Open Communion: A Move Toward the Subjective
I was raised in the close communion tradition, and I believe that this tradition is best reflective of biblical teaching. I have been surprised to find some Baptist brothers recently arguing for the open communion position. I believe that the practice of open communion is attended by a number of problems: biblically, historically, and practically. In this post, I would like to consider one problem with open communion: namely, the move toward subjectivism.
Our culture is characterized by a focus on the subjective. By subjective, I mean the personal (individual), opinion and experience-based aspect of perceived reality; rather than the objective: the universal (communal), facts-based aspect of reality, focused on what takes place regardless of the individual's perception. The practice of open communion elevates the subjective in two ways: 1. regarding the definition and nature of baptism; 2. regarding the presence of faith.
First: based on New Testament evidence, Baptists agree that "baptism" is properly defined as "the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" [BF&M 2000]. We also agree, based on the Great Commission, Peter's Pentecost sermon, and other New Testament texts, that baptism is to be an initiating ordinance into the church. By inviting the unbaptized to the Lord's Table, even if (according to their own understanding) the individuals involved have been "baptized" as infants, those who advocate open communion are making the definition and nature of baptism a matter of opinion rather than of fact.
Second: as mentioned in the first paragraph above, Baptists who affirm open communion typically invite believers alone to the Lord's Table. But here is an important question: how does a person know if he or she is a believer? In a healthy church situation, a person who comes to faith in Christ will be interviewed by the pastors/elders of the church. Upon finding that the person gives reasonable evidence of conversion, that person will then be baptized before the congregation. Baptism, then, is both a public witness for the one being baptized and to the one being baptized. In baptism, part of what is happening is that the congregation (through the church officer administering the baptism) is confirming that the one receiving baptism has given evidence of true conversion. Apart from baptism, properly administered, the question of whether a person is a believer is entirely subjective. In an open communion scenario, each individual in the congregation, without the confirming testimony of any local church, is invited to determine whether he or she has come to faith. Due the deceitfulness of our hearts, I believe that we need the formal counsel of our brothers and sisters in this matter. Whereas no congregational act is absolutely fool-proof, the close communion tradition, properly articulated, places an additional check upon individual self-deception.
Labels: Reformation Theology