What are the guidelines for serving communion at weddings?

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In the "Current Issues" thread, Kathy Smith asked me to say a few things about serving communion at weddings, for all, or just for bride and groom.

I'm happy to start a conversation and am therefore starting this new thread for this topic.

I'm even more eager to hear from many others what their opinions are.

But perhaps this will be a good place to start.

In the Reformed tradition we have generally reserved the celebration of communion for a worship service called by and supervised by the local consistory (minister and elders), an "official" worship service or, as the Church Order has it in Article 55, a "public worship service."  This goes way back to the sixteenth century when ministers refused to come to the palace of the king.  The king was told that if he wished to celebrate communion, he would have to come to church and sit with carpenters and farmers and fishermen since that would more clearly reflect that we are all one in Christ, no matter what our life's task, and must visibly show that unity as we worship Him.

So if a wedding is performed in an official worship service, as it rarely is these days, it would be fine to celebrate communion but then not just for bride and groom -- that "excludes" some in the body of Christ -- but for everyone gathered in that worship service.

A private wedding, meaning one that is not an occasion authorized by and supervised by the local consistory, but one where the couple invites family and friends and a clergyman is in charge, is a different matter.  Here we do not serve the sacrament because it is a "private occasion," not an official worship service.  A whole lot of symbolism is and can be permitted: lighting a unity candle, appropriate music, exchange of rings, etc. but not the Lord's Supper.

It is no different when it comes to other private settings.  I know people disagree with me on this point, but I tend to oppose serving communion at a college chapel service or a seminary chapel service or a young people gathering for prayer and mediation at a beach or at a conference grounds, etc.  This is because private occasions necessarily limit the participants to a certain class or group of people with the exclusion of others.

The RCA has no problem serving communion at classis and synod meetings.  The CRC has refrained from this.  That is to say, it gladly has its synod participating in communion celebration (we've even done it with the RCA synod -- all together) but then it arranges for a local congregation to call that service and have its elders sponsor it and supervise it, complete with an invitation to all who belong to that local congregation.

I hope this is sufficient to get a good conversation going.  Let's hear from quite a few.  For a while, I'll just listen, even if I'm just itching to get in on the conversation.  Then maybe, at some point, the itch might become overwhelming, and I'll want to chime in again.......

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What about the pastor and an elder going to someone's home who, because of health reasons, cannot attend public worship services?

Participant

Henry,

You start out with the words "Reformed tradition".  I am quite glued to traditions as they relate to church, family, society as much as if not more than most people.  Traditions are still a product of our own culture and very much man made.  I am more connected with Scripture and what it says.  One illustration of a private audience was a story my father told me about WWII while serving in the Phillipines.  Communion was celebrated by a group of soliders in the field using only bread and water because of the lack of wine.  The celebration was perfomed very much outside the enviroment of a church among soldiers of many backgounds.  Does Reformed tradition discourage this kind of participation of the sacrament or is this what Scripture allows?

 

John V.

Participant

Thanks to Steve and John for pointing out at least two legitimate "exceptions" to what appears to be a hard and fast rule.  If I were a legalist, I'd sing a different tune, but I'm not, to wit:

I consider the matter of pastors and elders serving the elements of communion to shut-ins to be an extension of the public worship service.  We should encourage them to make use of the latest technology.  Take a DVD or even just a CD so that these folks can be a part of the entire service and then serve the elements at the appropriate moment "along with all the others in the pews."

As for wartime and soldiers in the midst of constant battles taking a brief respite -- that is certainly something that no Reformed person should frown upon.  One would hope for chaplains in place, but church order cannot be maintained in such situations in the way that it can be in a war-free society.  In fact, the new Church Order of the three denominations that recently united to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has the following as a final article:

"If and insofar as extraordinary circumstances in the nation make the normal functioning of the life of the church impossible, the respective assemblies of the church or its members make such arrangements as are necessitated by these circumstances even if they should deviate from the accepted polity of the church."

Perhaps other readers can contribute with more exceptions and let us know whether they think it's "out of line."

Hi Henry, I'm Ken. As a lay person I always wondered why the Lords Supper wasn't more open. Christ conducted the first one in a closed room with his disciples. How did we get from that example to what you are advoocting? I didn't ever think of this until I saw this dicussion and makes me curious.  Thanks for dicussion.

Participant

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your comment.  I appreciate it when folks chime in.  I need you to explain what you write just a bit more.  You seem to indicate that you would want the Lord's Supper to be "more open" than what I have advocated in this thread but then you give the example of Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples "in a closed room," as you put it.  I'm having difficulty understanding what you mean.  Are you saying that Jesus actually had an "open door policy" that night before his crucifixion or do you really mean a "closed room"?  I am not arguing -- just wanting to make sure what you're suggesting here.

We, of course, need also to consider over 2000 years of history.  How the Western Church eventually "corrupted the celebration and practices of the Lord's Supper" so that Reformers had to get back to biblical practices not polluted with idolatry of any kind.  But I'm certainly curious as to exactly what you mean.  Perhaps you'd be willing to write just a bit more to help us understand.

Peace,

Sorry Henry, I'm pretty messed up with MS and makes my thoughts disjointed and spelling ,sentence structure even worse. That being said , I agree it doesn't make sense. What I trying find out is how the Lords Supper became our communion sacrament and how the rules governing how its performed were established. The reasoning of where we are today with this sacrament.  Thanks for response and the understanding.

Participant

No problem, Ken.  This clarifies what you're after well enough.  My immediate response to you would be to say that in I Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul gives the early church specific instructions to celebrate the supper in remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice and as a proclamation of his life-giving death.  This is being done already, in the early church throughout Palestine and Asia Minor, and also in Corinth, and this same Scripture passage makes it very clear that early Christians were already "abusing" the sacrament, eating and drinking, as Paul says, "in an unworthy manner."  So the need for some rules is evident there already.  Paul's rule is: examine yourself before you eat and drink.  Exercise some self-discipline.  And know who you are as a church: one united body of Christ in which there should be no divisions.  There are other such passages in the New Testament.

And then comes the "history lesson" in the years beyond the times of the Bible being written.  This lesson comes in many forms of how people misused the celebration of the Supper that was soon recognized as an official sacrament, one of the two prescribed by Jesus himself (the other, of course, being baptism in his name).  Church officials were to supervise the celebration in public worship.  Sometimes they didn't do this and things got out of hand.  At other times they did, but did it wrongly, so that the plain truth of the sacrament as an assurance of our salvation was not being experienced any longer.

That's why the Reformers spent much time with the sacrament.  You could read in our Belgic Confession of Faith and in the Heidelberg Catechism the sections on the sacrament, and you would soon see how the sixteenth-century Reformation sought to restore the sacrament to its rightful place in the worship of the church.  What these Reformers tried to accomplish in this way was also incorporated in the rules for worship: what we now call the Church Order.  Since then, we have from time to time added some rules, subtracted some rules, revised some rules, but always and only to keep the church celebrating the Lord's Supper with dignity and in true biblical fashion.

Like you, I think from what you have written, I sometimes wish that we could start it all over again, reset history, as it were, but that is futile.  We need now always to examine what Christians are doing and whether their practices are in keeping with the Scriptures.  That's the point of our rules: an ongoing Reformation, if you will.

Thanks Henry, that was very helpful. We do mess things up pretty easily.