Close Communion and Discipleship in the Church of Christ

Good Morning,

Well, we are at the end of our four part look at Close Communion, or as we have learned it is called today, Session-Controlled Communion. My old seminary professor, Dennis Prutow (a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America), defined the question in this way, “Session-Controlled communion simply means that the privilege of access to the Lord’s Supper is not determined by the individual but by the elders of the local church.” As we read there the real bugaboo on the question concerns the sovereignty of the officers of Christ’s body and their authority in ensuring the sacraments of the Church are rightly and properly managed for the blessings of everyone involved. The action, as we have discovered, is not a denial of bodily autonomy, nor does it treat the members of the congregation as children unable to make decisions for themselves. It is understood as the loving act of shepherding and protecting God’s people by those authorized by Christ to watch over His sheep. That’s why we spent time in the previous installment helping us to appreciate why Elders are given this responsibility and how that works in the life of the Church. In today’s prayer and worship help as we come to the end of this unique historical feature in the ARP we are going to look some more at not only questions surrounding steering things in the way they should go, but the propriety of taking back close communion as a common activity of the ARP Church in general.

I’ve referred before to a document produced by the Synod in 1871 which provided a statement of principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church that were meant to enable the Synod, and her churches, to recommit itself and themselves to the doctrines and Confession of Faith by which they stood separate from the other Reformed and Presbyterian bodies operating on the continent. The reason why I bring that up again is to help us remember something about why we began this series a couple months ago. Knowing who we are and why we are grants spirit to the daily desire we should have to be ARP’s. Not because of any particular doctrinal commitment per se, but since we believe in the depths of our soul that these conceptions are Biblical and by that standard the way of life for the faithful believer is shown forth for others to be recommended towards adopting in their own seeking to comprehend and apply the Scriptures.

Yet, a foundational question needs to be asked, “What exactly is the purpose of the Supper?” Sometimes I think we do things in the Church without asking what their reason is in the light of Christ’s giving them to us. The aforementioned 1871 statement tells us:

To this church Christ has given His ministry, word and ordinances, for the maintenance and propagation of His truth, the conversion of sinners, and the sanctification and comfort of believers, until the whole body of His redeemed shall be gathered and perfected at His second coming.

As we read there are three rationales given: 1) “Maintenance and Propagation of His Truth”, 2) “the Conversion of Sinners”, and 3) “the Sanctification and Comfort of Believers”. Each in their own way confirm for us the purpose of the Supper. Now, last week I noted in regards to number two that we do not allow unbelievers to take the cup and bread. We differ from Wesley and many others on that point, precisely because Communion is for men and women of faith, who are visible members of Christ’s Church. Yet, how does the Table “convert” if these non-Christians are not granted access to the ordinance? Simply put through the witnessing of the preparatory work and the words of institution the Holy Spirits work in and by the example set before them the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the reality of hope found alone in Him. The same of course is true for wandering and lost children of the covenant who through Sessional action have either been formally or informally barred from the means of grace. Regardless of personal situation all are able to receive a visible testimony of the gospel and in that are challenged to make a decision as what they are going to do with what they have seen: further harden their hearts or softly come to repentance. We do not help impenitent sinners when we do not rightly discipline and disciple through barring entrance to Christ’s sacramental act in love for their soul.

It’s like when you are raising children does it help or hurt their development to warn them about the consequences of breaking the rules of the household? Thousands of years of parenting show us what happens when you coddle and break your own promises and threats. What makes the family of God any different? Refusing to enforce the vows communicant members have taken only drives them to lose their meaning. Oaths which are of little value to either party will hardly be taken seriously by those who take them. In some sense the Church in not properly fencing the Table is operating in an open-marriage with the world.

Go back for a second to the list of three given to us by our Synod 152 years ago. One of the ways we “Maintain and Propagate the Truth” is by examining our own commitment to what the truth teaches. We can’t expect unbelievers to want to be part of a group that doesn’t seem to be dedicated to what it professes. All the research and studies tell us that what young people, and generally speaking all the post-Boomer generations, are seeking is honesty, authenticity, and sincerity. They have had enough of talk the talk without walking the walk. They want to see realness. Rather than being afraid of people getting mad at us for guarding the Supper, we should be interested in how we honor Christ in the Supper in witnessing the good news of the gospel to the world around us. It takes effort, focus, and a will to take seriously what we say we believe.

For the Church this means in regard to what we’ve been discussing over this three part series (free offer of the gospel, social covenanting, and close communion). It means that we better live out the Confession we Confess. If there are parts of it we don’t believe (for the right reasons, not out of intellectual laziness or pragmatism) then we need to change what we say we believe, for our actions must match our words. As the culture continues to plummet into straight insanity, we need to build up our walls for safety and defense. Going through the motions Christianity is not going to cut it with what comes ahead.

As with each of these sections there is probably a book’s worth of material needed, whereas blog posts have been rendered. There’s a lot out there already ready to be taken up. If you have questions on where to go next, just ask. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction.

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

Similar Posts