The fearful state of proud souls who reject the Church, with a postscript on harsh language from pastors...

(Tim) Few things have been responsible for more souls rejecting Church of the Good Shepherd than our fencing of the Lord's Table according to the requirement of the Presbyterian Church in America's Book of Church Order, that those who come to eat and drink must have placed themselves under the authority of the elders of our church or be a member of some other Bible-believing, evangelical church.

Typically, we surround those words with some explanation of the words' meaning and intent, focusing particularly on the fact that we cannot claim faith in Jesus Christ while rejecting the authority of Christ's Church and her officers which He Himself has commanded us to honor and obey. Whew, do the sparks fly!

Travelling around the country, I've been discouraged to observe how few PCA pastors submit to this Book of Church Order requirement. It's such a good and necessary rule, perfectly suited to drive a dagger into the heart of the cheap grace and hatred of authority at the heart of the reformed church today. So why aren't shepherds faithful to fence the Lord's Table in any other than a pro forma way?

Well, surely the rule has escaped the notice of some. Not every PCA pastor spends his life looking through the Book of Church Order for more rules to obey. Such a life takes a special kind of guy.

And yet, there are many of us who know about this rule and still don't obey it. Why not?

Well, as I said at the beginning, few things have been responsible for more souls rejecting Church of the Good Shepherd than our fencing of the Lord's Table according to this requirement. In other words, most of us don't do it because we don't want to discipline the flock to love and obey the Church and her officers. In a day when Rob Bell is hissing hatred of authority to everyone who will listen, it takes faith and faithfulness to teach, let alone require, submission to authority.

A few years ago, I was part of a lengthy e-mail discussion within our presbytery over whether or not this requirement was biblical. And as the discussion proceeded, the issue went beyond how the Lord's Table should be fenced, to the discussion of church membership itself--is it even biblical?

This afternoon, I was reading Calvin's sermon on 1Timothy 1:1,2 and came across a section that makes our duty clear in this regard. If pastors and elders read this and still allow men and women to come to our Lord's Table while rejecting the Church, her officers and authority...

it may well be that they're not good shepherds, but hirelings:

And thereby we are instructed, that if we will that God acknowledge and take us for his children, we must also be children of the Church, and do not as these backsliders, and these rebels, which would have but only a fantastical Christendom, whose imagination is indeed devilish. "But as for me, I am a Christian, I hold the Gospel;" yea, they will not make much courtesy to speak after this sort. Yet, notwithtstanding, they cast aside all order of the Church, they will be under no yoke, they seek their destruction which have charge given them to preach in the name of God, and who they ought to esteem for fathers, if they were not children of the (Gospel). But they are impudent and past all shame, which will come hither to profane the Church of God.

Ye swine, ye swine, why do you not keep yourselves in your filth and infection, that you infect not others? Thus, if we will be taken for the children of God, the Church must be our mother, and the minsters must be our fathers, and all they that will not submit themselves thereunto, let them go, (as I said) and seek their abode in hell with Satan. For they have neither room nor place in the Church of God. Moreover, because there are many which make a shew to be believers, and will pretend to be called such as have been reformed by the Gospel, and yet notwithstanding, there is nothing in them but hypocrisy: behold why Saint Paul calls Timothy "His natural son in the faith." He addeth this, to put a difference between him, and other children which are bastards.

Now mind you, this excerpt was not taken from one of Calvin's commentaries, his Institutes, or one of his many tracts or letters. It was taken from a sermon he preached to the sheep of his flock. And if we think he had it easier than we do, with more compliant sheep more willing to honor their shepherd, let's remember Calvin engaged in terrible battles to maintain his discipline over who would be welcomed to the Lord's Table. So again, what's our excuse for conniving at the rebellion rampant across the reformed church today?

Finally, note Calvin's words and phrases. I haven't cherry-picked this excerpt to defend the use of strong language in warning the sheep today, but it does do that, doesn't it?

