Taking Communion at a Church with No Formal Membership

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Jonathan David Foster

Puritan Board Freshman
Is it wrong to take communion at a church with no formal membership?

Let us assume for the sake of the question that the church is otherwise doctrinally sound.

I haven't been able to find anything on this topic when I searched.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
I believe it would depend upon the idea if this is a true church of Christ-if the marks are present, then it would be acceptable. Additionally, there is no negative in regard to not taking the supper if there are concerns. In my own opinion, I refrain if I am not sure if the church is valid or has a skewed understanding of the doctrine of the supper etc.
 

Jonathan David Foster

Puritan Board Freshman
Belgic Confession 29: "The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it."

If a church does not have formal membership, it is difficult to practice church discipline. However, I believe that Calvin did not include church disciple as one of the marks of the church in the Institutes. This is probably because he was not able to practice discipline properly in Geneva, and to include discipline as a mark of the church, would have ruled out his own church as a true church. Someone please correct me if I am mistaken.

I can think of some possible negatives in abstaining from communion. First, the Scriptures command us to observe communion until Christ returns (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). We do not have a right as individuals to pick and choose what part of God-commanded worship we participate in. For example, I have no personal right to abstain from the sermon or the singing of a psalm. So, in my opinion, one needs a legitimate reason to do so if we are going to abstain. Further, we have no right to separate ourselves from the true body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21). If one willingly chooses not to partake in communion with a true church, it may violate this principle. Also, it could be spiritually detrimental to starve oneself of the means of grace, especially if it is done for any length of time.
 

Edm

Puritan Board Freshman
Define church...a building? What about a serviceman serving overseas and a Chaplin visits the unit and offers communion. Assuming the Chaplin is offering a Christin communion, and not a RCC one. If the Church is looked at as Christianity, I would have no problem, as long as the beliefs were biblical.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It would be helpful, in your case, to be confident that what they were offering in sacrament is the truth but little obscured. Can you say with confidence, "This is a recognizably Christian church?"

What sort of confession are you and they sharing by sitting in one fellowship and eating (ostensibly) the same thing? If you can answer that in good conscience, then eat. Otherwise, I'd counsel against it.
 

Jonathan David Foster

Puritan Board Freshman
According to the Belgic Confession, which I quoted above, a church must have:

1. The Preaching of God's Word
2. Right administration of the sacraments
3. Church discipline
 

Jonathan David Foster

Puritan Board Freshman
I said in the OP, for the sake of the question, assume that the church is otherwise doctrinally sound.

However, if there is no formal membership, how can one know such a thing?

It is fairly easy to know the beliefs of the minister, but without membership, the congregation is merely a group of people who decided to show up any give morning. What guarantee is there that they agree with the doctrine of the minister?
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
I said in the OP, for the sake of the question, assume that the church is otherwise doctrinally sound.

However, if there is no formal membership, how can one know such a thing?

It is fairly easy to know the beliefs of the minister, but without membership, the congregation is merely a group of people who decided to show up any give morning. What guarantee is there that they agree with the doctrine of the minister?
Without membership, it is virtually impossible to excommunicate anyone as they are not actually 'communicated' to anything; hence, this would be problematic in the realm of proper discipline according to God's word, ergo, they probably do not possess the marks of a true church; in the truest sense.
 

Jonathan David Foster

Puritan Board Freshman
In such congregations, a kind of informal membership and informal church discipline often exists. For example, if one is caught in unrepentant and public sin, that person would be rebuked, and often times, leave the congregation. Or if a person begins teaching heresy, the minister would not allow it continue. So I don't think that such churches are completely devoid of the third mark of the church.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
I"m not sure but when my pastor talks about who may eat of the Lord's Supper before handing it out he states that if there are any visitors they don't have to be members of our church but they have to be members of a Bible believing church in order to eat of the Lord's Supper.
 
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