I’ve been thinking more lately about the scandal of fencing the table.
I should have thought to do this earlier. Researching an answer to another question I ran across some interesting Dutch Reformed (in this case, Christian Reformed) sources on this question.
John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church (1949), where he says:
Calvin makes the proper administration of the sacraments the second mark of the true Church….
(quotes Calvin Inst 4.1.9)
He stressed the fact that the Lord’s Supper could be truly received only by believers, and that great dangers attended careless participation
(quotes Inst 4.17.24, 40)
….This guarding of the sacraments is clearly reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism (cites Q. 81). The Christian Reformed Church Order circumscribes both the administration and the reception (my emphasis – rsc) of the sacraments:
Then he quotes the old Church Order of the CRC, Art. 61:
None shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those who according to the usage of the Church with which they unite themselves have made a confession of the Reformed religion (emphasis added), besides being reputed to be of a godly walk, without which also those who come from other Churches shall not be admitted.
He defends this article by appealing to BC 29 and especially the third mark of the true church.
Howard B. Spaan, Christian Reformed Church Government (1968) quotes Art 59 of the Church Order thus:
Members by baptism shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper upon a public profession of Christ according to the Reformed creeds (emphasis added), with the use of the prescribed form.
There is nothing in Article 60, which specifically speaks to who may come to the table. Evidently, one supposes, the older language was removed. Martin Monsma, The New Revised Church Order Commentary (1967) says:
Fundamentally the difference between those who advocate “open communion” and those who maintain “close communion” is a question of recognition of and non-recognition of authority of Christ vested in the officer-bearers….
Whether or not one shall approach unto the Lord’s Table is not simply up to the individual. He must recognize the officers appointed for this work by Christ. Neither may any consistory delegate this charge to the individuals by announcing that all who are members of some other church in good and regular standing and desirous of observing the Lord’s Supper are invited to partake. This is not as bad as an unconditional invitation, but it is a form of open communion for the question of attendance or non-attendance at the Lord’s Table is after all left solely to the judgment of the individuals concerned. One altogether unworthy may thus be given permission to partake. This would be a desecration of the Lord’s Table which might have been avoided, and an opening of an avenue of sin by the office bearers to the unworthy participant.
He goes on to describe a procedure whereby a visitor should make a request of the consistory, preferably the week before but at least before communion, to participate.
The current (3rd) edition of the Church Order of the URCNA, Art. 45 says:
The Consistory shall supervise participation at the Lord’s Table. No member shall be admitted to the Lord’s Table who has not first made public profession of faith and is not living a godly life. Visitors may be admitted provided that, as much as possible, the Consistory is assured of their biblical church membership, of their proper profession of faith, and of their godly walk.
It is surprising that it was not restored by the URCs in 1995-96. Did they consider the original language of the Dort Order? Since the URC CO has been revised three times, here’s a suggestion for a future revision: Since the phrase “biblical church membership” is vague and liable to multiple interpretations, why should we not simply adopt the language of the Church Order of Dort? Why not require those who would commune in a URCNA congregation to “profess the Reformed Religion”? After all, “biblical church membership,” unless clearly defined to mean, “Reformed church membership,” (and if that’s what is meant, why didn’t we say that?) is about as meaningful as “belongs to an evangelical church” or “belongs to a Protestant church.” What on earth is an “evangelical” church these days? What is “membership” in a day of “emergent” gatherings or Calvary Chapel or the like? Who says what “biblical” means? Isn’t that why we have ecclesiastical confessions, to circumscribe the limits of what a church can call “biblical”?
There is a reason why the Synod of Dort said, “professes the Reformed religion.”
I realize that it is painful in our culture to say to confessional Lutherans (who have no trouble excluding us) and to Baptists (who don’t or shouldn’t recognize our baptism), “Hey, we love you and we may even have a personal opinion that you are a believer, but that isn’t a sufficient basis for formal, ecclesiastical communion.”
Allowing folk to the table who deny the validity of our baptism (for those of us who only have an infant baptism) who regard us formally as “crafty sacramentarians,” elevates and imposes upon the congregation personal preference in the same way that requiring the congregation to sing uninspired songs imposes on the congregation a personal preference. The one thing to which we’ve all agreed, in a Reformed congregation, is the Word of God as confessed by the Reformed churches. We haven’t agreed to or confessed the status of Baptist or Lutheran churches so a consistory isn’t free to impose an opinion on the entire congregation just like it’s not free to impose an opinion about hymns. Now we’re talking about sola Scriptura and the limits of ecclesiastical authority.
Thus there’s a proper balance between recognizing the divinely instituted offices in the visible church and the limits of the authority given to those officers. To fail to recognize that authority, as is common in our egalitarian culture, is essentially Anabaptist anarchy. To go beyond the limits of God’s Word is tyranny. In between the two is the Freedom of the Christian Man.