"Backsliders."

"Rebels."

"Fantastical."

"They will be under no yoke."

"Who seek their destruction."

"They are impudent."

"They are past all shame."

"They profane the church of God."

"You swine."

"You swine."

"Stay in your filth and infection."

"Don't infect others."

"Nothing in them but hypocrisy."

"Children which are bastards."

"Devilish."

"Their abode in Hell with Satan."

* * *

The reason men withdraw in revulsion when such words and phrases are used by shepherds of God's flock today is that they've grown up in churches served by pastors and elders who have no faith in God or His Word, and therefore warn, correct, and rebuke nobody never.

And if they ever do rebuke, it's likely to mock and shame the poor Baptist who dares to call himself "reformed."

Dear brothers, we must be as perceptive and bold as Calvin seeing how very pertinent his rebuke and correction of his own congregation are to the rebuke and correction needed within our own flock.

The Lord is faithful, blessing those who take up their cross to follow Him. Our elders and pastors have much joy in testifying to the truth of Scripture that He is able and willing to make us faithful at the very points where we most fear and want to run. Bless His Holy and Mighty Name.

Comments

Pastor,

I have been thinking along these lines alot lately, but in a different scope.

I have come in contact with so many people that have given up on either the concept or at least the manifestation of the Church. IOW, there are more and more "Christians" that don't believe that Church is required of them. Some of these I have come across are even fairly orthodox in the rest of their doctrine.

I wonder if it is time to see the internet as a serious place for mission work, where the Church needs to both demonstrate her necessity in a Christian's life as well as help Christian's in finding a Church to worship in.

I dearly wish the Lord's Table were fenced in more churches.

I once shocked a co-worker when I didn't go forward to receive at another co-worker's wedding. I think I and the Jewish doctor I was sitting next to were the only two who did not.

When the shocked co-worker asked me about it at the reception, I told her it was because of the invitation, which had made clear that ALL are welcome at the table in that church.

That little bit had passed her by - but I think she may have refrained with me if she had thought about it beforehand.

Kamilla

>And if they ever do rebuke, it's likely to mock and shame the poor Baptist who dares to call himself "reformed."

Like Calvin?

With that exception an excellent post. I hope we never get quite to the point that the LCMS has but between PCA and OPC I've seen quite a mix regarding how the table is fenced. In my experience the OPC has done a bit better than the PCA.

Should we look at the state of the believers at Corinth and draw any conclusions about how to fence the table? How about Judas's presence at the inaugural Supper?

In our bulletin we have the following statement when we come the Lord's Supper:

God in His Word has graciously promised His children eternal life in Christ, and our Father has added this Communion meal as a confirmation of His unchangeable promise. The deacons and elders will serve the meal to the heads of household, who then serve to the baptized, confessing believers in their families. Let us together take the cup and eat the bread, partaking worthily and discerning the Lord’s body.

That is about the extent of our fencing. Unless there is known scandal or rebellion in the one who desires to commune in our church, we do not bar folks from coming to the table.

al sends

WRT to "fencing" the Communion table, I belong to a CANA Anglican church -- a new more theologically conservative, but still diverse in non-essentials, American denomination sponsored by the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria. We are a former Episcopalian parish who joined CANA at the end of 2007 when we felt there was no way for our parish to change the disturbing trends in our diocese, much less the Episcopalian church.

We welcome anyone who has been baptized in a trinitarian manner (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to join us at the altar and receive the sacrament of Communion/Eucharist.

Under this definition, we would not want Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals (among others) to partake of the sacrament with us. However, this is all on the honor system.

Also, parents of children who haven't been confirmed yet are to judge how well their children know Christ and the meaning of the sacrament to decide whether they are mature enough to receive Communion.

Just wanted to let you know how one church in a more liturgical denomination handles this issue. (But I wouldn't be surprised if other CANA churches used a different standard.)

