The first is a revision of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Directory of Worship, which is part of the Book of Order. The second is an overture from a presbytery. Both are intended to change the requirements of the Lord’s Supper so that those who are not baptized may participate.
If either is approved, the PCUSA’s constitution will be internally in conflict since the Confessions are clear that when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, only baptized believers are eligible to participate. A few examples include:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the 11 confessions found in the denomination’s Book of Confessions, states in Chapter 39: VII. “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”
The Scot’s Confession, in Chapter 23 — To Whom Sacraments Appertain 3.23 — says “… But we hold that the Supper of the Lord is only for those who are of the household of faith and can try and examine themselves both in their faith and their duty to their neighbors. Those who eat and drink at that holy table without faith, or without peace and goodwill to their brethren, eat unworthily. This is the reason why ministers in our Kirk make public and individual examination of those who are to be admitted to the table of the Lord Jesus.”
Question 81 of The Heidelberg Catechism asks “Who should come to the Lord’s table?” The answer: ” A. Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life. Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.(1 Cor. 10:21; 11:28[–29])
Changes to Directory of Worship
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is recommending that the General Assembly approve a revised Directory for Worship. If approved by the General Assembly, a majority of the denomination’s presbyteries would have to vote to ratify the GA’s decision.
The goal of the revision was to make the Directory for Worship more accessible, helpful, shorter, and better organized.
In section “W-3.0409: Theology of the Lord’s Supper,” instead of requiring that those who participate must be baptized, the revised text declares that “All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup. Regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.”
‘All who seek the presence of Christ’
Business item 14-3 from Southeastern Illinois, seeks to change the requirement found in the Directory of Worship for those who can participate in the Lord’s Supper from “all who have been baptized,” to instead say, “all who seek the presence of Jesus Christ.”
Four presbyteries – Cimarron, Florida, Huntingdon and Palo Duro – have concurred with the overture, which if passed by the General Assembly, would be forwarded to the denomination’s presbyteries for ratification.
Item 14-3 reads:
Shall W-2.4011 be amended as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]
“a. The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is extended to all who have been baptized seek the presence of Jesus Christ, 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. In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal. Even one who doubts or whose trust is wavering may come to the Table in order to be assured of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus.
“b. Baptized cChildren who are being nurtured and instructed in the significance of the invitation to the Table and the meaning of their response are invited to receive the Lord’s Supper, recognizing that their understanding of participation will vary according to their maturity. (W-4.2002)”
While acknowledging the “importance of baptism in the life of a Christian,” Southeastern Illinois Presbytery states in its rationale that according to the current wording in the Directory of Worship, “those who have not yet made the baptismal declaration” are excluded from participating in the Lord’s Supper.
The presbytery says that it believes that few congregations “actually follow the Book of Order in this regard. Holy Communion is routinely open to all who profess faith in Jesus Christ, with no mention of having to have been baptized. We feel strongly that the Book of Order should be changed in the above ways so that we can walk arm-in-arm with all of our seeking brothers and sisters as we go forward to receive this holy sacrament.”
In its comment on the overture, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board mentioned the proposed revision of the Directory of Worship, and recommended that instead of voting “yes” or “no” on it, the General Assembly instead answer the overture by the action it takes on the revision.
The General Assembly will be held June 18-24 in Portland, Ore.
For more information on the Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper, see: