How To Fence the Lord’s Table (2)

Communion TokenHow to Fence the Lord’s Table (Part 1)

There is irony in fencing the Lord’s Table. What should be a joyous celebration, after due preparation of course, and a communion of believers with their risen Lord and with one another, is for ministers—particularly for church planting pastors—sometimes a moment of uncertainty. We live in a transient culture. We do not know who will be in the congregation when we step behind the table to read the form. We can’t anticipate who will appear in the congregation halfway through the service and appear at the table or expect to be able to commune (on the assumption of open communion).

There is anxiety too. Sometimes when the table is fenced, whether that is done in the foyer by elders or from the table by issuing a warning (see below), pastors worry that newcomers, who are likely unfamiliar with historic Reformed practice, will be offended and leave quickly after the sermon and before the administration of communion. More than one pastor has chased a visitor to the parking lot after a service but when it’s time for communion that can’t happen. Practically, fencing the table can seem like just another way small, struggling Reformed congregations remain small and struggling.

So, when Reformed churches fence the table it is an act of faith in the wisdom, providence, and grace of God. Pastors and elders (and the members) desperately want the lost to come to faith and we want the confused to come to the truth. We live in a culture that, at least touching the evangelical sub-culture, is largely shaped by assumptions that we do not share. Thus, there is often a culture shock for visitors who have a Christian background but who are unfamiliar with Reformed practice. “What do you mean I cannot come to the table? Are you saying that I am not a Christian?” It’s impossible to sort out these thorny questions in the foyer and especially when people are lined up and coming to the table or receiving a tray of elements as it comes by.

This isn’t just Reformed hyper-scrupulosity. I have seen families give communion to their young children or infants, on the assumption that what they do at home is appropriate for church. I have seen people come to the table who had no idea of was happening.

These sort of challenges have caused some to say, “Well, it’s a fine old practice but we live in a new day and we need to adapt to the realities at hand. Better to err on the side of inclusion than exclusion.”

One can sympathize with this reasoning. The old Reformed practice does look a little grinchly when compared to the apparently open and gracious invitation given in congregations that do not fence the table. We do not want to be pharisees chasing off the publicans because they are unclean or not like us. One can understand those congregations that emphasize that it is “the Lord’s Table” and say, in effect, “Let the Lord sort it out.” Yes, it is the Lord’s Table and he has instituted a church, given to her the keys, and biblical revelation about the administration of the table.

It is not really a matter of whether there will be conditions. Even those who practice open communion ordinarily require that one be baptized and make a Christian profession before coming to the table (although I have seen even those conditions discarded). It’s not really a question of whether there are conditions or even, in that sense, whether the table is to be fenced (if there are conditions, then there is a fence) but only how high the fence, if you will.

Remember, there is jeopardy attached to the table. It is not a free-for-all. The supper is just as much a communal act as it is an individual act. The actions of some, in Corinth, had fatal consequences and that was bad for the entire body. If one of us suffers, we all suffer.

So, given our principles, what do we do? First, we must explain ourselves. We need to smile and say something like the following:

We love you and we love the Lord. If you profess faith in Christ we would very much like for you to come to the table if certain things are true of you. As we understand the Lord’s Table it is both personal and communal and therefore we believe that our elders have a responsibility before the Lord to administer the Supper carefully. The Lord’s Table is for believers who are members of congregations that have three marks: the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the use of church discipline.

If you are a member of a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian church we invite you to the table. If you do not know what this means please abstain from the table today and see me or one of the elders. We will be happy to talk and pray with you.

By this we are not saying that you are not a believer or that there are no other believers in the world. We know the gospel is preached elsewhere and we’re thankful for this but.we hope that you’ll respect our attempt to be obedient to God’s Word.

This certainly is not perfect language but it captures the essence of what I think we’re trying to communicate. In my experience people without church backgrounds are not offended. They expect church to be religious and they expect a certain amount of order. The difficulty is with those Christians who assume autonomy relative to the visible, institutional church. There are those who profess faith but are united to no congregation or to a congregation that lacks the marks of a true church.

