ARTICLE 61-"GOING, GOING..."
by Rev. B. R. Hofford
January 13, 2007
According to a Press Release of the meeting of the combined committees of the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches held in August 2006, the following was reported regarding the Lord's Supper Article in the proposed Church Order:
The article regarding the Lord's Supper was changed in line with the church orders of Dort and the URC to convey that the Lord's Supper shall be administered in a service of public worship. As to admission to the Lord's Supper the following wording was agreed to: "The consistory shall supervise participation at the Lord's Supper. To that end the consistory shall admit to the Lord's Supper only those members who have made profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life. Visitors may be admitted provided that, as much as possible, the consistory has secured confirmation of their biblical church membership, of their proper profession of faith, and their godly walk of life."
For purposes of comparison, we also quote here the present Art. 61, C.O. regarding admission to the Lord's Supper: "The consistory shall admit to the Lord's Supper only those who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life. Members of sister-churches shall be admitted on the ground of a good attestation concerning their doctrine and conduct."
Before entering into a detailed analysis of the proposal, it must be noted by way of preface that the very fact that there is a perceived need to alter Art. 61 reveals to us that there is not agreement on this subject.
Without wanting to appear to be quibbling over minor details, we cannot but be struck at the outset by the opening sentence in the proposal of the committee. On the face of it, we cannot object to this statement of the obvious. However, we must ask why it should even be necessary to assert that the consistory shall supervise participation at the supper unless there is some question about this historically obvious fact? Indeed, the apparent necessity for making such an affirmation at the start alerts us to the fact that what follows probably involves some sort of compromise over just what constitutes proper supervision.
The content of the rest of the proposal provides us with immediate insight into the kind of compromise that has been adopted. The proposal distinguishes between "members" and "visitors." In contrast, Art. 61 only implies "members" in the opening statement, but then explicitly refers to "members of sister-churches" when it alludes to visitors. As we shall see, in the proposal, this distinction between "members" and "visitors" parallels the distinction between the members of the administering church and the "biblical church membership" of the visitors. To summarize, we find in the present Art. 61 the understanding of the administering church and the clearly defined category of sister-churches. In the proposed revision we find the understanding of the administering church and a vague category of "biblical churches."
Of course, there can be no objection per se to the proposed rule regarding members since it closely parallels Art. 61. However, the heart of the problem resides with the part of the proposal that deals with visitors.
As we have already suggested, the chief difficulty with the proposal regarding visitors has to do with the possible interpretations of the expression, "biblical church membership." From the perspective of the Church Order of Dort, it is clear what we mean when we refer to "sister-churches." However, unless the proposed church order defines "biblical church membership" elsewhere, there will be no clear understanding as to what this encompasses. One illustration will reveal the problem. As a result of synodical decisions, ecclesiastical fellowship has been established with the OPC. Suppose a visitor from the Presbyterian Church in America seeks admission to the Lord's Supper at one of the united churches. Here is a church with whom the united churches may have no ecclesiastical relationship, yet, this is one with whom the OPC has a relationship. What would prevent a consistory from reasoning that surely such a visitor fits into the category of "biblical church membership?" In short, the failure to clearly define the parameters of "biblical church membership" opens the door to conflicting judgments by various consistories.
This same sort of relativism is also found in the fact that visitors are not held to the same standard as members, i.e., profession of the Reformed faith. In the proposal, the standard for visitors is "proper profession of faith." In the relationship with the OPC, the CanRef have already witnessed what such a phrase may mean. For OPC churches, a proper profession of faith does not by any means involve profession of the reformed faith since confession of a simple thumbnail sketch of the gospel is all that is required for membership. One must ask why it was necessary to change the language with regard to visitors if there were not some intention of altering the meaning, and hence, broadening the scope? The end result of such a distinction between members and visitors is a double standard for admission to the Lord's Table. The door to pluriformity will now be permanently propped open.
We may also ask whether the language change from "public profession" to "proper profession" opens the door to some additional compromise. Does this change not open the door to consistories using differing standards for deciding when someone has made a "proper profession?" For example, one can envision the possibility of a visitor being admitted to the supper who has not made a public profession of faith using the Form for that purpose, but who makes some profession of faith before the administering consistory.
In the proposal we also note that, with regard to visitors, the consistory is to secure "confirmation of their biblical church membership, of their proper profession of faith, and their godly walk of life." Again, we see a contrast between the "securing confirmation" of the proposal and "a good attestation" of Art. 61. In the Church Order of Dort, an attestation is well defined and understood. According to Art. 62, C.O., we know that an attestation is ordinarily a written confirmation regarding the doctrine and conduct of a member, signed on behalf of the consistory by two of its members. But just what constitutes "confirmation" in the proposal? This apparently does not require a written attestation. Does it allow for confirmation by those outside of consistory members? Does this allow for self-attestation? Given the language used, none of these possibilities can be ruled out. Again, we are confronted with a relativistic guideline that will invariably result in a wide range of admission practices and hence jeopardize both the unity of faith and purity of life prerequisite for the Lord's Supper Table.
Finally, we must pay attention to one further proposed qualification connected with the admission of visitors. The consistory may admit visitors provided that "as much as possible" it has secured the confirmation mentioned above. Now we no longer need to deduce the relativistic nature of the proposal, for here we have an explicit statement of it. In the nature of the case, "as much as possible" opens the door to subjective judgment on the part of each consistory to decide if it meets the criteria. This is the kind of language that you would expect to be used in situations where no principle was involved. For example, in the Church Order of Dort, we find this kind of expression used in connection with who shall preside at consistory meetings (Art. 38), relations with churches abroad (Art. 50), the conduct of mission work (Art. 51), preaching from the Catechism (Art. 52). In each case, there is a measure of latitude because there is no biblical principle at stake. However, when a biblical principle is at stake, the language used is definitive, as with Art. 61.
It must be recognized that for the Canadian Reformed Churches to accept this proposal they will be abandoning the historic Reformed, and biblical, position articulated in Art. 61, C.O. Sad to say, this has already been done on the practical level given the compromises involved in the relationships already established with the URC, OPC, RCUS, PCK and FRC. To embrace this proposal is simply to openly acknowledge the compromise and to enshrine it with official status.
Much has been written and posted on this website to illustrate
and explain these problems and their implications. May the Lord use this latest
example of deformation to awaken many to take a stand against this process and
to follow the Head of the Church in faithful obedience.