Can someone who is a member of another church, partake in the celebration of the Holy Supper? If so, what are the conditions?
For whom is the Holy Supper intended?
The celebration of the Holy Supper is a highly precious event in the church of Christ; it means nothing less than having communion with Christ. He Himself is present at this celebration.
The pure administration of it is one of the marks of the true church. Alongside the pure preaching of the Word of God, it is a means of the Holy Spirit to be used for strengthening our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and our hope in our God and Father. Simultaneously, the Holy Spirit uses this sacrament to strengthen the mutual fellowship among the members of the church as members of one body, the body of Christ in which one Spirit dwells.
For all these reasons, the Lord requires a very careful preparation before we partake in it. We must acknowledge and confess our sins, seek Christ for reconciliation with God, and be sound in doctrine and conduct. This means holding fast to the truth of God’s Word and desiring to live in the forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord therefore requires a very careful manner of admission and celebration.
For this the form for the celebration of the Holy Supper helps us to ensure that we discern the body of Christ. The Scriptures warn of a severe judgment from the Lord if we fail to do so, if instead we partake carelessly. This judgment falls not only on the respective members or guests but also on the elders and even on the entire congregation (see1 Cor. 11:29ff)
Therefore discipline and oversight regarding participation in the Holy Supper must be strictly maintained. For each celebration of the Holy Supper the consistory must determine who of its members are entitled to partake, and who are not.
Are guests allowed to partake?
The consistory of a sister church within the church federation and of a foreign sister church must officially determine whether a member who wishes to participate elsewhere as a guest, is entitled to do so. Guests who are not members of the church or who are members of a church with which there is no ecclesiastical unity, are not allowed to partake. They are not recognized as members of a true church. They cannot be recognized as belonging to the brothers and sisters of the household of God. Therefore, they cannot partake in the body and blood of Christ.
Guests who are members of a sister church within the church federation or of a foreign sister church can participate, provided they are authorized by their own consistory, just like the local members. This is only possible through an attestation (see Article 61 CO).
How should we assess the situation concerning members of churches that do not have binding to the Reformed confession?
In essence, a church that does not bind its members to the Reformed confession is not a Reformed church. Confessing your faith is not just a matter for the consistory but for the entire church. The church is not formed by the consistory but by the church members (see Article 27 BC). In fact, a lack of binding means that such members are not bound by their church to believe and hold fast to the pure Word of God; they are not bound to reject all things that are contrary to it. This allows for the presence of un-Reformed and, therefore, unscriptural teachings and leads to the living of a self-willed life contrary to God’s second commandment.
Members of Presbyterian churches like the OPC are not bound to the confession of their church. Anglicans, Methodists, members of the Pentecostal movement, Arminians, and Baptists may be given church membership and access to the Lord’s Supper in these Presbyterian churches.
Can guests be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who only subscribe to the Apostles’ Creed and say they recognize Jesus as their Savior?
This includes the admission of guests who are not members of the Reformed church, do not subscribe to the Reformed doctrine, and do not have an attestation from their own consistory. In some cases discussions are held with them by the consistory of the receiving church, in other cases they are not.
It is very obvious that this is not only disobedient on all fronts but also extremely dangerous.
These are guests whom you cannot call your brothers and sisters; you are not united with them in the same Spirit with heart and will, through the power of faith (Article 27 BC).
The above-mentioned guests are not bound to the Reformed doctrine to which you as reformed members were bound through your profession of faith. Based on that public profession of faith, you were and are admitted to the Holy Supper as long as you maintain that confession.
In this case, the consistory consciously allows guests, who could hold errors in doctrine and thus serve God in their own manner, to partake in the Lord’s Supper. They already engage in self-willed religion by not being members of the true Reformed church, and in addition to that could possibly adhere to errors in doctrine. The Lord’s Supper form specifically mentions it as an “offensive sin” against God’s second commandment and the form admonishes those who do so to abstain from the table of the Lord. It is very shocking if a consistory does not take this seriously when admitting guests from outside the church, even though the form makes it so clear.
Yes, even confessing members of the church can commit the sin of self-willed religion; but not openly, for they are under the oversight and discipline of the consistory. Everyone who wishes to partake must examine themselves for self-willed religion. But how can these guests, who are allowed to hold erroneous beliefs in their own church and are not bound to the Reformed confession, apply self-examination on this basis?
Nevertheless, the form states that they should not partake if they engage in self-willed religion, so that their judgment and condemnation do not become even heavier! In addition, it may be that these guests provide a self-testimony regarding their lives upon request. After all, they do not have an attestation about that with them. However, such a self-testimony is not adequate (see John 5:31).
In short, in these cases of admission, the required fencing of the Lord’s Supper is lacking. If the congregation knowingly accepts this practice of the consistory, they are complicit in the desecration of the Lord’s Supper. This is a very serious matter that cannot be dismissed lightly. Each confessing member shares responsibility for it.
What responsibility do we have towards other churches and other believers?
The dynamics of Christ’s church-gathering work
We absolutely have a responsibility towards others outside the church! This is not only a calling for the church as a whole but for all church members, because the gathering of the church is a work of Christ. He wants to reach the full number of His elect. To this end, He engages us as His servants. He equips us with His gifts, His power, and His Spirit. Christ wants, on the way to the Last Day, a church that is faithful to Him in all things. He continues to gather that church through time, adding and excluding. This requires us to examine ourselves, while at the same time we must look out for others.
The Lord asks of us to actively approach people, not just unbelievers but also believers, those who are not yet members or those who have strayed away. It should be an expression of our love for our neighbors to want to help others come to faith and to help others find the church of Christ as much as possible. A church can never say of itself that it is the only true church and will remain the only true church. We must continually examine ourselves as a church to ensure that we do not go astray and also to see whether we have become schismatic by not seeking unity with other believers.
It should not be our fault if someone does not want to join the church. Therefore, we should always approach others around us, both churches and church members, seeking and engaging with them. As the Lord continues to gather His church, we must follow Him and be of service to Him in this, in whatever paths He takes. It would be terribly arrogant, and a serious disregard of Christ’s church-gathering work, if we only look at ourselves and do not look around and engage in conversations with others.
Is Christ not especially concerned about the lost sheep? And does He not say Himself:
Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt. 19:30; 20:16)?
Christ’s command and promise from Matt. 28:19 will apply until His return:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”