There are difficult cases. I’ve been asked about confessional Anglicans and Lutherans. I don’t know if the Reformed have ever spoken to either case explicitly but I’m still learning. The Dutch Reformed church orders help here. They do stipulate the “Reformed Religion,” which seems to mean, “the Belgic Confession” or its equivalent. If we exclude confessional Lutherans we should not expect them to be offended since they are familiar with closed communion. Someone from an Anglican congregation that confesses the 39 Articles might be admitted to the table. Church polity is not of the essence of the faith and there were three polities at Dort and Westminster. One difficulty is that the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches (i.e., NAPARC) have no relation to the Anglican communions. Maybe the most difficult case is the question of Baptists who confess aspects of the Reformed faith. There is frequent interchange between Baptist and Reformed and Presbyterian congregations. If “Reformed Religion” stands for the Belgic (or its equivalent) that would seem to answer the question. A Baptist shouldn’t be offended since they don’t accept our Baptism so they are familiar with a degree of exclusion.

Second, it may help to do more than to fence the table at the table. Some congregations have elders in the foyer and even signs announcing that communion is being administered today and that visitors should speak with an elder before coming to the table. This is not always practical. Some congregations do not have enough elders to pray with the minister and greet visitors in the foyer. Others find this procedure a bit daunting. Those can be interesting conversations!

Third, there may be real wisdom in the old Reformed and Presbyterian practice of a certificate of membership or a token. The old Scottish Presbyterian practice was to require communicants to attend the preparatory service the week prior. There one was given a token that was to be returned the next week when one went to the table. In the case that a congregation administers the supper weekly (Calvin’s desired practice) then every Lord’s Day is a preparatory service and the token becomes less practical.

Fourth, a statement in the bulletin explaining the congregation’s practice will be most useful. It might be well to have an elder, if possible, in the foyer to speak with late comers (this might not be a problem everywhere but it’s an issue in California).

Fifth, there might be wisdom in adopting the practice of coming forward for communion. This seems to have been the dominant practice in the German, Dutch, and French Churches, as well as the Scottish Presbyterian Church. There is evidence in the Dutch Church Orders from the late 16th century that communion was sometimes distributed to the seated congregation, as is often done today, but that seems to have been the minority practice.

If people come forward to commune, in rows or in a moving line, or simply to collect the elements and to return to their seats to commune together—I’ve seen this done effectively—then there is a fencing that can yet take place at the table. Ministers have been known to discourage from communion those who should not come to the table (e.g., those who’ve not made profession of faith). If the elements are distributed to the seated congregation then there is little that can be done after the distribution.

This side of glory there is no perfect way to administer communion but as ministers and elders we have a duty to try to administer the Supper in a way that is edifying to the body and obedient to the Chief Shepherd of the Church to whom we must give account. We are men under authority. That is why we are called “ministers.”

May the Lord bless your administration of Holy Communion and may it be a true communion in the body and blood of Christ by the work of the Spirit through faith.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Scott,
    From my experience in the Scottish context, the old practice of communion tokens sometimes led to an even more closed communion practice, in which partaking was not even open to all baptized members in good standing of that local congregation. The elders would visit ahead of the (annual) communion service and there then ensued what felt like an examination in personal piety and practice to discover whether one was worthy to partake. That’s not inherent in the practice, of course, but as T.David Gordon would say, even the terminology of “fencing the Table” focuses our attention on weeding out those who shouldn’t partake rather than encouraging redeemed but struggling sinners who certainly ought to partake. Perhaps the flip side of a loss of church excommunication in a broadly pietistic culture is a rise in “self-excommunication” by Christians who have had a bad week. Maybe worth some reflection in all of this?

