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Welcome! Ask your questions and let some of the CRC's church order buffs lend a hand.
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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.
I'm curious to know WHY that issue keeps coming up. It's not that the Reformed faith doesn't have an answer to the "why not?" in that circumstance. Are teachers not educating their people in a Biblical understanding of Communion today? If so, then do "Reformed" members not believe it, or are the answers we have not good enough? I'm not on a rant (which is what too many question marks look like online), but rather, I'm just wanting to ask questions to establish where the fences are. If we had no doctrinal answer for such things, then confusion would be inevitable. But, since we do have answers to these questions, why are our current answers not acceptable to "Reformed" believers in these situations? (Caution: Answers to these questions may be applicable to many areas of ministry)
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."
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?
What about the pastor and an elder going to someone's home who, because of health reasons, cannot attend public worship services?
I'd like to hear your thoughts on communion at weddings--that's a question that seems to come up more and more.
Well, Gayla, one does have to make choices with regard to what's interesting to a more general public than just one individual, as you well know in your journalistic capacity. And speaking of that, of course, there are some pieces of advice and consultation that need to remain strictly confidential or people wouldn't ask me any more. I need to keep my office a "safe place" for people to speak freely. Just so you readers understand I don't blab ......... (:-).
I wouldn't be bored if you listed more!
There's no secret here. In fact, it would be great for Faith Alive Resources if this news were shouted from the rooftops. It is hoped that my recently completed Church Order Commentary will be out by the end of November. Great Christmas present.......
It's recently been revised, which is probably why your old link didn't work. The latest version is available on the Synodical Resources page. Or here's the direct link (pdf).
Rumour has it a certain church order expert is working on a commentary that will be a nice accompaniment to the official document. But I'll let him fill in the details about that...
No problem for the year! I just wondered if I was missing something... What is prompting us to look at casting lots is the disappointment/rejection felt by individuals who have agreed to let their names stand for election. Even if it's not a popularity contest, it remains that one is more likely to vote for someone they know than for someone they don't. Newer faces, therefore, although qualified, don't receive enough votes to become officebearers. It then become difficult in subsequent years to ask those same people to let their names stand one more time. You see?
Yes, I apologize. I meant 2003 when I wrote my comment back in March. I'd be very interested in hearing from all of you exactly what is being cited as the reason(s) for making use of the lot (again). I have summarized some in my commentary that will appear before the end of the year, but it's always good to hear from each other what motivates our interest in it.
I'm truly sorry about the mistake in my referring to 2004 instead of 2003. I promise to mend my ways.
I found a reference in the Acts of Synod 2003 (pp. 607-609), but came up empty for 2004... I'm really looking forward to your commentary, Henry! My church is contemplating the use of lots (again), so your article will be timely. The first time lots were considered a few years back, we decided against them.
"Church order" is one thing; common sense is sometimes another;
The idea of having an approved slate and then having the retiring officer 'pick' from the lot would be
[and is in many CRCs] preferable;...this avoids most of the politics that usually accompanies the most 'liked' candidate; I prefer letting the Lord pick the winner.
Synod 1989 discouraged the use of the lot. The reason for that is the precious good given to the early church and re-gained at the time of the Reformation: meaningful participation in the selection of officebearers by the congregation as opposed to a top-down imposition of leadership upon the people in the hierarchical forms of church government.
Synod 2004 lightened up on that just a little and said that the lot might be included in the process of selecting officebearers as long as it is used in addition to an election. So, for example, one could conceive of four nominees for one elder position, have the congregation vote after the morning service, narrowing it down to two, then using the lot prior to the evening service (or the following Sunday or weekday congregational meeting) to determine which of the two is selected. Synod 2004 also maintained the principle that there must be meaningful input on the part of the congregation which is a bit more than just suggesting some names to the council. This is all rooted in a theology that says that the Holy Spirit is as much present in such congregational participation and the fruit of their informed decision-making as He is in the casting of lots.
