God has appointed the Lord’s Supper to be a great blessing to His Church! Therefore, we celebrate it each week, during our 10:00 service. If you plan to visit us, please, read the following description of our practice. If you have any specific questions, you are most welcome to contact us.
The Consistory (elders and ministers) that leads Westside Reformed Church has the God-given task of determining who, in addition to its own communicant membership (professing members in good-standing), should be admitted to the Lord’s Table, and it has approved of the following criteria, an explanation of which is given below.
Westside Reformed Church desires to receive visitors to the Lord’s Supper and also to celebrate it according to the requirements of Scripture, in order that Christ might be honored and His Church, blessed. Due to the Apostle Paul’s reminder that the Supper can bring judgment, not just blessing (1 Cor. 11:27- 32), it is important that we are cautious and principled with how we handle this holy meal. If you are a communicant member in good standing of a sister URCNA or NAPARC congregation, you are admitted to the Table, but if you are not, you are admitted if:
- You have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- You have made a public profession of faith.
- You are repentant because of your sins and seek to obey God’s commands.
- You are a member in good-standing of a Protestant church that affirms the following:
- The gospel is faithfully summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and/or the Nicene Creed.
- God’s justification of sinners is on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith alone.
- The two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are a means of grace.
- Church discipline should be exercised according to Scripture.
If this does not describe you or your church, or if you do not understand what this is all about, we ask you to please abstain. Since we desire to admit you to the Lord’s Table, we invite you to discuss your situation with one of our elders outside the service. It is our prayer that this practice blesses and protects the recipients of the Supper, encourages Christians to reflect upon their relationship with Christ and His Church, and directs all people to the death of Jesus as the only source of spiritual life.
Different approaches to the Supper
The way Reformed and Presbyterian Churches approach the Lord’s Supper can be quite different from that of the mainline, Evangelical churches, and megachurches. Many mainline churches invite anybody and everybody to commune – no requirements are given, one doesn’t even need to consider oneself a Christian. Many megachurches don’t hold the Lord’s Supper in their worship service. This suggests that it’s an unnecessary part of the Christian life, and the church is free to disregard it when it’s practical to do so. A megachurch that I once attended told everyone in attendance, “take the Supper on your way home.” As people filed out, they grabbed a cracker and a thimble of wine to consume on their way to the parking lot. This practice is normally termed “Open Communion,” since it is open to anyone and everyone. Such an openness normally corresponds to a willingness to make significant changes to the Supper, even to abandoning it altogether or relegating it to “special” events outside Sunday worship.
In one sense, Evangelical churches are closer to our practice, since they generally invite you to commune “if you believe the Bible, love Jesus, and consider Him your Lord and Savior.” Though this is a wonderful summary of the faith, these phrases are, in practice, nebulous. Those that are in cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons would not hesitate to embrace these things; they consider themselves to be Christians that love Jesus. The issue is what one means by these statements. Though Evangelical churches may attempt to hold “Close Communion,” in practice it becomes very “Open.”
Three church traditions, which fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, practice “Closed Communion:” the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Closed Communion means that only members of their congregation or denomination are allowed to partake. Thus, the Table is “closed” to non-members, and their members are “closed” from communing elsewhere – hence the term “Closed Communion”.
Rather than making the Supper a free-for-all (“Open”) or restricting it to our own membership and denomination (“Closed”), we seek to administer it in a way that receives members of other like-minded churches, who agree with us in the fundamentals. Theologians often term this “Close Communion,” not to be confused with “Closed Communion.” This ensures that we have a reasonable level of confidence that a visitor is in a proper relationship both to Christ and to His Church.
As we consider Close Communion, it’s worth remembering the covenantal context of the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the signs and seals of the New Covenant. The Covenant of Works in the Garden had a sign and seal – the tree of life. It was given to Adam and his wife. The Noahic covenant, which God made with all creation, has the rainbow; therefore, all mankind receives the rainbow in the sky. The Abrahamic had circumcision, which carried on into the Mosaic, under which the Passover was added. Only members of God’s covenant people, Israel, were given these sacraments. Likewise, the proper recipients of the New Covenant sacraments are members of the Church.
Since God is the Maker and Giver of these covenants, He determines who is admitted to the Table. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours (1 Cor. 11:20). Open Communion removes the authority from the Great Shepherd, who exercises His rule through under-shepherds (i.e., elders and ministers), and places it in the hands of the individual.
The fact that covenants have blessings and curses attached to them is also significant. When this meal is observed by the gathered-church in the proper manner, believers experience communion with the body and blood of Christ and greater unity with one another (1 Cor. 10:16-17). When the church partakes improperly, God disciplines it as a Father disciplines a wayward son (1 Cor. 11:32, cf. Heb. 12:3-11). Paul told the Corinthian church that they were experiencing the discipline of illness and death because of their erroneous ways (1 Cor. 11:30). Thankfully, this discipline was intended to preserve them unto salvation (1 Cor. 11:32). But this isn’t the case for the unbeliever. Unbelievers that participate heap up the curse of judgment upon themselves: since they, “falling away” after “tasting the heavenly gift”, “[crucify] once again the Son of God to their own harm and [hold] him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6). The sobering realities of fatherly discipline (toward the disobedient elect) and covenant curse (toward unbelievers) caution us from handling the Supper as something light and frivolous. Using caution to protect both visitors and our church is of great importance.