    • Hi Iain,

      Good to hear from you. Yes, the some of the Dutch churches have taken this overly introspective turn as well. In some segments of the Dutch churches one cannot come to the table until one has had an existential experience of assurance that seals personally the gospel promises. It’s almost a sacrament within a sacrament. It is not easy to find clear or even ecclesiastical statements of this doctrine/piety but it is well attested by members of this segment of the tradition. The testimony of those who’ve lived in it is that participation in communion, even in large congregations, is typically quite small.

      I agree and tried to signal the problems inherent in the language of “fencing” and I should have made clearer my conviction that all members in good standing (i.e., not under discipline) should come to the table. I agree with Rabbi Duncan! I have exhorted congregations not to practice self-excommunication.

      The Supper is the gospel made visible and we shouldn’t obscure that fact. It’s for the doubting and the hurting. Amen!

  2. We announce what the Supper actually is…and then invite all baptized who believe that Christ is truly present in the meal, to come and receive Him. (if they come, then they are publicly agreeing with what we have announced)

    We don’t pass out any questionnaires and grill people on their doctrine at the railing.

    We do understand people’s reasoning for withholding. But we believe Christ’s benefits for the sinner outweigh any differences in doctrinal belief that the sinner may have with us.

    It’s our way. We believe it to be a Christ centered and grace motivated way to give the New Testament in His body and blood for those who do not deserve it, but for whom He died to give it to.


    • Steve,

      Here’s what the LCMS says:

      Q: Being raised in the LCMS, I was surprised today when I was visiting a LCMS church that had a pamphlet explaining their beliefs about Communion. It went on to say that if the visitor believed these things also then they could commune at that church. I thought that only LCMS members could commune at LCMS churches. Has this changed?

      A: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has never understood or applied the historic practice of close[d] Communion in such a way as to mean that only LCMS members are permitted to commune at LCMS altars. The official position of the Synod is that not only are members of other Lutheran churches with whom we are in altar and pulpit fellowship invited to commune with us, but also that in certain extraordinary cases of pastoral care and in emergencies members of churches not in fellowship with us may be given Communion. The Synod stated, for example, in 1986 “that pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod continue to abide by the practice of close Communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances” (1986 Res. 3-08 “To Maintain Practice of Close Communion”).

      In another document however, this language is clarified:

      At the same time, however, statements in the Confessions make it clear that communion fellowship with those who adhere to a heterodox confession (that of Rome or of the Reformed) is out of the question. While it is a possibility that an individual Christian may be personally prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper worthily and to his or her own personal blessing, we may not classify Christians only as individuals. Rather, all Christians adhere to a confession (or choose to reject all formal confessions), and the terrible doctrinal divisions in the visible church must, tragically, be reflected in the teaching concerning admission to the Lord’s Supper.

      So, according to the LCMS, the Reformed view of the Supper, that, in the Supper, by the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, believers are fed by the “proper and natural” body of Christ and drink the “proper” blood of Christ is “heterodox” and morally equivalent to the Romanist idolatry (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 80) of the eucharistic, memorial sacrifice of the transubstiated host and membership in a confessing Reformed communion disqualifies us the Reformed as communicants in an LCMS congregation.

    • R.S. Clark,

      Thanks for that info., sir.

      We don’t agree with LCMS on this issue. We would welcome the President of the LCMS at our altar railing. We would welcome you, or anyone else who comes up who is baptized and believes Christ to be truly present in the Supper.

      If anyone were to argue with us about our understanding of this gift of Christ to us, then I’m sure we would draw the line there.

  3. Scott, first, isn’t it a narthex? Foyer seems so Ethan Allen-y and thus eeeevangelical-ish.

    Second, and more seriously, you write: “Maybe the most difficult case is the question of Baptists who confess aspects of the Reformed faith. There is frequent interchange between Baptist and Reformed and Presbyterian congregations. If ‘Reformed Religion’ stands for the Belgic (or its equivalent) that would seem to answer the question. A Baptist shouldn’t be offended since they don’t accept our Baptism so they are familiar with a degree of exclusion.”