When my commentary on the Church Order is published this fall, be sure to look for the commentary on Article 4 of the Church Order. There I have listed many different models for choosing officebearers, some of which are acceptable and some not. I suspect that a majority of folk in our denomination still hold to what these synods have said.
Eager to hear from others...............
I have not heard anyone address the time spent in examining one owns heart in preparation for the celebration of communion. We read quite a list of sins in the form for preparation and can a child properly examine there life as an adult? What about the infant partaking of the elements as pictured on the cover of the banner? This seems as though churches have already opened the door to infants coming to the table for the bread and wine.
The CRC Church Order mandates ministers and elders to "exercise pastoral care" (Art. 12, 25, 65). The term "pastoral care" is meant to be much broader than counseling per se and it should not be read to indicate certain types or modalities of professional counseling such as nouthetic or integrationist or any other such method. The broader assemblies of the CRC have never expressed themselves on this matter either. Typically, seminarians are taught the principles of good pastoral care and, within that, pastoral counseling (which is to be distinguished from professional or psychological counseling though that may be done to some extent before the boundaries of professional competency are hit, at which point referral is in order). We trust that ministers help the elders to their part and that both ministers and elders participate in continuing education or professional enrichment seminars to increase their skills in pastoral care. Bottom line: seminarians see the alternatives, choose their method of ministering, and do so, hopefully, in responsible fashion when they enter into the ministry of the Word. But there is no "mandate" from either Church Order or synod and no official position of the CRC.
Why? Because allowing children to participate without a public confession of faith would nullify Lord's Day 30. In my Baptist days I have talked with people who said they had five year old children who should receive believer's baptism because they "invited Jesus into their hearts." You want 5 year olds taking communion?
Thanks for posting this, Henry. If pastors serving in the US wish to officiate at a wedding in Ontario, they should contact me at the denominational office in Burlington and we'll process the paperwork. If the wedding is in another province, you should contact the stated clerk of the relevant classis, and the paperwork will be processed by her/him.
Henry is right that the marriage might not be legal if the officiant is not licenced. Let's not cause people to live in sin! ;-)
i thought that i read in the spring issue of Calvin Seminary's Forum that baptized children could be admitted, i didn't realize there were restrictions on that. i've seen churches practicing this form of children communion, is that not correct?
Thanks Theresa. You didn't bore me. Perhaps I'm becoming a governance geek myself but I find the topic fascinating. What you said verifies the things I've been learning via books such as Governance and Ministry and Holy Conversations. Part of the challenge for me is how to help others understand the importance of the P's as you put it. I now have three other excellent people who will be helping me so I am thankful for that.
Taking part of the Lord's Supper is a confession "the bread that we break is a communion of the body of Christ.Take,eat,remember and believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was given for a complete remission of all our sins." see also "the cup of thanksgiving......"
Also:Cathechism:" ---that I,with body and soul,both in life and death,am not my own,but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ,who with his precious blood------"
This is confessing;can this be seperated from :"Confession of Faith"?
At what age can we really, totally,deep in us, comprehend this and take this on as our personal acceptance?
Here's the link to the Faith Formation website: www.crcna.org/FaithFormation
We've also set up a Faith Formation discussion network. This particularly conversation is perfectly appropriate here in the Church Order network, but folks interested in this issue may want to keep an eye on the Faith Formation network as well.
I don't believe that the doctrine of transubstantiation and the fear of children dropping the "body" and spilling the "wine" are the initial cause here. They have probably contributed, as you say. However, the original impulse for the making of an age-appropriate profession of faith is the difference between the two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is meant to be "passive" but the Lord's Supper is about active participation -- eating and drinking and, as has now been pointed out, having at least some understanding of the "body of Christ" that is the community of God's people.
I do hope that people have read in the 1995 and 2006 and 2007 Acts of Synod the denomination wrestling with this issue and are continuing to follow the current discussions of the Faith Formation Committee.
