Comprehending the importance of celebration, commemoration, and confirmation in light of the festivity of the Table meal changes our relationship to how we approach the question of who is to be granted access to the bread and the cup. If those without faith should not come to the Lord’s Supper because they have not any of these gifts it is because they do not have warrant to come, as is remarked by Ralph Erskine in the last quote above. It’s why Paul bars any who cannot “judge the body rightly” from the supper meal in Corinth. It is an act of love to prevent harm to those who know not what the Table entails. We shouldn’t invite men to sin in worship.
As we move on to the second part of the talk on close communion, or again session-controlled communion in more recent parlance we need to start by thinking about what the Lord’s Supper is in order that we can better understand why there would even be a need to have a doctrine about who can and cannot partake of the covenant meal at a local church. It’s kind of like writing an essay on whether the banning of the shift has been good for Major League Baseball. Whether or not the reader knows what baseball is needs be a prerequisite before you can talk about the most recent rule change affecting the sport. In order to define for us communion we’ll follow our previously established pattern of limiting ourselves to ARP sources so that we can learn more about why and what the ARP once believed on the question at hand.
Biblically the Lord’s Supper was established by the example and command of Christ as He prepared His disciples before He went to the cross (Matt. 26:26-29). After His death, resurrection, and ascension we see the Church continuing to practice the eating of this meal in the context of worship in places like Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. A thing to consider, which will be important for later, is that whenever the people gather together for the purpose of breaking bread the word is always present. The reason why this matters is that we must always understand the Lord’s Supper to be tied into the preaching of the Word. It is not something we do separate from the ordinary life of the Church, nor is it something we do at random or without due consideration. In light of this let’s look at a few things from Ralph Erskine as to what he understands to be the purpose behind the ordinance. This will help us get in the right frame of mind as we move forward.
First, he remarks that it is a celebration as he says:
“Then, the doctrine I am upon, may give us some insight into the nature and end of this sacrament. Why, it is a just celebrating the memorial of the death of the man that is God’s fellow, when, as the glorious shepherd, he yielded himself a sacrifice to the awakened sword of justice, in the room of the sheep.”
Then, he notes it is a commemoration:
“This sacrament is appointed to be a commemorative sign of the death of Christ; ‘As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you shew forth the Lord’s death till he come. Do this in remembrance of me’; of me, who became a sacrifice to the sword of justice; by which sacrifice all spiritual blessings, peace, pardon, reconciliation with God, grace, glory, and all good things are purchased.”