    Agreed. But it raises a question about membership. What do you make of Reformed congregations that make even associate members of Baptists? You note the transiency of our culture, and I understand associate membership for some who are temporarily transient, and far be it from me to chase away any Baptists who find Reformed congregations preferable to even local Reformed Baptist congregations. But it does seem to me that doing so invites problems unnecessarily, not least the conundrum of either having to fence associate members or invite those to commune who hold to a doctrine we explicitly confess to be serious error.

    • Zrim,

      Fair point. I’m terrible at church architecture. In my defense, in virtually every congregation of which I’ve been a part (except St Ebbes in the UK) it’s always been “foyer.” Maybe that comes from meeting in converted gas stations and the like?

      On associate memberships for Baptists, first we should define it. I understand it to be a way of admitting people to communion without allowing them to vote in congregational meetings and the like. I don’t know what other use an “associate membership” would have. I suppose people will disagree about this and I understand that but, for my part, I don’t know what it means to say that we’re admitting some to communion who do not think that the congregation is baptized, who reject on principle significant portions of our confession. It’s one thing to admit college students from sister congregations or from congregation with whom we have some connection via NAPARC, who are away from home, to associate status for the purposes of communion but either the modern American Presbyterians are correct and we should not require members to confess the standards (Belgic, Heidelberg, Canons or Westminster Standards) or the Reformed (and the older Presbyterian tradition) are correct and we should.

  4. Dr. Clark, I have a question I have been pondering for a while. Do all those who are true Christians, truly regenerated, receive the same Supper and benefits regardless of what one believes about the supper?

    • Eric,

      Yes, I think so. Believers are fed by Christ through faith, by the operation of the Spirit. E.g., both Lutherans and Reformed confess that we are fed by the body and blood of Christ. The disagreement is over the location (we say that Jesus’ humanity is locally at the right hand of the Father and the Lutherans confess the “everywhereness” of the humanity and a local presence in, with, and under the elements).

      The issue is over confession and the nature of the church. It’s a tragedy that the Supper, which is a communion, should be the source of disunity. We live in a fallen world.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I don’t mean to pick nits, but if you’re looking for a good shorthand for your readers on the Lutheran doctrines of the Supper and Christology I think there are better options.

      Our basic confession of the Supper is that the Body and Blood of Christ are “present, distributed, and eaten” in the Supper (Article X). “In, with and under” is an attempt at more clarity when words like “present,” “distributed,” and “eaten” were re-defined.

      As for Christology, as I understand it a better way to quickly tell someone our doctrine is that Jesus is able to do with His Body what He wishes. If you want, you might direct readers to Dr. Rosenbladt’s lectures on Vimeo on Chemnitz’s The Two Natures in Christ to get an idea of our doctrine.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Thanks for the post.

    What do you do for a visitor who is a member of a church that claims Reformed heritage, but isn’t an NAPARC member?

  6. R.S. Clark,

    Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, CA.

    We are officially an ELCA congregation. But we are exploring options of affiliating with LCMC or NALC. We do believe that the ELCA has crossed some lines pertaining to ordaining openly gay clergy, and also their view of the historic episcopate being a requirement for clergy to effect the sacrament.

  7. How someone can confess that they believe in “one holy and apostolic church” and tightly fence the table is a mystery to me. I once asked my own priest (Anglican Network in Canada) about this and I love his answer “If I expect to dine with someone in heaven I see no reason why I should not serve them here on earth”. The closed/close communion policy of the LCMS is the principal reasons I am not a Lutheran. And I am happy to report that I (and my family) have never been denied a place at the rail in any of the many reformed or Presbyterian churches that we frequently visit when we vacation (mostly PCA but also Dutch reformed church (I get the alphabet soup of names confessed but ministers were invariably Calvin Grads) and even a few odd (and I mean odd) Reformed Baptist churches (I can say this since I grew up reformed Baptist). In the case of my Dad’s old PCA church the minister (who was also a prof at covenant) know I was not a five pointer (we use to talk theology a lot) but he was very clear that it his was not a Presbyterian table but a Christian table and that we were welcome. I should also note I always introduce myself before the service and make clear if we will be welcome at the rail.

