We Ask You To Abstain

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms Historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches have always “fenced” the table of the Lord.  That is, when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the pastor and/or an elder says that certain people are not to partake.  The details vary among historic Reformed/Presbyterian churches, but they all do fence the table to some extent.  Even if we might disagree how “high” the fence is, it is proper and biblical to warn the unrepentant and unbelievers not to take Holy Communion.  The Westminster Confession of Faith says it like this:

“All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him [Christ], so they are unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such [ignorant and ungodly], partake of these holy mysteries or be admitted thereunto” (29.8).  [1 Cor. 11:27-29, 2 Cor. 6:14-16, 1 Cor. 10:21, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15, Matt. 7:6, etc.]

Thomas Brooks, in The Crown and Glory of Christianity, discussed this topic briefly and gave some helpful citations from church history (slightly edited):

“Chrysostom said that he ‘would rather give his life to a murderer, than Christ’s body to an unworthy receiver, and rather suffer his own blood to be poured out like water, than to tender Christ’s blessed blood to a profane person.’  ‘Church officers are to keep the sacrament pure, as a man would keep a pleasant spring which he drank from clean, not letting the filthy beasts and swine to muddy it.’”

“Justin Martyr wrote, ‘In our assemblies we admit none to the Lord’s Supper but such as being baptized continue in professing the true faith, and in leading such lives as Christ hath taught.’  Martyr taught that these three things were required for those who wish to come to the table: 1) ‘A new birth,’ 2) ‘Soundness in faith,’ and 3) ‘A promise to live well.’”

“Augustine argued that there were horrid sins wrapped up in Adam’s eating of the fruit, much more so are there horrid sins in unbelievers eating the sacrament: pride, rebellion, treason, sacrilege, theft, murder, etc.”

“Aquinas said ‘the majesty of church discipline should never allow this, to let open and known offenders presume to come to the table of the Lord.’”

“Calvin wrote, ‘I will sooner die than this hand of mine shall give the things of God to contemners of God.’”

Again, we might discuss and debate how “high” the fence is around the table, but it is biblical (see citations above) and wise to clearly tell unbelievers and unrepentant persons that they are not to take the Lord’s Supper.  It might not sound politically correct or “nice,” but it is a biblical help in keeping Christ’s church pure, it does keep unbelievers from bringing further judgment upon themselves, and it does guard God’s people from trouble and hardship (cf. 1 Cor. 11).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, wi


16 comments on “We Ask You To Abstain

  1. Brenda R says:

    Totally agree. We need to examine our hearts not only before communion, but everyday.

  2. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  3. Share on the A Cry For Justice facebook page, with application to people who masquerade as Christians but use a pattern of coercive control to oppress and mistreat others.

  4. Will Thompson says:

    Does such a position lead to closed communion?

    • I guess I’d need to know how you define “closed.” If I understand your question, the comments above don’t mean that Christians from other Christian churches cannot partake. Some churches do make the fence quite high, but that wasn’t the topic of this blog post. Make sense? Thanks for the question!

  5. How is this applied to children? (My apologies if you have addressed this in another article. If so, or if you can make a recommendation, I would be happy to be directed to a relevant link.)
    Thanks, Sherryn

  6. Trent Whalin says:

    Have your read an article posted at Scot McKnight’s blog by a guest writer? He basically says communion should be open to all because, I think, He shed his blood for all, etc. In the comments he asked people to prove a fenced off communion. Isn’t he just operating from some universalist mindset?
    Here’s th link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/12/29/who-would-jesus-refuse-to-eat-with-by-jeff-cook/

    • Trent – haven’t heard of McKnight’s argument nor have I read the post. But it doesn’t sound overly biblical! I’ll check it out if I have time later.

  7. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  8. Tony says:

    Why would this matter, if the elements of bread and, uh..grape juice..are only *symbolic*? I mean, what’s the big deal? Let’s re-read that quote from St. John Chrysostom very carefully…

    • Trent – where did the blog post mention that the elements are only symbolic? Sorry, but I missed your logic/argument.


      • Tony says:

        It’s classic Zwinglianism. The “Reformed” movement sprung from his loins has always maintained–contra Luther, John chapter 6, *and* Holy Mother Church (Rome), that the Lord’s Supper merely symbolizes His Body and Blood. À la Bill Clinton, they seem to misunderstand the definition of “is.”

        • True, that’s what Zwingli taught. However, Reformed and Presbyterian theology (summarized in the confessions), isn’t Zwinglian. For example, the Belgic Confession says that in the Lord’s Supper we “truly receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ” (art. 35). The Westminster Confession says that believers receive and feed upon Christ crucified – and that Christ’s body and blood is really and spiritually present in the Supper (29.7). Hope that helps.


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