W. J. McKnight makes the point below that people who are guilty of the sin of singing uninspired hymns in worship should not be allowed to the Lord’s Table. This is certainly a controversial opinion, any thoughts?
Furthermore, as Christ Jesus is no respecter of persons, we ought not to be, either; for, to be a Christian, if it means anything, means to be like Christ. This, that passage from James, already quoted, settles in so many words. And this our Church has always recognized. When one of our own members violates this commandment in the way referred to, he lays himself open to discipline. A faithful Session will prohibit him from coming to the Lord’s table until he has confessed his sin, given evidence of repentance, and promised not to be guilty of it again. If, then. the Church prevents its own members from communing if they commit this sin, why should it not prevent outsiders from communing when they commit the same sin? Why should the Session practice “respect of persons”? It is the violation of the law of God that is in question, and surely it is as bad for one man to transgress a divine command as it is for another. Believing this we apply “the law of the house”, as Ezekiel calls it, to prospective communicants, no matter who they may be. In reality we go below the question of the Church to which a person belongs to the question as to whether or not he is obeying the Ten Commandments.
The same line of reasoning lies at the basis of our position on Psalmody, and on Instrumental Music in divine worship, and on Secret Societies. And here again we are at one, fundamentally, with the whole Presbyterian body. We all accept the Westminster Standards. These declare that the Second Commandment forbids “all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself”, and anything and everything that would tend toward the corrupting of “the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it”, whether such devices are “invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever”. As for the Third Commandment, they declare that it forbids “the not using God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using His titles, attributes, ordinances, or works”. It would be difficult to make language stronger or more explicit.
Now our Church holds that this interpretation of those Commandments binds the people of God to the exclusive use of the Psalms in divine worship, and puts them under solemn obligation to sing praises, as in apostolical times, without the use of musical instruments, and requires them to renounce the system of secretism as a system of darkness altogether unworthy of such as are called of God to be “the light of the world”.
Thus it is our interpretation of the first three Commandments—reinforced, of course, from the rest of the Bible—that gives us our distinctive position as a Church. If our interpretation is not right, we ought to disband. If it is right, our Sessions ought to see that it is honored in every particular by every person who proposes to come to the Lord’s table under their jurisdiction. The “whole limit” is to be “most holy”. To the officers has been committed the charge, by the Lord Jesus Himself, of keeping it so. If they are faithful, they will do it—and that, too, as the Word of God requires, “without respect of persons” This is one place where sentiment has no right to intrude; obedience to orders is what the occasion demands, and the demand is absolute.
All denominations have to reckon with the Ten Commandments. All alike have to assume some attitude toward the Moral Law. Some treat the matter very loosely and unsatisfactorily; some are more rigid, some are less. We, in common with all others are under the necessity of taking a stand. We have done it. We have interpreted the Law, and what constitutes its violation, to the very best of our ability. We have published our findings. The world knows our position. We pledge ourselves to be true to those findings and to that position every time we go to the communion table. We aim to be strictly impartial. We are no firmer with outsiders than we are with our own members. “Here is the law of the house”, we say; “Christ requires us to see that the law is observed; we have no option but to obey orders”.
BY WAY OF SUMMARIZING
What our findings are—I mean those findings which keep us distinct from other Churches—may be fairly, yet succinctly, set forth in four brief statements.
We hold, whether rightly or wrongly,—yet as a matter of fact we do hold,—that to support an unchristian Constitution in its unchristian condition is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.
We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to undertake to praise God with songs other than those which the Holy Spirit has inspired for that purpose is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.
We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to introduce instrumental music into the New Testament worship, when the Apostles organized that worship without it, is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.
We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that union with secret societies is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.
The fact is that we find ourselves under obligation, in these respects, to bear a faithful testimony not only to the world, but to such other Churches also as differ with us on these intrinsically important questions. At the communion table our testimony comes to its climax. Shall we weaken where we should be firmest? Shall we waver where we should be immoveable? Shall we make it apparent on the Holy Mount that we are sincere in our conclusions and mean to maintain them to the end, or shall we choose the Holy Mount to make it apparent to other Churches and to the world, that we only half believe what we profess? Here, of all places, it would seem, we ought to aim to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
Evidently this is not the place to defend our position as a Church, as it comes to light in our distinctive principles. All we needed to do here was to state the principles fully enough to bring the situation clearly into mind. And this, we assume, has been done.