Grace and peace,
I greatly appreciate your well-thought out answer. As you mention, the passover was open to all, as long as they understood the significance of what they were doing- but it was not tied to an artificial ceremony. Don't get me wrong- I truly value profession of faith, and I think it's an extremely valuable thing, but to tie the Lord's Supper to it doesn't make sense.
My understanding of why we do not allow children at the Lord's Supper goes back to medieval times, and the doctrine of transubstantiation. When this incorrect doctrine was accepted, children were excluded from the sacrament, since if a child were to drop Christ's body it would be sacrilegious. This "tradition" is largely the reason why children do not partake today- due to tradition based on a faulty doctrine.
While I agree that children should understand what the Lord's Supper is, I do not think it should continue to be tied to Profession of Faith. At baptism we accept children into the arms of the church family- to me any time after this, once a child understands the significance of the supper, they should be allowed to participate. Profession of faith and the Lord's Supper are two separate, important things in the life of a young person in church.
It's a good question. A friend of mine told me about a practice that they had in their EV Free church--when a child/young person decided that they wanted to partake of communion, all that they had to do was reach out and take the wine and bread when it passed by them, and let someone know afterwards. I thought at first, hey, that's pretty neat, but at the same time, there was something unsatisfying about it...something was missing.
Thinking about it in light of your question, I think that the thing that was missing was that it was very much a "me and Jesus" mindset, which didn't really take into account the organic community that the person was a part of. That organic community has within it spiritual guides and leaders--elders--that help people discern and live by God's word. Among other things, the Belgic confession says that the church should be marked by "proper administration of the sacraments", and this falls under the calling of the elders...not so much to restrict and hold back people from the table, as to help people understand the meal, and come to appreciate it. To paraphrase Philip the Evangelist talking to the Ethiopan, to ask "Do you understand what you are eating?"
Historically this time of discernment has taken place through the confirmation/profession of faith process. Once again, I don't see it as restricting so much as showing that this faith this is not just between you and Jesus, but in taking this step towards the table you are also taking a step towards the living community around the table...what it means to be a part of this community, to walk in the Way of Jesus.
Children were allowed to partake of the Passover meal, yes. But even in this celebration, the requirement was also that the child would ask the question about why this was being done so that they could be taught--so that it would not be simply a ritual moment but a catechetical moment.
I think that we do need new forms, new models, but at the same time I love the element of *guidance* that takes place through profession of faith. How can we hold on to that?
We have had this conversation in our church when we were discussing going to a format other than the prescribed governance methods. What was found was that quite often our denomination is reactionary in this regard- in other words, someone finds a structure that works and is scriptural, then the denomination reacts by approving a new method.
Not the way it is supposed to work, I know.
Now folks, great answers, but you have answered the question "When do we allow children to partake", not "Why *don't* we allow children", which was the question I asked.
I'm heading toward "Why isn't communion open to all age children?" After all, the Lord's Supper is about remembering Christ's sacrifice- I see no link anywhere about profession of faith. I see a special meal/symbol designed to remember Christ's sacrifice- why do we impose these restrictions about profession of faith?
Nice to see some activity, by the way!
At this time, the CRC Church Order allows "members by baptism" to be admitted to the Lord's Supper "upon a public profession of faith." This is an age-appropriate profession indicating an Apostles' Creed-like faith awareness and sufficient understanding of the sacrament. Children in many congregations do this anywhere between the ages of 9 and 12. Other churches still operate according to the older model or tradition that has people doing profession of faith at approximately age 18 or older.
Everyone is invited to go to www.crcna.org and view the latest discussions on the matter provided by the Faith Formation Committee, a study committee of synod that will present a final report to Synod 2012.
So while we currently do not believe that people are welcome by reason of their baptism, we do allow for children 9-12 at communion and we are continuing the discussion of whether to make new changes in the future.
