You Know, For Kids

Is this the way we view catechesis, you know, for kids? My own experience as an elder is that I am harder on covenant children during interviews than adults. Questions generally work through the Trinity, Scripture, justification, sanctification, the sacraments, and church government. That’s for the kids, mind you. And if they know their Shorter Catechism they breeze right through.

The speed bump in the catechism, of course, is the law. It takes up almost half of the Shorter Catechism and separates the benefits of redemption, such as justification and sanctification (32-38), from the outward and ordinary means “whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption” (88-97). In other words, many teens are pretty solid on the first thirty-eight answers but are unfamiliar with answers eight-five through 107. Why? Because there is a whole of requiring and forbidding going on in the catechism’s discussion of the Decalogue. My sense is that teens give up on the rest of the Catechism. That leaves them without the categories for talking about the Lord’s Supper.

But at least, if they have been catechized, they can discuss in a recognizable idiom the doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ, and salvation.

For adults who have not been catechized the interview can be painful. It is actually interesting to see how people try to do theology on the spot. They are pretty good in knowing what they believe. And if you asked them yes or no questions, they would likely supply the right answers. But like spontaneous prayers, extemporaneous answers to theological questions come with lots of hemming and hawing, “just,” and “you know.”

This is unfortunate and unnecessary since the catechism is a wonderful tool for succinctly explaining and summarizing the basic convictions taught in Scripture. It is also beneficial for supplying the common language that and ecclesial communities need to retain membership and build solidarity.

So why don’t we require catechesis of adults? It sure would make membership interviews shorter.

38 thoughts on “You Know, For Kids

  1. Do you actually require catechesis of children?
    If so, that’s great! But, yes, the church should require it of everyone.

    The reason the OPC doesn’t, of course, is that they have (perhaps ignorantly) adopted a “mere credible profession” criterion for admission to the Supper. The Scriptural position is confessional membership and close communion.

    Why have latitudinarian “Session-controlled policy” on matters determined by the Word of God? Why not consistently apply your own Book of Discipline chapter1, section3?

    As the OPC approaches her 75th anniversary, we are praying for her repentance and reformation.


  2. Baus

    Maybe you meant Form of Government, II, 3?
    3. In accordance with the teaching of Scripture, the many members of this church universal are to be organized in local and regional churches, confessing a common faith and submitting to a common form of government.

    The Book of Discipline I, 3 is a definition of “judicial discipline.” The OPC “Book of Church Order” is 3 separate and distinct documents, Form O’ Govt, Book O’ Disciple, Directory for Public Worship (each with a chapter I, 3.).

    There are a variety of places in the FOG and especially in the DPW where the plain implication is confessional membership and a form of close communion. I’ll leave it to you kids to read and find these for yourselves.

    I’m not an expert on the historical details, but it seems in American Presbyterianism, with exception of the covenanter-branches, there was an early and definite move towards a “credible profession of faith” that required no explicit or positive relation to the Westminster Standards. Not surprising, given the variety of positions on what it means even for ministers to “subscribe to” the Westminster Standards and or the system of doctrine contained therein.



  3. Chris, I mean Book of Discipline. It defines “offense”.
    One serious problem among non-close communion folk is that they don’t consider opposition to the Word of God to be an offense (not one that results discipline or in non-admittance to the Supper).
    If one took BoD I.3 at face value, that would be remedied.


  4. Baus:
    So non-close communion is opposition to the Word of God?
    So lay it out, give us exegetical arguments requiring confessional membership and close communion. Be sure to also define the terms as you are using them. Be sure to also justify how and when different exegetical conclusions or opinions become disciplinable offenses. Be sure to explain how perhaps the entire OPC is to be disciplined and barred from the Lord’s Supper.


  5. In brief, the criterion for admission to the Supper that elders are to apply is not restricted to mere “credible profession of the gospel,” but includes submission to their teaching to observe all that Christ has commanded, per Matt28:20.
    That is the import of an “offense” being “anything in the doctrine or practice of a member of the church which is contrary to the Word of God.”

    In sum, the biblical teaching of confessional membership and close communion can be understood clearly not only from the duty of the church in the Great Commission, but also from the exhortations to all “speak the same thing,” being of the same mind and judgment (eg, 1 Cor.1:10) and to stand firm in all the doctrine (eg, 2Thess.2:15), and that those fellow-believers who otherwise do have a credible profession of the gospel, and are thus to be considered “brothers,” nevertheless must not be admitted to the Supper whenever they fail to hold to what is taught (2Thess3:14-15).

    This clear biblical teaching is Confessionally affirmed, among other places in the WLC.
    #113 explains that “misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it,… or the maintaining of false doctrines” are forbidden, and #173 explains that “notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper” those who maintain false doctrine “may and ought to be kept from that sacrament”.

    As it was for me, I am confident that studying the Rev.John Anderson’s work should be especially helpful to you (and all confessionally Reformed believers) who desire to recover genuine Reformed faith and practice.
    see here:


  6. Baus, how did you get so latitudinarian? The command is to submit to “all” doctrine and practice, not just a summary statement like a catechism or confession. We need to greatly expand our secondary standards or supplement them with a denomination-approved systematic theology. But of course, that is just the teaching part. Really, we will need to see comprehensive obedience to all the moral law prior to a membership interview. Maybe webcams in prospective member’s living quarters or numerous affidavits of people who can vouch for their systematic moral behavior would be a step in the right direction.

    If we do this, we will have a much more complete answer to the question “what shall we do?” than Peter had in Acts 2.


