority on the matter of communion is somewhat limited in scope:

If I attend the church of my Eastern Orthodox colleague Father Pat Reardon, I have the right to disagree (and I do) about what happens in Holy Communion. I don’t have the right to set the terms for his congregation as to whether they should receive me at the table. The same would be true in the parishes of my Anglican and Catholic friends. And the reverse would be the case should a respected—but infant-sprinkled—Christian hero be seated in the pews of my church.

Dr. Moore’s leadership of Highview and his position on the Lord’s Supper as it is practiced in his church should be respected.  But, Dr. Moore, as he has well stated, does not have the right to set the terms for any other congregation as to who they receive at the Lord’s Table.  And, that’s true, not just for Eastern Orthodox or Anglican or Catholic parishes, but for Southern Baptist congregations as well.  Autonomy of the local church — ya gotta love it!

37 comments for “Communion: Who Has Better Table Manners?

  1. August 26, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Howell,

    You note that Russell Moore, in his argument for closed communions, relies more upon Baptist history than Scripture. Since I haven’t read Moore’s article yet (I hope to soon), I’ll have to take your word on that for now.

    On the question of the Lord’s Supper, I have argued for a “modified open communion” stance, using what I believe to be a sound Scriptural defense (here, in case you’re interested in checking it out: http://sbcimpact.org/2010/04/19/discerning-the-body-a-biblical-defense-of-modified-open-communion/).

    My question to you, however, has to do with local church autonomy. I am in favor of local church autonomy, inasmuch as I don’t believe in an episcopal system of hierarchy, but I wonder, when you question Nathan Finn’s expressed view, what specifically is the Scriptural foundation for the view of church autonomy you are advocating here? Is it possible you yourself (just as you said Moore is doing on closed communion) are relying more upon Baptist history than Scripture?

    • August 26, 2011 at 1:11 PM

      David,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment today. While Dr. Moore does quote Scipture in support of his argument, my take on it was that he based his argument more on how Baptists have viewed the Lord’s Supper over the course of history. Thanks for linking to your article on “modified open communion.” Even though my post was talking about the Lord’s Supper, I was trying to engage the principle of autonomy within the framework of discussing Dr. Moore’s practice of observing the Lord’s Supper at his church. Although I mentioned and linked ot Dr. Finn’s article on “cooperative autonomy,” I did not engage his arguments directly (because that was not the main thrust of my post). If I had addressed Dr. Finn’s article itself and failed to use Scripture to bolster my argument, then you would be correct that I was relying on tradition more than Scripture. What I perceive happening within the Convention — and my perceptions may not be reality — is that there is a suble shift away from autonomy and toward a more interconnectedness. There maybe some merit to that and, there is much to commend in Dr. Finn’s article, but, as he readily admits, most Southern Baptists would not view his arguments favorably? Why? Maybe because of tradition and maybe because of reasonable differences of opinion when it comes to interpreting Scripture with regard to local church polity. What I see in the blogs and articles — both from well-known and not-as-well-known leaders, including the Dean of the Theology School at Southern — is a continuing narrowing of the acceptable doctrinal parameters that Southern Baptists must adhere to. Some will be more direct and clear than others, but whether it’s the issue of communion practices or single pastor/elders, more and more folks, including leaders within our entities, are advocating for positions that are not just the “best” one to take on an issue, but really the ONLY acceptable one to take. However subtle, that’s what I took away from both Dr. Moore’s and Dr. Finn’s articles. Thanks again for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Bennett Willis
    August 26, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    “He is free, as the Teaching Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, to “fence the table” according to how he interprets Scripture in regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. However, his interpretation is not binding on any other church apart from his own.”

    While he is the teaching pastor, he does not necessarily have the authority to fence the table to suit himself. If he is relying on Baptist History for much of the basis of his practice, he certainly should recognize that fact. As you point out, there are several relatively sound positions on this practice–and you have the church’s tradition added to these.

