Session-Controlled Communion & 1st Corninthians 11

Last evening my wife, our two little daughters, and I had the pleasure of going to our usually Lord’s Day evening service at North Hills RP Church here in Pittsburgh. We had not been there for a couple of weeks due to car troubles, birth of Mackenzie, being out of town, etc… So it was with a little surprise that we went last night to find out that North Hills was having communion. Also another surprise (actually I had forgotten) that North Hills practices what is called “Session-controlled communion” which means that anyone wanting to take communion at North Hills must meet with the Session and be approved prior to taking the elements at North Hills. As it is with many church doctrines that the mainlines and the more conservative denominations have kicked to the wayside and plain-just forgotten the Presbyterians used to be known for this. While those like NHRPC do not hand out tokens like in days passed they take very seriously the dangers associated with taking the Eucharist with laxity and disregard for its holy nature. The rationale for session-controlled communion can be found in Paul’s warning in 1st Corinthians 11 following the words of institution that we all use. Paul says:

The Lord’s Supper

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Paul clearly is teaching here that a person must examine himself/herself before taking the elements and if they do not and take the elements unworthily they will do harm to themselves. Also implicit in this warning is a call to the Elders of the church at Corinth. For as I am sure Paul directed the Elders at Corinth part of the understanding of the role of the Elder in Paul’s day and in the Presbyterian system in our day is that they are responsible for the spiritual health and welfare of those under their care (cf: 1 Tim 3:5, Titus 1:7). Therefore not only does the individual have a responsible to guard themselves but the Elders have a heavenly call to guard the sheep from hurting themselves much like the Elders would protect them from any other danger. This is why many call for quarterly communion so that all can be protected properly. However as I believe that the Scriptures call for weekly communion and because of this if you are to have both session-controlled communion and weekly communion it is imperative for the session of the local church to be active in the preparation for the worship service each Lord’s Day and that includes introducing themselves to any visitors and letting them know what the policy is at the local church (not just about communion but other things as well).

What is the policy of your local congregation? How do you think this would work at a local level in your denomination?

Let me know what you think.

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8 thoughts on “Session-Controlled Communion & 1st Corninthians 11

  1. Good question/post. We had an RPCNA student boarding with us earlier in the year, and when he worshipped with us, he asked if he needed to meet with our Session prior to taking the LS (we practice semi-monthly, though I’d like to move to monthly eventually). That is not our practice, and the RPCNA is the only body that I know that has this particular requirement, at least in the modern day.

    I’ve heard some distressing things concerning “fencing” (or lack thereof recently. One concerns (I can’t remember where I read it) the accusation that anyone who reads the warning from 1 Cor is guilty of “super-fencing” the Table. Although I’ve never met anyone who used these actual words, I did know an elder once who complained over the fact that I always read the warning during the LS! The other (more) distressing thing was a lady at my current church who told me yesterday, during SS, that her sister was upset over what happened recently at her sister’s PCUSA church. The church has an interim minister, and after GA, the church celebrated the LS. Instead of fencing the Table, the minister decided to read a list of everyone who was invited/encourage/compelled/what have you to the Table. The list included children (unclear whether he was including those who had not made a public profession of faith, but given the circumstances, such was probably not required) and homosexuals (and there was no mentioned of repentance or anything of the like). If “super-fencing” is a correct term, what do we call this?!?

    I agree that we need to have better discernment from our elders. I “pop-quizzed” our elders last Saturday during our Session meeting last week with a hypothetical concerning what they would do if an unrepentant person guilty of a known sin entered the service and the LS was being served. They agreed, w/o hesitation, that they would not serve the person.

    While at a former church, I was once reading old Sessional records (from the 1870s, I believe) where members who habitually excused themselves from the LS were called before the Session so that the elders could ascertain why such behavior was being practiced. Seems like this is also a good practice that elders need to make use of.

  2. I am a member of College Hill RP Church in Beaver Falls, PA. I agree with the session having oversight of the Lord’s Supper.

    In our congregation on any day we have communion there is a sheet in the church bulletin in which non-members & visitors can sign which will allow the to participate. I forget what all is included but 2 of the requirements are that the person be baptized and be a member of an evangelical church.

    This sheet is to be used only once and for further visits the person should meet with the session.

    I understand that not all RPCNA congregations do this.

    Any thoughts?

    Bill Ross

  3. I’m sure I could arrange that. Might have to wait until the next time we actually celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Then I could keep the one from my bulletin and scan & upload or email it.
    Drop me a line at: rossbillATcomcast.net (replace the AT with the proper symbol).
    I know that this coming Lord’s Day a large percentage of our congregation will be at the annual RP convention at Calvin College.
    Or perhaps my wife might still have one laying around from an old bulletin. I’ll ask her.
    Blessings,
    Bill Ross

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