In the eighty-second question the Heidelberger asks: “Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?” This question is quite distinct from the preceding one. There the question was: “For whom is the Lord’s supper instituted?” And the implication of the answer was such that it was left to the individual believer to determine whether or not he is a proper partaker of the Lord’s supper. To put it in different words, the question was: Who must be included in those that come to the table of the Lord as far as the church is concerned? And although in the answer it was definitely stated that the Lord’s Supper is instituted only for believers, yet also hypocrites and those that do not sincerely repent of their sins before God, and that therefore eat and drink judgment to themselves, must be allowed to come to the Lord’s table for the simple reason that de intimis non judicat ecclesicu—the church does not judge about the things that are hidden. But in the present question the matter is different. It is not concerned with the determination of the individual, whether or not he is to come to the table of the Lord, but with the church as institute. It also has a calling with regard to the sacrament of holy communion. Not everybody is to be admitted to the table of the Lord. On the contrary, the Reformed churches believe in what is called “closed communion.” Most churches in our day have “open communion.” They do not exercise Christian discipline, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven are long covered with rust. Anyone may determine wholly for himself whether or not he shall partake of the Lord’s Supper. But Reformed churches believe that they have a calling with regard to this holy sacrament. That calling is expressed by the term “closed communion.” It implies that not all who should so desire are permitted to come to the table of the Lord. Hence, the question: “Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?” And the answer is negative: “No; for by this, the covenant of God would be profaned, and his wrath kindled against the whole congregation; therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and his apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life.”
In the question the Catechism speaks of confession and walk, that is, of those that by confession and walk declare themselves to be ungodly and cannot be admitted by the church to the Lord’s table.
There is a most intimate relation between these two, confession and walk. A true confession reveals itself in a sanctified walk. And the latter is based on and motivated by the former. A false confession, if we may speak of a false confession, is motivated by the desire to cover up and to justify a walk according to the flesh and according to the world. And the former gives rise to the latter. It is certainly utterly false to maintain that it matters not what we believe, if only we do something in life. Principle and practice are most intimately related. Doctrine and life are inseparable. The Scriptures therefore everywhere emphasize the necessity and the obligation of the church and of the individual believer to maintain true doctrine. And everywhere the Word of God warns against heretics and false teachers. Never does it evince any sympathy with them, but rather presents them as willful destroyers of the church and of the individual believers.
Thus we find already in the Old Testament that the Word of God condemns the false prophets as liars and deceivers. The false prophet is one that deliberately speaks lies in the name of the Lord, and that, too, to entice and deceive the people to wickedness and idolatry. And according to the law that prophet had to die, Deut. 18:20: “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” So serious is this matter, that the Lord demanded that if a son prophesy lies in the name of the Lord, his father and mother that begat him shall be the first to stone him or to thrust him through with the sword. Thus we read in Deut. 13:6-11: “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shall thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people, And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.” How sadly the old covenant people disobeyed this injunction is well known. But according to the prophesy of Zechariah this shall still be realized, for we read in Zech. 13:3: “And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.’’ The false prophets are deceivers, that willfully speak lies in the name of the Lord from the motive of covetousness, and to destroy the people of God. Thus we read of the false prophets in Jer. 6:13-15: “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. Were they shamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.” The people that follow in the way of their wicked lies shall perish with them, for thus we read in Jer. 14:13-16: “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in, this place. Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed. And the people, to whom they prophesy shall be cast out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and they shall have none to bury’ them, them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters: for I will pour their wickedness upon them.” A very vivid description of those false prophets we have in Jer. 23:9-40. Because of them the land is full of adulterers. Because of swearing the land mourneth. Both prophet and priest are profane. They cause the people to err. While they themselves commit adultery and walk in lies, they strengthen the hand of evil doers, so that none repent and return from their wickedness. They promise peace and prosperity unto everyone that walks in the imagination of his own heart. They are the prophets of deceit, and they cause the people of God to forget the name of the Lord. And they pervert the words of the living God. Cf. also Jer. 27:14-18; Jer. 28:15-17; Jer. 29:8, 9; Lam. 2:14. With their lying divinations they make the heart of the people of God sad, and strengthen the hands of the wicked, Ezek. 13:28: “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life.” When they speak lies in the name of the Lord, their purpose is to devour souls: “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof.” Ezek. 22:25.