I brought this up on a post I did back in July and was vilified by many. Thank you very much Pastor for these excellent words.

I'm one who wouldn't be invited to your communion table (I'm pretty sure), and I agree wholeheartedly. There are plenty of ways in which Christians of different communions may be brethren, but the Eucharist/Lord's Supper is a statement of unity on a wholly different level. To be offended at closed communion is to treat another church's doctrines as though they were subject to your own tastes.

This gives me an opportunity to praise my old congregation in the RPCNA, they had people walk to the front in a formation like a table and no one was allowed to walk up there unless they were known the the elders or had been interviewed previous to communion. Visitors were required to be a "member in good standing" at another church before being allowed to take communion, lest they eat and drink judgment on themselves, and yup, it offended some people.

I've often heard this one before:

"If you're exploring Christianity, we're glad you're here. But we want to ask that you not take this Supper because we don't want it to be an empty ceremony for you."

Yeesh!

I recently brought a struggling friend to my PCA church and he didn't take communion nor did his two kids or his girlfriend. It was not due to anything I said but to a clear fencing of the table. I asked him later and he plainly said that he is in sin and his kids and girlfriend aren't Christians. He said that the warning from the pastor was sobering and that he took it very seriously. I offer this as an encouraging report from the field.

I find this an interesting post. I have heard differently on some things... church membership I believe is quite essential to good accountability, but I don't think I agree with the fencing of the table idea. For one thing, I've often asked reformed pastors why they believe in a 'fencing of the table', particularly as it relates to a profession of faith or some other thing besides baptism, and their arguments are substantively the same as these given here in the article and supported by various comments. I definitely disagree with any sort of closed communion - after all the table is NOT the church's table. It's Christ's table, and I think that He quite clearly reserves to Himself the authority of fencing it. If I attend a church with a closed communion, or even a church where I might disagree with some points of their doctrine, I will take communion if possible, or I will be left basically feeling they treated me unjustly for putting up Pharisaical fences. As someone pointed out above, the disobedient Corinthians were definitely 'fenced' in a very physical way. I believe many reformed churches today would never have allowed Corinthian church members to take communion in their denominational church. But Paul required them to take it anyhow, despite their many doctrinal and moral problems. And we know God doesn't change. Also, as my pastor has often pointed out - if you have been in sin, repent of it and eat. We do not have the authority to fence ourselves from the table as individuals or even as families. It's Christ's table designed to bring us new life, not the Church's table to reward the 'good'. From my observations, many churches believe Christians are children who sometimes need to give themselves 'timeouts'. But none of us are worthy of even the slightest bit of the Supper. That's why Christ gives it to us as a Gift. The Church, I believe, is Christ's ready means of giving it to us. He could just as easily have had some manna fall from heaven each early morning into our individual breakfast bowls. If we looked and it wasn't there, we didn't deserve it...Wrong. But he chose community to emphasize the Body of believers, and to give Himself there with the only Biblical fence mentioned being one requiring us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are... perceiving the Lord's Body in each other! That is by definition wider than any particular denomination and I think quite conclusively demolishes said denominational or individual church arguments. I'm not sure about the whole church membership thing, but definitely I think we look in vain to find a Pauline 'fence' to say offering communion to the Christians present. At present, I think baptism is your membership badge that allows you to approach the Table in any Christian church. And sorta by default, baptism occurs usually in a framework where you become a member of that local church. But if you didn't somehow, I think you'd still be welcome.

>the table is NOT the church's table. It's Christ's table, and I think that He quite clearly reserves to Himself the authority of fencing it.

Dear Joshua,

You're quite wrong on this, brother. Look at Matthew 16:19, then give careful attention to 1Corinthians 5. It's impossible to obey these texts unless the Lord has blessed His Church with officers to whom He has delegated His authority over His Table. And central to that authority is the power to welcome or bar men from Table fellowship.