  7. Baus;

    Sorry, I just do not finding those remarks exegetically complete or theologically compelling. Your argument basically boils down to, everyone not in full agreement with the local session is not to be accepted as communicant members, and by definition, they are also kept from the Lord’s Supper. Church membership/admission to the Supper is restricted to those fully in theological agreement with the session; or at best, abject subjection to that session’s mind-control. I’ll keep it focused on mental/theological realm. There’s that whole realm of “life” besides that of “doctrine.” What if I like Bluegrass and Irish music, but there are those that think music reached it pinnacle with Bach, Mozart, etc. Will I be offending if listen to Bill Monroe or go to the Celtic Fiddle Festival concert? Is that going to be offensive enough to keep me outside the church and barred from the bread and wine?

    The meaning of “ignorant” and “scandalous” in WLC 173 hardly fit the bill here.

    On this line of argument no one is good enough or faithful enough in either doctrine or practice to be received into Christ’s Church or allowed to His Table. Which is the point of the sample language from the OPC DPW (IV.C.2): Nevertheless, this warning is not designed to keep the humble and contrite from the table of the Lord, as if the supper were for those who might be free from sin.

    Let’s look at this historically, first, redemptive-historically.

    The NT didn’t drop from heaven in a single event. Paul’s epistles were published across perhaps the last 20 years of his approximately 30-year ministry. In meantime, other apostolic documents (let’s say, apostolic circle) are appearing too. Particularly when an epistle is occasioned by an error or problem confronting a church or churches, we get some advance in revelation and scriptural content (doctrine). No where do the apostles say, hold on to that bread and wine! No Lord’s Supper until everyone reads and signs off on Paul’s latest epistle! Not even in 1 Corinthians does Paul say, I command you to suspend celebrations of the Supper until all have studied this epistle for 12 weeks.

    Fast forward to the doctrinal controversies of the post-apostolic church. When the Nicene Creed, or Athanasian Creed was formulated and adopted to counter errors, yes heresy, and clarify the doctrines of Trinity and Christology; in other words, as the appearance of error forced a better articulation of and appreciation for the truth (better exegesis & theology), once again, there was no moratorium on the celebration of the Supper until everyone was on board with the recent and correct developments.

    Baus, I actually happen to think that the common manner of celebration across (most of) the OPC is in need of adjustment; but I’m not convinced we should wind up at your position. The fact is God alone is Lord of the conscience, and sometimes the elders must be content with that providential arrangement. It doesn’t mean anything goes, but it does mean, that finally, the matter of celebrating “in a worthy manner” is up to the individual believer, and not left to the external control of the session.


  8. Michael, yes all doctrine and practice. I didn’t restrict obedience to the confession and catechisms. You’re not reading carefully. If you want to interact on the issue, you had better take it seriously.
    You could start by thinking through the issues Anderson presents in this essay:
    Of The Church’s Toleration of Any Thing Sinful

    Cris, that you do not find what I wrote compelling is hardly an argument. Of course my comments are not “complete” as what I wrote is a short statement in a comments section of a blog. But you realize this isn’t my own novel view here.

    Your own statements show that you have not read the material. If you want to criticize the position, you might want to read up on it.


  9. Baus, my argument was in the form of a reductio ad absurdum.

    When you base an argument for church membership criteria on the duty “to observe *all* that Christ has commanded” you confuse an ultimate goal with a minimum requirement. Besides, Matt. 28:20 does not say “all” is necessary to get into the church door. Matthew 28 actually opposes your position, because in stating “baptizing [disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” it has the disciples in the church (post-baptism) while they are being taught to observe all. It is a command to teach those in the church, not a prerequisite for church membership.

    Then look at the New Testament baptisms. Look at the baptisms on the day of Pentecost, the baptism of the jailer & household, and the baptism of Lydia with her household. The immediacy of these baptisms is more consistent with a credible profession standard than with the hurdle you would put into place.

    There are a lot of believers out there. Some are uneducated, and some just aren’t particularly smart. For some, English is not their first language. There is no basis to say “Thus sayeth the Lord, you must vow upon confessional standards you don’t really understand.”

    BTW, I am very pro-catechism and our church has a catechism program. It’s a wonderful resource. It’s just not mandatory before coming to the table.


  10. Michael, how is “teaching them to observe all I have command you” compatible with admitting to the Supper those who oppose Scriptural teaching?

    Nothing about NT baptisms makes it probable that those who were baptized continued in Supper fellowship while opposing apostolic doctrine. Much to the contrary, cf. Acts 2:42.

    No one is saying that anyone should “confess” something they don’t understand.

    Whether or not going through this or that catechism class is required, the point is that confessional membership and close communion are the teaching of Scripture. If you’d like to respond to Anderson’s presentation of this historic Presbyterian and Reformed doctrine and practice, I’d love to see it.


  11. Baus,
    “how is ‘teaching them to observe all I have command you’ compatible with admitting to the Supper those who oppose Scriptural teaching?”

    Your requirement – to observe all – prior to joining the church is like telling a prospective college entrant they need to maintain an average of 100% prior to being accepted as a student. Put theologically, one need not be fully sanctified to join a institution designed, in part, to sanctify wretched sinners.

    Your reference to continuing in fellowship is really a comment on doing discipline on those who are in the church. Yes, a church should discipline when a appropriate, but that’s not about entry into the church.

    Part of my point on understanding is that I think confessional membership either shuts out those of average to sub-average intellect or requires them to take a false vow insofar as they aren’t comprehending what they are being required to vow to.