The New Testament too warns very frequently against false teachers and against false doctrine. The Lord Jesus warns against false prophets in Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” He tells us that by their fruits they shall be known. For men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. And every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. And he continues: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works ? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:21-23. Always the elements of deceit in these false prophets is emphasized. Thus we read in Matt. 24:5: “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” And again, in the 24th verse of the same chapter: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Cf. Mark 13:22. Paul mentions the name of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who erred concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is past already; and they attempt to overthrow the faith of many. II Tim. 2:17, 18. And in chapter 4 of the same epistle, verses 3 and 4, he writes: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” False teachers are those that oppose the truth, gainsayers, vain talkers and deceivers, that are motivated by the desire for filthy lucre. Thus the apostle writes in Titus 1:9-11: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers, For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake,” They are ministers of Satan, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ, II Cor. 11:13-15: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” They are those that pervert the gospel of Christ, and whom the apostle Paul does not hesitate to call accursed, Gal. 1:6-9: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ, But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” They are those who are very deceitful in their ways and privily bring in heresies, luring many in their deceitful ways, motivated by covetousness, and making merchandise of the people of God. Thus we read in II Peter 2:1-3: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” Also the apostle John very seriously warns the church against the influence of false teachers. Writes he in II John 1:7-11: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” And to quote no more, the apostle Paul also characterizes these false teachers in no uncertain words: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Eph. 4:14.
From all these passages it is perfectly plain, in the first place, that it is very dangerous to harbor false teachers and false doctrines in the church. In the second place, it is also evident that the motive of these false teachers is not the love of God and the love of Christ and the love of the truth, but covetousness and the desire to make merchandise of the people of God. In. the third place, it is plain what method these false prophets and teachers employ to inculcate false doctrine in the church of Christ. And finally, it is very evident that there is an intimate connection between false doctrine and a walk according to the flesh. And therefore the church of Christ ought not to allow these false teachers to remain in the church and to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It is a striking fact that there is not one part of the doctrine of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ our Lord that has not been denied and that has not been gainsaid in the course of the history of the church, and that is not denied and attacked today. Thus it is, for instance, with the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the doctrine that in Holy Writ we have the infallible record of the Word of God is denied by many, and has been denied throughout the ages. And this, of course, strikes at the very root of the Christian faith. The doctrine of the Trinity, that fundamental doctrine, upon which really rests the whole truth of Scripture, has been and is denied and attacked today. The doctrine of predestination, the truth concerning election, the very heart of the church, is gainsaid by many. The truth that Jesus Christ has come into the flesh, and the denial of which according to the apostle John is the mark of the antichrist, the truth that Christ is really God as well as really man and has assumed our human nature, has been and is distorted by many in our own day. The truth of the atonement, that is, the truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, the truth that Christ died vicariously for the sins of His people, has been and is distorted and attacked and denied by many in our own day as well as in the past. The truth of the resurrection, and in connection therewith the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was already attacked in the day of the apostle Paul in the church of Corinth, and is still gainsaid by many that do not love the truth of the gospel. And thus it is practically the case with all other parts of the doctrine of Scripture. The truth of the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of God, the truth of His coming again, the truth concerning the church, the truth concerning the means of grace, the truth concerning the sacraments, that of baptism as well as that of the supper of the Lord—all these doctrines have been distorted and attacked and denied by many false preachers and teachers. Many are the winds of doctrine that always have been trying to prevent the church from steering a straight course along the lines of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Many have been and are deceived by these false doctrines. And being deceived, they are led in ways of corruption and of the world. And therefore the church ought not to allow these false teachers and false doctrines to gain a foothold in the church. And those that propagate those false doctrines ought to be barred from the Lord’s Supper, which is essentially the same as to excommunicate them from the church of Christ.