A CASE IN POINT
An incident that happened a few years ago in my ministry might be cited in this connection, it seems to me, as an apt illustration. One of the ablest men I ever knew—the pastor of a neighboring congregation—accosted me on the street one day and said, “One thing about your Church I could never understand, that is, your position on Close Communion”. In reply I said, “In point of principle our views on that question are the same as yours”. “How is that?” he said. “Suppose”, said I, “that one of your members should strike a child down with an ax and kill it, would your Session allow him to go to the Lord’s table at the next communion?” “Well”, said he, “I should hope not”. “Why?” I asked. “Why, because he violated the Sixth Commandment”, he said. “But”, I protested, “he might hold that what he did was not murder”. “Oh”, said my friend, “we would not leave that to him; we would take that matter into our own hands”. “You mean to say”, I said, “that your Session would assume the responsibility of interpreting the Sixth Commandment and also of passing judgment on the man’s conduct, as to whether it was a violation of the Commandment thus interpreted”. “Precisely”, he said. “Well, then,” said I, “why should you object to our Sessions when they do the same thing with respect to the First Commandment, and the Second, and the Third? “Oh, I see”, he said, “and what is more I believe you are right; it never occurred to me in that light; with you Close Communion means that the Reformed Presbyterian Church intends to honor the Moral Law as the Church apprehends it, before anyone shall be permitted to take a seat at the Lord’s table under its jurisdiction and oversight”. “Yes”, said I, “that is the exact situation as we see it”; and the man was satisfied. After all, to any person who really stops to consider, it is only a question of clear thinking and a sincere purpose to follow orders.”
From CONCERNING CLOSE COMMUNION. AN INVESTIGATION. by W.J. MCKNIGHT, D.D., Pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Boston found here Concerning Close Communion by WJ Mcnight.
23 thoughts on ““We hold, whether rightly or wrongly, that to undertake to praise God with songs other than those which the Holy Spirit has inspired for that purpose is a sin, and such a sin as, unrepented of, should prevent a person from sitting down at the Lord’s table, either in our Church or in any other.””
Well, I agree that exclusive psalmoody is the way to go in public worship. Amd that the session has oversight over who takes the Lord’s Supper. And that they should bar members or non-members who are known to be unrepentant in certain sins from communion. The question for me is which sins are serious enough to merit this exclusion? Certain ones like adultery clearly qualify. But this article makes it sound like pretty much any sin would qualify and I just don’t think that can be our standard. We are all sinners pretty consistently. If we were honest with ourselves at least about any sins we hadn’t repented of, I think most of us would have to refuse communion most of the time. Coming from a Catholic background, it makes me feel like I would have that burden back on me of always needing to root out any sin to be acceptable. But we are not acceptable at God’s table because of what we have done or not done. Our pastor says every week that “this is a meal for sinful people.” And I think that about sums it up. There are some sins which are pervasive enough that if one is unrepentant in them, access needs to be denied but not every sin needs keep us from the table.
I like what nebby3 wrote. To bar someone from communion on the basis of not practicing EP would seem legalistic to me. Is this the hill we wish to die on? Why would I want to visit or even join such a congregation?
I wouldn’t call it legalistic, but I don’t go with it myself.
It is right and good to prevent somebody who is willfully sinning or one who is publicly losing a battle with a sin from the Lord’s table. e.g. one who is publicly struggling with alcoholism.
The difference with this is that it is a matter of doctrine and one that a Christian can hold very sincerely.
It doesn’t take away responsibility and it doesn’t change the fact that it is a sin of course. But we cannot have a table of pure doctrine. There will always be differences in points of doctrine. But so long as they are not major, i.e doctrines that lead you to doubt they are truly converted, they should not in my opinion be prevented from partaking of the Lord’s supper at all.
I am in a hurry just now but will have to come back to read the article in full later.
