Nearly every church practices some form of communion, or the Lord’s Table. At the same time, there is much variety in the actual performance of the ceremony, and different churches also have different views of who is allowed to take communion.
Some churches practice a radically open communion, which they might call “open table”: in an attempt to be “fully inclusive,” they invite anyone and everyone to participate in communion, regardless of spiritual standing or evidence of open sin. Most churches, however, place some restrictions on who can take communion: most require at least a profession of faith in Christ. Most also require that the recipient be in good standing in the church—that is, he or she is not living in unrepentant sin. Some churches also require baptism prior to taking communion, and some require official church membership.
Questions about who can take communion go back to the very early church. The issue is addressed in the first-century Didache, which taught that baptism was a prerequisite to taking communion (Didache 9:10–12). In the second century, Justin Martyr laid down three requirements for taking communion: belief in the church’s teachings, baptism, and “so living as Christ has enjoined” (First Apology, Chapter LXVI, trans. by Dods and Reith).
The Bible’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 and promotes participation for believers who are walking in fellowship with the Lord. All those who have personal faith in Jesus Christ are worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Biblically, there are two types of people who should not take communion: the unregenerate and the unrepentant. Communion should not be open to those who are not born again or those who are living in known, unconfessed sin.
Biblically, communion should not be limited to a particular church or denomination. It’s the Lord’s Table, not any one church’s table. What’s important is that the participants are born-again believers walking in fellowship with their Lord and with each other. Communion is a time of remembrance (Luke 22:19) and a time of reflection. Before partaking of communion, each believer should personally examine his or her heart and motives (1 Corinthians 11:28).
The word communion is related to union. Communion is the result of a union with Christ, the sharing of common thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Sharing in the death and burial of the Son of God is a foundational part of salvation (Romans 6:3–5), and that death is symbolized in the ordinance of communion. If a person has no union with Christ, the act of taking communion has no significance (John 1:12; Romans 10:9–10). A person who has not been spiritually regenerated has no means by which to commune with God (Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 1:21). Therefore, an unbeliever taking communion is practicing hypocrisy, and it may place that person in danger of God’s judgment.
For a child of God to take communion in a state of unrepentant sin is another form of hypocrisy. “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Believers are to undergo a self-examination (verse 28) and so avoid God’s discipline in their lives (verses 27–30). Harboring sin in one’s heart, refusing to be reconciled to a fellow believer, or stubbornly resisting to acknowledge one’s need for forgiveness, especially given its availability (1 John 1:8–9), is a sign of a hard heart, not of “common union” with Christ.
According to the Bible, those who take communion must be humble, born again, free of unconfessed sin, and living in obedience to God. Whether or not living in obedience includes baptism in every case is something for individual churches to decide. For the converted, repentant sinner, the Lord’s Table is a welcome place of knowing God’s provision and resting in His grace.