How Should Older Baptized Members Come to the Lord's Table?

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Thank you for the wonderful work that the Faith Formation Committee has done.  It has been a good learning experience to explore your website and resources, and I have found it quite helpful as we are introducing children to the Lord's Table in our church.  I do have one question, though.  How can we include older children, teens, young adults, and even older adults at the Lord's Table? There has been much discussion re. what age to begin this process (grade 3) and the resources that should be offered to children and parents as preparation, but what about the older baptized member? My fear is that for those whom this option was not offered when they were young (ie. young and older adults), they see this process as excluding them - not by intention, but by the fact the the discussion has centred around young children.  This is an important development in faith formation for all baptized members of the church. If someone is not quite ready to publicly profess their faith but what to participate in LS, how do we bring them in?  How do we handle this retroactively?  Do we ask them to go to a class also? Can this be a discussion between the individual (because they are older) and their elder(s)?  My hope is that this can be a much simpler and faster process for teens and adults who have a good understanding of LS already.  They have already had a lifetime of listening and observing.  How are other churches handling this?

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I am hoping this question will uncover how other CRC churches are dealing with this topic.

The decision as to whether or not to admit one to partake in the Lord's Supper used to be a lot simpler...

As per the minutes of the meeting of Classis Holland in April 25, 1849:

Admission to Communion - Whether any shall be admitted to the Lord's Supper who are unknown to the minister and consistory.

Answer - Yes, and even if they are known to be wicked and yet approach the communion table.  Such a person is to be asked what induces him to come.  If he confesses his sin and his faith in Jesus, and expresses a purpose to serve the Lord, he is to be admitted.

My thinking on this has changed over the years.  I used to think only crc professing members should participate.  Then I realized that believing in Jesus as Lord and Saviour was more important;  how could we exclude other believers for non-membership?  But I thought that for baptized children they should still make membership profession first, because they lacked discernment.  Then I realized that some children had more discernment than some professing members.  The discernment in I Corinthians 11 refers to caring for others in the body of Christ, not some greater esoteric knowledge of magnificent theological and confessional insights.  And I realized that the apostles at the time of the Lord's Supper were all deniers and abandoned Jesus only a day later.  And even Judas was included in this last supper.  So it makes no sense for the way we restrict this. 

I have often participated in communion at many evangelical churches in several denominations, because I have no ability nor reason to think that they are not sincere spirit filled christians.  The extreme of crc not allowing rca to participate, or prc not permitting visiting orc to participate highlights the absurdity of our claims to make this sacrament dependant on an official membership.  This sacrament does not belong to a denomination, and we should acknowledge that.  The warning that scripture gives, should be the one we give, and the invitation scripture gives, we should give, and we should leave it at that, unless someone lives in  very serious moral disobedience, where mockery is obvious.     Even then, we should be cautious, given that Jesus did not prevent Judas.  We know that people can be Christ-followers without being official crc members.   And this opens the way for older "non-professing" but living-as-christ-follower christians to participate joyfully.

Participant

I think these are really great comments. The one about Classis Holland especially!

I put together a list of resources on our church website: http://www.fcvcrc.org/worship/children-lords-supper.cfm

Community Builder

Comment by Louis Tamminga:

This discussion  began with a distinction that was made: "older children" might not feel free to make public profession of faith (as yet...) but might still want to participate in the Lord's Supper. 

I submit that such a distinction is not valid. 

The CRC Synod of 1988 formulated some clear biblical in-sights re. the relationship between the Lord's Supper and faith-commitment. Here are some quotes: "The Bible makes clear that participation in the Lord's Supper is the result of status in the covenant ..."   (Thus Synod implied that the church is warranted in admitting covenant children to the Lord's Supper.). But Synod was careful to maintain the link between faith and participation in the Supper: "Our confessions teach the necessity of faith for participation in the Lord's Supper." It added: "The Heidelberg Catechism explains that participants in the sacrament accept with believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ."(Q&A 76). For the "older children" accepting  the elements of bread and wine, is concomitant to making profession of faith. The Consistory will want to follow the normal route: making profession of faith a gate to the holy communion.

