(Based on the Larger Catechism of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, questions #168–175. The following grew out of our session's [Franklin Square, NY OPC] extensive discussions of what is required of covenant children who desire to profess their faith and partake of the Lord's Supper. We are now using this in both our "Professing My Faith" classes for non-communicant members, and also in our church membership classes for visitors.)
Q. 1. What does "communicant church membership" mean?
A. A non-communicant church member is someone who has received Christian baptism, but has not yet publically professed faith in Christ. One becomes a "communicant church member" once he or she has met with the elders of a local congregation, demonstrated that he or she has both the sufficient knowledge of the Christian faith and personal commitment to it to be admitted to the Lord's Supper as the second sacrament of the Christian church, and has made a public profession of that faith by way of vows before the congregation. (See Rom. 10:8-13)
Q. 2. Why can't every baptized person simply be admitted to the Lord's Supper?
A. In baptism, the one baptized is passive, receiving a sign that he or she is part of the Christian church because of God's covenant with believers and their children. In the Lord's Supper, those who eat the bread and drink the wine must be able to examine themselves and eat and drink the elements with faith that assumes some understanding. (See 1 Cor. 11:28)
Q. 3. Is this really that important?
A. Yes! The Scriptures give serious warnings about eating and drinking at the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner. (See 1 Cor. 11:27-32)
Q. 4. What is it to eat and drink at the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner?
A. First, in being irreverent by failing to see that the Lord's Supper elements are set aside to be used in a specially holy manner for the strengthening of God's people. Second, in being careless by living in known sin even as we partake of signs and seals of the one who died to save us from our sins. Third, in being so full of our own self-righteousness that we are not really hungry for the Lord as our righteousness. Fourth, in being hypocritical by living at odds with brothers and sisters in the church, even as we eat and drink at a meal that represents our being one body in Christ. (See 1 Cor. 10:14-22; 1 Cor. 11:17-22)
Q. 5. What is it to eat and drink at the Lord's Supper in a worthy manner?
A. First, to prepare yourself properly, especially by esteeming the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a holy ordinance. Second, by meditating seriously on Christ's death as necessary to save us from our sins. Third, by examining ourselves with the same kind of honesty that God himself will render at the day of judgment. Fourth, by truly sorrowing for our sins and by hungering and thirsting for Jesus Christ who, alone, can satisfy us. Fifth, by realizing (in a mystery we cannot understand) that we are really feeding on Christ as we eat and drink in faith. And, sixth, by rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace, and renewing our commitment to the Lord and to his people. (See Lev. 10:3; 1 Cor. 11:23-32; John 6:35, 48-58; Acts 2:42)
Q. 6. What should I do to prepare to receive the Lord's Supper?
A. Ask whether you are living a life that shows you are truly living as one in union with Jesus Christ. Take serious thought of your remaining indwelling sin, of the genuineness and degree of your faith, repentance, love for God, for his people, and for all others. Genuinely forgive those who have asked your forgiveness, and seek reconciliation with any brothers or sisters in the church with whom you are estranged. Long to be strengthened by Christ so that you might persevere in obedience and faith. And pray that the Lord will bless your partaking of the Lord's Supper so that you receive fresh measures of the love of Christ to you personally. (See 2 Cor. 13:5; Zech. 12:10; 1 Cor. 5:7f., 11:31; Matt. 5:23f.; Isa. 55:1; John 7:37)
Q. 7. Should I partake of the Lord's Supper if I have doubts about my being a Christian or whether I am prepared to partake in a worthy manner?
A. People may truly be in Christ even if they lack assurance that they are. If you are struck with your need of Christ, if you truly long to be found in Christ, and if you genuinely desire to walk in holiness and flee from sin, then you should confess those things to the Lord and partake of the Lord's Supper to be strengthened in your walk with God. The Lord's Supper is for sick ones who long to be made well, and for weak ones who need strength from the Lord. The Scriptures do not say, "Let a man examine himself and so let him not eat," but "Let a man examine himself and so let him eat." (See Isa. 50:10, 54:7-10; Ps. 77:1-10; Matt. 5:3f; Isa. 40:11, 29, 31; Matt. 11:28, 12:20, 26:28; Mark 9:24; 1 Cor. 11:28)
Q. 8. What should I do after I partake of the Lord's Supper?
A. First, thank the Lord for his provision to strengthen you and to reassure you of his love for you. Second, go forth to serve the Lord in the strength and reassurance he has given you. Third, have a fresh resolve to keep the commitments you have made as you examined yourself. (See Ps. 28:7, 85:8; Acts 2:42, 46f.; 1 Cor. 10:3-5, 12; Eccl. 5:1-6)
Q. 9. Isn't it enough just to hear preaching? Why do I even need to partake of the Lord's Supper?
A. No, it isn't enough just to hear preaching! Jesus Christ, the king and head of the church, ordained that we have the Lord's Supper as part of our worship until he returns. Preaching is meant to be for all who hear. The Lord's Supper is Christ's personal ministry to spiritually nourish each of his people individually. We need to appreciate that, and, for that very reason, take communicant church membership both seriously and joyfully! (See 1 Cor. 11:26; Luke 22:14-20)
William Shishko, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, New York. Ordained Servant, May 2008.