LORD'S DAY 30 AND ECCLESIASTICAL RELATIONSHIPS
by Rev. B. R. Hofford
December 2, 2006
The admission of guests to the Lord's Table is undeniably one of the major issues at the center of the debate over ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, PCK, FCS, RCUS and URC. Some who oppose the secession in Lynden and the perspective of this website argue that while the churches in question may show "a certain weakness" in this regard, they do not believe that these practices warrant a breaking of fellowship.
The basis for this argument is that while we have Art. 61, C.O. as our rule for admitting guests, these other churches have their own rules (viz. general verbal warnings; self-testimony), weak though they may be, that are not in conflict with our confessions (or theirs). As one person has put it, "...the confessional standard of the churches in regard to table admission is set forth in Lord's Day 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism." And, "Nowhere do the confessions of the church spell out a procedure as to how the church must see to it that unbelieving and ungodly people are kept from the Lord's Table."
In this editorial, we will show how the above view does
not properly take into account the meaning and significance of L.D. 30. We will
do this by explaining first the negative context of LD 30 and then show the
positive implications of the confession for the proper admission practices as
reflected in Art. 61, C.O.
While it is undeniable that the focus of Q. 82 of the catechism is negative-the exclusion of the unbelieving and ungodly, it must be appreciated that this answer does not stand in isolation from what is taught also in L.D. 31 about the keys of the kingdom (in fact, the keys are already alluded to in Q. 82). In Q. 85, it is clear that one aspect of the use of the keys is the readmission of repentant excommunicants who show by belief and/or life, that they are now godly. In other words, the consistory not only has the duty to exclude certain people from the sacrament, but it also has the duty to include or admit certain other people to the sacrament (this must be the clear implication of being "again received as members of Christ").
This positive side of the consistory responsibility for judging doctrine and life as a prerequisite for admission to the table is also seen in the "Form for the Public Profession of Faith" of the churches. There it is clear that a consistory admits a covenant young person to the Lord's Supper when it is satisfied, positively, that such a person makes a profession of faith and shows a godly life (contra "unbelieving and ungodly" in Q. 82). Thus, we may conclude that while L.D. 30 itself has a negative focus, it is simply one side of the coin. The other side is the positive one in which the consistory admits the believing and godly.
To summarize, we may say that L.D. 30 does indeed provide us with the basis for understanding the essential elements for determining how the Lord's Table is to be guarded. However, as the above explanation reveals, L.D. 30 in itself does not tell us everything we need to know about admission to the table-it is not an exhaustive explanation. Furthermore, connections made in the above explanation are not forced upon the catechism in an artificial way but naturally flow out of the principles taught in this section (for a clear explanation of L.D. 30 as the Canadian Reformed Churches have always understood it, see "The Table of the New Covenant," by Rev. Cl. Stam in Living in the Joy of Faith, p. 199f.).
How natural these connections are is reflected in the adoption by the churches of Art. 61, C.O. as the rule for applying the principles of L.D. 30 & 31. Here, what is stated negatively in L.D. 30-who is to be excluded and why, is stated positively-who is to be admitted and why. The criteria are the same in each case-doctrine and life. Furthermore, the requirement for guests follows the same pattern-doctrine and conduct.
In addition to these two criteria, a further one is added for guests; namely, that they belong to a sister church. The reason for this is to ensure consistency in the exercise of discipline at the Lord's Table. It would make no sense to receive an attestation for a visitor from a church that had a different confession, and hence, a different standard for doctrine and/or life. Then we would be guilty of using a double standard. The elders would then admit its own members based on a confession of the Reformed faith and its corresponding lifestyle while a visitor might confess a thumbnail sketch of the gospel and lead a lifestyle that contradicts what we believe is obedient.
In short, we may conclude that Art. 61, C.O. faithfully reflects the scriptural principles contained in L.D. 30 & 31.
It is technically true that the confessions themselves nowhere spell out a procedure as to how the church is to see to it that unbelieving and ungodly people are kept from the Lord's Table. Nevertheless, in light of the above explanation, it is difficult to see how something very like Art. 61 is not required if the scriptural principles are to be maintained. Conversely, any procedure or rule used that does not fully reflect these principles must therefore be unfaithful to scriptural and confessional teachings.
Thus, those who argue that Art. 61, C.O. is a good rule for us, but we cannot impose this on others, have failed to come to terms with the issues at stake. The fact that the rule of Art. 61 is technically not part of the confessions does not provide any room for the kind of excuse described in the beginning of this editorial. The distorted understanding of L.D. 30 that allows for great latitude in the possible rules for the admission of guests to the Lord's Supper does not hold up under scrutiny.
In actual fact, it has been clearly documented and explained (see the various letters and appeals in the Librum section of this website) how the various methods of admitting guests to the Lord's Table by many of the churches in question fail to conform to the principles taught in L.D. 30 & 31. Until our opponents come to terms with these substantive arguments, their objections have little value. (For a more extensive discussion of the keys of the kingdom and closed communion, see the paper by that title in the Articles section of this website.)
We must conclude that any rules or practices used by churches for admitting guests that fail to fully take into account the biblical teachings found in our confession at LD 30 & 31 are fatally flawed. These practices represent far more than "a certain weakness." And these unscriptural practices are indeed sound reasons why the decisions establishing these ecclesiastical relationships must be rejected.