Several years ago, the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, in North Carolina, placed a new communion table in their sanctuary. In most Presbyterian churches, communion tables are inscribed with the words of Jesus, repeated in the Words of Institution when the Lord’s Supper is shared, “In Remembrance of Me.” However, the new table at the Black Mountain church broke convention. In place of the words of Jesus, these words were inscribed on the table, “Has Everyone Been Fed?”
That symbolic gesture by this congregation should not be lost on anyone. The Black Mountain Presbyterian Church is a congregation filled week-by-week with many retired PCUSA pastors and denominational officials. Given its proximity to Montreat, where many of these folks have retired, the Black Mountain communion table displays a radical shift in the understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the PCUSA . Now, in the proposed changes to the PCUSA Directory of Worship, this change of understanding is set to be codified in the denomination’s constitution.
From the time of the ancient church, through the Protestant Reformation, and up to the present, baptism has been a requirement for admission to the Lord’s Supper. In the ancient church, after the sermon, those who were unbaptized were dismissed, so that only baptized Christians would be present for the Lord’s Supper. In Reformed and Presbyterian churches, the Lord’s Supper is understood as the meal of the covenant, so that only those who are a part of the covenant (and have received instruction in the meaning of the sacrament) are to participate. One is expected to understand the significance of the Supper before being admitted to it. As the meal of the covenant, the Lord’s Supper is intended only for those who are members of the covenant community of Jesus Christ—those who are baptized and have made public profession of faith in him. This understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the Reformed tradition comes directly from what the apostle Paul wrote in the tenth and eleventh chapters First Corinthians.
This understanding is reflected in the practice of Presbyterians up until very recent times, that one was admitted to the Lord’s Table as a communicant member of the church only after being baptized (usually in infancy) and then making public profession of faith. In fact, the service in which one often made public profession of faith (called “Confirmation” in many Presbyterian chruches today, thought that title for the service is more a bleedover from Episcopalianism than anything Reformed) was often referred to as “Public Profession of Faith and Admission to the Lord’s Table.”
Yet, the understanding of the Supper as expressed on the Black Mountain communion table and in the proposed changes to the Directory of Worship radically alters this historic Reformed and Presbyterian view of Lord’s Supper. Theological liberalism has largely reinterpreted the meaning of the Supper from being the meal of the covenant to a celebration of radical inclusivity. Thus, the proposed changes to the Directory of Worship state that, “All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding.” In the past, the PCUSA (at least officially) has stated that, “The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love.” By removing the need for faith and repentance, the new Directory of Worship radically reinterprets the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Like the communion table in the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, it refelcts an all-too-this-worldly understanding of the Lord’s Supper, removes any distinction between believers and nonbelievers, and embraces as a positive change what Paul the apostle warned the Corinthians against (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
While it is true that in many congregations of the PCUSA this change in understanding and practice has already occurred, the change in the Directory of Worship gives final constitutional approval to this alien way of interpreting the sacrament. What a tragedy it will be for the PCUSA if the new Directory of Worship is approved.
Dr. Walter L. Taylor is the pastor of the Oak Island Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Oak Island, NC, a congregation dismissed to the EPC in October of 2015.
Related article: Presbyterian Church General Assembly Considers Unfencing the Table
The 3rd paragraph is key. The oldest document we have outside the NT, the Didache, gives us the way the Eucharist was widely practiced in the early church. It was never open “to just anyone.” While open table theology is good Methodist theology, as they believe that Communion can be a converting sacrament, it is not nor ever has been Reformed theology. To adopt this language removes one of the few last vestiges of Reformed theology from the Book of Order. It sullies an otherwise mostly good revision of the Directory for Worship.
Actually, reading Wesley’s journals, one discovers that early Methodists, at least in England, interviewed individuals before communion and gave a certificate to those to be admitted.
A similar practice was followed in historical Scottish Presbyterian churches; communion tokens (a coin) were issued to those admitted by the sessions.