Warmly,

Joshua,

My plainspeak way of putting it is just that the pastors and elders are the trustees of the church and its sacraments. It doesn't mean that the ultimate responsibility isn't with the individual but the pastors have to fulfill the responsibilities laid out in scripture. So it's Christ's table but if you'll notice, even Christ didn't walk out in the street and start giving communion to anyone - he gave it to his disciples.

It saddens me how your words to Joshua and in the original post are taken as "foreign" in today's church Rev's. Bayly.

Whatever happened to the Reformed Pastor?

Pastor’s Bayly, thanks for the correction. I may have spoken too soon before fully thinking through my reaction. Please forgive my haste. I do believe in excommunication and believe the texts you referenced set up the Church’s authority in that regard. I believe the excommunications imposed by church councils such as Nicaea were fully legitimate as well as all righteously judged excommunication trials involving individuals at individual churches. What I was more objecting to was the fencing of the table in a proactive way against visitors who the elders may not know personally. So allow me to adjust my statement about Christ reserving to Himself the authority of fencing it. As my church says in our bulletin: ‘We warmly invite to the Lord’s table all those who are baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, under the authority of Christ and His body, the Church. By eating the bread and drinking the wine with us as a visitor, you are acknowledging that you are a sinner, without hope except in the sovereign mercy of God, and that you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. You also acknowledge to the elders of this congregation that you are in covenant with God, being active in a congregation which is covenantally bound to the triune God through Word and sacrament. If you have any doubt about your participation, please speak to the elders before or after the service.’ This sets up a fence of communicant vs. excommunicant, and defines the communicant as someone active in a covenantal congregation. But it does not make the elders responsible to ‘watch’ to see if someone they don’t know happens to walk in the door, the way Clint described his past RPCNA experiences. I personally grew up in a CRC and then an OCRC church, and they required profession of faith and proven membership and such, and only had communion 4 times a year. I am objecting to that sort of review as well as closed communion ideas that some communions set up. I appreciate what Clint wrote in reply, and I agree, except that I think if someone has not been excommunicated by a church somewhere you shouldn’t be keeping them from communion with you. We are supposed to celebrate at communion, not have a tiff in the aisle when someone who’s a Christian tries to join your fellowship. Obvious easy answers like barring the incestuous man Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 5 aren’t most situations, and in those cases they are already in your local congregation so you know what’s up with them. What would you do with a young man who had been baptized and raised in a Christian family, but then went the way of the world for a while, and then came back to Christ and starts attending a church in his area. Does he need an interview with the elders there proving his repentance and submitting himself to their authority before he can approach the table? I think that would be unnecessary and legalistic, although it does have precedent in reformed church history. And even there, if the man has repented and ceased his evil work, I see no reason why he should not be welcome at the table the first time he attends worship services with your congregation. He may still need counseling for a while (and most likely WILL) and good accountability, but I cannot imagine Christ would ever withhold heavenly food from a repentant sinner. In the end, barring someone from Christ’s table who is a visitor and about whom you know nothing is an effective excommunication without a trial and thus unjust.

I used to think about that issue of a person kicked out of a church for the wrong reasons (i.e. the church they were in was not a real church and they had not necessarily done anything wrong). But in a case like that person would have tried to join with another church and they would have helped that person to get to the bottom of the issue and they would again be under authority in a different church.

There are many people in the world who think they've been given a raw deal from a local church and they fall into great sin refusing to ever be under the authority of another church again. Often these people are fathers leading families to damnation - these men should not be allowed to take communion because to allow them to do so confirms their rebellion. We have to care more about these people and their families than to allow them to participate in the Lord's Supper falsely, indeed we can't let them remain as loose adherents to a church indefinitely also.

Many people will wander from church to church looking for a place that they can attend a few weeks without accountability and then leave when they are approached. That's not the purpose of the Lord's Supper, to ease a rebellious man's conscience and allow him to continue in sin.

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