Is Christ divided?

One Sunday morning some years ago, I leaned against the back of a church pew, and with tears in my eyes confided to a friend.

This woman is a sincere Christian, even though she’s not a member of our congregation. She tries to dress like us, and faithfully comes to church. Yet she’s not allowed to have communion. Why? Isn’t Christ’s sacrifice for her, too?

My friend was taken aback. “But we have to draw the line somewhere!” she said.

I let the subject drop for the sake of peace, but those words bothered me. We have to draw the line somewhere. Even if that “somewhere” came at a terrible cost to other Christians?

This morning I read through 1 Corinthians 5 again, and noticed this verse:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one.

I Corinthians 5:11 (ESV)

“There is the line!” I thought. This verse does not refer to unbelievers, by the way. It’s talking about people who profess to be part of the brotherhood of faith, yet willfully engage in a sinful life. I don’t even think it’s so much the individual sins–we all have sinned–but the refusal to confess and repent, the duplicitous heart, the pretending to be good when we don’t love Jesus and our core is thoroughly rotten.

The separation that this woman experienced then, I am now also facing, and it’s hard for me to process. More than anything else, I desire the Lord. I’m not perfect by any means, and I get depressed about my own failures sometimes. Still, I can honestly say that I long for a growing relationship with God. Yet I am not allowed to have communion in certain church groups, because I am not an official member of their congregation (or an identical one). People I have known and loved for years do not welcome me to their communion table.

This makes me question. Is it because a.) congregations like this don’t follow the Bible’s perimeters for who is part of God’s church and thus eligible for communion or b.) am I actually someone who is duplicitous at heart, a sinful, immoral, greedy person?

This “closed communion” (where only specific church members can participate) is an issue that is much bigger than individuals, and I’m not trying to blame any of my friends. I think most of them would still see me as a genuine Christian. Yet I can’t help but feel the cognitive dissonance between what is verbalized and what is practiced. And practice has a way of shaping the way we think and relate, beyond what we might be aware of. Closed communion tends to drive wedges between superior Christians who are Us, and lesser Christians who are Them.

Some people seem better able to live with the dissonance than I am, but I still believe this fracturing of Christ’s body is debilitating for everyone, especially in the turbulent times we live in. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24).

These dividing lines are extremely painful to out-of-the-shrine Christians like me, and I feel they also take the emphasis away from what communion really is–a covenant with Christ. Jesus, You gave your life for me, and now I give my life back to You. Christians coming together to remember Christ’s sacrifice, to humbly offer themselves to God, is a powerful spiritual experience.

“Is Christ divided?” Paul asked the Corinthian church when they quarreled about who was most important (I Corinthians 1:13). I wonder if he would say the same words to us today over our attempts to section off who qualifies for communion and who doesn’t.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

I Corinthians 10:16-17 (ESV) emphasis mine

We are one body, experiencing the mercy of a holy God.

I plead with you, consider what message your current communion practice communicates to other Christians. Look for ways to reduce the dissonance if it exists. Life is too short for division within the family of Christ.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

I John 1:7 (ESV)


What does communion with Christ’s body of believers mean to you?

You can read a more in-depth article (written by Simon Fry) about communion here.


EDIT: Within hours of publishing this post, I got an email from a young man who belongs to a conservative Mennonite group, inviting us to join them for communion on Sunday! I am deeply touched–the invitation means more than I can say.

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17 thoughts on “Is Christ divided?

  1. You have a brave and beautiful heart, Rosina. I personally think this is a place where we are missing the truth. I’m not sure what all the answers are but it’s something that needs to be considered. My heart aches for those we hurt and turn away with our line drawing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The primary reason my family does not fellowship with a group of conservative Anabaptists that we really love is that they have deemed that we are unfit for the Lord’s Supper and it is entirely due to us not being in sufficient conformity with issues like the exact manner of dress. It is too bad because they are a great group that loves the Lord and tries to reach the community but with little success because they have erected barriers so high that anyone not already in 100% agreement with them has to go elsewhere. I am sure they do what they do for good reasons but they are wounding the church in doing so and grieving our Lord.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The idea of closed communion is disturbing to me–especially when it closes out people who attend a church without being members. I don’t know of any place, other than the verses you quoted, where the Bible indicates we should deny communion to anyone. Instead, it says that we should examine ourselves.

