This letter to the Lynden consistory regarding the RCUS contains an analysis of the decision of General Synod 2001 to accept the validity of the RCUS method of admitting guests to the Lord's Supper. This analysis reveals that the RCUS practice is pluriformistic and contrary to Art. 61, C.O. and Lord's Day 30 of the H.C.

August 27, 2001

The Consistory
The American Reformed Church
Lynden, WA

Esteemed brothers:

We received your letter of July 18, 2001. On August 15, we met with our elder in order to discuss some of the matters raised in your letter plus some additional concerns. We understand that he will be presenting a report to you. In addition we provide the following in response to your letter.

In point (1) you ask for proof that the consistory erred in granting the attestation to the … communicant member … In point (2) you ask for proof that the Synod's decision regarding the RCUS is in error. In response, we provide the following evidence.

The appropriate parts of Synod's decision are as follows: Art. 59.4.6. (Observations) states, "Although the practice of the admission of guests to the Lord's Supper Table in the RCUS is not identical to our practice, yet the Report indicates that the Table is faithfully fenced. The procedure of examining guests seeking admission to the Table in the RCUS clearly shows the RCUS does not have an open but a fenced Table. The elders exercise the keys of the Kingdom in a way consistent with the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 30, Q. & A. 82." Art. 59.5.3. (Recommendations) states: "Synod decide that the matter of the Lord's Supper celebration has been resolved, since members and guests alike are admitted in accordance with Lord's Day 30."

In Q. & A. 82 there are two criteria for admission to the Lord's Supper: confession and life. The standard for judging the confession of those admitted to the sacrament can be understood easily by looking at the standard used for public profession of faith (for admittance to the Lord's Supper) in our churches: wholehearted belief in the doctrine of the Word of God as summarized in the confessions of the church. It can also be seen in Art. 61, C.O. which 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. It is clear that for us the Reformed faith is the faith summarized in the Three Forms of Unity.

Synod Fergus 98 mandated the CRCA "To resolve the matter of proper supervision of the Lord's Supper so that only those who confess the Reformed faith will be admitted." (cf. Report of Committee for Contact with Churches in the Americas to Synod 01, p. 25). This mandate accords with the position held by our churches as summarized above. The question is whether or not Synod 01 is correct in concluding that members and guests alike are admitted in accordance with this standard. Has it been established that the RCUS admits to the Supper only those who confess the Reformed faith? The answer must be an unambiguous "No!"

It is easy to see that this is the case when we examine the Report mentioned above. In Appendix C regarding the RCUS, p. 49, the Deputies report regarding admission of guests to the Lord's Supper: "From guests an understanding of the sacrament itself is required, and those are excluded who deny any articles of the Reformed faith. A distinction is made here between ignorance and rebellion. Someone who deliberately denies the articles of the faith will not be received. Someone who does not have a full knowledge of the Reformed faith, but confesses his or her salvation in Christ's suffering and death alone, would in all likelihood be received. The guest, however, must be a member of a certain church. That church need not be a church with which the RCUS has fraternal relations, but should be an 'orthodox' church." Further on the Report adds, "The RCUS brothers made clear that we must understand that their practice is influenced by the evangelical culture in the USA. In this culture, in which the Baptist faith is prominent, the emphasis is on the personal relationship between the individual and God."

The above view is reinforced when we analyze the procedure for examining guests for admission to the Lord's Supper as it appears on p. 26 & 27 of the Report of the CCCA. For here we find that guests are asked to agree to two statements of belief, one concerning the sacrament itself, and the other concerning their faith in Christ. The seven questions asked to determine if the applicant is "sound in doctrine" can hardly be construed as a statement of the Reformed faith but rather is in accord with the explanation quoted above.

We also notice in this procedure that a distinction is made between guests who are members of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches and those who are members of some other kind of church which they classify broadly as an "orthodox Protestant" church. It must be clear from such a distinction, especially in light of the seven questions mentioned above, that visitors are admitted who may be members of churches that are not Reformed or Presbyterian. This is explicitly confirmed in the Constitution of the RCUS. Article 189 states: "Members, in good standing, of other congregations of the Reformed Church, and of other denominations holding the essential doctrines of the Gospel, should be invited to participate in the observance of this sacrament. (cf. attached article by Rev. deBoer, note {1}, p. 4)."

From this information, we can safely conclude that the RCUS admits guests to the Lord's Supper who are not members of Reformed churches and who have not professed the Reformed faith. Indeed, ignorance of the Reformed confession is acceptable so long as the guest professes some minimal summary of the gospel. Consistent with this position are the views expressed by the RCUS, and discussed on pp. 49f. of the CCCA, regarding the pluriformity of the church. Regardless of one's view of the significance of some of these statements with reference to the confessions of the church (it is claimed that the views expressed and officially adopted by their Synod are not creedal or semi-creedal, yet they are viewed as "authoritative advice" to their members and serve as a witness to the world of their understanding of Scripture and confessions, p. 30, CCCA), it becomes clear that the actual practice of these churches with regard to admitting guests to the Lord's Supper is based on the pluriform view of the church.

