Admission to the Lord’s Supper
The consistory shall admit to the Lord’s Supper only those who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life. Members of sister-Churches shall be admitted on the ground of a good attestation concerning their doctrine and conduct.
Does a child that is born within the church have a right to baptism only or also to the holy supper? A child born within the church has received the promise of the covenant and is therefore entitled to receive both sacraments, for these signify and seal the promise of the Gospel, the promise of the covenant. One does not receive the right to the promise or the right to the sacrament by virtue of any act of one’s own but only through the gracious decision of our God. It was the Lord’s decision to give His covenant promises to the parents and to their children.
Yet the church does not admit children to the Lord’s Supper. Here we have another example of a church member having a right but not (yet) being allowed to exercise it. Why does the church not open the way to participation in the celebration of the holy supper to infants or other young children? They are admitted to the holy baptism, are they not? Why then not to the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper differs from baptism in more than one respect, but the importance in this connection is that baptism can be received without the recipient knowing what is happening to him, whereas no one can celebrate the holy supper without being aware of what he is doing. The Lord Jesus commanded His church to do this “in remembrance of Him.” In order to be able to do this one has to be aware of the meaning of this supper and partaking of it. One has to discern the body, the apostle Paul tells us. And in Lord’s Day 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism we confess: “Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of Him.”
This tells us that one has to have reached the years of understanding and of knowing full-well what one is doing. It is also evident that there must be assurances that one who goes to the supper is a believer who accepts the promise of the Gospel with a believing heart, and therein Christ with all His benefits.
For these reasons the consistory is not permitted to admit anyone to the holy supper who has not made profession of faith. It is the Lord’s mercy that infants may receive holy baptism without having made profession of faith. But ever since the moment of baptism the Lord has been waiting for this child, this young man, this young woman to give his or her answer to His boundless mercies. The answer is the profession of faith, and it is this
profession of faith which opens the way for the member to also exercise his or her right to receive the second sacrament.
In preparation for this memorable day and moment the children attend catechetical instruction given by the minister. All catechetical instruction is directed towards this profession of faith, although usually a special class is conducted for those who have expressed the wish to make this profession and be admitted to the holy supper.
There is no fixed age for this profession. Much depends on the sincerity and knowledge of the young member. One may safely say that those who began to attend catechism classes at the age of eleven or twelve will have gathered the necessary knowledge and insight by the time they are seventeen or eighteen years of age. In any case profession of faith should not be postponed till after the twentieth year. From the Word of God we learn that the Lord holds those who have reached that age fully responsible, Numbers 1: 3; 14: 29.
When we say that by the age of seventeen or eighteen they will have gathered the necessary knowledge and insight, we do not wish to give the impression that the condition to be met for being allowed to make profession of faith is simply a matter of knowing and understanding. One should not produce false oppositions. The knowledge and insight we speak of are the knowledge and insight of faith. It is that knowledge-of-faith which the consistory looks for when examining those who have expressed the wish to be admitted to the holy supper.
In the past the examination of candidates for the profession of faith was frequently divided into two parts: one being the investigation into the motives for wishing to make profession of faith, the other an examination of the candidates’ knowledge of the truth. This was unsupportable, and it still is. The candidates should be examined comprehensively, so that the consistory may arrive at the conclusion that those examined know what they believe. The profession professes what we believe. Knowing and believing are indivisible here.
It is advisable that the minister informs the consistory at the beginning of the season who the catechumens are that have expressed the desire to make profession of faith, so that the elders can take this into account during the regular family visits. There is nothing wrong with the office-bearers paying a special visit to those who have requested admission to the holy supper upon profession of faith, provided this visit is not interpreted as an “examination of the motives,” something separate and distinct from the examination in the knowledge. This would imply that the latter will be reduced to a purely abstract display of knowledge without the involvement of the whole person with mind, heart and soul.
Once the consistory is convinced of the sincerity and maturity of the candidates it will give them permission to make public profession of faith. Usually the names of the candidates are announced to the congregation on two consecutive Sundays. No rule is provided in this, but it is helpful that it is done. The congregation may know something which the consistory is not aware of but should know regarding one or other candidate. This might even be of such a nature that it constitutes an impediment to the profession of faith
and the admittance to the table of the Lord. A situation like that will not have to be faced very often, but it is conceivable.
The same rule which applies to members of the (local) church also applies to those coming from other churches: they too must have made profession of faith. In proof of this they will have to show a testimony from their consistory that they are entitled to partake of the holy supper. The bond as sister churches implies that such testimonies are accepted and that the brother or sister is permitted to take part in the celebration without examination by the consistory.
Occasionally someone from another place requests permission to partake of the Lord's Supper without having requested and received an attestation. This places a consistory before a difficult decision. Most consistories have decided that no one shall be allowed to partake unless he can show an attestation, usually called a “travel attestation.” On the one hand the brothers want to honour their own decision; on the other hand they hesitate to refuse the brother or sister, especially when it concerns members who are personally known by some of the brothers.
Sometimes they will go to the trouble of phoning the home church to get an oral testimony, but they are under no obligation whatever to do this, and they should not have to feel bad about it if they don’t, for the responsibility rests ultimately with the member who should have asked his consistory for an attestation before leaving on the trip. No one can take it ill of a consistory that honours its decision and abides by it: an attestation is needed.
When there are brothers and sisters from other places who have received permission to partake together with the congregation of the Lord’s Supper, the congregation should be informed about it, for the brothers and sisters must know with whom they sit at table and also that those sitting with them have the right to do so. A question may arise in the event someone comes from another country and desires to take part in the celebration. There should be no difficulty if he is a member of a foreign sister church and presents an attestation to the consistory. According to the “rules for correspondence” we are obligated to honour such an attestation in the same manner as we do one from a church in our own country.
Things are different when it concerns someone who is not a member of a foreign sister church and has no attestation. Even if he submits an attestation issued by a non-sister church, this document is not sufficient to grant him permission. Should the consistory deny the request solely on the ground that he has no attestation from a sister church? We are of the opinion that this is not mandatory. We consider it quite well possible and certainly permissible that the consistory appoints a few brothers to examine the man and to see whether there is any impediment to his being permitted to partake of the holy supper. We may take it that he will not come with his request without good grounds, but will have come to the conclusion that here he finds the church of the Lord and this is the community with which he is one in faith. When this also becomes evident during the visit and examination and when he wholeheartedly expresses his agreement with the questions asked at the public profession of faith, would a consistory do wrong when granting his request? We cannot see why. It certainly does not violate the provision made in Art. 61.