One way in which protection is accomplished is by excommunicating the unrepentant. “Excommunication” simply means to withdraw communion (i.e., the Lord’s Supper) from a church member. This is what Paul commanded the Corinthian church to do with respect to the unrepentant man in their midst. They were not allowed “to eat with such a person” (1 Cor. 5:11). They were to “cleanse out the old leaven” and remove him from his standing in the church (5:7). In other words, God only invites those that are in good-standing in the church. If a person ceases to repent and believe the exhortations of fellow Christians and church officers, that person’s standing in the church must change.
While excommunication may be difficult to consider, it is indirectly an aid to our Christian confidence. If you attended a church that communed people that denied the faith with their lips and lives, how could you find reassurance through the divine pledge of bread and wine – even the open rebel is receiving the bread and wine! But when you belong to a true church – one that preaches the true gospel, administers the two new covenant sacraments, and exercises discipline against the unrepentant – the Supper helps assure you that you belong to Christ. Think of it this way: if your profession of faith were erroneous or your life exhibited an unrepentant heart, your church and its leaders would let you know. Therefore, when you are in “good-standing,” i.e., not under discipline, you have great reason to be assured in the faith. The bread and wine remind you of your good-standing week after week.
This brings us to the role of elders in this process. Though God has given us principles for administering the Supper, precise decisions, which are based upon wisdom, must be made by the officers that are entrusted with the task of leading the flock, i.e., the elders. The “keys of the kingdom,” which were originally given to the Apostles (Matt. 16:19; 18:15-20), are now in the hands of ministers and elders; the extraordinary office (Apostles) has given way to the ordinary offices of leadership. Being set apart through ordination, these men are called to speak and act in the place of Christ, all of which is to be according to Scripture. Those that “rule well are to be considered worthy of double-honor (1 Tim. 5:17).” They enact the keys of the kingdom, excluding false teachers and the unrepentant from kingdom-membership while including the humble and believing.
Given our membership in the URCNA, we have agreed to abide by these principles, which are echoed by the other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations with whom we are in fellowship:
The Consistory shall supervise participation at the Lord’s Table. No member shall be admitted to the Lord’s Table who has not first made public profession of faith and is not living a godly life. Visitors may be admitted provided that, as much as possible, the Consistory is assured of their biblical church membership, of their proper profession of faith, and of their godly walk. [Church Order, Article 45]
These principles are derived from Holy Scripture, wherein we are instructed that the Supper is a meal given to those that belong to the Church, who are mature believers, and who are walking in humility and repentance. These believers have placed themselves under Christ’s “under-shepherds” (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and submit to their leadership (Heb. 13:7). Since it is a sacrament of unity (1 Cor. 10:17), only a proper profession of faith will do, something which requires doctrinal understanding.
Whereas the Church Order sets forth biblical principles, we are also in need of great wisdom. What churches are like-minded? With whom shall we celebrate spiritual unity in the Supper? Our Confession of Faith lists three marks of a true church (Art. 29): the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the two sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline according to Scripture. In other words, we recognize a church as like-minded when, situating itself under Scripture, it agrees with us concerning Law (discipline) and Gospel (gospel-preaching and sacrament). We believe that the Law requires repentance and is binding for the life of Christian gratitude, though we ourselves never fulfill it in this life. We believe that the Gospel is summarized in the Ancient Creeds and that our justification is by faith alone in the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Since the Reformation, this has been called “the article of the standing and falling of the Church,” which is simply the teaching of Galatians. We also discern Christ’s body and blood as truly present in the Supper, making it a means of grace. These basics concerning Law and Gospel set forth broad parameters for finding spiritual unity with Christians of other traditions and denominations.
Finally, we must consider the wonderful goals we have in the Supper. First, we are excited that Christ nourishes those believers that are settled into a true church. Second, we pray that the Supper reminds children that are not yet admitted to the Table that they need to mature and make a public profession of their faith. Third, we are hopeful that this sacrament directs unbelievers to their need to repent and believe. Fourth, we pray that those believers that are not yet admitted to the Table are encouraged to pursue a proper relationship with a true church, an important fruit of their repentance and belief. In regard to this latter scenario – for believers that are not admitted to the Table – we praise God that the same Christ is found in the preaching of the gospel as in the Supper. We also look forward to their reception into a true church, whether it is into WRC or into another congregation.
You are very welcome to discuss this practice with us, whether it’s by email or when you visit. If you are planning to attend WRC but wouldn’t be admitted to the Table, rest assured that you won’t be singled-out or made to feel unwelcome. We are simply striving to be principled and faithful to the (sometimes difficult) teaching of Scripture, protecting both our church and its visitors. The Supper is a means of grace to be received by faith, but we also want to ensure that no one is disciplined or judged because of our own negligence or carelessness.