It should also be noted that Synod apparently accepted as a given the fact that the procedure for examining guests on pp. 26, 27 of the CCCA is used universally in the RCUS. As a matter of fact, it is nowhere stated that this procedure has been adopted as a requirement for use, or that it is in fact used uniformly throughout the RCUS. This is significant in light of the following statements gleaned from the Appendix C on p. 52 of the CCCA: "In the RCUS there are those who wish to see a closer guarding of the table of the Lord…Over the past few decades, however, the RCUS has generally moved into the direction of practicing more restricted communion. In principle, the RCUS committee agreed that a general verbal warning was insufficient, and that the table needs to be carefully fenced….We conclude re admission to the Lord's Supper that in the RCUS there is a growing awareness of the need to carefully guard the Table of the Lord and to be more cautious in admitting guests to the sacrament. In this we noted a readiness to reform and to conform with what Scripture and the confessions say."

We can rejoice in the progress reflected in this assessment. However, we are left with the clear indication with the use of words such as "closer guarding" and "in principle" and "growing awareness" and "readiness to reform" that the practice in the RCUS is far from uniform. We have the corroborating testimony of a former Deputy for contact with the RCUS, Rev. P.K.A. DeBoer, who recently states: "The RCUS practice of fencing the Lord's Supper is similar to the OPC and perhaps even more open." (see attached paper, What is happening to the Three Forms of Unity in the Canadian Churches, p. 1, par. 4).

We may safely conclude from our discussion thus far that the mandate given to the CCCA by Synod Fergus 98 "to resolve the matter of proper supervision of the Lord's Supper so that only those who confess the Reformed faith will be admitted" has never been fulfilled. Indeed, we may conclude that, if anything, the investigations of the deputies for contact with RCUS have confirmed that these churches do not conform to the standard that we accept and use. Synod 01's conclusion flatly contradicts the clear evidence presented in the CCCA Report, and disregards the standard given by the previous Synod as the guideline for resolving the issue.

The second criterion for admission to the Lord's Supper according to Q. & A. 82 is one's life. The only information we have regarding RCUS practice on this issue is the procedure for examining guests found on pp. 26 & 27 of the Report of the CCCA. In this procedure the applicant is asked a series of three questions to determine whether the person is "sound in life." Again, we can applaud the effort here to seek to address the issue of a guest's life before admission to the sacrament. However, there is a fatal flaw in this methodology: it relies on the personal testimony of the applicant rather than the testimony of the applicant's elders. In principle there is no difference between a verbal warning at the Lord's Supper for visitors and a written questionnaire-in the end, the responsibility falls on the conscience and testimony of the person concerned.

In the nature of the case it is impossible for the elders of the church administering the sacrament to have sufficient knowledge of the life of a guest to judge whether or not their conduct is consistent with a profession of the Reformed faith. This is something that can only be observed over time. Indeed, it may even be possible that one ignorant of the Reformed faith who meets the criteria for admission on the grounds of sound doctrine may hold to practices of life which are contradictory to what the Bible teaches, but based on their ignorance they will answer the questions regarding life in a positive way.

One of the important reasons for our requiring attestations of visitors for admission to the Lord's Supper (Art. 61, C.O.), is the recognition that only the elders who are commissioned to oversee the life of the visitor are in a position to judge whether or not the person is in good standing. It must also be noted that we cannot have a double standard in admitting people to the Lord's Supper: attestation to godly conduct by the elders of the members of the church administering the sacrament, and personal testimony as to godly conduct by the visitor who may not even hold to the same standard of judgment for godly conduct.

Finally, we may also note the Scriptural requirement to have official matters confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses. In other words, self-testimony is not valid in such cases. Admission to the Lord's Supper is one of those important situations in which official testimony is essential not only due to the character of the sacrament as holy and the need to keep it from being defiled, but also because admission and exclusion concerns the use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Where else, if not here, may we insist upon the correct kind of testimony being accepted?

While it may be true that the RCUS does not have an open but a fenced table, assertions such as this beg the real question: does the RCUS correctly or properly protect the Lord's Table? In light of the above discussion, we can only conclude that despite recent efforts to move in the right direction, their practice does not conform to the criteria, which we have accepted and use in our churches. The conclusion of Synod 01 that the RCUS use of the keys of the kingdom in connection with admitting guests to the Lord's Supper is in accord with LD 30 is not correct and cannot be accepted.

We believe that the above evidence proves that the decision of Synod 01 re the RCUS is in conflict with the Word of God (as summarized in LD 30) and with the Church Order (Art. 61).

Therefore we request the consistory to reconsider its position that the Synod decision regarding the RCUS is settled and binding. In light of this conclusion, it will not be difficult to understand why we believe that your implementing this decision of Synod by granting an attestation to …communicant member … was in error. It is wrong to give an attestation to our members to join a church that does not properly fence the Lord's Table. Therefore we also request consistory to reconsider the decision.

We pray that the Holy Spirit may guide you according to Christ's Word in this important matter.

With brotherly greetings,

Rev. B. R. Hofford

Glenn Hofford

Maureen Hofford