    • Steve,

      Why is fencing the table contrary to catholicity? Does catholicity entail any organizational boundaries?

      If boundaries are permitted then which? When?

      What sort of ecclesiology are you advocating?

    • Like I said, R.S., we do understand the reasons for those who desire to fence the Supper.

      For us, though, it is ‘pure gospel’, and we want as many as possible to receive it, within certain boundaries. For us, those fences are being baptized and believing it to be the true body and blood of Christ given to sinners.

      St. Paul’s admonition against receiving the Supper unworthily was, taken in context, to stop those from getting drunk and hoarding their own food in an un-Christian fashion, from then receiving the Supper.

      I do think that you could question those in any given pew and find that doctrinally, they’d be all over the map on any given Sunday.

      But they still need the pure gospel given in the sacrament.

    • Why is fencing the table contrary to catholicity? I believe in “one holy and apostolic church” and there is no precedent in the New Testament or the first 1000 years of church history for excluding baptized confirmed small “o” orthodox believers in good standing in their local churches from the lords table.
      Does catholicity entail any organizational boundaries? Yes! Denoniations are a good thing. Doctrine and church governance are important and I want my church to be very careful who they put in the pulpit or other positions of leadership. Until the lord come we will continue to disagree about all sorts of important things. For whatever reason the lord has not blessed us with one mind. However I believe the Lord’s Supper is an expression of our unity in Christ not our unity of doctrine.
      If boundaries are permitted then which? When? I am fine with the ancient ecumenical creeds for communion, for leadership the specific denominational confession’s Westminster, 39 articles, Heidelberg etc. For membership something in-between (I have no problem with reasonable exceptions)
      What sort of ecclesiology are you advocating? None I hope, but in my heart of hearts I think I am I high church Presbyterian who loves the book of Common Prayer.

  8. I’ve seen a number of references here to the traditional Lutheran practice of communion, still practiced by the Missouri and Wisconsin synods as well as a number of smaller confessional Lutheran bodies.

    The Wisconsin Synod is larger than the PCA. The Missouri Synod is several times larger than every NAPARC denomination put together. But they don’t seem to have the problems facing their church planters that Reformed churches do.

    Dr. Clark, I think you have much more contact with Lutherans than I do, so I’d be interested in why they don’t seem to have a problem practicing closed or close communion. My guess is maybe it’s because they’re not embarrassed of their doctrine and openly declare that if you want belong to a Lutheran church you need to be a Lutheran, and if you’re going to visit, you’ll be treated as a visitor and not a member until you choose to take the steps needed to have your beliefs examined and become a member. But that’s only a guess.

    I’d be interested in your take on why Lutherans just don’t seem to have this type of debate in their circles, and seem to largely take a practice for granted which is considered difficult to defend or highly offensive in Reformed circles.

    • In my experience they do. The LCMS church I worshiped at in university practiced open communion but The LCMS afiilliated church nearest to me won’t (how ever the associate priest told me privately that if he would if he was in charge and told me in his former life as an army Chaplin he caticized the Anglican kids on his base). The churches refusal to comune us was key in our decision not to worship there.

    • Darrell,

      Good question. Darryl Hart has addressed this in his work.

      For one thing the LCMS arrived fairly late to the USA, c. 1839. The Reformed had been in this country since 1710. We had been through the First Great Awakening and the SGA was underway when what became the LCMS arrived. They remained isolated in St Louis for a long time. That is symbolic of their relation to the rest of the evangelical world. In that they were much different from those in the CRC who were afraid that speaking English would lead to compromise with the “Methodists” (evangelicals). Of course, the concerns were justified.

      I don’t know the history well enough to say why they prospered numerically but one possibility is that they were able to turn back the liberals in the 70s in St Louis. The LCMS is still quite broad and there is considerable tension between the more evangelical and confessional wings. Had the conservatives/confessionalists lost in the 70s then the LCMS would have been as small as some of the NAPARC groups.

