It was communion Sunday. I finished my sermon and began to prepare the congregation to meet one another at the Lord’s Table. I communicated the meaning and significance of the bread and cup (Mark 14:22-25). I then invited all baptized believers to take the Lord’s Supper and remember the Lord’s sacrifice.
After the service, a woman and her family approached me. “Pastor, I have a question. Did you say only baptized believers should take communion?” “Yes, I did,” I replied. She asked, “Why is it that only baptized believers are allowed take the Lord’s Supper?”
The answer to that question is the purpose of this article.
Paul scolded the Corinthians for taking the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Apparently, in the mind of the Apostle, there is a right and wrong way to remember the Lord’s sacrifice. While space won’t allow me to articulate all the improper ways to partake in the Lord’s Supper, I do want to focus on one wrong way—and that is to take communion before one is baptized.
I will admit, you won’t find a biblical text explicitly forbidding the non-baptized from taking the Lord’s Supper. But the biblical logic is sound. We can reason our way to this position by making three logical and sequential statements ending with a conclusion.
- Communion is an ordinance to remember the gospel.
- Communion, therefore, is for Christians, not unbelievers.
- Christians are baptized followers of Jesus.
- Therefore, only baptized followers of Jesus should take communion.
Before I move into the body of the argument, I want to make clear: this is not a first-tier issue. Meaning, if you disagree with me, I don’t think you’re not a Christian. This is an area where godly differences can exist. But that does not make this matter unimportant. Getting this right is crucial for the honor of Christ and the well-being of people’s souls.
Communion is an Ordinance to Remember the Gospel
Communion is one of two ordinances and visible signs of the New Covenant that the Lord Jesus gave to His church (the other being baptism). We observe communion when we take bread and wine to remember the body and blood of our Lord in His sacrifice of atonement for His people (Matthew 26:26-29). Communion, then, is when the gathered church celebrates the redemption our Savior accomplished on our behalf in His death.
Communion, Therefore, is for Christians, Not Unbelievers
It should be clear, then, that Communion is, by definition, for Christians. After all, only Christians can celebrate the Savior’s salvation. Only Christians can remember what Jesus accomplished on our behalf in His sacrificial death upon the cross. Non-Christians, by definition, cannot celebrate or remember Jesus’ salvation, because they’re not saved. Therefore, unbelievers should not take communion.
Contrary to what some teach and believe, communion is not open to unbelievers as a means of salvific grace. Meaning, communion should not be viewed an as evangelistic moment. In other words, we shouldn’t invite non-Christians to take the Lord’s Supper in the hope that they will trust Christ and be saved. That’s what evangelism and evangelistic preaching is for. Communion is for the church. If Paul informed the Corinthians that the sins of division, drunkenness and selfishness made them unworthy to take the Lord’s Supper as Christians, then isn’t it obvious that the sin of unbelief would make one infinitely more unworthy and disqualified from taking the Lord’s Supper? (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)
Christians are Baptized Followers of Jesus
The reason I want to make it clear that unbelievers should not take the Lord’s Supper is because it’s central to my argument on why only baptized believers should take communion. While justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from works of the law, a non-baptized Christian is a contradiction in terms and is by all New Testament standards considered an unbeliever. In other words, Christians are baptized followers of Jesus. Someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus but choosing to remain unbaptized is not a biblical concept.
If communion is the ongoing sign that we belong to the New Covenant, then Baptism is the one-time sign and entry point into the Christian life. Baptism is the first step of obedience, and in the New Testament it was done immediately after conversion (Acts 8:34-36, 9:18, 10:47, 16:33). It is the moment the church acknowledges that we now belong to the family of God. How then could the church give the ongoing sign (communion) to someone who hasn’t received the initial sign (baptism)? In the New Testament, you typically won’t find someone who claims to be a Christian and yet hasn’t been baptized.
Therefore, Only Baptized Followers of Jesus Should Take Communion
This brings me to my thesis: only baptized followers of Jesus should take communion. It’s worth noting that my position is not novel or unusual. This is the historic position of the church. In fact, in my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, our statement of faith reads as follows: “Being a church ordinance, [baptism] is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”
Pastors of old spoke of fencing the table. Fencing simply refers to the instructions pastors give and the policies churches hold concerning who is allowed to take communion. Remember, Paul said if one eats of the bread and drinks of the cup in an unworthy manner, that person eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:27-33). We are called to personally “fence ourselves” in verse 28 (“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”), but a church must guide its congregation on who can rightly take communion. Paul also said that some people in the Corinthian church were weak, ill, and even died because they took communion wrongly. It stands to reason, then, that pastors should help people think rightly about this topic. One way we do this is by telling the gathered Sunday assembly that if you haven’t been baptized you shouldn’t take communion, because that would be an unworthy manner to take the Supper.
Unbaptized people are living in disobedience to the Lord in one of two ways. If you have not been baptized, you are either an unbeliever (which is obvious disobedience) or you’re a Christian who hasn’t followed through to obey the Lord’s command to be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 17:30). Either way, if such a person takes communion, he would be eating and drinking judgment upon himself.
To be fair, you might be a non-baptized Christian who is uneducated on these matters. If that is you, then I believe our Lord has much grace as you progress in understanding. But know this, if you have trusted Jesus, you should be baptized. And you should not take communion until you follow through in obedience.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who comes to church, and you haven’t been baptized (for whatever reason), but you still take communion, you should take this very seriously. For starters, you should answer the question: why haven’t you been baptized? Are you an unbeliever? Have you trusted Christ, but remain unwilling to be baptized? Either way, if you refuse to identify with Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection in baptism, why would you want to take the Lord’s Supper to remember His death?
The plain reason why only baptized believers should take communion is this: communion is only for Christians. Christians are those who have been baptized. Therefore, unbaptized people should not take communion, because a non-baptized Christian is a contradiction in terms—something the New Testament knows nothing about.
When I explained to the woman and her family why only baptized believers should take communion, her response was, “Well, I guess my whole family needs to be baptized then.” The very next Sunday I had the privilege of assisting that family of four to obey the Lord’s command. On that day, they observed both signs of the New Covenant—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It was a good day!
This article originally appeared at Knowing Jesus Ministries.