I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Cor. 10:15-17)
Question.—What are the various theories concerning Church communion?
Answer.—There are several theories advanced for defining the limits and extent of that Church fellowship, or ecclesiastical communion, demanded by the Christian faith:
1. The Latitudinarian Theory. This theory admits to sealing ordinances (i.e., particularly the sacrament of the Lord’s supper), at their own option, all who will accept them. This is the theory of the anti-evangelical party, and would destroy the Church as a Christian organization. It would admit all, believers and unbelievers, who desire to come.
2. The Visible Discipleship Theory. This theory extends the privilege of communion to all who give outward evidence of being Christians, whether they are members in any Church or not; or whatever Church they may belong to. This theory admits to communion all believers and excludes all unbelievers.
3. The Restricted Communion Theory. This theory invites to participation in the Lord’s Supper all members in good standing in any of the evangelical Churches. It would exclude Unitarian, Universalist and Papist.
4. The Occasional Communion Theory. This is the theory that the Church may extend communion for a limited time, or in certain circumstances, to members of other denominations who are away from their own churches and providentially present at communion season. They may not agree with her profession, or desire to become members, but they desire the privileges of communion; or they may claim to agree with her profession, but, owing to family relationships, or absence from her bounds, they are not in her fellowship, nor do they intend to be, but they wish to commune.
5. The Close Communion Theory. This is the theory set forth in our standards: that the Church is to have terms of communion; that they are to be strictly Scriptural; and that no one is to be admitted to communion except on these terms. The word close is derived from the Latin claudere. It refers to something “shut up, enclosed or contained.” A common feature of Cathedrals is the close—a piece of land enclosed by a hedge. Close communion indicates intimate communion that arises from the erection of barriers or hedges (i.e., terms of communion) to exclude it from common use or view.
By proving this last theory to be the true one, we shall consider the others to be disproved.
Question.—What do we mean by fellowship or communion?
Answer.—Church fellowship, or ecclesiastical communion, is a very special association brought about by faith and the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of believers, 1 John 1:3. This fellowship (κοινωνία), or communion, is a joint participation and use of the means of grace, Acts 2:41, 42 (lit., “in the fellowship” [τῇ κοινωνίᾳ]).
The divine truth is that which is both life-giving and church-creating, John 8:31, 32. It unites those who confess it rightly, 1 Cor. 1:10; and it divides those who persist in contradiction at any point, whether in word or in deed, Rom. 16:17. Continuance in the apostolic doctrine and the apostolic fellowship necessitates a separation from those professing to be brethren who yet resist or refuse to comply with the word of God, 1 Cor. 5:9-13.
The church is a spiritual brotherhood, a communion (κοινωνία), of all those that study to believe and do the will of God, Matt. 12:48-50. This is the point of “the right hand of fellowship,” or communion, being given, Gal. 2:9; there is a mutual recognition of oneness in confession—in doctrine, worship and government, Phil. 1:27; 2:2; Rom. 15:5, 6. Thus, church fellowship is implied in church communion, and her confession of fellowship is demonstrated in her communion in the joint participation in the Lord’s supper, 1 Cor. 10:16, 17. Failure to discern the Lord’s body (his flesh and his blood given for the life of the world, John 6:51, 54), made present in the gathering of his saints (i.e., mystically) unto the communion of the supper (i.e., sacramentally), results in condemnation, 1 Cor. 11:27-29. In the words of the Augsburg Confession (which Calvin subscribed), “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (art. 7).
Question.—How many views of church communion are there really?
Answer.—There are really just two contrasting views. The first four theories all share a common belief that church fellowship or communion arises from individuals; free human action giving birth and sustaining the relationship one with another, cf. 2 Chron. 32:8. The theory of close communion assumes that fellowship, or communion, arises due to Christ’s action which gives birth and sustains the church, cf. Eph. 5:29-32.