Are you part of the RPCS? If so, you might want to examine the historic teaching of your church (and mine, the RPCI) concerning close communion. This precious Covenanter teaching has been lost in recent years owing to the influence of Banner of Truth latitudinarianism upon our churches, but there seems to be no biblical reason why those who knowingly reject confessional doctrines should be any less subject to ecclesiastical sanction than those who wilfully reject other aspects of biblical morality. Doctrinal sins are still sins that have to be confessed and forsaken; whether the people who indulge in them are sincere or not is besides the point. Indeed, I would argue that it is actually unloving not to discipline them, as it is suffering sin upon your brother and the admission of such people to communion while unrepentant only tends to harden them in their error. In these days of post-modern cynicism towards absolute truth, the last thing we need is doctrinal relativism taking over the Reformed churches.
Yes I am. I of course agree with some of your sentiments Mr Ritchie, but I contend that there is a difference. Sins of Biblical morality lead a session to reasonably conclude that there is too much doubt whether the person is even saved. Doctrinal sins – of the nature we speak of – do not lead you to question whether the person is a true believer. I think the Bible is clear that only Christians can partake of the Lord’s supper. However I don’t see mandate for this level of guarding of the table.
I believe women should wear a head covering too for example, and that it is a sin not to obviously, but I don’t think that is a matter that ought to divide a church or a matter to prohibit participation in the Lord’s supper over.
In our effort to determine “which sins are serious enough to merit this exclusion”, we are not left to our own devices. The Bible is quite clear that inventions introduced into the worship of God are an abomination. I would point you back to the Confessional Standards of our fathers. I believe they most consistently applied these principles that will provide the answers you are seeking. I do believe these sins are important to consider in guarding the Table.
It is certainly not legalistic to bar idolatry from worship. Uninspired hymns, as we have stated many times on this website, are idolatry with no biblical warrant for their inclusion in worship. I would think you would run to join a church that treasures the regulative principle of worship. These historical practices were not intended to be oppressive or offensive. They are in fact “precious” teachings as Reformed Covenanter has mentioned. We appreciate them because they are biblical and because they help us to protect the things that are intrusted to us regarding the Church of Jesus Christ.
We consistently bar people with deficient doctrine from the Table. Some doctrinal deficiencies touch the heart of the gospel and some do not. However, I would say that worship is no less important than soteriology. In fact, (with Calvin) I would say that the right worship of God is more important than my own salvation or yours. God is worthy of obedient worship regardless of whether or not redemption is ever offered to man. How can we say that how God is worshiped is not a sufficient reason to bar someone from the Table of Christ?
SInce we believe we should only sing Psalms in worship, why is this belief not important enough to demand of someone who comes to the Table?
Well said. Can you give us examples of the “Banner of Truth latitudinarianism”?
From Church Fellowship by John Black:
“It is freely granted, that there are, in the system of grace, some things of greater relative importance than others—some things, the knowledge and belief of which, are essential to the very being of christians; while others are not. And it would, certainly, be highly improper to consider all these as equally fundamental. But it does not appear, how the distinction comes to have any weight in this argument.
It is not a dispute about the comparative importance of fundamental truths, or whether every truth revealed, should be known and acknowledged, or not. The question is about the maintaining, or refusing, some of these truths when they are known. Whether any of them be of so little importance—so circumstantial, that we may admit to the communion of the church, those who deny them? And for our own part, we hesitate not to confess ourselves on the unpopular side.
We cannot believe that we are at liberty to set aside, or nullify any law, or doctrine of Jehovah, because it is of comparatively less importance than some others. The pins of the tabernacle, were not to be compared to the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, or the cherubims of beaten gold; yet was not Moses at any more liberty to deviate from the pattern, in the making of a pin, than in preparing the furniture of the holy of holies. In Ezra 1:9-11, we are informed that Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, brought up from Babylon, after the captivity, “nine and twenty knives,” which belonged to the sacred vessels of the house of the Lord. This is a fact of comparatively little value, and thousands of sinners may have been saved by the blood of Jesus, who never knew, during the whole course of their lives, that such a fact had taken place.—But supposing a man who knew that this fact was recorded in the Bible, would deny the truth of it, and declare that the writer was an impostor, and that such a relation was utterly unfit for divine revelation; how then? Was he still fit for communion, supposing him to deny no fundamental truth? Again, we could suppose a christian man, who did not know that when David uttered the dreadful imprecatory prayer, Set thou a wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand—Let his days be few, and let another take his office, &c. that the Holy Ghost, in that passage, spake of Judas Iscariot. And yet his not knowing that truth, which is of minor importance, compared with the declaration, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—the only saviour of sinners, might comport with his holding the head. But suppose, after he knew this, lie would still insist, David here indulges a malicious and vindictive spirit—The language and the sentiment, are contrary to the spirit of the New Testament, and consequently unworthy of God, and unfit to be sung in his praises; is the man still fit for communion? Yet in neither of these cases, has any one of those truths called fundamental, been denied; while in both cases, the persons have gone over to the camp of deism.