    I initially looked over that blog entry that had a section of Anderson’s essay. I concluded that you were fully capable of being his representative in this thread.

    I love the secondary standards. I came to the reformed faith by reading the Westminster Confession of Faith. Odd, huh? I believe they should be frequently used in the church.

    Anyway, Baus, unless there is some new ground for us to cover we’ll agree to disagree and I’ll look forward to reading your next contribution to another topic.


  12. Michael, I see the problem.
    You seem to assume the “requirement” is something to be “completed,” and that “prior” to membership. That’s quite a misconception.

    Christ’s requirement that disciples be taught to observe all He has commanded is a “constitutive” requirement, not an “instrumental” one. That is, to become a member one not only meets certain conditions, but one continues to meet those conditions as part of being a member. It has nothing to do with being “fully sanctified”. It’s about an elementary reception of and submission to the Word; wretched sinners do it by God’s grace.

    It’s got nothing to do with intellect per se. Rather, those who oppose some biblical teaching or other often do so on “intellectual” grounds. Those of sub-average intellect are, frankly, much less likely to have any “theological” objections to what the Word of God teaches. They confess according to their understanding, and that’s all that is required… unless their (lack of) understanding precludes meaningful confession at all. But the real issue here is simple lack of catechesis, not an epidemic of severe mental retardation.

    Of course I can represent Anderson’s views, but the fact is unless you try reading more than a comment thread or blog entry –you’re hardly giving it the consideration it demands. But I do sincerely applaud your “looking it over”. My experience is that most OPC pastors and elders are too frightened, calloused, arrogant, or apathetic do their homework on this issue.


  13. Baus,

    For illustrative purposes, please interact with my hypothetical. Here it is: a 19 yr old boy is approached by a street evangelist (“SE”). SE asks to speak w/ the boy (“B”). B agrees to listen. SE explains how all humans are sinful because we have all done evil in the site of God, our creator. B has never heard this before, but he actually agrees. B feels convicted of his sins. SE explains how God sent prophets, after the Fall of man into sin, to point toward a day when God’s own son would come to earth to die for the sins of his people. SE explains that this occurred 2000 yrs ago when Jesus was born. B, having grown up in a nominally catholic latino family, believes in the historic Jesus and that the Bible is God’s Word. SE explains how the Bible teaches that anyone who believes that Jesus was the Christ, sent to die for his sins, and was raised on the third day, would be made a child of God and would never have to face God’s holy wrathful judgment for his own sins. B, still feeling the weight of his sins, knows that he needs forgiveness and believes everything that SE said. B repents. B then meets mature christian (“MA”). MA invites B to come to church with him, an OPC church. The OPC church practices confessional membership and close communion. B has never read the Bible. B continues attending this OPC church and wants to become a member, but he has never been baptized.

    From this point in the story, what I would like for you to do is to paint a picture with a sort of hypothetical time-line, with date estimates between key events (e.g., first church attendance and baptism/membership and then first communion). How should this all play out in your view? Assume just for our illustrative purposes that B does not resist anything taught and is diligent in these ecclesiastical endeavors.


  14. Joseph,
    I suppose it could play out that after a year or two of morning and evening worship attendance, perhaps an afternoon instruction class with other members, and additional Bible reading & discussion and catechesis with an elder… after a year or two, the new convert has read through the Bible and the Standards, understands them (at an elementary level) and affirms them. So, he gets baptized and is received into communion by public profession.
    Nothing out of the “ordinary,” I’d say (except that intentional catechesis like that isn’t normally practiced as it should be).

    Maybe the kid is a fast reader and eats the stuff up, so he does it all in less than a year. Maybe he’s got a job with long hours and requires more explanation, etc, so it takes maybe 3 years.
    I don’t see it as a “one-size fits all” kind of thing.


  15. btw, Joseph, why isn’t the SE an MAture Christian ?
    or why, even, isn’t the SE an “immature” Christian, and OPC at all at the same time?

    Also, I appreciate the storyline, but is the “conversion story” relevant in some particular way? Why not just ask how an “unchurched” new convert might become a member of a (confessional membership & close communion) Reformed congregation?


  16. Baus, I thought my reading was a fair interpretation of your criticism of a denomination that has, in your words “adopted a ‘mere credible profession’ criterion for admission to the Supper. The Scriptural position is confessional membership…”

    But, fine, you have further clarified by making distinction between instrumental and constitutive requirements. There is the theory. But churches have people, procedures and events. You must be either raising the bar on initial membership or saying excommunication should be more frequent. What does your theory look like in the life of the church?

    As far as close communion goes, you might be able to convince me but I am wondering how your constitutive requirement affects the life of the church.


  17. DGH asked “So why don’t we require catechesis of adults?” The real answer is twofold: adults struggle with memorization and Presbyterian adults don’t like being told what to do.

    Don’t shoot the messenger.


  18. Michael, well I don’t know if it’s “raising” the bar. It’s not requiring “maturity” per se.
    It does mean that confessed antipedobaptists cannot commune in pedobaptist churches, for example. In the life of the church, it means that all the elders and the non-ordained congregants take the Word of God more seriously. They don’t think that believing/doing what is held forth as the teaching of Scripture is “optional.” They have a sincere and unified confession of the Christian religion and they hold fast to it.

    As far as “initial” membership goes, instead of asking whether someone has mere “credible profession of the gospel,” it is also asked whether they can affirm (or not, if they have any objection) to what the church confesses as the teaching of God’s Word. I can think of a lot of ways that might effect the life of the church, but none of them are negative in my view. What negative consequences might you anticipate?