    • August 26, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      Bennett,

      I suppose that Dr. Moore, to some extent, does have the “authority” to fence the table at his own church. However, in any other capacity, particularly as Dean of the Theology School at Southern, Dr. Moore has no authority over the churches of the SBC. As I mentioned to David, however, I see a subtle (and sometimes not too subtle) movement toward more and more doctrinal conformity and less room for interpretive differences on some issues. The language that some use, including Dr. Moore, can certainly be interpreted to mean that only churches who understand the “profound gravity” of the Lord’s Supper will necessarily be implementing closed communion. I simply disagree with reasoning because, as you state, “there are several relatively sound positions on this practice.” But, when one starts to make arguments as if there is only ONE sound position, then I think we have a problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. God bless,

      Howell

  3. Lydia
    August 26, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    “He is free, as the Teaching Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, to “fence the table” according to how he interprets Scripture in regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. However, his interpretation is not binding on any other church apart from his own.”

    But he is also a Dean at one of our seminary’s. Is this what he is teaching/modeling for future SBC pastors as the correct view? We must take that into consideration.

    But let’s get real about what is tradition.

    Our potlucks in the fellowship hall probably resemble more of what actually took place in the NT church when they gathered for their love feasts than the tiny cracker and bit of grape juice in a formal setting….if we take time to remember His broken Body and Blood…..and how often are we to do it? How about every time we gather to eat together?

    • August 26, 2011 at 1:21 PM

      Lydia,

      You make a wonderful point about Dr. Moore’s position as Dean. I can’t help but think that he is “teaching/modeling” to future SBC pastors, particularly those who are members or attend his church, about what is acceptable and unacceptable practice relating to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Is Dr. Moore’s personal practice also being taught in class as the only acceptable practice? As far as I remember, Dr. David Dockery (my theology professor at Southern) did not teach that “closed communion” was the only acceptable (read “Biblical”) way of practicing communion. I like your last point about remembering as we are breaking bread together in a time of fellowship. I highly doubt the early church passed around a (sometimes) stale cracker and grape juice. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this. God bless,

      Howell

  4. Mike Bergman
    August 26, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    I had Dr. Moore for 2 of my 3 systematic theology classes at SBTS, and he taught the same thing there. While I don’t agree with his view and likewise my church practices “modified open communion” as you put it, we shouldn’t be concerned w/ what he teaches at Southern.

    After all he is in line with the BF&M whereas we are not. It reads: “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. … It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

    While the BF&M is not point-by-point binding on our churches it does serve as a document of generally held beliefs and guidelines for those who work at our various entities. In adopting the statement the SBC has posited communion only after proper baptism as our standard doctrine on the issue. Dr. Moore’s practice and teachings are word-for-word in line with it.

    • August 26, 2011 at 4:51 PM

      Mike,

      Thanks for sharing about your experiences with Dr Moore’s theology classes at Southern. I had Dr. Dockery for theology before he left for Union. You are right about the wording of the BF&M2000. I would say that the BF&M2000 (or any version for that matter) is not binding on any SB church, whether point-by-point or in toto. While I don’t have definitive knowledge and am not sure of any surveys (although that would be a good one for Lifeway to do some time), if I had to guess, I would say that the majority of Southern Baptist churches practice some form of “modified open communion” and would be at variance with the BF&M. As to being concerned about what Dr. Moore teaches, I would be curious to know whether his teaching would even “allow” for churches to have practices other than “closed communion?” In the end, how he chooses to “fence the table” at Higview really has no bearing on what my church or your church does. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. God bless,

      Howell

      • Tom Parker
        August 29, 2011 at 6:44 AM

        Howell:

        You point out that the 2000 BF&M is not binding on any SB church.

        The major problem I see is that some want to use this man made document to make churches follow it to the letter.

        I have a major problem with that.

        I think someone at the top of the SBC needs to make it very clear what the true purpose of the 2000 BF&M (my belief–creed) is for the churches in the SBC.

  5. Tom Parker
    August 26, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Many would argue with me but this drive to have doctrinal uniformity or doctrinal purity all points back to the CR gone too far.

