COMMENTARY ON ARTICLE 60 CHURCH ORDER

An exerpt from

VanOene, W.W.J. 1920—
With Common Consent:
a practical guide to the use of the church order of the Canadian Reformed Churches
ISBN 0-88756-050-4

Lord's Supper

The Lord's Supper shall be celebrated at least every three months.
There is no direct command from the Lord telling us how often we are to celebrate His supper. From the words of our Saviour "as often as you do this" it is clear that what is stipulated here in Art. 60 is a bare minimum, if even that. From the New Testament we get the distinct impression that the Lord's Supper was celebrated regularly, every Lord's day. Compared to that, we are acting poorly when celebrating it every two or three months.

The old redaction of our Church Order stated that this celebration was to take place "at least every two or three months." This did not make much sense because, when the term "at least" is used, the two different periods should not be left to choice. It is either at least two or at least three, not both.

Now it is provided that it shall be done "at least once every three months." In several churches the celebration takes place once every two months, and they can just continue this practice; in other churches it is customary to do it once every three months, and they should not be compelled, because of a provision in our Church Order, to increase the frequency, although such increase is to be encouraged and promoted. It would be beneficial when all churches decided that the Lord's Supper will be administered to believers at least once every two months. Once every month would even be better, but perhaps this is wishing for too much.

Neither is the length of our Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper an incentive to increase the frequency of celebrating the holy supper, while the Abbreviated Form is used exclusively for a so-called continuation of the Supper in the afternoon service. This service constitutes essentially another celebration when the morning's service has been concluded with the reading of the Thanksgiving passage.

For the second service the abbreviated Form will then be read. For all this one cannot speak of a "continuation" in that case. If one wishes to stress the idea that on that particular Sunday there will be one celebration which for practical reasons is spread over two services, the concluding portion of the Form should not be read at the end of the morning service. And thus no form should be read in the afternoon, except the Thanksgiving which concludes the celebration of that day.

In earlier times our Church Order also spoke of a preparatory sermon, to be given on the Sunday before the scheduled celebration. This was then a sermon in which the congregation was reminded of the need for self-ex-amination, or in which certain aspects of the holy supper were explained and stressed. We no longer have that provision nor do we have the provision that a "thanksgiving sermon" shall be given after the celebration. These provisions would put too much emphasis on the Lord's Supper and give the im-pression that it is a special, extraordinary element in the life of the church.

If this were so, at least eight of the fifty-two Sundays would be dedicated to the Lord's Supper, not to speak of the three Sundays on which Lord's Days 28, 29, and 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism receive attention. All this together with the extra provisions would be excessive.

Both the "preparation" and the "thanksgiving" are an integral part of the Form read at the celebration, and this is sufficient. Sometimes it is decided to read the first part of the Form on the Sunday before the celebration. In part, the reason behind it may then be that the service on the celebration Sunday will not be as long, and for the other part because it is thought that the congregation will thus have guidance with its self-examination. Apart from the question how many, as a result, will indeed occupy their mind with the approaching Lord's Supper, there is the point that a form which is a unit is split up. Splitting it up and dividing it over two Sundays breaks its unity. It belongs in its entirety to the celebration.

As for the celebration itself, much is left in the freedom of the churches and of the ministers. No specific rules or ordinances have been given in God's Word. It is in the freedom of the churches to have a short sermon before the celebration; likewise there is no rule about reading from the Scriptures or singing while sitting at the table. Preferably the minister should not give a brief comment on the part of God's Word that was read, so as not to draw the thoughts of the congregation away from the supper and its meaning.

How the supper is to be celebrated is also left in the freedom of the churches. When determining how this celebration should proceed, they are to bear in mind that it is a supper, a meal at which Christ is the Host and the congregation is invited to sit at table with Him. Thus it appears that, wherever possible, a table should be put up round which the congregation can sit down. Scripture speaks of the table of the Lord, 1 Cor.10:21, and of the mar-riage supper of the Lamb, Rev.19:9.

One cannot speak of a table and of a supper when the members remain scattered in the pews and bread and wine are brought to them, perhaps even the wine in individual cups. Admittedly, the New Testament also uses the word "table" to denote communion without implying that the participants are in reality sitting around a table; but this cannot be said of the meaning of the word "supper." It is clear from the Gospels that the Lord Jesus and His disciples were sitting (reclining) at a table when our Saviour instituted the Lord's Supper. Mat.26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14, 21; John 13:23, 25.

It does not appear correct to have small individual cups either. There is no doubt about it that the Lord Jesus took one cup and that the disciples drank from it. Luke 22:17 reads: "And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, 'Take this, and divide it among yourselves.' " The apostle Paul also speaks of "the cup of the Lord," which shows that he did not have in mind small individual cups to be handed to and emptied by each believer.

The tendency to change over to individual cups appears to have come from modernistic influences all around us. It points to individualism rather than to the unity of the body. Because the number of those sitting at table is usually rather large, two or four cups are used but this is merely for practical reasons. One cup would be too heavy and too cumbersome if all forty or more participants had to drink from it.

This is essentially different from the use of individual cups. If there is a member or if there are members who have a contageous disease, special measures can be taken. They can either be (privately) requested to be the last ones to drink from the cup or be provided with a special cup into which some wine from the common cup can be poured so that they, too, receive from the same cup as all the others. This could be done very discreetly to prevent embarrassment.

The rims of the cups should be cleaned between the tables, and thus ev-ery possible precaution should be taken to prevent harm, but we have never heard yet at any time that anyone got any illness or infection from drinking from the one cup at the Lord's table. We realize that it will be practically im-possible to prove either that someone did become infected or that no one did, and we should not take unnecessary risks. But we have a God to whom also bacteria and viruses are subject and who sometimes protected His children even when they drank any deadly thing, Mk. 16:18; cf. Acts 28:5.

The consistory usually checks right after the celebration of the Lord's Supper whether any of the communicant members did not partake. If there are any, the section elder(s) will enquire about the reason for the member's absence. It is a good custom to inform the consistory beforehand of one's inability to attend not only the Lord's Supper but any worship service. Alas, not all members do this faithfully, and thus the office-bearers have extra work that could have been prevented.

If anyone should ask why the consistory checks the attendance at the Lord's Supper and not at all other worship services, the answer is that the overseers do pay attention to everyone's faithfulness in attending. In addition, someone's absence from the table of the Lord may be the first indica-tion that something is not quite right with the brother or sister. The sooner the overseers discover this, the better it is.