  19. You’re still being a bit generic, Baus. I don’t think anyone is going to rush forward to argue the Word of God should not be taken seriously or that or that doing/believing what the scripture says is optional.

    Then, as regards joining the church, you want the prospective member to be “asked” if he can affirm the church’s confession. OK, but that’s just asking a question; one could have the creditable confession standard and still ask that. If, rather, you are requiring affirmation of a secondary standard see the concerns I raised above.

    Your initial criterion was “submission to their teaching to observe *all* that Christ has commanded.” That goal, like the command to “be ye perfect” is more than we can attain on this earth. But now you say you are “not requiring ‘maturity’ per se.” Please clarify.

    I am not trying to bog you down in all the different scenarios which could arise, but your answers to a couple questions might push this conversation forward. Would you require every membership applicant to affirm one of the reformed confessions, denying membership for any departure from it? Would you discipline a current church member for each and every departure from a reformed confession? If the answer to either question is “no” then I think you need to rephrase some of what you have said above.


  20. Michael, a mere “credible profession of the gospel” standard for communion does indeed mean that, eg. pedobaptism, is optional for communion, does it not? That does not jive with believing that pedobaptism is required by God’s Word, per “offense” as anything in doctrine or life contrary to God’s Word.

    Of course, yes, when I say “asked,” the point is that an affirmation is required. What exactly is your concern? That this is requiring perfection? Perfection or maturity is not required. Why would you think that?

    It’s not “one of the reformed confessions” as such, but whatever the church in fact confesses as the teaching of God’s Word. In Reformed churches, this would be a Reformed confession. Yes, every member should affirm it; confess what the church confesses to be what God’s Word teaches. Yes, if any member objects to any teaching, then they should be suspended from the Supper… as with any other unrepentant sin. This is what confessional membership and close communion mean.


  21. Joseph,
    I’d be happy to be informed otherwise, but my understanding is that Darryl does not agree with confessional membership and/or close communion. However, I’ve yet to see a serious critique of the position.


  22. Baus,
    You understand that the reductio ad absurdum in a 1-2 year wait to make someone eligible for membership and baptism, and the Lord’s supper is substantial enough to give anyone pause. Where the Holy Spirit communes with the sinner by faith alone, it does not seem appropriate for servants of that same Holy Spirit to use any more rigorous a standard before extending the right hand of Christian fellowship.


  23. Baus,
    By way of clarification, wouldn’t “requir[ing] catechesis of adults” imply confessional membership? Based on the thrust of this post, it looks to me like Dr. Hart is coming close to affirming something like confessional membership, isn’t he?


  24. Joseph,
    asserting that open communion is self-evident will not serve as an argument to counter the historic Presbyterian faith&practice. There’s nothing absurd in catechesis.
    The Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture requires close communion.

    Of course, I did not say that 1-2 years of catechesis is necessary in a strict sense. As I said, it’s not one-size-fits-all. If someone can sit down, read the confession in 1-2 hours and affirm it, then great!

    David, we can only hope so… but I doubt it.


  25. Baus, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t want to go fifteen rounds on this, but I have read enough of Anderson to get his jist and to reflect on why I don’t agree with him.

    I was struck by your summary, which seems to capture the main points very well. Anderson is compelling because is is a very clear writer. I’ll reproduce some of his points here so that we can see what we’re talking about.

    * The visible communion between believers is “their declared agreement to adhere to one public profession of the Christian religion”
    * “it is necessary that the articles of her public profession, which are the matter of her communion, be ascertained with precision.”
    * “…persons cannot reasonably pretend to have communion with a particular church in her public ordinances, and especially in the Lord’s Supper, while they openly persist in an obstinate opposition to any article of her profession. Persons may indeed share in that communion who have but a small measure of knowledge, but obstinate opposers to any article can have no communion in it at all.”
    * “When a particular church refuses to communicate with opposers of some of her articles considered more essential to salvation, and yet agrees to communicate with the opposers of other articles considered non-essential, this is contrary to the duty of earnestly contending for the faith, and resents injury done to Divine truth when opposition is contrary to their own salvation, but not whenever it is contrary to the authority and glory of God.”
    — Anderson, Alexander and Rufus, pp. 4 – 6.

    I respond:

    In Scripture, the visible Church of God is presented as one universal body. The members of that body are united to one another by virtue of their union with the Head. This is made clear in Eph 2, Eph 4, and especially Rom 11, which definitely has the visible Church in view. Indeed, even those churches such as the one in Corinth, rent by divisions, are still considered united in Christ (1 Cor 1).

    This doctrine is explicitly laid out in the Confession (WCoF 25, 26). Both invisibly and visibly, the Church is universal under the Gospel (25.1,2). Its members are united to one another, have communion with one another; the ground for that unity is precisely their union with Christ (26.1).

    The usual picture is that each particular church lies some distance away from the center of purity in Gospel teaching, sacramental practice, and discipline. No church is free from error, and thus no church occupies dead center, while churches that are too great a distance away from the center can reasonably be said to be no church at all (25.4,5). But all particular churches who qualify as genuine churches are a part of God’s kingdom, the Visible Church. For this reason, all ought to admit one another’s members to the Lord’s Table, which is God’s means of grace given to His church (and not some portion of it), and which is a symbol of the unity of the Church (1 Cor 10.17).

