Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Should a General Assembly celebrate the Lord's Supper?

The blogosphere is quite because the PCA is in its General Assembly. Everyone and their grandmother is down there in order to participate in the row over the Federal Vision Study Committee report. I glanced at their docket, and something else caught my eye. They are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is after the session is declared open and called to order by the moderator. The RCUS does have worship services, but they are not technically part of the Synod. The meetings are not in session as we worship. The Synod in the RCUS does not have the power to offer the sacraments, only the local church. Yet, clearly the PCA General Assembly is offering the sacrament. It cannot be participating in a host church’s Lord’s Supper because it is not in a host church, but rather a convention center. I found it interesting because I wonder what sort of difference this implies in the view of the church?


James Frank SolĂ­s said...

Lee, I'm not familiar with a limitation placed by the Lord Jesus to celebration of communion to particular churches. It strikes me therefore as an issue of liberty of conscience. The Lord's words of institution say only, "As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me." Not, "As often as you do this do it in your particular church or a host church." And Paul says when we partake, we do are remembering Christ until he returns. GA is a great time to remember Christ until he returns, since it is His church.

In the particular churches, the sessions, as the courts having jurisdiction, have the authority to determine the times for the celebration of communion. The GA is a court and, as such, has jurisdiction over all the churches, as provided by the BCO, and authority over it's own affairs, including -- perhaps! -- the authority to determine whether communion may be observed at it's meetings, whether in a host church or not.

I suppose one could invoke the Regulative Principle here. Observance of communion isn't commanded for meetings of GA, so it ought not be observed at such meetings. I'm not being facetious. Of course, observance could not be commanded for GA since there was no GA when the Lord's Supper was instituted. But we don't know that observance of communion was commanded for the Jerusalem Council. Since we have nothing but silence here, perhaps we should not observe communion. (I suppose one could assert that this is something like a "private mass", which is forbidden by WCF 29.4. But I'm not sure well that would stand.)

I'm not concerned by the fact that communion is being observed at GA in something other than a church, "host" or otherwise. I am concerned by the fact that the only provisions for observance of the Lord's Supper in the PCA is at the particular church level (BCO 58). On the authority of Presbytery or GA to hold communion BCO is silent. And I can find no provision for it, as far as GA is concerned, in "The Rules of Assembly Operations".

Since I don't think you can have a Biblical objection to the observance at GA, I wonder if, like me, your concern is constitutional. And I would have that objection even if GA were held at a host church. Courts have jurisdication over the conduct of their affairs. But it strikes me that if GA, a court, can have communion together (whether at a host church or not) then a church session could likewise determine to observe communion at it's meetings. So then could presbyteries. Something about that strikes me as odd. But that's the strongest statement I find I can make.

I don't know that this observance of communion at GA is wrong. I do know that it is not well provided for in our (i.e., PCA's) constitution. But in the end, it is not the PCA constitution that serves as ultimate authority over communion observance, but the Scriptures.

So, I am having difficulty seeing just why you fault GA for observing communion in other than a church.

Lee said...

My concern is partly constitutional. You pointed out there is no provision for such a celebration of the Lord's Supper at any level other than the particular church. My concerns about a 'host' church should have been more clearly laid out. Allow me to eleborate.

1. Biblically the church elders have the oversight of the Lord's Supper by fencing the table and shepherding their flock who will be partaking of communion. At the GA level, who serves as the guardians of the table? Who is making sure that the table is protected? Is it the rotating moderator? Just to use an example of Rev. Joe was put on trial at the Presbytery level and cleared, but his case finds its way to the Standing Judicial Committee, that has not yet ruled on him, is he allowed to partake of the Supper at GA? If a host church were inviting the delegates of GA to attend the Supper then at least their would be an authority over seeing the process. At GA who is the authority? Does GA invite itself to the table?

2. You rightly point out that the session as a court determines the time of celebration of the Supper at a particular church. However, Sessions never celebrate the Supper while they sit as a court. They celebrate the Supper as the entire body of that particular church. The GA is a court celebrating the Supper as a court. Would it not be like calling a session meeting to order and then partaking of the Supper then and there with no one else present? Yes, the particular church includes a church court that even governs that church, but the church is more than the court. GA is nothing but a court. Does a church court (nothing more) still have the perogative to celebrate the Supper?

Those are my questions. I am not sure I am faulting them, more asking for further clarification. Who is guarding the table, is there a difference between a church court and the church (the BCO seems to think so), and what exactly is the history of this practice?

John Harley said...

The matter you raise is a great quetion in the PCA (could be in other presbyterian bodies as well). If the General Assembly, Presbyteries, and Sessions are only courts of the church as you (I believe) rightly indicate and a court differs from the church as she meets and holds membership, you have the added problem of Teaching Elders holding their membership in Presbytery ( a court of the church) but not in a local (particular) church. This has always been an anomaly for me. We have TEs who in reality are not members of a church, only a court of the church and that court really only exists when it meets. If you say that that court exists even when it isnot is session, what do you do with Ruling Elders who also are a part of that courts membership when it is in session? (particularly presbytyer, and GA) Do they at some time hold dual membership in a court of the church as well as in a particular church? A court of the church does not perform the same function as a particular church when she meets for worship and the administration of the sacraments. I have, for example, never seen a baptism occur at a meeting of Presbytery or GA.

Lee said...

Thanks for bringing that point out. I do not believe that ministers should have their membership reside in Presbyteries either. Confusing church courts with actual churches is a problem. One that hopefully more people will address.