“So a Roman Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox priest and a Baptist pastor walk into a room…” It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but this was the scene this past week as I participated in an ecumenical panel on the topic of baptism and communion.
There were clearly some significant theological differences in the room in terms of how we understand the ordinances/sacraments. But one thread of the discussion captured my attention and challenged me. It was the topic of fencing. This is not the type of fencing where you put on a mask, grab a thin sword and attempt to stab your opponent. But rather the type of fencing where a church official guards the communion table and prevents unauthorized individuals from receiving the bread and the cup. The Orthodox priest is expected to lay down his life before he would knowingly serve communion to an unbeliever or a professing believer who was under the discipline of the church.
We generally do not “fence the table” in our tradition. We practice what is sometimes referred to as “open communion.” If a person has placed their faith in Jesus and has identified with him in the waters of baptism, he or she is invited to share in the communion table. We believe that it is the responsibility of the individual to examine himself or herself (1 Corinthians 11:28).
But the Lord’s Supper is called communion for a reason. It symbolizes our union with Christ. And in that sense, there is no “open communion.” Only those who have turned to Jesus in faith have communion with him. Everyone else is excluded. And the communion service is meant to reflect that heart-breaking reality. So willful sinners and unbelievers should not participate in the Lord’s Table because they are not in communion with Jesus. Perhaps a few more fences would make us think twice about whether we are on the inside or the outside.
Photo credit: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Machu_Picchu,_The_Guard_House_(3951651625).jpg