From two or three different sources in recent months I have been asked for advice about the subject of admitting guests to the communion table in our churches. The subject is not that of admitting guests from sister congregations in our denomination. That, it seems to me, is not a very difficult question. Every consistory should follow the rule that such guests shall be admitted and welcomed provided that, according to their own testimony, they are communicant members in one of our churches and are “in good standing.” If a consistory has such a rule, then admission to the Lord’s Supper can be achieved through such persons appearing even on Sunday morning to be granted permission—in spite of the fact that the gathering of the consistory before the service is not a duly constituted consistory meeting. However, the question on which I was asked for advice was a bit different. It concerned guests at the communion table from another denomination.
If you look in our Church Order (even the new edition] you will find nothing on this subject. And most of our ministers and elders will not recall that this question was ever dealt with by our broader assemblies. Since my memory and experience go back a bit farther in our history, I was able to tell my questioners that at one time this question was indeed dealt with by a broader assembly, Classis East, and that a very significant and helpful decision was reached, a decision which is, of course, still binding in our churches. Further, this decision is of even greater significance because it dealt with principles.
Although I published this material some thirteen years ago in answering a question about “close” communion (Vol. 47, p. 422), I will repeat it here, as a matter of information.
At the same time, I have a suggestion about consistories keeping this decision available. The problem, you see, is that decisions of this kind tend to be lost in the dust of history. We have no official collection of significant decisions of past synods and classical meetings. In the last congregation .which I served as pastor the decision which I am about to quote, I recall, was pasted into the minute book for future reference. That was a good idea. Another possibility is that a consistory keeps a file of significant classical decisions, keeps that file up-to-date, and refers to it as needed. Whatever the method, something should be done to maintain continuity with the past in this respect. I think this is especially important because of the fact that in recent years our churches have gotten almost an entirely new generation of officebearers, who, because of their youth, are simply not acquainted from memory with important decisions and precedents of the past. And it stands to reason that as our churches grow older, this problem will also grow.
What was the decision?
It arose out of an appeal from Holland to Classis East in 1945. The case involved the Consistory’s admitting a member of the Christian Reformed Church to its communion table as a guest. By way of the process of protest and appeal, the 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. Here follows the report, which was adopted in toto by Classis.
Your committee, appointed to advise classis in re protests 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 circum stances, 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 members:
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.
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 partaken of the 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.
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.