According to our Church Order, one of the requirements for admission to the table of the Lord is that a confession of the Reformed religion be made by the applicant. This means that in Reformed Churches the principle of “closed communion” is maintained. Only those who are believers in confession and life have the right to the sacraments.
We added the words “and life” in the last sentence because Article 61 of our Church Order stipulates in addition to the aforementioned requirement, a second in the words, “besides being reputed to be of a godly walk.” Confession and life are inseparable. When the consistory interrogates one who desires to make confession of faith, questions of a doctrinal and practical nature are asked. The reason for this should be evident. Doctrinal questions are necessary in order to make plain that the one making confession knows what he is confessing. To make confession of the Reformed religion necessitates that one is acquainted with and understands the Reformed Faith. However, a mere intellectual understanding of the doctrines of the church does not qualify one for a place at the table of the Lord. It must also be evident that one is resolved, by the grace of God, to conduct himself in all things in agreement with that faith.
Back in 1900 the Christian Reformed Churches established a synodical ruling that required every consistory to ask each person making confession of faith whether he or she is a member of any secret, oath-bound society. (Acts 1900, Art. 84, Schaver’s Church Polity.) The Church Order Commentary points out that, “Those who are lodge members are not to be admitted. One main reason for withholding the Lord’s Supper and membership rights from lodge-members is that the lodge is representative of a false, anti-Christian religion. The lodges teach that if a man is a good lodge member, even though he fails to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior, he will be saved. Consequently lodge-membership and Church-membership cannot go together.” With this position we fully agree but it must be pointed out that this rule has become obsolete in the Christian Reformed Church today. Apart from whether lodge-membership is condoned (we believe there are instances where this is the case), the undeniable fact is that the church is full of members who belong to anti-Christian, godless, oath-bound, worldly organizations such as the so-called neutral labor unions of our day. These too are representative of a false, anti-Christian religion. Does not the Lord through His apostle remonstrate against such practices in I Corinthians 10:21: “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils”?
Likewise in 1928 the Synod in Article 96 of its Acts adopted the rule: “Consistories are instructed to inquire of those who ask to be examined previous to making public confession of their faith and partaking of the Lord’s Supper as to their stand and conduct in the matter of worldly amusements, and if it appears that they are not minded to lead the life of Christian separation and consecration, not to permit their public confession.” Although the Synod did not attempt to catalogue worldly amusements, it did single out at the time the familiar trio of theater-attendance, dancing, and card-playing. With Monsma and Van Dellen we agree when they write: “None of us would care to maintain that all amusements are in themselves evil. There are many forms of amusements which are wholesome and good. Neither would we care to claim that all amusements which are contaminated with sin, and which are used by the devil to further his cause, are in themselves altogether evil. But we do maintain that all amusements which clearly hurt our spiritual life and tend to stem normal, Biblical, spiritual devotion, and which break down the God-built barriers of spiritual separation between the Church and the world, should be left alone by all Christians. (Cf. I Cor. 8:9, James 4:4, Col. 3:1, 2, Matt. 16:24, 18:8, 9.)
“Anyone who desires to indulge in practices which have constituted a damaging, down-breaking force to spiritual living, and who is not ready to forsake these things after the sinfulness of these amusements and their evil influence has been clearly demonstrated to him, by that very attitude gives just reasons to doubt the sincerity of his heart, and gives reasons to question his spiritual fitness for admission to the Lord’s Table. Consequently, our Churches are right in nor permitting to the Lord’s Table those who do not intend to lead a life of Christian separation.”
This is all well-said. But why then are those members who openly admit attending the theatre (or imbibing the same filth of Hollywood via T.V.) not forbidden access to the Lord’s Table? Why are not those who give preference to the ball games over an evening of catechetical instruction disciplined? What is the reason that society night in the church cannot be set on the same evening that is popularly designated bowling night?
