Question and Answer

Taking Communion at Bible Studies

Question:

Should members of a Reformed Bible Study celebrate communion?

My question is about holy communion. I attend a Reformed Bible Study with other believers. Since we don't worship in a Presbyterian or Reformed church because of a lack of these churches in our town or because the ones in our town are too liberal for us, is it proper for us to hold our own communion services?

Our Bible studies are not led by those who would be considered in authority, for example, a minister or an elder. Do we go to another church and participate in their communion services, for example, a Baptist church, even though we don't totally agree with their doctrine, or are we permitted to hold our own communion services? Some churches don't require a person to be a member of their church to participate in the Lord's Supper; as long as that person professes to be a Christian, then it's all right. I would like your opinion on this matter. Thanks.

Answer:

I am glad to hear that you are desiring to partake of the sacrament in a way that is biblical. In answer to your question, our Directory for Worship teaches, "Since the sacraments are ordinances of the visible church, they are not to be administered except under the oversight of the government of the church" (Directory for Worship, Chapter IV, Section A.3). This language is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 27 ("Of the Sacraments"), which in particular teaches that "There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained." Matthew 16, in which Christ gives the "keys of the kingdom" to his ordained servants, provides the scriptural basis for this.

The point is that the visible church is the proper context for the administration of the sacraments, and Christ's ordained servants the ones appointed by him to administer the sacrament.

I would suggest a couple of things:

1. Contact the OPC Committee on Home Missions to explain your situation and inquire about the possibility of starting a church in your area.

2. In the meanwhile, you and these other families should join, if possible, the church that most closely matches your Reformed convictions. In my judgment, a conservative non-Presbyterian church that is evangelical in doctrine is better than a liberal Presbyterian church. It may be cross-bearing for you, but, if possible, you should not be without the oversight of some elders, and they should be the ones to administer the sacrament.

Though somewhat "less pure", as the Westminster Standards put it, non-Presbyterian churches are still true churches. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25 ("Of the Church"), Section 4, "[The] church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them."

I hope this helps.


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