BY REV. PROF. R. J. GEORGE, D. D.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church is a covenanted society. It has Church Standards, supreme and subordinate. It has Terms of Ecclesiastical Communion which require the acceptance of these Standards, as a profession of faith, and an engagement to duty. On the basis of these Terms of Communion the Church administers the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. All applicants are required to accept these Terms as the condition of their admission to membership in the Church. And at every observance of either of these sacraments, the Terms of Communion are presented and the engagement is publicly renewed. When parents present their children for baptism, the administrator of the ordinance proposes to them these Terms one by one, and awaits their assent to each; and upon the basis of that acceptance, publicly made, they receive the sealing sacrament of Baptism for their children. The Lord’s Supper is administered on precisely the same basis. The pastor of the congregation, or if there be no pastor, a minister appointed by Presbytery to dispense the communion, exhibits before the congregation the Terms of our Church fellowship. It is perfectly clear that, until the members of the congregation in some way signify their renewed acceptance of these Terms, the service is incomplete. Hence the administrator declares: “On the basis of these Terms of Communion intended communicants are invited to come forward and receive tokens of admission to the Lord’s table.” Then the members of session take their places, with the moderator in their midst, and, the whole congregation rising to their feet, move forward in orderly and solemn procession, and receiving their tokens they return quietly to their pews; and after a few words from the heart of the pastor to the hearts of the people, the court is adjourned with prayer and the congregation dismissed with benediction. On the Sabbath when all things are ready, those having received tokens are invited to come forward and fill up the tables; and as they pass in, each one deposits his token in the hand of an elder waiting at the foot of the table to receive it; and thus the service of the token is completed.
That this service is appropriate appears from the following considerations:
The sacrament is the seal of a covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In all covenants between God and men, God proposes the terms of the covenant and man accepts them. Until man accepts the terms of the covenant he has no right to receive the covenant seal. The Gospel is to be preached to every creature, but the sacraments are for believers only. And it belongs to a court constituted in Christ’s name to determine who may receive the sealing ordinances. It may be said that the session has done its part when the Terms of Communion are exhibited; and that the communicant does his part when he receives the sacramental elements, which act itself signifies his acceptance of the Terms; and that no place is left for the use of tokens. But this is not the correct view; because the officers of Christ’s house have no right to offer the sacramental seals until the terms of the covenant have first been accepted. It might as well be said that parents signify their acceptance of the Terms by receiving baptism for their child; but the renewed assent to the Terms always precedes the administration of the ordinance. Is it not then appropriate that in approaching the Lord’s table communicants give a like assent?
While, therefore, the Scriptures clearly teach the nature and the spirit of this service, they do not prescribe the form in which the Terms shall be presented and the assent given. The Terms might simply be read, and the congregation might give their assent by rising to their feet or by merely raising their right hands. But by such methods the responsibility and watchfulness of the session in guarding the purity of the sacraments would be obscured. Such methods would be utterly lacking in all that gives dignity and impressiveness to the method which the Church has adopted - the giving and receiving of tokens. The session in extending the token by the hand of the moderator declares that so far as they can judge the communicant has maintained a deportment becoming the Gospel, and is worthy to be admitted to the holy sacrament; and the communicant by accepting and returning it, solemnly renews his adherence to the terms of the covenant.
The service is appropriate. It has a dignity that is worthy of the door of entrance to the Holy Supper of the Lord. It has an impressiveness with which no other form of giving assent can for a moment compare; it is a service both solemn and beautiful in the eyes of angels and men.
There is an added appropriateness and significance by the use of the modern form of token. Formerly the token in general use was a metal tablet, bearing the letters R. P. C. During the last quarter of a century many sessions have substituted for this a token in the form of a sacramental card bearing the name Reformed Presbyterian Church, an appropriate passage of Scripture, and a blank for the signature of the communicant. In city congregations where changes of location are frequent, a line is added for the address as an aid to pastoral oversight. For many years this form was in use in my pastorate at Beaver Falls, Pa. I think the suggestion came to me from Dr. McAllister, then a professor in Geneva College. The following is the form in use in the Allegheny congregation, Rev. Dr. W. J. Coleman, pastor: This has advantages over the old form. In the first place the communicant in signing it and returning it to the session indicates in the most impressive way his acceptance of the Terms on which he was invited to the Lord’s table. If this be done, as our pastor frequently suggests that it ought to be done, thoughtfully and prayerfully, in connection with immediate personal preparation for the communion, it may be exceedingly helpful to the communicant. Then the tokens bearing the signatures furnish to the session a complete roll of all present at the communion table; and compared with the Church roll it gives a complete list of all the absentees. It also contains the names of the assistant and all the visitors from other congregations.
As a pastor I prepared a book of communion records. On the left margin of the pages were the names of all the members; and columns headed by the dates of the communions as they occurred, extended across the pages. On Monday after the communion, with the tokens in my hand, I could, in a very brief time, note those present and those absent; and as the pages filled up, I could, by a glance at the record, inform myself of the habitual attendance upon, or neglect of, the communion, of every member of the congregation, for years. Any conscientious pastor knows of what interest and value such a record is in pastoral oversight of the flock. In our Beaver Falls congregation it had an additional value. Students attending college from different parts of the Church joined in these services; and I recall one occasion when the examination of the tokens revealed the fact that twenty-three of our congregations had been represented at the table, and that seven ministers had officiated. What halcyon days were those! I have the record of those communions still in my possession. And if my period of active work should be followed by a season of retirement, in the evening time of life, I feel that it will be a most happy reminiscence to look over the names of those whom in those sweet pastoral days I was accustomed to call “my people”; and of those dear young people of the college, now scattered far across both seas, and some beyond the river of death, and to recall the solemn holy days when together we “sat down under His shadow with great delight and His fruit was sweet to our taste.”
There is another reason why the modern form of token seems to me preferable. I have heard my beloved brother at the head of the Indian mission say that he could not use the metal tablet as a communion token among the Indian converts, because they would inevitably attach to it a superstitious idea, regarding it as a kind of charm; and the effect would be harmful. We can readily see how that would be true. And the same may be true in other mission fields. But might not a communion card, received from the session as a token of approval of their outward Christian deportment since the last communion, and signed and returned to the session as a renewal of their covenant, be so intelligently employed that it would be absolutely free from every superstitious idea, and have a helpful educative influence as to the nature of the sacrament and the binding obligation of Church vows when ratified by the seal of the covenant, the Holy Supper? And would it not serve to make clearer to their minds the character of the Church as a covenanted society, and the doctrine of close communion, and that only those who have subscribed to the terms of the Covenant are entitled to receive the covenant seal? A little child could understand that and be helped by it.
Having such views of the nature of this service, and such experience of its helpful use on many delightful occasions, my judgment and my heart alike protest, when it is characterized as “unhistorical,” “unpresbyterian,” “unscriptural,” and “unedifying”; and I close as I began by declaring my conviction that it is an appropriate, dignified, instructive, impressive and beautiful service.
As pastors and elders, set by the Holy Spirit to shepherdize the flock of God “which He hath purchased with His own blood,” should not we seek to promote in the hearts of the people, and especially of the youth of the Church, a loving regard for all the services connected with the celebration of the Holy Supper; and as the spiritual life of the Church has been so greatly enriched by a sacred observance of the sacrament, ought not we to see to it that it be not impoverished by the abandonment, one by one, of those forms of service which have made our Covenanter communions “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord?”