    The “liberals” were all removed but the folks leading the charge couldn’t or would not stop there.

    Now these conservatives try to out conservative each other.

    With all the divisiveness that currently exists in the SBC I do not see a positive outcome for the denomination.

    • August 26, 2011 at 4:58 PM

      Tom,

      Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Seminary wrote a few months back about a “Middle Way” forward in the Convention. I am usually a positive, “glass is half-full” kind of person, I’m not sure there will be a middle way forward. The middle way presupposes that local churches will have autonomy within fairly wide boundaries. When those boundaries are continually narrowed, then something will have to give. Perhaps I read too much into Dr. Moore’s or Dr. Finn’s articles, but the language they used seems to belie a subtle shift in thinking about autonomy, even when talking about doctrinal issues which are not salvific (i.e., “open” vs. “closed” communion). The continuing debates over “elders,” autonomy, CP, church planting, and other issues will, I agree, probably not end in a positive result. Hope all is well with you in NC. Stay safe as the hurricane approaches. God bless,

      Howell

  6. Lydia
    August 26, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. … It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

    Does this mean I have to have been baptized in the SBC? Or could I have been baptized in a Christian church and to joined an SBC later? Would I have to be an “ana baptist” for some SBC churches? :o) See, some SB’s would accept my baptist and some would not. So, depending on the church, it would affect Communion, too. Not so sure the BFM is as helpful as everyone thinks it is. Lots of hair splitting. Get’s our focus off Christ. And Him alone and onto man made rules. Unless of course, we want to say we are the only true church. But we cannot do that because we do not always agree :o)

    • August 26, 2011 at 8:08 PM

      Lydia,

      I think that most Southern Baptist churches, especially those outside the deep south, not only practice some form of modified open communion, but also accept “alien” immersions as valid baptisms (in NM, that has more than one meaning 😉 ) In the church I pastor, we accept as “valid” and Scriptural those baptisms where the person was baptized by immersion following their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I still remember as boy in a FBC in Florida the pastor presenting new members as having come from another church “of like faith and order.” I didn’t know it at the time, but he meant Southern Baptist churches only. Personally, I believe that if you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit (which happens only once at the time of the new birth), then you have been baptized into the body of Christ. Water baptism is supposed to be an outward sign and symbol of an inward transformation. I’m not sure how a person’s having been baptized in a non-denom. church or an Assemblies church makes that person’s baptism any less valid than if it was performed in a Southern Baptist church. But, that’s another discussion for another day. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  7. Christiane
    August 26, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Actually the ‘orthodox’ way was to have two parts to the service: the first part was called the ‘Service of the Word’ and the second part of the service was called the ‘Thanksgiving’ (Eucharist).

    Early Christians allowed the catechumens (people seeking to join the Church) to attend the Service of the Word. But after it was concluded, the catechumens had to leave and were not permitted to participate in the Eucharist.

    After a time of study, the catechumens were baptised at Easter and were then given Communion. From that time on, they participated in both parts of the Service.

  8. August 26, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Bro. Scott,

    You wrote: In his argument for closed communion, Dr. Moore relies more upon Baptist history than Scripture.”

    Those who believe in open communion constantly attack closed communionists for using history more than Scripture. While I am a strong believer in closed communion, who contends my belief is based on scripture, I also believe the reason open communionists say this is because they have virtually no Baptist history on their side.

    Someone will quickly say: What about John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon.

    Yes, Bunyan believed in open communion, but he also allowed his children to be baptized as infants. The church he pastored called a pedobaptist as pastor after he died. He is not a good Baptist to call to the witness stand.

    As to Spurgeon, he admitted at the end of his life that he wished he could change the policy of his church from open communion to closed communion. He also said he were starting over, he would pastor strict communion churches. So he is not a good witness.

    As to Baptist history, R.B.C. Howell (2nd president of the SBC) said he knew of NO Baptist churches in the south who practiced open communion. I think Boyce, Broadus, Mell, Fuller, Carroll, Pendleton, Graves, etc. understood the Bible pretty clear on this point.

