(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?
"They will be under no yoke."
"Who seek their destruction."
"They are impudent."
"They are past all shame."
"They profane the church of God."
"Stay in your filth and infection."
"Don't infect others."
"Nothing in them but hypocrisy."
"Children which are bastards."
"Their abode in Hell with Satan."
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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.