There are various other aspects of this subject which are touched on by the Study Report which we must still consider. Among these are: 1) The reference to the Lord’s Supper in the Form of Ordination of Missionaries. 2) The matter of using the prescribed Form for the Administration of Baptism (both of infants and adults, by the way) on the mission field. 3) The obvious conflict between the Church Order and the position of the Study Report in regard to baptism on the mission field. 4) The matter of the significance of baptism as incorporation into the church, a point at which, we ought to recognize, we come squarely into the realm of our Reformed Confessions with respect to the doctrine of the church. All these matters, I am convinced, must take precedence over any consideration of the Biblical and exegetical argumentation of the Study Report. Personally, I am of the conviction that the Synod of 1975 misled our Study Committee when it referred them first to “take into account the Biblical doctrine, particularly the New Testament passages.” This has never been the Reformed method. It must be kept in mind that we already have an interpretation of Scripture in our confessions, both those of a major order and those of a minor order. To these we should turn first in the consideration of any question of this kind. This was what our churches insisted upon in connection with the Declaration of Principles, you will recall, while the pro-condition men at that time always wanted to ignore the confessions and turn to Scripture. This is a wrong method. First we turn to the confessions, and then to Scripture. Hence, in this series you will have to wait until the end before I even discuss the Scriptural passages. I am of the conviction that our fathers were well aware of these Scriptural passages, and that what is furnished us in our confessions of a major and minor order already takes into account these passages. And taking them into account, our Reformed documents nevertheless take a different position than that of the Study Report. We should pay attention to this, and not try to figure out ways and means of harmonizing that which is obviously contradictory. Yes, very frankly, I believe that the position of the Study Report is in conflict with the Form of Ordination, the Baptism Form, the Church Order, and the Confession on the doctrine of the church. This aspect of my critique I will continue in this installment.
First of all there is the matter of the Form of Ordination mentioning as one of the duties of the missionary that of administering the Lord’s Supper.
About this the Study Report says (Acts of Synod, 1976, p. 108):
Because our mandate speaks of the “administration of the sacraments” on the mission field, we should also consider the Lord’s Supper, although our main concern is Baptism. Because the mandate of Christ in
HCH) does not command the missionary to administer the Supper; because the book of Acts does not teach that part of the missionary labor was administering the Supper; and because the Form of Ordination of Missionaries speaks of administering the Supper after the instituting of the church; we judge that the administration of the Supper is not an aspect of the specifically missionary task of the missionary and should be done only when a congregation is organized.
Now I can agree in part with the above paragraph: I can agree with the conclusion that the administration of the Supper should be done only after (not: when) a congregation is organized. This is surely the position of the Form of Ordination also, in the light of the fact that it speaks of this duty as following the duty of ordaining elders and deacons.
However, I must point out that the Study Report overlooks some important items. In the first place, there is the fact that the Reformed position on the sacraments has always been that the two belong together. The sacrament of baptism demands the sacrament of communion, and he who is baptized isobligated to partake of the Lord’s Supper. This is probably most clearly stated in the fourth question asked at the occasion of Adult Baptism: “Dost thou assent to all the articles of the Christian religion, as they are taught here, in this Christian Church, according to the Word of God; and purpose steadfastly to continue in the same doctrine to the end of thy life; and also dost thou reject all heresies and schisms, repugnant to this doctrine, and promise to persevere in the communion of the Christian Church, not only in the hearing of the Word, but also in the use of the Lord’s Supper?” (italics added) This, by the way, is a very instructive paragraph with respect to this entire discussion. But we will limit ourselves at present to the matter of the Lord’s Supper. And then we must note that, on the position of the Study Report this promise is unrealistic and impossible of fulfillment. For do not forget that under the Study Report’s position, it is possible that a person could be baptized a couple of years before a congregation is organized. And it is perfectly obvious that this “promise to persevere . . . in the use of the Lord’s Supper” does not realistically mean two years later, or even mean that a person never partakes of the Lord’s Supper in case a congregation is never organized. But if baptism on the mission field is permissible and mandatory according to the Study Report, it becomes necessary to tear apart the two sacraments. This we may never do.
In the second place, the Study Report fails to face an important question: why is the administration of the Lord’s Supper specifically included in the missionary’s task? The Report makes short shrift of this and simply states: “. . . we judge that the administration of the Supper is not an aspect of the specifically missionary task of the missionary. . . .” This is obviously not correct, for the simple reason that the Form specifically includes this in the missionary’s task. The Study Report simply places its judgment (“we judge”) over against the plain statement of the Form. Now why does the Form include this? You cannot answer this question by saying that because a missionary is a minister, it belongs to his duties in general to administer the Lord’s Supper if the occasion arises. The Form does not refer to those occasions when a missionary might happen to be visiting minister in his home church. Nor does our Form refer to the practice of our home missionaries. It has always been the practice in our churches that a home missionary leaves very soon after a church is organized. A church then receives classical supply, and the visiting ministers administer the Lord’s Supper. It may very well be that a home missionary rarely has the opportunity to administer the Supper at all. And yet the Form includes this in his tasks as missionary! Why?
The answer lies in the history of this Form which I sketched for you at the beginning of this series of articles, and in the fact that this Form and its entire outline of a missionary’s duties was originally designed with a view to a missionary to the heathen. such a missionary would be the only one capable of and authorized to administer the Lord’s Supper on the mission field, but in a newly organized church. The reason is that the missionary is the only available minister of the Word and Sacraments; at that early stage there are no native pastors as yet.
And all this simply serves to confirm what I stated earlier about the meaning of the Form. It all fits together, you see. This is the order:
1) The missionary preaches the gospel.
2) The Lord not only grants fruit on his labor in the form of some individual converts, but He makes the work fruitful unto the gathering of a church. In other words, the Lord makes it plain that He will establish His church in that locality.
3) At that point in time the missionary baptizes—primarily confessing adults, and secondarily infants of these believers. Through this very process the church is established in that mission field. Even as baptism is incorporation into the church, so when such baptism takes place initially on the heathen mission field, essentially the local congregation is constituted.
4) Thereupon elders and deacons can be ordained: for they must needs be adult, confessing, baptized believers.
5) And then, under the supervision of the new consistory, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper can be administered by the only available minister at that point, the missionary.
This, I repeat, is the plain meaning of the Form.
And principally all of this must be applied, in so far as necessary, also to the labors and duties of a home missionary.
If we bear this in mind, there will be no difficulty in harmonizing the position of the Form of Ordination with the Church Order, with the Baptism Form, or with our Confession. About this, however, we must write later.