    As to the Scripture, in both Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 2:40-42, baptism comes before the Lord’s Supper. The order of the ordinances is clear. Salvation first, Baptism, second, the Lord’s Supper, third. Use all the logic you can, you cannot get around this simple order of events in scripture.

    • August 26, 2011 at 8:02 PM

      Bro. Ben,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment tonight. I would say at the outset that I do not believe in nor practice “open communion.” I do practice what I (and others) would term “modified open communion.” As a Baptist by birth and by conviction, I believe that Scripture teaches only believers — those who have repented and believed the Gospel and are born-again — are proper candidates for baptism. Further, that this baptism should be by immersion under/in water. I will not argue that salvation comes first and then baptism. Unless one believes in a complete “open communion,” then there will always be some type of fence around the Lord’s Supper table. I would highly encourage you to read David Rogers’ article, “Discerning the Body: A Defense of Modified Open Communion.” Whether you ultimately agree or disagree, he makes a compelling case for churches who choose to practice modified open communion.

      As a Southern Baptist, I would defend any church’s right to practice closed, close, or modified open communion. This is an issue where I would not attack someone else’s right to practice closed communion, but rather an issue where I would defend the practice of modified open communion against those who would attack my position. And, while I think that true open communion is beyond the bounds of Scripture, I’m not sure that it would be a reason — or at least the sole reason — to break fellowship with a church who chose to so practice open communion. Even though I believe that believer’s baptism by immersion is baptism, I am simply not prepared to deny the elements of the Lord’s Supper to an otherwise born-again believer who has been baptized in a way that differs from my own doctrinal interpretation. Ultimately, if a person takes the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner,” — particularly after having been warned by the one leading in the observance (typically the pastor) — then that person will have to answer to God. As I shared with someone else, I would say that the majority of Southern Baptist churches today practice some type of modified open communion. I daresay there are few churches which practice either a true “open” communion or a completely “closed” communion. Hope that helps you to more clearly see where I am coming from. Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

      • August 27, 2011 at 7:29 AM

        Brother Howell,

        Any argument concerning the Lord’s Table is an argument concerning baptism. I have taken this position since beginning my seminary education in 1989. I only give you the time frame, not to reveal my age, but to reveal the influences that helped me shape this position. I was taught by a more moderate-to-liberal group of professors at SEBTS then as I worked on my Associate of Divinity. I transferred that work to a NC Baptist school and the Profs there we not much difference in their views. In both places I had to hammer out the position I now hold on communion and baptism. While there are some moderate to liberal Baptists that adhere to a modified open view there are not many. Those that do, do so, as a position to remove themselves from any association with Landmarkism.

        Thus, those who hold to a “close” view (only baptized by immersion believers are welcome to the table regardless of church membership) of communion do so based on obedience. Is one that partakes of communion without baptism by immersion following obediently our Lord’s command? That is the question that has to be answered. Even those who practice “open modified” communion advocate and encourage those partaking of the elements that they do so only if they are living and walking obediently to our Lord’s commands. Well, when we say that and, as a Baptist, do not “fence the table” from those who have not experienced believers baptism by immersion, then we are presenting a dichotomy of beliefs.

        I do not expect to change your view, and I know I am not going to change Brother David Rogers view, but I just wanted you to see and understand, for me, it close communion is a Biblical position. It is such a Biblical view for me that I was asked to leave a Baptist church for advocating Baptism by immersion.

        Blessings,
        Tim

        • August 27, 2011 at 9:16 AM

          Bro. Tim,

          Thanks for the comments. I fully understand and appreciate your position as well as Dr. Moore’s. I do not have a problem with advocating for a certain position, in this case closed communion. What I do have a problem with, partcularly as it relates to local church autonomy, is when someone advocates in Dr. Moore’s position advocates for closed communion at the ONLY acceptable (read “Biblical”) way of practicing the Lord’s Supper. I think that one could make, as has David Rogers, a fairly compelling case in support of those churches who choose to practice a “modified open communion.” I don’t think that David — and I certainly don’t – takes the position that closed or close communion is wrong.