    This appears to have been Calvin’s practice. When we look at Calvin’s discussion of communion in the Institutes (Inst 4.17, esp. 40-42) and again in his commentary on 1 Cor 10 – 11, we see that his requirements for communion are only faith (towards Christ) and love (towards one another). In fact, Calvin specifically rejects perfection in faith as a requirement for communion (Inst. 4.17.42).

    Calvin further rejected the idea that all doctrinal differences are equal, saying

    When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exists our meaning is that we are never to discard it so-long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and Sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith. — Calv Inst 4.1.12, emph add.

    In Calvin’s lifetime, a test case for communion arose concerning the church in the town of Wesel (now a part of Germany, but French at the time). The town had adopted Lutheran worship practices, but some Reformed exiles were present in this church. They were considering separating themselves and specifically refraining from communion with the Lutherans on account of doctrinal differences over communion. Calvin, writing in 1553, dissuaded them saying that

    “…it would be for us a matter of deep regret if the French church which might be erected there should be broken up, because we could not accommodate ourselves to some ceremonies” – Calv Letter to Wesel, cited in Faber, “Preserving Church Unity.”

    We see here that even a defect in the very doctrine of communion itself was not enough, for Calvin, to justify refraining from communing with the Lutherans. From this, it is clear that the Biblical and Reformed teaching is that

    (a) The unity of the church is grounded in our unity with Christ, not in doctrinal agreement;
    (b) The unity of the church is disturbed, but not broken, by doctrinal differences that are not the “proper essentials of religion.” Contra Anderson, some differences matter more than others.
    (c) The Lord’s Table, which is a symbol of our union with Christ in his death and of our unity with one another in the church (1 Cor 10.17), ought to be given to the visible church, as many as are capable of self-examination per 1 Cor 11.28.

    What then of Anderson’s arguments? Many criticisms might be made. The reader can work out for himself some of the lesser matters:

    * Anderson’s proposal is pragmatically impossible, if taken seriously and literally: that the session must ferret out every doctrinal difference, no matter how small, and withhold communion on that basis. If all doctrinal differences truly are equal, communion is impossible.
    * Anderson’s requirement that communicants agree with their sessions in every detail places the word of man over the Word of God.
    * His insistence that doctrinal profession must be ascertained with precision is likely impossible.
    * His scheme makes communion a reward for doctrinal purity.

    The reader can satisfy himself of all of these problems with a moment’s reflection.

    But the core problem is that Anderson is dead wrong on the ground of the Church’s unity. Recall that for Anderson, our unity consists of common, precise, and total doctrinal agreement. Scripture, however, declares that the ground of the Church’s unity is our union with Christ. This is manifestly clear in the Confession. It is somewhat ironic that Anderson’s doctrine denies his own stated creed.

    Paul teaches in Eph 4.11 – 16 that the goal of our ministry, the eschatological outcome of the interworking of the united members of Christ’s body, is unity of doctrine. That pursuit is grounded in our joint connection to the head. Doctrinal unity is the goal; union with Christ is the ground. Anderson reverses this: communion is the goal, and doctrinal unity is the ground.

    For this reason alone, as well as the minor reasons above, Anderson’s argument should be rejected as an over-Reform, an attempt to redraw the boundaries of the Church in a way that Scripture does not permit.



  26. I got inspired to dust off my Bannerman volumes and see if I could find anything pertinent. His chapter on creeds and confessions does indeed seem to imply confessional membership. For example, there’s this passage:

    “What is the principle of union in any Christian Church which holds the truth of God as the very foundation upon which it exists? Plainly and undeniably the mutual and common understanding as to the doctrine of God’s Word of those associated together to constitute the Church–their union together in one common profession of the truth. To the very existence of such a union, it is necessary that the mind of the Church be brought out and exhibited to the understanding of all, by a declaration from herself of what she believes, so as to exhibit to the view of her members a profession of the truth which she holds, not merely as the truth which God has revealed, but more especially as the truth which she has made her own by embracing and believing it. Without this, there can be no common understanding between the Church and its members of one another’s faith, and consequently no mutual agreement or union as to the holding or profession of it” (Church of Christ, vol. 1, p. 296).


  27. Jeff,
    Anderson refutes your objections, so you’ll have to present reasons why you think his refutations fail.

    Your assertion that confessional membership and close communion are “pragmatically impossible” is manifestly false, since it has been (and still is in several faithful churches) historic Reformed and Presbyterian practice.

    excellent, yes. Bannerman is somewhat inconsistent with himself on this point, but that quotation is right on target.


  28. Baus,

    It would seem fair that you could assemble some of those refutations for us. After all, I didn’t merely say, “The Bible, Confession, and Calvin refute Anderson, so you’ll have to defend him.”

    David R: My objection to Bannerman is the same as my objection to Anderson: the ground of unity is incorrect. We are united to one another because we are united to Christ, not because we believe the exact same things.

    Now clearly, one cannot be united to Christ and believe any old thing; Christians will be united on those doctrines necessary for salvation. But beyond that is not necessary for our communion with one another.

    Is this not the plain teaching of WCoF 26.1?


  29. Baus, let me be more specific so we don’t talk past each other. So far in Anderson, I have seen nothing that interacts with the Confessional teaching on the unity / communion of the saints. He merely asserts as a self-evident proposition that the communion of the saints consists of their public profession to adhere to one common profession of the faith. No Scripture is given in support of this proposition, and he merely dismisses “Alexander”s objections with the wave of a hand.

    Perhaps I haven’t yet gotten to his Confessional discussion, but there’s a lot of material to wade through.

