I heard that phrase once a month growing up, and for years never considered the possibility that Baptists would administer the Lord’s Supper any other way. I attend a church today in which I hear much the same thing, but now know that the practice is rarer than I previously imagined. Still, I think it is the most defensible position in the Church today.
The Christian Church recognizes three models for inviting believers to the Table: Open, Close, and Closed. Open Communion is the broadest model. By open is meant that a church invites to the Table all who profess faith in Christ. This model operates on the premise that, irrespective all other differences, Christians share a common invisible union with Christ.
In Close Communion a church likewise invites to the Table believers outside its membership, but limits that invitation to believers who are walking in ecclesiastical obedience. This model operates on the premise that the ordinance celebrates not only the invisible union of believers with Christ, but also the visible union of believers in local assemblies. As such the Table is extended only to believers who have joined a local church (hence the “baptism” part), and are not under discipline by that church (hence the “good standing” part). Many formulas also add the phrase “in a church of like faith and practice,” to ensure that everyone means the same thing by “saved,” “baptized,” and “church.”
Closed Communion is the narrowest model. It operates on the same premise as Close Communion, but logically concludes that no church can successfully adjudicate a person’s worthiness to eat unless that person is under the watchcare of the host church. As such, it “closes off” communion to all but its own membership, despite clear biblical examples to the contrary (e.g., Paul’s eating with the church at Troas in Acts 20:7).
Why do I accept the middle position? Well, simply, because of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In it we find two major principles with respect to the church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper: (1) Christians are unequivocally not to eat with a believer that has been dismissed from the membership of his local church (1 Cor 5:11), and (2) Communion is not to be celebrated in a way that disdains all or part of the local assembly (1 Cor 11:17–33). These principles, it seems, necessarily assume a third point, viz., (3) that in order to celebrate the ordinance, a Christian must be properly attached to a church in the first place—there is no “out” for Christians who evade church discipline by not joining a church in the first place or who think they can avoid Paul’s injunctions against disregarding the Lord’s body by ignoring the Lord’s body altogether.
The Christian and even the Baptist tradition is split on this issue, and it is unnecessary that we resolve this issue in order to extend Christian recognition to one another. Nonetheless, the issue is not an unimportant one to the unity and purity of God’s church. May God give us all wisdom as we consider this controversial topic.