To these and similar questions, several answers can be given. First of all, the cause can be found in that the antithetic note and emphasis in the preaching has been replaced by a social gospel that is conducive to church and world amalgamation rather than separation. Secondly, the discipline of the church has become weakened to the point where it is virtually non-existent. Only in extreme cases is the key power exercised. Under the guise of a distorted conception of “individual liberty” and through an attempt to save the sinner in man’s way instead of the only God-appointed way, the practice of tolerating evil in the church has become accepted. The Biblical examples in both the Old and New Testament as well as the practices of our Reformed fathers are a far cry from this. Indeed the church has fallen considerably and is falling from her steadfastness in the truth. And, finally, it may be added that a large contributing factor in this decline is the fact that the parents of the present generation are leading the way in this mad-craze for fun and pleasure at the expense of the cultivation of spiritual life. This is a dangerous age and unless the tide is reversed the next generation will give evidence of still less spirituality. Through all these practices the table of the Lord not only becomes corrupted but, as the Form for the Lord’s Supper clearly expresses, the judgment of God descends upon those who attempt to lead a double life; to serve God and Mammon; to have a place in church while living the life of the world.
It is, therefore, according to the answer of Question 82 of our Heidelberg Catechism, “the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and the apostles, to exclude such persons (unbelieving and ungodly) from the table of the Lord lest the covenant of God be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation.” It cannot be emphasized too strongly that thorough and careful interrogation of those seeking admittance to the Lord’s Supper in regard to matters of doctrine and life is imperative. And each preparatory service must bring these things before the consciousness of the congregation so that the privileges of saints be not abused. Without this twofold testimonial, that is, concerning a confession of the Reformed religion and being reputed to be of a godly walk, Article 61 stipulates that those who come from other churches shall not be admitted.” This rule was first instituted to curtail an evil practice according to which unworthy persons, looking for money and support, would move from place to place and with pious talk gain admittance into the church. At that time they were simply accepted upon the basis of their own testimony. To prevent this Article 61 makes it mandatory that they receive a testimonial from the church they had left and this was to be presented to the church they sought to join. Today this is done by the issuance of the transfer of membership papers, a matter we will discuss in connection with another article of the Church Order. Although the rule of Article 61 historically applies to persons moving from one church to another within the same denomination, it also has force with respect to those who come from other churches. It stands to reason that if a Baptist or Methodist or Roman Catholic desires to affiliate with a Reformed church, he must comply with this two-fold requirement before he can be admitted and receive membership privileges in the church. There is here no difference. The fundamental principle of Article 61 is that it maintains “closed” communion which means that only those that agree in faith and life can commune together at the table of the Lord.
In this connection we must comment yet upon the practice of receiving visitors at the table of the Lord. It sometimes happens that on the Sunday that the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated there are members from sister churches worshiping with the congregation. This is especially noticeable in a small church. Our observation is that such members, though they are sound in faith and upright in walk, do not request the right to exercise the privilege of partaking at the table of the Lord. We often wonder why this is so. Is it because they are too timid to approach the consistory with this request? In some cases this might be the case but not always. Is it perhaps, as is sometimes said, that they do not feel the need of the Lord’s Supper because they either just had it a few weeks prior in their church or it will be celebrated in a short time? But, certainly there is no objection to partaking of the Supper of the Lord more frequently than at the four times stipulated annually if the occasion arises. The Lord’s Supper is an instituted means by which the Lord feeds and nourishes His church in the blessings of His grace. One ought to join not only in the singing, praying and preaching of the church but also in the celebration of the sacrament if the opportunity is present.
To do this as a visitor in another church one must receive permission from the consistory. It is proper that if one knows they are going to be in a certain church on a Sunday when the Lord’s Supper is to be served, they take with them a testimonial from their consistory. On the basis of this the consistory that is asked can readily grant the request. But this is not always possible. They may not know until they arrive at the church that the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated. Even then, however, they can approach the consistory before the service and, if possible, take with them a witness who will testify concerning their sound faith and upright walk. Then, if the request is granted, an appropriate announcement is made informing the congregation that these members are to be received at the table of the Lord. Is such hesitancy perhaps due to the fact that we are not always prepared to come to the table of the Lord and since our Confession states that, “No one ought to come to this table without having previously rightly examined himself,” we do not dare ask because we have not made the necessary self-examination. This, too, should not be the case. Preparatory self-examination is not a thing that must be practiced once in three months hut a daily exercise of faith. Always we must be in readiness to commune at the table of our Lord for that fellowship with Him and His people is the essence of our life. Hungering and thirsting for the true meat and drink, we shall seek His table where we may exercise the privilege of grace and receive the blessings of salvation.