A Thought on the Qualification of Participation in the Lord’s Supper

by Reita Yazawa. Ph.D. Student

 At one workshop I attended during Worship Symposium in January, one participant shared her question with us. Her church has started basic English worship for those who speak English as their second language. When the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in their worship, a pastor adds words to the effect that the Lord’s Supper is open to those who have been baptized, and those who are not baptized are still invited to come forward to receive blessings. However, when these worshippers are occasionally invited to join the main worship with church members, the pastor reads the words as usually done during regular communion worship: “All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him, are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord.” Interestingly, for some worshippers from the basic English service, this words of invitation sounds more attractive because it sounds more loose in qualifying the participation in the Lord’s Supper in the sense that it does not mention baptism as prerequisite for participation in the Lord’s Supper. As a result, and because they are beginners in English learning, some of them who are not baptized come forward and actually partake in the Lord’s Supper.

 I do not think that a non-baptized people mistakenly partaking in the Lord’s Supper immediately becomes a huge problem. But this story reminds me that we can no longer assume that the majority of the congregation is baptized even in the North American context. This has always been true in my Japanese context where the Christian population is less than 1 percent and worship always assume that non-baptized seekers are attending. Accordingly, words of invitation includes some statement that the Lord’s Supper is open to only baptized members and the church prays that if you are not baptized the day comes when you receive baptism and together participate in this communion. Perhaps inviting the non-baptized still to come forward for blessings would be good pastoral wisdom and I would like to take it home with me. But I think we still need to make efforts to inform the congregation that the Lord’s Supper is for the baptized only. In the case of the basic English worship participants, maybe the pastor can use the same words of invitation used in the basic English worship to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.

 Now a question the participant raised in relation to this experience with the basic English worshippers was this: Is there a time or instance in history of Christian worship when the non-baptized were invited to the Lord’s Supper?; Was it always the case that the Lord’s Supper was for the baptized only? As far as I know, the answer to this question is yes. Even when Solomon Stoddard in the eighteenth century New England advocated the Lord’s Supper as converting ordinance and distributed elements even to those who were not converted, the issue was conversion experience, not baptism. Whether they were converted or not, the assumption was that they were all baptized. If you know any instances where the non-baptized are invited to the Lord’s Supper in the history of Christian worship, will you let me know?

 The reason I am particularly concerned about this is because some radical pastors in my denomination back in Japan have begun to distribute the elements to non-baptized seekers hoping that it will help them to come to Christ accept him as their savior, so that they will then be baptized. Here the order of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is reversed.

 The majority of recent discussion on the Lord’s Supper in the Christian Reformed Church seems to be occupied with inviting children to the Lord’s Supper. But I think it is also important to recognize that in this discussion too the assumption is those children received infant baptism. Here we are talking about welcoming all baptized members to the table including covenanted children, not non-baptized seekers. The Lord’s Supper has, in my understanding, always been for nurturing the baptized who are in covenantal relationship with God. In the early church, non-baptized were even dismissed from worship before moving into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper because it was mystery only the baptized were allowed to access. While cultivating welcoming atmosphere is very important, I think we also need to recognize where the boundary lies. Postmodern spirit of the age sometimes tends to impose pressure that everyone should be welcomed to everything no matter what and no one should be offended. Unless we discern prayerfully, this mindset can make an inroad to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper too. Once the church maintains the fine distinction between the baptized and non-baptized before the table, then the church is ready to work hard to evangelize and pray that the line of the covenanted communicant circle continues to expand as more seekers receive baptism and join this covenant communion. There should be no stumbling block in worship except for the one true scandal: the Son of God hanged on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin (1 Corinthians 1). Worship should help people to face this true stumbling block. When they accept this Christ crucified in God’s grace, then it naturally leads to baptism, which then leads to the Lord’s Supper.