There is a deception practised upon less knowing, though well meaning christians, by employing the reasoning of the objection, to justify the prevailing, but it seems, unwarrantable practice of occasional communion, amongst those who are far from being agreed in their articles of faith. Still the idea of our being imperfect creatures—knowing but in part—the things contended for, being of little moment, and the like, are made the ostensible ground, while the true spirit of the objection is, that there are some truths of God that are of so little moment, that we may believe them or not, according to circumstances—Some commands of Jehovah, possessing so little obligation, that we may obey, or not obey them at pleasure! How unlike the injunction of our ascended Lord, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
Well said. Can you give us examples of the “Banner of Truth latitudinarianism”?
What I mean by BoT latitudinarianism is the notion that confessional doctrines, such as exclusive psalmody and infant baptism, are “non-essentials” that people are free to disagree on.
There is a difference between a private opinion that you may hold and a confessional dogma. The example you cite is a private opinion of your own, it is not a matter that has been carefully examined by ecclesiastical courts and given confessional status as the official doctrine of the church. When a doctrine achieves confessional status, and is recognised by the church as a biblical truth, what right do members of the church have to dissent from it? What parts of the Westminster Standards are so unimportant that members should not be required to believe them? If they are not important enough for members to believe, then how can we justify retaining them as part of the church’s confession of faith? Moreover, do we confess the faith as a church or do we confess the faith merely as elders? If the latter, then how could the apostle tell believers to be of one mind and to strive together for the faith of the gospel?
I find this level of ‘purity’ to verge on the uncharitable. The Lord’s Table is HIS, not ours and not closed to fellow belivers in Christ- especially not to those holding to the doctrines of grace and the Reformation Solas. Church Office would be barred to those who in all conscience cannot maintain our distinctives such as infant baptism or EP.
We do not lord it over our flocks. Keep a genuine sheep away from the Lord’s own Table? God Forbid. None of this implies we countenance or promote what the WCF forbids.
I certainly do not want to appear uncharitable by putting this quote up for discussion. Since our goal here is to discuss all things EP, it seems appropriate to talk about how purity of worship is related to the Lord’s Supper. Restricting Communion to those who are “Close” to us is nothing new in Reformed Presbyterian history. I do not believe our Covenanter fathers were uncharitable in their restricting the Table to those who had bound themselves to the Westminster Standards by Covenant.
The acknowledgement of the fact that the Table is His does not relieve us of the obligation to fence it. Obviously, not everyone is welcome. But simply being a believer has never been the standard for coming to the Table in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. That is a recent development to be sure, mostly because the RP church desired fellowship with the non-RP churches and to gather in the benefits of the revivalist movements of the day. I will post some references below that note the novelty of the open Communion Table. The point being that those who deny EP are generally part of another fellowship that shares a different Confession of Faith…or more precisely, a Confession that denies critical points of our own.
The following illustrates how and why the church moved away from the RP Terms of Communion of 1761.