          As to the BF&M2000, a literal reading of such would lead one to conclude that water baptism (as opposed to baptism of the Holy Spirit which happens at the moment of the new birth and happens only once) is prerequisite to observing the Lord’s Supper. Thank you for pointing out that Dr. Moore is “teaching in accordance with, and not contrary to, the BF&M2000” (as well as the Abstract of Principles). While Dr. Moore is obviously bound to adhere to the BF&M2000, I am not similarly constrained. Our church affirms the BF&M2000 as a confessional statement which sets forth doctrine with which most Southern Baptists are in agreement. On the issue of the Lord’s Supper, our church would be at variance with a literal interpretation of the BF&M2k. I would be curious to know how many SB churches also practice the Lord’s Supper at variance with the “close” or “closed” communion called for in our confession. If I had to guess, a majority of churches, particularly those outside the south, practice modified open communion. In the end, this is not one of those issues which upsets me greatly, unless a seminary dean starts to advocate for one position as the only Biblical one. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this. Hope you have a great weekend. God bless,

          Howell

          • August 27, 2011 at 11:44 AM

            Brother Howell,

            WOW!! Help me make certain I understand what you are saying. There is a non-literal interpretation of the BF&M2k? Please, help me understand other areas where we impose a non-literal interpretation of the BF&M2k. Would it be in Article I–“all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.”? Could it be Article VII–Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water…”? I am not trying to be sarcastic just trying to point out the inconsistency of reading the BF&M if you are going to read it now as non-literal.

            Also, this is just a nuanced thing for me and nothing for us to really debate. I understand your use of “closed” to mean “fencing” the table with the prerequisite of Baptism by immersion regardless of church membership. I would classify that as “close” communion. The reason for that is Landmarkism defines the doctrine of the Lords Supper as follows:

            But the members of on one church have a right to come to the table spread in another church, though ‘of the same faith and order’; for each church is independent.”

            Great discussion.

            Blessings,
            Tim

  9. August 27, 2011 at 7:10 AM

    Brother Howell,

    Great comments, though I do disagree with your assessment. After Reading Dr. Moore’s article, I do not understand you take that he is advocating all SBC churches take that position, but the majority of SBC hold that position. While you are certainly free to express your position that the bible expresses a “modified open” view of communion, your position as a Southern Baptist who affirms the BF&M2k is overlooked. Now, I am not going to argue between holding to scripture versus holding to a man-made document. However, one cannot view the BF&M2k without coming away saying that SBC churches believe in, at the very least, what I term “close” communion. Dr. Finn had a position paper where he changed his view, somewhat, and expressed the various differences within the SBC.

    Your point that Dr. Moore has the right to express his position within his church, but somehow doesn’t have the right to express that as a view to students is not well taken. The reason? Dr. Moore signed a document when he was hired at SBTS that he would teach, “in accord with and not contrary to” the BF&M2k. Thus, if he is teaching that open, modified open,communion is acceptable within the SBC he would be teaching “contrary” to the BF&M.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  10. August 27, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    Brother Howell,

    Sorry for double posting but I wanted to give my .02 on another statement you made.

    I would be curious to know how many SB churches also practice the Lord’s Supper at variance with the “close” or “closed” communion called for in our confession. If I had to guess, a majority of churches, particularly those outside the south, practice modified open communion.

    I would tend to agree with you on this position. However, I believe if the pastor would teach baptism by immersion as the only “valid” biblical baptism and participation to the Lord’s Table was available for those who were obedient followers of Christ, we would see a huge turning point in this practice. We seem to say; here is the Lord’s Table and it is open to anyone that believes they are a Christian. With that type of presentation we are accepting disobedience to our Lord and then admonishing those who call for obedience to Christ as a level of “fencing” the table.