It is not merely those baptized and professing faith who are eligible to come to the table. Communicants should also be members accountable to the offices of a church (congregation or presbytery or some other true church body) and not under discipline suspending or excommunicating them from the table. The PCUSA long ago forgot that biblical discipline is an essential element of a true church of Christ, as stated in the Scots Confession.
This GA is going to be the last straw for many, many people and churches, and I’m sure a real estate boom for the louisville sluggers because it’s the only way they can finance this heresy.
Using the term “fiesta” in the headline is an unfortunate choice at this time due to the socio-political elements of our culture. I was expecting to find this article to include talk of ethnic diversification as well. Instead it combines ethnic diversification with theological diversification and associates a Spanish word with a term the laymen uses pejoratively (inclusivity). While catchy in its title it seems unnecessary for its content.
Correct! That was part of Wesley’s “method”, examination before Communion. But the UMC changed their understanding officially years ago–“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”
Not surprised this change occurred and continually saddened by the modern times of PCUSA. In the attempt to please all the church sadly stands for nothing — tragic.
I know what you mean, but I see little evidence of the church trying to please all. There is zero evidence that the PCUSA leadership ever considers much less accomodates the more traditional points of view held by a large minority of membership.
And also “Open Theology”.
Consider this: One could logically conclude that PCUSA is trying to diminish the sacredness and importance of our Lord and Savior. How, by their own words and actions alone. The upcoming GA vote on this overture to allow the removal/changing of His words from the communion table and more importantly to allow anyone regardless of their belief to participate in the meal of covenant is unprecedented. The Lord’s Supper is intended only for those who are members of the covenant community of Jesus Christ. Its not intended to be all-inclusive, for just anyone. It is not meant for non-believers….. This fundamental Christian tenet is a foundational doctrinal belief we hold.
That issue coupled with the following non-sense clearly demonstrates my diminishing of Jesus point: In 1993, a conference entitled “Reimagining God” was held, funded and planned by PCUSA at denominational expense. PCUSA conference leaders denied the existence of a transcendent God (i.e., who exists outside of our material world) and ridiculed the crucifixion of Jesus: “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.” Worship leaders offered prayers to the goddess Sophia and replaced communion with a honey and milk ceremony.
Source – PCUSA 2014: How we got ‘here’ article By Carmen Fowler LaBerge, President, Presbyterian Lay Committee.
I find the wording on the new communion table at BMPC disappointing, to say the least. But may I humbly suggest that closer attention be paid to the wording of the proposed change. As stated in this article (I have not seen the actual proposed change), it does not, in fact, invalidate the current guidance. The existing guidance has to do with Who Shall Be Invited. The proposed change has to do with How We Shall Respond to people who come to the table (and therefore I can only assume that this new direction is limited to the practice of intinction, or some other method whereby people leave their seats to come forward). We indeed have a solemn and holy obligation to make clear in our words of invitation that the sacrament is extended to those who are baptized believers. But should someone mistakenly come forward so that they are in the physical company of other believers and seek to partake of the elements, that moment is not, shall we say, a teaching moment. Christ says, “Whosoever cometh unto me, I shall by no means cast out.” The celebrant has two choices: to turn the person away and likely cause confusion and consternation among a number of other members, thereby drawing everyone’s attention away from Christ (Whom we should be adoring) and focusing on the matter at hand; or to allow the person to participate, and use that event as an opportunity to approach that person afterwards and invite them to a life of full commitment to the Lord (while also gently yet firmly explaining why it’s necessary to become baptized and/or confess one’s faith before that person returns to the table). The first option publicly shames a person and distracts the congregation in the middle of sacramental worship in favor of maintaining proper procedure; the second one violates protocol with an eye towards pastoral care and subsequent invitation to faith. Our God is a God of mercy, and will forgive us whichever option we choose. But there is no question in my mind that the second option is far more conducive to drawing one closer to a saving faith.