“Among ministers and people there was a widespread sympathy with the spiritual awakening, which was closely associated with the name of Mr. Moody; greater attention was devoted to evangelistic work among the non-churchgoing, alike in larger towns and in country districts; on the floor of Synod open testimony was borne to the reviving of spiritual life in many congregations, while that Court, thankfully acknowledging the genuiness of the work, sought to give guidance and encouragement to those engaged in it… One effect of the revival movement, and of the evangelistic efforts that were connected with it, was to make the Church feel more strongly that it must find a place in its fellowship for those who gave evidence of a saving change, but who, from the circumstances of their previous life, could not be expected to have any special interest in, or acquaintance with, the public history and contending of former generations. We have already seen that at an earlier date the Reformed Presbytery had made some provision for such parties, in its approval of the “Explanation and Defence of the Terms of Communion”; and in a passage quoted in an earlier chapter, sought to meet the objection of those who thought that too much was asked from those who desired admission to the fellowship of the Church. But the difficulty was more strongly felt now, when numbers who had been living in ignorance and sin were awakened, and brought to know the love and claims of Christ, and desired openly to avow Him. This along with other influences, led to an effort to simplify the terms of admission to the fellowship of the Church, which issued in 1872 in the adoption of a series of questions which might be used in the admission of members; while Sessions were at liberty to employ the old Terms of Ministerial and Christian Communion if they saw meet. These questions differed from the old terms, mainly by omitting all reference to the Covenants, the contendings of past times, and the Judicial Act of 1761, and by requiring a distinct profession of faith in Christ, a promise of submission to the Session, and attendance on and support of ordinances. By this means a much needed relief was afforded, and these questions to a large extent superceded the old Terms (Matthew Hutchison, The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Its Origin and History 1680-1876, published in 1893, pp. 357, 358).
The Distinct Principles of the Covenanter Church by J.G. Vos
III. Close Communion, or our Position on Admission to the Lord’s Supper
“1. The Church is the Lord’s House, and everything in the Church must be done according to the rules of the Lord’s House. Eph. 5:23; 1 Tim. 3:15.
2. The Lord’s Supper, being a Church ordinance, must be administered according to the rules of the Lord’s House. Because it is not our own supper, but the Lord’s Supper, it must be administered in accordance with the rules of the Lord’s House.
3. The rules of the Lord’s House are revealed in the Bible, partly in explicit statements and partly by implication.
4. Every church must study the Bible for itself to learn and decide what the rules of the Lord’s House are.
5. After deciding what the rules of the Lord’s House are, a church is to admit to the Lord’s Supper those only whom it adjudges to conform to those rules.
6. The Terms of Communion of the Reformed Presbyterian Church set forth what we, after a careful and conscientious study of the Bible, believe to be the rules of the Lord’s House revealed in His Word.
7. It is unreasonable to expect that the Lord’s Supper shall be administered in the Covenanter Church according to some other denomination’s view of what the rules of the Lord’s House are. We do not ask the Methodists or Presbyterians to accept our interpretation of the Bible as the standard for their church; neither should we be expected to accept their interpretation of the Bible as the standard for our church. We recognize that other denominations are responsible directly to God for their decisions, but we claim the same standing and liberty for ourselves.
Advocates of open communion really mean that the Lord’s Supper shall be administered in Denomination A according to the rules of the Lord’s House as these are understood in Denominations B, C and D. This amounts to a denial of Denomination A’s direct responsibility to God to decide for itself what the Bible teaches.
The Covenanter Church believes that it is sinful to sing uninspired hymns in the worship of God. The Presbyterian, Methodist and many other denominations do not so believe. We are convinced that we can give a valid Scriptural proof for our position on this matter. To us it is not a matter of indifference, but a very important matter indeed. How Almighty God is to be worshipped is no trifle to be decided according to human pleasure and preference. But the advocate of open communion asks, in effect, that the position of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches be made the rule that shall govern the practice of the Covenanter Church concerning admission to the Lord’s Supper.”
Of course, there are many different denominations that hold to EP, many with different traditions regarding the Lord’s Supper. It seems safe to say that the view of McKnight expressed in the above quote is not the standard approach to dealing with the Lord’s Supper. In fact, it seems that most would see this approach as offensive. This reaction is strange to me, so I am interested to hear differing views.
Some questions come to mind. Is McKnight’s view destructive to what we are trying to accomplish in preserving the EP practice? Is his “harsh” view of Communion a reason why the EP community is so small in our day? Or are McKnight and others to be credited with being strong defenders of the church and the singing of Psalms?
