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October 17, 2023: Who can receive communion?

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

Question: Who is welcome to receive Communion in our church?

We have congregants who have come from a number of denominations. There are two major areas where the Lord’s Table in the Anglican church sometimes differ from others. First, we understand communion as a means of grace. A means of grace is a channel through which the Holy Spirit allows believers to receive Christ and the outpouring of His grace. Some denominations follow Anabaptist teachings that reject both baptism and communion as means of grace but merely ordinances.

But the second area of difference is over the question of who is welcome at the table. Local churches generally observe one of three traditional practices. Congregations that practice “Open Communion” allow all who profess Christ to partake. “Closed Communion” is centered in the local church’s responsibility for discipline and is restricted to members of the local church or to the specific denomination. “Close Communion” limits access to those who are properly baptized, in good standing with the Church, and hold to the faith once received.

The Anglican Church often is mistakenly presented as practicing open communion. This is not accurate. First, only those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are invited to the table. A growing practice in post-Christian and neo-evangelicalism has been receiving the non-baptized at the table. But in the earliest manual for the Church, the Didache, we are told explicitly, “Only let those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord eat and drink at your Eucharists.” In recent times, some have misunderstood John Wesley’s use of the phrase “a converting ordinance.” Wesley was speaking directly of those who had been baptized as infants—as most were in 18th century England—but had not embraced the full life of faith. Now, they may come if they come in faith.

We practice a “close communion.” Those who come from a LCMS background (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) will recognize that designation, however, I believe their practice more nearly conforms to the definition of closed communion. We invite Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and protestants to join us at the table if they 1) have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 2) are in good standing in their own church, 3) having confessed and repented of all known sins and not under discipline as we must also, and 4) hold to the catholic faith as proclaimed in the three ecumenical creeds—Nicene, Apostle’s, and Athanasian.

Our invitation to the Eucharist at Saint Timothy’s Anglican is this:

“Our fellow Christians in good standing in other branches of Christ’s Church, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, are affectionately invited to join us at the Lord’s Table.”

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