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • August 27, 2011 at 1:40 PM

      Bro. Tim,

      Permit me to reply to both your comments with this one combined response. The issue of “fencing” the Lord’s Supper is one which has been discussed from all angles. I would say at the outset, that as a Baptist pastor, I believe the first step of obedience in the Christian life is baptism. I would define baptism as only for believers subsequent to a profession of faith (which we hope is a new birth experience, although we all know of instances were true faith was not present and people merely got wet). The mode should be by immersion. However, I would not fence the table in such a way to deny someone who has followed Christ in believer’s baptism, but in a way other than immersion, from participating in the Lord’s Supper. Is someone who was sprinkled or poured as a believer because he truly wanted to follow Jesus’ command to be baptized being disobedient because the mode of baptism was not immersion? While water baptism by immersion is required for membership in the church I pastor, I am simply not willing to say that someone sprinkled or poured is being disobedient. Their understanding may not be what you or I would consider theologically correct, but I would not call a D. James Kennedy or J.I. Packer disobedient. Also, I would not admonish anyone for holding to either “close” or “closed” communion. I would not call into question a church which practices “closed” or “close” communion as not understanding the “profound gravity” of the Lord’s Supper, as Dr. Moore’s article seemed to question those who practice anything other than what he termed “closed” communion.

      As to the BF&M2000, surely you are aware of those who read into (i.e., not literally interpret) Article VI of the BF&M2k, a portion of which reads: “Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”Since the 1925 version references “bishops, or elders, and deacons” as the Scriptural offices, a literal reading of language contained in the 1963 and 2000 editions of the BF&M do not contain a reference to “bishops, or elders.” Notwithstanding that some will view pastors and elders as the same office, a literal reading — particularly based on the “legislative history” of Article VI — would seem to prohibit Southern Baptist churches from having elders, especially if these were used in some form of Presbyterian model of polity. Likewise, a literal reading of Article VI would not prohibit women from serving as Hebrew professors in our Seminaries. That’s why I think it best to use the BF&M as a guide, as the Preamble to both the 1963 and 2000 BF&M attest: “That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.” The only thing that I read literally (except those passages clearly not meant to be) is the true and totally trustworthy, inerrant Word of God 🙂 Hope that helps clarify what I was trying to say. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • August 27, 2011 at 7:59 PM

        Brother Howell,

        Before I go any further let me state something that I believe needs to be stated. God did not make me a Lord’s Supper Policeman. I do not go around before the supper and ask personal questions.

        Having said that I believe your position is inconsistent with your statement of belief. You say;

        While water baptism by immersion is required for membership in the church I pastor, I am simply not willing to say that someone sprinkled or poured is being disobedient. Their understanding may not be what you or I would consider theologically correct, but I would not call a D. James Kennedy or J.I. Packer disobedient.

        I can only respond with one question. Why? If I believed the Bible taught Jesus commanded baptism by immersion then one that does not abide by this commandment would be disobedient. You see, that is the reason I maintain “close” communion. As for D. James Kennedy, Dr. Adrian Rogers said something that I believe applies here. Dr. Kennedy was being introduced to the convention by Dr. Rogers. Dr. Rogers said, and I do not have the exact quote, “Dr. Kennedy, when you go under, we will come over.” But I digress. Let me say that if I cannot state someone is disobedient because they have not, and are not willing to be baptized by immersion then I cannot say that someone is disobedient who refuses to love his/her neighbor. The situation we find ourselves is clearly one that questions whether it is disobedience or not to be baptized by immersion.

        If refusal of being baptized by immersion is disobedience then you have one of two positions for you to move. One, you can adhere to open communion where you say that obedience to Christ has nothing to do with the Lord’s Supper and anyone can come because it is the Lord’s Table. Two, the Lord’s Supper calls for partial obedience and we as Pastors get to decide which of those commands we can allow partial obedience on. You see, Howell, I believe that the Bible commands us to follow Jesus obediently and the first step of obedience in Baptism. If I fore go the first step the I forfeit my ability to say that I am in obedience to Jesus when it comes to that time of examination we pastors should take our people through before the supper begins.

