Thursday, May 07, 2009

Presbyterians still Fencing the Table

It's been a while since I did a "Worship Wednesday" post.

As someone who extends the invitation to the Lord's Table on a nearly weekly basis, I've been thinking about the practice of fencing the table.

No...that's not elders fencing the Lord's table...that's just the elderly, fencing.

While I agree that it is based in seeking to be a wise steward of the mysteries, I wonder if it doubles-down on the notion that Calvinists are always looking for something to keep you out of the kingdom. (yes...I'm an Anglican Calvinist - even when it comes to the Eucharist.)

I'm deeply concerned with guarding the integrity of the table. Yet churches disagree about how to do that. There seem to be three variations:
  1. Closed communion: only members of this congregation, and who are not under discipline, may come. This was a standard practice in the Presbyterian churches. Elders visited the home and gave communion tokens to be used on an upcoming sabbath (quarterly communion being the norm).
  2. Close communion: requires an essential agreement of practice & doctrine. Common examples are membership in a particular church structure - such as Roman Catholicism, having been baptized by immersion (Baptist), or having been confirmed by a bishop in the historic succession (classical Anglican).
  3. Open communion: all who are [baptized] Christians may receive.
Since communion is a covenant sign, the only communicants should (ideally) be members of the covenant community. It would therefore be wrong for a pastor to knowingly administer communion to an open unbeliever. And baptism seems a reasonable starting point for determining membership in the community (whether you are a paedobaptist or credobaptist). The practice of completely open communion (letting even the unbaptized come) seems so laughable as to be ruled right out, though some defend it.

I think the Prayer Book gets it right. It begins with a closing of the Table to notorious sinners - those who are publicly at odds with the teachings of Jesus:
If any man here be an open blasphemer, adulterer, in malice, or envy, or any other notable crime, and be not truly sorry therefore, and earnestly minded to leave the same vices, or that doth not trust himself to be reconciled to Almighty God, and in charity with all the world, let him yet a while bewail his sins, and not come to this holy Table, lest, after the taking of this most blessed Bread, the devil enter into him, as he did into Judas, to fulfil in him all iniquity, and to bring him to destruction, both of body and soul.
Notice that even at this moment, there is an opportunity to repent and receive, with a gracious hope that whatever intention is stated in the reception it will be carried out by power of the same. It also asks for us to approach the sacrament with the assurance that we have been reconciled to God by Christ's sacrifice.

"Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of GOD, and walking from henceforth in His holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort."

Baptism is a sign of repentance, a prerequisite to authentic table fellowship with Him who came to save from sin. Our repentance is shown in the way we live towards others - namely our charity and love for the brethren. Jesus said if we love Him, we'll keep His commandments; loving others and obeying the moral law are two sides of the same cloth. Lastly, acknowledging that there is no health in us to do any of the above, we must come expecting to receive what we of our own power cannot merit - nor can accomplish.

So how far should we seek to close off the table? What is your practice?


Dave Moody said...

Cranmer rules!

Sam said...

The Presby churches I have attended have all practiced open communion. I do struggle with this sometimes. I was a Baptist for a while as a young adult. They believe that is wrong to take communion if you are not right with God. Since returning to the Presbys, this mindset pops up regularly when taking communion. When I attend my friend's Lutheran (MS) church, I don't take communion out of respect for their belief in transubstantiation. So, to sum up my rambling (sorry), at the moment, I don't have a clue where I stand. Thanks for the post and making me think about it again. I love the picture.

Anonymous said...

For the record, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not believe in transubstantiation. The LC-MS agrees with Luther's Small Catechism.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.
The bread and wine do not lose their substance, leaving their accidents. The bread and wine are bread and wine. They are also the True Body and True Blood of Jesus Christ.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...

What was it Luther said about Zwingli? He'd rather drink blood with the papists than wine with the Anabaptists?

I'm a true-presence advocate myself - one of the many reasons I left that PCUSA.

So here's the big question, Pastor Juhl: Would I be able to receive Christ's True Body and True Blood with you presiding? Or do our confessional differences bar us from sacramental union? (This side of the visible church...)

Anonymous said...

We practice "Close Communion" as you have it described above. However I get the feeling in my denomination (ARP) the practice is closer to the 3rd option. Most (if not all) RPCNA churches require that you meet with an Elder or the Pastor prior to being allowed to partake in the Eucharist. Mostly this takes the form of a 5-minute conversation ensuring you are member of an orthodox (small "o") church and are not under discipline. I really think we do a great disservice to our congregations and to those gathered in our services by not taking Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor 11 seriously.

Anonymous said...


On the "real presence" front are you agreeing with Calvin in the true and real spiritual presence or the "in, through, and around" of Luther?

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...

In so far as it is possible, I side with Calvin who was happier to leave it a mysterium tremendum. He's really there, and I really can't explain how (though I know by Whom - because we use a standard epiclesis).

Is His presence tied to the elements? Yes. In His presence limited to them? No. Even the Roman church agrees that those who cannot partake of the elements can receive the same benefits through spiritual communion. There is a seed of the truth that they've papered over with Bull(s).

Anonymous said...

I can agree with that. Thanks Chris.

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...

The 39 Articles, which I affirm in their modified form (Erastian / England-specific parts taken out) are a very pastoral and broad-union document. They were written in such a way as to be as inclusive as possible of both the Puritan position and the conservative (read: catholic) position. If Mary hadn't come along and thrown it all into disarray, who knows how things would have progressed...