    So my specific reasons that his refutation fails are these: His argument rests on a “self-evident” proposition that is (a) not self-evident, (b) contra-Scriptural, (c) contra-Confessional, (d) and leads to a conclusion at variance with Calvin’s practice. Since Calvin was the articulator of the Reformed doctrine of communion, he gets a lot of weight in this matter.


  30. Jeff,

    “David R: My objection to Bannerman is the same as my objection to Anderson: the ground of unity is incorrect. We are united to one another because we are united to Christ, not because we believe the exact same things.”

    Our union with Christ is invisible. What is visible is our common profession of faith (see WCF 25:2).

    “But the core problem is that Anderson is dead wrong on the ground of the Church’s unity. Recall that for Anderson, our unity consists of common, precise, and total doctrinal agreement.”

    No, I don’t think Anderson is saying this. He (and Bannerman) are saying that the basis of our visible unity is a common profession of the Christian religion. You don’t think office bearers in the OPC and PCA (who subscribe the WCF) have “common, precise, and total doctrinal agreement,” do you?


  31. David, are you certain that Anderson is not saying this? He seems pretty definite, as illustrated by the quotes above. I’m not speaking for Bannerman, of course. If you dig into Anderson, he appears to make dissent on any doctrinal point, no matter how small, a matter of “stubborn obstinacy” and therefore cause for exclusion from the Table. Take a look at pp 40-50 or so.

    And I agree with you that office bearers in the OPC and PCA do not have common, precise, and total doctrinal agreement. Hence, they do not practice close(d) communion in the form advocated by Anderson.

    To the larger point:

    JRC: We are united to one another because we are united to Christ, not because we believe the exact same things.

    DR: Our union with Christ is invisible. What is visible is our common profession of faith (see WCF 25:2).

    That common profession of faith, the “true religion”, is the visible evidence of the invisible union. This is why the Confession uses terms like “more or less visible” and “saints by profession” This is why Calvin speaks of “the church as God sees it” and “the Church as man sees it.”

    So the outward profession is evidential ground, not the logical ground, of our unity with one another.

    But the key question is, what if our profession is defective in some way? Does that break the unity that we have in Christ? 25.4 answers this question — No. Why not? Because no church is free from error. And because not all errors make one “not a church.”

    Anderson, by contrast, says that “the true religion” as defined by a particular church is an all-or-nothing affair. If you disagree with your church, you are sinning (see pp. 39 – 42).

    To my mind, this is Confessionalism run wild.


  32. Jeff,

    Yeah I’m pretty sure Anderson isn’t calling for the detail you suggest. He says that “the visible communion of Christians in any particular church or local congregation consists in their declared agreement to adhere to one public profession of the Christian religion,” which for Presbyterians of course is the Westminster standards. So the doctrinal precision he’s calling for is simply adherence to the church doctrinal standards, i.e., the Confession of Faith.

    I agree with you that the outward profession is the evidential ground of union.

    “But the key question is, what if our profession is defective in some way? Does that break the unity that we have in Christ? 25.4 answers this question — No.”

    That is a key question, but I don’t think that 25.4 necessarily speaks to it. And I don’t see Anderson saying that if you “disagree with your church, you are sinning.”

    But yes, I suppose the question is: What does it mean to “confess the faith”? Is it to confess it comprehensively–or just the “essentials”?


  33. I would follow Calvin on this one: the “essentials.”

    Or put this way: whatever is needed for one to be saved, is enough for one to be united to Christ — and therefore to His Church.

    About the issue of sinning by dissenting — have you read pp. 30 – 45 yet?

    p. 31: “A person, who openly and obstinately refuses to assent to any article of a church’s confession, containing nothing but what is to be found in the Word of God, is chargeable with obstinacy in error, and opposition to one or more of the truths of God.”

    p. 40: “…whether a church ought to admit to her sacramental communion such as obstinately reject any article of her confession containing nothing but some truth revealed or duty enjoined in the Word of God. I see not how such rejection of truth can be denied to be sin.”

    p. 42: “But it cannot be denied that every article of a church’s confession, expressing adherence to any of the institutions of truths of Jesus Christ, belongs to his cause; and therefore the open rejection of such an article, must be an open refusal to bear testimony to some part of the cause of Christ … [which] renders the censure and suspension now mentioned necessary.”

    It seems pretty clear, no? It’s not even a matter of drawing boundaries for Anderson, but of disciplining sinners for taking exceptions — any exceptions.

    Which is, again, ironic, since he deviated from the standards of his own church — he seems never to have noticed WCoF 31.3, nor contemplated how it came to be that the Confession was revised in 1789, nor considered that Calvin’s view on the matter was likely very much in the background when the Confession was written.


  34. Jeff,

    I’ll check out those pages that you cite.

    But honestly (and I’m open to correction), I really don’t think you can claim Calvin for your view. Check out the opening paragraph of his Dedication prefacing the Geneva Catechism:

    “Seeing it becomes us to endeavor by all means that unity of faith, which is so highly commended by Paul, shine forth among as, to this end chiefly ought the formal profession of faith which accompanies our common baptism to have reference. Hence it were to be wished, not only that a perpetual consent in the doctrine of piety should appear among all, but also that one Catechsim were common to all the Churches. But as, from many causes, it will scarcely ever obtain otherwise than that each Church shall have its own Catechism, we should not strive too keenly to prevent this; provided, however, that the variety in the mode of teaching is such, that we are all directed to one Christ, in whose truth being united together, we may grow up into one body and one spirit, and with the same mouth also proclaim whatever belongs to the sum of faith. Catechists not intent on this end, besides fatally injuring the Church, by sowing the materials of dissension in religion, also introduce an impious profanation of baptism. For where can any longer be the utility of baptism unless this remain as its foundation — that we all agree in one faith?”