        Blessings,
        Tim

        • Tom Parker
          August 27, 2011 at 9:16 PM

          Tim Rogers:

          I am sorry to say this but you do try to be a POLICEMAN in the SB world.

          How many times have I seen you post where you do not believe someone in the SB world is doing it the “correct” way.

          I am thankful for that one word in SB life, “autonomy” because without it the SBC would be in more trouble than it already is.

          One final question–Why do you and others try and elevate the 2000 BF&M to the same level as the Holy Bible?

          • August 28, 2011 at 11:56 AM

            Tom Parker,

            1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV)
            3 As I urged you…, stay there…so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer
            4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith.

            Blessings,
            Tim

        • August 27, 2011 at 9:31 PM

          Bro. Tim,

          I certainly understand your position and would not seek to be a Lord’s Supper Policeman, either. If someone refuses to be baptized following their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the first step of obedience in the Christian life, then I tell my people that I don’t know how a person can be obedient to Christ in other areas of their life if they are unwilling to be baptized as a first step of obedience. Where we diverge is in calling those who have been baptized following belief (“believer’s baptism”), but who have been baptized in a mode other than immersion, disobedient. I would not say that anyone can come to the table, but only those who are born again and have trusted Jesus Christ as the personal Savior and Lord. This is not an “open” communion position, but rather a “modified open” communion. I suppose the question for those who believe in and practice either a “closed” or “close” communion would be, “Is this an issue where the boundaries are large enough for this to be a local, autonomous church’s decision?” Or, should churches be bound by the BF&M2000, even at points with which those churches might disagree? I understand that entities are so bound, but as of now, the BF&M (any version) is not binding on the individual churches of the Convention. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

          • August 28, 2011 at 4:31 AM

            Brother Howell,

            Here is the troubling hump for your “modified open” communion for me. When I prepare the table I, as I am sure you do as well, instruct the congregation on the proper meaning of the Lord’s Supper. I, as I am sure you do as well, instruct them on the memorial aspect and that the elements have no salvific meaning or attribute. I, as I am sure you do as well, instruct them on the caution that the Apostle Paul gave concerning partaking of the table unworthily. I, as I am sure you do as well, express that we must examine ourselves to see if we are walking obediently to Christ as if we are walking in disobedience to the commands of Christ we are certain to reap a sickness and even can lead to death by partaking of the Lord’s Supper in willful disobedience.

            Those instructions are not something that you and I thought up they are the instructions from Scripture. A person does not “come to Christ” as a command of Christ. Jesus did not command you and me to be saved. He called us and we responded. (This may be where you might disagree with me as you have confessed to being an inconsistent Calvinist. 🙂 ) However, my point is if we can determine which “command” of Christ is to be followed and which command is to be overlooked. I say we cannot overlook the command to be Baptized and that mode of Baptism is immersion not effusion. If I accept one within the “fence” at the Lord’s Table as being baptized that was “sprinkled” then I should accept that person into church membership. Why? There is no caution in Scripture for accepting one’s Baptism for Church membership. We are told to make disciples. Most Baptists will understand that point as being salvation that is followed by baptism. However, we do have a caution in Scripture against participating in the Lord’s Supper and being disobedient to the commands of Christ.

            “Is this an issue where the boundaries are large enough for this to be a local, autonomous church’s decision?”

            Yes, it certainly is left to the local autonomous church to decide. What I am advocating though is the integrity of affirming the BF&M. It is not like this was something that was changed in the BF&M2k. This doctrine was affirmed in the very first confessional that was penned and presented by E.Y. Mullins’s Committee and then overwhelmingly affirmed by the 1925 convention. I was again affirmed in 1963. Then again in 2000, where this particular article was brought to the floor. The 2000 Committee spoke against changing it and DR. Richard Land, a member of the committee, expressed opposition eloquently to a “modified open” communion.We cheapen our affirmation of the BF&M by saying; “I affirm the BF&M”, but then practice any other form of communion that is not at the least “close”.