I find it strange that the traditional view of communing only with those who share theological convictions is such a threatening thing. It has been my recent experience that modern Christians believe you are slapping them in the face if the Lord’s Supper is not offered with no questions asked. They believe someone is questioning their Christianity or their conversion. I think it would be closer to the truth to say that the Lord’s Supper should be withheld because a fundamental truth from the Word of God is being disobeyed.
Vos is helpful here again:
“Instead of saying: “This is the Lord’s table, and all who are the Lord’s are invited to it,” we should say: “This is the Lord’s Table, therefore the rules of the Lord’s House govern admission to it. Those whom we have reason to believe conform to the rules of the Lord’s House are invited to it.” In practice, this will mean that we invite members in good standing in the congregation which is administering the sacrament, and members in good standing in other congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. For we have no way of knowing certainly concerning others, that they are of faith and life required by the rules of the Lord’s House.”
“The invitation is given for all members of the congregation, and of sister Covenanter congregations, knowing themselves to be in good standing in the Church, to partake of the sacrament. These visitors, not being members, are therefore not invited. Does this mean that we judge them? Does it mean that we think they are not Christians? Most certainly not! It simply means we think they are not Covenanters. Christ will judge the world, and has commanded us to judge not, that we be not judged. We therefore judge no one. But when a person says he does not believe certain truths or doctrines, he judges himself.”
Of course I am well aware of the more precisionist approach to fencing the Lord’s Table amongst Reformed Presbyterians. Many of us who are convinced EP’s are not however R.P.s or descended from that line. Our Presbyterianism descends from the Revolution Settlement Kirk. Terms of communion vary amongst even the various strands of this tradition; some demand would-be communicants to repeat verbatim the whole Shorter Catechism as expressing their own faith; others require simply a ‘credible profession’ of faith in Christ as their Lord and Redeemer. Of course it is understood all who profess will hold to Holy Scripture as Infallible and Supreme. Liberalism is beyond the pale of membership.
The problem with the ‘tighter’ approach is that it either leads to sect like exclusivity and effectively unchurches fellow believers OR it leads to strange anomalies, such as allowing brethren outside our narrow pale to preach or address meetings, profit from their teaching and enjoy their fellowship yet excommunicate them! Such a solemn move against a fellow professor of faith in Christ had better have rock solid argument behind it.
The positions of exclusive psalmody and unaccompanied praise rest upon the regulative principle of worship as a faithful exposition of the second commandment. Violations of any of the commandments are sins.
“Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserveth his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.” (Larger Catechism, Q. 152)
The sin of unregulated worship is sufficient to damn the soul to hell, and requires forgiveness by the death of the Son of God. Continued impenitence in any sin (whether one acknowledges it to be a sin or not) should be sufficient to bar from the Table. Even sins of ignorance required atonement under the Old Testament, once they were recognized. If the church recognizes something to be a sin, but an individual does not, should the church submit its judgment to the judgment of every individual who seeks to commune?
If we are to the view that those who differ from us out of sincere conscience on matters such as the exact outworking of the Regulative Principle or infant baptism or church government are guilty of sins that will damn to hell I fear that I would be unchurching virtually the whole swathe of fellow evangelicals and even Reformed in the British Isles and therefore would be committing sin myself by ever visiting them, extending the right hand of fellowship towards them or assembling with them on the Lord’s Day for worship, when on holiday or away from home for work. I do not believe such sincere lovers of the Lord Jesus whose life, testimony and Christian care for others are sent away by our Lord from His Table and banquet of love and heading for hell and so to be avoided at all costs. Ruling by the rod on these matters strikes me as wrong headed.
Ewan: Hello, sir. I think the point of the “sins that will damn to hell” is that all sins will do so. It appears Old Light Covenanter’s position is that those who continue unrepentant in sin are to be excluded from the Table, as such, those who offer uncommanded worship unrepentantly should be excluded.
I’m not sure whether I agree with that view. It is clear that not all sin is to exclude from the table but scandalous sin. “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.” With respect to Old Light Covenanter’s position in particular, the point in discussion should be: Is any impenitent sin also scandalous, regardless of whether the people are aware it is a sin or not? With respect to the question in general, the point in discussion should be: Is non-exclusive psalm singing by those who are convinced the Bible allows for it or commands it a scandalous sin? I suppose one could also tackle the question from the view of “ignorance;” personally, I’m not sure whether “ignorance” was meant to apply beyond the basics of the faith and the operation of the Lord’s Supper.
