“No one shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those who according to the wage 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.”
Article 61, D.R.O.
Articles 61 through 64 of the Church Order deal with various matters of a church governmental nature that are related to the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Church Order does not discuss doctrinal questions relating to this sacrament. For the treatment of these we must turn to our Confessions. Even the matters that are discussed here do not intend to cover every conceivable situation where a problem of a church governmental nature arises in connection with the sacrament. This may and frequently does happen and then a solution must be sought in the light of the principles set forth in these articles even though the particular situation is not directly covered.
The sixty-first article then concerns itself with the question of who may and who may not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. Article sixty-two deals with matters of the proper administration of the sacrament. The next article stipulates the frequency with which this sacrament is to be celebrated and the sixty-fourth article speaks of the necessary ecclesiastical supervision of the sacraments. To these matters-we must direct our attention.
The most fundamental question of Article 61 concerns the matter of open or closed communion. By the former is meant that admission to the table of the Lord is left entirely to the individual. Anyone who desires may partake of the sacrament. There are no restrictions. One does not have to be a member of the particular church where the sacrament is being celebrated, and, in fact, does not have to be a member of any church at all”. No one is coerced to partake but neither is anyone barred from this privilege. It is opento all, closed to no one. The one argument that is used in defense of this practice is that the Lord’s Supper is not a Supper of any particular church but is the Supper of the LORD and, therefore, no one may be excluded as long as he, by an act of his own voluntary choice, decides that he wishes to partake. Virtually all of the present day modern churches operate on this principle. It is consistent with the prevalent heresies ofa Gospel joy all, a Christ for all, a. Salvation for all and a Heaven for all.
For nearly four hundred years the Reformed Churches have stood opposed to this practice and have maintained the principle of closed communion. Already in 1568 the Convention of Wezel declared that no one shall be admitted to the Lords. Table unless he first shall have made profession of faith “and shall have submitted himself to the discipline of the church. This ruling was re-affirmed by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1578 in a slightly modified form and the Synod of Middelburg of 1581 rewrote it in the wording as we have it yet today in Article 61 of the Church Order. From this article it is evident that according to the Reformed position admission to the Table of the Lord is not free to all. It is not a matter of individual choice but rather, the sacraments are placed by Christ in the charge of the officebearers of the church. These officebearers must guard not only the purity of the Word that is preached but also the sanctity of the holy sacraments. Theirs is the task of keeping unworthy persons from desecrating the table of the Lord and if this high trust is neglected by allowing each individual to partake or not to partake as he sees fit, the wrath of God is invited upon the whole congregation (Lord’s Day 30, Heidelberg Catechism). Only those may be admitted to the Supper who in confession and life are in accord with the doctrines of the Christian faith as maintained by the church. If one repudiates the confession of the church and maintains heresy, he must be refused the Lord’s Supper. If one outwardly maintains the confession of the church but in his life conducts himself contrary to the principles of Christian living set forth in that confession, he too must be kept from the Table of the Lord until he shows amendment of life.
It is a cause of sorrow that many Reformed Churches in our day maintain this principle of closed communion only in theory. If it is asked, “What is the position of the church in regard to this question?” the answer will be given that the church is committed to the principle of closed communion. That, after all, is too clearly inscribed in the Reformed Confessions to be denied. But if the practice of the church is observed the glaring inconsistency between confession and practice becomes obvious. Members of the church who are freely-admitted to the Table of the Lord may belong to the Lodge, Secret Societies, Worldly Organizations of every hue and participate in activities that our Reformed fathers would have condemned with no uncertain terms.
I have heard of ministers who, when confronted with this inconsistent and evil situation, being unable to justify it, merely argue on the basis of the utilitarian principle that discipline is no longer possible because if it were executed as it should be, from fifty to seventy-five percent of their congregations would leave and there would be no church left. These men are opportunists who use the church for self advantage and care not for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have heard of others who were confronted with proven reports that their young people frequented the theatre and whose reply was that these young folks could not be censured because that would be an infringement upon their Christian liberty. They are left to continue their evil walk and meanwhile allowed to freely partake of the Supper of the Lord. Some years ago I spoke with an elder who was lamenting these situations in his church. He had just given up his job or rather it was taken from him because he had refused to become a member of a worldly labor union that was in control at the place he worked. I asked him why he was so inconsistent? How is it that you are not able to join with the members of that ungodly union at your place of work but that you can be one with other members of the same union at the Table of the Lord? His reply was, “Ya, dominee, that’s right,” but to this day he continues to walk in the same evil way. Two things are certain. First, the churches of Reformed persuasion are declining at an unbelievably rapid pace in our day. The principles of the Reformation have become virtually extinct. Secondly, “God is not mocked,” and even as it is true of the individual, so it is true of the church that “As one sows they shall also reap, for he that soweth to his flesh shall reap of the flesh corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” This axiom of Holy Writ cannot be denied. It is found in Gal. 6:7, 8.
According to Scripture the practice of closed communion is the only acceptable one. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the fellowship of God and His people on the basis of the sacrifice and redemptive work of Christ Jesus. Only those who reveal that they are partakers of that redemption by living from the principles of obedience unto the Word of God have the right to that fellowship. This is the fundamental thought, expressed both positively and negatively, in Revelation 22:14, 15, “Blessed are they that do his commandments (R.V. has that have washed their robes’) that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” The latter have no place in the city of God. They have no, right to the tree of life. They are to be barred from the Table of the Lord and the church that refuses to do this invokes the displeasure of God upon herself. This is to be determined, not by every individual for himself, but by the elders who are ordained by Christ Himself to “have oversight over the flock of God” (I Peter 5:2). The church that enforces this principle may expect to be shunned by those who seek the flesh and the things of the world in preference to Christ. Those will not be attracted into her fellowship. They will be given to understand the Biblical truth that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon and since this is what they attempt to do, they will seek affiliation with other churches that are more lenient and tolerant of worldliness. From without there will also be malicious calumniations hurled at the church but this is nothing new in her experience. The Lord Himself forewarned that “men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” All of these things do not essentially harm the church but to allow the desecration of the sacraments and the corrupting of the Word of God (which always go together) are the things that spell the certain ruin of the church in this world.
Needless to say, the practice of closed communion is for those very reasons also most difficult to maintain. It is relatively easy to appeal to man’s religious consciousness and gather into the church persons of all sorts and give them free access to the privileges of believers. That’s man’s way of building the church but is not of the Lord Who has instituted order and discipline in order that His church and sacraments may be preserved according to the truth and in the highest possible purity. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). And again, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:12-15).
So our Church Order stipulates certain definite requirements which are to be met before one may be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. Article 61 speaks of those requirements for baptized members of the church and for those who come from other churches. The latter may include those who are transferred as members from a sister congregation in the same denomination of churches or it may refer to those who come from other churches of a different denomination. The article itself does not specify which is meant.
The requirements for both are the same. First, they must make a confession of the Reformed religion and, secondly, they must be reputed to be of a godly walk. To these requirements we will have to direct attention the next time, D.V.