            Blessings,
            Tim

          • August 28, 2011 at 10:29 AM

            Bro. Tim,

            You bring up a good point about church membership. Can a person be a member of the Church Universal without being a member of a local Baptist/Southern Baptist congregation? I believe they can be. However, because of division over doctrinal issues, we have many denominations or conventions of churches. While these may agree on the fundamentals of the faith, there are other doctrinal issues which are not salvific which we disagree about, baptism being one. If one becomes a part of the Body of Christ at the time of the new birth, then they are a part of the Church, are they not? And, if they are part of the Church, I believe the Lord’s Table should be open to them. As to how high the fence should be around the Table, we will have to agree to disagree.

            As to the BF&M2000, I have never affirmed it. I believe the Bible to be the uniquely inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God and accept the Bible as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. I recognize the BF&M2000 as a brief statement of the doctrines and principles that I believe the Scriptures teach. However, recognition and affirmation are not the same. I understand that entity trustees and employees must affirm the BF&M2000. As far as I know, individual churches or pastors of the SBC do not have a similar requirement, at least not yet. Hope you have had a blessed Lord’s Day thus far. God bless,

            Howell

  11. Tom Parker
    August 28, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    Howell:

    Tim Rogers and others wish to divide over:

    Women in Ministry
    Baptism
    The Lord’s Supper
    Alcohol
    etc.

    And the 2000 BF&M has to be followed to the letter and this means there is a need for policemen. Most people do not want this job but Tim Rogers does.

    I’m really not sure they understand the history of Baptists.

    • August 28, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      Tom,

      As I shared with Bro. Tim, the BF&M2000 is a fine guide for understanding the doctrines and beliefs that most Southern Baptists agree on. However, the BF&M2000 is a confession of faith, not a creed. There are many wonderful confessions of faith that have been drawn up over the years, particularly those drafted by Baptists throughout history. While each of these confessions (and even such non-Baptist confessions like the Westminster Confession) have much to commend them, they simply are no substitute for Scripture. And, if we are going to start enforcing every jot and tittle of the BF&M2000, I think we will wind up with a mess on our hands. Who gets to make the final intretation of whether pastors really mean elders? Who gets to decide what activities are in keeping with observing the Sabbath? Not quite as easy as it may seem. Hope you have a great Lord’s Day and a good week. God bless,

      Howell

  12. Tom Parker
    August 28, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    Howell:

    We already have one example of a mess on our hands with the Mayberry Debacle.

    Some want to be a policeman whether they say they want to or not.

    We do not need them to be police.

  13. August 28, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Brother Howell,

    Can a person be a member of the Church Universal without being a member of a local Baptist/Southern Baptist congregation?

    Do I believe a person Christian that is not Baptized by immersion goes to Heaven? Yes, I do.

    Now, allow me to think a little out loud. What is the reason a Baptist church requires Baptism by immersion? Well they see it as a command of Jesus. Jesus commanded us to be baptized. Paul (Romans 6:4) expresses the picture of baptism. As believers we are told to follow the commands of Christ. If we truly believe that obedience means the first step of Baptism by immersion, then we certainly are picking what we can and cannot follow in obedience. That is the reason I “fence” the table. It is not up to me to choose the commands of Christ I am to be obedient to.

    Thanks for the time and discussion. Great time with you on this.

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • August 28, 2011 at 9:30 PM

      Bro. Tim,

      Thanks for the discussion. I have enjoyed it as well. It’s sometimes harder on blogs to convey exactly what one is thinking. Based on our conversation, our “fences” probably are not as far apart — theologically speaking — as they might appear. From a practical perspective, they might be slightly further apart, but that’s probably more my inconsistency. Just add the Lord’s Supper to my inconsistent Calvinism and we’re all good. 🙂 Hope you have a good week. God bless,

      Howell

  14. Tom Parker
    August 28, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    Tim Rogers:

    When those come to remove you from the SBC because of ????, who will be there to stop them after you have helped remove all the others that do not meet your standards.

    You really need to stop and think about what your being policeman is doing to other people’s lives and that you will reap what you have been sowing.

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