Great points. The subject you raise of “ignorance” is just as important as that of “sin” in the question of which will keep a person from the Table. (I will attach below the Westminster Larger Catechism Q.107-110 which deal with violations of the second commandment.) The important thing to realize is that we all violate the second commandment on a regular basis, however, we realize our imperfection and we are repentant. In that process of recognition and repentance we are all the while affirming the truth of these things and abiding by them because they are biblical and confessional truths…therefore we come to the Table as repentant sinners. If someone denies the fact that singing hymns is a violation of the second commandment they can never be repentant of their violation of it. They instead are “ignorant” and “scandalous” at the same time…and [according to the original post] denied the Table.
See the LC below:
Q. 107. Which is the second commandment?
A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintainance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God; and vowing unto him; as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hind ering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
Q. 110. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.
The saintliest and most godly folk I’ve ever met would not understand most of the comments here. But they read their Bibles, loved their Lord, faced sorrow and grief with faith and great courage and led lives of integrity and kindness. And yet…. and yet… some of the folk commenting here would have refused them one of the means of grace because they sang hymns. I believe the Lord Jesus would be more likely to rebuke the withholding of His feast to His humble disciples, than to rebuke their singing. One of these disciples was humming ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ as death approached. Was he really sinning as he tried to sing? God give me grace to face death with his courage and joy.
The reactions to this post offline have certainly been interesting.
For those friends of mine who have reacted with anger to this post [not the fine responses posted above] it is more than likely because you didn’t read the article in its entirety. Dr. McNight does not propose that ministers stand at the Lord’s Table and ask potential communicants, “Are you a Psalm singer?” with the intention of admitting only those who hold to exclusive Psalmody. That idea, thrown at me on more than one occasion in recent weeks, is absurd. McNight is saying that the singing of Psalms is one of many distinctives that we hold as Reformed Presbyterians.
Surely he is saying more than that. He is suggesting that these distinctives (or at least one of them), could (should?) be applied as criteria for admission to the Lord’s Table. Regardless of the method adopted for such a scheme this could potentially withold a means of grace from folk loved by the Lord Jesus and walking in integrity with Him (as I’ve already suggested). To use your own adjective, this seems absurd to me. Just as it would be wrong for a Reformed Baptist (on the basis of his own distinctives) to withold communion from a Reformed Presbyterian.
I am agreeing with you that his essay covers many different ideas. The point I was making was that his central message was not to make EP the primary standard for communion above all others. The reason I say that is because I received private comments from individuals who thought I was trying to make EP the ONLY measure of communion. Once again, if we are only communing with people of like faith and Confession, one’s particular view of Psalmody is a moot point because we would all believe the same thing before the question was ever asked…however, I add that I am making a clarification about McNight’s view and not necessarily my own…
…without stating my own view so that I won’t continue to make people mad at me…
…when you say, “could potentially withold a means of grace from folk loved by the Lord Jesus and walking in integrity with Him”, we do this all the time in the church. What about Roman Catholics? What about people who have not been baptized? What about Masons? Are a person’s theological convictions enough to cancel out their “walking in integrity”? I would think that we could find all kinds of examples of people who fall into the category you made who would also be denied the Lord’s Supper. The question is: Where do we draw the line?
But that was not the question! The question was not ‘Where do we draw the line?’ The question was not ‘What are the grounds for witholding the Lord’s supper?’ The question was: ‘ should the singing of uninspired songs be considered a sin, and such a sin that should prevent a person sitting at the Lord’s table?’ To which I believe the answer should be ‘No’.
By introducing the issue of Roman Catholics you also change the framework in which the question was posed. Having been posed by a Reformed Presbyterian, it is natural to assume we are talking about someone attending the Lord’s supper who professes union with Christ on the basis of repentance and faith.
And you also misquote my previouis comment. I did not say “walking in integrity” I said “walking in integrity WITH HIM”. Most believers of Reformed persuasion would understand this to refer to an individual professing repentance and and faith and seeking to live life in communion with the Lord and whose lives were not inconsistent with that profession.