    The other disturbing thing is that there are many churches where ongoing sexual immorality–specifically mentioned in 1 Cor. 5–is swept under the rug and hushed up, and the person is allowed to continue receiving communion. I’m specifically referring to sexual abuse. And of course, we can’t forget about the rampant porn usage, even within the conservative Mennonite church (see https://radi-call.com/media-survey-results-2/).

    And greed. When was the last time you heard about someone being refused communion because of greed?

    Anyway, just some thoughts. I have visited churches and been served communion, no questions asked. I was counted as part of the Body. I think that’s how it should be, and leave the judgment up to God.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Steve Martin

    There is another side to the discussion that I am not sure we are addressing. I say this carefully because I am in agreement that the way we commonly do communion in many of our circles leaves a lot to be desired. But here is my question. With all the different flavours of churches these days what possible reason could a person have for not finding one that they could fit in with? I am not talking about one that you agree with everyone on every issue but one that you could give up enough of yourself to be a part of. I am sure there are situations where that is the case. Even know of a few but I feel really bad for them and think it should be the exception rather than almost the rule I see happening.

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    1. I think I hear what you are saying–sometimes people are too picky or too unwilling to get involved in a church and thus miss out on communion, so it’s mostly their fault if they aren’t getting it. I agree that a lack of commitment is a real problem.

      I was coming more from the standpoint of being close to a group of people who don’t let you in because somehow you don’t qualify. That hurts.

      We do have a local church we can fellowship and commune with. But it’s awkward and painful to visit our former church (not in our area) and not be welcomed to have communion, when we’ve known these people for years.

      Thanks for commenting! I’m always glad for other angles to examine.

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  5. Lynn Helmuth

    Thank You Rosina for bringing this subject to the forefront. This was a question I asked for many years and didn’t get a satisfactory answer. We are a small church in Iowa and we have practiced. “Close Communion ” since we started. I prefer this term to Open Communion. We invite anyone with a new birth experience and living in victory to participate. We had communion this past Sunday and I was blessed when we had an old order Amish lady and some “Baptist’s” (they have been attending for almost 2 yr’s) participate. Thank You. following is a quote I like. Lynn H.

    ” It is not your Table. It is not my Supper. It is His. He makes the guest list. He tells us who can be excluded (and it is a short list). He commands His followers to gather for the Supper and nowhere mentions them jumping through ecclesiastical hoops. Pastors be very aware that when you deny a fellow believer the comfort and fellowship of the Table you are really telling our Lord that His guest list needs some refinement and you might just know better than Him who should be invited. Do you really want to place yourself in that position?”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Victoria Miller

    Wow, I love the above quote Lynn. Rosina I am very sorry for your pain and that you are being so hurt by a false religious righteousness which excludes the people Jesus lived and died for and WELCOMES! I was sitting recently in a super strict anabaptist church and a dude was preaching about how you need to add extra rules to the Bible in order to keep yourself and the church in line. He even said they aren’t in the Bible (which is more than a lot say), but that they were necessary to stay on the right track. There was a lot of other really hurtful things that were said and lies that were promoted. As I sat there, God just showed me that that is NOT who Jesus is. Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t make us do lots of good works, and follow lots of rules, and meet up to lots of standards before he welcomes us and saves us. He doesn’t save us to then follow and meet man made rules and force them on others. He saves and welcomes us because he loves us. It’s the same way for communion. He’s the one that does the saving, he should be the one who gets to decide who partakes with him. It’s so twisted and sick that men get to make those decisions for others, including men who are sexually assaulting people in their congregation. I know what it was like when I was in the Mennonite church, growing up, where I was only allowed communion twice in six years, while several men and women in the same church were sexually abusing me and being given communion every time. I’m not the only one by far. I will never forget how the first Sunday I went to church, after having left the Mennonites, and then living in reckless sin and then Christ rescuing me miraculously, and was offered communion. I remember just staring at it in wonder and asking my friend who had brought me if I really was allowed to take it. He said that of course I was and I will never ever forget the kind of healing I felt as I took the bread and the cup. I was truly welcomed to the Lord’s table for the first time in my life. Praise God I am planted in such an amazing community of love!

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  7. As much as I loved and agreed with everything else, this was the very reason I could not continue with CMC, exclusive communion. Thanks for writing this and asking the hard questions from the inside!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. EG

    We know what it feels like to have authorities forbid us to offer communion to other believers and partake when other believers offer to us. Both are extremely painful if followed. Especially when those around you have suffered brutally for their faith, just as Jesus their king described. Is their tested and living faith still “not good enough” for North American Anabaptists who have never experienced persecution as their forefathers did? Maybe in reality, such ridiculousness comes because WE are not worthy of THEM…..but no, truly in Jesus we have the incredible honor of being One.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Anonymous

    That extreme of not fellowshipping with people whose lives have literally been on the line for Christ just seems to shout to me how twisted our supposedly benign tradition of closed communion has become. I know most people don’t think they would do that but in reality, that is conservative Anabaptists’ knee jerk reaction.

