For what most could recall, and what those who could research had determined, 2010 was the first time in a long time, if not forever, that the opening worship service of an ARP Synod meeting did not include the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
As the outgoing Moderator, the Reverend Dr. John R. de Witt, Pastor Emeritus of First Presbyterian in Columbia, SC, had the responsibility to design the worship service and to preach the opening sermon.
In the Program distributed prior to the meeting, one could find the normally expected hymns, prayers, Scripture readings, and so on – and it also included a Memorial to those Teaching and Ruling Elders who had gone to be with the Lord during the preceding year.
But it did not include the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Those close to the issues going on within the Synod during that past several months had been talking informally about this possibility. Many had passed on the thought that Dr. deWitt did not believe there was sufficient unity within the church body in order for everyone to come together around the Lord’s table.
Many (but certainly not all) Teaching Elders (those ordained to the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, usually called pastors) hold the view that in Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus intended the illustration of leaving your gift at the altar and first, going to be reconciled with your brother, to apply to the New Testament version of the ‘altar’ which is the communion table, at or around which believers gather to celebrate His atoning sacrifice.
From that point of view, one might conclude that – especially with a rancorous lawsuit being carried through the state courts of South Carolina, and both sides mounting strong, sometimes vicious attacks at each other through blogs, that there very well could be some coming to this Synod who needed to be reconciled before they came together for the Sacraments.
At the point of the sermon in the Program, Dr. de Witt spent a few moments expressing his sorrow for having hurt feelings among members by breaking with the rules of the Synod and not having a communion service. He made it clear that he was not judging anyone else’s heart, in fact it could be that everyone present was fully prepared to participate, but it was his heart that was moved to dispense with the celebration because of the issues in the Synod.
Then, rather than preaching a traditional sermon, he spoke without a text but with constant references to various Scripture and quoting great former saints of the church as he spelled out the precarious future facing – not just the ARP denomination but evangelical Protestants of every sort – as a breakdown of culture was taking place all around us.
He ended with a passionate appeal for a strong work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the Church of Jesus and His people to warm cold hearts and bring about a renewal in the church and nation, and after the singing of a hymn encouraged a great outpouring from the gathered Elders of prayer for the church.
The business of the Synod will begin bright and early on Wednesday morning.