Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
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, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk, without which those who come from other churches shall not be admitted. Church Order, Article 61
Articles 61-64 of the Church Order deal with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. These articles lay down the fundamental guidelines that safeguard the administration of the sacrament in Reformed churches. There is evident in these articles a deep concern for the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper, the purity of the sacrament, and the protection of the sacrament against profanation.
The concern of our Church Order rests on the conviction of our Reformed fathers that the proper administration of the sacraments is a distinguishing mark of the true church of Jesus Christ in the world. Neglect of the principles set forth in these articles in many Reformed churches today is a glaring indication of the extent to which these churches have forsaken their heritage and come under the influence of apostasy.
Supervision of the Lord’s Supper
The concern of the Church Order is the responsibility of the consistory with respect to the Lord’s Supper.
This is not to say that the individual Christian has no responsibility for the proper administration, of the Lord’s Supper. Not at all! The individual Christian has a responsibility with respect to himself. He must examine his own heart and life and be sure that he partakes of the Lord’s Supper worthily. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (I Cor. 11:28, 29).
The individual Christian also has a responsibility with respect to his fellow church members. If he is aware that he is the occasion of offense against any other member, he must clear up the offense before coming to the Lord’s Supper. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24). Or, if he has knowledge that a brother is walking in sin, in order that the sacraments not be profaned and in order to gain the brother, he must deal with the brother in the way prescribed in Matthew 18:15-20.
But the focus of Article 61 is the responsibility of the consistory with respect to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. The elders of the church have the calling from Christ to guard the sacrament. In the past this responsibility was often referred to as the elders’ calling to “fence” the sacrament.
Article 61 makes plain that this calling means not only that the elders bar from partaking those who are living impenitent in sin. But the calling goes further. The elders are to do all in their power to assure that those who do partake are worthy to partake.
Confession of Faith
In order to assure that only those who are worthy partake of the Lord’s Supper, Article 61 requires of consistories that they admit to the sacrament those who “… have made a confession of the Reformed religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk….” Confession of faith is the way to the Lord’s table.
This confession is to be a confession of “the Reformed religion.” Faith is necessary for a right partaking of the Lord’s Supper. But faith is knowledge. Only those are to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who have a knowledge of the fundamentals of the Reformed faith. If one’s knowledge is deemed deficient, the consistory ought to delay admittance to the Lord’s Supper in order that further instruction can be received.
Faith is also confidence. The knowledge of the Reformed faith is not merely, therefore, head knowledge. But there must also be expressed the personal conviction on the part of the one making confession of faith of his own heartfelt belief of the truths of the Word of God.
If this faith is a genuine faith, it will also be a faith that produces the fruit of holiness. This, too, must be a concern of the consistory in those who are admitted to the sacrament: “…besides being reputed to be of a godly walk.” For this reason, novices and strangers must not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. It may very well be that they are walking godly. But the consistory must know this about them. The consistory must be sufficiently acquainted with those whom it admits to the Lord’s Supper that it can testify to the uprightness of their walk of life.
If a confession of faith is required of those who are to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it is plain that Article 61 prohibits young children from partaking of the sacrament. Paedo-communion, a practice gaining acceptance in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches in our day, not only runs counter to Reformed tradition, but is contrary to the Scriptures. It ought to be plain that no child can carry out the requirements of I Corinthians 11 with a view to partaking of the Lord’s Supper: selfexamination (v. 28); discerning the Lord’s body (v. 29); judging ourselves (v. 31).
This is not to deny that there are varying degrees of understanding on the part of those admitted to the Lord’s Supper. This is certainly the case. There are those of greater and lesser intellectual capacity who confess their faith and seek to come to the Lord’s table. More will be required of those brought up in the church all their lives than of those quite new to the faith. Those who are new to the faith will often require private instruction by the pastor before making confession of faith. All these factors must be taken into consideration by a consistory. Still there must be a sufficient grasp of the fundamentals of the faith and evidence of the putting of the teachings of the Word of God into practice in everyday life.
Procedure for Confession of Faith
No specific procedure for confession of faith is set forth in Article 61. The procedure followed in our churches rests on the principles of the article.
Those seeking admittance to the Lord’s Supper first make confession of their faith before the consistory. Usually the minister leads their examination, asking questions with regard to doctrine and life. Members of the consistory are also given opportunity to question the individual. It is to be recommended that those making confession of faith before the consistory be examined individually, and not as a group. If there are a number of confessions of faith to be heard by a consistory, a separate evening ought to be set aside to allow for sufficient time to examine each one personally. In their absence, the consistory ought to take a formal decision approving the confession of faith and setting the date for their public confession of faith before the congregation. The person is summoned into the meeting once more and is informed of the decision. .This is followed usually by a prayer of thanksgiving and expressions of gratitude by the individual consistory members.
The second step in confession of faith is public confession before the congregation. Notice of public confession ought to be made, usually by way of the weekly church bulletin, on at least two successive Sundays. This allows for the approbation of the congregation. Barring any lawful objections, the public confession takes place on the date specified, during a regular worship service and with the asking of the questions for “Public Confession of Faith” that have been adopted in the churches.
Admittance of Those from Other Churches
Although the procedure differs when a consistory receives communicant members from other churches, the principle of Article 61 applies: “…without which those who come from other churches shall not be admitted.”
In the case of those who come from churches outside the denominational communion, the consistory must be assured that they confess the Reformed faith and are reputed to be of a godly walk. It is recommended that those who request to join one of our congregations and who come from another fellowship be visited by a committee of elders. Only if this committee can report that they are one with us in the Reformed faith and life should their membership be approved and admittance be granted to the Lord’s Supper.
Those transferring from one congregation to another within the denomination must receive membership attestation from the consistory, of the church from which they are transferring their membership. This membership transfer will attest that they are “sound in faith and upright in walk.” Within the communion of the denomination, this attestation must be honored. This is also the case with respect to membership transfers from sister churches. If the person concerned cannot be given such an attest because he is the object of church discipline, this must be noted by the consistory on the transfer of membership. If a consistory has reason to question the attest, the matter must be taken up with the individual concerned and with the consistory which granted the attestation.
Open, Closed, or Close Communion?
It ought to be plain that Article 61 opposes the practice of open communion, that is, the practice of opening the Lords table to all who desire to partake. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is not merely a matter of the individual conscience. Consistories must exercise proper supervision. For this reason it is a good practice that on the Sunday of the administration of the Lord’s Supper, a notice be placed in the bulletin that supervision is exercised over the administration of the sacrament, so that only those who are members in good .standing or those who have received special permission from the consistory may partake.
Does this mean that the churches ought to practice “closed” or “close” communion? Closed communion means that admittance to the Lord’s Supper is granted only to those who are members of the congregation or are members of a sister church.
Our churches practice close communion. This allows for those who are not members of our churches or of a sister church to partake after they have received special permission from the consistory. This may include those who are in the process of joining the congregation, or those who for one reason or another are unable to partake of the sacrament in their own congregation. It may be that they are forced to be absent from their own congregation temporarily because of work assignment or because they are pursuing an education.
These will be rare exceptions. A consistory must exercise good judgment in each of these cases, granting special permission to partake only to those who make “… a confession of the Reformed religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk….” In this way the sacrament will be protected, lest it be profaned and the wrath of God fall on the whole congregation (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 30, Q/A 82).