    They may use the excuse that they don’t really know where someone is at with God (which isn’t the point entirely anyway) but when you see how easily and unthinkingly it is slapped on EVERYONE it starts looking sickeningly foolish.

    But even if it is consciously given just as a church tradition, with no evil intent toward anyone else, wouldn’t it just be horrible if you’d end up in a circle of people who could have died for Christ (and may yet do so) and you bring up a lame “my church doesn’t do this” excuse and refuse to join?

    Jesus said if were not willing to do some pretty drastic things (leave father mother, take up cross and follow) were not worthy of him. What does it say about US if we act like those who have done just what Jesus said are not worthy of us??!!

    This not an extreme case that doesn’t happen. It is happening today.

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  10. M.E.

    In our communion service, as I assume it was in yours, the words Jesus spoke in Luke 22:19-20 ..”This do in remembrance of me ” is quoted. If you study that passage in Luke 22, you will notice the setting and the group gathered there. Jesus and (only) his disciples. Why didn’t Jesus send out the word for all his faithful follows to gather together, like Lazarus, Mary n Martha, and Zachious, and his own dear mother, and many, many others?? Or why didnt he initiate it @ the feeding of the 5,000? After all, HE would know their hearts! But he chose to have it with those who he knew, and that knew him. Sounds pretty exclusive to me.
    Just being a member of a Mennonite church won’t save you. The same way being a member of a Baptist, Methodist, or Catholic, etc church doesn’t either. Or being anti-mennonite. It takes Christ’s blood and (the hard part) discipleship (the daily following of Christ’s teaching. ). Remember, church membership is a CHOICE. And those who choose NOT to join church ( for whatever reason) or choose to leave a church need to accept the consequences of that choice. If the consquences of a choice are not to a persons liking, maybe its time to re-evaluate the choice.
    I crindge whenever I see the bride of Jesus christ criticized in public. Im not saying the way things are done is perfect, and there is no room for improvement. But there is a time and a (private) place for such a discussion with the folks that can do something about it. Is it building up the body of Christ to openly criticize (even with the best of intentions) before believers and non-believers alike???? The church of Jesus Christ is GLORIOUS!
    Praying for you, in Christian love

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    1. The point of this post was not to be critical, or anti-Mennonite. I’m sorry if it felt that way to you. Rather, this article is a cry for greater unity within the body of Christ.

      Thanks for the prayers! 🙂

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    2. “I crindge whenever I see the bride of Jesus christ criticized in public. ”

      I cringe when people equate a specific set of religious practices with the Bride of Christ but it is common. When Paul wrote his letters to the various churches, those letters were read publicly to the church. You will note that they were written “to the church”, not to the elders or pastors specifically. These are not private missives, they are the first century equivalent of Twitter or blogs. They were also full of both praise and love as well as criticism and concern. If something as heartfelt, honest and gentle as what Rosina wrote was done in error, the same charge would doubly be true of the Apostle Paul and, based on His criticism in Revelation, of Christ our Lord Himself.

      Church “membership” is indeed a choice and it is one that even the most ardent advocates like 9 Marks ministries will admit is not expressly commanded in Scripture and yet some people feel justified in denying something that *is* expressly commanded in Scripture, the communal meal in remembrance of Christ, to people who for whatever reason have not adopted a human invention. As I have stated before, it is the Lord’s Supper and He makes the guest list as is His right as the Master of the Feast and that list includes every one of His sheep that is not in unrepentant sinful rebellion against His word.

      The Bride of Christ is the people of Christ, all who are now, ever have been and ever will be born again to newness of life, forgiven of their sins and adopted into the family of God. It is not and never has been a particular denomination or set of religious practices. That was one of the great errors of Rome opposed by people like Menno Simons. If we are not allowed to publicly raise concerns over ecclesiastical practices when they stray from Scripture then we would never have had a Protestant Reformation and therefore we would never had seen a Radical Reformation and there would be no Anabaptists. We would still be trapped in the Roman system. Praise God that He never forbade His people from expressing concern when our practices strayed from His commands because that is what most of the Bible from the prophets of the Old to the apostles of the New were writing about.

      Liked by 1 person

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