      My perception, from the outside, is that the confessionalists don’t care as much about what evangelicals think of them as most Reformed people seem to care. I don’t know that they don’t have this type of debate. I wouldn’t assume that but they may be generally less troubled by the question.

    • Interesting discussion, all.

      Dr. Clark, I think your analysis is largely correct on the LCMS. The LCMS congregation to which I belong is the only LCMS church for miles that practices closed communion. The American evangelicals in our midst view our practice as “unloving.” The LCMS is hopelessly divided between confessional Lutherans and American evangelicals. The current Synod President (roughly, “Archbishop” in traditional terms) is solidly confessional, but before his election many confessional people and congregations left the Synod. My experience is that the confessional Lutherans in the LCMS have a “synod within the Synod,” so to speak.

      All that is to say that depending on which LCMS church one visits, where one is located, etc., all play a factor in whether one would see Lutherans practicing closed communion or not. Incidentally, I’ve never heard the Gospel preached in a Lutheran church that practices open communion. Not sure if there is a correlation there or not.

    • Thank you for your reply, Dr. Clark. I got a pingback on this thread today in my email and realized I had never responded to you. My apologies. I’m sure I read your post but for whatever reason didn’t reply as I should have done.

      In my community, which is right in the heart of the Bible Belt, the local Missouri Synod congregation has stained glass window panels next to the entrance door with words proclaiming their belief in what we as Calvinists would attack as baptismal regeneration. They are, I think, one of only two evangelical churches in the entire county which baptizes infants, so their position is very much out of the mainstream of evangelical beliefs, though their pastor gets along quite well with the local ministerial association which regards him as a bit old-fashioned and narrowminded but certainly a solid Bible believing pastor.

      Other LCMS congregations I’ve known over the years have been equally emphatic in their emphasis that “we’re Lutherans, not broad evangelicals,” and seem to get away with it just fine, advocating not only Lutheran distinctives on baptism but also views on worship, closed communion, etc., which are held only by the very strictest of Reformed people.

      It’s hard not to have some significant admiration for people willing to take a stand for their confessional integrity, even if their confession is wrong.

    • Thanks Steve. I’ve listened to it before. My main point had to do with the evangelicals in the LCMS, since I likely wouldn’t bother to darken the doors of an ELCA congregation. I learned the hard way that many in the LCMS are Rick Warren wannabes.

  9. Dr Clark, your summary of the difference between the Reformed and Lutherans very helpful on the understanding of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.

    There are a couple of excellent little books on early Scottish practice: Leigh Schmidt’s Holy Fairs and Malcolm Maclean’s The Lord’s Supper.

    I remember years ago my wife and I (we were Sydney Diocese Anglicans) as young Christians fronting up to a Lutheran Church while on holidays and being their Communion Sunday asked to wait in the foyer for the Minister to come an ask a question. His question was Luther’s point, “did we believe in the Supper we fed on the body and blood of Christ”. I said yes and we were admitted, but afterwards I realised there is more subtlety in the language than first meets the eye, certainly not for someone who had ever had these subtleties explained to him in his local (evangelical) Anglican church.

    I think the disappointment with Lutherans (I speak in an Australian context) is that they have mostly been moving in an excessively high church direction in terms of dressing up, lectionary (ie no expository preaching) developed in cooperation with Catholics, Anglicans and Uniting Church, weekly Lord’s Supper. I say this with some sadness because I think we share so much common ancestry. But then they would look at our Presbyterian Churches which too many times over are Zwinglian in their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and with such a focus on the preaching of the Word have lost the richness of the liturgy of, say, a John Calvin.

  10. “But, the things you mentioned earlier didn’t sound excessively “high-church” (a bit of a foreign term in Lutheranism), but simply normal.”

    David Palmer’s right. There is such a thing as high-church Lutheranism. It just depends on what kind … Hermann Sasse who can be counted as Australian Lutheran wrote against the high church error promoted by Arthur Carl Piepkorn.

    • Hi Jason,

      I’m familiar with the Sasse quote. Have you read Zeeden? Musculus’ reaction to the Mass in Wittenberg paints an interesting picture.

      What I meant by “high-church” being foreign is that it is imported into Lutheranism from Anglican debates. I dare say there was less variety in the early Lutheran church orders than in 19th century Anglicanism. Most of the church orders are decidedly “high-church,” for what it’s worth.

  11. “What I meant by “high-church” being foreign is that it is imported into Lutheranism from Anglican debates.”

    No, I haven’t read Zeeden. But yes, there’s a history of some Anglo-Papists in the Church of England and Nordic Lutherans who think they have much in common. I mean the Swedish Lutheran theologian Brillioth was one of them. And yes today, in the US of A, we have so-called Lutherans (one of the loony “evangelical catholic” jurisdictions around) who dress up like Anglo-Papists, i.e. wannabe Romanists — skull cap, cardinal sash and all that.

    I’m for vestments, weekly communion, crucifixes, elevation and everything associated with traditional Lutheranism but kissing the cross, kneeling at the ringing of the bell, censing the altar and other stuff which one finds in the Anglican or Roman Mass is excessive.

    I agree wholeheartedly with David that the Reformed and Lutheran have so much in common — except when they don’t. And I have no problems with Lutheran preachers in black gowns, though I prefer the vestments for sacramental reasons.

    But one must never forget the danger of low church-ism. Yes, low church is just as un-Lutheran, and un-Reformational if by that is meant the original Protestant Reformation envisaged by Luther. Which is I strongly disagree with the book, “Abp Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest” by Samuel Leuenberger. Cranmer was no low church pietist, whether in the Puritan, Whitefieldian, Clapham sect, Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, Keswick spirituality, etc. Sorry to say this, even the Sydney Anglicans (Moore Theological College) cannot claim to be genuine heirs of Cranmer.

    Sacramental piety which was restored by the Reformation is linked to justification by faith alone. This something evangelicals today don’t understand at all.

    • It is Christmas Day but I will come back, perhaps on what we call Boxing Day to interact with Jason.

    • Hi Jason,

      Speaking historically and confessionally, the Lutheran practice is to not forbid what is indifferent (including incense, genuflecting, etc.), and to use “ceremonies” to confess the faith. Bodo Nischan’s work is extremely helpful here. Things like the exorcism in the baptismal rite or the retention of the elevation in response to the fractus pane are just a couple examples.

      We’re certainly agreed re: sacramental piety. Cheers.

  12. I trust your celebration of Christmas brought joy. For us it is the start of a long summer break.

    “I’m for vestments, weekly communion, crucifixes, elevation and everything associated with traditional Lutheranism.”

    “I prefer the vestments for sacramental reasons.”

    “…the Lutheran practice is to not forbid what is indifferent (including incense, genuflecting, etc.), and to use “ceremonies” to confess the faith….. Things like the exorcism in the baptismal rite or the retention of the elevation in response to the fractus pane are just a couple examples.”

    Yes, this where we do definitely part company in respect of public worship. I really don’t think anything in public worship is “indifferent”, but I understand the point being made. The Reformed hold to the regulative principle though I think very strictly applied (e.g. no recitation of creeds and exclusive Psalmody) leads to a bare bones service which requires a lot of the preacher in the quality of his sermons and public prayers (set prayers out of a service book being an anathema).

    “low church is just as un-Lutheran, and un-Reformational if by that is meant the original Protestant Reformation” Abp Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest” by Samuel Leuenberger. Cranmer was no low church pietist, whether in the Puritan, Whitefieldian, Clapham sect, Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, Keswick spirituality, etc. Sorry to say this, even the Sydney Anglicans (Moore Theological College) cannot claim to be genuine heirs of Cranmer.”

