The Communion Covenant

By President Israel A. Smith

Israel A. Smith, Prophet-President of the RLDS Church 1946–1958
Israel A. Smith,
Prophet-President of the RLDS Church,

From several sources comes evidence that some of our priesthood members have served the emblems of the Lord’s Supper to nonmember children and adults. This is surprising and disturbing, as there is no excuse for our ministers to ignore our close Communion doctrine. It only indicates that we must be ever on the alert to keep our educational program moving; otherwise, the Church laws may be superseded by the traditions of men.

Doubtless, there is a temptation to feel that all children and the adults who, by their association and profession acknowledge Christ as their Savior, should not be excluded from the Lord’s Supper. However, on the same basis of reasoning, there is no reason for the Restoration Movement, if mere profession of faith is to be accepted for compliance with the laws which identify us with the Church for which Christ gave His life.

There may be a tendency to feel that in this modern democratic age close communionists are putting themselves in an exclusive group, smug in their satisfaction of being better than other professed Christians when they refuse to serve the Communion to other professed Christians. . . . Latter Day Saints have some very definite instructions, and even some direct commandments in the Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon, which should stabilize our close Communion doctrine. How can nonmembers, who are sincere, kneel with us in the blessing prayers which solemnly “witness that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son” unless they have actually done so through baptism into His Church? This is exactly what Paul meant when he said, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body [the Church]” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

On this subject, the Presidency as editors, and other Church leaders, have always spoken unequivocally. We are reprinting some of their statements which we commend for a careful reading. We cannot improve upon them, nor do we have any desire to modify them.

Shall We Serve the Communion to Nonmembers?
(Excerpts from Saints’ Herald)

Volume 40, page 84, February 11, 1893, Joseph Smith and W. W. Blair, editors: 

A brother asks if it is lawful and proper to give the sacrament to unbaptized children, and we reply that it is restricted to members of the church who “art worthy of it” as set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 17:18-22. The conditions required in the above text cannot be fulfilled by an unbaptized child; therefore such child should not be given the sacrament. And to this agree the teachings of Saint Paul. (I Corinthians 11:23-29) Paul commended the Saints in being careful and particular in respect to the proper institutions of the church, and we should be admonished thereby, for he says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” (I Corinthians 11:1-2)

Volume 45, page 726, November 16, 1898, Joseph Smith, editor in “Questions and Answers” column:

Do you think it lawful to administer the sacrament to children ten to twelve years of age who have never been baptized?

 Paul was of the opinion that there were some things which were “lawful” but not “expedient.” The sacrament (the bread and the wine) is for baptized believers – those who are capable of discerning the Lord’s body. No others are contemplated in the instructions in either the New Testament or the Doctrine and Covenants. We have no authority for the giving of the emblems to the children who have not yet reached the age to obey, or unbaptized persons, either children or adults, who have reached such age.

If, therefore, the statements in the law which make it lawful to administer the sacrament to specified persons, or those specifically named, make it unlawful to permit others not so named to partake, it is unlawful.

We are of the opinion that the administration to such persons as those described in the question is not provided for, and for that reason, it ought not to be done.

Volume 50, page 593,July 1,1903, Joseph Smith and Frederick M. Smith, editors. Editorial:

Will you please give some instructions on taking the sacrament? Should those who do not belong to the church be invited to partake? If not, what is the meaning of Doctrine and Covenants, 46:2?

In the Herald for May 1, 1870, page 272, the editor gave some thoughts on the “sacrament” and in it uses the following language: “The person passing the emblems should not permit unbaptized persons, nor members of the church against whom charges are made for which they are to be tried, to partake if they know them.”  This is in harmony with the instructions thereon given in Doctrine and Covenants 46:1-2.

Volume 53, page 1004, October 17, 1906. Joseph Smith, editor; Elbert A. Smith, associate editor. Article entitled “Are We Close Communion?”

If by this question it is intended to ask, “Do you as a church administer to and partake of the sacramental emblems, bread and wine, with other religious bodies,” we answer, “No.” Our reason for thus answering is that we are commanded not to let communicants partake unworthily – if unworthiness in part is the failure to discern in the body, the Lord’s body or, in other words, the church acknowledged of Christ as his.

As a people we are commanded not to cast anyone out of our prayer and sacrament meetings; but this does not justify us in giving to them those emblems in the partaking of which we solemnly assure the Lord and each other that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, to remember him, to keep his commandments, in order that we may have his Spirit to be with us. Whoever should partake with us in this covenant, by eating and drinking of the bread and wine, would be such act of partaking also be virtually assenting that the church by whose officers the emblems were offered and administered was the Church of Christ, and the officers administering were acting in their proper places and authorized to officiate in the name of the church and Christ. This acknowledgment we have not the right to demand or permit them to make without the previous baptism which the word of God requires; hence the wisdom of the church in not permitting those not of the faith into which we have been baptized to partake of the sacrament with us; and as a consequence to decline to partake with them in their love feasts or sacrament meetings. 

Volume 85, October 15, 1938, by A. B. Phillips:

The sacrament is essentially a memorial of the Christian covenant as previously entered into between God and the repentant believer. Only members therefore should be permitted to receive it, and scriptural cautions are given which warn against its administration in cases of unworthiness.

The Book of Mormon shows that Jesus limited the sacrament to the membership when instructing his disciples in the matter, and this is commanded. “Give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name” (3 Nephi 8:32).

Moroni also states that the sacrament was administered “unto the church” as Jesus had commanded. Also 3 Nephi 8:62 gives his command.

(Saints’ Herald 96 [November 28, 1949]: 4; Vision 40:18,29)