I said that it is also very evident from these passages what motivates these false teachers, and what is for that very reason the method they employ to inculcate their teachings into the church of Christ. Why are there always so many that attack the truth as it is in Christ, revealed in the Holy Scriptures? Are these false teachers simply characterized by intellectual errors? Do they, as it is often alleged, perhaps honestly err? Must they be considered as erring brethren, perhaps? Do they simply present what is their honest conviction concerning the truth of the gospel? This certainly is not the judgment of Scripture. According to the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, a false teacher or a false prophet is a wicked person, is one who pretends that he speaks the Word of the Lord, while he knows that contradicts it. Moreover, he deliberately presents the lie as the truth in order to deceive the people of God and to corrupt the church and to lead the believers astray from the way of righteousness and truth. According to Scripture, moreover, he is one that is motivated by selfish reasons, by covetousness and filthy lucre. He is a minister of Satan that appears as an angel of light. Scripture, therefore, has no sympathy with the false teacher. The apostle Paul characterizes the false teacher as one that has recourse to the sleight of men and to cunning craftiness, whereby he lies in wait to deceive. He gambles with the truth. And he means to fleece the sheep, rather than to feed them. With cunning craftiness they seek to introduce their false doctrine into the church. They never come openly, but try to inculcate their false teaching privily. There is no love of God in their hearts. They love not the Lord Jesus Christ, and they love not the church. But they love their own filthy lucre. And therefore they are enemies of the cause of God in Christ, and they cannot be admitted to the Lord’s table. And the same is true for those that are permanently deceived by these false teachers, and that follow after their doctrine. It is possible, of course, that a Christian is temporarily deceived by these false teachers. But if they are really believers and love the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will return to the truth as soon as they see it, and as soon as they learn to know it in the light of Scripture. But for the rest, both the false teacher and they that follow him cannot be admitted to the table of the Lord, and have no place in the church of Jesus Christ.
The same holds true according to the Heidelberg Catechism for those who in their life and walk in the world declare themselves to be ungodly. We have already pointed out that there is a close connection between doctrine and life. On the one hand, false doctrine leads to a sinful walk and conversation. This stands to reason. False doctrine does not lead to, but denies Christ. And in the way of false doctrine the church loses Christ. In Christ, however, is all our salvation. Without Christ we have nothing. All that we ever have and ever shall have in regard to the riches of the blessings of salvation is literally in Christ. In Him is our righteousness, our knowledge of God, our wisdom, our holiness, our sanctification, our eternal life. Christ is the Head, from whom flows all the fullness of grace and salvation into His people. The believer, therefore, must abide in Christ and grow into Him. Just as a tree strikes its roots into the soil, to seek its nourishment, so the believer, by the grace of God, has roots that strike themselves into Christ, in order to seek all the nourishment, all the spiritual blessings of salvation in Him alone. And as we grow into Christ, we will also grow in sanctification of life, crucify our old nature, hate sin, fight the good fight, and walk as of the party of the living God in the midst of the world. Growing into Christ we derive everything out of Him. And as we derive all our salvation out of Him, we become conformable to His image, and work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. From this you can easily gather how dangerous it is to tolerate false doctrine. For false doctrine is a denial of Christ, and therefore leads the church away from Him. For Christ we have only in the truth of Holy Writ. Another Christ than that which is revealed in Scripture we have not. And therefore, as soon as you depart from the truth of Holy Writ, as soon as you leave the truth, and as soon as you follow after false teachers, you lose Christ and strike the roots of your soul into wrong soil. Hence, doctrine and life are inseparably connected with each other. And false doctrine leads inevitably to a life of corruption and sin in the world.
But there is a mutual relation between doctrine and life, and between false doctrine and a walk in sin. While it is true that on the one hand, false doctrine leads to a life of corruption, on the other hand, it is equally true that a life in sin is the motive of corrupting the truth. The false teacher and they that follow in his ways know very well that the truth judges and condemns them. And therefore they hate and corrupt the truth and love and propagate the lie, in order to justify their sinful life and walk. The Lord Jesus says in John 7:16-17: “Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” The opposite is also true. If any man will not do the will of the Father, he will oppose and deny the doctrine of Christ. Because he loves the darkness and lives in the darkness, he also loves the lie and hates the truth. There is, therefore, a mutual relation between false doctrine and a walk in sin.
That they who by their walk declare themselves to be unbelieving and ungodly have no part with the table of the Lord is evident from all Scripture. The apostle Paul writes in I Cor. 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.” Again and again Scripture emphasizes that he that walks in ungodliness and corruption has no inheritance in the kingdom of God. Thus we read in Gal. 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as 1 have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” And in Eph. 5:3-7 the same apostle writes: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them,” But there is no need to quote more. And it is the calling of the church to bar from the Lord’s table all that in confession and walk profess themselves to be ungodly.