Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
Every church shall administer the Lord’s Supper in such a manner as it shall judge most conducive to edification; provided, however, that the outward ceremonies as prescribed in God’s Word be not changed and all superstition be avoided, and that at the conclusion of the sermon., and the usual prayers, the form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper, together with the prayer for that purpose shall be read. Church Order, Article 62
Article 62 continues the Church Order’s treatment of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The article focuses on those matters deemed essential to the administration of the sacrament and those matters left to the discretion of the local consistory.
Essentials of Administration
rticle 62 prescribes certain definite requirements for the administration of the Lord’s Supper in the churches. There is to be uniformity of practice among the churches in regard to these elements.
First, the Church Order requires that “the outward ceremonies as prescribed in God’s Word be not changed….” The reference here is especially to the elements of the sacrament, bread and wine, and to the liturgical actions involved in breaking the bread and pouring out the wine. These are necessary to a proper administration of the sacrament, and individual congregations are not at liberty to alter the sacrament as it has been instituted by Christ.
At times the question arises whether it is permitted to substitute grape juice for wine in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. In many Reformed and Presbyterian churches today this is done. It is argued that the use of wine is not essential to the sacrament. Additionally, the substitution is often justified on the ground that the use of wine may prove a snare to recovering alcoholics (drunkards).
There can be no question about it that Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper not with grape juice, but with wine. From apostolic times the church has used wine in its celebration of the sacrament. It was the use of wine at the Lord’s Table that led to the abuse of the sacrament among the Corinthians (cf. I Cor. 11).
For good reason the sacrament was instituted with wine. The use of wine, in distinction from water or even grape juice, belongs to the spiritual significance of the sacrament. Since the sacrament was instituted with wine; it must be administered with wine. The church is not at liberty to change the elements of the sacraments. Obedience to Christ demands that the church administer the sacraments as He has seen fit to institute them in the church.
I have personally asked recovered alcoholics whether the little bit of wine drunk at the Lord’s Supper poses a real temptation to return to the sin of drunkenness. Without exception the response was that the small sip of wine at the Lord’s Table, drunk in those surroundings, posed no threat to them to fall back into their sin. If, however, this is a temptation to an individual, better that he abstain then from partaking of the wine than that the will of Christ for the administration of the sacrament be contravened.
Second, the Lord’s Supper is to be administered “at the conclusion of the sermon and the usual prayers….” The fundamental principle honored by this regulation of Article 62 is that the preaching of the Word is the chief means of grace. The sacrament stands in the service of the preaching of the Word. Without the preaching there can be no partaking of the sacrament with understanding. Thus, the administration of the Lord’s Supper may never be divorced from the preaching of the Word.
It is customary when the Lord’s Supper is administered that the preaching is shortened to allow for the administration of the sacrament within the time constraints of the usual worship service. This is as it should be. The sacrament must get its due. But the administration of the sacrament must never displace the preaching, for divorced from the preaching the sacrament loses its value as a means of grace in the church.
Third, the Lord’s Supper is to be administered after reading “the form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper, together with the prayer for that purpose….” The adopted form must be used. The form sets forth what we believe with regard to the Lord’s Supper and the death of Jesus Christ that is signified and sealed by the Lord’s Supper. The reading of the form not only prepares the congregation to partake, but also points to their calling after having partaken.
In connection with the reading of the form the question is sometimes asked whether it is proper to divide the form, so that the first part of the form, which deals with self-examination, is read the Sunday prior to the administration as part of the preparatory service, and only the second part of the form is read at the communion service.
This is not a good practice. It is not, strictly speaking, in harmony with Article 62, which requires that the form be read after the sermon and before the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Obviously the reference is to the form in its entirety. Besides, the form is a whole and was not written to be read in two separate sections on two different’ Sundays.
This is not to say that at the preparatory service the first part of the form ought not to be read. This is a good practice, which is followed by many of our churches. But when the Lord’s Supper is administered, the entire form should be read, also the part dealing with self-examination, even though it may have been read the previous Sunday.
Incidentals of Administration
Although Article 62 lays down certain requirements that all the congregations must meet in their administration of the Lord’s Supper, the main point of the article is that “Every church shall administer the Lord’s Supper in such a manner as it shall judge most conducive to edification….” There is to be liberty exercised by individual congregations and consistories in the administration of the Lords Supper.
What are some of the incidentals connected to the administration of the Lord’s Supper that are left to the discretion of the local congregation?
Whether a common cup or individual cups will be used for the wine. Whether the congregation shall partake, of the elements in unison or individually as they are served. Whether leavened or unleavened bread will be used. Whether the elements will be passed through the congregation so that the members are served as they are seated in the sanctuary, or the members come forward and approach the communion table, or are served at tables set up in a particular room in the church building. Whether the members shall sit or stand to receive the elements. Whether while the elements are distributed the minister shall read a portion of Scripture (the form suggests this and mentions passages that may appropriately be read), or the organist play, or the congregation sing, or silence be maintained in the auditorium. Whether there shall be a special thank-offering after the administration of the sacrament.
All these incidentals are left to the judgment of the local consistory and congregation. They must be viewed as incidentals. A member of the congregation who favors a certain change in the administration of the Lord’s Supper in regard to the incidentals must not make an issue over these matters. Suggestions may be made, perhaps to the elders at the time of family visitation. Those suggestions ought to be considered by the consistory. But, in the end, the members of the church must be content with the decisions of the consistory or the majority of the congregation as far as the incidentals of the administration of the sacrament are concerned.
Consistories and congregations must be guided by what is “most conducive to edification….” That must be the controlling principle – what best serves to edify. That is the apostolic injunction in I Corinthians 14:26: “Let all things be done unto edifying.”
If this is the principle followed by a consistory, then it may make changes from time to time in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. A change may be made, for example, from partaking individually to partaking in unison. A consistory may judge partaking in unison to be more edifying, and thus an improvement in the administration of the Lord’s Supper.
Nevertheless, if the controlling principle is the edification of the congregation, then changes in the administration of the Lord’s Supper are going to be few and far between. Continually revising the procedure for the sacrament’s administration a consistory’s catering to every suggestion and whim, does not serve the edification of the congregation. Decency and order in the administration of the Lord’s Supper require a certain constancy in the manner in which it is administered.