My position on this is very clear. When I am celebrating communion, it is not my place to withhold the gifts from anyone who opens their hand to receive them. There is a place to exercise church discipline, but the Lord’s Table is not it. It should be a place of welcome and grace. No buts, ifs, howevers or maybes. All are welcome.Similarly, Bob Cornwall (another pastor) writes:
When thinking about the “Lord’s” Table, maybe we should consider Jesus’ own dining habits — he didn’t put up barriers — so should we? I think not. If Jesus practiced an open table, then I as the one who issues the invitation must do the same.Of course, there is much to be said for these arguments. We should never wield the sacraments like a club in order to enforce theological or moral discipline; after all, they are means of grace, not law. But I must confess that the concept of open communion, if it becomes too open, makes me a bit uncomfortable. For instance, one commentator said that he "would go a step further and welcome all people to the Eucharistic table...Christian, atheist, Buddhist...whatever." I found this rather shocking when I first read it, although I couldn't say exactly why at the time.
Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that such a wanton distribution of the sacraments violates the holiness of Holy Communion. As Rudolf Otto argues in his seminal book, The Idea of the Holy, all holy objects have both a fascinating and a terrifying quality (mysterium fascinans et tremendum). We are drawn to them become they possess the eternal, but we are also scared of them because we know that it's very dangerous to trifle with the eternal. To play with the holy is to play with fire - it could result in one's annihilation. For this reason, Paul includes the warning in 1 Cor. 11 that "if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord... For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgment upon yourself." Thus, in my opinion, there is a legitimate danger in encouraging people (like atheists, Buddhists, or even nominal Christians) to partake of a holy ceremony that they don't really understand. And a church that is so promiscuous with the sacraments has clearly lost sight of the fact that we should always approach the altar with both joy and "fear and trembling".
The question then becomes: where do you draw the line? It seems to me that the bare minimum requires that the communicant be a baptized Christian. But I'm tempted to set the bar higher. As Hermann Stasse points out, "church fellowship has been altar-fellowship and vice versa every since New Testament times." He goes on to say:
The idea that people could be admitted to Holy Communion with whom there is no perfect peace, no unity of faith and consequently no church-fellowship, is a modern idea that was absolutely foreign to the churches of the 16th century... Such open communion, according to the conviction of the Church of all ages up to the modern world, is no communion at all, no sacrament to be justified by New Testament practice and doctrine.Sasse's position might be extreme, but I think it's reasonable to insist that people taking communion be "in fellowship" (that is, in basic agreement) with the church where they are receiving the sacrament. Thus, a person who rejects the rejects the "real presence" of Christ in the sacrament should abstain from taking communion in a Lutheran church. Similarly, I would not feel comfortable taking communion at a Catholic mass, and not only because the R.C. church expressly forbids it. As my act of communion would imply that I agree with the self-understanding of the R.C. church (which I do not), out of respect for both them and me I would exclude myself from the table even if there was no such rule. In this way, the communion aspect of the Lord's Supper is not compromised.