DISORDER IN THE CHURCH
By John Vantil
February 10, 2007
In recent years the question of when one should abstain from the celebration of the Lord's Supper has become a contentious issue among us. Why would a confessing member in good standing refuse the "means of grace?" If individual members of the church are called by Christ through the officebearers to "Do this in remembrance of Me," how could they, under any circumstances, ever refuse to participate in the Lord's Supper? And when this happens, is it not evidence of a self-righteous arrogance and disorderly conduct on the part of the non-participants, as if they do not need it?
Let us first consider the character of some recent events that have resulted in abstention from the Lord's Supper. The public letter dated January 19, 2007 to the consistory and congregation of the Canadian Reformed Church of Abbotsford highlights one such event that led to abstentions from the Lord's Supper in Lynden in 2006.
"Despite further correspondence to the Lynden consistory by the concerned members, this family was received into the congregation and accepted at the Lord's Supper without any assurance that they had made public profession of the Reformed faith, contrary to Article 61 C.O. As a result the official public assurance of unity of faith, which is essential to the holiness and purity of the Lord's Supper, was absent (see Public Profession of Faith and Lord's Supper Forms). Due to the admission of new members from the OPC without further investigation by consistory, concerned members were unable to participate with integrity in the Lord's Supper at Lynden." (full text of the public letter).
The above public letter also describes another such event that led to abstention from the Lord's Supper in Abbotsford.
" in May of 2006 consistory not only admitted to the Lord's Supper a guest from the URC, but did so without an attestation, contrary to Article 61 of the Church Order. This act by consistory prevented members of the congregation from participating, with integrity, in the celebration of the Lord's Supper."
Also most recently, at the Lord's Supper celebration in Abbotsford on January 21, 2007, a small number of members were unable to participate. What happened this time in Abbotsford to cause this to happen? The sequence of events listed below serve to summarize the situation.
Immediately after the previous Lord's Supper, which was held on November 19, 2006, the consistory distributed a pastoral letter to the congregation entitled "Ecumenical Relationships" (for details see elsewhere on this web site). This paper expressed the consistory's concern over a separation that had occurred in our sister church at Lynden and the support that was given to this separation by this web site. Among many other things this paper called "those who are involved in this misguided effort to repent of their divisive ways and to return to full communion with the Abbotsford Canadian Reformed Church ."
The consistory knew which members were involved. Yet it did not make any attempt to discuss the above issue with these members, either before the release of the public letter or before the celebration of the Lord's Supper on November 19th. The consistory issued this public call to repentance without applying the principles outlined in Arts. 66-68, C.O. The public letter to the congregation clearly reveals that the consistory had, at the Lord's Supper on November 19, 2006, knowingly admitted members who they believed were living in public sin!
On the very same day, but after distribution of the public letter to the congregation, a letter dated six days earlier (ie. November 13, 2006) was given to concerned members. This letter responded to a previous letter that had been sent to consistory. The consistory's letter to the concerned members contained a threat of church discipline, and stated that "In the very near future the elders hope to meet with you to ascertain whether you have taken this letter to heart." Although the concerned members responded to this letter as of February 4, 2007 they have not received the promised pastoral visit. Moreover consistory has not withdrawn its public statement or dealt with the material that was presented to it in the December 11th letter.
The three events described above are all different. Yet these all resulted in abstention from the Lord's Supper by concerned members. Why? What is it that is common to the above situations? The accusation is made that the concerned members involved are guilty of disorderly conduct. But what are these members to do when the Church Order itself is not being followed by the consistory? Are they always bound to obey the consistory? According to Article 31 C.O. they are indeed, "unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order."
Article 76 of the Church Order states that consistories "shall endeavour diligently to observe the articles of this Church Order as long as they have not been changed by a general synod." Article 61 of the Church Order states that "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." The first two situations described give evidence that the consistories involved did not comply with Article 61 when admitting people to the Lord's Supper. In the first situation there was no evidence provided that those admitted had made public profession of the Reformed faith, and in the second situation a guest was admitted without an attestation. In both situations the official public assurance of the holiness and purity of the Lord's Supper was compromised and, as a result, concerned members were unable to participate.
The evidence presented in the third situation detailed above indicates that the consistory did not comply with Articles 66 and 68 of the Church Order. It is clear from the circumstances that the consistory was dealing with what it considered to be a matter of public sin, yet it failed to suspend the sinners from the Lord's Supper in accordance with Article 68. Furthermore, consistory should have come and sought repentance privately before doing so publicly. In the absence of any private admonitions to the sinners involved, the consistory's public call to repentance is clearly in violation of Articles 66 and 68.
In addition, since from the consistory's perspective these members are guilty of living in sin, the consistory acts contrary to Q&A 82 of the Heidelberg Catechism by not preventing the admission of those "who by their confession and life show that they are unbelieving and ungodly." Thus, ironically, it further puts into question the purity and holiness of the Table, as "the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation." Surely from the consistory's viewpoint, the holiness and purity of the Lord's Supper should have been seen as compromised by the admission of unrepentant sinners.
From the perspective of the concerned members the supper was compromised by the presence of consistory members who were guilty of falsely accusing these brothers of sin. Under such circumstances, how then could the concerned members participate in the supper with integrity? Unity of faith and life was most certainly lacking!
A reference to the situation in Corinth as described by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11:17-22 may prove insightful. According to verses 18-20 "In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, ."
When the integrity of the Lord's Supper is compromised by a failure to maintain the necessary holiness and purity, then we can only conclude that "it is not the Lord's Supper you eat." Thus, when concerned members abstain from participation in such celebrations, they are not, as is often alleged, disobeying Christ, but rather maintaining the integrity of what Christ instituted.
What is the reason for the above discord in the church? Surely the type of events which are discussed above do not occur in a vacuum. When General Synods entered into a number of relationships of ecclesiastical fellowship with churches that fundamentally differ from us on the points of supervision of the Lord's supper, confessional membership and the pluriformity of the church, they have put the Canadian Reformed Churches onto a wrong path. When general synods do not take account of the decisions of the minor assemblies (see the Classis Ontario South decision regarding Tri-County Reformed Church in 1987 which was sent to General Synod 1989 via the CCOPC and has since never been appealed), the churches remain on the wrong path.
When consistories consider settled and binding and consequently implement these unscriptural decisions, without interacting with the material presented to them, thereby forcing unscriptural decisions and practices onto the churches, the discord becomes irreconcilable. This is similar to what occurred in 1944 when General Synod imposed unscriptural doctrine on the churches.
What is the way to restoration of true unity? It starts with confession of sin. It continues with a renewed commitment on the part of the consistories to abide by the Church Order. It continues with a renewed commitment to resolve the underlying issues that have been brought before consistories and other ecclesiastical assemblies in a Scriptural, confessional and church orderly manner. We earnestly pray that a Scriptural and church orderly resolution may yet come to these issues, so that we may again celebrate the Lord's Supper together in the unity of true faith.