Managing changes to the church governance structure is challenging. I have been quite involved in these processes in my home church (which is Presbyterian, but I grew up in the CRC and am still closely linked with the denomination).
My recommendations to my own congregation are based on the three "P" principles: prayer; process and procedures; and participation. In general, when leadership follows the three Ps, leadership will arrive at answers that may not be pleasing to every single person, but are defensible, justified, and often satisfying to most congregation members. Let me briefly elaborate on each "P". Please note that all of my comments must be read with the understanding that the changes being pursued fall within the scope of church order guidelines.
Prayer: Any and all efforts to change a local church's governance structure must be bathed in lots of prayer and the prayer must seek to implement God's will for the congregation. In other words, ask God for direction in terms of both the process of the change and change itself. Don't come to God with a preconceived idea of what the change should be. Let God lead--and prepare to be led.
Process and procedure: Good process is central. Good process ensures that the process of deciding upon changes to the governance structure and the process of implementing those changes are done in a fair, transparent, and participatory manner. This area is often bungled by churches (and all sorts of other organizations). The process needs to be designed with the needs of the local congregation in mind, so there is no "one size fits all" approach. Still, I can tell you some of the traits of good process. Good process is open and transparent. Process and procedures are determined at the outset and clearly communicated to all stakeholders so that everyone knows how things will unfold. Decision-making mechanisms are adopted and their nature is also communicated to stakeholders. Good process involves participation (the last "P", described below). Studies on procedural fairness, for example, show that if people perceive that they have been fairly treated in a process they are more likely to accept the outcome of the process, even if the result does not favour them. To be fair, a process must allow people to be heard on the issues (see participation, below). The process must also be free from bias. Thus, if there is an individual who is known to have strong views on what the outcome of the process should be, that individual should not be the chair of the committee on implementing governance changes. You want a leadership team that is open to hearing a variety of voices and experiences and that is willing and able to think creatively about the changes to the governance structure and how to implement those changes. The final decision of the committee should generally be ratified by the congregation, though only after the committee has had an opportunity to present its findings and explain its recommendations.
In general, it is a good idea to ask other churches about their experiences with various governance structures. Gather as much information as possible to determine what type of governance structure would work in the context of your own congregation, given the needs of the congregation, its location, its demographics, and the vision that God has given to the congregation for its role in Kingdom service.
Participation: Participation is so very important. People must be able to participate in the process of change. The views of congregation members should be solicited. Town hall meetings, if run properly, can be very useful in this regard. Once the leadership committee has developed a proposal for change, the proposal should be presented to the congregation and the congregation should again be given the opportunity to comment on the proposal and to ask questions. Finally, as noted, major changes should be ratified by the congregation. It is also very important to determine what level of "yays" is necessary for the changes to be ratified: 51%, 67%, 80%? Decide at the very outset of the process and communicate this information to the congregation.
As a final word of advice, do not be afraid of dissent. You will never be able to please everyone. Furthermore, dissent early in the process, if managed well, can be fruitful since it can generate a wide range of ideas and options for consideration. As the process unfolds, you will want to move to more and more consensus building. If dissent persists, it may be a good time to reflect on what God is teaching the congregation at that moment: what is the source of this dissent? Does the congregation have a shared vision of what God is calling the congregation to be in its community?
At the end of the day, if a decision has been bathed in prayer and has been taken following a good, participatory process, the decision will be a strong one and justifiable even to the biggest cranks in the congregation. Of course, make sure the final decision complies with the church guidelines.
I hope that this lengthy reply has not bored you and that it has been at least somewhat helpful. I would be happy to provide further information about the above and to share tips about process, procedures and participation--and prayer, too.
Theresa Miedema, aka The Governance Geek
As far as I know, and I'm no expert, children are welcome after they've made profession of faith. Communion is a sign between Christ and his Church. And while children are part of the covenant, they're not full members of the church until they'll professed Christ.