Monday, August 29, 2011

Table Manners - Russell D. Moore

A few days ago I read a refreshing article by Southern Baptist Theologian, Russell D. Moore.  The article concerned the proper observation of the Lord's Supper.  Here is an excerpt: 

A man walked out of my church in protest. I didn’t notice it as it was happening, but he told me about it, in a note, a few weeks later. He was angered that he had been excluded. At first, I feared that maybe he hadn’t been spoken to. In a church this size, that’s certainly a possibility. Or maybe, I wondered, had one of our elderly church members looked askance at his wearing jeans or shorts? Turns out, he wanted the Lord’s Supper, and I’d turned him away.

On the Sunday in question, our visitor had observed my congregation take communion. I had explained the elements, and the act as a sign of the kingdom of Christ. I called the church to repentance from sin, forgiveness of one another, and renewed faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Then I’d done what my grandfather’s generation of Baptist preachers called “fencing the table.”

As the bread and the cup were distributed, I announced that, while all were welcome to attend our church, only baptized Christians in good fellowship with a local congregation were invited to commune. Then I defined baptism the way our church does, along with Baptists all over the world, as the immersion of a believer in water as public profession of faith in Christ.

That’s what did it. The man told me in the letter that he had seethed in a quiet fury and then picked up his Bible and walked out.

I wasn't aware that Baptists (at least some Baptists) had this tradition, much less practiced it.  In every Baptist church I've attended "Open-Communion" was practiced (participation in the Lord's Supper was up to the discretion of the individual person).  Worse, wometimes people get the cart before the horse and take Communion (or allow their children to partake) before they have been baptized. 

As a Presbyterian I and my denomination would take issue with the mode of Baptism being the litmus test for partaking of the Lord's Supper.  We allow those to partake who have been baptized and made a credible profession of faith to the elders of their church. 

What's at stake in all of this?  Church membership to be sure, but something more profound and basic than that.  At the heart of church membership lies a credible profession of faith that must be expressed before the elders of a given church.  No Christian has the right or the authority to privately determine whether they are in the faith or not.  Total depravity can result in someone fooling themself into thinking that they are in the faith.  And allowing someone to partake of the Lord's Supper whose profession of faith has never been tested is showing dishonor to the sacrament (I Corinthians 11) and perhaps confirming someone's false profession of faith thereby condemning them to an eternity of wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 7). 

Now here's a question for my brethren in the PCA.  If Baptists can fence the Lord's Table, why do some of you find it so hard?  
Touchstone - Table Manners


David said...

"then I defined baptism the way our church does . . . as the immersion of a believer in water as public profession of faith in Christ."
No problem with their fencing the table but this sounds a little too constricting, even coming from a Baptist, defining themselves as they do by mode. That said, thanks for the post, very timely and practical issue for PCA churches--WHO should participate in the Lord's Supper? How should they be admitted? Many think its all up to the parents--forgetting that the session has oversight of the service of worship and membership rolls.

"Cricket" Renner said...

How sad that he closes his article with the statement:
This doesn’t mean we don’t receive each other in Christ. It doesn’t mean we make ultimate our differences.

Interesting understanding that we can receive each other in Christ, but not partake together of His supper--isn't that making "ultimate" our differences?

And, as an OPC elder, I agree that we need to carefully fence the table. I'm thankful our pastor says similar words as to who can participate ... minus the "you must've been baptized our way" words.