    I personally agree with what you say. What I call bare bones is what you call low church pietism. If you study what Calvin was doing in Geneva, the order of service and esp his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper it was liturgically rich in a regulative principle kind of way. Australian Presbyterians have become more attached to their confessional tradition though not so much so as to wean them away as yet from run of the mill evangelicalism (what Jason calls low church pietism) which deals inadequately with confession/assurance of pardon, is Zwinglian in respect of the Lord’s Supper and often avoids the creeds and Lord’s Prayer. Thankfully this picture is only partially correct. Sydney Diocese is no help in respect of public worship but is to be applauded in terms of Biblical fidelity, holding fast to justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and their zeal for evangelism.

    As a matter of interest what do you Lutherans think of this statement of Calvin?

    “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”
    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 11, Section 1

    • Hi David,

      Please understand, we don’t mean “indifferent” in the sense it seems you’re taking it. For example, when Rome tells us we have to do some specific thing in order for our sacraments to have the right mojo, we resist. And when the Reformed tell us that we can’t do something because it’s too Papist, we resist. We don’t mean that anything and everything goes. Check here for more information:

      I don’t think there is anything in Calvin’s duplex beneficium that is contrary to the Lutheran confessions, but I could be missing something.

  13. Hi Scott, this is a very encouraging post to me as a pastor who has been there – a church planter who has been anxious at times about what might happen during communion, who has run after visitors after the service, etc. Thanks for encouraging me and others to keep it up!
    One question though: You suggest some words of “warning” to be used and say: “If you are a member of a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian church we invite you to the table.”
    However, as you know, being a member of a Reformed church does not mean you actually necessarily confess the Reformed faith, especially in churches that do not practice confessional membership. You might have, e.g. a member in good standing of an OPC, who is himself (by confession) a charismatic Baptist. Would you adjust the wording? Or do you believe church membership trumps personal confession?

    • Sebastian,

      This is difficult but there must be some priority. I’m guided by the language of the Synod of Dort, which says that only those who profess the Reformed religion shall be admitted to the table. Yes, it’s true that a member of an American Presbyterian denomination may not agree with the confession of faith but the churches have entered into formal ecumenical relations and have received one another as true churches at some level. In that case I don’t know that a consistory (session) may say, “We don’t accept the OPC or PCA (or some other) as a true church and therefore we cannot commune their members.” It is true that such an approach may produce anomalous results but that is the world in which we now live. It’s an attempt to be faithful to our convictions about fencing the table while honoring ecumenical commitments.

      Imagine a consistory/session fencing the table on the basis of personal profession. If we go that route then, does it matter where they make that profession? What about someone who agrees with the confessions formally but is not a member of any congregation? Should we commune him?

      The old Dutch practice was to ask for a letter from one’s consistory. People, when traveling, had to have some attestation that they were in good standing with a Reformed congregation. I didn’t like it when I first learned about but perhaps there’s something to it? The problem would be that virtually no one outside of the Canadian Reformed do this any more. Thus, it would lead to effectively barring almost everyone from NAPARC from the table and it still wouldn’t fix the difference in practice between the Continental and the American Presbyterian denominations.

      Thanks for your encouragement and for your great labors for the kingdom!

  14. Dr. Clark, I am very unfamiliar with the concept of “fencing” the Lord’s Table in the way you are talking about. I have heard of it, but I have never experienced being in a church that does it in the way you are describing.

    In your article you wrote what you say to explain to visitors and/or the congregation about how your church/denomination handles the Lord’s Table and why certain people are not allowed to come. To be frank, what you wrote is pretty clear and very gracious. A fair-minded person who does not know about “fencing”, regardless of whether or not they are a Christian, will respect the church’s position. It’s probably a safe assumption that people who will are still offended even after it is explained will inevitably have irreconcilable differences with the way Reformed Churches “do” church.

    I appreciate you explaining “fencing” and for being so gracious. This was very helpful.

  15. I came across your site as I was “googling” the term “fencing the table” to make sure it meant what I thought it did. I will comment no further.

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