  35. Jeff, I’m heartened that you’re actually reading Anderson. Not many people bother, and they take their “essentials necessary for salvation” or “mere credible profession of the gospel” view as granted. Even if you don’t come around on your view of these things, you definitely win integrity points for actually considering the historic confessional position as articulated by Anderson.

    Below I’m including a “table of contents” outline I made some time ago for “Part 1” (the first 200 pages or so) of “Alexander & Rufus“. I may find the time to summarize Anderson on the points of your objections, but in the meanwhile you will at least have the outline as a rough guideline.

    I think sections 46 (in dialogue 6) and 56 (in dialogue 7) might be to the point.

    1. The evil of divisions in the church
    2. Some separations from particular churches unlawful
    3. Secession from corrupt churches lawful
    4. False methods of healing divisions
    5. Scriptural church communion stated
    6. An approbation of the public profession of a particular church implied in the partaking of her sacramental communion
    7. The distinction between the essentials and the non-essentials of Christianity, considered.

    8. The scheme of catholic communion now pleaded for, inconsistent with the regard due to all the truths of God
    9. This scheme unwarrantable on account of the uncertainty of the grounds on which it proceeds
    10. The evils tolerated by this catholic communion, not matters of mutual forbearance according to the Scriptures
    11. Confessions of faith justly considered as terms of church communion
    12. The catholic communion pleaded for, inconsistent with the due exercise of church discipline.

    13. The character of a church with which we are to have sacramental communion
    14. The import of Calling on the Name of the Lord Jesus.
    15. Sacramental communion with what may, in some sense, be termed a true church of Christ, not always our duty
    16. Sacramental communion with those with whom Christ has communion, in some cases, not warrantable
    17. Nor, in some cases, with those that belong to the catholic church
    18. Nor always with a particular church, on account of its duty to dispense the Lord’s supper
    19. The Christian character which entitles to sacramental communion.

    20. The instances of sacramental communion recorded in the New Testament, no examples of the catholic communion in question
    21. The charge of unchurching other churches, and of spiritual pride on account of our declining sacramental communion with those from whom we are in a state of secession, shown to be unjust
    22. Declining to attend on the public administrations of ministers on account of their erroneous profession, lawful
    23. The promotion of love to the brethren by this catholic communion, considered
    24. Of the evils said to arise from our limiting sacramental communion to such as make the same public profession
    25. The nature and tendency of this catholic communion inferred from what has been advanced in the preceding conversations.

    26. The adoption of this scheme of catholic communion by the whole church, in any
    period, incredible
    27. What sort of instances are not to be admitted as examples of this catholic communion
    28. No approved practice of such communion in the time of the apostles
    29. Nor for some centuries after their decease shown,
    first, from the designations of the truths which communicants professed to receive,
    secondly, from the exclusion of some from sacramental communion who were
    esteemed as true Christians,
    thirdly, from the authority of the decrees of councils in the primitive church
    fourthly, from the uniformity of public profession in the primitive church
    30. The practice of this catholic communion not proved by the different usages that obtained in the ancient churches
    31. Whether it was the sense of the ancients, that separation from a particular church, holding the essentials, is always separation from the catholic church
    32. Whether the Fathers condemned the Novatians and Donatists simply on account of their separation from the churches of Rome and Africa
    33. Errors of the Donatists; The principles and reasoning of these sects very different from those of many who now oppose the modern scheme of catholic communion
    34. Whether it was the judgment of the Fathers, that by this very fact of separation from the churches of Rome and Africa, the Novatians and Donatists cast themselves out of the catholic church
    35. Whether the different opinions expressed by the Fathers concerning church government, proves that they practiced the catholic communion in question
    36. The practice of those witnesses who separated from the church of Rome, contrary to this catholic communion
    37. The case of God’s people who continued within the pale of the church of Rome, no example of this catholic communion.

    38. Of the reformation from Popery
    39. The principles on which our forefathers separated from the church of Rome, contrary to this scheme of catholic communion
    40. The doctrine of the Reformed churches, concerning the marks of a true church, contrary to this scheme
    41. How the expression true church is to be understood, as it is used in the Confessions of the Reformed churches
    42. The design of the Confessions of the Reformed churches contrary to this scheme of catholic communion; Also, the harmony of these Confessions
    43. An article of the Augsburgh Confession concerning the Lord’s Supper, considered
    44. Some words of the Saxon Confession and Luther and Melancthon, considered
    45. Several plans of union proposed among the Protestant churches different from this scheme of catholic communion in question
    46. An account of Calvin’s proposal and of the agreement of the churches in Poland
    47. The communion of the Reformed church of Holland with other Reformed churches, considered.