(for a detailed study, see pages 260-316 Acts of Synod 1988)

 

 

 

Although it is true that participating in communion ought to be a sign of faith, and not a sign of peer approval, the direct connection to making a formal membership profession of faith in a particular denomination is not required by scripture.  Of course we would ask and expect only believers to participate.  On the other hand, if someone says that they have not read the belgic confession and thus cannot yet make profession of faith in any reformed church, or they agree with most of the confessions, but not with the mandatory requirement for infant baptism and thus cannot in good conscience say that they agree entirely with what is taught on that point, should they therefore be denied participation in the body of Christ?  Did Jesus do such?  Would we deny christians from ORC, or from NRC, or from Baptist or Pentacostal, or Alliance churches to participate in this remembrance of the body of Christ?  even though they have not entered the hallowed "gateway"?  If the crc finds a way to distinguish between profession of faith, and a membership committment, then perhaps you might have a point.  The two are not the same.  

Community Builder

My thanks to John Zylstra for his thoughtful comment about “older children” participating in the Lord's Supper without having made Public Profession of Faith. John argues that many such children/young people may have problems with the three Confessions of Faith (the “Creeds”). John, in passing, refers to Christ's approval which is a bit tenuous, since Christ did not spell out participation in detail.

Thinking about John’s proposal brings up immediately one implication: churches following this path will then have another – a third - class of members: regular participants in the Lord's Supper, but not “Professed Members”.

The problem John introduces is real and it is not new. Let me suggest a solution which I think is more profitable.

It is hardly realistic to think that "older children,” who consider profession of faith,  will turn to the Creeds and then check whether they agree with the contents. By far the majority of church members came to the faith through Bible reading, the Christian life at home, the ministry of  the church, and a variety of Christian contacts. The Holy Spirit used these and other means to instill faith in the hearts of the members (mostly) from young age on. Thus they became members of a church-fellowship that confessed the Word of God as the source and basis of faith.

But the denomination also confessed that the thrust of God's Word was summed up in the Creeds.  As a community of believers we believe those to be true (though not at the same level as the Scriptures). They form splendid study materials,  keep us connected with previous generations, form a helpful defense of the faith, and Pastors preach sermons that do not contradict the creeds.

Does that mean that I must agree with each phrase in the Creeds? Not really.

What can I do in case of disagreement? We realize, of course, that many strategic doctrines of salvation are spelled out clearly in the Bible. But there is plenty left for believers to disagree about.  For instance “infant baptism”. But would that seriously hamper me from joining a church in which I have been nurtured spiritually from my youth on?  I think not. Here, I think, is the way young people may follow. They will speak with their minister, or elder, or trusted guide and together consider the matter.  Should this not lead to clarity, the young member should be assured that his/her (confessed) membership remains fully assured in spite of the confessional wrinkle.  I may stand next to him/her in the Lord's Supper circle, both assured in Christ's salvation, but with a different view of one implication  of holy baptism. The 'solution' I propose is pastoral, it is the assurance that we look in a glass darkly but our hope is in Christ in whom we are one in spite of our differences.

Synod itself at one time gave a  bit of pastoral advice in reply to a question of a local church, how to deal with a charismatic member who had accepted adult baptism in another fellowship. Synod's reply: ask that member whether she still  values her membership in your congregations and whether she is prepared to continue to accept the responsibilities going with regular membership.  (Synod 1973, Acts page 73)

Thanks for your reply/comment.  First I would respond that in my experience it is indeed realistic that some children would examine the confessions and practices of the church, and begin to make statements about which they agree with, and which they do not.   These are usually children who are very committed and who examine scripture and love the Lord.  These children can range in age from 14 to 30.   They came to the faith from the time they could speak and read, and as we confess in our creeds, they belonged to God from before birth, as evidenced in their daily talk and walk.

