Would you please explain in the Standard Bearer why we speak of “close” rather than of “closed” communion in the Protestant Reformed Churches?
Briefly, the different possibilities with respect to admission to the Lord’s Supper are as follows:
1) Open communion, according to which there is no supervision by the consistory, but it is simply left to everyone’s individual conscience whether he partakes of the Supper or not. Members of the church and nonmembers alike are invited to come to the table.
2) Closed communion, according to which only confessing members in good standing are admitted to the Lord’s table. In the strictest sense, this would even exclude members visiting from a sister congregation. I wish to emphasize that this is not the stand of our churches.
3) Close communion, which means that the consistory exercises supervision with respect to admission to the Lord’s table. Or, in other words, it exercises the keys of the kingdom and guards the sanctity of the table. This is in harmony with Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day XXX, Qu. 82: “Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly? No; for by this, the covenant of God would be profaned, and his wrath kindled against the whole congregation; therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and his apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life.” (Incidentally, there is a typographical error in the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s commentary on this Question and Answer; the word “closed” is used instead of the word “close.”) Article 61 of the Church Order likewise maintains this position of “close” communion.
All of this brings to mind a very interesting concrete case which was appealed to Classis East from Holland in 1945. This case involved the Consistory’s admitting a member of the Christian Reformed Church to its communion table. By way of the process of protest and appeal, this matter came to Classis East; and a study committee consisting of Revs. H. Hoeksema, G.M. Ophoff, and R. Veldman was appointed. In due course, this committee reported, and their report was adopted by Classis East. Both because of the general principle involved and because of the concrete case, I will quote this very instructive report and decision. It is as follows:
Your committee, appointed to advise classis in reprotests against the Consistory of Holland, in regard to its action of permitting a member of the Christian Reformed Church to partake of communion in their midst, reports as follows:
The protests against the Consistory of Holland and the latter’s reply required of your committee to inquire into two matters:
1. The particular, concrete case of Holland, admitting a member of the Christian Reformed Church to its communion table; and
2. The general question involved, whether it is principally correct to admit, under given circumstances, members of other denominations as guests to our communion table.
I. As to the general question, concerning the principle involved in the case of Holland, your committee is of the opinion that members of other churches, not in all respects agreeing with our Protestant Reformed Faith, may be admitted to our communion table upon their request:
1. That such members are at such time, and most probably will be for some time, deprived of the opportunity to celebrate communion in a church of their own denomination.
2. That proper request be made by such member at the earliest possible opportunity, at the Consistory, in order that the latter may be in a position properly to investigate the faith and walk of the petitioner.
3. That upon proper inquiry the Consistory is satisfied that such member:
a. Know and repent of their sins, and trust for forgiveness and salvation only in the blood of Christ; also that they seek the Lord’s table for the strengthening of their faith, and are desirous to lead a holy life.
b. Reveal’ themselves as believers in their walk and conversation, and are not defiled with any of the sins mentioned in our Form for Communion.
c. Do not belong to any secret society or worldly union, membership of which bars our own members from the table of the Lord.
d. Are not under discipline in their own church.
1. The bread and wine are, according to Scripture, the communion of the body and blood of the Lord; to refuse guests under circumstances as above described would be tantamount to excommunicating them from the body of Christ.
2. The conditions stipulated above are in accord with all that our Confessions teach concerning the Lord’s Supper and the worthy partakers thereof. Cf. Heid. Cat. questions 75-82; Conf. Belg. Art. 35. And the same conditions quite satisfy the demands of our Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper.
3. This custom has been followed in the Reformed Churches, and is in accord with the opinion of its leading theologians, since the time of the Reformation.
C. Advice: Your committee advises classis to adopt the above as a general declaration of the principles involved in the matter.
II. Your committee, however, is of the opinion that the action of Holland’s Consistory does not in all respects agree with the above declaration of principles; for:
1. First of all, there appears to have been no urgent need for the particular member of the Christian Reformed Church that applied for admission to the Lord’s table in Holland’s Prot. Ref. Church, to do so:
a. There are several Christian Reformed Churches in Holland where applicant could have celebrated communion.
b. Even if he could not have partaken of the Lord’s Supper on that particular Lord’s Day, this would not have been sufficient reason for him to seek and for the Consistory of Holland to grant him admission to the latter’s communion.
2. The difference between our Churches and the Christian Reformed is-not merely one of doctrine, but also one of discipline and walk: by a deliberate act of expulsion they declared that we have no place in their communion.
3. By admitting the party in question to their Lord’s table, the Consistory might expect to give occasion for offense in the congregation. It would seem that, in view of the relation between the Protestant Reformed and the Christian Reformed Churches as referred to under 2 above, a public declaration would have been in order that the Christian Reformed applicant did not agree with the action of his own church whereby they expelled us from their fellowship.
B. Advice: Your committee advises:
1. That Classis adopt the above judgment of the committee in re the concrete case of Holland as its own.
2. That Classis declare:
a. That the Consistory of Holland, although in the abstract it has the right to admit guests to its communion table, erred in its application of the general principle involved to a concrete instance.
b. That the protestants, only in as far as their complaint has reference to the concrete case, and not the general principle involved, had occasion to be offended at the action of their Consistory.
3. That Classis so advise and inform both the Consistory of Holland and the protestants, by furnishing them with a transcript of the above declarations and decisions.