    48. The separation of the Puritans in the reign of Queen Elizabeth from the established church of England
    49. The ground of their separation farther illustrated
    50. The declared design of the meeting of the Westminster Assembly
    51. The Solemn League and Covenant inconsistent with this catholic scheme of sacramental communion
    52. The Westminster Confession designed to be a bond of church communion; connected with the Presbyterial form of church government
    53. Such government is of Divine institution, required by the Scriptures
    54. Worship, discipline, and doctrine included
    55. And contrary to the opinions of the Independents
    56. This scheme of catholic communion not consonant to the 26th chapter of that Confession
    57. Christian communion distinguished from church communion
    58. Of a harmony of the Reformed Confessions; of the Westminster Assembly’s letter to the Reformed churches; and of a passage in Neal’s History concerning the Anabaptists
    59. Of a quotation from the preface of a book entitled, Jus Divinum Ministerii Evangelici
    60. Of the Savoy Confession
    61. Of Dr. Owen’s judgment concerning church communion
    62. Of the sentiments of other divines on this subject.
    63. The proper sense of certain common expressions
    64. Of the non-conforming ministers in England
    65. Of Mr. Claude’s position
    66. Of a certain Act of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly concerning strangers
    67. Mr. Dunlap’s inconsistency
    68. The witness of faithful churches
    69. Of the proper zeal for truth, and the remedy for divisions

    APPENDIX: criticism of the book by Robert Hall


  36. Baus, thanks for the detail. It looks to me like I will need to put some time into Dialog VI.

    One of the things that struck me in reading Anderson so far is that he is concerned not to have communion with Papists, Socinians, and Arminians. Interestingly, I would agree with him in at least 2, and perhaps 3 of those cases (I say “perhaps” because there are now all manner of Calminian hybrids floating around): Socinian and RC churches are not proper churches, from the visible perspective.

    And I’m surprised that in his day, Socinianists were communed with by anyone.

    So I wonder whether Anderson’s arguments are simply an over-reaction to the situation on the ground at his time.


  37. Well, Baus, I’ve slogged up through Dialogue VI. Here’s my thesis: Anderson is simply mistaken about the Confessional teaching on the unity of the Body of Christ.

    First, Anderson believes that the ground of our unity is our doctrine (A&R 79). But the Confession teaches,

    The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.


    All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces…

    From these, it is clear that our communion with Christ is the basis for our communion with each other; and that such communion outwardly extends to the visible church entire.

    Of particular note is WCoF 26.2: Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.

    We notice here that the “communion of the saints” is connected to “communion in worship” — which undoubtedly includes the sacrament of communion.

    So on the face of it, the Confession appears to teach open communion.

    This reading is confirmed by WLC 63:

    Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
    A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.
    — emph add

    and WLC 162:

    Q. 162. What is a sacrament?
    A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

    So the full weight of presumption is clearly in favor of open communion. Anderson, of course, dodges around all of this by means of the one exception given:

    Q. 173. May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?
    A. Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.

    Curiously, Anderson does not refuse the ignorant, saying “Persons may indeed share in that communion who have but a small measure of knowledge, but obstinate opposers to any article can have no communion in it at all.” (A&R 6).

    But he considers “obstinate opposers to any article” (even if they are faithful to the confessions of their own church!) to be sinners worthy of church censure — that is (presumably), they are “scandalous.”

    So we have to ask, is this an even remotely reasonable judgment? Is it really the case that one who takes exception to WCoF 23.3 (and would that be the original or the revised?) is scandalous?

    Anderson thinks so, on the strength of three fallacious arguments.

    First, that if we admit one exception, then we must admit them all (A&R 25-26). For Anderson, there can be no minor differences, nor any non-essential doctrines. This is a text-book continuum fallacy.

    Second, that confessions are not human documents, but have the authority of Scripture. Therefore, rejecting an article of a confession is the same as rejecting Scripture:

    “When I spoke of confessions of faith being terms of church communion, I proceeded upon the supposition, that a confession was not an exhibition of opinions, ceremonies, and forms of church government, not to be found in the holy scriptures. I spoke of a confession which exhibits the truths and institutions of Jesus Christ, which he enjoins his whole church to receive and maintain: such a confession never was, and never can be, either the cause, or the badge of faction.” (A&R 26)

    “It is vain to say, that the confession of a church is a human thing: for, candidly interpreted, it may be found to contain nothing but the undoubted truths of God’s word.” (A&R 30).

    But the Confession says about itself,

    All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both. WCoF 31.3.

    It is hard to see that Anderson is doing anything other than making the Confession the rule of faith, on which basis one is admitted to or refused communion.

    Third, he argues that by receiving someone for communion, we become partakers of their sins and errors: “…there are cases in which we ought to decline having church communion with such as we charitably judge having communion with Christ: because our communion with them would be a conniving at, and a partaking of the sins of their public profession.” (A&R 46).

    But of course, Scripture does not teach this (nor the Confession); it is the fallacy of guilt by association. Having a meal with the family does not imply anything about acceptance of their sins.

    What the Scripture does teach is that we ought to remove from communion those whose behavior is scandalous; but Anderson’s view of scandalous is utterly untenable. In his view, it is a scandal for a Baptist to be Baptist in a Presbyterian church, even though he is faithful to the doctrinal teachings of his own church.

    Nonsense! What would he have? That Baptists would be Presbyterians in their own churches … and presumably, thereby forgo communion on a regular basis? OR, that Baptists would never visit Presbyterian churches?

    The problem here is that Anderson sets at naught the value of communion. He sees no harm in withholding it from Christians, if such withholding can become a club over their heads to force them into doctrinal conformity. Anderson indeed longs for this state of affairs as a kind of eschatological hope for the church (A&R 28).

    And, Anderson is unable to imagine that a difference with the Confession could be on the principled basis of Scripture, rather than merely a sin. He is unable to see this because he wrongly imagines the Confession to be the Word of God instead of the interpretation thereof.

    But we have to ask: If the Confession is right that communion in worship is to be extended to all those, in every place, who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, how can Anderson’s scheme possibly be correct?


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