Whether we agree with their confessional or practical disagreements or not, on what basis do we deny them communion?  They believe in Jesus as their divine Lord and Saviour, and follow Him in their daily lives.   What if the clause in profession of faith " “to confess the faith of the church as taught in the creeds and confessions of this church.”" causes them objections?  Or from the 1976 form, "Do you believe....that the confessions of this church faithfully reflect this revelation?"  What do we do then with temporary or permanent visitors from other places, or from other churches(with different doctrines)?   Should communion be tied to membership?

I have participated, as have my children, in communion in non-crc churches.  These include Alliance, Baptist, Church of God, Brethern, Luthern, and various community churches.  I do not believe that communion belongs to a denomination.    Only that communion ought to be practiced in a way to treat each other as the body of Christ, mostly by not being selfish (I Cor.14), since Christ was not selfish.  I have also seen some non-members exhibit more christian leadership and committment than some "professing" members.   Would we then deny the one and admit the other?

This is different than I thought when I was a child, but it is a real struggle.  When we see people making profession of faith who are not renouncing sin, how honest are we being?   The 2013 form and the 1989 form seem to place less emphasis on the confessions, but is there no expectation of membership with the profession of faith any longer?  Yet it seems to be a gateway to membership, voting, and eligibility for teaching and leadership, yes?  Which would at a minimum imply some level of agreement with confessions and practices?   And would imply some agreement on christian living?   Some other denominations separate this entirely, by making faith and communion separate from membership.  Membership then implies a whole 'nother level of committment.  Perhaps we could learn from this?

I appreciate the attempt to accommodate various less significant differences, within the ability to participate in communion.  I agree with that.  But what that leads to then is a problem with membership and committment.  I have seen difficulties with members not renouncing sin, or with members saying the Bible is out of date, or with making huge scriptural inaccuracies such as Mary  being raped when conceived with Jesus,  or Paul being homosexual.  Not to speak of those who question whether God really created us good.   I have difficulty in communion with people who do that, but even more importantly, such people are deemed qualified for leadership simply because they are members by virtue of their profession of faith?  How do we practice the Lord's Supper as the Lord himself did and the epistles instruct us, while at the same time making membership and leadership truly accountable?  In the past these two things have been so closely tied together, but are they still?

Sorry for my questions, and perhaps they are not easily answered.  The baggage of our history lingers on.

Community Builder

April 29, 2014

Louis Tamminga

 

​Thanks, John, for your contribution of April 22, today just one week ago. I have pondered on your remarks many hours. Many readers of NETWORK will have too. The fact that I did not read any responses probably demonstrates that others too could not come up with answers. Unable to formulate a helpful response I took comfort in the fact that NETWORK was designed to draw many readers into discussing the observations and questions of fellow-readers.  So, dear participants, what would you say to John and us all? 

And I may add: John, what would you say yourself in response to your questions? As you struggled with your thoughts, you will have envisioned some  answers. 

 

Thanks, Louis for your refreshing openness.    This is a big topic, but I will try to be brief as possible.  I have thought about this issue for some time since about  30 years ago when asked by a non-member visitor whether he could participate.   Many other circumstances and situations have added to this thinking, including those baptized as adults but not members, those baptized as infants but not adult professing members, those with reduced mental capacity, etc.  In addition I had to make decisions on whether to participate in non-reformed churches. Also I noted that in one reformed church only a small part of the membership actually participated in communion, and that I was restricted from participating in another particular reformed church as a visitor because I was from a different denomination.

I think  profession of faith has always been an issue of formal church adult membership primarily.   It sometimes happens years after someone knows they are a Christian.   It is not a gateway to faith in Christ, but a commitment to local and denominational precepts.  There is no reason to think that making such a profession of faith is tied to a recognition of a faith relationship to God or to the body of Christ, since if this was so, for many children, it would be done much earlier, and for some people, it should not be done until much later.

 I see too often that profession of faith is not taken seriously.  The elders who examine do not understand the significance, and the one who professes faith does not renounce sin in any reasonable fashion.   It should be noted that simply saying you renounce sin does not prove that you really do.   In the same way, professing that scripture is your guide and rule for life and for worship, is not the same as actually doing so.   Members who do not renounce sin, who refuse to put on the robe of righteousness/obedience, and who think scripture is out of date, cause problems when they influence others to do the same under the presumed authority of their membership.  

We generally consider those who make profession of faith as full members and able to participate in congregational meetings, voting, and eligibility for office.   Then we have also in the past added in the ability to participate in communion, and baptism of their children. 

I think we should separate these two items.  In order to participate in communion, faith ought to be evident, but in general this should be left up to the participant with the general warning that if you do not believe and trust in Christ, that you should refrain from participating.  If you believe and trust and follow, then you are considered part of the body of Christ, and thus communion is fitting, since it is participation in the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour.

If someone is participating when it is obvious that there is no repentance, no renewal, no reflection of Christ, then that is opportunity for the elders to talk and visit and witness.   This opportunity is a gift from God, not to be neglected.

Membership as an adult is somewhat different, because now distinctions are being made between various confessions of faith, various assumptions about renouncing sin, and various governance assumptions.   If we have a significant number of people making profession of faith who do not agree with some of the confessions, then they can easily vote in favor of not promoting infant baptism, or inviting various speakers from any denomination to preach, denying the authority of the elders, or denying the power of scripture over their lives.   Membership ought to be clearer.  It is not a form of acceptance by the congregation, but a form of commitment to a set of standards by the believer/member. 

We ask elders to sign the form or covenant of officebearers, in order to establish what their commitment is.  However, by making membership conditions relatively insignificant, there is a side effect on signing of this elder’s form such that it is also not taken so seriously, and thus we have officebearers directly contradicting their agreement both in their understanding of the confessions and scripture and in their daily walk of life.   We have seen this in council rooms, congregational meetings and in the banner.   If this is not taken seriously, then how can we have the temerity to suggest that it is necessary to make a formal membership profession in order to partake of communion?

A contrast was made for me in the difference between two churches (not crc) in my region, and how they handled church membership.   One church had 10,000 members on their books and had seating for only 2000 people in their building and the church usually half empty.   Rarely 10% of their membership would attend on a weekly basis.   Another church had seating for 1500, with only 250 adult members, where attendance was usually four times the membership, and 80% full.   The second includes a statement of faith, as well as a statement of conduct relevant to today’s temptations to which a member must sign agreement.   One treated membership as a mystical panacea that covered their sins, while the other treated membership as a commitment with high standards.  So the question for me is, which does the crc prefer to be?

We should also make clear that if membership is not contingent on following all of the proscribed confessions, articles, synodical statements, forms for baptism, installation, ordination, etc., then in which instances is there room for divergent perspectives and beliefs?  For example, if there is room in the crc for members who wish to be rebaptized, or for those who prefer believer baptism, or for those who speak in tongues, then we should make this clear.  If there is room for members who deny that God created man good, then perhaps we should make that clear.  If there is room for members who advocate sexual immorality, then we should make that clear.   The lack of clarity in a simple document on some of these high profile issues causes problems for members, for those considering membership, for elders, and for any understanding of membership, acceptance and discipline.

In my view, the potential complexities of a membership decision should not be the condition for approving or denying communion in the form of the Lord’s supper.

Community Builder

Louis Tamminga, May 1, 2014

Thanks again, John, for laying out your thoughts in further detail. You burned the mid-night oil.

How shall we proceed from here on? 

These columns are meant to think together through various issues that concern the well-being of our churches. So we seek your input. It would be fine if you would wish to address only parts of John's essay. Should the church in the future wish to deal with these proposals and needs, we realize that the pathway through the ecclesiastical structures is cumbersome and time consuming. But progress will only be made when office bearers and thoughtful members have already discussed them at various levels. So, again, let's talk. We owe it to the church and to John.

A word of caution

This NETWORK is meant to help church leaders in doing their ministerial work. There are so many parts and issues in this work. They all deserve discussion. Share your problems and experiences with us all. This must not become a one-issue platform.